‘Didn’t really approve of him carrying on’: Top Topham’s unlikely Yardbirds return was decades in the making

Top Topham’s latest tenure with the Yardbirds not only helped return a founding member to the lineup, it completed a story of musical redemption 50 years in the making. With the group again since 2013, he’s joined a frontline that includes Ben King, who joined in ’05.

Topham was actually there before the Yardbirds’ trio of best-known guitar greats, predating stints by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page that hurtled the group toward Hall of Fame status into the late 1960s. But, back then, Topham was torn between two worlds, unlike classmates Chris Dreja and Keith Relf.

“Top Topham was in the band before Eric,” stalwart Yardbird Jim McCarty tells 95.5 GLO, “and he was the youngest guy in the band. His parents wanted him to carry on with his studies. He was at art school with some of the other guys, with Keith and Chris. He was a very good artist, and had potential — and they didn’t really approve of him carrying on in the group. And so he left. Unfortunately, he missed out on all the big hits. That’s when we got Eric in.”

Fast forward five decades, and Dreja’s departure because of health reasons opened the door for a unlikely return for Topham, who had in fact become a well-regarded painter and interior designer.

“I invited Top to take his place,” McCarty says, “so we have actually two lead guitar players — one from the old days, and one from the new days.”

Before officially rejoining the Yardbirds, Topham was part of the turn-of-the-1990s Topham-McCarty Band with Jim, a period that was revisited recently via a terrific reissue. McCarty and the Yardbirds just completed a well-received U.S. tour.

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