Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood fame has spent an entire career creating a blues mythology around his hometown of Canvey Island, a flat windy marshland in the Thames estuary overlooking the Coryton oil refinery. At night, as flames spit from its flare stacks in the distance, it could be mistaken for some godforsaken one horse oil town in southern Louisiana on the mouth of the Mississippi river. However, the same can’t be said of the place where our own blues disciple Peter Andrew Fernabach was born on 27th March 1948. With its pristine beaches and neatly manicured gardens, Bournemouth is a far cry from the bleak landscape envisaged by the former Feelgoods guitarist. It may be the end of the line for the river Bourne as it meanders into a culvert in the lower gardens and empties into the sea east of the pier, but it’s more a drain than a delta.
In the 1950s’, blues music existed under the radar of popular culture both in the UK and America where it was labelled race music and only enjoyed by the black population. In Britain it was appreciated by a lucky few who could get their hands on the trickle of records entering the ports of Liverpool, Belfast, London and Southampton in the duffle bags of merchant seamen returning from America, or from specialist shops such as Dobell’s in the Charing Cross Road. Trombonist Chris Barber, a leading light in the trad scene, believed jazz and blues were intrinsically linked and helped spread the gospel by sponsoring tours by Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Muddy Waters, (Tharpe played the Bournemouth Winter Gardens on 30th March 1958 with the Mick Mulligan Band and George Melly while Muddy brought his pianist Otis Spann to the Pavilion Theatre on 22nd October of the same year along with the Barber Band). Barber had the foresight to integrate blues enthusiasts Cyril Davies, a portly harmonica player and guitarist Alexis Korner, into his band before the pair became leading figures in the fledgling blues scene based in and around Soho. In 1961, the pair left Barber and formed Britain’s first electric blues band, the highly influential Blues Incorporated. During their existence Ronnie Wood’s brother Art and Long John Baldry both shared vocals with Korner, as did our own Zoot Money for a short time in 1963. Charlie Watts laid claim to the drum stool as did Ginger Baker after Charlie left to become a Rolling Stone, Jack Bruce anchored the bass position for a short spell and Graham Bond tickled the ivories and blew sax. There was also a chance that Alexis would give the nod to a hopeful in the audience to come up and nervously air their talents. Future Stones Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Mick Jagger all caught his eye as did Eric Burdon of The Animals, Paul Jones from Manfred Mann, an up-and-coming guitarist called Eric Clapton and Rod ‘The Mod’ Stewart. The pioneering Cyril Davies died at the far too young age of 31 in 1964 and Korner in 1984, aged 55.
In Bournemouth, a dearth of live blues music meant that Dave Fernbach, Andy’s older brother, had to head to London on a regular crusade to catch Davies, Korner and co. strut their stuff at the Blues and Barrelhouse Club in Wardour Street. He passed his enthusiasm onto his younger brother, who took his newfound passion one step further by learning how to play the guitar and taking his blues out onto the streets of Bournemouth, where he busked for pennies, or entertained the locals in bars and folk clubs. Eventually Andy, with brother Dave on piano, formed a blues band called Stovepipe No. 4 with Mick Bryan guitar / harmonica, drummer Pete Brown, Johnathan Leather vocal / maracas and Roger Cole also on guitar. The unusual name was inspired by the obscure blues singer Stovepipe No. 1 (real name Sam Jones) a one man band who blew into a length of stovepipe to produce a sound reminiscent of a jug. Their main claim to fame was a three-week, twenty three date tour of Hungary, which included a gig in front of fifteen thousand people on 8th April 1965 at the Kisstadion, a large open-air sports stadium in Budapest organised by the Ministry of Culture. By agreeing to the concert, they became one of the first western rock bands to play behind the Iron Curtain, and certainly the first to play in Hungary. Although they were unknown to the enthusiastic crowd, thousands braved the cold, damp conditions and heavy-handed police presence to see this strange phenomenon that had landed in their midst. Amazingly a short, silent black and white film of the event exists on YouTube, which shows the teenage audience trying to enjoy the concert while leather coated henchmen do their best to intimidate the more boisterous members of the crowd.
While they were in the country, the band cut three tracks in a Budapest studio for an EP on the state-owned Qualiton label. Side one was taken up with a hesitant version of “House of the Rising Sun” similar in arrangement to The Animals, but without Burdon’s sneering attitude, while the flip contained a lively take on Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing” and a reasonable stab at Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”, a song more famously associated with the harmonica wiz Little Walter. It resided in the Hungarian charts for a lengthy spell but failed to produce any monetary rewards for the band, as it appears Eastern Bloc record companies were just as crooked as their western counterparts.
In 1966 Andy made the inevitable move to London, where he carved out a solo career on the flourishing acoustic folk and blues scene playing at clubs such as Les Cousins, which was in the basement of a restaurant in Greek Street and the Troubadour in Old Brompton Road, Earls Court. After a couple of years of hard slog and encouragement from Alexis Korner, who featured him regularly on his radio show, Andy signed a deal with Liberty, the home of the American blues band Canned Heat and the anarchic Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band. His first outing on the label was on Me and the Devil – The Anthology of British Blues, a compilation of acoustic blues featuring Jo Ann Kelly, her brother Dave, Steve Rye, Simon & Steve and Tony ‘T. S.’ McPhee sans The Groundhogs. Produced by Southampton born Mike Batt before he became Orinoco in the Wombles, Andy contributed three tracks, Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine”, Matthew ‘Hogman’ Maxey’s “Duckin’ and Dodgin’”, both with harmonica accompaniment from Nick Whiffen and a version of “Hard Time Killing Floor” by Skip James, a musician who Andy greatly admired and had the pleasure of touring with shortly before James death in 1969. Other blues greats he was lucky to support included John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Big Joe Williams plus Canned Heat, The Groundhogs, Free, Jo-Ann Kelly and John Martyn.
The harp player on the session, Nicholas Donald Charles Whiffen, was born in a nursing home in Bear Cross (probably the same establishment as Robert Fripp and Gordon Haskell) on 18th June 1948. He moved to London twenty years later, becoming a regular on the blues circuit, sitting in with anybody who would have him, including Andy and on one memorable occasion, Canned Heat. In 1979 he stepped into the fluid bass position recently vacated by Tony Waite in the excellent Doll by Doll, a post punk band formed by Wimborne resident Jo Shaw and the enigmatic Scots legend, Jackie Leven. He made his debut at the ‘19th National Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival’ in Reading, an acrimonious and tetchy affair that pitted the band against a hostile crowd in a particularly bruising encounter. After his short sojourn with The Dolls he humped gear for the ‘rockney’ duo Chas and Dave and on moving back to Poole, played with several local bands including Chew-Z, In Praise of Fish, Timetrap and Dave and the Deckchairs. Blessed with a devilish sense of humour, Nick sadly passed away from cancer in 2004.
Andy’s first full solo outing, If You Miss Your Connexion, was recorded during February 1969 at Central Sound Studios with Groundhog in chief T. S. McPhee in the producer’s chair. The collection of mainly original acoustic blues, embellished with sympathetic backing from Chris Elvin on harmonica, his brother Dave on piano, guitarist J. D. Fanger and The Groundhogs rhythm section of bassist Pete Cruickshank and drummer Ken Pustelnik, stood up well in comparison with the plethora of British blues albums clogging up the record store racks. The critics were mainly underwhelmed, as exemplified by the scribe in the NME, “A young British blues singer / guitarist with eight of his own compositions and two traditional songs. His easy delivery makes for relaxing listening, but this same quality tends to make it all a bit too similar.” In the year that Fleetwood Mac outsold The Beatles and the poetry rock band The Liverpool Scene observed “I’ve Got the Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, John Mayall Can’t Fail Blues”, Andy’s contribution to the British blues boom failed spectacularly.
Months later he was back in Central Sound with McPhee once again, recording two of his own songs for another blues compilation, I Asked For Water; She Gave Me Gasoline. This time out he brought his own band with him, The Andy Fernbach Connexion featuring guitarist J. D. Fanger, bassist Rob Lowe and Phillip Crowther on drums. His two original songs, “She’s Gone” and “Built My Hopes Too High”, are without doubt the strongest on show overshadowing lacklustre fair from McPhee, Jo Ann Kelly, Jim & Raphael, Brett Marvin and The Thunderbolts, Graham Hines, Jim Pitts and John Lewis. Lewis later acquired the nom de plume Jona Lewie and scored two big novelty hits in 1980 with “You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties” and the Christmas evergreen “Stop the Cavalry”.
Andy’s guitarist, J. D. Fanger, was another Bournemouth refugee who joined the exodus to London. After a couple of years in the Connexion he joined the Bristol based Gunner Cade with former Groundhogs drummer, Ken Pustelnik, J. D.’s brother Steve and violinist Helen O’Hara, who later found fame with Dexy’s Midnight Runners. After a UK tour with Krautrock experimentalist’s Can, the band evolved into Gunner Cade 2, an avant-garde instrumental band. In the eighties, J. D. worked with the synth pop specialist Depeche Mode as their tour manager.
In July 1970 Andy recorded a session for BBC radio and the following year joined Steamhammer and Gringo on a short tour of universities, but by the early seventies the Blues Boom was in decline and his already low profile was almost non-existent. A couple of years later he was living in The Dower House in Crondall near Farnham, where he built a sixteen track recording facility, Vivatone Studios, above his garage. By then his main instrument was the piano, which he brought to Loose Change, a trio comprising of bassist Dick Jones and guitarist John Clark. Much of the music centred on Andy’s own compositions and covers by Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen and Randy Newman, but a lack of gigs sounded the death knell for the band after eighteen months. Later he accompanied the singer / guitarist Pete Atkin on a handful of dates to promote his album Master of the Revels, which he wrote with the late Australian broadcaster and author Clive James. Andy also appeared on a BBC session performing three songs with Atkin, Tony Coe on tenor sax, Mike Beale tuba, Herbie Flowers bass and drummer Andy Munro.
In 1980 Andy and his wife Fran moved a couple of miles down the road to the large and rather grand Georgian Ridgeway House in Dippenhall, where he set up Jacobs Studios, a residential affair with state-of-the-art facilities. Over the years his clients included The Smiths, Paul Weller, Uriah Heep, Rick Wakeman, Peter Green’s Splinter Group, Nazareth, Joe Jackson, The Damned, The Cocteau Twins, ABC, David Bowie, U2, Robbie Williams, Stevie Wonder, Status Quo and Pavarotti. Over a nine-year period and with help from Snowy White and his band, plus various members of the Fabulous Poodles and the backing singers the Soultanas amongst others, Andy used down time at his studio to painstakingly piece together a new recording, Blues from a Hotel Room. The title and theme of the album drew inspiration from Robert Johnson’s recordings in a Dallas hotel room in the 1930s. The slow gestation period delayed the release of the CD until 1996, twenty seven-years after his first solo outing. Drawing influences from country blues, jazz and r&b, the recording is a far cry from his If You Miss Your Connexion debut in both sophistication and instrumentation, but the distinctive voice is still present and correct, even if his songwriting has become more complex.
In 2006, after years of feeding and pampering temperamental rock stars, he sold up Jacobs and bought the smaller Boathouse Studios in Cornwall with Fran, where he still writes and records. In 2019 Ridgeway House came back on the market with an advertisement boasting clay tennis courts, a swimming pool, a large paddock, eight bedrooms, a wine cellar, three sitting rooms, dining room, TV room and where the studio used to be, a gym. All yours for offers around a cool £3,500,000. As of 2020, Andy hoped to record and film a live album, 21st Century Penitentiary, at the 606 Club in Chelsea, but the Covid-19 outbreak delayed his plans indefinitely.
Inexplicably, If You Miss Your Connexion has never been transferred to CD. In 2010 Tapestry released a 180gram vinyl limited run of five hundred copies but this is a bootleg and should be avoided. The only way to pick up a legitimate copy is to seek out the original, but that is difficult as they are very thin on the ground and cost in the region of £100 to £200. If by any chance you fancy a copy of the Stovepipe No. 4 EP good luck as you’re going to need it, the phrase hen’s teeth springs to mind.
Special thanks go to Andy Fernbach for emails and Cody Hanby for additional information.
Andy Fernbach Discography
Stovepipe No. 4 EP
The House of the Rising Sun c/w My Babe c/w Pretty Thing: Qualiton (EP 7317) 1965 Hungarian release
Compilations featuring Stovepipe No. 4
That Driving Beat: Past & Present (PAPRCD 2056) 2004 “My Babe”
English Freakbeat 1962 – 1969 Vol. 1 to 6: Particles (PART6CDBOX10) 2018 “Pretty Thing”
Andy Fernbach Single
Blues From a Hotel Room (Radio Mix) c/w Lonely Avenue c/w Blues From a Hotel Room (Instrumental Mix): Akr Records (AKR CDS 42) 1996
Andy Fernbach Albums
If You Miss Your Connexion: Liberty (LBS 83233) 1969
If You Miss Your Connexion: Tapestry (TPT 258) 2010 Unofficial vinyl re-issue, 180gram vinyl limited edition run of five hundred copies
Blues from a Hotel Room: AKR (CD 39) 1996 CD
Compilations featuring Andy Fernbach
Me and the Devil – The Anthology of British Blues: Liberty (LBL 83190) 1968 “Broke Down Engine”, “Duckin’ and Dodgin’” and “Hard Time Killing Floor”
I Asked For Water, She Gave Me Gasoline: Liberty (LBS 83252) 1969 “She’s Gone” and “Built My Hopes Too High”
Son of Gutbucket: Liberty (LBX 4) 1969 “Hard Headed Woman”
Tony PcPhee and Friends: Me and the Devil – The Anthology of British Blues / I Asked For Water, She Gave Me Gasoline: BGO Records (BGOCD332) 1998 2 for 1 CD “Broke Down Engine”, “Duckin’ and Dodgin’”, “Hard Time Killing Floor”, “She’s Gone” and “Built My Hopes Too High”
Album featuring Andy Fernbach
Wizz Jones Right Now: CBS (CBS 64089) 1972