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Friday 20 January 2017

An Interview with the French Press, a while back. A (Very Minor) RockStar in the Bastide.

I recently re-found the notes I had been sent, typed up, by a French journalist who had interviewed me for his paper and wanted to make sure there were no factual errors. I have translated what he sent me with some corrections.
Q:  Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
A:  I grew up in South East London, post code SE25. We lived in three different places but they all fell in that post code which was really the eastern limits of Croydon, a big suburban part of London.
Q:  And what did your parents do?
A:  My dad came back from the war and, like millions of other men, needed to find a job. The London Police Force were looking for candidates fo he joined and became a street policeman. That was good because he had a job, got a police flat, had a reasonable income which meant he could get married and have children (me and two and a half years later, my sister). My mum had been a nurse but, due to poor health which she had all her life, had become a part-time secretary for an insurance company. Soon after we were both born, dad left the police and became a London City Missionary, trying to bring to the Lord the poor sinners living in London's slums.
Q:  Did you have music lessons when you were young?
A:  Oh, yes. I started at the Mathers School of Music when I was 4 and continued until I felt I could say NO which was when I was 15. I then started lessons agin when I was training to become a teacher at Exeter University when I was 22. My instrument was the piano and I was considered to be pretty good but not as good as my sister who got a scholarship to Dartington Hall to study harpsichord when she was 16. then a scholarship to the Royal School of Music and then was offered a job teaching there.
Q:  Who were your favourite bands when you were young?
A:   Well, my dad refused to have a TV in the house till I was about 14 so, to compensate I think, my mum bought us a Dansette record player which gave us hours of pleasure. She bought us an album of American military music which was a big turn off, but soon, through presents and careful saving of pocket money I bought my first three singles by, hold it, Russ Conway (piano maestro), Frank Ifield and Adam Faith. Then the Beatles arrived, all clean and suited and my mum bought us one of their first albums. With the arrival of the Rolling Stones, I really preferred them but the first album I bought was 5,4,3,2,1 by Manfred Mann. Then at 15 I really got into the idea of being a mod and loved Motown music alongside the Spencer Davis Group and the Small Faces who were really my fashion idols.
Me at IOW Festival 1969
Q:  Where did you go when you left home?
A:  Well, we had moved to Sidmouth in Devon when I was 13 which was a great change and rather good at first but then became rather boring. So, I left home when I finished school after getting 3 moderate A levels (equivalent to the Bac in France) when I was nearly 19 (1967) and moved back up to London to go and study for a degree in business studies, one of the first sandwich courses where you spent half of each year studying and the other half working in a business. Mine was Courages, a big London brewery by Tower Bridge.
Q:  So you were in London when flower power and hippies arrived. How did that affect you?
A:  Well gradually. Firstly, I was a regular at the Marquee Club in Soho and saw lots of up and coming bands there including early Hendrix and The Nice. Then I went to a couple of festivals, got introduced to Cannabis, went to the IOW Festival in 69, was growing my hair long, moved to Chelsea World's End next door to a big LSD dealer and slowly forgot my studies.
Q:  And when did you start playing in groups?
A:  We started a group based on the Small Faces when I was at school but it never got far. Then we had a group with some young friends in Penge and, during our period of hippydom in Chelsea, a friend persuaded me to audition for a group called Sam Gopal I think. I went along and Lemmy was also there auditioning to play rhythm guitar. I got the job and Lemmy didn't but I couldn't afford the Hammond organ they wanted so nothing came of it.
Q:  And your first proper group?
A:  That was a few years later. I had left London and moved to Bristol with my French girlfriend. We got married and she got pregnant, an acid baby, so like lots of Hippies, we headed for the countryside, North Devon, and I started to train to become a teacher, mainly cos I had read that if you were a teacher you didn't have to send your children to school. We got to know a lot of fellow freaks including musicians. We met often at Barum Market, an alternative shop and cafe run by Chris Kausman and his partner Mary Sims: their son Dan is now a well-known drum'n bass DJ, DJ Die.
Reg Meuross doing his thing.
And it was with Chris and a mate of his, Reg Meuross, that we started the band Ark. Reg is a successful singer-songwriter and on the list of Brit musicians who played the most gigs in 2016.
The band grew and grew with at one point Colin Mitchell on lead guitar, Harvey Bainbridge and Martin Griffin, later of Hawkwind, on bass and drums, Alistair Merry on percussion, Harry Williamson, son of the writer of Tarka the Otter, on guitar and vocals and the lovely Lois as our dancer.
Q. Were you successful?
A.  In a small way. We built up a good local following, recorded a couple of tracks, appeared on TV once and ended up supporting Gong and Hawkwind on tour.
Q.  Now; they were successful and you played with them I believe?
A.  Yes. Firstly, along with Harvey and Martin, I played in a Hawkwind offshoot called Sonic Assassins, still fondly remembered, in 77. Then I toured the USA with Hawkwind in 78.
Q.  So, you became a rock star?
Me playing with Ark.
A.  In a small way, yes. We played to quite big crowds, had a lot of fans, many of the Hell's Angels variety, and visited the accompanying worlds of drugs and groupies plus getting into concerts for free. Plus, meeting other bands on the road such as Van Halen, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and best of all, David Bowie, who took us out for a meal to apologise for having poached my predecessor, Simon House. We certainly led a bit of a rock star life.
Q.  But you didn't continue and moved to France I believe?
A.  Yes. I had gone a bit over the top during the tour and took a few months to get back to normal. I'd missed my kids and didn't like some of the things that went on and decided it was a good time to keep to an idea I had shared with my wife from the start, to bring up our kids multi-cultural. We bought a cheap van, fitted it out as a low-grade camper and with our two boys, dog and cat and my musical gear in the back, set off around France visiting some friends old and new.
Q.  And you settled in the south-east I believe. What did you do there?
A.  Yes, we lived always in the north Vaucluse, 5 years just outside Richerenches and then 6 years near Vaison la Romain. I played in loads of different bands through this period but also had a day job too. Firstly, at the farm we were smallholders, growing vegetables and some fruit plus poultry. And I sold our products in local markets. To make up money in winter I also did buidling work and became really fit. Then I discovered teaching English and ended up with my own language services business.
Q.  Now, tell us about the music side.
Off to France.
A.  Well, I started a few bands of my own as I developed my song writing and vocals, very alternative rock, but difficult to find gigs in France at that time. With a friend, Peter, we formed a band called Legend, mainly playing our versions of The Beatles, Stones, Animals, Kinks and a couple of our own songs. We got quite a lot of gigs and recorded a single for play on the local radio stations. Then, in order to earn money, I joined a rock band that had become a Dance Band called Stradivarius, in order to earn money too. In France, every town and village has fetes where they get dance bands to play, old favourites early on and the latest hits later. We played 4.5 hours a night with a good meal and drinks thrown in and I earnt as much a night as I had earnt with Hawkwind in a week! It was good fun and really improved my keyboard playing but no opportunities for playing your own tunes.
Q.  And I seem to remember you met another famous rock star at this time?
The fabulous Stradivarius!
A.  Yes, Topper Heddon, who had been the drummer of The Clash during their best period. I had a half Scottish friend who owned a night club out in the country, a favoured place for late night grooving because they were one of the rare clubs who didn't play hits all night. People came from miles away. It was a nice place to be and he received bands who wanted a good rehearsal place where they could live. All he charged them was to play a set at 1 in the morning the two nights of the week he opened. Well Topper was rehearsing there and I got to meet him and we hit it off. Also in the band was Henry McCallough who played at the first Woodstock with Jo Cocker and then played in Paul McCartney's Wings. Next thing I was playing in his band at the club and he was in a local studio playing drums on a couple of my songs. Then, whilst in London, Topper got arrested for a drugs offence and sent to prison for a few months....the end of that project.
Q.  Then you returned to the UK. What happened musically?
A.  Yes, I had had some financial problems and I moved back to Devon, eventually joined by my wife and youngest eldest stayed behind with his girlfriend in Marseille. We moved to the New Forest in 1990 and I worked again with disturbed young people. At first the only music was joining in with a local rock and blues band when I could. I had got a decent keyboard workstation and started writing songs again or, at least, tunes. Then, at a pub out in the Forest, eventually owned by the bassist of Dire Straits, I met a couple of punk-types who played in a band called The Cropdusters which was a punky folk band come out of the rave scene. We got on well and they suggested I come to one of their rehearsals. That was fun but a bit strange, a bit out of my comfort zone. They had a
My room for composing.
whizz of a violinist and they played rather like The Levellers. It was agreed I would only play on certain of the more rave-like songs but they liked a tune I had written and programmed in my workstation and started their set with that. And I played some great gigs with them to big crowds with mad crowd surfers and a hard-core following. And in some good venues like the Underground in
Camden, the Mean Fidler in Kilburn, the club owned by the Savoy Blues band in the Midlands, a huge old church in Salisbury, a 700 people sell-out and us letting more people in through our dressing room. All good fun. But they had tours to do abroad and too many gigs for a deputy-headteacher in a residential special school! The end of that. Then we moved back to Devon where I had been offered the Headship of a similar school, where I had started back in the early 70's. And then there were 9 years where music was on the backboiler except for a bit of composing, due to the pressures of my day job, first in Devon then in Bristol. And then I had a tumour that put me totally out of action for nearly 18 months.
Richard Nowell in the mastering studio.
Q.  So how did Lastwind come about?
A.   I was recovering from the removal of the tumour and couldn't do much but, with the help of my sons, I had a web site where I put up the music I was creating. Out of this came two things. Firstly, a friend, Richard Nowell, who happened to have a small record label in Bristol where I was living, wanted to record some of my music and had found someone, Sonic, a Bristol DJ/MC, to provide the vocals. Doing this I met several musicians which gave me good feelings about getting a band together. And then, out of the blue, Dave Brock, the leader of Hawkwind, phoned me out of the blue and asked me if I would like to be the support act on some of the gigs of their autumn tour with my band. Great but I didn't even have a band at that moment. But I had a tour to do so I would have to find one. And I did. And the tour was great!!!

You can find the story of LASTWIND elsewhere in this blog.

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