9:20am Thursday 10th January 2013
By Amie Mulderrig
When Wizz Jones walks into Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub in Walthamstow on Sunday, he expects his reception to be considerably warmer than the one he received in Newquay in 1960.
One of the original British beatniks, he ruffled feathers in the Cornish town with his long brown hair and alternative dress.
Appearing in Alan Whicker’s documentary about Cornwall council’s fight to drive out beatniks by banning them from cafés and pubs, Wizz performed two songs in protest – to mock the burgomeisters of Newquay.
“That’s haunted me,“ the 73-year-old from Balham admits. “I actually really like Cornwall. At the time, I was only following my heroes from the jazz club scene, bohemian nightlife people who wore long hair and drainpipe trousers. In those days, that was unusual, you stood out.
“I was very young for my age, very naive; it was a way of blazing a trail. We were inspired by all the beat poets; we were just living the Kerouac dream, which soon wore off.
“A lot of the time although you loved the music, you weren’t exactly 100 per cent there for that.
“It’s the same as when we used to go on ban the bomb marches, campaigning for nuclear disarmament. We were young and idealistic, full of all these great ideas, but not really politically aware. As Rod Stewart often says, we were there for the girls and liberated lifestyle.“
Attitudes may have changed, but Wizz’s hair, a thick and shaggy mane which has whitened with age, is still intact. Just as, he points out, is his dress sense, and he still plays the same second-hand Ephiphone Texan guitar he bought in 1967.
Famed for his old American blues guitar playing and taking inspiration from Big Bill Broonzy, he is particularly well-known for his right-hand guitar style, which in turn has sparked a legion of fans.
Eric Clapton cites him as an influence, Keith Richards claims Wizz taught him blues picking in Sidcup Art School’s toilets, he used to hang out with Rod Stewart, and Bruce Springsteen recently covered one of Wizz’s songs When I Leave Berlin to open a show.
Given the musical calibre of his fan-base, it’s surprising that Wizz, nicknamed after Beano character Wizzy the Wuz, has not had more commercial success.
“When I was younger I just didn’t take my playing seriously, I didn’t believe in myself enough to plumb the depths of any potential I might have had, I took a very cavalier approach.
“I’m lazy too, that’s the bane of my career. Over 50 years I’ve written about 15 to 20 songs, but I like to see myself as an interpreter of other people’s material, rather than a songwriter.
“In 2001, Sonic Youth called to say they were fans of mine and would I like to support them in Boston and New York. I thought: this is the big break I’ve been waiting for all my life. Halfway across the Atlantic, the pilot announces we’re turning around, a plane has just flown into the World Trade Centre. I’ve not been back to America since.“
Few could remain upbeat about their close brushes with fame and success, but Croydon-born Wizz, takes it on the chin, and shows no sign of slowing down.
“At the end of it, I’m very lucky to still be performing music I love at great gigs, he enthuses. I’ve no pension to speak of, so thank god I enjoy it.
“I love playing, I love the spontaneity of it, I love that my audience is a mix of my generation with a sprinkling of young people. It’s nice to know an old fogey like me still has something to offer.
“As long as they keep coming in and I can play well, I’ll keep going. I don’t fancy wandering around downtown Balham with a walking stick just yet, but I might get my hair cut.“
l Wizz will be at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub, Hoe Street, Walthamstow on Sunday, January 13, at 7.30pm. Details: 07740 612 607, www. walthamstowfolk.co.uk
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