When I seriously got into collecting music from the 1960s, twenty years after most of it had been released, one name I was constantly told that ‘I just had to check out’ was that of Graham Bond. I confess I knew nothing of him back then and from the photos, I saw of him staring out from the covers of a couple of albums I had picked up, his unusual foreboding look put me more in mind of him being more ‘muso’ than pop star I think it is fair to say.
Eventually, I picked up a reissue of the album ‘The Sound of 65’ and suddenly all those previous recommendations made sense.
Yes, I was late to the party, but at least I eventually showed up eh? The opening track, a version of ‘Hoochie Coochie’ demanded you enter and make yourself comfortable for the rest of the album.
The Organisation featured on the album, which had Graham on lead vocals and Hammond organ, was made up of musicians who had gone on to be legends in their own right over the intervening years. Future members of the supergroup Cream, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce were on drums and bass with Dick Heckstall Smith blowing up a storm on the saxophone.
So what of the man whose name headed the lineup? He grew up in a Dr Barnados home in Romford, Essex and gathered his musical education at school. A professional from 1960, he started on the sax as a member of the Don Rendell Quintet, and briefly joined Blues Incorporated headed by Alexis Korner, where he worked with both Bruce and Baker.
He then left and took Ginger and Jack with him to head up the Graham Bond Quartet with John McLaughlin on guitar. This then morphed into the Graham Bond Organisation with Heckstall Smith replacing McLaughlin.
They immediately picked up a word of mouth reputation of being a fantastic live band, with Bond’s throat rasping vocals immediately recognisable and each member a master of his own instrument. When all four were on form together they sounded unstoppable and very funky.
To see the band in their pomp and in living colour, check out the YouTube clip of the band in the film ‘Gonks Go Beat’ performing the track ‘ Harmonica.’
Tracks that capture the full effect of the Organisation at their powerful best from the aforementioned album for me, are ‘Neighbour Neighbour’ ‘Little Girl’ ‘Wade in the Water’ ‘Got my Mojo Working ‘ and ‘Half a Man.’
Drug abuse was rife in the band however, with Bond an eager participant. He was already showing signs of being an erratic character anyway, suffering from mental issues, so chaos reigned within. Commercial success continued to elude them. The look of the band didn’t help or work in the pop idiom of the day, what with Graham’s ‘interesting’ moustache, Heckstall Smith’s ‘Jimmy Hill’ chin and beard and Ginger’s spaced out skeletal look on the drums.
Baker and Bruce, despite constantly arguing among themselves, eventually left to form Cream with Eric Clapton, but Graham and Dick soldiered on and were joined by John Hiseman on drums, but the band had all but collapsed by 1967.
Bond, his marriage over due to his lifestyle, moved to and toured around, the US until 1969 when he returned to the UK. He had formed ‘Magick’ with his new wife Diane Stewart, releasing the album ‘Holy Magick, which is heavily influenced by his obsession with black magic and the occult.
Upon discovering that a girlfriend of occult writer and magician Aleister Crowley, had given birth to a boy in 1937, Bond then declared Crowley to be his father. The identity of Bond’s own mother was never known.
He stumbled from line up to line up trying to recapture the old (white?) magic but he was by now physically and mentally in no shape to keep any line up going for too long. A nervous breakdown then hospitalised Bond.
He died under a tube train at Finsbury Park station in May 1974. Rumours abounded at the time that drug dealers had chased him into the station; with others saying the occult lifestyle he had adopted had finally sent him over the edge and done for him.
At the inquest, his manager stated that at the time of his death, Bond had, in fact, quit drugs and was back writing tunes.
An open verdict was recorded. I guess we’ll never truly know what truly happened that day.
But what is certain, Graham Bond certainly packed in two lifetimes into his brief 36 years.
The Mumper of SE5