Veteran British drummer Hughie Flint talks about the Blues, Jazz, Beano album, and Buddha’s teaching

"Compassion and Loving Kindness are the most important things in the world and the more people incline to them, the less hatred and violence and selfishness there will be, and the world would be a better place, for our children and their children."

Hughie Flint: A Music Bodhisattva

British drummer Hughie Flint (born in 1940, Manchester, Lancashire), is best known for his stint in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, playing drums on the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album, released in 1966, for his group McGuinness Flint in the early 1970s and for his subsequent association with The Blues Band. Flint played in the Bluesbreakers on and off for five years, playing an integral part in their blues based sound partly influenced his love of jazz. He appeared on Bluesbreakers albums "John Mayall Plays John Mayall" and "Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton" (a.k.a. Beano album). Flint then played with Alexis Korner and Savoy Brown. In 1970, Flint formed McGuinness Flint with Tom McGuinness, former guitarist and bassist with Manfred Mann.                         Hughie Flint, 2013 / Photo by Fran Flint

However the early success of the group proved to be short lived. Flint played with the Bonzo Dog Band from 1971 and appeared until their final album, Let's Make Up And Be Friendly. In 1977, Flint was the drummer and bodhrán player on the album Suburban Ethnia by the band Chanter. Flint's last band based venture was in The Blues Band, a supergroup composed of Dave Kelly, Gary Fletcher, McGuinness and Paul Jones. Their debut, The Official Bootleg Album, was released in 1980, and Flint also appeared on their follow-up albums Ready (1980) and Itchy Feet (1981) before departing. In 1995 Flint appeared on the BBC television documentary, Rock Family Trees, to discuss the history of the Bluesbreakers and the many off-shoots of the band. By that time he was working as a porter at Mansfield College, Oxford, from where he retired in 2007. Flint also featured on records by Georgie Fame, Champion Jack Dupree and Tom Newman amongst others.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues & jazz music and what does the blues mean to you?

I began my musical career playing Jazz, which is still my number one musical love. With Jazz I learned how to express myself on the drums, how to interact with the other players, how to improvise and how to use dynamics. The same applied when I started to play the Blues. The Blues to me is a deep, emotional experience, whether listening or playing.

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60s to be the center of Blues/Rock researches and experiments?

As far as I know, in the 60s people up and down Britain were beginning to hear Blues, from imported American records and the first Blues festivals in the country. The Animals, The Beatles, Spencer Davies, The Rolling Stones, Alexis Korner and John Mayall were all listening to Blues and Rhythm & Blues and picking up instruments and copying the songs. Rock grew out of the Blue.

"All the musicians and groups I have played with have been equally important to me. You never stop learning. And be grateful for your fellow players because you would be no one without them!" (Photo: Ian Stewart, Alexis Korner, Hughie Flint, Tom McGuinness, Stevie Smith, Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, Gary Fletcher, Mike Hugg, Manfred Mann and Paul Gillieron, Canning Town 1980)

How do you describe Hugh Flint sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

I began by trying to play like my Jazz drum heroes, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, etc., but as I moved into playing Blues with John Mayall I simplified my style to sound more like the Chicago blues drummers. Gradually my playing evolved into a more Rock style. But I have always been interested in what today is called World Music, and over the years I have played the Irish drum the Bodhran and the Djembe, and have played many different kinds of music – I still do – such as Irish traditional, Eastern European, Early English and French music, Indian fusion, and in the last few years I have played Afghani folk music with old friends. So my music philosophy is `Be open and enjoy different music‘!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

All the musicians and groups I have played with have been equally important to me. You never stop learning. And be grateful for your fellow players because you would be no one without them!

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Great memories of playing with my Jazz friends in Manchester in the late 50s and early 60s, learning our skills and discovering wonderful music – also, playing with John Mayall, especially when Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton were in the band. The good times with McGuinness Flint, the first great year with The Blues Band. So fortunate to have played with Ronnie Lane, John Lee Hooker, T Bone Walker, Champion Jack Durpree, Sonny Boy Williamson, Arthur Big Boy Crudup – many others .

"I still enjoy the music from the past, and I can’t say I miss what has been! There are still a lot of good musicians around, Jazz, Blues and Rock, but I don’t hear much that is new. The Jazz and Blues players in the past all had individual voices and sounds – you could tell who was who immediately – they were Innovators!" (Photo: John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, 1966)

What is the story behind the photo of Beano album? What were the differences between UK and US Blues?

The memory of the Beano album photo shoot is a bit faded now. I seem to remember it was cold and we got bored quickly! Because we were not Pop stars it didn’t seem that important to us – probably more so for John! The difference between U.K. and U.S. Blues? Well, it all started in the U.S. with Black people, ex slaves, and field workers, etc., who found ways to play guitars and harmonicas, etc., and sing, to express their way of life – also to musically escape their suffering. British Blues was really a love of, and an imitation of this music, and some were pretty good at this, but British Blues players could never play with the experience of the originators.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I still enjoy the music from the past, and I can’t say I miss what has been! There are still a lot of good musicians around, Jazz, Blues and Rock, but I don’t hear much that is new. The Jazz and Blues players in the past all had individual voices and sounds – you could tell who was who immediately – they were Innovators!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Skiffle and continue to Jazz and Rock music?

Blues, Skiffle, Jazz and Rock are all interconnected, like a golden musical thread, one developed out of the other. People should go back and listen to where it all came from – the rich history that affects all popular music today.

"With Jazz I learned how to express myself on the drums, how to interact with the other players, how to improvise and how to use dynamics. The same applied when I started to play the Blues. The Blues to me is a deep, emotional experience, whether listening or playing." (Hughie Flint, 2010)

How imported was Chris Barber and Alexis Korner to the case of British Blues Boom at the 60s?

I think Chris Barber and Alexis Korner were very important to the British Blues Boom of the 1960s. I have never met Chris, but I know his music from way back, when he led a traditional Jazz band which, along with Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk (the 3Bs!) was very popular in the clubs and on the radio in Britain. And Chris was one of the first people to bring over to Britain and play with several of the old American Blues artists, and later his band became a mix of Blues and traditional Jazz.

Alexis Korner also met and played with some of the visiting American Blues artists in London in the early 60s, before forming a band with Cyril Davis and later his influential Blues Incorporated. So Chris and Alexis were the earliest champions of the British Blues scene, and later British Blues players are in debt to them.

Are there any memories from Chris Barber, Alexis Korner, Graham Bond and Cyril Davis which you’d like to share with us?

I don’t have any personal memories of Chris Barber who I have not met, or Cyril Davis who I never saw live. Alexis and Graham Bond, however, I first saw around 1962 in Alexis’s Blues Incorporated, along with Jack Bruce, Dick Heckstall-Smith and either Phil Seaman or Ginger Baker, in the Bodega Club in Manchester, where later I played support to them, with John Mayall, in our band Blues Syndicate, when Alexis suggested John and myself should try our luck in London.

The Blues Incorporated were unique for the time, being a combination of modern Jazz and Chicago Blues – they were fresh, dynamic and exciting – music never heard before in Britain, and they were definitely the inspiration for John forming, first the Blues Syndicate, which, like Incorporated had two Jazz horns (trumpet and alto sax) and later The Bluesbreakers, which John modelled more to the Chicago Blues style.

And of course, I played with Alexis, right after leaving The Bluesbreakers, a trio, which Alexis named Free At Last, a sort of mini and slightly restricted version of Blues Incorporated. Playing with Alexis was very loose, and he would begin the program himself, talking about the origin and development of the Blues, singing old Work Songs, accapella, with hand claps, then he’d progress to a few Country Blues, a la Robert Johnson, etc., and the bass player (first Cliff Barton, later Binky McKenzie) and I would join him for a more electric, Chicago approach, and later in the program we would play anything from Percy Mayfield’s Rivers Invitation to Charles Mingus’s Better Git It In Your Soul – with lots of freaky guitar and bass solos! Alexis, like John Mayall had the most eclectic taste in music, very knowledgeable, and generous, and I am indebted to both of them for my wide approach to music.

Graham Bond has a reputation for being the wild man of British Blues, and his energy and presence onstage was pretty formidable; he once sat in with The Bluesbreakers in The Flamingo Club and I loved playing behind his explosive solos – although I think John was worried his Hammond organ might collapse! By contrast, earlier around 1962 I played a trio gig with Graham, who was the visiting guest at the Club 43 in Manchester, with a local bass player I forget, and Graham played fabulous Jazz on piano and Alto sax – often swapping fours with me. A joyful experience.

What touched you from the Dharma? If you could change one thing in the world, what would that be?

Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching, has been the most important influence and guiding light in my life. Compassion and Loving Kindness are the most important things in the world and the more people incline to them, the less hatred and violence and selfishness there will be, and the world would be a better place, for our children and their children.

What is the impact of Jazz & Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications? 

Jazz and Blues have helped with the integration of different races, and the positive aspects of multi-culturism. It’s a big subject, beyond my scope here!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

For a day I would love to go back to New Orleans around 1918 and see and hear the young pioneering Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton blowing the Rags and Stomps and low down Blues, in the bars and Honky Tonks of Storyville. Then on my way back home check in to 42nd Street in New York in the early 40s to hear Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk laying their Be Bop groove on the world! Amen!

Hughie Flint in Hyde Park / Photo by Sonny Flint

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