In 1963, a very young guitarist, Anthony "Top" Topham and his friend at secondary school, Chris Dreja, visited the Railway Hotel in Norbiton. The hotel's entertainment featured "trad" jazz music in the uptairs lounge, and allowed budding musicians to play during the breaks. It was a time when young British lads like Top were inventing a distinctively British version of the gutsy urban American blues known as R&B. There, they met singer and harmonica player Keith Relf, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, and drummer Jim McCarty deciding to form a group called the Yardbirds. Two weeks later they played their first gig at the Eel Pie Island, supporting the Cyril Davies All-Stars.
The local R&B heroes were the Rolling Stones, and as they were to go on tour with Bo Diddley, were to vacate the Crawdaddy Club at Richmond. Two months after the formation of the Yardbirds, Giorgio Gomelsky offered them to assume the residency at the Crawdaddy and became their manager. As the Yardbirds had to turn professional, Top faced parental disapproval coupled with the anxiety of abandoning his art studies. He couldn't devote himself to the Yardbirds full-time, and thus he had to leave. His replacement was a fellow art student from the same secondary school, Eric Clapton.
Topham recalls, "I was only 15 then, three or four years younger than the rest, and there was no way my parents would let me go out five or six nights a week to play music, even though I was already bringing home double what my father was earning. I was going on to Epsom Art School and they wanted me to take it seriously. Eric Clapton was the obvious person to replace me. Later on I didn't regret leaving because they'd moved away from the blues music that I was interested in. Even if I'd stayed in them to become professional I think I would have left later for the same reasons Eric left."
He went on to Art College where he formed bands with his friend Duster Bennett. But eventually his urge to play music proved too strong and he joined Winston G and the Wicked (later renamed The Fox), once again finding himself at a pivotal point in British rock as the band crossed from heavy rock to psychedelia, playing alongside Marc Bolan, early Yes and Captain Beefheart.
After a final gig with Winston G at London's Roundhouse, Top subsequently revived his association with Duster Bennett, recording a live album with him - this in turn introducing him to Mike Vernon and his Blue Horizon label, that became the premier British blues record label in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He did a great deal of session and production work for Blue Horizon, playing with the likes of Peter Green and Christine Perfect (now Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie).
Topham recorded a solo album for Blue Horizon, "Ascension Heights", as plans went underway for him and Duster Bennett to form an eagerly anticipated blues band. But while Bennett was touring with John Mayall in 1970, Topham fell seriously ill --contracting a blood disorder and was close to dying-- and had to abandon the music business once more.
Upon his recovery two years later, he entered the fine arts business in Chelsea and converted to Islam and assumed the identity, "Rafjid Topham" (his murals and other works grace the luxurious homes of numerous wealthy Arab clients). By the mid-Eighties, Top had left London for Wales, rearing eight children in rural splendor but a chance meeting with his old mate from the Yardbirds, Jim McCarty, convinced Top to pick up his guitar and dust off his blues once more in 1988. Back in the London circuit, the Top Topham-Jim McCarty Band was formed and played for two years until Top decided to characteristically leave once again in July 1990, wishing to pursue country blues. He sessioned on 12-string guitar for the track "Broken Waltz Time" on the Bill Morrissey album, "Night Train" (Philo Records). Later, Topham and Jim McCarty teamed again up for Pete Brown's double album, "Rattlesnake Guitar" (Coast-to-Coast Records) as a tribute to help Fleetwood Mac's founder, Peter Green.
In the 2000s, Top continues to revisit the blues circuit in his unpredictable and mysterious fashion, including guestings with the latest edition of the Yardbirds under the co-leadership of Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja, and performing with vocalist-bassist John Idan (the new star addition to the prestigious Yardbirds roster) in various sporadic gigs of his own.