Bexhill Museum celebrates history of Blues Unlimited magazine

Karen Smith and museum curator Julian Porter with the exhibition
Karen Smith and museum curator Julian Porter with the exhibition

Bexhill Museum has a new exhibition for 2019 celebrating the work of two townspeople who, in the 1960s, founded a magazine still considered to have been one of the premier publications in its field.

Did you know Bexhill was the birthplace of Blues Unlimited magazine? This small exhibition in the museum reception area explains the foundations of the magazine and the personnel involved.

Issue 111 of Blues Unlimited, published in December-January 1974/75

Issue 111 of Blues Unlimited, published in December-January 1974/75

It charts the story of how a publication originally produced by hand grew to be read by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, and how Blues Unlimited secured its place in the annals of music history.

In 1963 former Bexhill Grammar School pupils Mike Leadbitter and Simon A. Napier founded the world’s first magazine exclusively devoted to blues music. Their dedication to the magazine produced world class research that is still considered pre-eminent in its field.

The story of the magazine is told through text, photographs and other exhibits including copies of the magazine, books and ephemera. The exhibition is the work of museum volunteer Karen Smith.

Blues Unlimited was launched in 1963 as a typed, mimeographed pamphlet. Its last issue, by then a fully-fledged photo-offset production and then edited by Mike Rowe, was published in the winter of 1987.

Rare first edition of Blues Unlimited

Rare first edition of Blues Unlimited

Karen says her exhibition was sparked when the museum was asked if it had any information on Blues Unlimited. In filling a gap in the museum’s archive by her researches she found that Blues Unlimited had stemmed from the Blues Appreciation Society, founded by the pair. In turn they created their own label, Flyright Records.

Karen was both surprised and delighted by the enthusiasm shown by those she contacted during her researches. Material for the exhibition has come from as far afield as the USA.

She found that when Simon and Mike invited American blues artist Juke Boy Bonner (1932-1978) to Bexhill in 1969 he wrote and recorded “B.U. Blues” as a memento of the visit.

If copyright permission can be obtained, it is hoped to add a musical element to the exhibition.

Sadly, Mike died in 1974 and Simon, a former Bexhill Chamber of Commerce president, in 1990.

Bexhill Museum (01424 222058) in Egerton Road is open seven days a week until mid-December. Opening hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday to Friday and 11am to 5pm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, including bank holidays. Its website gives full contact details and more information.

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