*DISCLAIMER – all of the following is based on my admittedly faulty memory. To repeat the saying, ‘If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!’
In the late sixties Steve had gone from group manager (The Mind Machine, which I will write about at some point), to light show creator. He has always been a creative whirlwind and if this was a superhero comic he would be the mad professor and I would be the trusty sidekick. Light shows seem to have come into being independently both in Britain and the United States. Pink Floyd were, as far as I know, the first British band to use a light show and, in America, bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were employing lights at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco (somebody correct me if I’m wrong).
Anyway, Steve had started playing around with various lighting effects in The Cellar, using an old slide projector. He had added a motorised drive so that when a circular slide was placed in front of the light source the motored rotated it causing the effect to change. The main ones I remember were:
- circular slides filled with coloured oils – as the slide rotated the blobs of oil moved around causing a constantly changing pattern of coloured blobs
- Sheets of diffraction grating
- two circular pieces of polarised glass with strips of sellotape between them
We moved onto Delamere Avenue in 1950, when I was about eighteen months old. The house we moved into, number twelve, was about a third of the way down a line of semi-detached, pebble-dashed council houses facing out over the roofs of the houses opposite towards Heysham Harbour and Half Moon Bay. It was part of a new estate, Trumacar which, when we moved in, was still being built. My mum used to tell the story of how I had somehow become friendly with one of the builders and how he had taken to letting me sit with him in the cab of his lorry while he was working. One day she heard a knock at the door and opened it to find him standing there clutching a tear-stained creature covered head-to-toe in a layer of dirt – I had fallen out of the cab into a pile of gravel. Being very small and gravity being what it is, I hadn’t fallen very hard and so, apart from a few bruises and scratches, I was relatively unhurt. That was the last time I rode in the lorry.
Bill and Ben were my first heroes. I was three when it started, but my first memory is of running home from school so as not to miss it on TV. As far as I remember it was on at about half past three and school was about half a mile away at the bottom of a hill, so it was quite a rush to get back in time – and of course there was no video recording or pause-and-rewind in 1954. The funny thing is that, in my memory, I am rushing back to number 11 Delamere, not number 12, even though we didn’t move into number 11 until about five years later (that’s another story which I’ll come back to at some point). Continue reading
Hasn’t a clue
‘With arms stretched wide’
George doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life; he doesn’t even know what he wants to be doing tomorrow. I’m the same, I’ve never known what direction I was going in. The difference between George and me is that he’s a dog and I’m not. You know how it goes, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. That’s easy when you’re a kid, ‘Astronaut’, ‘Engine Driver’, ‘Ninja Assassin’. When you ask George the same question he just looks at you as though he’s giving the question serious thought, but that’s as far as it goes – silence (add the word walk or dinner and you get a more positive response. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m sixty three! Some people seem to know, they appear to have their lives all mapped out – school, university, career. Me, I never had a clue. Oh I knew what I didn’t want to be – boring, insane, accountant, insurance man – and I’ve done pretty well at avoiding three out of four (Guess!). But as to careers and long-term plans, no idea.
Just as an aside, about twenty years ago I wrote a song about insurance men; at least it’s called ‘Insurance Men’. I’ve no idea what it’s really about and I know that some people find it a bit disturbing; even I find it a bit disturbing. Have a listen, see what you think. Maybe after you’ve listened to it (I’ve cut it down as the whole song is over nine minutes long), you’ll have a better chance at guessing which of those four things I didn’t manage to avoid! By the way, the song, along with most of the other stuff I’ve done, was recorded and mixed by my best friend Steve (of cellar fame) at his studio, ‘The Mill’ in Blackburn. So ‘Insurance Men’ is a ‘Run of the Mill’ production. I’ll say more about ‘The Mill’ in a future post.
https://youtu.be/WUes8UsuOLk Continue reading
Living in a shed
I love my shed. It’s my own private world. Okay, it’s only about eight feet square with one window facing Half Moon Bay and a door to the back garden, but I can shut myself in here and not have to think about anything else. I’ve got a couple of comfy chairs in here and a small table and, of course, my record player (a Fergurson in a wooden case with a sort of grey leatherish lid. It’s five watts! You could buy an extension to plug in to make it stereo but I don’t have that.
In fact I’ve never heard stereo, the first time I hear a record in stereo is at my Swedish friend Mick’s flat on Euston Road. He puts on Yellow Submarine and it’s amazing, the voices moving across the room from left to right – or possibly right to left). Of course this is a long time ago and, my memory being what it is, which is mainly defunct, some of the facts may be wrong. But it’s my story and this is the way I’m telling it; think of it as a kind of unreliable biography.
But the shed is real – and the record player – and the window looking down to Half Moon Bay. Continue reading
‘And the stars look very different today’
I’m not sure where this is going so bear with me. It seems to me that there’s an honesty about ‘good’ art. I’m not talking about factual honesty, the actual correctness of what is being stated. Nobody really believes that there are four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire (and I should know as I work in Blackburn). It’s not even about whether the singer is telling the truth; when Michael Stipe sings that ‘this one goes out to the one I love’ we know that this isn’t factually true and that the last thing the singer feels for this person is love. What I’m trying to say is that, for a song to work you have to believe it. I believe Michael Stipe; I believe John Lennon. But I don’t believe Chris Martin. Why is that?
It’s the lyrics, and particularly that first verse;
Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah, they were all yellow
Now either Chris Martin has never actually looked at the stars (and that’s possible; I’m sure rich and famous rock stars have more important things to do than look at things. He probably has someone to do it for him) or he just needed a word that fitted and yellow seemed as good as any. There is a third possibility, that I’m just stupid and so I’m missing the deeper metaphorical meaning behind the lyrics. So maybe, metaphorically, the stars are all yellow. But I don’t think so. Because honestly, categorically, and even to someone like me who is colour blind, stars are not all yellow – some of them are, in fact many of them are, but others are red, or blue, or white.
And they were all yellow?
In 1964 I was fifteen and had been playing guitar, or rather trying to play guitar, for about a year. I had an old arch top acoustic guitar (I think it was a Hofner but I’m not sure) which my parents had bought for about £15 from our next door neighbours and had recently persuaded my mum and dad to buy me my first electric guitar. It was called a Caravelle Top Twenty and had, I think, three pickups and was a similar shape to a strat. It was very light and cheaply made but it was an Electric Guitar!!!, the first one I had ever owned and, as far as I can remember, the first one I had ever touched. I loved it, even though I had nothing to plug it into. It was either light blue or a sort of purple colour (I’m not sure on the colour as I am colour blind), but it had six strings and a tremolo arm and looked a bit like the guitars the bands I was watching on TV were playing. Oh, and the action wasn’t too good, probably nearly half an inch at the twelfth fret but as the only guitars I had played had been as bad and my playing was fairly rudimentary this didn’t bother me too much. (I’ve just checked with Steve and it was actually pink). The shop where we got it was at Strawberry Gardens, a little music shop where I also bought my records. I’ve just realised that one of the records I bought there was ‘You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry’ by The Caravelles, http://www.45-rpm.org.uk/dirc/caravelles.htm a female duo from London (which was probably not played on a Caravelle Top Twenty). It wasn’t the sort of record I was really into but when I had my six shillings and eight pence in my hand (the price of a single then), I had to go home with something, and I thought my mum might like it. I think she did but I don’t remember her ever putting a record on to listen to; she probably only heard it once when I got home and played it to her. In fact I don’t remember anyone in my family ever listening to music. We were a television family; in the evening we would gather in the front room and watch TV, although there wasn’t much choice in 1964 as there were only two television channels, the BBC and ITV and, now I was fifteen, I had started to spend more time either out with my friends or in my room listening to records and trying to work out how to play them on guitar. Continue reading
Down into the Magic Kingdom (I’ve dropped the ‘Dive one’ and ‘Dive two’ stuff because I think it’s a bit naff)
I have to confess right at the start that I’ve never heard this album; I’ve seen the sleeve many times but never had anything to do with the record inside it. Not that there was a record inside it in Steve’s cellar, it was just one of the album sleeves decorating the walls. But this was The Cellar, full of electronic gadgets and tape recorders, microphones and dalek voice machines (or at least that’s how I remember it).
As I said in a previous post, Steve and I reconnected at the Co-op where, in between serving customers (and in Steve’s case adding up their bill wrong so that they either got their order very cheaply or paid too much), we spent our time:
- reading Mad Magazine – especially anything illustrated by Don Martin
- talking about music – we were both big Beatles fans and had just started to discover bands such as The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and The Incredible String Band (so, middle of the road stuff then)
- trying to think of ways to embarrass the temporary manager, Edwin, by sending notes supposedly written by him to the girl in the Post Office who we knew he fancied, asking her to meet him at a certain place and time. I don’t think he appreciated this! As far as I remember we did get into some trouble from the people at the Post Office, but I can’t remember what the outcome was but I do know that the meeting between them never happened. Wonder why.
- thinking of ways to torture the delivery boy who lived across the road in a gatehouse to Heysham Head with an archway (see photo)
While working at the Co-op Steve mentioned that he was into electronics and recording and that he’d been recording a songwriter called Dave Wynne (see previous post). I was very excited about this and Steve said I could visit his cellar and see what he was up to.
Well, over the next few years Steve’s cellar became my second home – actually more like first home as I think I spent more time there than I did at my mum and dad’s. You know how places have their own particular feel and smell; well the cellar, or ‘The Cellar’ as I think of it now, had the damp, cellary smell of creativity and invention. I loved it! I think if Steve’s mum and dad had said that I could put a bed in there and live in it I would have jumped at the chance. Continue reading
Dive Four – ‘You haven’t got a little bit of butter to go with that?’
In 1966/7 I was working for the Co-op and I was sent to work in the Co-op grocery shop in Heysham Village for a couple of weeks while the manager was on holiday (that’s the co-op on the right with the blind). Steve, someone I’d know at primary school, was working there and we soon found that we had a lot in common (Mad magazine, music, torturing the delivery boy). But I mainly remembered him from the bus to school – he went to Balmoral Road, I went to Morecambe Grammar but we caught the same bus – where he had gained a bit of a reputation as a mad professor, inventing electric shock machines and devices to make dalek voices. He was also known as an expert bogey builder (bogeys are what we called carts made using old pram wheels with a rope for steering). Anyway, he invited me down to his cellar (all mad professors have to have a cellar, it’s one of the rules). This is where he played around with electronics and recording equipment and, as I was a fairly mediocre guitarist with aspirations and an occasional songwriter, the idea of being able to record my music was an exciting idea. He played me some of the things he’d been recording with someone called Dave Wynne.
What was exciting was that he was doing multitrack recording, this at a time when most albums were being recorded on just four tracks. As far as I remember he did it by having two tape recorders – recording a track onto one machine then playing this back and recording it onto the other machine while, at the same time, adding another live track. I’m sure he’ll correct me if this is wrong. The problem with writing about something that happened so long ago is that memories fade and get distorted (a bit like old tapes) and when, like me, you only have about seven brain cells left for one reason or another, they end up more faded and distorted than ever. Continue reading
Dive Three – Drunk in charge of a masterpiece?
In 1969 I was working for Storey’s of Lancaster, a firm which manufactured wall coverings (anyone remember Contact and Decorene?). I had started working in the bonus office with the intention being that I would study to become a Work Study Engineer; these are the people who stand around with stopwatches measuring how long it takes you to complete a particular job so that they can tell you how to do it more efficiently. Anyway, I didn’t do the training; it involved going off to Nottingham University for a week and, as I had never been away from home on my own for that length of time and I was of a rather nervous and shy disposition, I told my boss I didn’t want to go. So I ended up staying on as a bonus clerk, working out the weekly bonuses for the people who worked in the factory.
It was just before Christmas 1969 and we’d had a Christmas party at work where I managed to get fairly drunk. The rest of the group were going into Lancaster to carry on drinking so I cadged a lift with them and wandered off into town looking for something to buy with my Christmas bonus. I’m not sure how much it was but it probably came to about £10 or so. At this time I had three great loves in my life – girls, books and music – so I headed for the local record shop. I can’t remember the name of it but it was upstairs somewhere around where WH Smiths is now and you could listen to records in booths before buying them. Well, one thing I’ve always liked is something different and when I came across a copy of Trout Mask Replica I had to hear it! Who could resist?? Remember I was fairly drunk and looking to spend my money so I took it to the counter and asked to listen. I probably got some strange looks from the person behind the counter but, as I had had a few drinks, I didn’t notice, just straight into the booth and waited for them to put the record on. One thing I don’t like about CDs is that you don’t get that sense of excitement when the stylus hits the record and there’s a few seconds of slightly crackly silence before the music starts. Well the music started (Frownland) and I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it. I wanted to love it, it was Beefheart and the cover was the strangest thing I had ever seen. I probably listened for about 10 minutes and decided that, though I didn’t love it then, after I’d played it a few times it would all make sense. Continue reading
Second Dive – ‘When it’s good, it’s really good’
In the mid to late seventies I was married to my first wife and living in a tiny little cottage at the top of a hill in Lancaster, an area called Golgotha Village.
Golgotha Village. The tiny house towards the right was ours
I was going through a tough time; anxiety, panic attacks, drinking too much (far too much). There was a pub in Lancaster called The Farmer’s Arms run by a couple called Eddie and Peggy where the local misfits, tokers and bikers used to congregate and I spent a lot of time there. My habit was to drink too much, smoke too much then sit at home listening to music, usually on headphones as the house was so small that it was impossible to listen over speakers without bringing the neighbours knocking on the door and complaining. I’ve just remembered that I had my stereo housed in an old upright 78rpm cabinet, with the record deck where the 78 deck would have been and the amplifier and tuner etc. in the bit below where the doors are. I thought it was really cool as, when it was all closed up it just looked like an antique record cabinet.
Anyway, one of the albums I listened to constantly was Diamond Dogs and, in particular, the track ‘Sweet Thing’. It seemed to echo the way I was feeling much of the time.
We had a friend called Dave (Devo) who visited us regularly on his Triumph Bonneville to help us roll cigarettes and listen to music. One day we were listening to ‘Sweet Thing’ when he suddenly said;
“The lyrics are wrong, it’s not ‘When it’s good it’s really good and when it’s bad I go to pieces’, it’s ‘When it’s good it’s really good and when it’s bad I go to’t Farmer’s’.
Not a great joke in itself but what he was really commenting on was the fact that I was pretty much falling to pieces and that alcohol was the way I was dealing with my breakdown. Not longer after this my wife divorced me; thank god she didn’t stay around for more misery and heartbreak. I lost touch with Devo and wonder what he’s up to now; whether he’s still riding around on his beloved Bonneville or, like the rest of us, settled down and become normal.
I still listen to Diamond Dogs occasionally and still think it’s one of Bowie’s better albums. Sweet Thing is still a great track but I’m not going to pieces now and haven’t been in the Farmer’s Arms for probably thirty years.
I wonder what happened to the 78 cabinet. It might be worth a bit of money now.