I have decided to write about how I got into music and why it has been so important to me. People often ask me how long I’ve been playing and I am usually less than honest with them. Maybe it’s because I don’t want them to know how old I am! Mind you, the only time I was honest the person I was talking to didn’t believe me, thought I was lying! Just shows that sometimes you can’t win! Well, I’ve decided to write the complete story, as much as I can remember. It’s strange, when I look back over the years how things have become blurred and there are people I knew well at the time that I can’t even remember the name of now, although I can still see their faces. It’s been a long voyage and I’m still on it now.
I am writing this partly in response to a request from Shaun Knapp, brother of John, who is writing a biography of legendary Leicester band Legay. He’s decided to expand it and include other aspects of the Leicester music scene. It’s also something I’ve intended doing for a while. History tends to be written about the rich and famous but there is a much broader story to tell about the mass of people who live rich and varied lives and make a real impact on their local culture. This is the case with the local music scene. Although few achieved national or international success there is a legacy of real talent and happenings and events that changed people’s lives and made the world a better place to live in. The band Legay were one of these. Even now I think they were the best band I’ve ever seen live, and I’ve seen a few! They were also incredibly popular with local audiences. As big as the Beatles to awe struck teenagers like me. This is the real story of what happened in the 60s not the media representations of pop history you tend to get now which really give you a story of the development and growth of the mass media from the top down. They tend to ignore or don’t know what happened at the grass roots.
I think there has always been a clash between the motivations of musicians and the big record companies. Musicians and performers are usually motivated by a love of what they do whilst the companies are motivated by a love of money. No change there then! However, in the mean time, and without being asked, local performers have been creating a legacy of great music and performance. The list of names is almost endless! And now, with the availability of cheap high quality recording equipment and distribution it’s possible for people to get their work out there. The result is a mammoth increase of music available. The old model doesn’t work anymore. The big record companies attempt to sell more and more (or is that less?) commercial “product” aligned to “reality” TV programs or manufactured “stars” whilst the real creativity is on Soundcloud or Bandcamp or a host of other sites where people can upload their music (and films). The tide is changing as long as the internet remains open and free.
So, this leads me to my story and how I got involved with music and why I kept going! I will also talk about the many people I have been involved with who in my mind are the real stars!
One of my earliest recollections was looking out of the window and seeing raindrops run down the window pane. This is strange because I don’t seem to be aware of those kind of things any more. It was my first real experience of self awareness. In an instant I realised that I existed and was somehow different and apart from others. I was aware of everything that went on around me like I was some kind of observer. This was the beginning of a somewhat bemused but interested relationship with the world. A bit like William Burroughs when he said that he thought he had been sent to earth for a purpose but had forgotten what it was, I felt a sense of personal destiny which has remained a mystery and eluded me for the whole of my life. It hasn’t stopped me from searching for it though, or attempting to create situations from which it can emerge. Sometimes I even think I have fulfilled my personal destiny without even realising it. On the other hand it may be just the crazy musings of an old deluded fool who is rapidly running out of time! Even so, that idea of destiny has kept me going for years and is what led me to an interest and career in music and poetry. It also possibly explains why I have persisted for so long doing the same thing ; the gigs,writing songs and constantly seeking the perfect recording of my songs. It hasn’t really been a career at all but a search for salvation, redemption even! (Boy, I love those big ideas!). As William Blake said in his Proverbs of Hell, “If a fool persists in his folly he will become wise” and although wisdom may have escaped me I have learnt a lot from my experiences!
I was born in 1951 and grew up in a semi-detached house in Knighton, Leicester. At that time this was the posh end of what is now called Clarendon Park. Now it seems the other way round. The working class terraces of Clarendon Park now house university students and middle class professionals. This has become the posh end. Just shows how things can change in a relatively short time! It was a small house with a massive garden that resembled a jungle. It was a great place to play and have imaginative adventures and I remember it with great fondness and nostalgia. It is here I lived out my fantasies of being the Lone Ranger, Robin Hood and other heroes of screen and TV.
My mother loved music and we had a massive bakelite “wireless” (Yes, I know they’re called radios now but at the time that name was an Americanism too far! Until Elvis came along Americans weren’t that popular in England! During the 1940s it was said they were over paid, over sexed and over here! Gary Cooper was okay though.) It had an extension speaker in the next room. She liked to play it loud as she did the house work so my early years consisted of listening to light orchestral music played at a deafening level! I loved it though. It became the soundtrack of my life and was no doubt better than watching day time TV which didn’t exist then. In fact we didn’t have a TV at all until I was ten years old.
Radio was the media hub of it’s time. There were two BBC stations, the Light Programme and the Home Service, which eventually became Radio 2 and 4. Later on the Third Programme came into being where you could listen to classical music and high brow plays (now Radio 3). You could also get Radio stations from around the world by twiddling the dial. I spent many a happy hour listening to Radio Moscow and other weird and wonderful stations like Radio Ankara! Yes, globalisation is nothing new! Radio Luxemburg was the only station playing pop records interspersed with adverts. It wasn’t always clear though, it depended on the weather conditions. The Light Programme had mainly live music but their were two request shows that played records and these were hugely popular. One was the British Services request show every Sunday lunch time and the other was Children’s Favourites that went out every Saturday morning. I never missed this. It was a request show but every week virtually the same records were requested. No one seemed too mind though what with classics like Nellie the Elephant, Tubby the Tuba and a weird skiffle record about a train going through the middle of the house which always freaked me out. Glad I didn’t live in that house! The records on this show made such an impact on me that years later I bought a CD of them and inflicted them on my own children. Strangely enough, they liked them as well and now we have a shared childhood experience of wonderful songs like The Ugly Duckling, Little Red Monkey and the Emperor’s New Clothes. Wonderful stuff!
Looking back I had an idyllic childhood. TV documentaries tend to paint the 50s as a grim, austere time and certainly the industrial environment of this time can make it seem like that way as well as the smoke and smog from millions of coal fires. On the other hand, I can remember gazing for hours into the living room fire and being totally fascinated. It was a constantly changing drama and a source of inspiration. Far more interesting than most TV programmes and films. I loved the way that as the coal heated up, gas escaped and then exploded into flame. It was like looking into the centre of the Earth.
Where I lived the countryside was close by and their were many parks and green spaces. Nearby was the Wash Brook which became a favourite place full of wild things and adventure. Close too was the old church of St. Mary Magdalene where I was baptized and a derelict thatched cottage which became something of a magical playground. There was a field with horses in it. Quite an idyllic place really! Also, for someone who turned into a bit of a juvenile deliquent, I loved school (apart from one year when I hated the teacher, or more importantly, he hated me!). My favourite activity was singing and I loved the songs from “The New National Song Book” especially “John Peel” and “I’ll Go No More A Roving”. I believe that this book was put together by Cecil Sharpe and Vaughan Williams as a way of returning traditional folk song to the people. In many ways it was a patronising thing to do but I know I was not the only one who enjoyed belting them out so I think in some ways it was successful! We also sang hymns every morning and I loved them too although it led to some hilarious misinterpretations of the words e.g. I thought “There is a Green Hill Far Away” was about a road I walked past called Greenhill Road. My fertile imagination saw Jesus crucified at the end of it! Hello school psychologist, I’m not as disturbed as you think!
In many ways children had a lot of freedom in the 1950s. There was less traffic and we played outside and were quite autonomous. We were allowed to make our own decisions. At the age of eight I can remember going to the shop to buy cigarettes for my mother and nanna and from a very early age I walked to school and back on my own. The kind of anxieties that exist now didn’t occur then and there was a strong sense of community especially in the Hinckley Road area where my grandmother lived. People really looked out for each other then.
On the other hand, there wasn’t much music being played in people’s homes, at least not the ones I went to. Our next door neighbours were members of the Salvation Army and played in a brass band. They were very supportive to me when I got into playing music. Most of the people I knew didn’t play anything. I think they saw it as a luxury they couldn’t afford. If it didn’t bring money in then it wasn’t worth doing. People had time for many other hobbies though like football and fishing and lots of people went for bike rides on Sundays. You can make time for things if you want! It was also a time when the media organisations had an even bigger stranglehold than now. The BBC and later ITV dictated what people listened to and watched. It was virtually a monopoly of culture in which the consumers had no say in what happened. This was also true of cinema. It was the environment that Theodore Adorno wrote about in “The Culture Industry” in which he sees media coverage as one of the main ways of controlling society and people’s thoughts. Propaganda in other words. This reached a perverted kind of perfection in advertising and the growth of independent television. The adverts were more persuasive and better made than any of the programmes! They were also not really selling products but a life style. They were telling people what they should be doing and thinking and what they should have! It’s interesting that George Orwell based “The Ministry of Truth” (an organisation dedicated to lies and propaganda) in “1984” on the time he worked at the BBC. At the same time, many popular TV shows at the time ( like “I Love Lucy” and “Bewitched”) shamelessly promoted a consumerist, capitalistic life style based on the nuclear family. A recipe for total conformity in a “clean” home full of electronic gadgets!
By the time I left Avenue Road Junior School pop music was making an impact. “Pick of the Pops” was a programme that appeared on the radio on Sunday afternooons playing the Top 40. I still didn’t have a record player nor could I afford to buy records but they started having an impact on me. Favourites included “Telstar”, “Apache”, “Sheila” and “Wooden Heart”. It was at this time I learnt a skill I thought everyone had but now realise they don’t. I could memorise a whole record and play it back in my head, I mean all of it not just the tune. At times I even managed to “improve” on it and prefered my “virtual” version to the original.
The raison d’etre of the pop music industry was to create disposable music in the true spirit of consumerism. Kids were expected to buy a record, listen to it, throw it away and buy a new one. What they didn’t factor in was that they didn’t throw them away. They became valued artifacts and inspired a generation to start creating their own music. This was the beginning of a new era of creativity for those who had previously been excluded from the media circus (which, in reality, was virtually everyone). This leads on to the next period of my life. Secondary school and the wonderful 1960s, a period when briefly everything seemed possible and when I decided to become a musician.
Secondary School and the 1960s
Having failed the 11+ I went to Lancaster Boys School, Leicester in 1962. I didn’t feel like a failure though, in fact I was glad to be going there. It was a new school in nice grounds and there was a girls school next door that proved significant in later years! At that time the role of Secondary Modern schools was changing. In the 1950s they were a bit of a dumping ground for those who were incapable of rising to the academic rigour of the Grammar Schools (Yes, I am being sarcastic!). Unfortunately, this accounted for about eighty per cent of the population and it was gradually becoming obvious that these pupils were capable of a lot more. Lancaster Boys was given the remit to get kids to pass exams and, perhaps ironically, they had one of the highest pass rates in the city by the mid 60s including the grammar schools. The official school leaving age at that time was fifteen and passing the 11+ didn’t guarantee success. Lancaster Boys was seen as a good school and I enjoyed being there.
In the first week or so of being there we were given the opportunity to play a musical instrument if we wanted to. Those interested had time out of lessons to try a variety of wind instruments. There was a school wind band run by a visiting band master named Mr. J.Ord Hume. He was the relative of a famous military band composer. We could try all sorts of instruments: trombones, cornets, clarinets, euphonium. It was great fun. I decided on clarinet because at that time there was a big hit by Acker Bilk called “Stranger on the Shore”. I was still heavily influenced by light orchestral music! We didn’t have actual lessons but he showed us the basics and then we just learnt on the job. He showed us the music and we learnt the notes and he shouted at us if we got it wrong! It’s amazing how quickly you can pick things up. He did his own arrangements with some really easy parts so anyone could be part of the band right from the start. Then there were more difficult parts as you got better. It actually sounded very good and set me on my path as a musician.
We also had singing once a week which was still my favourite activity and every Monday morning all the first years had hymn practice. The headmaster Mr. Dickson was often there ensuring that the boys sang up, at risk of a whack round the head if you didn’t. This was a time when corporal punishment was used extensively not just for misbehaviour but as a teaching method! It included hitting, hair pulling, ridicule and a whole range of methods of torture. Didn’t do me any harm though!(Yes, the old cliches are the best!). To be fair, it was often done accompanied by a sarcastic sense of humour which made it a bit more bearable. Mind you, if teachers employed these methods now they would probably all be arrested!
There were assemblies every morning where we sang at least two hymns, it was like a mini service including a lesson for the day and a prayer. On Fridays the wind band would play for the hymns and sometimes play an instrumental. My first real experience as a performer.
Things were moving fast though and my interests were expanding.
In 1963 Beatlemania struck and things were never the same again. This was the watershed, it opened up the floodgates of new possibilities. This was when youth was liberated from the conformity of the past and I lost interest in light orchestral music. Even at that age I could come out with a convincing rendition of “Twist and Shout” and “Please Please Me” and my future as a vocalist was assured, or so I thought. With the emergence of The Rolling Stones shortly afterwards I became a total convert and spent most of my time singing or playing records over and over in my mind until they actually became a part of me. I wasn’t a passive consumer, I was living it!
I had a problem though. Although intuitively I understood perfectly what was happening I didn’t know how it was done. I had no access to the instruments used in pop music and my music theory was poor. When I discovered how chords worked it was an epiphany! Yes!!, that’s how you do it!! You play chords and sing along to it!! Once I worked that out there was no looking back!! It took quite a while to reach that point though.
1965 was one of the best years for music ever what with “Rubber Soul”,”Highway 61 Revisted” and a whole string of brilliant Rolling Stones singles (albums not so good though apart from “Aftermath”). It was also one of the most significant years of my life. I was a real teenager now and part of a wider sub-culture. This was the time of the mods and rockers both of which I was on the periphery of although I tended towards the mods. The rocker connection was that I attended the Avenue Road Youth Club, which was a rocker stronghold. They were quite impressive with their powerful bikes and reckless ways. I can remember them doing speed trials around Avenue Road and Bulwer Road where occasionally one them would crash into a wall. They were a bit moronic. I liked their macho swagger and the leather jackets and studded belts though.
The mod connection was more by association. Although my friends and I were aware of what was happening we were too young to go to the clubs and coffee bars frequented by the mods. The mother of my best friend at the time had a hair salon on Queens Road. She had an apprentice who was a fully fledged mod with a real scooter and he became a source of information about what was happening and where the best places were even in London. These stories were passed on with a sense of awe and wonder that was virtually religious.
Our time was spent mainly hanging around in parks and town and getting up to all kinds of mischief. This included things like casual shoplifting, illegally travelling on trains and performing ridiculously dangerous dares mainly on building sites and railway lines. I was surprised to learn much later that John Lennon and his pals got up to very similar things in Liverpool ten years earlier. It was perhaps a rite of passage for boys in the immediate post-war period. We were like a bunch of trainee “rebels without a cause”. We also developed our skills at chatting up girls. Bizarrely, one of the main weekly meeting points for people of our age was the Museum on New Walk on Sunday afternoons. I had many an assignation there. By the end of 1965 I think I was probably lucky to still be alive! I also had a criminal record but , fortunately as I was a juvenile, it didn’t affect my later career.
On a more positive note we were all really into music and listened to each other’s records. This was a fantastic year what with The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”, The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man”, The Who’s “My Generation” and perhaps, for me, the most significant song I have ever heard Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. There was also a remarkable string of Beatles hits. I internalised many of the songs at this time to such an extent they have effectively become a part of what I am and I still perform them now. At this time singles were the most important format and they were all we could really afford. We listened to the top 40 on the radio and juke boxes were an important outlet for music that could be found in many cafes. We also often went roller skating at the Granby Halls on Saturday afternoon where the latest hits were played on a loud PA system.
This was where I first heard Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” which made an enormous impact on me. I realised that songs could be about anything you wanted or even about nothing at all. It was an epiphany.You could also listen to records in booths at the record shops. The main stores in Leicester were Brees on Churchgate and Cowlings on Belvoir Street.
In 1966 I became bored with being a delinquent and decided to become an intellectual (sorry if I sound a bit like Adrian Mole!). I wasn’t exactly sure what this entailed but I realised that knowledge is power and that if I continued following the path I was on I would end up either in borstal or some boring job at the age of fifteen. I was in the exam class now and became separated from the retrobates I’d been hanging around with. I started going to the Phoenix Theatre which had recently opened that was staging fairly avant garde plays. I was particularly impressed by “Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs” which I saw several times. I related to Malcolm’s rage against normality and mediocrity and yearning for freedom. I also quite fancied one of the actresses in it although I was too shy to speak to her in the bar afterwards.
I also went to the De Montfort Hall to the classical and jazz concerts. You could get a cheap ticket if you stood at the side. I saw some remarkable performances and events like The Modern Jazz Quartet, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Dave Brubeck who I watched sitting on the stage just behind where he was playing. Fantastic!
I was becoming very interested in jazz and bought several records that were sold cheaply on a market stall. I particularly liked Bix Beiderbecke and still play the records now. I also developed a life long love of Louis Armstrong who I think is the greatest jazz player of all time. I saw Jacques Loussier at the De Montfort Hall and found his jazz treatments of Bach pieces quite compelling. All in all, it was a time of growth and awareness for me. I was breaking away from the conformity of the working/lower middle class attitudes around me that I found so stifling. I was also beginning to reject the macho posturing of the youth scene that I had found myself in. I was discovering my creative side!
I had a new set of friends and we were old enough to start going out at night. The mod thing was still happening and we bought made to measure suits from John Collier and fancy shirts and shoes. At this time I was doing three paper rounds so I had a bit of money to spend.
The main places we went to were The Green Bowler (a coffee bar on Churchgate) and the Casino Ballroom on London Road. This is where I first encountered the local live music scene. Several bands played there but the standouts were definitely Legay. The lead singer, Rod Read, was incredibly charismatic and they had a huge fan following of mainly attractive girls. As you can understand, this helped serve as an inspiration for me to follow a musical career! They also had their own style that included rocked up versions of Motown hits (Motown was hitting it’s peak at this time). When the bands weren’t playing there was a disco. Contrary to what many think is mod music the majority of records played were Soul and Bluebeat (a name taken from one of the main record labels. People call it Ska now). This love of Black Music persisted into the later Skinhead subculture (and what became known as Northern Soul) but not so much the Hippies with some notable exceptions like Otis Redding. Motown was seen as too “pop” and watered down for the main stream but that changed in the 1970s with artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
By 1967 I was really in the groove. “Strawberry Fields Forever” became my favourite song as I worked towards taking my ‘O’ Levels. The Green Bowler was still the main place we went to and they started putting live bands on in an upstairs room there. They also had a really good, loud juke box where I first heard the song “Happy Jack” by the Who which became a firm favourite.
As well as the Green Bowler we went to the Nite Owl, a large coffee bar on Newarke Street. They had all-nighters and featured some of the top groups at the time like Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and Geno Washington and his Ram Jam Band. Another brilliant group who played there was the Graham Bond Organisation who had Jack Bruce as their bass player. Legay were also a regular feature who I saw quite often on Sunday afternoons and were fantastic as usual. They also featured many American soul stars there. A very good place until it burned down and I’m not speaking metaphorically!!
1967 was the “Summer of Love” and the new phenomenon of Hippies took hold. This started in San Francisco and the song “San Francisco (wear some flowers in your hair)” by Scott Mackenzie became an anthem that summer. I welcomed this with open arms, it beat the pants off the kind of casual violence that epitomised the Mods and Rockers! It also felt incredibly liberated. Later that summer Leicester had it’s own Love-in on Victoria Park.
Local poet Terry Wilford read his poems, people strummed guitars and we all felt very clever as the police looked on. I wasn’t really involved yet but that was about to change very soon!
For many the Hippie Explosion was seen as a commercial thing and, certainly at the time, many people cashed in on it. Club owner Alex Barrow closed his “Bluebeat Club” and opened up the “House of Happiness”on Campbell Street. The Chicane Club on the other side of town, which I never went to, advertised “Flower Power”. A new club opened called the “Fifth Dimension”.
There were plenty of people who became known as “weekend hippies”, “straight” job’s during the week and “freaking out” at the weekend! But all this misses the point that something actually was happening. Attitudes were changing. There was a new autonomy amongst the young and their older sympathisers. Home grown businesses started emerging selling alternative clothes and other paraphernalia. The area around Silver Street became a hive of enterprise of alternative culture. An “underground” press emerged on a national level most notably with the new paper “International Times” which was distributed clandestinely. Later on there was “Oz” magazine where the editors ended up in jail for obscenity! At this time the established record companies briefly lost control of their product. The fans and the musicians were calling the tunes and were in control of their own culture. It was a liberating time where, for once, what was best was also the most popular!
I left Lancaster Boys and went to Charles Keene College to do my ‘A’ Levels. This was the beginning of a whole new life. In the first few weeks I met Mick Pini who was a fellow student. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met and one of the best musicians. We became friends and had many interesting times together over the next few years but the most significant one was 1968.
1968 Year of Revolutions
It’s been said that if you can remember the 60s you weren’t there. I’ve got the opposite problem. I can remember so much I can’t see how I managed to fit it all in. This is particularly true of 1968. I have lots of separate memories of things but I have a job working out the chronology. I do know that this was the year that I started doing gigs. Mick Pini was an inspiration to me. He had an electric guitar and was the first person I knew who had a Marshall “stack”. This is a powerful amplifier and a separate speaker cabinet for those who don’t know. The result is a very loud sound and the ability to create distortion. I went back to Mick’s house and he demonstrated it to me. As he played the house started shaking and I thought the window frames were going to fall out! It was monumental!! Even at that point Mick had the talent to create a really expressive sound and he was later to become one of the best blues guitarists in the country.
From my point of view I had a problem. Although my vocal skills were improving I hadn’t started playing the guitar yet. At that time my favourite group was The Doors. I had a passing resemblance to Jim Morrison and I could imitate his voice quite well. This proved quite popular with the girls! I could sing every song on the “Strange Days” album from beginning to end and remember all the words. This ability to learn and remember lyrics eventually caused me to be called “The Human Juke Box”.
I became influenced by avant garde jazz. In Leicester, a dedicated music library opened called Goldsmiths where you could borrow records for a small fee. It had mainly classical music but they also had a folk and jazz section. I was impressed by recordings of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and particularly John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Archie Shepp’s “The Magic of Juju”. I decided to dust my clarinet off that I hadn’t played for a while and start playing free jazz. I found that I could make it sound a bit like an electric lead guitar and I also used it to create weird screaming noises. I got really experimental!! Poet Terry Wilford recently reminded me that I played the clarinet under water in the Town Hall Square fountain on one occasion! I was also writing strange apocalyptic poems influenced by William Blake and the language of the King James Bible and I would perform these interspersed with free jazz improvisations. My reputation as a performance artist increased and I began to be invited to perform at gigs and jam sessions. I think I was seen as a bit of a novelty act but at least I was out there doing it.
It was at this time I got my first paid gig and had my name advertised in The Leicester Mercury. A giant step for me! It was at a place called Raynor’s, a slightly seedy 50s style night club tucked behind the Grand Hotel. It was rumoured that the owner was associated with the Kray Brothers (an East End gangster family who were literally carving out a criminal empire at the time). This could be true because Charlie Kray (the one who wasn’t a total psychopath!) lived in Leicester for a while in the early 70s. I met him in the Town Arms once. The club had decided to have a hippie night every Monday evening called “The Crocodile Club” which featured live bands, DJ Stuart Greasley (who called himself “Gensian Sprunt”) and the best light show outside of a Pink Floyd concert. The light show was created by dripping different coloured inks on to a slide projector and it bubbled and moved as it heated up. As you can appreciate, it wasn’t the best thing to do to a projector and they had a fairly short life! Stuart had a crash helmet covered in wire wool and as a finale he covered it in lighter fuel and set it on fire, while he was wearing it! He was a bit of a prat but very entertaining! He got the idea from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and he would play their record “Fire”. No health and safety then, but I imagine it contravened fire regulations! When I finished my gig it went down so well they invited me back the following week. However, the doorman hated me so much he refused to let me in until the organisers intervened. OK! I wasn’t exactly playing middle of the road, easy listening music!
Leicester University and Leicester College of Art (now DMU) put on lots of gigs. Saw the Who, Pink Floyd, Incredible String Band, Marsha Hunt and countless others at these venues. Also there were gigs at the Corn Exchange and of course the Il Rondo on Silver Street. Mick and I (especially Mick) got quite friendly with Fleetwood Mac who played in Leicester quite regularly. Mick actually stayed with Peter Green in London and it has been said that he carried Peter’s style forward into the 70s and 80s. He was certainly a big influence and a superb guitarist. Julie Driscoll of the Brian Auger Trinity, who made one of the best covers of a Dylan song ever “This Wheel’s on Fire”, was known to be emotionally volatile and would occasionally throw her mic into the audience. On one occasion it landed squarely on my forehead nearly knocking me out!! I’ve suffered for my art!!
Poetry was undergoing a major revival. In 1965 Allen Ginsberg had crossed the Atlantic and was part of a big poetry event at the Royal Albert Hall. This event was a triumph of grassroots organisation, done at the last minute, that helped to create a self confidence and creative surge that epitomised the age. Filmed by Peter Whitehead (“Wholly Communion”) it was a brilliant success and by 1968 there were many live poetry events around the country. Penguin Books released a series of modern poetry books and many poets were becoming popular. These included Roger McGough (who formed a group called Scaffold with Paul MaCartney’s brother Michael and had significant hits with “Lily the Pink” and “Thank You Very Much”), Adrian Henry (who also performed with a group called Liverpool Scene) and probably the best of all, Adrian Mitchell whose poem “Tell Me Lies About Vietnam” is pure genius.
Here’s a film of Adrian Mitchell reading his poem filmed by Peter Whitehead:
Leicester had a vibrant poetry scene mainly due to the efforts of poet Boyd K. Litchfield. Boyd came from “down south” and was the epitome of the Romantic Poet. He was prolific and looked the part. He was also a brilliant organiser of events. The main venues for poetry readings was the Town Arms on Pocklington Walk and the Chameleon Coffee Bar on King Street. There was also a lot happening at Leicester University presided over by G.S.Fraser who was a published author and professor at the University. The chairman of the more conservative Leicester Poetry Society, Alan Bates, was a frequent visitor to the Town Arms and would hold civilised gatherings at his house on West Avenue for poets, artists and intellectuals. He had the most amazing collection of books I’ve ever seen. Another interesting character at the time was Charles Hickson who was a brilliant poet, an incredible raconteur, and looked like a caricature of George Bernard Shaw. He still holds the record as the only person I’ve ever known to have read all of the novels by Proust!
My first real success as a musician was to be invited by Boyd to form a band with him. I had already performed with him on several occasions creating a musical backdrop to his poems. We were later joined by a musician who played a dulcimer-like instrument called a Chinese Banjo. This created a kind of shifting drone which gave a rhythmical base to the performance. All the music was improvised and spontaneous. It never sounded the same twice. We ended up playing all over the country including legendary venue The Roundhouse in London, on the same stage as the likes of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd, all leading lights at the time. Heady stuff indeed!
At the same time as all this was happening my days were spent hanging out with Mick Pini. We spent much time wandering around town, especially the New Walk area. We also went to the Chameleon and a cafe at The Art Centre on Cank Street which was on the top floor of the building. This contained garish, commercial prints that no one, unsuprisingly, seemed to buy. They seemed to do better on the picture framing side of the business though. They were very nice and let us sit there for hours over one cup of tea which they even sometimes gave us for nothing. It was like a social club for hippies and misfits and they played some really good records. I remember hearing “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles for the first time there. Eventually they started putting folk concerts on there at night with candlelight. Very nice.
It was at the Chameleon that I really got into playing chess. There were some really good players there and it was months before I won a game. My game improved no end, though. It was a hip place where you could drink real coffee and listen to cool jazz. It was here that I really got into the music of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. Legendary local singer/guitarist Maurice Coleman used to play there regularly. At the time his gentle jazz ballads seemed incongruous compared to the psychedelic scene I was part of but he was a truly great performer who I grew to love.
It was at this time also that we met Hank. Hank was amazing! He was a student at Leicester University but he didn’t seem to attend many lectures. I think eventually he was expelled! He played the guitar and harmonica and sang in a gloriously mournful, out of tune voice. He sounded a bit like Tom Waits but many people thought he couldn’t sing. I thought he was brilliant! He was before his time! It was from him that I learnt my first chords on guitar. He also sold me my first guitar, an old jazz guitar with f holes. It cost me a pound! He had a brilliant repertoire of songs, many of which I still play now. It was from him that I also learnt the basics of blues harmonica and how to bend notes and this became a new string to my bow or rather a new blow to my harp!
Chameleon Dreams by Kenny Wilson This is a recent song of mine about this period using a sample of the voice of Jack Kerouac.
There were many parties in those days. Highfields had become the bohemian area and people often opened up there flats and bedsits for gatherings and events. The “King of the Hippies” in Leicester was Dave Brooks. He was a painter of weird, exotic fantasies that he would bake in an oven so they looked really old. He had a book by Laurence Lipton called “The Holy Barbarians”. It was like a manual of how to live the hippie life based on the community at Venice Beach, Los Angeles. This became a kind of blueprint of how to furnish your room with Indian tapestries,rugs and low key lighting with different coloured bulbs. Very atmospheric! His girlfriend caused quite a stir when she posed nude in the shop window of a newly opened boutique on Silver Street.
At one party I was near the record player looking through the record collection. I came upon what looked like an interesting record called “The Velvet Underground & Nico”. I put it on the turntable and was immediately struck by the dissonant qualities of the music. It was a track called “Heroin” and it fitted in well with the kind of music I had been making using drones, feedback and extreme lyrics. After a short while the party host rushed up to me and told me to change the record. He hated it even though he had bought it. I told him I thought it was great and he gave it to me on condition that he would never have to listen to it again. I thanked him and that became my favourite record of 1968. I played it so much I virtually wore it out. When the follow up “White Light, White Heat” was released I bought it straight away and that also became a favourite. It made a big impact on my performances especially the track “Sister Ray” which mixes a monotonous beat with dissonant improvisation and feedback. It became a template for many of my own pieces.
The Town Arms was a centre for acoustic and folk music as well as traditional jazz which still had a big following with an older crowd. Russ Merryfield, a stalwart of the folk scene, started a jazz band there and continued to do a regular Friday slot for at least twenty five years after that, maybe more. He gets my award for the longest running residency of all time! Local promoter Tony Savage also ran a club there which featured some of the best folk singers in the country like Alex Campbell and Bert Jansch. They were paid well and you could make a good living in the folk clubs. They earned more in a night than most people earned in a week! It gave me ideas for a future career! Regulars at the Town Arms were bluegrass musicians George and Thadeus Kaye. They sometimes had impromptu jams in the bar downstairs. They were incredibly good technically and I picked up lots of tips from them, especially George who sang, played guitar and became an expert fiddler.
A place of note at that time was a club called the Nautique (also known as the Nocturne) on Wharf Street. There was a room at the back where Leicester group Family practised. At that time Family became Leicester’s most commercially and artistically successful group. Their album “Music In a Doll’s House” stands up to this day as a seminal piece of psychedelia. Several years later I would play and write songs with Rick Grech who was the bass and violin player and had a subsequent successful career with the likes of Blind Faith, Traffic and several others, perhaps most notably, his collaborations with Gram Parsons. Sadly, he died in 1990 at a comparatively young age.
1968 was a time of great political upheavel. In May of that year Paris erupted into riots and there was a general strike in France that toppled the government. Not long afterwards Britain had it’s first major riot since the 1930s. This occured at Grosvenor Square, London outside the American Embassy. There was a massive demonstration against the war in Viet Nam. Police, who were untrained and unused to dealing with this type of event decided to attack the demonstration with a charge of horses. This resulted in total chaos and a riot ensued which was controlled very badly by the police with innocent people being caught up in the violence. The images on TV were quite shocking! The revolution was being televised!
Leicester had it’s own anti-war demonstration that passed quite peacefully although there were scuffles on the junction of London Road and Charles Street where I ended up being pushed into a cordon of police. Scary!! The situation in America, however, was far worse. The war in Viet Nam had escalated and the draft had been extended and many young people were being forced into the army. Demonstrations in America were dealt with in a far more brutal fashion than even here, culminating in the Chicago riots outside the Democratic Party convention where many people were injured. Things got even worse later on when National Guardsmen opened fire on student protesters in Ohio killing several of them (Neil Young wrote a song about this: “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, We’re finally on our own, Last Summer I heard the drumming, Four dead in Ohio” recorded by CSN&Y). On top of that public opinion in America was turning against the war. It is the most televised and photographed war in history and many of the images were profoundly disturbing especially the photograph of a child running down a road screaming, covered in napalm (a particularly vicious weapon that stuck to the skin and burned constantly). There were reports of massacres and high levels of drug abuse amongst soldiers most of whom didn’t want to be there and didn’t know why they were there. The use of defoliant Agent Orange was destroying the rain forests and causing skin diseases. It’s doubtful if anyone with any sense could possibly support the war. As one of the chants went at demonstrations “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today!!” It’s a shame, really, because LBJ came to power with a liberal agenda which never really found expression. Many young Americans found ways of avoiding the draft by going to Europe or Canada or faking psychological problems and illnesses. This is the background of what became the “counter culture”. People started looking for different ways to live that didn’t harm the planet or themselves. To his credit British prime minister Harold Wilson refused to let Britain be drawn into the conflict even on a token level, an historical precedent that Tony Blair should have studied before he took Britain into two equally pointless wars as an ally of George Bush!
Recently, Terry Wilford reminded me that one of the places we went to on a regular basis was the Chaplaincy Centre on Newarke Street. This had a coffee bar and was open late at weekends. There was a room with a piano on the top floor where we had weird jams and improvised dance sessions. It was a great place that was there until the mid 70s when the Art College became a Polytechnic. After that it became part of the Phoenix Theatre.
By 1969 the dream was over. A friend of mine committed suicide shortly after having a bad acid trip and the “best minds of my generation were destroyed by madness”(from “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg but applicable to a number of people I knew). People seemed to be either getting religion or joining extreme left wing political parties. Personally, I had no desire for spiritual salvation or replacing a bad system with something even worse. The year of the Woodstock festival seemed to be the end of an era for me.The good times didn’t seem so good. I spent the summer in Folkestone staying with a friend and in September went to Middleton St. George College of Education, County Durham to train as a teacher, main study Music. 1968 remains to this day the period I remember as my “Golden Age”, a time and a feeling I have constantly tried to get back to and I think, in recent times, I have begun to achieve that!
College Years 1969 to 1972
In 1968 a record was released called “The Songs of Leonard Cohen”. This was called a sleeper, it gained popularity gradually by word of mouth, there was no big commercial promotion of it, a bit like Joan Baez’s first album several years earlier. This record made a big impact on me, perhaps as much as Bob Dylan’s recordings of the mid 60s. Leonard Cohen was an established poet who had decided to move into music. Originally he had intended to sell his songs to other singers, most notably Judy Collins who was the first person to record his songs, but was eventually persuaded to make his own recordings, even though he had misgivings about his voice. The end result was unlike anything heard before. His lyrics dealt with love, despair and alienation and he sang them in a world-weary baritone voice. There was none of the anger present in Dylan and he eschewed rock music for an individual take on folk which seemed almost Continental in style (he became very popular in France) although it was a totally original sound. Producer Bob Johnson (who had recorded many Dylan and Simon & Garfunkle tracks) loved the songs so much that he gave up producing records and formed a band with Cohen with him on keyboards. I think “Suzanne” is one of the loveliest and most original songs to come out of the 1960s. I will say more about Cohen later, especially about when I saw his band at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970.
In 1951, the year of my birth, William Faulkner in a book called “Requiem for a Nun” said “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”. This evocative phrase means, I think, that what happens in the past stays with you and is a part of what you are. This is true for both individuals and society. Historical events create and inform the present.
I didn’t go to college because I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t even particularly want to be a student, but considering the options open to me at the age of 18 it seemed like the least awful one to do. From my first reading of Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times” at a young age to my first viewing of the film “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang later on I had an abject fear of becoming a cog in the wheel of industry. I thought if I ended up in a factory or office job I would somehow lose my personality and no longer be an individual, that I would become faceless and soulless. This concept of freedom has influenced everything I have done, although on several occasions I have felt trapped and unable to break away from my, sometimes self-imposed, chains. Individuality is weak and the forces of society and conformism are very strong. Indeed, the past WILL get you in the end!
What I really wanted to be was a professional singer/songwiter like Dylan or Cohen. I knew you could make a good living on the folk clubs. The problem was, at that stage, I simply wasn’t good enough. I needed more time to develop the skills required. I also needed to find my own voice. I thought that going to college to learn music would give me the time and facilities to do this. In many ways this is what happened, in others I lost some of my inspiration. Naivety and innocence can often produce inspired work and I sacrificed some of this as I acquired knowledge and experience. This is especially true of my poetry and writing which I changed to fit in with the conventions of the time. I ended up sucking a lot of the passion and chaos out of it in order to be more accepted.
At the beginning going to college was a traumatic experience for me. Middleton St. George College of Education was a long way away. It was situated between Darlington and Stockton in the North East of England on the same site as Teeside Airport, literally in the middle of nowhere. On my first day I took a train from Leicester carrying a blue cardboard suitcase full of my belongings, changed at Derby and arrived in Darlington about three hours later. At Darlington I changed trains and went to Dinsdale. When I got off there was no one else on the platform and I was still two miles from the college! I can’t remember what happened after this but I think a minibus may have picked me up. I arrived at the college a bit disorientated and was shown to the room I lived in for the next two years (it could have been three but I moved to Darlington for the third year). My initial feeling was that I had made a mistake going to college at all but I stuck with it and am glad I did.
The music department had it’s own separate block with practice rooms, a superb library and state of the art equipment (for the time). We were given keys so we could use the facilities 24/7. There was a comprehensive collection of instruments that we could borrow at will and the residential rooms and meals were all good. Really, I had nothing to complain about. As part of the course I had individual lessons in singing, piano and clarinet and we also had tuition in harmony (including keyboard harmony), music history and composition. The teaching was first class. On top of that we were given an “Arts North” card that gave us free admission to many concerts and talks in the North East. One of the best ones I went to was a talk by Paul Oliver who was a leading authority on the blues at the time. His books and field recordings were a big influence on me. In my final year I wrote a dissertation on “The Blues” and got a good mark for it!
I felt a bit out of my depth. My fellow students all seemed better than me. I had quite a bit of catching up to do but I eventually managed it. My piano teacher, Mrs. Robinson, said that I was like a cake that had been iced before it had been baked, which I thought was a rather good metaphor. By the end of the first year I felt like I was making better progress. Ironically, considering I was having no lessons on it, my guitar playing was really improving and my songs were getting better. I had a good guitar to play now along with a decent clarinet and access to quality pianos, courtesy of the college.
From being a major part of the Leicester music and poetry scene I became fairly anonymous at college. It was quite a difficult transition. The movers and shakers of the college music and arts scene were, obviously, mainly in the second year and I was seen as a young “fresher” with not much to offer. (The college had only opened in 1968 and there were no third years yet.) At least, I had to prove myself. It was like starting from scratch. I again began to doubt the wisdom of attending college but I persevered and gradually I made friends but not in the same way as in Leicester. I became more of an outsider and my friendship group were outsiders. I realised that my social group in Leicester, though quite large, were part of the new counter-culture so we were all kind of social outsiders. Weird was groovy! The predominant groups at the college were quite conformist and probably saw me as a bit strange. The college was quite isolated from urban areas so it lead to the forming of cliques and closed social groups which were difficult to break into. It did have it’s own airport though. The whole college had been an RAF base and the runway became Teeside International Airport. There were restaurants and shops there and they even had entertainment at the weekends. Because the runway was particularly long it was used as a testing ground for the supersonic aeroplane Concorde that was being developed then. So, we often saw Concorde taking off and landing with it’s distinctive moveable nose!! Amazing!!
At the end of the Summer Term I went to a festival in Bath with a girl I’d befriended called Suzy Walker. This was the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music. In the spirit of reckless spontanaety we hitched all the way to Bath with no coats or sleeping bags or much money. When we got there we walked for miles to the festival site because the roads were totally blocked by traffic. It felt like the end of the World! Then it started raining and never seemed to stop. In the absence of having tickets we managed to get into the festival by bribing a security guard. Incidentally, this was the festival that inspired Michael Eavis, who also bribed his way in (or maybe he climbed through a hedge I can’t remember), to create the Glastonbury Festival which still happens now.
The word Rock wasn’t yet used widely and the idea of Pop Music wasn’t yet totally reviled by the cognoscenti. This was the first really large scale festival in England and had an audience of more than 200,000. It was also the first major U.K. gig for Rock Legends Led Zeppelin (They were going to call themselves the New Yardbirds but Keith Moon of the Who said that if they called themselves that they would go down like a lead Zeppelin). Other luminaries on the bill included the Moody Blues, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Country Joe MacDonald and a whole host of others, some of whom didn’t get to play because of the appalling weather and the gridlocked traffic. There was no helicopter here like at the Woodstock Festival the previous year in America. In fact, on the Sunday, Donovan (who wasn’t actually billed to play) kept the festival going for more than two hours while other acts made their slow way to the venue. I didn’t learn until recently that the John Mayall Blues Band who played at the festival included Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac on guitar and Rick Grech of Family on bass, who I had much to do with in the late 70s.
The summer of 1970 was an important one for me. Before I went to college I was in a relationship with a girl in Leicester. We were very close and were eventually married in 1972. Her name was Sally. I visited her quite often at weekends and saw her in the holidays. She was a beautiful free spirit and we got on really well. In 1968 she had hitch-hiked around Europe with a friend and had lots of wonderful experiences. In 1970 we decided to do the same thing and hitchhiked all over Western Europe (East was out of the question then due to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War!). We went to Paris then travelled through Belgium and went to Amsterdam which was a hippie Mecca at that time (still is I suppose, in some ways). From there we travelled to Germany via the war graves cemetery at Arnhem which made a huge impact on me, the graves seemed to go on forever! From there we went to Mainz and hitchhiked all the way down the beautiful Rhine Valley until we got to Basel in Switzerland. Quite by chance, here, we went to Picasso’s last exhibition before he died! It was high up a hill in a Chateau. There must have been a hundred paintings or more all done in a period of about two months. A final blaze of creativity!
From Basel we went to Interlaken. My plan at this stage (not that much planning went into the trip!) was to go up the Jungfrau to the highest station in Europe. I’d been there on a school trip a few years before. Unfortunately, the cost was exorbitant, more than a train journey to Paris, and we couldn’t afford it. Then disaster struck. We had been staying in youth hostels and a cheap little tent. On this occasion we were in the tent when the rain came down with a vengeance. We were totally washed out. Fortunately, a local guest house took pity on us and let us stay cheaply while we dried out.
From Interlaken we crossed the border and went to France eventually arriving at Avignon. Here we stayed for over a week at a camping site by the river overlooking the famous Pont!! This was a lovely place and we had a really nice, relaxing time there with lots of excellent conversations by the mighty river. The town itself is amazing and was the Papal Seat at one time. Some incredible, austere buildings and there is a massive arts festival there in the Summer.
After Avignon we returned to England. This is is quite hazy in my mind but I think we hitched to Paris and then got a train to Dover or Folkestone. I know we didn’t go back to Leicester because where ever we arrived Sally decided to hitch back to Leicester and I went to the Isle of Wight Festival. I remember feeling bad about her travelling alone but I was determined to go to what became known as the “Last Great Event”. Fortunately, she did get home alright!
There is a lot written and discussed about this Festival and I don’t intend to go into all of that. You can find lots on the web. Needless to say, I didn’t arrive at the festival until the Saturday. I had no ticket and joined the ranks of the great unwashed on the hill called Desolation Row (named after the great Dylan song). From this position you could see and hear everything going on quite clearly. I saw the classic Joni Mitchell set where she was interrupted by a deranged American anarchist. I also saw the ubiquitous Donovan (although, again, he wasn’t on the main bill) and the relentlessly cheerful John Sebastion, a great set from Blues group Ten Years After and then it all goes blank til the next day when I saw Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen after it was turned into a free festival. I think I may have seen Joan Baez as well but that is a bit hazy. The problem was that, like Bath, the acts were going on at all sorts of strange times. Leonard Cohen appeared in his pyjamas after he’d been woken up early in the morning after Jimi Hendrix finished his set. He turned in a brilliant performance, though, which has fairly recently been released as a DVD. Following Hendrix was not an easy thing to do but he managed to pull it off to the amazement of people like Joan Baez who was so impressed she later recorded one of his songs. Perhaps the best performance was from the Who. I missed it at the time but have since seen it on DVD. Amazing!! The Who at their very best!!
The rest of the time I spent outside with an amazing bunch of people and we created our own festival. You could get everything out there, I had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. The main festival were packed in like sardines while we had room to move. The alternative festival with The Pink Fairies and Hawkwind playing on the back of a lorry was also lots of fun. There was a war going on between those who wanted a free festival and those who didn’t. There was some amazing rhetoric that is captured in the DVD of the festival. One person describes the main festival as a “psychedelic concentration camp”. I didn’t realise until much later that many anarchists and veterans of Paris May 1968 and highly radicalised Americans had come early to the festival in order to disrupt it. What had begun at Woodstock the previous year was being carried on at the Isle of Wight! The organisers of Woodstock were far more savvy and understood what was going on and involved major figures in the counter-culture and avoided most problems although they eventually had to make it a free festival. The organisers of the Isle of Wight were totally out of their depth and managed to alienate virtually every group of people there, including the performers. On the other hand, some estimates say that there were more than 900,000 people at the festival and there was no major incident and everyone got on really well. I recall an incredibly friendly and supportive bunch of people. It was a success of the hippie “peace and love” philosophy. There wasn’t much peace and love coming from the organisers though! The gap between the Music Business and the counter-culture was becoming apparent. One person on the DVD talks about a “new feudalism” with rock stars as aristocrats and fans as serfs. The financial rewards for the top bands were so great it’s not surprising they moved away from the counter-culture. Joan Baez was quite insightful at both Woodstock and IOW when she spoke of fans resentfulness of highly paid “stars”. It didn’t stop her from claiming a huge fee for herself, though, from both festivals! Meanwhile, most of the lesser known bands were playing for next to nothing.
I really don’t know how I got off the island but I know I wasn’t in a rush. I can’t even remember how I got back to Leicester. It’s quite a long journey. Maybe I hitched but I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a train or bus.
Leicester group Family at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 with Rick Grech on bass and violin.
At the end of August I went back to college for my second year. This was more fun and I was involved with performances and concerts of the college choir. Alan Oyston, who was my music professor, was a brilliant choral director and I was involved in complete performances of Haydn’s Creation and Handel’s Messiah with live orchestra. A wonderful experience. I also played the lead part in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” with a full orchestra which played to capacity audiences. It was given a contemporary feel with me as a hippie outsider fighting The System. We went on various interesting trips too. I saw Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Leeds Opera House. We also sang at York Minster which was a remarkable experience. My social group broadened and I became good friends with Geraldine Lodge and Val Harlan. They were both talented people and we collaborated on performances and writing. I bought a small reel to reel tape recorder and we made recordings of our work. Val was a brilliant artist and poet but unfortunately I didn’t keep in touch.
During the Easter vacation of 1971 I did another bout of travelling, this time to Spain. Sally was staying there with her friend Roma at a place called Altea (or so I thought). This was, obviously, before the days of mobile phones and even landlines were quite rare then especially in Spain. We communicated by telegram which I can say from experience is not ideal. When I arrived at Altea, having hitchhiked through France and Spain, there was no sign of Sally and my last telegram had been undelivered and was at the local post office! Actually, getting there had not been easy. I got a lift through most of France on the back of a Triumph Bonneville motor cycle (one of the last ones made in England) by an American serviceman based in Naples. It took me a whole day to recover from this. Then, lifts had not been easy in Spain and I spent many miles walking with a pair of crazy Dutch guys who had walked most of the way from Amsterdam. They looked so weird that nobody would give them a lift (or me while I was with them)! Eventually, I split from them and did a bit better although I missed their company. They were very funny and totally fearless! My last lift was with a bunch of Basque nationalists who were pretty scary and said how much they admired the IRA! I think that they had guns in the boot of the car! I kept quiet most of the time I was with them and was very glad when they dropped me off!
I asked around and people told me the girls had gone to Marbella on the south coast. This was a couple of hundred miles from where I was but there was no point in me staying. I hit the road and got a lift to a town called Lorca. This was good because I was a big fan of the poet. Later on I went to Lautrec in France (not far from Toulouse) because I liked the artist, but that is a different story! Then the rain came! There is a saying that “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” but the rest of it was falling on me, in giant drops the like of which I’d never seen before. I decided to go to the station to see if I could get a train. The nearest station to Marbella was Algeciras so I bought a ticket and off I went on probably the slowest train ever. It took more than 24 hours to get there! The train stopped at every station on the way for about an hour. At one station I went for a leisurely meal with two Spanish students I had befriended. We got back to the train in good time!
From Algeciras I got a bus to Marbella and booked into the Youth Hostel, which had all the facilities of a luxury hotel. Most of the people staying there were American backpackers doing a tour of Europe. I got quite friendly with them, especially a lunatic hippie from Montana, who used to give me amphetamines bought legally from the local chemist, and a beautiful girl from Alaska. One of them had a guitar and we had impromptu concerts in between swimming, diving and playing tennis. I managed to make quite an impact with my renditions of American folk songs and Bob Dylan numbers. At this point I began to realise how many songs I knew, although at no point had I deliberately learnt them. It had been a process of osmosis as I played the records over and over again in my room!
Needless to say, my reason for going was a complete failure. I found out that Sally and Roma had gone back to England a week earlier! Our paths had probably crossed! I decided to make the most of it and stayed in Marbella for two weeks. Then, I needed to get back to college for the summer term. At the hostel I had befriended two Germans who owned a car and were travelling to Bourdeaux in France. This was a long way and I offered to share the petrol if they took me with them. They said yes, but they didn’t want money. They wanted to know the meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs and offered me a lift if I could explain them! At this point I became Marbella’s leading Dylanologist as I travelled the whole length of Spain giving my meanings of songs like “Desolation Row” and “Visions of Johanna”. Quite an experience which left me totally exhausted. Unfortunately, at the end of it, I don’t think they had a clue what I was talking about! They understood no more than when we left. Never mind, by that time I was in Bourdeaux and, anyway, I had just been making it up as I went along (which is probably what Dylan had been doing too, albeit in a totally inspired way)!
Bourdeaux is a university town and at that time many of the students were highly radicalised. There was a hardly a space on the walls of the ancient town that wasn’t covered in anarchist or Situationist slogans. I stayed over night but was running out of money so I decided to sleep rough on the beach. I woke up in the morning to a crunching noise. It turned out to be a wild pony eating the bottom of my sleeping bag! I waved my arms about to scare it off but it started rearing up at me! Time to beat a hasty retreat and I hit the road and hitched to Paris. There I managed to get a cheap flight (cheaper than the bus or train although, to be honest, the small propeller plane looked and sounded past it’s best) from Beauvais Airport near Paris to Ashford in Kent with a bus link to London. Then I hitched to Leicester. Home at last, but not for long. I had to get the train back to college for the summer term, the following day!
This term passed fairly uneventfully. I spent a lot of time playing tennis and developing my music skills. I also did a four week teaching practice at Spennymoor secondary school in County Durham. This went better than my first teaching practice, which had been quite stressful, and I enjoyed doing it. I didn’t just teach music but did a number of subjects with the younger pupils including English and Environmental Studies (Geography).
At this time I had decided, against the wishes of my tutors, to spend my third year out of college and live in Darlington. Towards the end of term I rented a room in a lovely, slightly dilapidated Georgian crescent on Woodland Road that I would move into in September. In terms of my development it turned out to be a good decision and I met up with a new crowd that were creative and had a lot to offer.
At the end of the second year I wrote an article in the student magazine criticising the college for it’s authoritarian attitude and demanding openness and democracy for the students. Three weeks later I received a “Level 3” warning and there would be no further warnings. I was told to buck my ideas up or I would be expelled. Strangely, I never seemed to have received a Level 1 or Level 2 warning! I began to realise the danger of throwing stones whilst being in a glass house. At the beginning of the third year the Principal E.L.Black dedicated his opening speech to rebuking the contents of my article. I’d obviously ruffled some feathers. On the other hand I had fallen behind with my work and had some catching up to do.