Andy Ward, Musical Tales
Andy Ward is best known as the drummer with the Progressive rock band Camel. To me, he’s the person I’ve known longer than anyone other than my family. We first met when he was 15 years old and I was 17. We both spent our teens in Epsom, Surrey and were part of a ‘crowd’ of interesting individuals that initially hung out in a coffee bar called Wright’s, on the high street, graduating eventually to pubs, especially The Marquis of Granby. So far so normal. Everyone has a similar story to tell about their formative years and in many respects Epsom was a rather nondescript, suburban commuter town, best known for it’s race course and The Derby. However, it also had some interesting residents. Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones first manager, lived in a bungalow tucked away behind trees and bushes near the centre of town. Mick Jagger, in particular, was an occasional visitor and a school friend of mine who’s family owned a tobacconist’s saw him quite regularly. A friend of Andy’s and mine, Pip, lived in a cul-de-sac up the road in Ashtead. His older brother used to play football in the road with a neighbour called Jimmy Page [ Do I need to tell you who he is? OK. One of the greatest rock God’s ever, as the guitarist with Led Zeppelin ]. And on top of that, we lived a few miles away from a really ugly pub called The Toby Jug, situated next to a bowling alley on the Kingston by-pass in Tolworth. In a back room there, you could see some of the most iconic artist’s of that era. Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers [with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck], John Martyn, Captain Beefheart, Taste, Blodwyn Pig, Jethro Tull and King Crimson to name but a few. Epsom may have seemed dull but there was a distinct under tow and a very cool buzz just under the surface. This was where we grew up. And it wouldn’t be long before Andy entered the rock fray himself.
Like most young teenagers of my generation, our early musical lives were dominated by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and their extraordinary output. Teenager’s didn’t exist before the late ’50’s and early 60’s, so what happened during that period was a new phenomenon. As members of that generation, we were mostly unaware that we were part of a radical shake up, both socially and musically. We just thought it was normal. We were the first generation to have disposable cash, no matter which social class you were in. Buying the latest Pop singles and wearing the latest fashion’s, was what we did with our money. We were the first generation not to have conscription and therefore, not to go to war! There was also little unemployment and getting a job to pay for our lifestyles wasn’t an issue. We were a very lucky generation.
In what seemed like a very brief period of time, we had gone from Cliff Richard to the Beatles and on to Jimi Hendrix. From short back and sides to long hair and from wearing the same styles as our parents to flared trousers and stacked heals and soles and bright colours. It was a youth revolution and it was mostly driven by music. There were other revolutions too, like The Pill, which in turn created a sexual revolution. It wasn’t all roses though. There was still racial inequality and gender inequality and homosexuality was still underground…and illegal. And then there was the Cold War. Somewhere, under the surface, was the ever present threat of Nuclear War.
Unlike most of my friends, I went to boarding school, which I hated. Halfway through my studies for A Level’s, I decided that I couldn’t take any more and asked my parent’s if I could leave. I had really struggled with the education system and couldn’t wait to get out to earn a living. Unfortunately that meant doing work that I didn’t really want to do. I had little or no idea of what I really wanted to do but one thing I had done a bit of at school, was acting and even directing. In my very first term, at the age of 13, I had produced, directed and starred in a play that won an award. It had also brought me a bit of respect from the pupils because I had managed, quite by accident, to project a mouthful of bun all over the Headmaster and his wife during the production. The other thing that I did there was to learn, sort of, to play the trombone. It was not an instrument I’d ever considered but it was the only one that they had languishing in the instrument cupboard and therefor not something my parents would have to buy. I wasn’t very good at it and I never really learned how to read music, despite 4yrs of trying. But I was good enough to play firstly in the school band and about a year later, in the orchestra…and it was a good orchestra. Most valuably though, I learned how music works. I already loved pop music but the orchestral experience was profound. Sitting at the back and above the rest of the musicians was an experience I’ll never forget or regret. But the rest of my school career had been marred by bullying and sex abuse and I couldn’t get away from it fast enough. This was the 60’s and the deeply conservative/Dickensian atmosphere was completely at odds with what was happening in the real world.
My friends back home in Epsom were pursuing further education at Technical College’s or Art School and growing their hair long and sometimes ‘Dropping Out’. We were all in our late teens and some truly meaningful friendships were being established. I had found work. That was part of the deal with my parents. The only other person that was doing a full time job apart from me, was Ed and my friendship with him and Andy survives to this day. It was Ed who was my main companion in musical adventures and we became regular visitors to the Toby Jug [see above]. I also remember going to a ‘Love in’ at Woburn Abbey with Ed. Jimi Hendrix was headlining and we drove up in Ed’s mini van. The thing I remember most from that afternoon was a swarm of bee’s flying into the audience during Donovan’s set. We all fled in panic whilst Donovan continued playing. He must have wondered what he had done wrong to cause such a mass evacuation. Hendrix wasn’t very good. He was beginning to get a reputation for not coming up with the goods but Taste, fronted by Rory Gallagher were next up and they were brilliant. In Andy’s case, he was already becoming a working drummer in various outfits, including John’s Children who had been Mark Bolan’s backing band and was about to become a founding member of the group that would see him soar to musical excellence and fame. Drug’s had entered the scene by this time and I had acquired a fondness for hash…we all had. Whilst all my friends seemed to be living out their creative potential, I had this job as a Management Trainee at John Lewis in Oxford Street, where I worked from ’67-’69 and later as an Assistant Buyer at Freeman’s Mail Order Catalogue in Stockwell, South London.
One of my abiding memories of working at John Lewis, was in 1969. The ‘Stones in the Park’ concert had been much talked about, especially as Brian Jones, the founding member of the band, had died in strange circumstances shortly after the band had sacked him and only a few days before the concert. What was supposed to be an opportunity to introduce Mick Taylor to the world as their replacement for Brian Jones, became something else entirely. I had arranged for a couple of friend’s to meet me at work that Saturday, after the store closed at lunchtime. They arrived early and came up to the Oriental Carpet Department where I was working at the time. We were used to rock star’s in the department as John Mayall was a good customer and the department had a slightly bohemian vibe to it anyway. But my Manager wasn’t quite prepared for Fran and Reggie. They both arrived in a cloud of Patchouli Oil [the essential Hippy ‘perfume’] and immediately went and sat crossed legged on the main pile of carpets in the centre of the department. They were both in full Hippy regalia and looked amazing. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the situation, it rather underlined the duality of my life at the time. My manager took me aside and said he was rather uncomfortable with their presence and suggested that we should get off to the concert as soon as possible. We made a swift exit. Me in my suit and Fran and Reggie in their extraordinary outfits. Why I hadn’t brought something else to change into I’m not sure, but off we went in our strangely contrasting ‘looks’. The concert was more of a ‘happening’ than a musical event. It was somewhere you had to be. The sound quality was dreadful and the band sounded out of tune and somewhat amateurish. It was most memorable for Mick Jagger’s extraordinary costume, his rather inept and some might say, inappropriate, eulogy to Brian Jones…and the release of the butterflies of course. Years later, I watched a film of the event and swear I spotted myself amongst the trees at the back. I was easy to spot… there weren’t too many people wearing suits.
The other thing that was a bit of a wake-up moment during my time at John Lewis, was seeing the film ‘If’. Directed by Lyndsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell. It was set in a dystopian Public School and reminded me of my time at a similarly dystopian Public School. I completely identified with Malcolm McDowell’s character and wished that I had rebelled in the same way his character had. More importantly, it was the first time I’d seen an actor in a film that made me think ‘I could have played that role’.
I had promised my parents that I would get a job after leaving school and in the vacuum of not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, that’s what I had done. I was frustrated and there was a yawning gap between what I could be doing and what I was doing. Then, one day in 1970, I was sitting outside the Marquis of Granby with Andy and the other Andy [Latimer. The founder of Camel] and talking about the pursuit of dreams and Andy Lat’s simply said ” You need to do what you want to do Man, what do you want to do?”. Without thinking, I said I wanted to be an Actor. I had been doing Amateur Dramatics in and around Epsom after my daily commutes up to London to work and found the hierarchy within these companies rather stultifying and… I was still living at home. I think I had always wanted to be a professional actor but saw it as an impossible dream and that my parents would be completely unsupportive. But Andy’s question had sown a seed and it was time to make some big decisions. I was now 20 years old.
Within a matter of weeks of that conversation, I was doing my daily commute up to London and Freeman’s Mail Order Catalogue where I was an assistant buyer in the mens shoe section, dressed as usual in my suit and surrounded by middle aged men in suit’s, with their bowler hats and copies of the Telegraph, which they expertly flicked and shook whilst turning it’s pages, thus providing the only soundtrack in each compartment. Conversation was frowned on in the etiquette of commuting. The atmosphere was stifling and I was suddenly overcome with the urge to just get off… just stop doing what felt like a complete anachronism in 1970 and change my life. As the train pulled into Clapham Junction, I let out a primal scream and got off the train. As I stood there on the platform, watching my train depart, I thought ‘Well, that’s it. What the hell do I do now ?’ Something I did know, was that all of a sudden the air tasted different and the world suddenly looked and felt different too. Fran, who I had gone to the ‘Stones in the Park’ concert with, had recently moved up to Clapham Common and was already starting to live an ‘alternative’ lifestyle and seemed to be the perfect person to go and see, so off I set. The first thing she said was that I should phone my manager and explain what I had just done and see what he had to say. He was wonderful. He said that he had always known that I didn’t fit at work and that if he was my age, he’d probably do the same. He accepted my notice there and then and told me to take a few day’s off before returning to work the rest of the month out. After a lovely day with Fran and her new friends, during which we smoked a lot of hash, I then had to return home and tell my parents what I had done. That wasn’t going to be easy.
When I returned home that evening, I immediately told my parents about the decision I had made and said I was going to try and find work as an actor. It did not go down well. I was now unemployed and had absolutely no idea how you got work as an actor. I knew nothing about the business and had no contacts I could go to for advice. So I started going to all the nearest Theatre’s and knocking on their Stage Door’s and asking for a job. That was my only plan. It was a painful and depressing experience and resulted in rejection at every Theatre. This wasn’t going to work but I didn’t have a Plan B. Then, one day, my Mother suggested that, with all this free time on my hands, I should go and visit my Grandmother who lived in Worthing. My much-loved Grandfather had recently died and my conscience got the better of me so I agreed to go.
My job’s in retail had been quite well paid and I had bought myself a lovely old MGA sports car [from Andy’s brother Ian]. Driving down to the coast in early Spring wasn’t exactly a chore. I set off and the visit was much appreciated. When I explained to my Grandmother about my recent decision, she didn’t judge me as I had expected, but immediately suggested that I should drive along the coast to Bognor Regis and go to the Butlins Holiday Camp to see if they had any jobs. This wasn’t exactly the sort of work I had in mind. That’s where all the Stars got their first break, she announced. I couldn’t bring myself to explain that I had higher motives, especially as I still had no idea how I was going to achieve those motives. I could have just ‘ticked the box’ by telling her and my parents that I had gone and been rejected again but something inside me decided to do the honourable thing and actually go. I duly arrived at Butlins and started knocking on the doors of some large, hanger like, buildings. It was ‘off season’ and the place looked deserted and I wasn’t getting any responses to my knocks. There was just one last building to go and so, with a sense of relief at having had no responses so far [ because I really didn’t want to work at Butlins ], I knocked one last time. To my amazement somebody answered. He was a really nice man and listened to my completely improbable idea that I was looking for work in the Theatre and that my Grandmother had suggested that I try here. Instead of the now expected rejection, he called out to someone inside the building and two other men appeared. Between the three of them, a discussion took place as they seriously considered my request and eventually, one of them said “We need a Theatre Manager for the Playhouse in Minehead”. Long story short, they offered me the job there and then. No experience, no qualifications. “It’s simple, you just have to lock and unlock the building for the Theatre Company that use it, and the same for the Projectionist who shows films in the afternoon. You can do that can’t you? I’m afraid it’s only £17 a week with accommodation and meals thrown in. Not the sort of income you’re used to, but it’s a start.” I said “Yes, thank you, I’d love to do that, when do I start?”.
And so began my new life in the Theatre. After Butlins, I spent the next couple of years working none stop doing various theatre job’s. From Children’s Theatre as an Actor, to Assistant Stage Management on Pre-West End tours even a directing job for the Children’s Theatre company and finally Panto in Liverpool [see ‘Dick Wittington and other stories’]. At the same time, Andy’s life in Camel also took off. I was very influenced by the music Andy was listening to at the time. Our favourite bands were Yes and Genesis but Andy was increasingly listening to the more quirky music of Hatfield and the North, Caravan and Soft Machine who all hailed from Canterbury. Three extraordinary bands with musicianship and experimentation at their hearts. Later, Andy became friends with many of the members of these bands and also worked with some of them. Richard Sinclair from Caravan and Hatfield and the North also played with Camel for a couple of years and I got to know him slightly after being hired by the band to drive him around on one of their tours. My musical tastes away from Andy were changing a bit. David Bowie became enormously influential for me. [ In 1970, my then girlfriend, Wendy, had rung me up one evening and asked me if I fancied going to see a guy called David Bowie at the Toby Jug. I don’t think I’d heard of him at the time and I asked her what sort of music he played. She described him as a singer/songwriter and that he would be performing an acoustic set, solo. I was more interested in the current trend for Blues/Rock bands and needed some persuading to accompany her to the gig. When he appeared, he immediately had a visual impact. He was very skinny and wore clothes that weren’t the norm at the time and had long straggly hair [see the cover photograph on ‘Hunky Dory’]. The songs he sang were very different from your average singer/songwriter. I really liked him. It wouldn’t be long before he released ‘Hunky Dory’ in ’71, the fully fleshed out version of the material he had played that night…and probably my all time favourite Bowie album]. I was also listening to more Soul Music. Stevie Wonder’s first three solo albums were big favourites of mine and Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ which was released in ’72, changed my musical landscape.. Over the next few years, we were both busy pursuing our different goals but would come together whenever possible. I would go to Camel gig’s when I could and always saw the band as good friends [In 1973, whilst visiting my parents in Epsom one weekend, I and a couple of friends, Simon and Stuart, in a fit of boredom, decided to drive to Frankfurt, Germany where Camel were on tour. It was a memorable trip for all sorts of reasons, but when we got to the venue, we went in and secreted ourselves in the audience whilst shouting out “Buggy Doy” which was Doug Ferguson, the bass player’s, pet name amongst the band. It took a while for anyone in the band to hear us but bit by bit, we could see puzzled expressions appear on the band’s faces and eventually, the realisation that somewhere in the audience, were friends from home. In between numbers, we saw an animated conversation taking place on stage as they tried to figure out who it was in the audience, accompanied by lots of shrugs and smiles. When we managed to get back stage afterwards, they were over the moon to see us and said it had given them a real boost in the middle of an exhausting tour and thought it was amazing that we had driven all the way from Epsom to see them. We stayed with them for a couple of day’s travelling on to Cologne and ‘partied’ all the way. After 2 days, I decided to hitch hike to Paris where my girlfriend was working as a dancer in the Folie Bergere. An extraordinary weekend!]. In the meantime I was working in the rather conventional Theatre world [described above] that wasn’t really what I had envisaged at the outset. I was on a ladder that was supposed to lead to bigger and better acting roles but after two years of crawling up this career ladder, I was getting impatient and wanted something different. In 1972, I briefly lived in the same house as Andy in Battersea [where the colour photo above was taken]. I had decided by then that I needed to make some changes if I was ever going to achieve my goal of doing interesting acting work and in 1973 I applied for and got a place at Central School of Speech and Drama. I continued to live in Battersea with Andy for my first year at college but he was off touring a lot and our path’s didn’t cross that often. Within a year, I had moved up to Swiss Cottage and Andy and I saw even less of each other.
I won’t go into detail about Andy’s career as it is well documented elsewhere [Just Google Andy Ward or Camel productions for a fuller History]. On a personal level, our friendship became increasingly strained as his Rock’n’Roll lifestyle began to take a toll on him and I found it difficult to be around him at times. It also effected his career and his mental health too, although I wasn’t aware of it. There was little awareness around mental health in the ’70’s but I had been diagnosed as Clinically Depressed by my GP in 1974/5 and had been prescribed anti-depressants. I didn’t take it as seriously as perhaps I should have and found all the medications I was given, unhelpful. By this time in my life, I realised that I was addicted to cannabis, despite the prevailing wisdom that it was non addictive. By definition, I was addicted because I smoked it every day and couldn’t contemplate life without it. I sometimes took other drugs like amphetamines and occasionally LSD and cocaine, too. I also drank alcohol, but rarely to excess. It was part of the mix of intoxicants that were my daily consumption though. Andy’s consumption of all the same substances was even more extreme than mine and for him it was becoming more and more problematic. It’s well documented how the pressures of touring in a band can have serious adverse effects and this became the case for Andy. On the surface, he was as he’d always been, the life and soul of the party but increasingly his drinking had become a big problem for him and those around him. I somehow managed to function fairly well on my level of consumption and mostly only took drugs in the evenings when I wasn’t working or after work when I was. All this time, a very close friend of mine who I also lived with was having mental health issues of his own that none of us were aware of. In hindsight, I can see that his problems were obvious but at the time none of us knew about his condition which was an eating disorder and were probably too caught up in our own struggles to notice. As I say, mental health wasn’t talked about or understood by most people at the time, but we would soon become better educated.
Music continued to be very important to me…it still is. During my time at Central, I managed to get a job at Mansi’s Record shop in Swiss Cottage. Eugene Mansi had become a friend due to my music ‘habit’ and his shop became a regular place of pilgrimage. Always looking for new things to listen to. When he offered me a job during college holidays, I leapt at it. It never felt like work, just somewhere I could spend more time checking out the latest releases and listening to other types of music that I had previously ignored and being paid to do so. Eugene was a fan of ‘Crossover’ or Jazz/Funk and sophisticated Soul. I became a fan of George Duke, Roy Ayers and Eddie Harris for instance. Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Betty Davis, Billy Cobham [who’s album ‘Spectrum’ became the main sample for Massive Attack’s first album ‘Blue Lines’ in the ’90’s], Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin and Bill Bruford [previously of Yes] all entered my record collection, as did African artist’s like Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela, Salif Keita and Manu Dibangu. But one name became increasingly important to me…Brian Eno. Since leaving Roxy Music he seemed to be carving out a unique style and soundscape and it seemed to be everywhere, mostly under the surface. There was one element of working at Mansi’s that was unexpected though. On a couple of occasions, Eugene announced that his Uncle would be dropping by and that he was a bad tempered man and it was probably best to keep out of his way whilst he was visiting. Whenever he visited, Eugene would usher him into his office and after about 20mins or so he would leave. He was a negative presence and Eugene would emerge after his visit’s looking unhappy. Which wasn’t like him at all. When I got to know Eugene better, he decided to tell me something that I found quite shocking and really surprising. The Mansi family were in fact a well known Maltese Mafia family who held sway over substantial parts of Soho. His ‘Uncle’ was the financial wiz in the ‘Family’. His visits to Eugene’s shop were because it was the ‘Family’ that had provided Eugene with the finance to buy his record shop and he came to see Eugene to check on ‘Business’. Without realising it, I had been working for the Mafia! This was my second brush with the Mafia [see ‘Dick Wittington and other stories’ for my first brush] but this one involved me working for them. It’s a funny old world.
In 1977, Andy came to live in the flat where I had been living whilst at Central. He was still with Camel and for a while, he seemed relatively stable. In fact, he was probably more stable than me at the time. I was all over the place emotionally as my career veered from success to failure and back again. He offered support to me when I was struggling but sometimes that ‘support’ was unconventional to say the least. We got into the habit of taking LSD, or going for ‘Long Walks’ as we euphemistically called it. Probably not the best therapy for us to be choosing. Our musical tastes were changing too. We were veering towards bands like The Tubes who were a very theatrical Punk act from the US, and Bootsy Collins and his bands, Parliament and Funkadelic. He had been in James Brown’s backing band [another massive influence in the world of music, having created a new type of Soul called Funk] and were our party favourites, but most of all, we were in thrall to a new band called Talking Heads. Frank Zappa was a constant presence and had been for a number of years, and was one of Andy’s favourite artist’s, and the new Bowie albums from Berlin, which introduced a radical change in style and sound [as ever] but this time, more so than ever. And guess who was helping him to change his direction and sound palette…Brian Eno, who would later team up with Talking Heads and produce possibly their best album, ‘Remain in Light’, which I saw them perform live at Hammersmith Palais. Probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. And shortly after that another game changing album by him and David Byrne called ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’, both produced in 1980. Our favourite album to listen to when we went on one of our ‘Long Walks’ was Fripp and Eno’s ‘Evening Star’, which Andy played on a very snazzy portable reel to reel tape recorder that he had. [I’ve just been reminded of another piece of technology that Andy introduced us all to. After a tour in Japan, he returned with the first ever Sony Walkman that any of us had seen or heard. Yash has just described to me his first experience of this and said it was quite simply magical. Very soon, we would all have one, but that first experience blew our socks off]. Andy even managed to persuade the boy’s in Camel to get Mr Eno on board briefly, employing him to help a bit on one of their album tracks. He was the go-to man for any band wanting to add that something extra to their sound. The man’s a genius! I have a memory [but to this day I’m not sure if I dreamed it or not] of going down to a small studio [Decca?] in West Hampstead to hang out with Andy. It was the day that Brian Eno was sprinkling some of his magic dust on a track they were recording and I was hoping to meet him. All I remember of that day was walking down a narrow passage between studios when a door opened and out of it emerged David Bowie. He walked towards me and because the passage was so narrow, we had to squeeze past each other. He smiled and said ‘Alright Man’ and disappeared off down the passage. Andy can’t confirm this story but the fact that Bowie was also working with Brian Eno at that time gives me cause to believe it really happened. I may as well mention another Bowie related story that happened a couple of years later. It was when I was living with Lynne in 1979. One afternoon, she said she was going to visit a friend called Angie who lived in Roehampton. She didn’t seem to have many close friends so I was always intrigued to meet anyone she knew and asked if I could come with her. We drove over in my old VW Beetle and when we got to the Council Estate that Angie lived on, I recognised it as an estate that had won many awards for it’s design and I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. As we approached one of the blocks, I asked Lynne how she knew Angie and she said that she knew her from a design course she had done in Kingston, and then she said that before we meet her, she should mention that Angie is Angie Bowie. My jaw dropped and I made some comment about her keeping this a secret from me. She said that she was afraid of introducing Angie to people in case they acted inappropriately around her. Apparently she didn’t like talking about her former husband because she felt betrayed by him and that he’d never given her the credit for helping him to create Ziggy Stardust. I was sworn to be ‘cool’ around her and just treat her like I would anybody. Lynne knew that I had met a number of celebrities and therefore she trusted me not to do or say anything out of place. And so it was. We spent a rather boring hour or two, with Lynne and Angie talking about design and I kept my conversation to asking about the estate, which I must confess was rather special for a Council Estate and in a wonderful location on a hillside with panoramic views across Surrey. She didn’t seem that interested in me anyway and so the potential for talk about theatre or the music business never arose. I must confess I didn’t like her very much, she was too self obsessed. But I would have liked to ask her about her life with Mr Bowie, but knew I shouldn’t unless she raised the topic herself…but she didn’t. I was quite relieved when we left. Many years later, I was chatting with my sister on the phone, she lives in Australia, and I mentioned this encounter to her in passing and she said that she had also known Angie Bowie when they were both at the same college in Kingston together in the mid 60’s and that nobody liked her back then either. Some things never change it would seem. Nonetheless, I have always felt sorry for her. It must be difficult to have been sidelined by someone who owed her a considerable debt for her input into the creation of such an iconic character.
Whilst I’m dropping names I may as well tell you of another encounter I had thanks to Andy. It was around the same time in ’77, following a failed theatrical venture [see the Lion of Eaton Sq. story]. I was low and restless and struggling to get out of bed and Andy said I should pop over to Basing Street Studios in Notting Hill Gate that afternoon as it would do me good to get out and about. Camel were doing some mixing there and I could come over and hang out. It was a lovely day and I decided that a walk would do me good. So I set off from Swiss Cottage in the direction of Notting Hill. I used to walk a lot in London, even traversing from North to South on occasion, so a few miles was easily doable. I knew Notting Hill quite well as I had become an avid Carnival goer. Dub Reggae was one of my favourite musical styles and Sound Systems were like a narcotic experience that I had grown to love. Anyway, on arrival at Basing Street, I went in and found myself in a very dark ‘Green Room’ where artists hung out when they weren’t actually recording. There was only one other person in there and he just happened to be John Martyn. [In retrospect, I’ve realised that he was there recording his album ‘One World’, which is the only album of his that I have in my record collection]. I was a big fan and remembered him from the times I had seen him at the Toby Jug in the late 60’s. He was a real innovator for a folk singer. He had an array of pedals that controlled a number of effects, including tape loops. These are now commonly used by any number of artists but in the late ’60’s they were unique. When I first saw him, he produced an extraordinary sound for a folk singer with just an acoustic guitar and a few pedals. We’d never heard the like before and just sat there mesmerised, trying to figure out what was going on and how he did what he was doing. He was also well known for his habit of coming on stage with a joint on the go and then sharing it with people at the front of his audience. True to form, he was playing snooker by himself with a bottle of wine and a joint in hand. He seemed relieved to see someone and asked me to join him playing snooker. I warned him that I was really crap at snooker and he just said “So am I”. At some point, someone came out of the studio area and said that Andy had sent a message to me to say that they were having ‘problems’ and would I mind not coming in to see them today. I knew there were tensions in the band and so I perfectly understood what might have been going on. I decided to finish the game I was playing with John Martyn and then shuffle off back home. I was still buzzing from my encounter with him when the outside door opened and a small crowd of Rasta’s came in and completely changed the atmosphere. They were all very buoyant and their presence filled the Green Room. A couple of them came over to the snooker table and challenged John Martyn and I to a doubles match. We warned them that we were both crap and that they may be disappointed with our lack of skills. And so we proceeded to play badly and they, who seemed to get bored quite quickly, kept changing personnel. There was a noticeable increase in the Ganja content in the air and large ‘trumpet’ spliff’s were being passed around, much to mine and John Martyn’s approval. I kept trying to keep track of who we were playing with but there were no formal introductions happening and so the faces became a bit of a blur. But at some point I looked up and realised that one of the guy’s we were playing against was very recognisable…it was Bob Marley!
Now, I’ve got a confession to make. I wasn’t Bob Marley’s biggest fan. I loved his success and he was unquestionably a great artist. There wasn’t a single household I knew that didn’t have a Bob Marley album in it. His music was everywhere. But that was part of the problem for me. I’m something of a music snob and his elevation to Legendary status was out of place, for me. To achieve that status, he had compromised the genre in my view. I had been listening to Reggae since the early 70’s and for me it wasn’t something new. Since moving to London, I was aware of ‘Version’ blasting out of neighbours’ houses at Blues Parties. Version was what Dub was called before it was called Dub. It felt more ‘real’. What Bob Marley [via Chris Blackwell of Island Records and the owner of Basing Street Studios] did, was to make Reggae for a wider [whiter] audience. His lyrics were revolutionary but the music was softcore. For me, lyrics have always come second to music. They can be the icing on the cake, [a number of examples come to mind, like Hatfield and the North, Stevie Wonder and Linton Kwesi Johnson] but the cake comes first. I respond to sonic’s, rhythm, melodies and musicianship before words. It’s why I struggle with Opera. There are Arias that I like for their tunefulness. I have a CD of Puccini’a Arias in my car that I love but the main premise of Opera leaves me cold. I’ve tried hard to understand why it has its status as ‘High Art’, but have singularly failed to do so. That day at Basing Street Studios was just as memorable for me because of my encounter with John Martyn. When I recount the meeting though, it’s Bob Marley’s name that inspires awe. I even got a job once because I had been telling a Big Issue vendor [I was a volunteer for them in Bath] that I had once met Bob Marley and he was so gobsmacked that he told everyone he spoke to in town about ‘The guy who met Bob Marley’. This got back to the Manager of the Night Shelter in Bath who was a massive Bob Marley fan. I later applied for a job there and when I went for the interview, all he wanted to talk about was my encounter. It felt like that was my qualification for the job. I got the job! Later, when the consumption of cannabis by me and most of the staff became an issue, I found it really strange that someone who worshipped a man who famously consumed vast quantities of Ganja was so judgemental about it. Hey ho. Back in ’77, when Andy got home from his day at Basing Street Studios and I told him about the encounter, he seemed singularly unimpressed. I don’t think he was a particular fan either.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I finally got into the kind of Theatre I had long dreamed of. I also had the kind of relationship I had long dreamed of…I was busy and on the up. Andy had moved out of my flat by then, but his life was taking a bit of a downturn [British understatement]. We didn’t see a lot of each other, but I was increasingly aware that he was struggling and whenever we spoke on the phone or occasionally met up, he seemed unfocused and lost. In retrospect, I don’t think I was the friend I should have been. I don’t think I understood what was happening to him. I just saw the drinking and struggled with his Jekyll and Hyde behaviour. He was manic and difficult to be around. And the clue to what was happening lies in that word, Manic. As we were to discover later, Andy was really ill and was trying to bury that illness with alcohol and drugs. I’m not sure any of us knew how to respond, but in hindsight all the signs were there, especially given the fact that his Father was Manic Depressive or Bipolar as it is now called. All these things were about to come to a head though and I’m struggling to say what happened next. [ I’ve just spoken to Andy on the phone because I don’t want to hurt him in any way because the next part of his life was about to take a terrible turn. I wanted to check with him whether I should be writing about something so personal. He said it was fine because what happened to him is well chronicled and has been written about by journalists and rock historians. I was there and I want to bring something more intimate and loving to the episode and I hope I can get the tone right. 14/10/20 ].
In 1981 [I can’t remember the exact date, but that’s not the important bit], I received a phone call quite late one evening. It was from Andy’s girlfriend at the time. She rang to say that Andy had not returned home that day and that that was unusual, and she was worried about him. We hadn’t been in touch for a while, but I sensed something in his girlfriend’s voice and said I would come over straight away. Our friend Yash/Mike also said he would join us. We arrived to find her in quite a state and one of her neighbours was also there. They had been making a number of phone calls to the Police and Hospitals but had drawn a blank so far. As the evening progressed, it transpired that, unknown to us, Andy had made various attempts on his life in recent months. Yash and I were in shock and the urgency of our search heightened considerably. That night has become a bit of a blur and perhaps the detail is unimportant but eventually we discovered that Andy had indeed made another attempt at taking his own life and had been found just in time and that he was in hospital where they had managed to save him but his condition was serious. We all rushed there immediately and spent the rest of that night there. Again, I can’t remember the details of that night and, again, they’re not important in the great scheme of things. The important thing was, Andy had survived. The next thing I remember was that we had to contact his parents who lived in Suffolk and they immediately arranged to come down. We were there to meet them when they arrived and that was a very difficult meeting. Understandably, they were in deep shock and struggled to take in the enormity of what had happened. Yash, who was studying to be a psychotherapist, was an amazing person to have with us and he was best placed to do most of the talking. I can’t remember exactly when we were able to go in and actually see Andy but when we did it helped enormously to be able to see that he was recovering physically. The next few day’s were a blur of going home and getting some sleep and retuning to the hospital to see Andy and continue our conversations with his parents. For me, there was an enormous sense of relief, especially when we heard the details of his attempt and how close he came to being successful and we to losing him. My heart is pounding at the retelling of this and remembering how this changed everything in my relationship with Andy. It’s shocking to realise that it can take something so life changing to put a relationship into focus and realise how much you love someone.
Andy’s recovery took quite a while because, apart from his physical health, there was a psychological journey for him to go through. I visited him as often as possible in the Psychiatric Hospital that he became a temporary resident of, and strange as it may sound, I discovered an Andy I’d never known before and I found it really easy to engage with him and love him unconditionally. These situations are always complicated to unpick, but I should probably acknowledge that there was probably a need on my part that needed to be with him and try to rediscover my own humanity. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt good about sharing his journey with him on those visit’s. It gave me a sense of self worth. I actually enjoyed the time we spent together there. The reality for Andy was that his life would probably never be the same again and over the next couple of years, it became obvious that his career with Camel was at an end.
Leading up to this point, my life had undergone some big changes. The ‘Future Shock’ project had collapsed [see the Future Shock Story] and I had parted company with the love of my life, Lynne. I was devastated and struggled to come to terms with it. In some ways I never did. I moved to Brixton, living with some old friends in a shared house. I had also finished my job at the Roundhouse, where I had been working as the Deputy Production Manager following the failure of Future Shock to set the world alight. I was making a living as a courier driver in a box transit van and was thinking of doing some travelling, so I saved hard. These friends had just negotiated a move to a Housing Association property, also in Brixton and they invited me to join them. Times were changing from the day’s of squatting in the ’70’s to a more formalised and secure housing situation in the ’80’s and by sheer chance, I found myself on that same housing ladder. Soon after my move to Brixton, we were all transferred to a beautifully refurbished terrace in Dalyell Road. I was incredibly lucky to have landed on my feet.
By this time, creativity had slipped down my agenda but I did manage to do a couple of creative things around my driving job but to be honest this tale I’m about to tell probably wasn’t one of them. One of the people I shared this house with was Francoise from France. She had a French boyfriend who was in a psychedelic punk band, if you can imagine such a thing. I can’t remember his or his bands name but for years afterwards I thought they were called ‘The Psychedelic Furs’. I now realise that that wasn’t who they were at all. Anyway…they were doing gigs around London and one day he asked me if I knew anything about lighting. I said I knew a bit from working in the theatre but that I had a friend, Yash, who had trained as a lighting technician. He explained that they were doing a special gig at a warehouse, owned by Toyah Willcox [Pop star and later married to Fred Fripp of King Crimson and Brian Eno fame] in Battersea. Would we be interested in doing the lighting? I said we would but due to work commitments, we wouldn’t be able to do any kind of set-up until the day of the gig. He agreed, saying that we wouldn’t be able to do any kind of set-up before that anyway. On the appointed day, Yash and I turned up at the warehouse only to discover that there were exactly two lamps available. Two lamps and no dimmer board, just plug sockets. To say we were gobsmacked would be a gross understatement. Apparently, the band had tried to get more but had failed…spectacularly! What on earth did they expect us to do with that? “The best you can”, was their response. I remember that we just felt distraught. Whatever we did, it would be dreadful. All we could do was hang one of the lamps over the stage and switch it on at the plug when the band came on. We had no control over it other than to turn it on and leave it on throughout the show. It was a flood lamp and there was no subtlety to it whatsoever. It was hideous. We toyed with the idea of muting it somehow but rejected the idea immediately as we thought that whatever we used might catch fire from the heat of the lamp [that would have been an interesting effect]. We then had a small spotlight to play with as well. We racked our brains and decided that all we could do with it was to make a gobo. A gobo is a shape cut out of card or other material that you place in front of a lamp to create a shape or pattern. This would be the extent of our creativity. There was nothing else we could do. When the band turned up there was a bit of ‘blame game’ going on and when we showed them what they were going to get, there was even a sense that Yash and I were to blame. The nerve! So the gig went on and we tried to introduce a bit of variety with our use of the gobo [a star shape] enhanced spot light, which we used like a follow spot but from a fixed position in the audience. It was awful and I don’t remember the music being that special either. During this whole fiasco, I and the other men that I knew in the audience, had all become somewhat entranced by a particular young woman in the audience who was dancing. She was rather beautiful and charismatic and we couldn’t take our eyes off her. I was determined to try and approach her before any of my friends did and so, after the band had finished and some dancy music was playing over the PA, I went over to her and started to dance with her. We seemed to gel and when the music stopped, I asked her if I could give her a lift home. She said yes and we set off for her flat in Wandsworth in my romantic box transit van. As we were driving along, she turned to me and said, “I think I need to tell you something”, “I think you probably think I’m a woman don’t you” I said “yes” but my heart was sinking already as an alternative reality had started to dawn on me. I looked across at her and suddenly the penny dropped, just before she said “I’m a man, how do you feel about that?” I said something crass like “well your a very beautiful man but you’re right, I had no idea until you started to say, I think I need to tell you something”. I won’t deny it, it was awkward but fortunately we arrived at her/his flat as this was all sinking in and rather than pursue the whole issue, she/he just thanked me for the lift and said goodbye. As I set off back to Brixton, I couldn’t help wondering how, not just me, but all the others that had expressed an interest in her[?] had got it so wrong. The only transvestites that I had encountered up to that point, were older and much less attractive. I had a very cliched idea of what a transvestite [if that’s what she/he was] looked like. I’d just been on a very steep learning curve and it made me question a lot of my preconceptions. When I got back to Brixton, I couldn’t wait to tell my housemates about what had just happened. As I entered the front door, there were a few men I didn’t immediately recognise, preparing to leave and were saying their goodbyes to some of the band who had obviously come back to the house after the gig. Instead of French accents though, these guys had very recognisably Germanic accents. As they brushed passed me in the hallway, they all said “Hi” to me as they left, and I suddenly realised that I recognised two of them. They…were Kraftwerk. As if my evening hadn’t been strange enough already, the last thing I could possibly have imagined, was that Kraftwerk were friends of the band but had been playing elsewhere in London that evening and had just dropped by to see how their friends gig had gone. Extraordinary. As you may have noticed, both here and in my other stories, I’ve had some amazing encounters with some very famous people over the years but they were all in places that you might expect to have such encounters. Coming home and bumping into Kraftwerk in my own front hallway, has to be the strangest one of all, and the least expected. When I saw my housemates, they were all buzzing over the visit they’d just had, and my story had completely lost its edge. It paled into insignificance compared to having Kraftwerk in our house. And so, my strangest of all evenings came to an end without comment. C’est la vie!
Unlike my encounter with Bob Marley, I was a massive fan of Kraftwerk. For me, they are one of the most influential bands since the Beatles. I know a lot of people would balk at that statement but ask any Hip Hop, Dance/Electronica, R&B act [who completely dominate the contemporary music scene], who provided the bedrock for their music, and the vast majority would tip their hat’s towards Kraftwerk. Other’s too no doubt [James Brown and David Bowie for instance] but Kraftwerk changed how music was made and sounded. Listen to New Order, Massive Attack, Bjork and more recently, Billie Eilish, Christine and the Queens and my current favourite artist’s. Laurel Halo and Kelly Lee Owens, both of whom combine Dance/Electronica with Dub [my dream combination] and the whole Rave and Dance scene and you realise what they laid the foundations for. [It’s interesting to note that, for my money, most of the interesting music that’s being produced at the moment, is by women]. After I stopped working at the Roundhouse, I dropped in one evening to see friends and unknown to me, there was a concert happening [one of the advantages/privileges of working somewhere like the Roundhouse and having friend’s who worked at other major venues in London, was that I was able to get complementary tickets for some of the top show’s around town and in the case of the Roundhouse, just walk straight in]. As I walked into the main auditorium that evening, I was confronted by one of the strangest sights and sounds I’d ever experienced at a live gig. I knew who they were of course as I had a couple of their albums, but that didn’t lesson the impact of seeing them live. There on the stage, were four men in identical suit’s, standing stock still, in a line, in front of keyboard’s on stands. Not a drummer in sight. There was an atmosphere of academia about them but the sonics they were producing completely belied their stance. They were electric…in more senses than one. They appeared robotic in their anonymity. The sound was all. And the sound changed music…it was Kraftwerk of course. [Just for clarification, this gig took place about a year before the encounter in my hallway, described above].
Yash, who was part of the whole lighting episode, had gone straight home after the gig at the warehouse and therefore didn’t know how my evening had evolved and ended. When I told him later, he decided to ’embellish’ the story somewhat [he swears his version is true…but it’s not!] and in his version, which he’s been dining out on for years, the young woman/man was Boy George. “Or maybe it was Marilyn” [who was a Pop star and friend of Boy George’s and also into a cross gender look]. This obviously makes a better story as most people have heard of Boy George at least, if not Marilyn. But I have alway’s objected to his version, not because I want to spoil his fun, but on the grounds that I don’t want anyone to think that I would find either Boy George or Marilyn to be very attractive. In my view they’re not and neither would I ever think they were women. They’re too drag queeny. The person I fancied and drove home was seriously beautiful. It’s just a shame that I’m so bloody heterosexual…but it doesn’t stop me from finding some men very attractive to look at. I’m also happy to tell the men in my life that I love them. I’ve probably loved more men than women and have no difficulty in saying so. In my prime, I was often approached by gay men and always felt enormously flattered by their attentions. I also used to enjoy swapping clothes with some of my girlfriends [not dresses or underwear though]. I’ve even been known to wear eye makeup. Thanks to people like David Bowie, Mick Jagger or David Sylvian [Singer with Japan and wonderful solo artist], I’m happy to express my femininity. I was perfectly placed as an actor to experiment with different looks and had no qualms about taking them onto the street. In the early ’80’s, I bought a rather sexy jumpsuit in a shop in the Kings Road [I’ve still got it] and the next evening wore it to a party down in Dulwich. When the woman who answered the door [Carol Sarler the journalist] saw me, she let out a yelp and declared “How dare you wear that”, because she was wearing the exact same jumpsuit but in a different colour. Once she’d got over her disappointment of someone wearing the same outfit as her, we bonded over the fact and became good friends. One of my favourite looks in the mid ’80’s was a dyed blond mohican hair style with a pink fluffy jumper, skinny steel grey trousers and work boots. I was a bit of a fashion victim. Sadly, I’m far less flamboyant in my old age, although just the other week, I was buying a jumper in a shop that had both men’s and women’s clothes on opposite sides of the shop, when my eye caught site of a trendy Parka jacket [ I was a Mod in the mid ’60’s but could never afford a Parka to go with my Lambretta scooter] hanging on a rail and I asked to try it on. “It’s a woman’s jacket sir” the assistant announced. “I don’t care” I said , “I like it and I’ve always wanted one”. Dear reader, I bought it. All is not lost.
Whilst we’re in 1981, there is one band and one particular record that can’t go without mention. ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials. Thatcherism had taken hold in the UK and for anyone in the Art’s this was a devastating time. Subsidies were being slashed in the Art’s and for anyone like me, all the thing’s that were being developed at a grass root’s level and depended on basic facilities that had formerly been available for free, now had a price put on them. I’m talking about rehearsal spaces in church hall’s for instance or anywhere that had previously been available to fledgling band’s or theatre/dance companies. Thatcher’s new style of capitalism meant squeezing every last drop of income from every and any facility that wasn’t making full use of it’s potential to make money. Everything now had a price tag on it. The Benefit’s system was changing too. There had always been an unwritten rule that artists of all shades could claim Benefits, if they could prove they were bona fide, when they were unemployed [80 percent unemployment in the Actors Union, Equity]. When I ‘signed on’ between job’s at Lisson Grove Benefit’s Office, they had a special counter for Actors, who weren’t expected to go through the same rigmarole as other claimant’s. It was like an information exchange for Actor’s where we all met once a week and got the latest on what was happening in our profession. At Drama School we’d all been told that there was no shame in being ‘Between Jobs’. Suddenly that had changed. Professional theatre companie’s that would have lent unused equipment to struggling Fringe companies, were being encouraged to put a hire charge on it. And because all Arts subsidies were being cut, they had no choice but to comply because their budget’s were also being slashed . It was an attack on creativity. I’ve used my own sphere of interest to try to illustrate what Thatcherism meant to me personally but it’s ramifications were felt in every place of work that she deemed unproductive or underproductive. This meant an all-out assault on the Unions and Industry…and by association, all the communities that they supported. She was ruthless and heartless and her statement that there was “No such thing as Society” summed up her regime. ‘Ghost Town’ by the Specials illustrated this with a darkness allied to a sadness that was breathtaking in its insight…it was also beautiful…and it was a big hit. It was that rare thing, a political Pop record that had real integrity. It was written by Jerry Dammers of the band and 3 yrs later he would write ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, performed by the Special AKA. Another political Pop song which became enormously influential in the movement to have Nelson Mandela released from Robin Island. Later that same year , I and my friend Neil went on the last conducted tour of the recently closed Battersea Power Station. The interior still contained extraordinary Art Deco detailing in the corridors and offices and best of all, the machinery at it’s heart. Of the 6 people on that tour, one of them was Jerry Dammers. No grand standing, no music talk, just another member of the public bidding farewell to a much-loved London landmark [Well, not exactly farewell. It has now been re-opened/re-purposed…at last!].
I can’t move on without saying something about my 2 years in Brixton. It was, without question, the most vibrant part of London I ever lived in. I loved it. Apart from my brief encounter with Kraftwerk and the release of ‘Ghost Town’, there were two other things of significance I’d like to mention. One musical and one political. In 1980, Linton Kwesi Johnson released the album ‘Bass Culture’ which contained the track ‘Inglan is a Bitch’. I’ve been quite critical of Bob Marley’s output above and this is a great example of what I consider great reggae to be. ‘Inglan is a Bitch’ is a piece of art and a sublime, insightful, piece of political poetry underpinned by equally sublime dub reggae. I can’t state how important I think this track and this album was/is and his previous album ‘Forces of Victory’ too. ‘Bass Culture’ coincided with my time in Brixton and his two albums were constantly on our turntables. And the second thing to mention is the Brixton riots of ’81. At first I wasn’t sure that this was anything to do with me. Apart from the fact it was happening very close to where I lived. It was labeled as a fight between young black men and the police. That first night I decided to stay at home. I had alway’s known that the police were institutionally racist. I had seen it first-hand at Carnival and I had also challenged it in person with a high ranking Met officer in Notting Hill Gate on another occasion. It wasn’t during Carnival but on a sunny evening outside one of my favourite pub’s, The Frog and Firkin. Suddenly, as I stood outside drinking my beer, the whole area became inundated with hundreds of police. On foot in riot gear, in vehicles of every kind and in helicopters too. This officer in a highly ornamented uniform appeared to be orchestrating proceedings nearby whilst constables were ordering us to clear the street and go into the pub. I refused and asked what was going on and that I wanted to see what was happening. He got very stroppy with me and I stood my ground and got very stroppy with him. This senior officer overheard this exchange and came over and told the constable to go elsewhere while he dealt with me. There then followed a surreal conversation between us. He explained that they were undertaking an ‘exercise’ in damage limitation on the estate opposite. He was very civil and had a smile on his face throughout our conversation. I pointed out that it seemed incredibly provocative to carry out such an ‘exercise’ in a predominantly black neighbourhood. He claimed not to realise that this was the case [still smiling] and that they had to do it somewhere. He was like a smiling assassin and sent chills down my spine. His radio then started to receive a lot of ‘chatter’ and he apologised and said he needed to deal with this. He continued smiling at me as he started to move away, but still found the time to turn to me and cynically say that he had enjoyed our, little conversation, as his smile slipped from his face and he proceeded to command the ‘exercise’ with quick fire instructions on his radio. I then watched, slack jawed, as they proceeded with their ‘exercise’ of military style intimidation, before disappearing as swiftly as they had arrived. A successful operation no doubt! Back to Brixton ’81. I ventured out on the second day and decided that my best vantage point would be at a friends flat in Electric Avenue, right in the heart of town. The police seemed to have got control of the centre of Brixton by then and I walked through empty streets without incident. As I entered Electric Avenue, I was joined by a black man about the same age as me  and obviously well educated. He looked very nervous and said that the police where everywhere and it wasn’t safe for him [not us] to be on the streets. As he said this, a line of policemen appeared at the far end of the street, advancing towards us and then we glanced back where we had come from and another line of police appeared from nowhere and also moved towards us. We were the only people in the street. We were in a police sandwich, but fortunately we were nearly at my friends flat so I suggested he join me in seeking shelter there. Before we could get there however the police were upon us and what happened next is indelibly printed on my brain. They grabbed this guy and brutally pushed him into the back of a Black Maria police van where they proceeded to beat him up. They completely ignored me and I suddenly remembered that I had an Instamatic camera in my bag and so I got it out, without thought, and started taking pictures of what was happening. Unfortunately, it had an automatic flash on it and this alerted them to my presence. One of them came over to me and grabbed my camera and smashed it onto the road and then stamped on it. He then removed the cassette of film and smashed that open and exposed the whole film. He then suggested that I leave immediately before he arrested me for obstruction. All the while I was protesting that this man had done nothing and that what they were doing was an outrage. It appeared as though they didn’t see me or hear me. They were literally and metaphorically ‘colour blind’. As a white middle class man, it appeared I had immunity. Had I been young and black no doubt thing’s would have been very different for me, on both occasions. I learned a big lesson from those two incidents. I also lost, possibly, the most important photograph’s I’ve ever taken!
During the rest of ’81 I did a couple of things in the theatre. One of which was stage managing a feminist review called ‘The Pack of Women’ at The Drill Hall. I had inadvertently become caught up in the feminist movement during the 70’s by sharing a flat with Julie, who was a lesbian. She educated all of us men, by proxy, as she ‘came out’ during the time we were living in the same flat together and her search for a new identity and her feminist politics were something that couldn’t be ignored or resisted. Feminism was a revolutionary movement that was electrifying in its import and initially, I became completely swept up in its radicalism. I never questioned my credentials to be part of it. I even found myself being held up as an example of how men should be in a feminist world. But…it was a radical movement and the closer I got to the epicentre, the more I realised that it was more political than I was prepared for, and I’d never seen myself as a political animal, let alone a radical one. There were elements that, privately, I couldn’t buy into and I found myself mouthing ‘mantras’ that I actually didn’t agree with but didn’t have the courage to challenge. ‘All Men Are Rapists’ was one such ‘mantra’. It all started to feel very divisive and you were either wholly ‘in’ or you were the enemy, and I didn’t want to be the enemy. I rather enjoyed my privileged position close to the inner circle. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. This was a complex period in my life and it deserves more space than this, so I’m going to skip over the issues that transpired over the last month’s of 1981. It’s too painful and complicated to write about here. The net result of it was, however, that I decided to go to Australia with a friend, Jackie, to escape from the political pressures I’d started to experience in London as the cracks in my views on the more radical elements of feminism became apparent. Little did I know that upon arrival in Australia in January 82, those very politics that I was running away from would re-emerge but like Australia, in an upside down form. I would dearly love to write about my sojourn in Oz but it would be a whole story in itself and it doesn’t really fit the title heading for this tale…so I’m going to leave it for another time. Musically, there isn’t much to say about my trip to Australia other than to mention that by far the heaviest item of luggage I took with me was a second, smaller rucksack that contained many cassettes and my Professional Sony Walkman. We had a stopover in Bali on the way to Sydney which was simply wonderful and the two tapes that I listened to most were the B52’s ‘Mesopotamia’ and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. After a seriously disappointing trip to Australia, I returned to Bali for about 3 weeks before heading home. I existed on a budget of £50 for the whole 3 week period, and it was paradise. And, of course, the wonderful sound of Gamelan music was ever present. The time I spent in Bali made the whole long haul trip feel worthwhile.
Whilst travelling around Bali, I encountered a local man who, when he realised I was from England, tried to tell me something in very broken or ‘Pidgin’ English. He was very excited and kept miming a boxing scene, whilst saying “sowmerik inlan” and when I expressed a complete lack of understanding, he just became more and more agitated. I decided he was a bit unbalanced and moved away. A couple of days later, just before I was due to fly home, I met an Australian couple who asked me what I thought about the news from home. I confessed I had not heard or read any news and was completely out of touch. They then told me that England was at war with Argentina. I was completely flabbergasted. I kept saying that they must be mistaken, it didn’t make any sense. Eventually they convinced me that it was true and that it had been reported in all the newspapers globally. Suddenly I realised what the Indonesian man had been trying to tell me, ‘sowmerik inlan’ or South America and England were indeed at war in his exaggerated and confusing version of events. I had only been away for 4 months, but in that time, British politics had moved on significantly and I would be returning to a very different England.
In another example of ‘Pidgin’ English that is far less important but was equally baffling, was when I was in a taxi going to the airport in Bali. When I sat down in the taxi, the driver did a double take when he looked at me in the passenger seat. His face lit up with excitement and he said “Yo hame bon”. I again, as above, expressed a lack of understanding but he kept repeating this phrase whilst slapping the dash board as if that would convince me of the veracity of what he was saying. I exited his taxi at the airport none the wiser. Some years later whilst performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I booked myself into a B&B and the young landlady said what a striking resemblance I had to the actor Roger Moore. I couldn’t begin to see the similarity but she insisted that, as a fan of James Bond films, she should know. When I asked friends what they thought of her comment, they struggled at first but when I made the famous Roger Moore cocked eyebrow expression, they all said “Yes, we can see it now”. Suddenly the penny dropped and I recalled the taxi driver in Bali and realised that “Yo Hame Bon” meant “You are James Bond”. No wonder he was excited. I bet he still tells everybody that he drove James Bond to the airport. A bit like my friend Yash telling everyone that I got off with Boy George. Talk about ‘Fake News’.
When I returned to England in May ’82, I was initially quite ill as I’d got food poisoning in my last couple of days in Bali and almost missed my return flight. I’d had to be strapped down on three seats whilst being cared for by an English doctor for the whole journey and when I got back, my parents came to get me and then took me back to the family home where they nurtured me back to health. I was now homeless as I’d had to give up my room in Brixton because I had said I didn’t know how long I was going to be away for and I couldn’t afford to pay rent for an unknown period. My original plan had been to go to Australia, make as much money as possible and then fly on to Nepal where I’d hoped to meet up with my brother David and my Dad, to go hiking together. That plan was scuppered because I’d failed to make anything beyond subsistence money and my visa had overrun. What the hell was I going to do now?
Through the kindness of friends, I managed to find places to stay and enough work to keep the wolf from the door. I even got a temporary job as a Park Keeper in Dulwich Park, which I loved. It had now been over two years since I’d last performed and, to my surprise, I didn’t miss it. Over the next year or so, I managed to keep my creative hand in by doing a number of different things including, directing with The Mombasa Roadshow [see the relevant story] and a show called ‘The Dream’ which was a Calypso version of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, adapted by a friend. Both were creatively and critically successful but didn’t pay. Meanwhile I earned a living by falling back on courier driving. I had also found a permanent place to live in West Hampstead. But everything was brought to a grinding halt by an accident I had in 1983. Whist helping some friends move a piano up three flights of stairs in a small Victorian terrace, the other three people I was doing it with, let go at the same time and the piano slid down the stairs and I was crushed underneath it with it’s full weight pinning my arm to the wall whilst my body was forced into a backwards S shape. It took them a few minutes to get from above the piano on the stairs down to where I was because the stairs were so narrow and they didn’t want to dislodge the piano further onto me. When they did eventually manage to lift it off me, I was in a pretty sorry state. Initially it was my arm that seemed the most damaged and there was a lot of blood but once that had been bandaged and I set off back to my flat round the corner, I realised that something else was wrong with my legs and my back. I could barely walk. Long story short, I had damaged the bottom three vertebrae in my spine and trapped my sciatic nerve. I was offered an operation that would involve grafting the three vertebrae together but refused it on the grounds that there was no guarantee that this wouldn’t effect my long term mobility and movement. I had always been a very physical person, both as a performer and in the part time work I often did. This meant that I would spend the rest of my life with chronic pain and a painkiller habit. And that is still the case to this day. My life changed overnight.
Andy’s life meanwhile had also changed. Still undiagnosed, he was determined to continue with what he knew best, drumming. He had to relearn how to drum with his injuries and, like me, in constant pain. He also fell back on managing his condition with alcohol and drugs whilst I tried to continue with the aid of prescription painkillers and my old friend cannabis. Both of us thought that that was the best way to manage pain, both mental and physical. Andy worked with a number of bands during the 80’s, the best known being Marillion. I did a number of different things including working as a professional dancer in my mid 30’s, and with an injured spine! That was short lived though and culminated in me being stretchered off stage mid performance because my back had gone into spasm. I’d left it far too late in life to undertake such work but I was proud of myself for actually managing to achieve a life long ambition…to be a dancer. I also found unpaid work as a coach driver for a rather eccentric group of dancers called Ashdown Eurythmy. They were followers of Rudolf Steiner, a 19th century Austrian philosopher. Every few months or so, they would call me to see if I was free and able to drive them on mini tours around Europe. It turned out to be one of the loveliest jobs I ever had. I got to travel to some of the most beautiful parts of Europe, including Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, the far north of Norway and Sweden, and a lot of Germany which is the centre of the Rudolf Steiner movement. I also acted in a number of student films through my friend Simon who I’d done theatre work with and who had started to study film making. They weren’t very good films and I was beginning to feel that my days as an actor were over.
By 1987, I had decided it was time to get a proper job. Without any conventional qualifications, my prospects were somewhat limited. I saw an advertisement for a job with a voluntary organisation called NACRO [The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders]. They were looking for someone to manage a gardening project and it struck a chord, so I applied. The interview was ‘interesting’ to say the least. Having asked me about my ability to manage teams of ex-offenders and checked that I had a grasp of gardening, they then shocked me by asking me what I would do if someone pulled a knife, or worse still, a gun on me. To my surprise, I said very calmly that I wouldn’t respond at all but would back off and remove myself from the situation. They seemed to be very impressed by my answer. I got the job. I won’t go into all the in’s and out’s of the next three years but it turned out that the hardest part of the job was dealing with various levels of corruption by our directors, of whom there were four in the three years I worked for them. I was even asked to apply for the job of director myself, having assisted in the removal of three of the directors during my first two years. I had realised by then that the job of director was a poison chalice and that it was a job designed to fail people. All my co-workers were ex-offenders and I was the only person on the management team that hadn’t served time at ‘Her Majesties Pleasure’. There were some very complex mindsets at play and not just at the local level but at the regional and national level too. It made for a very interesting three years but sadly ended with our scheme being shut down and all the staff being made redundant. It was a real shame. I was really proud of the work I did there, managing teams of ex-offenders and a number of people with learning difficulties, to carry out community projects including helping the elderly and disabled to maintain there gardens.
Andy’s life started to stabilise in 1986 when he began a relationship with someone he had known for some time, Didi. He was still drinking too much [a judgement I think he would agree with] but still managing to find musicians who were eager to work with him. After all, he was a very special drummer. I continued to see him from time to time but always struggled with him when he was drinking. We now shared the fact that we were both managing pain but in different ways. I’m not saying my way was better than his, just different, but we were both addicts and neither of us were prepared or able to confront that fact…yet.
I was unemployed again but this time with some redundancy money. I decided to take a gamble and spend a chunk of my redundancy money on a trip to Canada to see my old chum Ed. He was experiencing unemployment for the first time and we both felt inclined to try and find something creative to do with our lives. We had decided to drive from his home near the East coast of Canada to Vancouver on the west coast…and back of course. The plan was to see if we could help each other come up with ideas based around thoughts of writing something, either together or separately. I took a carrier bag full of jottings regarding potential novels and even some bit’s of writing. It’s yet another tale that would take too long to cover here but the upshot was that that never happened. The trip did but nothing creative came of it. I think we had separate agenda’s for the trip. Instead, the amount of driving was monumental and for 13 days we just drove and drove and smoked and smoked. Dope of course. It’s more complicated than that but in essence, that’s what we did. On paper, it should have been the trip of a lifetime, in actuality it was a big disappointment. I was having a depressive episode and Ed and I struggled to communicate. We’ve had some wonderful smaller road trips together, around the UK, but this big one just didn’t work out. It’s such a shame. I returned home and had little or no idea of what to do next.
Being made redundant in 1990 had a more profound effect on me than I was prepared for. I had really enjoyed having a regular income for the first time in many years and wanted more of the same. I had experienced my first paid holiday’s ever and had taken my first solo trip to Morocco which was wonderful. Now I felt lost and struggled to motivate myself. Then, one weekend, I was invited by another good friend, Michael, to join him and some other old friends, to go up to Burnham-Overy-Staithe, on the North Norfolk coast, to celebrate the fact that we were all turning 40yrs old. Over that weekend something rather special happened but it would be a while before I realised it. Photography happened. All the people on that beautiful weekend were creatives. They were graphic designers and in publishing and more importantly, they all had ‘proper’ cameras and knew something about photography. I had my old Instamatic and knew next to nothing about it. Somebody suggested that when we got back to London, we should meet up again and compare photographs. I had started to take more photographs recently, especially on my trips to Morocco and Canada but this felt different and I felt as though I should put more thought into it. And so I did. When we reconvened in a few weeks time, to my surprise, they all said I had a good eye for photography and my photo’s were judged to be the best. They then suggested that I invest in a ‘proper’ SLR camera and possibly go a stage further and learn to develop and print my own material. So I did…and it was life changing.
Back in 1988 there had been another life changing moment…Robert was born. Robert was Yash/Mike and Ros’s first child. He was born on 30th April that year and when Yash phoned me to tell me he had been born, I rushed to the hospital and there he was [see photo in ‘Friends and Family’], with a surprisingly full head of hair, in the arms of his exhausted mum. Since we first met at college around ’74/’75, Yash became the closest friend I’ve ever had. He’s had a more significant effect on my life than anyone I’ve ever known and so the arrival of his first born was a big moment. He and Ros then asked me if I would like to be Robert’s godfather [ The lower case G is conscious as both Yash and Ros know that I don’t believe in God. Neither do they but it’s a traditional title]. I immediately said yes and they then said that they wanted me to play a significant part in his life, more like a third parent. In essence, they wanted to share him with me. This is without doubt the most profound thing that has ever happened to me and I don’t have the word’s to express what it has meant to me. My love affair with Robert started right there and then. Jack, their second child came five years later and although I’m not officially his godfather, he also holds a very special place in my life and I hope, me in his. These two boy’s [now men] have brought me more joy than it’s possible to calculate and still do.
Just for the record, ‘Yash’ is a childhood nickname but as his life has changed and he’s become married and moved from lighting technician to respected psychotherapist, he’s reverted to Mike and so from now on that is how I will refer to him.
Between 1990 and 1996, my life became dominated by Photography, Rob and latterly Jack. My musical tastes also made quite a significant shift. I started listening to Dance/Electronica more and more [ Mick Jagger, when asked in a radio interview, what kind of music he now listened to, replied “I love all that Techno-Bollocks”]. It felt like a kind of music that I had been waiting for all my life. When bands like Inner Circle, Underworld, Happy Monday’s and Bjork came along, I rejoiced in their danceability. Studying photography had also inspired an interest in Art. Thanks to Carole [who took the portrait of me on the Home page], I became educated in Fine and Contemporary Art. She took me round all the major Art galleries in London and opened my eyes and helped me to understand what I was looking at. I can’t thank her enough for that. Talk about the ‘Doors of Perception’. In a short space of time my life had become richer and more fulfilling. Whatever I did to make a living, after theatre had lost it’s lustre, was manageable because my inner life and interests had changed. I used to joke, when asked if I missed acting/theatre, that I didn’t need the therapy any more.
I am now beginning to get ‘The Sense of an Ending’ [Courtesy of Julian Barnes’s wonderful book] to this tale. I’ve even decided how I’m going to wind it all up. But there are still a few significant things that can’t go unrecorded. Andy and Didi moved to a lovely little house in Twickenham in ’92 and in 1993, they got married. I was their Best Man! I’m afraid I’ve always been hopeless at telling jokes and my Best Man’s speech was a rather emotional affair but nobody seemed to mind. In 1994, Andy started playing with Bevis Frond and had what was probably his most significant musical experience since Camel. He continued playing with them until 1998. I can’t explain why, but I never saw him playing with them…I wish I had. One reason might be that I was studying photography at City of Westminster College in ’92/’93 and after qualifying, I spent 6 months helping a friend in Cumbria to hang on to his job. He was an alcoholic and worked as a press photographer but had recently lost his driving licence through drink driving. I offered to be his driver in exchange for some first hand experience of what it was like to work as a professional photographer. It was a difficult relationship and after 6 months we both ended up working in a restaurant and photography had taken a back seat. I then received a letter from London, telling me that, after 15yrs on the council housing waiting list, I’d been allocated a flat. I returned to London immediately. Having moved into my new flat in Lithos Road, just off the Finchley Road, I found myself jobless again and didn’t know what to do next. I’d come to a crossroads and needed to find a new way of existing.
Addicts talk about ‘hitting a wall’. I don’t think I hit a wall in terms of my addiction, cannabis isn’t like that, but I’d certainly hit a wall in my life regarding what I was going to do next to make a living. I had decided I didn’t want to be a professional photographer. It seemed to sap any love of photography out of you. All the people I’d studied with at college that had gone on to have professional careers, had lost their love of taking pictures very quickly and my friend in Cumbria had lost his love of photography a long time ago. I had decided that I would prefer to keep my love of photography and therefor felt I should keep it as an interest and not a profession. So how was I going to survive now? One morning in 1995 I woke up and decided that today was the day I stopped smoking cannabis. I needed every last bit of myself to be focused on how I negotiated this crossroads and cannabis wasn’t helping me to achieve that. It had to stop! I grabbed the small amount of cannabis I had and set off up the Finchley Rd towards a Drug Advisory Clinic that I had seen. On the way, I passed a railway cutting way below street level and threw the cannabis down on the track. I had assumed that any clinic that worked with addict’s would welcome me and offer help. I was wrong. It turned out that, as an NHS funded clinic, they only offered help to people who’s drug habit’s had resulted in medical problem’s. My problem was more psychological and they also didn’t consider cannabis as addictive. They couldn’t help me. Fortunately, one of the staff overheard my plea for help and said he knew of a rehab centre in Lisson Grove, near Marylebone Station. He said it was the only place of it’s kind in London and possibly the only place anywhere that acknowledged cannabis as an addictive substance. It was called The Core Trust. Long story short, I went there immediately and they took me on. For the next 6 months I travelled down to the Core Trust 5 days a week and remained drug free. It was one of the most extraordinary periods of my life. When they eventually declared me ‘cured’ [the truth was I was there without funding and as a small charity, they needed people with funding to maintain their service] I moved on. With my improved clarity, I then made another big decision. I decided to move away from London. Not because of drug contacts, I wasn’t naive enough not to know that drugs are everywhere, I just felt I needed a clean break. The estate I lived on [that was brand new and had had a Utopian feel to it initially and where I Chaired the Tenants Association] had gone seriously down hill in the short period of time that I had lived there. It was time to move on and have a new adventure in living. I decided to focus my search on the South West and then to focus on one place. I closed my eyes and with a map of the South West open before me, I waved a pin in the air and pinned it into the map and opened my eyes. It fell on Bath. Within a couple of months I had arranged a flat swop with someone in Bath who wanted to live in London. It was a lot easier than it could have been and so, by the summer of 1996, I had moved to Bath.
I had only visited Bath once before, to help some friends move there a few years previously. I was only there for a few hours and didn’t really get a chance to take it in. By the time I moved there those friends had moved on, so I didn’t know anyone. This really was a new adventure. For the first few months I walked everywhere in and around Bath and loved it. I discovered a photographic set- up called ‘f.stop’, with a gallery and dark rooms. It was run by like minded people and became the hub of my life in those early months. Unfortunately it also tested my resolve to be abstinent. Everybody there smoked cannabis and within a few moths of my arrival in Bath, I too had returned to my old habit. I kidded myself that, as I had kicked the habit before, I could do it again if it became a problem. It was a way of bonding with these new friends and I slipped back into it with ease. Any addiction is a problem though. By it’s very nature, it involves patterns of behaviour that override and dominate what you do and who you do it with. I was what’s known as a ‘functioning addict’. Cannabis doesn’t quite take over your life in the same way as Class A drugs do and it doesn’t have obvious health implications either but it does have psychological implications. It’s a sort of self imposed slavery. Having ‘it’ is all important and as an illegal substance, that takes a certain level of management and subterfuge…and money! It may seem like a social drug, like alcohol, but the reality for me as a single person was that it cut me off from being social. I rarely smoked it during the day but my addictive habit was such that by late afternoon, early evening, all I wanted to do was go back to my flat and have a joint. Followed by another one and another one. It was like having a relationship with someone, but it wasn’t with someone it was with something. It made me very anti-social.
I could probably write a book about my drug habit but it would be a very boring book and only of interest to a fellow addict…if they could be bothered to read it. So I’m going to get back to this story about Andy and music and our histories. Andy and Mike helped me move to Bath in what turned out to be a very exhausting day. My new flat was/is up on the top floor of a Grade II listed Georgian Town House in the centre of Bath. There are four flights of regular stairs up to the top landing but then, when you open the door to my flat, there is a further flight of internal stairs to navigate, which are both precipitously steep but also bendy. It’s a nightmare to move furniture into. We were all completely drained after a very long day. Quite understandably, Andy has never returned to visit in the 24yrs that I’ve lived here. Mike has and Ed has travelled over from Canada a few times but my parents found the stairs too much and eventually, so did everyone. It became my lovely little hideaway from the world. This fitted perfectly with my cannabis habit…unfortunately. The only regular visitor that I’ve had all these years has been the friend that has kept me supplied with cannabis since moving here.
The move to Bath coincided with the emergence of some amazing music emanating from this part of the world. Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead and Goldie were at the cutting edge of this new music and they were all based in Bristol, just up the road from Bath. Whilst working as an unpaid receptionist at ‘f.stop’, we hosted a party for another game changing band, Radiohead. One of ‘f.stop’s’ affiliates, designed the album cover for ‘OK Computer’. Quite by accident, I found myself at the cutting edge of this new, exciting shift in the musical landscape. For a while, Bath seemed like a very cool place to be.
Unfortunately the ‘f.stop’ experience came to an end after my first year in Bath but I was able to go out on a high. I was asked by the manager, Dan, to fulfil a commission they had been given to oversee a Lottery funded project to work with a group of adults with learning difficulties in Bristol, for one day a week over a year. The brief was to teach the group photography and for it to culminate in an exhibition at ‘f.stop’. It’s probably one of the most fulfilling projects that I’ve ever worked on. After a year of teaching them how to use a camera and some basic developing and printing skills, my brief was to encourage them to document their lives. The resulting exhibition, called ‘Our Real Lives’, was a resounding success. It surprised just about everyone with it’s depth and insight. Their photographs were given the attention they deserved by ‘f.stop’ and were professionally hand printed, enlarged, mounted and framed. All the participants, their families and the general public were very moved by the photography and the comment’s book was full of praise for what had been achieved, especially the sheer quality of the images themselves. ‘f.stop’ hailed it as one of their most successful exhibitions ever. Shortly afterwards ‘f.stop’ closed. I couldn’t have felt sadder. This is a reflection of how fragile and fickle the creative art’s are in this country…grossly undervalued and grossly underfunded!
For the next three years I worked as a Night Project Worker in Bath’s homeless shelter. It’s another long story that I’m going to skip over here. By the time I left that job, it was the year 2000 and both my life and Andy’s had moved on. Andy was at last diagnosed as being Bipolar. This meant that he could finally be prescribed with the appropriate medication. It changed his life. At around the same time, he and Didi moved up to the Suffolk/Norfolk borders and into a beautiful house in a beautiful small, rural town. Andy was still playing, mostly with various members of the dissolved groups of Caravan and Hatfield and the North…his spiritual home. In 2005, he played his last gig in Portugal. It was in many way’s Hatfield and the North but with him on drums. I may be over romanticising this but for my money, the perfect swan song. Both of us were massive fan’s of that band and for him to be playing with them just before deciding to bring his day’s as a rock drummer to an end, seemed very fitting…and a tribute to him and the high regard his peer’s had for him. And so he packed his drums away and decided to concentrate on becoming a whole and healthy person. Over the next few years, he started to confront his demons and managed, with courage and determination, to rid himself of his addictions, one by one. I, who was still a ‘functioning addict’, watched in awe as he stopped smoking dope, drinking and finally, smoking cigarettes. He didn’t go to A/A or N/A but just did it through sheer strength of personality and will power and with the ever present support and love of Didi. My admiration knows no bounds.
Andy is one of a truly memorable group of drummers. During an extraordinary period of music, he managed to stand out amongst the competition. His contemporaries were the likes of Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Bill Bruford, Phil Collins and Keith Moon and he deserves to be remembered amongst those illustrious drummers. Natural talent aside, it was a personality thing. My apologies to all the members of Camel, past and present, but it was Andy who gave the band character. It was him that you couldn’t take your eyes off when you saw them playing. He was larger than life…and it was probably that and what we know now, that got to him in the end. He gave so much. He also belongs with another group of musicians who were all exceptional in their own way. I’m talking about the likes of Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, Nick Drake and others who all shone brightly but also suffered from debilitating mental health issues. Their illness’s probably contributed to their very special abilities but also to their ultimate disappearance from the rock scene, as the pressures of being in that business and in the public eye took it’s toll. Andy only differs from those people inasmuch as he recognised his illness and persisted in trying to get the appropriate help and has survived and as he said to me recently, feels better now than ever before. I admire him as a musician and I love him as a friend. I probably love him more now than I’ve ever loved him. As we’ve both got older and more frail, I love driving up to see him and Didi, they’re such good company. Sometimes with Mike/Yash and sometimes by myself. We talk on the phone regularly and I can’t imagine my life without him and Didi. We’ve got so much history together…55yrs to be precise.
Over the last ten years, I struggled to find work. The work I did find seemed too much and eventually drained me and started to make me feel ill…both mentally and physically. My mental health hasn’t improved with age and the chronic pain that I’ve carried around like a tortoises shell, has weighed me down. I still take pain killers every day and they don’t help my overall health. The main constituent being codeine, means that I have a mild opiate reliance/addiction. It dulls the pains in my body and helps with the migraine’s that have also been around all my life. Both Andy and I have shared the difficulties of caring for our parents over the last ten years and that can be emotionally draining and stressful too. We were both lucky enough to have good, loving parents which means that seeing their demise and eventual death over a long period of time was hard. It happens to us all. We are both free of those concerns now and in our older age, we can try to enjoy our lives and possibly relax for the first time in ages. My parents gave me an extraordinary gift after they died, they left me financially secure and after a lifetime of living on the edge, I can enjoy the freedom of not having to worry about paying bill’s. I can also travel once or twice a year and I have the luxury of having a car. Thanks Mum and Dad.
But who could have predicted our current situation? We are currently living under the dark cloud of the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s devastating everyones lives globally and none of us is exempt from it’s effect’s. To add to that, two months into the first lockdown, on May 5th, my lung’s collapsed. One minute I was fine [I’d just taken delivery of a new, high strength variant of cannabis] and after sampling it, suddenly, I couldn’t breath. I won’t go into a graphic description of what it felt like, except to say that it was similar to what happens when you are suffering from the worst effects of Coronavirus, I’m reliably informed. Long gruesome story short, I was rescued by paramedics and whisked away to hospital where, over a 48hr period, they saved my life! And then sent me home! Just before they discharged me, the surgeon that had headed up the team that saved me, had a chat with me and said ” Well Mr Morton, what are you never going to do again?”, “Smoke cannabis” I ventured. [ It had been established that that, mixed with tobacco, was the reason for my lungs collapsing ]. To be even more honest than I’m comfortable with, he then added ” And what else?”, “Smoke cigarettes?”. “Correct” he said. After a brief chat, he then repeated that mantra, shook my hand and said goodbye. I haven’t touched cannabis since! It’s been a fundamental part of my life for over 50yrs, apart from the year of abstinence I’ve described. As I discovered the first time, it’s feels a bit like being in mourning. But I shouldn’t take the credit for doing it…it was thrust upon me by circumstances. If my lungs hadn’t collapsed, I’d probably still be doing it. But, I’d ‘Hit the Wall’ that I mentioned above. The ‘Wall’ that I didn’t think cannabis could bring me to…but it did.
On the face of it, I can see that our lives may seem to some, to be the lives of two old hippies who never really grew up. But before you rush to judgement, consider the difficulties we’ve both endured…both physically and mentally. And consider the contributions we’ve both made to the culture of our country. Young musicians that I know today acknowledge that they have an extraordinary backlog of music they can be inspired by and can feed back into there own music. Andy may have enjoyed a good living for a while but he’s spent many more years just playing for the love of music and with little or no financial gain. I made little or no money from my exploits in the Art’s but I could site a number of examples where the work I did for next to nothing, contained innovation that others then developed into the mainstream. You may balk at our use of illegal drugs but I would argue that everyone has their addictions and many, although not illegal, are just as harmful, if not more so. Addictions to schools of thought…philosophical, religious or political. Addictions to patterns of behaviour that can harm those around you. Addictions to substances that are legal but just as damaging as illegal drugs. The most damaging thing about illegal drugs…is their illegality. It should be a health issue not a legal one.
Just before I move on from what may seem like a contentious view of what constitutes an addiction, try substituting the word addiction with ‘Distraction’ or ‘Life Management’ and try to understand that I’m not criticising or passing judgement on those that choose to ‘distract’ or ‘manage’ the enormity of the life experience. We all struggle with it to varying degrees. Myself included. I should be the last person to criticise the things we employ to ‘Get us through the day’. That may sound crass or over simplistic but it’s at the heart of most peoples life choices. For better or worse, we all do it. I’ve just looked up the dictionary definition of addiction and much to my surprise, it offers the word devotion as an alternative. Again, this may be upsetting to anyone with strongly held beliefs but I really think that describing someone as an addict could do with something more benign [Definition: Kindly or friendly] in feel. It’s such a harsh word and conjures up such a negative image. When I was working at the Night Shelter, I was asked by the Director if I would mind going to a meeting, in the church above the shelter, to represent our team. It was a meeting for all the various groups that use the churches facilities. There was a Mother and Baby group for instance and other such support groups. We sat in a circle of about twelve people and one by one introduced ourselves and described what we used the churches facilities for. When it came to my turn and I described what we did in the Night Shelter [situated in the Crypt], they all expressed admiration for the work we did. It was a well payed job that I did and I felt slightly embarrassed at their reaction. Eventually, the introductions got round to two elderly ladies, of my mother’s generation, both of whom were elegantly turned out and sitting quietly on the far side of the circle. They said they were members of a Valium Survivors Group. They had spent most of their lives addicted to Valium [Or, as the Rolling Stones famously sang, ‘mother’s little helper’]. I sat there stunned. It is well known amongst the drug taking community, that one of the most addictive prescription drugs around, is Valium [or Diazepam as it is now called]. And is also one of the hardest to withdraw from. If you had seen these two ladies walking down the street, or coming out of their pristine, middle class homes, the last thing you would associate them with, was addiction. But in their quiet and dignified way, these women had overcome an addiction to a drug that any heroin addict would recognise as a popular substitute for their drug of choice. In the 1960’s, it was a drug that was prescribed widely [to women mainly], who were struggling with a wide range of issues, as a quick, convenient fix. It numbs the pain. Regardless of the source of that pain, but usually psychological pain. Pain with their unhappy marriages, with post-natal depression, with a whole host of problems… it just numbed the pain. I’ve never thought of ‘addict’s’ in quite the same way since…and it certainly doesn’t seem like an appropriate term to refer to someone who’s just trying to manage or distract themselves from the enormity of life…or pain.
I’ve recently been arranging for what happens after I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’. It hasn’t been a morbid experience at all…in fact I’ve rather enjoyed it! I’ve purchased a ‘plot’ at the same Memorial Woodlands [Bristol] where my nephew Paul is buried and where there is a memorial stone for my parents. My ‘plot’ is in the most mature patch of woodland they have and is a beautiful place. In Spring, it is awash with wild flowers. I then had to decide what I wanted to put on my memorial stone. My parents stone say’s nothing of their lives, just their names and dates. I always felt a bit sad that their lives are commemorated in such a minimal way. All my life I’ve enjoyed walking around cemeteries and reading the gravestones. I’m never going to be able to compete with Spike Milligan’s epitaph ‘I told you I was ill’, but I just wanted to put something which might raise a smile…or a question mark. So, I’ve made two decisions, one is to put my website address on it and the second one is to say CHRIS MORTON was distracted… This is meant to be a. humorous b. enigmatic/questioning and c. philosophical [perhaps pretentious]. I just wanted to put something on it that summed up my life and as you’ve just been reading above, my life has been full of ‘distraction’.
As I’ve said above, I’m a non believer but I do think there are many universal truths that I value, in the Bible for instance. One of those truths that I hold dear, is the idea that we should cast the beam from our own eye’s before attempting to remove the mote from another’s. We are far too quick to judge others…especially in this age of social media. Andy and I are lovers not haters. We would never knowingly do harm to anyone or anything. I wish there were more like us. Tolerance and empathy is everything. ‘Do unto others…etc’ is another. I could go on…
I’m going to wind this story up by doing something that my dear friend Mike has described as being somewhat OCD/Autistic [very rude] but which Andy, Ed and myself think would be a good way to round things off. I’m going to list all the bands, musicians and composers that have inspired and enriched my life. The soundtrack that’s provided an emotional landscape through good times and bad. It’s largely random apart from the first two artists in particular. When I was at boarding school in the early 60’s, there was a boy from the Caribbean who had a small collection of 78’s, two of which I remember to this day. At a time when we were all listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones etc. on our transistor radios, he introduced us to these Blues artists, played on a scratchy record player, that opened up another world to our ears. I’ve never forgotten that sound and it has informed my quest for the new and the different in music ever since. Before I launch into this list though, I feel compelled to tell you about possibly the most intense and profound musical experience of my life. It was when the Rustaveli Theatre Company of Georgia came to the Roundhouse [see the Roundhouse Story], to perform Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’. At the time, Georgia was part of the Soviet Union and everything about this visit was different to anything we had ever experienced before. One of the most obvious elements was control. The Soviets were completely paranoid, since Rudolf Nureyev’s defection in 1961, that any cultural visit’s outside the USSR could involve such a defection again. We had all been briefed about this before their arrival and it was explained that they would not be allowed to socialise with us and that the company would have one or more members of the KGB [secret police] with them. And it wasn’t just the one that stood out like a sore thumb. There would also be informers within the cast and crew too. Even a smile or sign language [especially sign language] could be interpreted as suspicious. All communication’s were to be conducted through a Soviet approved interpreter only. The company were completely self contained and required little or no assistance from us at all. This led to a rather chilly atmosphere backstage as everyone in the company knew that their every move was being monitored. This also meant that they didn’t come to the bar for a drink after their performances. They were whisked away in a bus every evening. So, what happened on their last night should be seen against this background. After the last performance we, the Roundhouse team, went to the bar for a drink as usual and a spellbound audience mingled with us. Many of the audience had travelled from around the world, including Hollywood, to see what was widely considered to be the finest theatre company in the world. Into this very lively atmosphere, five men from the company slipped anonymously into the crowd. They made their way to the bar and ordered drinks. They stood next to where we were, presumably because they felt safe with us and knew that we knew the rules of engagement. Our only communication with them was to raise our glasses in salute to them and even risk smiling at them but mainly to show our pleasure at seeing them there. They stood close together in a collective bubble, surrounded on all sides by a very busy and noisy public. And then an extraordinary thing happened. One of them started to vocalise in a very low, bass voice. Like a drone. One by one, the others joined in, slowly building in volume and adding harmonies. There were no discernible lyrics or words, just a beautiful rising and falling pattern. It sounded completely organic, as though it came up through their bodies from the earth. The bar had long since gone silent. Everyone in awe at this extraordinarily beautiful sound. The bar had become a place of worship. No sooner had they got everyones attention, when it stopped. Quite suddenly. On a collective high note and a sort of primal whelp. There was a moment of silence, then the whole bar exploded into applause. We were all overwhelmed. Some of us were in tears. And then they quietly left, discernibly pleased with the reaction they’d got. It was like they were saying, ‘This is who we are’. Not the po-faced people that we’ve appeared to be for the duration of our visit, this is who we really are…and they were astonishing!
THE LIST. BOTH MEANINGFUL AND MEANINGLESS…BUT ESSENTIAL NONETHELESS:-
Black Spider Dumpling, Victoria Spivey, Rolling Stones, Little Richard, Sony Boy Williamson, Steve Miller, Dee Lite, The Cure, Bo Diddley, New Order, Chris Farlowe, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, B.B.King, Family, Geno Washington, The Nice, Joy Division, Glen Miller, Prefab Sprout, Yes, Otis Redding, David Bowie, The Tubes, Happy Mondays, Africa Bambaataa, Van Morrison, Camel, Associates, Salif Keita, George Duke, Third World, Weather Report, Massive Attack, Gene Vincent, Stevie Wonder, Underworld, Caravan, Caribou, Chemical Brothers, Soft Machine, Gerry Lee Lewis, Genesis, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Inner Circle, Robert Wyatt, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Eno, Hatfield and the North, Prince, Manfred Mann, King Crimson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Walker Brothers, The Kinks, Cocteau Twins, Seal, The Spencer Davis Group, Donovan, Cream, Laurel Halo, This Mortal Coil, Kelly Lee Owens, Blue Nile, Talking Heads, Joni Mitchell, Nat King Cole, Billy Cobham, Marc Bolan, Beloved, Sinead O’Connor, Eurythmics, Louis Armstrong, David Sylvian, J.J.Cale, Beach Boys, The Human League, Kraftwerk, John Martyn, Colour Box, Christine and the Queens, Confidence Man, Yello, Goldfrapp, Easy Star All Stars, Baby Fox, Talk Talk, LCD Sound System, Soul II Soul, Tune Yards, Roisin Murphy, Moloko, Neneh Cherry, Malcolm McLaren, Devo, Frank Zappa, Tricky, Portishead, The Supremes, Angelique Kidjo, The Walker Brothers, Lauren Hill, Lamb, Radiohead, Burnt Friedman, Super Collider, Hugh Masekela, Bjork, Sugar Cubes, Everly Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, B52’s, Average White Band, Dusty Springfield, Roy Ayers, Pink Floyd, Rory Galagher’s Taste, Nils Petter Molvaer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Luke Vibert, The Righteous Brothers, Wagon Christ, John McLaughlin, Van Morrison, Beaver and Krause, Jack Bruce, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Coldcut, John Lennon, Carla Bley, Small Faces, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Cat Stevens, Abba, Nick Drake, Miles Davis, Beat’s International, Michael Jackson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Eberhard Weber, James Brown, Royksopp, Kruder and Dorfmeister, LFO, David Byrne, The Orb, Lee Scratch Perry, Groove Armada, London Grammer, The Carpenters, Fred Fripp, The Kinks, Primal Scream, The Everly Brothers, The Clash, Blondie, John Cale, Janet Jackson, PiL, Gorilaz, Saint Etienne, Richie Havens, ELO, Marvin Gaye, Orbital, John Hassell, George Harrison, King Sunny Ade, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, Gary Numan, Daft Punk, Sly and Robbie, Art of Noise, Bomb the Bass, The Grid, Pet Shop Boys, Heaven 17, Jah Wobble, Philip Glass, Talvin Singh, Moses Boyd, Holger Czukay, Leftfield, Faithless, Kate Bush, Blancmange, Captain Beefheart, Santana, Chick Corea, P.M.Dawn, Thomas Dolby, Little Feat, Fine Young Cannibals, Godley and Creme, Herbie Hancock, Tom Waits, The Animals, Rip Rig Panic, Simple Minds, U2, Procol Harum, George Benson, Grace Jones, Traffic, John Mayalls Bluesbreakers, Todd Rundgren, Animal Collective, Ronnie Laws, Steve Winwood, Scritti Politti, Steve Reich, Paul Simon, S.Express, Terry Riley, Supertramp, The Temptations, Dr John, Tangerine Dream, Bill Withers, Elton John, Was[Not Was], The Neville Brothers, Moody Blues, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Unkle, Ray Charles, Tom Tom Club, Herbert, Martyn, Phil Spectre, Little Dragon, Thom Yorke, P.J.Harvey, James Blake, Adrian Sherwood, Robert Plant, St Vincent, NAO, Basement Jaxxs, FKA Twigs, Propaganda, Eno-Hyde, Aloof, Trevor Horn, Nitin Sawhney, Working Week, Leonard Bernstein, K.D.Lang, Lisa Stansfield, Thompson Twins, Blow Monkeys, Ryuchi Sakamoto, Eddie Harris, Autechre, Black Grape, Stone Roses, Blur, Future Sound of London, Erykah Badu, Simon and Garfunkel, Parliament/Funkadelic, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Eric B and Rakim, The Fugees, The Yardbirds, Fripp and Eno.
Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Bruckner, Pucini, Vivaldi, Ravel, Elgar, Dvorak, Borodin, Mendelssohn, Faure, Holst, Debussy, Bach, Delius, Brahms, Sibelius, Handle, Mozart. And last but not least, The Georgian Singers from the cast of the Rustaveli Company of Tbilisi.
Oh…and The Beatles!!!