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Spider John Koerner - Koernering The Market

Koerner at the Green Note, 2009
Photo: Ian Anderson
Koerner at the Green Note, 2009
What does he remember about his first visits to the UK?

“There was a guy, and I can’t remember his name, possibly associated with a place called Cecil something…?”

Cecil Sharp House – Roy Guest?

“That’s it. Somehow, and I don’t know how, I got hooked up with him, maybe through Manny [Greenhill, of US agents Folklore Productions]. I remember coming here – and I’d never been out of America before, the big US of A – and I remember my plan was – actually I didn’t have any plan really, but it was to get a taxi and have him take me to some hotel, right? And I’m on a bus from the airport into town and I’m looking for taxis, and I couldn’t see any taxis. No taxis! Well I was looking for something completely different. I saw all these wonderful cars running on diesel, but I didn’t know what they were. And finally I figured it out, and he took me down to Russell Square and I went into a bed and breakfast, it was three quid a night. It was great.”

Koerner was soon to be found playing regularly in the hottest folk venues of the day like Soho’s Les Cousins in Greek Street. “Oh yeah, I played there a bunch of times. It seems to me there was a couple of famous people showed up down there. And I remember playing that damn all-nighter a couple of times. Glad I don’t have to do that again! I remember the guy that ran the place, there was a son…”

Andy Matthews.

“I remember that guy, we were outside of the place one time talking about running – racing. And I thought, well I can beat him – he’s a big, fat guy, you know. Obviously I can beat him. So I don’t know if we made a wager or what. It was just to go a block. That little sucker he just took off on me! He couldn’t go long, I don’t think, but for the distance he just went.”

“I remember Mox [Gowland], I remember Les Bridger, I remember Paul Rowan, and outside of that I don’t remember much. I remember those funky people I used to hang out with as opposed to the rest of it. I think Gill Cook [manager of Collett’s Folk Shop] helped me out with a place to stay at least part of the time. It’s kind of a blur in a way, but what I do remember is that I was around here long enough to be used to the buses and the Tube and have my own local that I kinda liked, and felt at home here.”

Back when he started out he was doing blues, and pretty soon he was doing his own bipity bopity version, writing his own songs rather than doing covers. Did that just happen naturally? Was there any great thought behind it?

“Well, there was a point at which I realised that when you listen to all these blues guys, each got their own thing. They make their own songs and the way to be like ’em is not to copy ’em but to go through the same process. So I started to try to make up songs. Good Time Charlie was one of the first attempts at that. And also you gotta turn yourself loose on style. There’s no problem with copying somebody for a while just to see what’s going on, but eventually you’ve got to let yourself do whatever you come up with. People call me an original. I guess that’s true. I didn’t try to be an original exactly, I just did what I could.”

“I didn’t really stop listening to others, but the process is more like what you can steal in, some little lick. And that got to be eventually broadened. I remember somewhere in the late ’70s I got interested in shortwave radio. It used to be interesting back then, now it’s changed because of the internet, but I remember listening to Radio Cairo, and some interesting music. They’d do the call to prayer. I heard that and thought ‘Oh, there’s something interesting there’. I don’t know how I integrated it, but there was some way in which a little piece of that got into how I sing. And whatever. You hear something interesting, and if it seems to fit, take it.”

From fRoots 325, July 2010 – incorporating some sections from an earlier interview published in fR150, December 1995


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