Bag O’Nails — 9 Kingly Street

Jimmy Scott • Song: Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Story: Doh Pt 2 — Jimmy Scott & Maximum Breed

This is part of the Walk on the Wild Side project by Jackie Hopfinger and Mike Press. Read more at the project publication page.

The post war migration of Commonwealth citizens to the UK usually focuses on the story of Windrush and the Caribbean. But the invitation to come to Britain to support reconstruction and building the NHS extended to other parts of the Commonwealth, including Nigeria. Thousands of Nigerians paid for passage on the liners that ferried between the west coast of Africa and British ports. Of those who couldn’t afford the price of a ticket, some took their chances as stowaways on passenger or cargo ships. This was how twenty six year old Anonmuogharan Emuakpor, without money or a change of clothes, found himself in the Yorkshire port of Hull in 1948.

Not much is known about how Jimmy Scott, as he now called himself, spent the next few years and ended up in London, but by the mid-fifties he was a regular around Soho’s jazz clubs and played congas for Edmundo Ros, a London based Trinidadian-Venezuelan bandleader with his popular Latin American orchestra. As a fellow musician later described him: “There really was an irrepressible good humour to the guy and he was fun to work with as he was always very excited about everything and had an incredible energy on stage where he would show up in full tribal regalia.”

Above all he was an exceptionally talented drummer. By 1964 he was a regular at the Flamingo Club on Wardour Street, playing congas for resident band Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. The following year he joined the touring band for Stevie Wonder’s first UK tour, and was a familiar face around the clubs. Soho’s music clubs varied hugely in atmosphere and exclusivity. Some — like the Flamingo and Marquee — were open and crowded places, while others — like the intimate Bag O’Nails — were more hang outs for musicians.

On 11 January 1967 Jimi Hendrix and his band dropped in to the Bag O’Nails for their first performance in the UK after a full day of recording. The audience included Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, half of The Who, at least one Rolling Stone, Eric Clapton, Lulu, Georgie Fame and Donovan. It was that sort of club.

During 1968, The Beatles recorded many sessions for the White Album at Trident Studio, just a five minute walk from the club. They would work late into the evening, after which Paul McCartney accompanied by Mal Evans and one or two others, would stroll over to the club for a bite to eat and a relaxed chat with whoever was there. It was during one of these late evenings that Paul met his future wife and collaborator Linda.

And it was in the Bag O’Nails that Paul regularly ran into Jimmy: “I had a friend called Jimmy Scott who was a Nigerian conga player, who I used to meet in the clubs in London. He had a few expressions, one of which was, ‘Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra’. I used to love this expression… He sounded like a philosopher to me. He was a great guy anyway and I said to him, ‘I really like that expression and I’m thinking of using it…”

Jimmy was hired to play congas on early takes of the song, but it was a recording that created friction — both between Jimmy and Paul and within The Beatles. Jimmy wanted a co-writer credit for the song, while the rest of The Beatles disliked this pioneering example of white reggae. It took 48 takes to produce a version the band was happy with.

In the 1970s, Jimmy Scott played with the soul/funk band Maximum Breed, ran workshops on African music in east London, joining the 2-tone band Bad Manners in the early eighties. Then in 1986: “We’d just done this tour of America and he caught pneumonia. When he got back to Britain he was strip-searched at the airport because he was Nigerian. They left him naked for two hours. The next day he was taken into hospital and he died.”

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