Live music: Lloyd is a living legend of rock

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BLUES guitarist Lloyd Watson cuts an unassuming figure as he takes to the stage on the Peterborough pub circuit on a weekly basis.

BLUES guitarist Lloyd Watson cuts an unassuming figure as he takes to the stage on the Peterborough pub circuit on a weekly basis.But this modest devotee of Robert Johnson has a colourful musical past that takes in encounters with David Bowie, Roxy Music, Stevie Wonder and membership of a short-lived supergroup that has guaranteed his place in the annals of rock history.

Born in Peterborough 58 years ago, Lloyd's Jamaican father was in the RAF and met his mother when he was stationed in Britain. Although he was taught the piano from an early age, it was the gift of a steel-strung guitar from his father when he was six that lit the touch paper of what would soon become an obsession with music.

A second gift of an LP of songs from giant of the Delta blues Robert Johnson pushed Lloyd further towards the guitar, and at 13, inspired by The Beatles, he had formed his first group with friends.

Soon afterwards, and still in his teens, he was playing in a band called The Soulmates with Stevie Wonder's English cousin, giving Lloyd the chance to meet the Motown legend during a concert in London.

"He was just wonderful," Lloyd said.

Before long, Lloyd's playing and nascent songwriting abilities earned him the recognition of blues aficionado Duster Bennett, who put him together with Yardbird Top Topham, but it was a quirk of fate with his own band, In The Beginning, that would send Lloyd's profile into the dizzy heights of national recognition.

"We entered the Melody Maker's rock/folk contest in Leicester," he said.

"Before the heat, they got an offer to go and do cabaret, so they went to do that. I'd never done a solo gig before, but I turned up at the heat and said 'my band's split up, can I go in as a solo artist?'."

The organisers said yes, and a panel including Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention and Jon Anderson of Yes, voted Lloyd the overall winner.

"I did the competition on the Sunday, and on Tuesday I was singing on The Old Grey Whistle Test," he said.

Signed by Chrysalis Records and plastered on the front cover of the Melody Maker with Neil Young, Lloyd was promptly dispatched on a tour of the colleges, and was chosen as the support act for King Crimson, Status Quo and David Bowie at the height of Ziggy Stardust's popularity, joining the former David Jones at a now legendary performance at the Rainbow Theatre, London in 1972.

"Somebody broke into my dressing room and pinched my acoustic guitar, but David Bowie lent me his, so I went on and played Bowie's guitar," Lloyd said.

It was his relationship with perhaps the coolest band of the age, Roxy Music, that would cement Lloyd's name in rock history.Initially selected as the support act for the art school outfit, Lloyd's closeness to the band led to work as a session guitarist for solo albums by Roxy's Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno and Phil Mackay.

When Roxy briefly disbanded in 1976, Lloyd had an invitation to join short-lived side project 801, with Roxy members, as well as Simon Phillips of Toto and Francis Monkman of Curved Air.

"Roxy decided to take a break and the idea was that Phil (Manzanera) was going to get a little band together," Lloyd said.

"We did a warm-up gig in Cromer, then played the Reading Festival in front of 80,000 people, and then the last show we did was recorded."

The ensuing album, 801 Live, has been described by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest live albums of all time, and Lloyd still sees royalties from the album (he cites album track Rongwrong as an example of some of his best playing).

In that same year, Lloyd had an accident that threatened to destroy his career. Playing a solo gig at The Golden Fleece in Peterborough (the pub is no longer there), Lloyd reached out to grab his mic stand, unaware that it was live, and he was electrocuted.

"I knew what was happening but I couldn't move and I couldn't speak," he said.

His left hand was burnt so badly that desperate measures were needed, and Lloyd's thumb was surgically inserted into the top of his right arm in order for the damaged flesh to grow back. He was out of action for months, but when he was healed, Lloyd went straight back to the guitar and practised until he was back to his previous form.

Now resident in Pinchbeck, near Spalding, Lloyd – the proud father of singer Lauren (23), guitarist Eilliot (30), and drummer Aynsley (27), plays up to four gigs a week, teaches guitar and says he wouldn't change it for the world.

"If I had to do it all again, I'd do it exactly the same, but twice as fast," he said.

You can see the Lloyd Watson band at The Comet, Dogsthorpe, tomorrow from 9pm, and at the Three Horseshoes, Werrington on Saturday from 9pm. Entry to both gigs is free.