Nineteen year old Andrew Loog Oldham went down to Giorgio Gomelsky's Crawdaddy Club at the Station Hotel in Richmond in April 1963 with one objective in mind... To sign a management deal with the Rolling Stones.
So when the Stone's incumbent quasi-manager and promoter Gomelsky returned from his father's funeral in Switzerland and found he was persona non grata, he went on the hunt for a replacement band for the Crawdaddy residency and stumbled upon vocalist and harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, lead guitarist Top Topham, rhythm guitarist and later bassist Chris Dreja, and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, rehearsing at the Railway Hotel, just across the road from the Station Hotel and signed them up.
They had performed as the 'Blue-Sounds' at Kingston Art School in late May 1963 and changed their name to the Yardbirds soon after... McCarty claiming that Relf was the first to use the name, later adding that Topham identified it as a nickname for jazz saxophonist Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker.
In addition to being an accomplished musician, Top Topham was also a brilliant young artist and as he was still a student at Kingston Art School, his parents were reluctant to let him leave to join the group, so Top introduced his friend and fellow art school student to take his place... Eric Clapton.
Eric Clapton playing a private birthday party in London on 4th May 2023 and I was there to witness it as a guest at the top table!
The Clapton line-up recorded two singles, I Wish You Would and Good Morning, School Girl, before the band scored its first major hit with For Your Love, with a prominent harpsichord part by Brian Auger. It topped the charts in the UK and Canada and reached number six in the US, but it displeased Clapton, a blues purist whose vision extended beyond three-minute singles.
Frustrated by the commercial approach, Clapton abruptly left the band on the 25th March 1965, the day 'For Your Love' was released, but not before he recommended Jimmy Page, a prominent young session guitarist, to replace him. Page in turn recommended his friend Jeff Beck who played his first gig with the Yardbirds two days after Clapton's departure.
The Yardbirds has secured their place in music history as featuring three of the world's best guitar players.
Following the band's split in 1968, Relf and McCarty formed Renaissance and guitarist Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin. The Yardbirds re-formed in the 1990s, featuring McCarty and Dreja as the only original members. Dreja left the band in 2012, leaving McCarty as the sole original member of the band in the present lineup.
Tribute to Top Topham
On Thursday 8th June 2023, The Eel Pie Club in Twickenham hosted a tribute night in honour of Top Topham who passed away in January 2023 after a long battle with dementia. Many of the band's recent and current members performed at the event which was filmed as content for a new series of PPV and livestream programmes about London's legendary 60s groups with roving reporter, Jana Page (Jimmy's daughter)
Alan Glen, Billyboy Miskimmin, Laurence Garman at Top Topham's tribute night
Founding Yardbirds member Jim McCarty on drums and more recent Yardbird John Idan on lead vocals and guitar at Top Topham's tribute event at the Eel Pie Club on Thursday 8th June 2023