Oh Geno!

Geno Washington

Geno Washington - Credit: Archant

From rock stars to food royalty, spy masters to comedians, Holt Festival brings a glittering array of entertainers to north Norfolk this month, writes Rowan Mantell.

Geno Washington really does roar with laughter. I’ve come across the phrase countless times, probably written it a few, but this might be the first time I have actually heard a laugh which is a lion-sized roar. The singer, who has performed with many of the great names of 1960s rock, and still tours to sell-out crowds, laughs as punctuation. Fragments of information about a remarkable life are coloured-in by gales of laughter from this engaging entertainer.

In July he will be bringing his huge talent and personality to Holt, returning to the region he first visited as a young American airman, and later won over as a singer.

“We will rock the house!” he roars, delightedly. “That’s what we are known for, partying!”

It will be a homecoming of sorts for the soul singer who grew up in America and lives in London, because he first came to East Anglia when he was stationed here with the US Air Force. And it was here he began singing.

“I didn’t come from a musical family – my family was in the bootlegging business! I come from a bootlegging family!” But in Britain he saw the adulation surrounding singers and decided to have a go himself. “I’d never sung in my life! I started when I got over here with the American Air Force. I was thinking of what to do. I didn’t want to stay in the Air Force all the time, I just wanted to miss the Vietnam War!”

He began singing in clubs and bars and made a name for himself as a powerful singer and entertainer. “I would join in and sing the blues,” he says. “It was cool to be black. There weren’t many black people here. All they asked of foreigners was if they came here, just mix in, do as the Romans do, you can’t find a place more fair than that!”

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His first live album was in the charts for an unprecedented 48 weeks. Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix were his support acts. He sang with Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, the Beach Boys and Ronnie Wood.

“I used to be up here, playing around Norwich, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Colchester . . .” says Geno. “Norfolk caught on very quickly, before the rest of England. We were packing places out. There used to be a club in Norwich called the Cellar Club. It was packed out all the time.”

In the 1970s he returned to America and studied meditation and hypnotism.

And then Dexy’s Midnight Runners released Geno, dedicated to their love of Geno Washington.

“I was in Los Angeles, working with the Beach Boys,” remembers Geno, “and I started getting telephone calls from national newspapers back in England. And then it became number one. They said ‘how do you feel?’ and I said I was thinking of suing these boys for making me look so good!” And he laughs his enormous laugh.

He still loves entertaining. “We get standing ovations wherever we go. I’m into rocking the house. I can’t be doing with boring things. If you go out, you entertain the people. You have got to get them into a good mood and make them dance.”

This is what is headed to Holt this month. “We will be moving and grooving. I’m going to come up there and put some glad in the strad, some loot in the suit. We are going to rock the house!”

Geno Washington and the Yo Yos will be performing at the Theatre in the Woods on Friday, July 24 at 9pm. Tickets are £18/£5 concession.

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