Thursday, 17 December 2009


I'm sorry to hear of the death, on December 4, of Francis Wilford-Smith, a splendidly old-fashioned enthusiast for, and early expert on, the pre-war blues, and especially the piano blues.

He was an avid collector of 78rpm records, a broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and the compiler of some excellent piano blues LPs on the British label Magpie Records, drawing all the material from his own collection, beginning with Magpie 4400, Paramount 1929-1930 'whip it to a jelly' (The Piano Blues Vol. 1), in 1977, and often calling upon Paul Oliver to write the sleevenotes. Wilford Smith also field recorded Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery at his home in Sussex in 1960, yielding two 1980s LPs of the latter: These Are What I Like: Unissued Recordings Vol. 1 and Those I Liked I Learned: Unissued Recordings Vol. 2. More or less Edwardian-bristling-moustache in persona, Wilford-Smith owned more than one penny-farthing bicycle, and there is a photograph of Little Brother Montgomery encountering one of these. (I have failed to locate it online.)

Wilford-Smith had studied under John Minton at Camberwell School of Art, where he was a contemporary of Humphrey Lyttelton and the Canadian-born Wally Fawkes ('Trog'). He made a good living from cartoons published under the pen name 'Smilby' in Playboy (and a bit extra from others in Punch), which allowed him to outbid others for rare 78s.

Wilford-Smith was 82, had suffered from Parkinson's Disease since 1994, and spent his last years in a nursing home. He died asleep in bed.

1 comment:

Ron W said...

I just found out from the pre-war Blues List of his passing. I believe the field recordings included a Champion Jack Dupree that was also issued along with the two by Little Brother Montgomery.