“JB Lenoir is dead and it's hit me like a hammer blow.” So wrote British Bluesman John Mayall, when he learned suddenly of the death of an artist who he admired greatly. That's how I felt this morning. When I heard suddenly. A hammer blow. I was still on a high over a job well done in Banbury Folk Club last night. Then I learned that Roddie, Roddy, Rod The Mod, Felton-they've all gone. That cheeky grin, that trademark long hair, the pony tail, the tie-backs headbands and headscarves. Those biceps, the earrings, the onstage (and offstage) outbreaks of cussing. The funny voices, the timbre, the way he would drop a vocal down and then rasp it across a big room without any amplification. The infectious laugh-the mix of sad, sweet, funny and downright brilliant songs-we've lost them all.
Look, none of us are immortal, I understand that. We all have to go some time, and he had a longer run than many of us had expected, given his lifestyle. Coventry and Warwickshire has produced plenty of excellent singer-songwriters/musicians in his genre. Martin Jenkins, Mick Stuart, Dave Bennett, Rob Armstrong and Kevin Dempsey for example. But Rod Felton for me stood out, and he changed things, creatively for me. He has been a big influence on my songwriting, my vocal style and my public performance for nearly 50 years. Words like talismanic, iconic and legendary are overused. But he was all of those things. And more.
I have no doubts whatsoever that with the right management, the right recording opportunities, the right production and some better advice he would have made it nationally. Possibly Internationally. He could be infuriating, unreliable and very rude at times. He had issues, he had demons which he occasionally bettered and kept subdued. He met some challenges which he only ever partly conquered. But his percussive guitar style, his anectdotes, his long and hilarious introductions to his own songs, that odd Coventry/Cockney accent, his appearance, his presence, that swagger, his demeanour-they were all engaging. And they could be mesmeric.
Some, especially some of the “ladies” found him a tiny bit scary. I found him approachable, friendly, funny and very supportive. He could also be disarmingly honest. If he liked something-he told you. If he didn't, he had innate charm which could wrap it up a little-but he still told you. If he said,”Drop that,”or “Keep that” he was usually right. He adored “Vacuum Cleaner” and if he was ever at any of our gigs, he requested it. And got it.
Rod lived in Tennyson Road, the street next to mine. I was aware of him whilst I was just leaving Primary School. Well before I first saw him playing. I first saw him perform in a pub in Primrose Hill Street. The Queen's Head? It was my introduction to “Live” Folk Music and I didn't think much of it quite honestly. I was into football, steam trains, girls and The Beatles. There was a lot of finger-in-the ear stuff that night, and only Rod Felton registered with me at all. I saw him again, a year or two later, in the City Arms, Earlsdon. Where (again) he stood out as a talented and charismatic performer. Later still, I got involved in an emerging if slightly sedate Jazz Blues Poetry and Folk scene in Coventry. First by reading poetry at The Umbrella Club. Then I started helping out with a Thursday Night Music and Poetry Club in Coventry Cathedral's International Centre. It was very Bohemian. A coffee bar:lots of pretty foreign girls from all over the world. Folk and acoustic music and Poetry. We started pulling local guests in . One of those listed factors attracted Rod. Often!
I left school, moved away to London and so did he,I think. It was the mid-1970's before I saw him again. By which time we had formed Black Parrot Seaside. Evolving through various genres, we then tumbled via Rock and Punk into Folk. And our paths suddenly began to cross again.
We began running a Folk Club in Brinklow at The Bulls Head. Rod was a regular. Either as the featured Act or just popping in for a noodle on the guitar, a smoke, a jam, a pint and a chat. If anything, he was even more outrageous than before. Sometimes he appeared as part of The New Modern Idiot Grunt Band with his mate Rob Armstrong. It became apparent that our tastes in music our creative writing and our sense of humour were not dissimilar. We got a record and management deal ourselves. We began bumping into Rod Felton at so many local venues. The Cheylesmore, The Rose & Woodbine, The Mercers Arms, The Barras, The Freemasons,The Pitts Head, The Grange, The Cornerhouse, The Woolpack, Nuneaton Arts Centre and beyond.
Around 1982 BPS split up (amicably) and didn't play together again for many years. When we re-united in 2006, Rod was still out there! Still doing the circuit. Still entertaining people. He was delighted to see us back. Our paths had diverged, but whenever and wherever we met after that, the bone-crushing hug or powerful handshake, were spontaneous. The rapport was instant. Some people saw us as a threat to their own niche.(Some still do). Rod never did. He was far too smart to slip into that kind of trap. He saw us as complimenting his audience and warming them up for him so that he could take them on and charm them into utter submission. The last time we performed alongside him was at The Maudslay Hotel in Coventry. He had confided then that something was not right healthwise. He seemed not quite himself that night. Later we found out that he was seriously ill. He fought the illness and for a while he seemed to have got the drop on it.
Whilst writing this, and sniffling a little, I was interrupted. I had to stop and switch off the computer, due to a sudden and spectacular thunderstorm. In March! Rod always was the Showman! And he always liked to let you know he was there.