Addiction – What it means to me (part 1)

My name is Kevin and I am an addict. There! It’s said.

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Alright, it’s not the most up to date photo. But it is me. The interesting question is, was I an addict even then, before I had even heard of alcohol and drugs, never mind tried them? And am I an addict now, even though it is over 30 years since I had a drink of alcohol or chewed up a few valium (I used to chew them because I thought they might work faster)?

Are addicts born? Or made? Once an addict always an addict? Does addiction even exist, or is it just the excuse people make when they continue to take too much?

For the last 15 or so years (I’m retired now) I was a drug and alcohol trainer with the NHS, training nurses, doctors, teachers and others about drugs and alcohol – what they are, what they do, their relative harmfulness, how to tell if someone is using drugs, how to assess drug and alcohol use and what to do with people who have problems with them. I still do some work in this area but, as I am now in my late sixties, this has reduced over the last couple of years. But I still don’t have definitive answers to those questions. Does anybody? Continue reading

1977 – Baltimore, Randy Newman

In the late 70s I was rhythm guitarist in a band called Dilettante. I had been playing with a more RnB type band called A.K.A. Bats and was approached by two musicians, Dave Paillow and Mike Bannon, to see if was interested.

The band didn’t have a name then but we sat and talked about what their influences were. Mike was very keen on Captain Beefheart and dub reggae which immediately made me interested. Although I was enjoying playing with A.K.A. Bats and we had done some good gigs, including headlining at the Kulture Shock event in the Great Hall at Lancaster University, the music we were playing wasn’t really the sort of stuff I wanted to do. The band was popular and a lot of the material was good for dancing, but I really wanted to be involved in something more experimental.

This was around the end of the first wave of punk and a lot of the music I was listening to, apart from old favourites like Bowie, Zappa, and Genesis (alright, we all have our weakness, but only Peter Gabriel Genesis, not the Phil Collins stuff), was punk (Sex Pistols, X-Ray Specs) and post-punk (XTC, Magazine). Plus I was getting in to some of the new US bands, particularly Patti Smith whose ‘Horses’ album had really made an impression. And of course there was always Beefheart.

So I quit A.K.A. Bats and joined the newly named Dilettante. We started rehearsing at what was the Musician’s Co-op rehearsal room upstairs from Single Step. It’s now the Whale Tail cafe but then it was just a big, bare room with no heating, no carpets and bare stone walls. I’ve tried to find a photo of it as it was then but no luck. If anyone has any photos from the time I’d be most grateful. Continue reading

1969 – Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart

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

1974 – Sweet Thing, David Bowie

Second Dive – ‘When it’s good, it’s really good’
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Dogs 

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.

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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.