Updated: Friday, 22nd May 2020 @ 2:15pm

'You could hear the acid coming out of the organ': Manchester's Victor Brox on the 60s, blues and Hendrix

'You could hear the acid coming out of the organ': Manchester's Victor Brox on the 60s, blues and Hendrix

| By Mason Jones

Victor Brox has since spent over five decades avoiding definition.

His refusal to be tied to any one genre has seen him play with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Keith Moon, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bo Diddley and Screaming Jay Hawkins.

Born in Droylsden in 1940, Victor had formed his own band by the age of 13, making his debut performance at his local church.

Music has been part of the Mancunian’s life for as long as he can remember.

His grandfather, a butcher from Ardwick, used to play rhythms with the bones from the carcasses he sold while singing along.

From a young age, Victor decided not to limit himself to one instrument and went on to master the organ, guitar, violin and several brass instruments.

In the 50s he became interested in American jazz music, a passion that required serious dedication in the days before LPs were on the shelves.

“As a kid in short trousers, I joined the Northern Jazz Federation,” Victor told MM.

“You’d have to go to places like Blackburn or Burnley on a bus or train just to listen to records.

“The only records of the music were old singles that had been brought back by merchant seamen who had bought them in New York and then they’d find their way into junk shops in England.

“These old blokes would have collections but there were only about a dozen of them in northern England.”

In his early teens, Victor joined the scores of young men who had been turned on to electronic music.

Young white men across the UK were buying their first electric guitars and learning to play songs written by black American musicians.

“When Merseybeat came along all the people that used to be in gangs suddenly formed groups and the hangers-on became their fans,” he said.

“So instead of having fights they had battle of the bands.”

Manchester followed Liverpool’s lead in creating a bustling scene for local beat bands.

“People realised that there was money to be made and all the clubs started to open,” he said.

“There were hundreds of bands and hundreds of places to play.

“It was all word-of-mouth then, there was no television and no singles – LPs had only just started.”

Clubs like the Twisted Wheel, Oasis, and Blue Note became popular hangouts for young bands in the city centre while The Nile Club and The Reno opened in Moss Side.

“The black American airmen who were based at the Burton Wood airbase who used to come into Moss Side to play at the shebeens,” said Victor.

“There was no jazz scene in London, it all started in Manchester in the early 50s.”

After getting a degree in philosophy, Victor briefly moved to Ibiza – a hotspot for bohemian writers, artists and musicians in the early 60s.

There, the young musician became romantically involved with German singer and fashion model Nico.

Nico would later work with Andy Wharol and the Velvet Underground in New York.

“She was wonderful, she was a dominatrix without dominating – you didn’t mess with her,” he said.

“She was extraordinarily beautiful and she could silence you with a look.

“We became very good friends again when she returned to Manchester.

“She had a fatal accident very close to where we used to live together just outside the Old Town in Ibiza, she was still wearing the bronze Roman ring that I got her.”

Victor’s reputation as musical virtuoso was growing from strength to strength on the UK circuit and club promoters started booking him to play with the American blues musicians he had admired as a youngster.

“They were intrigued that a white guy was interested in them,” he said.

“They were very approachable people but I was a bit star-struck meeting Muddy Waters because he had a very big persona.

“He was waiting to go on stage and I opened the door and he looked just like a Buddha.

“He was a very powerful character who always carried a gun in his pocket.

“If you didn’t do what he wanted he’d just put his hand in his pocket.”

The American bluesmen, who had seen little commercial success in their own country, had been booked across the UK to meet the growing demand of young enthusiasts.

“These were very hard men but they didn’t expect someone like me, who was just a young white kid, to be friendly and respectful because they were used to all the Jim Crow stuff,” he said.

“They showed me things I’d have never learned otherwise and I was lucky that these people were still around.

“There’s no one now, I think there’s only Otis Rush and Buddy Guy.”

Another American import who crossed Victor’s path was Jimi Hendrix.

The guitar legend once said that Victor was his ‘favourite white singer’ and the two played together several times in the UK and in the states.

Victor, like many musicians in the 60s, was experimenting with psychedelic drugs but said that he never saw Hendrix under the influence.

“I have no doubt Hendrix did acid, but he never did any drugs when I was around him,” he said.

“He was very quiet and calm and extremely modest.

“He’d sit all night with half a pint of bitter – he was all about the music

“He loved women and he loved the music.”

Victor and his band indulged even on stage, however, and he can still remember tripping at a Leeds University gig.

“We were about to go on stage and we all took a sugar cube of acid,” he said.

“There was a friend of the band who injected us with acid so we had an instant trip.

“I was dressed completely in red because I used to come on as Scarlet Pimpernel.

“These girls used to come on stage and do a strip tease, they took off their clothes and they took off mine – it was all so weird.”

It was after deciding to play a second gig in Leeds city centre that the acid really started to take hold of the Victor and his band.

“Somehow we made it to the van after and we went to a cellar club called the Three Coins,” he said.

“We were still tripping away and we played an unbroken hour and 55 minute version of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys – we called it Good Vibes.

“You could hear the acid coming out of the organ – we got into wild tricks in those days.”

Although Victor no longer uses mind-altering drugs, he looks back at those days with fond memories.

“The 60s were very special, it was altruistic and everything was right,” he said.

“It really was amazing, it was like nothing else apart from maybe the Renaissance in Florence or fifth-century Athens.

“There was no commerciality because the big commercial companies weren’t hip enough to understand what was going on and we were always two or three steps ahead of them.

“The media was on our side then – there was no such thing as celebrity and you were as only as good as your music.

“Everything was happening but nothing was fixed – it was fluid and improvised and extraordinary - you’d either fall over and die laughing or get out of your skull.”

Victor has spent a life-time jamming with others and the compulsive collaborator has hosted some particularly special get-togethers.

On his first American tour, Victor and his band were booked into play a series of gigs in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Blues royalty in the form of BB King turned up to play with them on the first night and word had spread that they were in town.

“We came down early one night at about 7 o’clock,” he said.

“There was a strange tall guy in an overcoat walking about looking at the pictures and posters and it turned out to be Leonard Cohen.

“Then another guy turned up, a shy black guy with no front teeth – it was Richie Havens.

“Then Jimi Hendrix turned up with Janis Joplin so we got all four of them up on stage singing I Got My Mojo Working and Rock Me Baby.

“Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin together – the crème de la crème.”

Image courtesy of WessexTV, via YouTube, with thanks.