Bill Footman aka Wilbur Wonkeyfoot aka English Willie RIP 5/10/20

Bill Footman came into my life over 23 years ago and I immediately liked him for his warm, friendly disposition. He was a true gent or as they would say where I cam from a diamond geezer. Nothing was too much trouble and he would always be there to help out in anyway he could, he was my best friend and more like an older brother, although I would introduce him as Uncle Bill.

He had a vision back in January 1998 that Crawley needed a blues club and as a working drummer a possibility of getting some gig time. He took up the initiative and made contact with Paul Jones through Jazz FM and wanted to know if there were anyone else similarly disposed to setting up a club. I responded leaving a message on his answerphone and met up with Dave & Fred. I asked if anyone had any money to put into the venture or whether anyone was looking to take anything out. The answer to both questions was no as we were all like minded and wanted to listen to live music that we otherwise pay to hear.

Our first venue was the sports and social club in Tinsley Lane and after a couple of local band Bill through his American links, as he had a holiday home in Florida, said that a good friend Rock Bottom was coming over for a short tour. Typical of Bill he did not say that he was organising it or indeed underwriting it, however if evidence were need of his generosity and bonhomie we had it right there at the beginning. The gig was stunning and raised the bar very high, a hard act to follow. 

The association with the Hawth goes back to November 2000 and in 2001 we had two milestones as part of the Crawley festival in June and the first 'Blues in the marquee' in August. Bill was resident in the states at the time but we had regular contact and he approved of the changes saying it would raise the profile of the club. By the mid noughties the weekend festivals and the marquee were annual events and we kept being asked about a blues festival.  I ran these ideas by Bill as we had discussed them at length and following the Crawley festival in '06 where we had booked 25% of the artists we put on the first Crawley Blues Festival in November '06 featuring 10 acts and it was a roaring success.

Bill returned to the UK and it was great to have him alongside to help organise and promote the artists and knowing that I was not a fan of social media he kept our audience informed from his Facebook page, working tirelessly in the background. In October '11 Bill pulled off a real coup as one of his bands Southern Nights were playing the blues festival and he asked if he could bring a guest along. The guest was an unknown Rory Graham aka Rag n Bone man who blew the place apart, typical gesture of Bill's generosity .

More recently we were struggling to promote a gig in May '19 and Bill offered the help of another band the Blues & Grooves gang to support Oliver Darling. What followed was a gig to stay in the memory forever as Oli was going to open solo but was marooned on the M25 and Bill and the band offered to start the show. Without rehearsal having never played together Oli stepped out of his car and onto the stage and proceeded to tear the place apart. Oli started the second set solo, however before long the newly formed band were in full swing.

It is very difficult to put into words my love and admiration of Bill, but I know he touched everyone he met and I hope it makes you reflect on your own thoughts of meeting the kindest and most generous man I have ever met. Rest in peace mate.

Tony 'Wheelman' Molloy

Brief history of CBC

Crawley Blues Club officially came about on 27th Jan ’98 when Bill Footman contacted Paul Jones on his Jazz FM show asking "If there are any music fans listening, that would be interested in forming a blues club, in the Crawley area, then please ring this number". 2018 will mark 20 years on and the club like the Queen has two birthdays, the 27th January being the date of that initial call and the 8th May which marked the first gig at Thomson’s sports and Social club.

Founder members were Bill, Tony Molloy, Dave Pugh and Fred Ball  (picture on the Home page) met in the Swan, West Green and decided they shared a common interest in bringing live music to the area. All of them are still involved in the music, friendships were formed, which have endured the highs and lows and people are still discovering this well-kept secret (now that I think of it the blues have always been that way).

The association with the Hawth goes back to ’00 where I was asked to offer advice on blues music for the end of June Folk festival. This was followed by promoting our first gig in the studio on 17/11/00 Rory Block. Highlights in the main theatre include Dr John Jan ’05 & Joe Bonamassa Feb ’08, both phenomenal talents and interesting to talk to.

Over the years there have been so many highlights at both the club and the Hawth and just picking a few would be difficult but I will give it a try. Ben Andrews played at the Emerald and a full bill saw three support acts and I remember a club regular asking what Ben was like and it was going to be hard to follow what went before. The rest they say is history Ben played a two hour virtuoso performance interspersed with fascinating stories from the road. I was privileged to see Ben play the last Bishopstock festival in front of 6000 people who were stunned and awed in equal measure, it took a further hour and half to dispense CD’s, autograph anything people could lay their hands on, such was the audience reaction.

I had heard Geoff Achison on Paul Jones’s show being intrigued by a blues singer from Australia. I saw him play at a little pub in Brighton, where he gave a solo performance which blew me away playing numbers such as the Allman Bros ‘Whipping Post’ in s style I would learn was all his own. He played a duo gig at the Emerald with Richard Studholme then around year later in May ’99 he played with the Souldiggers at Thomson’s. It was difficult to see how such an awesome acoustic guitarist could segue into the band set which was so low down and funky, Geoff inadvertently introduced me around seven years ago, to Mike Dowling at a gig he was playing in Brentford. I went to see Geoff but was mesmerized by Mike’s consummate playing irrespective of the musical genre. He played a National steel guitar in a way I had not heard before with finesse and eloquence finishing the set with a guitar in standard tuning to play Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. I had never heard the number played solo let alone with such flair and panache. I rang Mike a year later and asked whether he would like to play the UK again, fortunately he did not take me for a complete crank and agreed to return. Along the way, I introduced Mike to another guitar master Big Jim Sullivan and anyone who witnessed the two sell out concerts they played at the Hawth were fortunate, playing like that is a rare treat.

So here we are with many Folk festivals behind us and 10 ‘Blues under the Sky’ starting in July ’01 and featuring Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges and Ian Siegal, which overlapped with 10 ‘Blues festivals’ starting Nov ‘06. Many fine artists have graced our stage over both events including Mike Dowling, Jim Crawford, Spencer Bohren, Doug McLeod, Woody Mann, Spikedrivers, Kent DuChaine, NBZ, Steve James, Del Rey, Toby Walker, Hans Theessink, Brooks Williams and many more.

In recent time, we have had stunning solo performance from Aynsley Lister, surely one of the finest singer/guitarists to emerge in the last 30 years. Also, we have alternated Dave Kelly with Paul Jones and Dave with Maggie Bell, stellar performances that live long in the memory. As recently we had Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton, which reminded me of a young version of Dave ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards who once graced our stage.

I could not have envisaged the memories I have had or friends that I have made, let me know your thoughts about the gigs. The future looks bright; however, we cannot exist without your support, tell your friends, drop us an email and most of all keep supporting the blues club and continue and we promise to bring you the finest in live blues music.