My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter4.

14 May 'My' ruin on San Sebastian beach, Barcelona 1988

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Chapter 4


Bed and breakfast?


16.8.88 . Hotel America. Barcelona.

9.30.pm.

I’m lying naked, freshly showered, on starchy, white linen on a king-size, antique, metal bed, letting my body absorb some cocoa butter – I love its simple, sensual smell – and  the fact that it automatically reminds me of making love with beautiful black men. I’m in a large, square, simple, almost monastic, high-ceilinged room with a big old fan spinning slowly above me. There are plain white walls and a terracotta-tiled floor, along with a perfect black-and-white-tiled art deco, en-suite bathroom. All this for under £20 a night. I just followed my nose and found it. Why book a room in advance – how dreary and unadventurous is that?

A small, spindly, round, 50s metal table and two chairs, in pleasingly distressed pale green, sit in front of the tall, french (or, surely, Spanish?) windows, which are flung open in front of a juliette balcony, with their white, muslin curtains gently billowing in a slight breeze. It’s a fantastically classy, filmic cliche;  I’m feeling Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus – although that was set in Nepal.  Meanwhile, I’m writing the lyrics to a potential song called, strangely enough, Barcelona.

Lost in ancient alleyways, I am inside Gaudi’s mind. Like Christopher Columbus, I will seek, and I will find .’

Steamy, hazy heat and echoey sounds drift-up from the wide, winding alley below. The scene seques into something by Jean-Luc Godard. A beautiful, whispy-haired French girl is trying to play castanets on the balcony opposite and giggling, in a charmingly tinkly fashion – at how bad she is at it, I presume. How do I know she’s French? Earlier, I heard her being very Betty Blue with her companion (boyfriend, lover or husband?), who looks a lot like that famously handsome, French actor from the 50s/60s – the swarthy one who always used to wear brown-leather flying jackets.  Alain Delon? Yes.  And when he sported a moustache in Le Cercle Rouge, he was the spitting image of  Maddox, my long-lost, deceased love.

This makes me realise and recall that I was loving the inherent sensuality of Barcelona and lost in… longing. Wishing that I might belong to somebody – in my deep, romantically-inclined mindset.  Not, however, ‘romance’ in the way that it’s commonly perceived: I’m talking strong, passionate and lusty mance-to-mance, not the chocolate-box, airy-fairy fripperies that the word usually evokes. Mance-to-mance? Looks like I’ve dreamed-up another bit of cool, left-field, gay branding! Better register that dot com right now! With a ‘2’ intstead of a ‘to’.  Dot com.  Got it.

I’ve been there, but, it never really went beyond the idea of being ‘together for life’, apart from, perhaps, and perversely, in the case of Derek. We’re still doing our own weird version of romance after all these years (you love me a little bit, don’t you?).  He still wants us to have threesomes though, which really doesn’t appeal to me as there’s always one who’s rejected:  its often a way for an established couple to spice-up their possibly-failing relationship, not that that really applies to us – we only see each other every two or three weeks, usually on a Friday. ‘Our Friday’ as we call it, which is rather touching.  I’d like to fuck him whilst he fucked someone else though – we’ve never done that. Naughty. But I’d hate someone else to fuck him.  That, wierdly, is exactly what happened with the only threesome we ever had in all these years.  It was a handsome, bisexual black guy I’d been shagging fairly regularly, so that came as a bit of a surprise. And why did Derek let him ‘slip one up’ so easily?  Okay, it’s true that we were all a bit ‘out of it’, but, surely Derek:  you knew that it wasn’t me?  Then again, why did I let it happen?  I guess I was taken by surprise and that my genuine shock was responsible for my lack of objection.  Then I thought, oh fuck it… literally.

Lately, he’s been letting me know, very , very subtly, that he needs me and feels for me. Is it all based on the fear of rejection?  Surely that’s as much of an old turkey as ‘all artists must suffer for their art’.  I honestly don’t believe that I’m frightened of rejection. What’s the point?  Either they feel you or they don’t. As for the art,  it’s in my soul to be a poet and a musician and, hopefully, a portrayer of faces, spaces and places to be; someone who knows that he can, on occasion, also be a magician. I can say that with confidence, despite my utter lack of… self-confidence. I guess that I’ve lived in the bubble of  relative failure for so long and therefore have rarely sought to have it pricked by potentially feeble feedback from the outside world.  That is my fear of rejection:  it’s as an artist, not a lover. It really is time to change that.  But some degree of genuine, palpable success is the only thing that would convince me. It’s all very well people telling me I’m a genius, and really talented (thanks people, I really appreciate it, believe me), but I need someone massive to sing one of my songs – then I’ll start to truly believe in myself.  I know I’m an artist, otherwise I wouldn’t keep on keeping-on after all these years. It’s just like a person called Time – *contemporary song by me alert* –  You Go By.  Everything passes, then fades to grey?  That’s also a classic, if slightly precious,  80s track by Visage. But it was a HIT. Unlike anything I’ve ever recorded.

Luckily, I’m only just starting to get grey in my goatee – my hair remains defiantly dark brown.  Loopy, my lovely sister, suggested to me last year that ‘obviously I dyed it’.  I was mortified!  As if I would do such a thing?  When I go grey, I will go grey gracefully.  Time… you go by.

The nearest thing that us Brits could muster to match the delicious Alain Delon was Dirk Bogarde (who was rather beautiful too), but, despite his sexuality – which he eventually, reluctantly admitted to in his somewhat precious, albeit well-written, autobiographical volumes. He never seemed to have experienced that pure animal attraction, possibly because he was, in reality, a bit of a prissy queen. The closest he got to that on screen was in the 1952 (my god, the year I was born!) film ‘Hunted’, where his role was, frankly, bordering on the pedophiliac. Delon, meanwhile, was alleged to be bisexual, and involved with gangsters and far-right politicians. The usual suspects. But the couple in the apartment opposite in Barcelona in 1988 really were Alain and Natalie Delon… at least for me, in a purely romantic sense. And I still cherish a brown, French (it says so on the label), 50s leather jacket that I found in a charity shop in West Hampstead for twenty quid about eight years ago. I call it Alain. Delon and winding road, as Paul McCartney might sing, if he was doing a gig in Paris. OK, I’ll get my coat (a brown, French vintage leather jacket).

All these evocations stir the memories like a well-flavoured, finely-seasoned selection of tapas, served with a glass or three of Rioja Reserva (echo… echo). This is a very good thing, apart from the fact that I can’t actually drink any red wine currently, because, as you may recall, I am detoxing here in Cornwall.

I read on… I’m enjoying this trip down memory lane (or mammary lane, as Jeremy Organ would have said).

“People from all walks of life and many nations saunter by beneath my window laughing, singing and/or even dancing: all dressed-down, sun-kissed and summery. I wish I had an old Tennessee Williams-style, portable typewriter with me, so I could sit wreathed in mysterious cigarette smoke at the green, metal table by the window, writing a dark, romantic and slightly over-melodramatic screenplay for 80s versions of 50s and 60s movies. That means Elizabeth Taylor, who’d shot to fame as a beautiful young girl in a film about a black stallion (no, not that one!) in the mid-Forties. She was apparently totally in love with her unobtainable co-star, the darkly handsome and charismatic Mongomery Clift, who was gay, of course. And Williams was obsessed with him too. This made for sizzling interactions, apparently, although Monty did tend to over-analyse his characters’ motivation a tad too intently apparently, having studied at the Actor’s Studio – as had been suggested in a biography I’d read about eight years ago, when I lived in tiny three-bedroomed pre-fab off London’s Old Kent Road. Yes indeed, a 1940’s pre-fab. It was £40 a week and I loved it.

The place literally used to shake when you had sex. It was hilarious, unless it was with my ‘pet psychopath’ Billy Medina, in which case the pre-fab-shaking turned it into a little hammer house of horror. Monty leads to Medina in one fell swoop – but I don’t want to dwell on the dreaded Billy, Hey – I’m on holiday in Barcelona (although The actual Medina is far less threatening). And, not having access to a Tennessee-style typewriter, or one of those new-fangled portable word-processors (ooh-arr, wish-list!), I’ll have to make do with this notebook.

I’m left-handed, so I write upside down and twisted to the right.  It’s a human evolutionary process: you’re simply avoiding smudging as you write – especially if, like me, you grew-up before ball-point pens were in general use (no wonder there was a 50s doo-wop group called The Ink Spots – they were probably all cack-handed). I hope I don’t get writer’s cramp. I can, however, still be wreathed in fag smoke as I write, if I so desire, when I make one of my customary roll-ups.

Note to my American readers: ‘fag’ is one of the words us Brits use for cigarettes, in case your knowledge of people from countries that you have a ‘special relationship with’ is similar to some of your politicians’ formulation of foreign policy. Having said that, in the context of US culture, ‘fag smoke’ sounds rather intriguing, perhaps invoking burning homosexuals at the stake (bring on the faggots! Sorry that’s another English word – for wood-kindling and  also some kind of low-rent meatball), or the suggestion that there’s ‘no fag smoke without fire’ – a gift from me, with love, to all you closet-cases, especially all the black sports/pop/rap stars who remain firmly ensconced in their ghetto-fabulous, blingin’ walk-in wardrobes, sorry, closets.”

I didn’t mention it in that particular diary, but I do remember meeting Tennessee Williams once. Yes, I really did. It was at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s Charing Cross Road  in 1977.  I vaguely recall that Christabel Galway had managed to get hold of some free tickets for what would turn-out to be his last play: ‘The Red Devil Battery Sign’.  She was friendly with a well-known actor and bon viveur called Timothy Kitchens who lived in a large studio flat in the apartment block above the theatre (the over-rated art-film director Derek Jarman also lived there for a while, and he was an admirer of a young Thom back in the early 70s, but that’s another story). Kitchens, as he was/is universally known, was having a fling, or a thing, with Jeremy Organ, her by-now-separated husband, but it was all very amicable and grown-up.

Polysexual frienships, where ‘exes’ became buddies with ‘newbies’ and everyone got on famously – especially in our gang – were very common in those days. Are they still that way amongst arty, creative, media, theatre and music-biz types, or are people more circumspect, responsible and paranoid? I don’t know, I don’t get out much these days, mostly because it costs a fucking fortune and I am, inexplicably, broke. Anyway, that’s how The Countess Of Monte Christabel met her dashingly handsome second husband; above the theatre, in Kitchens’ flat, I think, perhaps even IN his kitchen, where Jeremy, her ‘ex’, was living with him (not just in Kitchens’ kitchen, obviously, in the whole flat!) for a while. Pricelessly most-podern (dare I write LOL at this point?). I hope you realise that I invented Most Podern! One could even add an e (although they’re simply not happening these days, I hear, it would appear that Mother, Daughter, Maiden Aunt is a much better option, not that I’d know, of course).  That would have to be Kitchens in drag as Hyacinth Bucket, sorry, Bouquet .

I do believe that he recently took part (maybe he even won?) in the hit, ritual humiliation show ‘I’m a Nonentity, Get Me In To Here’.

To be fair, I always found him to be very funny, genuine, witty and, well, cuddly – so good luck to him and to all who sail in him.

Christa and I met Saint Tennessee in the stalls and complimented him on his work – after the play was over and the audience had left. He was pleasantly avuncular, slightly tweedy, frail and friendly, but still had a sparkle in his eye (always the sign of a true artist). I resisted asking him why his work always featured some hunky ‘bit of rough’ in a white vest (tank-top to you Yanks) but did manage to question him about that famous photo of him typing, wreathed in cigarette smoke.

‘Oh, it just happened by accident, I can’t even remember where it was; Key West maybe,’ he shrugged, putting his hand on my arm, but not in a pervy way, ‘I guess you would say here in the UK that I was smoking a fag !’ That was a good gag. Christabel (who was dressed in a wonderfully eccentric, 30s’style ensemble, including a black velvet beret with a matching ostrich feather) and I laughed heartily. I don’t remember much else – and that includes whether Tennessee’s final play was any good, I fear, as we were quite drunk, having had free, pre-theatre drinks at Fred Dexter’s, our favourite restaurant, in Covent Garden, where Jeremy, who, sadly, is no longer with us, was the Maitre d’ at the time. It was a favourite with thespians, musicians and celebs, because you could eat really late – last orders were at midnight. How civilised.

Christabel, myself and many of ‘the old gang’ had held a celebratory dinner there about three years ago after we’d buried Jeremy’s ashes in Highgate cemetery, which had been one his last wishes. The other was that we would have a damn good party – a celebration of his life – after his cremation, which I’d organised… literally… in Paradise – in Kensal Spleen, oh alright, Green. It was a fantastic night.  There was a great turnout of Jeremy’s fabulously fascinating friends at the funeral and at the party afterwards, including the cream of London’s meeja stars, as Jeremy’s career path had taken some startlingly varied twists and turns over the years. His first job had been as a chauffeur, which included driving a famous pop star of the future (who somehow ended-up playing in my band BiJingo in 2003) to school in his father’s Roll’s Royce, in Highgate. He had a brief foray as a rent boy (as you do), many more ‘odd jobs’, the aforementioned stint as Maitre d’ at Fred Dexter’s – which lasted several years, before my brother Danny helped him land a sub-editing gig at 24/7 magazine. He progressed steadily up the journalistic ladder, on the underground-trendy-chic side of things, ending up as a director and executive editor of the achingly hip Paint+ group.

‘The name is ORGAN and I’m the editor of THIS esteemed ORGAN!’ He would enthuse loudly, after yet another liquid lunch . He loved ‘entertaining the troops’, as he would put it,  by doing things like donning a mangy old wig, pulling an old-hag face and spitting-out, whilst pointing at his various underlings: ‘The name is Thrope, MISS ANN THROPE and I hate YOU, YOU, YOU AND EVERYTHING!’

He could, it has to be said, occasionally be pompous and a bit bitter and twisted as well. He used to try and seduce various lovers and fuck-buddies of mine by treating them to expensive meals, when we were sharing a flat off Ladbroke Grove, in Notting Hill (he loved black men too), but I don’t know if he really got anywhere.  He also once accused me of being a ‘journalist manque‘, many years later, which hurt a bit (especially as I had a weekly column in 24/7, a monthly column in Vaguely and was the editor of their website at the time), but it was, no doubt, a throwaway comment. He had been guilty of being jealous of me in the past – perhaps because I often ‘got’ all the good looking guys – but I hoped he hadn’t carried that into the 90s like a bitter badge of resentment. Jerry was, however, fiercely intelligent – and, conversely, intelligently fierce. But his loyalty was always without question.

He always found anything metaphysical or ‘spiritual’ quite preposterous (I think that ‘High Church’ was more his thing), whereas Christabel and I were always checking our horoscopes (horror scopes, as he would say), having our fortunes told, our cards read – and even holding seances. He  used to scoff that ‘it was all a complete nonsense’. Now here’s a funny thing. Everyday when I wake-up, I go online, check my emails, then kick-start my tired old brain by playing various word games. There’s one where you have to be terribly quick, it’s a ‘multi-player’ called, in trendy lower-case,  multipopword You’ll find Thom Topham on there regularly, quite often leading the field – I’m usually in the ‘difficult room’ 5A . Soon after Jeremy’s demise I noticed strange things happening as I was playing multipopword. The word ‘organ’ (oh ho ho!) would appear repeatedly, then Jeremy (which doesn’t count as a ‘scoring’ word, of course), then Contessa, Christa, Dexters, manque, and all these jokey little clues ‘from the other side’, with ‘insider knowledge’,  which seemed to suggest to me that he was trying to tell me that he was happy and at peace, which was a great irony… and really, quite deliciously… wonderful.

He still ‘visits’ me regularly and tries, as I see it, to offer me subtle snippets of advice, as does Maddox, my first lover.  It doesn’t frighten me at all; quite the opposite. It makes me smile and feel good inside. I even presume to think he’s trying to redeem himself spiritually.

Back when Christabel and Jerry were a couple, in the mid-70s, they’d managed the twenty four-hour bar and restaurant at the terribly trendy (darling) Mushroom Hotel in Notting Hill for two or three years, where we would drink free booze and smoke dope all night, hanging out with people like Leonard Cohen, The Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, John-Paul Getty (minus an ear, after his kidnap) and many more left-field, cultural luminaries and icons of the past, the present and the future.

Gillian, the unflappable manageress, happened to be the mistress of one the UK’s comedic leading lights – many would say ‘the father of alternative comedy’ – who was a secret transexual. Adrian Lewis, the wonderfully rude, tall, blonde receptionist, was notorious for his acerbic put-downs of famous people: ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are darling; but this hotel is FULL so just fuck off!’ The original gay punk (which was pretty rad for the time), he was famously arrested on Piccadilly, ludicrously, for ‘gross indecency’, because he was wearing Vivienne Westwood’s iconic two-cowboys-with-their-dicks-out T-shirt. And now she’s a dame and has turned into a gamine old bird. Adrian became a well-respected film critic,  with his own fantasy-film festival in London. Isn’t it great how things turn-out sometimes?

Christabel had been largely responsible for organising Jerry’s funeral, so laughter and cheers, rather than tears, were the ‘order of service’, when his white, cardboard coffin appeared in a hearse that was the sidecar of a vintage motorbike driven by a bear (as-in ‘fat gay bearded bloke’) in full leathers, with his similarly-attired, dykey assistant leading the procession on foot. Sheer brilliance. Kudos to the Kuntessa!  And the eulogies had the packed crematorium chapel rocking raucously in the pews to these ribald remembrances – then smiling and biting their lips, as the affectionate tributes to Jerry’s brilliance, badly-behaved-yet-brilliant wit, intellect and generosity of spirit were recounted.

Talking of which, the also rather badly-behaved-but by-now successful film director Robert Burton (whom Christa had indeed met back then at Timothy Kitchens’ flat – having announced herself on the entryphone as ‘Christabel with the ENORMOUS CUNT’ – who was soon to become her second husband and the father of her second daughter), insisting on picking-up the tab for about twenty people, including Jeremy’s deeply disapproving younger brother and wife, who’d been horrified by my impression of One Foot In The Grave, which involved me, erm, putting one foot in the freshly dug little hole in which Jeremy’s urn of ashes was sitting in a beautiful spot in the cemetery – which he’d chosen himself, when he’d known that the cancer was terminal – and then shouting ‘I don’t BELIEVE it!’ Everyone (apart from the prissy relatives) had fallen about laughing, before Anwar, his unbelievably beautiful lover for the last year of his life –  a talented, Tunisian photographer –  had covered it in soil. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was playing in my mental jukebox: we know Major Thom’s a junkie. Actually, he never was and never will be. Apart from the fags (finished!) and the booze (working on it).

Of course, It never occurred to his prissy relatives that Jeremy would have throughly approved. And what a great way, in a sense (why be doomy about it?) to depart this mortal coil; with a stunning, spiritual and talented man being there to guide you into the afterlife like some kind of pre-ordained, karmic love god. Way to go!

You’ve got to keep believing – feel it burning down below, it’s a way to go…’

What next – My Unplanned Obsolescence, The Musical? I don’t think so;  the title doesn’t exactly suggest West End, coach-party audiences. More art-house stylee, perhaps in a workshop production in Oedipal House, in Sarf Lahndan.

There are so many stories: they run into each other like a motorway pile-up of memories. Luckily, most people walk out of the wreckage without a scratch. Some get wounded and recover; others simply don’t make it. Different narratives emerge from death, like characters who vaguely know each other through some connection with the deceased – like in a novel, play or film – then they converge, briefly merging, before diverging as the plot thickens or thins, while the thread maybe continues, or simply snaps.

I’m writing this – and quoting from my old diary written in Barcelona in 1988 – in Cornwall in June 2010. Just thought I’d remind you; especially if you’ve suddenly discovered this blog (from my autoBLOGography) for the first time, here in Chapter 4. Obviously, I’d advise you to go back and start at the beginning with Chapter 1, but I hope you’re enjoying it regardless.

The sun has swung around (the yard arm?) and now shines above the roofs of the cottages in a brilliant, clear blue sky. I really must go for a nice, long walk tomorrow, with the weather here being so perfectly glorious, I say to myself, in a vaguely Northern Irish accent, for no apparent reason – maybe it was because I was just reminiscing about Jeremy, as we often fondly bellowed at each other in the manner of The Reverend Ian Paisley when we were drunk, back in the day. Jeremy (aptly-named) Organ and his pendulous penis. Now there’s something to be remembered by!

I take a sip of my T.N.T and return to reading my 1988 diary.

“The Hotel America is a cool, clean, gay-friendly and stylish budget hotel exhibiting what, apropos of nothing – apart from the fact that I’m in Spain – I like to call ‘catholic taste’, like the delicate wrought-iron work in the lobby. It’s just-off The Plaza Real, a medieval square which boasts an ancient circular, central fountain surrounded by a plethora of restaurants and tapas bars housed in what could be described as shady cloisters. There are also Romany hustlers playing concertinas (generally really badly) for the tourists. Fuck off, por favor!”

I must confess that I rather romanticised the Romanies in Barcelona, the song, when I wrote the lyric as noted in my diary in… Barcelona in 1988. It’s called poetic licence, I guess.

‘TVs blaring and radios, the wail of police cars – and gypsies playing concertinas, in the cafes and the bars.

A big ship sounds its foghorn, like a mournful mating call, in the night like we were passing, touching chords that said it all ‘.

“The Plaza Real is, in turn, just off the famous pedestrian thoroughfare Las Ramblas, near to the bustling, ever-fascinating harbour, where I love to wander and sit, watching the transitory people, the boats and the beautiful men of all hues coming and going.  Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay.  Thank you Otis Redding, for my teenage enlightenment that soul music could be both melancholic and uplifting.

There are hundreds of tiny, multi-coloured jewels in a 50s glass vase with air-bubbles in it (which I found on flea market stall for about £1 yesterday) on an antique mahogany chest by the bed. I ‘mined’ them earlier today from the white sand on San Sebastian beach, in front of that magnificent ruined, rococo palace that I fondly fantasise about turning into the ultimate beach-front hotel, restaurant and dance club… one day (see photo above – with ‘Barcelona’ graffiti). It sits beneath the route of the rusty old cable cars that creak and crank high across the harbour at regular intervals. The beach is a long, but rather bland stretch of white sand (full of tiny, hidden jewels, of course), with a few restaurants and cafes in glorified shacks at one end, on the seafront, which are reached by an ugly, concrete promenade. Not a palm tree or sun-lounger in site, which is good. An urban beach, essentially. Barcelona is a big city: I think we’re talking two million souls.

The ‘jewels’ have been my glass bead game for the single traveler. Very simple, childish and somehow therapeutic, especially when I found a rare ‘ruby’ (well, a tiny piece of sea-smoothed, red glass), soon followed by a splendiferous ‘saphire’, but the real prize was the ‘turquoise’ (which happens to correspond to my star sign, Scorpio, I think – or is it a topaz, or both?). The browns, greens and whites were merely costume jewellery.

I left the beach in the late afternoon and took the trusty, rusty cable car across the harbour, so I could take pictures on my cheap camera, but I didn’t look directly down. It felt like we were hundreds of feet up in the air, but it was still less vertiginous than being on a tall bridge, and for some reason, my legs didn’t turn to jelly. Each car holds about twenty to thirty people, and there are large openings with yellow and red metal frames and slatted, tatty old dark-wooden bench seats beneath. The views of this beautiful city were spectacular in the late summer’s, misty, golden evening sunshine. And there, in the middle of it all stood La Sagara Familia, Gaudi’s famous, unfinished cathedral – the most amazing building I think I’ve ever seen. It was like a vast, dark-but-divine magician’s palace, with elegant filagree towers soaring into the heavens. I don’t know if Gaudi was religious, but surely no-one had ever designed a place of worship that was so beautifully whacky and also so wondrously beautiful? One also can’t help wondering if he was a fan of opium.

Then I came back the other way on the cable car and had a very late brunch (Spanish omelete in a soft baguette) at at the Cafe Miramar, which sits in the cliffs overlooking the harbour at the terminus. The city’s other cable car, looping up the hill above the cliff, looks kind-of 50s with its brightly coloured seats, which are like flying saucers set side-by-side – more like a fanciful ski-lift. It seemed, unfortunately, that the nearest station was a way away, so I walked-up the steep hill to find a rather bland old fortress and and a sad-looking funfair at the top. The views of the city were majestic and magnificent, but the setting was surprisingly bleak and there wasn’t much fun to be had in the fair. By then, the ‘flying saucer’ cable-car had ceased operations, which seemed strange; maybe there was a fault, or they had some intuitive monitoring system which shut down the system if there weren’t enough passengers?

I headed back here to the evocative ambience of my room at Hotel America on foot, downhill all the way (not that I was feeling anymore inherently melancholy than usual), until I reached Las Ramblas and Plaza Real, for a bit of a writing session – hello, here I am! – and perhaps a nap. After that, I’ll be heading out to find somewhere new and intriguing to eat in, then another fantastic club (they’re incredible here in Barcelona – so cool, daring, different and radical in their design) in which to wile away the balmy night until the dreamy, drunken dawn, maybe in the company of a beautiful stranger.

Barcelona, on my own, away, under the stars, watching the world passing from the cafe Miramar.

 Barcelona home-from-home, alone, but not too far, from times when two will tango to the sound of your guitar.'”

Pause.  I was writing the words of the song Barcelona in my notebook – much which I am now sharing with you now – in Barcelona, of course, WAY before that dreadful cod-operatic song by Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe. I tried to ‘get it’ to the relevant Olympian committee after I’d recorded it when I got back to London, but, I guess the cassette got lost in the post. 

“The Spanish tend to eat dinner really late, which suits me just fine, but I must remember not to drink to many spirits before (or after) dinner – the measures here are so massive, and so cheap, and so’s the wine – A Rioja Reserva for £2? Astonishing. Una cerveza por favor should, perhaps, be my new mantra after dinner. That’s the spirit! Or not.

The best and cheapest places to eat are to be found off the touristy beaten track, where many families turn the front rooms of their ancient, pastel-painted and shuttered, adobe-rendered casas into ad-hoc restaurants. You can take your own wine, and the host or hostess simply decides what you’re going to eat. Several tapas and a couple of main courses for under £5, sharing with locals and visitors, usually at one big table. I can manage a smattering of Spanish (hola guapa – vamos a mi casa ?) but most people speak at least broken English: cue Marriane Faithful’s breakthrough album and ‘her own little oyster’, although here, perhaps, mussel (in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce) would be more appropriate. Christabel, no doubt, would have merely alluded to her giant octopussy.

19.8.88 . Plaza Real. 8pm.

How ya feelin’? Hot! Hot! Hot!

I spent the afternoon (I don’t do mornings) at San Sebastian beach with Tallulah, of all people, whom I’d simply ‘bumped in to’ on the beach. He’s a famously good-time-camp-yet-soulful DJ from London, a legend really, who does a wonderfully ironic and trashy drag act as well – a Hollywood-meets-rock-chick kind of thing.

I can’t stand traditional drag, it just bores me; all those tired old man-crones trotting-out the smutty cliches with pantomime makeup and huge falsies in dreary old Victorian pubs with sticky, swirly carpets, cheap, faded furnishings and fag-stained walls, which are patronised by tired old queens, pervy plebs, raggedy rent boys and assorted ‘clones’, closet-cases and vague leather-queens. Not my thing.

Tallulah is, thankfully, much more original in ‘her’ act and today resembled a large alabaster budha in too-tight, black swimming trunks, lounging on the white sand on a tatami beach mat in the blistering sunshine. I even have a photo (see above)!  We had a laugh about life in London – where we both are, after all,  movers-and-shakers on the club scene – and he soon got right into my glass bead game, becoming quite obsessive about finding the elusive turquoise gems, like me.

I was recounting how I was trying to remember how I’d ended-up getting into a cab with a handsome, black Frenchman at 5:am that morning… I was so drunk and perhaps a little high – I think someone had given me an E.  Perhaps that’s why he (the Frenchman, not Tallulah) seemed a little cautious and apprehensive. I’d had to reassure him that I wasn’t about to steal his wallet or abuse him. He relaxed a little when we got back to my cooly filmic room at Hotel America and took a shower together, kissing under the huge chrome showerhead in the massive, art-deco bath. All I really remember him saying was: ‘How old are you Thom?’

‘Thirty Five’

‘You haf ze body off a nineteen year-old.’

Was that flattery – or maybe I needed to put on some weight and bulk-up a bit? He still appeared to find me a little etrange and our love-making was, sadly,  somewhat awkward and perfunctory. Soon after, he made his excuses and disappeared into the dawning day. I went into a deep sleep and dreamt of Milton, dancing just for me on an empty stage in a derelict theatre in The Bronx, with burning love in his eyes and fired-up, fuck-me-fire in his fabulous thighs. Until some black closet-case crack-head in the dream ruined it all by shouting ‘The land that time faggot!’ Over and over again. Milton promptly flew up into ‘the flys’ on theatrical wires and I woke up abruptly, wondering: where has Milton gone? Why do I suddenly think I’ll never see him again? It’s only a dream, isn’t it?

Another mutual pick-up happened with a Panamanian guy the other night – we went back my hotel, and the sex was better – more raunchy and real – but he hadn’t been wearing the proverbial hat. That rather spoilt my reverie that we were going to be reliving a scene from a Graham Greene novel. He spoilt things further the next morning, well, afternoon, when he declared, in an accent straight from central-casting, that ‘he LUFFED me and we should haff a champagne breakfast togeffa.’ Yeah right, after just one night? Muy Bien amigo. Adios.”

A phone rings, but there isn’t a phone in my hotel room. Blink. Reality.

I look out to sea and see an elderly man rowing an old wooden dinghy  towards the beach. Looks like the waves will soon be crashing-up against the sea wall in Queensberry with the early evening high tide. I love that. I reach over and answer the phone.

‘Hello dear, how’s it all going at the cottage, what’s the weather like?’

It’s Delia, my mother. Still a bundle of energy and light aged 82. ‘Who’s there with you – are you having fun?’

‘Hi mum, sorry, I was miles away in Barcelona…’

‘Barcelona – what you went on the Santander ferry to Spain and back? But you’ve only been there three days! Barcelona was always my favourite of your songs – ‘Barcelona, on my own, away under the stars. Watching the world passing, from the Cafe Miramar’ – and I love that melancholic, moody trumpet.’

I complete the chorus, singing on the phone: ‘Barcelona, home-from-home, alone, but not too far,  from times when two will tango to the sound of your guitar .’

I thank her for remembering something from so far back, then gently point out. ‘Actually, it was a flugel horn, it was played by a guy from Sade’s band and, yes, I just read the song as I first wrote it in Barcelona in 1988… right now. I was perusing one of my old notebooks – remember Spike found a bag-full in your loft and brought them to me in London? Well, I grabbed a small, random selection and brought them with me. I’ve been reliving my visit and evidently had a wonderful, if somewhat badly-behaved time. I do believe I’m about to head-off to the beautiful and exciting island of Ibiza on the night-ferry tomorrow.’

‘But the Santander ferry doesn’t go to Ibiza from Raleigh… oh, wait a minute, you mean in the diary. Sorry dear, I was momentarily confused.’ Delia chuckles. ‘It’s old age finally catching-up with me.’

‘Nonsense Delia,’ I reply, ‘you’re bright as a button. I’m surprised they haven’t painted the Santander car ferries bright red and filled the decks with Porches and Ferraris owned by odious, fat-cat bankers. A marvellous target for anarchists in rubber dinghies with paint and stink bombs. I always wonder why anarchists actually hold meetings – doesn’t that rather go against their apparent ethos?  Anyway, in answer to your questions; the weather is beyond fabulous, I’m having a sort-of lovely time and… none of the guys could make it.’

‘That’s a shame, so you’re on your own, and why sort-of ?’ She asks, probably picking-up on potential problems and nuanced negatives, as only mothers can.

The guys all had perfectly valid reasons for not coming – all too busy – and that’s not to say they didn’t want to, especially Luther, as he’s never been before, and  because the others have enthused about how wonderful it is here to him. And Tommy fell-out with me last new year, as you may recall. You know, black dog – as Churchill dubbed it – and all those pits and peaks. Maybe I should have invited Alistair after all. Anyway, I really don’t mind being on my own as I’ve got my laptop, I’m vaguely online and I’ve started my autobiography at last.’

‘Oh Eureka!’ Exclaimed Delia, ‘About bloody time! You were always such a good writer and a natural story-teller, your teachers at  secondary school seemed to encourage you. I don’t recall a time that you weren’t top in English and also – it has to be said that you haven’t exactly led a dull life!’

‘That’s certainly true, apart from that teacher who slapped me once, apropos of nothing – I think it’s because he fancied me and because I was too intellectually advanced about interpreting Shakespeare,’ I reply, ‘it’s going really well – not my life, I mean, my book – especially with the help of the notebooks, and it’s very cathartic and becoming quite fulfilling.’

‘Oh, that’s really good, and, well, not so good… have you got a title for it yet?’ She asks, ‘Once you’ve got the title you’re off and running, I reckon.’ Delia had had a good stab at writing a book herself, an historical novel.

‘Well, yes, it’s called My Unplanned Obsolescence…think about it Granny Google.’

All Delia’s offspring call her that, as she not only has the latest iMAC, but also an iBook and loves staying in touch with everyone in the family using PP (People Pages)- we’re all on it – and by email. And no doubt Sarah, as she named her, her spirit guide and what would have been her seventh child, helps her to pick-up and communicate things on more esoteric, metaphysical level. ‘The Wisdom Of The Years‘  is a song I wrote with reference to, and in deference to Delia, and to my own knock-backs and disappointments in my fifty-odd years – I penned it in 2004.   She’d struggled so hard financially and emotionally in her twenties, despite her film-star good looks and intelligence, or perhaps because of those apparent plus-points.

The song was also alluding to the long-standing ‘relationship’ between Derek and myself. I think that maybe I was in a romantically optimistic, or forgiving frame of mind. The Wisdom Of The Queers doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Delia’s marriage to my father – they were co-starring the in The Felixstowe Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of No No Nanette when they suddenly got hitched when they were both in their early twenties – only lasted about nine years. As a single child, it had been perhaps her only exit strategy from her parents’ sometimes frothy, lightweight, wannabe Ivor Novello-esque world, at the time.

The result was three rather good-looking boys, of which I was the second, and our father, who art in heaven (or somewhere) being banished to the backwoods of Birmingham and airbrushed from our lives after she left him. That’s how it was in those days. It must  have been extraordinary, however, to have lived through all those huge cultural and socio-economic upheavals after the war.

My mother had phoned me after watching Germaine Greer presenting a programme about the origins and usage of swear words several weeks ago. I told her that I’d watched it and enjoyed it.

‘I loved it, she said, slightly breathlessly, ‘it was so liberating to realise that it’s OK to use the word CUNT!’

I was only slightly taken aback, but thrilled that she could be so cool.

‘I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used the word!’I told her.  We both snickered like two kids, still enjoying the sheer naughtiness of saying the word cunt,  after it had been deemed OK by a doyen of intellectual feminism.

‘I’m thinking… mmm, that… you could be relating your current situation to modern technology… in a metaphor…whilst reflecting on your past, present and future, perhaps?’ She states, thinking aloud.

‘Spot on, you nutshelled it mother!’ I say, pleased that she can be so perceptive.

‘It was inspired – or not, as the case may be – by the fact that my broadband pay-as-you-go dongle was a massive two years old and wouldn’t work without a new sim card, so I had to stop off in Raleigh to get one – at least they didn’t charge me for it, and I’d have been furious if they had!’ I explain.

‘How annoying for you, dear, did you eventually get the sim card and did your internet connection work properly?

‘Yes, eventually,’ I reply, ‘but really only after midnight. How ironic is that – with my lifelong addiction to night-owl-ism?’

‘You couldn’t really make that up could you?’ She says and chuckles. ‘Seriously though, surely, that title – My Unplanned Obsolescence –  and… or theme could be seen as being somewhat depressing or negative?’

‘I just did make it up! However, indeed it could! So am I supposed to pretend that I live in some rosy world of all-is-well? The reality is a great deal of struggle, lack of recognition and general poverty, and now, of course, my various serious and equally annoying illnesses. And just to add to the equation, there is my bitter-sweet lack of a love-life, which has been the case throughout most of my adult life. What the hell is that all about? This is the hand I’ve been played and there is no sweet little middle-class clause in my contract-with-reality that somehow exempts me from this ongoing often lonely and challenging situation. Therefore, without melancholy there is no joy, and without reflection – especially on the ever-changing sea – there is no conclusion. Who knows how it could all unfurl?’

My mobile phone chings. It’s a text from Derek.

You love me a little bit, don’t you?’ It reads. Wow. I’ll text him a bit later.

‘I hope there’s a flag-waving, happy ending darling!’

‘That would be great, but, unfortunately, I guess it ends when I die, so I don’t know if that counts as particularly happy. Otherwise, obviously, it remains to be seen whether I get to finish it before my untimely demise. However, what I’ve just started already looks like it might just end-up as being Volume One, as there’s so much ground to cover and there are all these hand-written notebooks and pre-digital diaries to read and to type-up, not to mention all sorts of type-written chronicles, short stories, poems, lyrics, songs (of course), three musicals and even a half-finished novel,’ I continue, ‘but I’m also using this time here to detox and to to undertake an alcohol-free experiment, to see if that’s what’s causing all these weird symptoms – the night sweats, the back pain and dehydration and all that, on top of my usual afflictions – and believe me, it’s tough. At least the home-made smoothie diet I put myself on has got rid of my midruff bilge, sorry, midriff bulge, ha ha, in just over a month, which is amazing, but… there’s nowhere more lovely than here to enjoy a glass or three of wine (echo…echo), so that makes it all the more difficult.’

I’ll add a😦 just for the blog.

‘That’s so true – especially on the sea wall outside as the sun goes down behind the village and lights-up the bay and the boats; the colours, the sparkling jewels of light in the water…’ She enthuses.

‘Hey mum – who’s writing this book?’ We both laugh.

I  go on to explain to her that I’ve ‘branded’ my smoothie concoction as T.N.T (Thom’s Neutralising Tonic, in case you’d forgotten) and am looking for an appropriate dot com – once I can get  back-on-bloody-line. And then how I don’t understand my lack of success, particularly as a songwriter, not just materially, but in terms of recognition and fulfilment, with the emphasis on the writing, rather than performance. I’d always been terrified of performing as me and, having had my brief brush with rock-stardom, following my dalliance with the pop-star lifestyle – complete with screaming teenie girls back in the 1976 – my later conclusion was that I really wanted great singers who were already successful to sing my songs. That would be perfect,  apart from doing some gigs and hopefully some recording with the recently re-formed Eagle Kings, which was a whole different kettle of kippers.

‘I know darling, you always seem to get knocked back, just when things are starting to seem to go your way. It’s just bad luck – it’s certainly not your fault. You’re so talented and all the family believe in you – and always will. None of us understand why you’ve never really made it. Well, good luck with the detox, I think after all you’ve been through with your health issues, you may well be right about the alcohol. After all, what caused your pancreatitis in the first place?’

‘Exactly, it grew from me being Mr Clubsville and a bit of a party animal through the 80s and into the 90s – all that free booze for five or six hours a night whilst being a promoter and party organiser finally caught-up with me, I suppose, which is just the luck of the draw – but it still doesn’t stop it being deeply depressing, I mean, the idea of having to stop drinking ; especially red wine with dinner.  Anyway, I’m going to change my name back to me in November.’ I say, suppressing a chuckle, wanting to lighten things up a touch.

‘Why? What are you talking about?’

‘I vill no lonka be Heinz in November. You vill haff to coll me Thom again!’

‘Why Heinz? German? Ah, no wait – spaghetti hoops and all that! Oh, I get it – you are fifty-seven…’ She correctly surmises.

‘… and I’ve been full of beans and have fifty-seven varieties of multi-tasking talents! What a clever yummy mummy you are, you are, oh what a clever mum you are.’

‘Oh, that’s funny dear. I’d better go dear, Gerald is calling me, you know what they say about very old men reverting to childhood! And it will be time for dinner soon and there’s some good, intelligent stuff on TV for a change. I can’t see the name Heinz catching on in the next few months though, he he. Goodbye m’dear, take care, stay positive and get WELL!’

‘Thanks mum – well Gerald is 90 – I’m going to make a spicy virgin mary served with a celery stick and have that as a ‘sundowner’ on the sea wall before watching some of that intelligent TV you mentioned, with my dinner.  I brought down stuff like fresh herbs, limes, parma ham, grain mustard, parmesan cheese, chillies, red onions, shallots and more – things that you can’t get in the local shop – in an ice-bag. You know me, I love to cook, even if it’s only for myself. By the way, talking of being positive – as it were – I tested HIV negative a few weeks back. Just thought I’d mention it as I do get tested every year. No STDs either!’ I added cheerily, ‘love to everyone. Byeeeee!’

‘Well, that’s always good to hear dear. Bye darling.’

I put down the phone and go to the well-equipped, brand-new kitchen and mix my ‘cocktail’ (tomato juice, lots of ice, Worcester Sauce, Tabasco, celery salt, lime juice and black pepper), take it outside, sit on the wall and look out to sea, stirring it wistfully with the celery, before taking a crunchy bite, and wishing that it had vodka in it. Not that vodka has any taste. So it could easily be a bloody – as opposed to a virgin, mary – at least in theory.

I text Derek back: ‘Yep, I do you love you a little bit.

For some reason, he hates me saying ‘yep’. When he finally came down here with me for the first time, maybe four years ago, when we walked in (it was a beautiful sunny afternoon), he immediately shut the curtains and turned-on the TV. He complained that it was ‘like living in a goldfish bowl’ and went back to London after just two days. Ever the romantic, our Derek. I was not pleased, although, of course we still had fabulously sensual sex later that night – as usual.

Robbie Rowlock is the weather-beaten old local who owns the vintage, wooden boat that I sometimes borrow from him, because I love rowing – plus rowing is very beneficial for the pecs and the abs . He uses it to put out lobster and crab pots in the bay and sells them to the local restaurants and those in-the-know for two or three pounds each. The only other time you can buy fish in the village is on a Friday, when The Fish Man comes in his van (no fish – right by the sea in Cornwall! How ironic is that?). Robbie’s pulled his boat up onto the beach, offloaded his crab and lobster pots – plus a bucket with some claws waving about in it – and is now securing it vertically to the metal railings about five feet above the beach with a padlock, because of the imminent high tide.

‘Hello Thom’, he shouts jovially. ‘How long are you down for? Haven’t you brought any of your young black friends with you this time?’

My Unplanned Obsolescence – Title Page

6 Jul

My Unplanned Obsolescence (cover art)

“I’m not real, like a mobile broadband sim card, I expire after two years. This is my unplanned obsolescence.”

My Unplanned Obsolescence‘ by Thom Topham Is A #MultimediaEBook with 12 Chapters, 96 Thousand Words, 19 Original Songs, Scores Of Photos And Hundreds Of Links.

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 12.

22 Oct

Farewell To NYC; Fear And Loathing In Florida – then Back Home To Rancho Deluxe.

 

 

Rockerfeller Plaza.

Rockerfeller Plaza.

 

When I got back to the hotel, I was elated and excited and gushed-out the unbelievably good news to Leonardo; but he seemed oddly unmoved, as if I’d made it all up.  After all, wasn’t I just a struggling artist who lived in one room in a semi-derelict basement in Notting Hill, who was lucky enough to enjoy ‘his lordship’s’ gracious patronage? Undaunted, although somewhat non-plussed, I asked him where we might celebrate my  sudden change of fortune – and he suggested, almost reluctantly, that we could eat at the NYC branch of Fred Dexter, one of my favourite London restaurants (where Jeremy Organ, Christa’s ex-husband, had always spoiled us with endless, free bottles of Rioja Siglo when he’d been Maitre’D) and then we could go to one of NYC’s hottest clubs, the Paradise Garage.

Then he was on the phone again, ordering more cocaine and rent boys, and soon went out, leaving me to my own devices. I was immediately on the phone myself, excitedly telling Christa and my mother the amazing news that I’d landed a major record deal in NYC within THREE days!  They were, naturally, thrilled.

I had no reason to believe that it wasn’t all for real. And I was correct. That didn’t mean that it was all going to be hunky dory in the long-term.

Then I remembered an offer of anther kind that had been made by Cody Cadillac, a good-looking, white, thirty five-year old, erstwhile radio DJ from Miami, after we’d spent a wild weekend fucking and taking cocaine (which he’d willingly paid for) at my dingy basement in Notting Hill, in the spring of ‘79.  He’d said that if ever I was in the US, that I had to come and visit him in Miami – and that he’d happily pick-up the tab for a cheap, standby flight (you could get them easily in those days – how retro-civilised). So I called him.  He seemed surprised, yet pleased to hear from me, especially when I told him the good news about my record deal with Inco. He immediately steamed-in with:  ‘Hey man, I can be one of the first people to play your album in the US! Can you arrange an exclusive?’

‘Well, I haven’t even started to make the album yet, Cody,’ I dead-panned, ‘But I’m sure that will be possible.  I’ll give you a call in a couple of days to let you know when I’m coming, so that you can arrange a standby ticket for me to collect at JFK.  I may well have just been offered a record deal  – but I’m stony broke!’

There was a tangible pause, then he said:  ‘Well…I did, er, offer to pay for your flight… so no problemo dude – I’ll see ya in a few days!’

My first, tropical adventure!  Images of the 60s TV show ‘Flipper’ flashed through my mind, along with the recalcitrant (for their time) cultural legacies of Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway… and my own lustful thoughts of beautiful, coffee-coloured, Cuban men.

Flipper

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

I floated-off on a cloud of joy for a celebratory saunter down Broadway – which seemed somehow appropriate – then wove my way through the leafy streets of The West Village, looking at (and trying to peek inside) the fabulous houses and apartments, and fantasising about which one I might one day live in.  My mind was buzzing with plans and possibilities.  I felt like I was walking on air and was suddenly aware that I was probably grinning like an idiot. All my wildest dreams had suddenly, potentially fallen into place: Torn Genes, my second album, was definitely going to be recorded AND I was going to be managed by Phil Oldbelly, the manager of The Why.  Wow!  I wondered who might produce my album – perhaps the American mega-producer Vinnie James? Then, might I come and live in New York?  I was already in love with this exciting, over-the-top, fascinating and teeming metropolis: such a beautiful city in its own uniquely edgy, urban way.

That evening, a strangely subdued Leonardo took me to Fred Dexter, which looked exactly like the London branch – all exposed bricks, red-checked tablecloths and theatre posters.  And the waiters (mostly gay) were just as rude as those in London.  The menu was pretty much the same as well: basically (white) soul food from the American South. They even stocked my favourite Rioja Siglo, in its signature, hessian-covered bottle, although this time it wasn’t free.  Well, not to the Count, at least. He’d indicated that a certain black and famously outrageous female superstar might be joining us, but she never showed-up.  Leonardo had, at least ‘introduced’ me to her on the phone before we left, presumably to impress me – and possibly her. ‘This is Thom Topham and he has just got a record deal with Inco: Thom: meet Joan Grayson!’ He’d passed me the phone. She purred  – or was it slurred? – ‘Heeelloo Thom!’ in my ear.

Rioja Siglo

I did actually meet her many years later at a club night called The Pleasure Garden at The Oven, in Brixton in London… but that’s another story – and almost a chapter in itself. Suffice to say that it involved me and her and her entourage of jealous and suspicious (of me) queens driving around South London in a mini-cab in an unsuccessful search for cocaine, whilst she flirted with me in an overtly sexual fashion. Eventually, after an unsuccessful quest, as we neared my home near Elephant And Castle, I made my excuses (what – you couldn’t find cocaine for Joan Grayson, dammit!?) and went home, with my tail, to a degree, between my legs. But then again… even superstars can’t get drugs willy-nilly –  it’s not like going to a late-night supermarket – and nor can they ‘convert’ gay men… unless said gays are hustlers, out for what they might get.

Having paid the bill, Leonardo had suggested that we ‘freshen up’ before heading for The Paradise Garage.  That meant snorting a big line of coke off the mahogany shelf on top of a cistern in the cubicles in ‘the men’s room’ at Fred Dexter, and popping a ‘lude’ (qualude) each.

The Paradise Garage Building By Day,

The Paradise Garage Building By Day

We headed for Hudson Square and found a sizeable crowd hanging outside what was a former, two story, art-deco parking garage. The dress code – if there was one – seemed far less flamboyant than at Studio 54 – more funky-bohemian – and the people waiting to get in were a polysexual (as we’d say these days) mix of black/white/latino/gay/straight/male/female – and the vibe was buzzin’  – and so where the people… literally.

We were swished through the ubiquitous velvet ropes and walked up the long, concrete ramp which led into the club, which was flanked by walls filled with thousands of plain, white lightbulbs – which was a bit startling – then straight into a huge, rectangular dance floor about the same size and shape as a British football pitch.  Arranged at regular intervals all around the perimeter were huge stacks of white, floor-to-ceiling speakers which were pumping out the most exhilarating and soulful grooves – what was soon to be known as ‘New York garage music’ – with a heaving crowd making shapes with genuinely happy faces and much warmth and good energy. The atmosphere was totally electric and uplifting, and I’d never heard such a powerful sound system – the bass almost knocked you off your feet.

Paradise crowd dancing

There was no alcohol – just various fresh juices, sodas and waters.  The walls were black and unadorned, apart from some huge projections at one end of the dance floor.  The bar itself was like a giant, raised refectory table – and this was in a large, separate room which also featured a cinema, which had simple, wooden ‘bleachers’ (like you’d see at American collegiate sports fields) and was showing cool, underground films, without sound.  There were large bowls of fruit punch – which was free – served in Styrofoam cups.  This was, of course, rumoured to be laced with something-or-other.  I had no reason not to believe it, as I was already dancing on the ceiling, at least metaphorically speaking.

There was no V.I.P area per se, apart perhaps from the DJ booth, which was a large, wooden room with unglazed windows overlooking the heaving throng, reached by stairs to one side of the centre of the dance floor.

PG Flyer by Keith Haring

PG Flyer by Keith Haring

Even Leonardo’s apparent celebrity couldn’t get us past the forbidding-looking security guards who controlled access to the legendary DJ Danny Divano, who played (allegedly drug-fuelled) four or five-hour sets of monstrously good music.

Many years later, in the early autumn of 1992, I was at a record company party at London’s  later answer to The Paradise Garage – The Department Of Dance in Elephant and Castle – and I was getting a (free) beer at the long, concrete bar, when Jonathan Goldberg, one of the co-founders of the club, sauntered over with a handsome, black man who appeared to be in his late thirties, wearing a red plaid shirt and jeans, sporting a crew-cut and a neatly-trimmed, goatee beard. ‘Hi Thom,’ said JG, as he was known, ‘I’d like you to meet Danny… Danny Divano.’ Then he promptly disappeared, leaving the DJ legend and I locked in to… what felt to me… to us… like love at first sight. Our eyes were immediately looking deep into each of our souls as we talked… and talked… and talked; as if we’d known each other all our lives.  This was interrupted only by visits to the gents (or men’s room, if you prefer) to partake of the excellent coke which he kindly shared with me.

Six hours later, after we’d spent a wonderful night talking, bonding and falling in love, he had to leave, to catch a flight to France.  This was after we’d exchanged numbers and agreed to work together in the recording studio in East London that I was handling PR for, at the time.  I walked with him to the exit with my arms around his muscular shoulders and we hugged and looked each other in the eyes. Then he walked backwards down the ramp – sporting a huge smile – and shouted repeatedly ‘Somebody understands me! Yeah! Somebody finally fuckin’ understands me!’

His arms were outstretched and sending me  a whole lotta love, as he disappeared into the cold, grey light of a London dawn.

I had heard that he was rumoured to be a heroin addict – but saw no evidence of that on that unforgettable night when we met.

Danny died of a heart attack in November of that year, in New York.

Back at The Paradise Garage in 1979, after an exhilarating night, the crowd was finally thinning out and the lights were coming on – I think it was about 5am. Much to my surprise, Leonardo suggested that we go to another club, which was downtown in Wall Street (of all the unlikely places), and was called AM/PM, as it was an after-hours club which opened at 5am and closed at 5pm.  Yes, really!  The club was spread over five floors and was like an ice-palace, as everything was white – all the staff were dressed in white as well.  Apart from the ground-level dance floor, each floor above was a V.I.P-only space and, as you went up, eventually to the fifth floor, each space became more exclusive and difficult to get into.  This is a faintly ludicrous tower of elitism, I remember thinking, as we were swished through the (white) velvet ropes into the penthouse  – where huge amounts of cocaine where freely available on the white marble ledge surrounding a tinkling ice-fountain. And the only drink that was available  – at huge cost – was vintage champagne. This was excess at its most outrageous.  The atmosphere, as a result, was cold and slightly twisted, and the people were wired and aloof – in stark contrast to the warm vibes of the incomparable Paradise Garage.  We soon knocked back our champagne and returned to the hotel to sleep for a few hours, before I was due to attend my second meeting at Inco Records, which was, thankfully, scheduled for the civilised hour of 5pm.

Phil Oldbelly had left a message saying that he’d call at 3.30pm.  So I was showered and dressed and drinking a cappuccino (I’d soon given up trying to get a decent cup of tea), when the phone rang.  Phil explained that Inco had faxed-over a ‘Heads Of Agreement’ to him, which was a preliminary ‘letter of intent’, prior to a full-blown contract, and that his lawyer had okayed it for me to sign when I went to the meeting later. He explained that there was to be an advance of £35,000 for the first album, which was to be released worldwide in 1980, and then the record company would pay an advance of £45,000 for a second album, should they decide to take up the option to renew my contract.

This was a lot of money in 1979, especially for a unknown artist like me. That was £80K… at least on paper.  What he neglected to point out was that the advances also had to pay for the recording costs.

The meeting was with Vince Verrucio, Inco’s head of A&R (an acronym for the quaintly old-fashioned  – even in 1979 – ‘Artist and Repertoire’) in an office only marginally less plush than that of the label’s president, whom, he explained, ‘was doing business in LA’. Meaningless niceties were exchanged ‘Great to have ya on board Thom, everybody thinks that you’re gonna be a huge rock star man!’ Etc etc… blah blah, before the letter was produced with a flourish, for me to sign, as all the staff trooped-in, led by Morris’s  secretary Claudia, wheeling a black and chrome drinks trolley full of jangling champagne bottles and silver flutes (of the drinking variety). Much gushing from the assembled staff ensued as I basked in the attention, at least in theory. I think I was more embarrassed than enamoured by this group of corporate zombies who had sprung from the US record industry’s central casting agency – all homilies and fakery and teeth and smiles.

I felt a juddering sensation under me, and there was a strange jangling sound as I looked-up from the front seat on the empty, upper deck of the bus to Raleigh, which seemed to have transmogrified into a boat. We were crossing the estuary, close by all the naval docks and hangars.  I blinked, then realised, of course, that the bus had driven on to the front of the ‘floating bridge’ vehicle ferry and that the loud jangling was the sound of the huge chains which were being pulled through capstans to get us to the other side. I looked out to sea for the last time with a  nostalgic sigh, as we headed through Raleigh’s dreary, pebble-dashed suburbs towards the station.

Top Point Ferry

I flicked through my ‘79 notebook, but there was no mention of my leaving NYC, the standby ticket that Cody Cadillac had arranged for me to pick-up at JFK and the adventures and nightmare scenarios that were later to follow in Florida.

I remember that the flight to Miami was on some obscure South American Airline – I think it was, somewhat latterly appropriately, Columbian – and that this ancient plane actually had rust on the wings, the seats were full of holes which had been patched-up with gaffer tape and the plane shuddered violently as it took-off.  This was something of a white-knuckle ride, which was mercifully, relatively short.  I recall imagining that the jet was probably held together with elastic bands.

When the automatic, glass doors slid open as I exited Miami’s air-conditioned airport, the heat hit me like a fireball. This was, after all, my first visit to a tropical destination. Cody waved to me from his huge, two-tone, cream-and-white, Sixties Cadillac convertible-with-its-top-down, which was parked nearby. I threw my bags into the back and jumped into the white-leather passenger seat as we greeted each other with a hug.  He immediately flipped-open the over-sized glove box in front of me with a broad grin.  This revealed two huge lines of coke and a massive joint:  ‘Grade A, 99% pure Columbian and a joint of pure Hawaiian buds,’ he drawled, handing me a rolled-up fifty-dollar note, ‘welcome to Miami!’

Then he took me on a tour of this rather beautiful  – at least in parts – city.  In my suddenly-mega-stoned state, I was particularly taken with all the run-down, art deco hotels and apartment blocks which flanked Miami Beach and asked him why they hadn’t been redeveloped (ever-prescient, me).  He replied that this was where the poorer, Jewish people came to die and that people of class were only interested in brand-new condos and the newly-created, man-made islands featuring clusters of rather vulgar, Spanish-colonial-style mansions which were materialising in the shallow waters around the city.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach

Cody then took me for a late lunch in a waterside restaurant, where he insisted that I try one of the local delicacies, Clam Chowder, which I loved, and Key Lime Pie, which I thought was sickly-sweet and disgusting.

Then we headed for Miami’s inner suburbs, through endlessly cloned, palm-fringed streets of little white, Spanish-style houses with white picket fences and neatly trimmed front lawns. Suddenly I was in every American horror film I’d ever seen; but I wasn’t getting paranoid… just yet.

His house was larger-than-usual, white, modernist and vaguely Spanish-influenced, with what looked like a sizable garden full of fruit trees.  As he unlocked the tall, wooden front door, we entered a cool, double-height, living space with a vaulted ceiling where everything was white, apart from a latino youth who looked really young, who was sprawled on one of two huge white sofas watching  – was it ‘Peyton Place’ with Spanish overdubs? – on an enormous TV.

‘Hey Henrique, this is Thom , my rock star friend from London, he just got a record deal in New York! In three days!’ Gushed Cody, kicking the boys legs. The boy looked-up blankly and said ‘Hi.’ Then returned to the TV.

‘Henrique hangs out here.’ Said Cody, by way of vague explanation. ‘His parents are illegal Cuban immigrants.’

Charming, I thought, by now getting the first hint that all was not what it might have seemed. Henrique looked about sixteen at the most.

Cody showed me around the spacious house, which had three bedrooms, and then the garden, proudly inviting me to pick avocados, peaches, oranges and lemons off the trees. I was impressed on a horticultural level, but couldn’t avoid the nagging thoughts – not paranoia, just instincts – which were invading my consciousness.

He’d already offered me two more huge lines of Coke, which I’d declined (he’d looked offended).  I’d tried to explain that I didn’t need to do lines of coke every fifteen minutes, no matter how good it was (and indeed it was).

It suddenly seemed like I’d jumped from Leonardo’s frying pan into Cody’s fire. And he made it clear that he wanted sex. With me and Henrique.  I was not interested, and feigned tiredness, asking if I might take a nap. Then the phone rang. He spoke in Spanish; then after telling Henrique to go home, he informed me that some very important guys were coming around in a few minutes, and could I keep them talking about my rock-star credentials, whilst he dealt with ‘some business’ in the back?  I reluctantly agreed.

Cody disappeared into his bedroom and there was soon a knock at the door and I opened it to find three huge, muscular, tattooed Cuban guys with their tops off, with guns… yes GUNS… in holsters in the belts of their jeans.

Cody rushed out from whatever ‘business’ he was attending to and hurriedly and enthusiastically introduced me:  ‘This is my hombre Thom Topham from London, England, he’s just signed a major record deal with Inco Records in New York and is staying with me to sort out a live performance and an exclusive, first airing of his album on my radio show on Hex247.FM!  His manager looks after The Why as well! I’m just sorting out your merchandise!’ He then scurried back into his bedroom, leaving me to sweet-talk these fearsome-looking gangsters – the reality now suddenly dawning on me that he was probably ‘cutting’ industrial quantities of cocaine to sell to them.

I had no choice but to deliver an Oscar-winning performance. The Why were massive in America, especially after they’d starred in the seminal rock/festival film ‘Hipstock’ over a decade before – and the Cuban gangsters seemed to be immediately impressed with my connections and credentials.

‘Did you ever meet Wally Planet, their drummer who died from an OD last year?’ Asked one, in a heavy Cuban accent. Luckily, I could add veracity to my reply, as indeed I had met him backstage at a huge outdoor gig at West Ham FC’s Upton Park Stadium in 1976, where Christa had introduced us.

I tried to suppress horny thoughts of the hunky, mix-race, West Ham apprentice whom I’d met outside the phone box in Notting Hill a few months before – when we’d had delicious, sunny afternoon sex.  Whatever happened to him?

Si senor, I did meet Wally.’  I told him.  ‘My friend Christa invited me to their gig in a football stadium in East London, and all the V.I.Ps were in a the stand behind the stage, so we were able to observe his antics at close quarters…’

The three gangsters nodded their approval at each other.  Evidently, it was quite unusual for them to meet someone so apparently close to British rock royalty.

‘His drum roadie brought him a pint glass of clear liquid – my friend Chrysta, who now works for their management company – told me that it was an extremely large gin and tonic.’

The gangsters laughed approvingly.

‘It was during a musical breakdown.  He took a gulp then threw it all over his roadie, after the guy had enthusiastically banged the massive gong behind his drum kit for him, then he continued to play his drums in typically manic fashion.’

Now the gangsters were slapping me on the shoulders – so it looked like Cody and I weren’t about to get shot – and another one asked me if I’d ever met Eric Clapton.  Again, veracity added integrity to my anecdote.

I told them how I’d been recording in Island Studios in Notting Hill in 1975 – for my proposed second album with a major label – and how I’d heard this fantastic reggae backing track coming out of the open door of the smaller studio downstairs (I was recording in the main studio upstairs) when I’d gone down to get a sandwich from the café and had poked my head around the door to say hi – and had been handed a huge joint by a guy with dreadlocks who’d said: “Hi – my name’s Bob… Bob Marley.”

Now the Cubans were applauding every sentence and apparently eating out of my hands, much to my relief. I remember hoping that Cody wasn’t cutting the coke too much and thereby potentially incurring their wrath… and why hadn’t he actually mentioned that he was coke dealer, before continuing with my recollections.

“Then this guy walked into the studio with a guitar case and Bob Marley said: ‘Thom, I’d like you to meet Eric, he’s gonna play some lead guitar on our track ‘Jammin’”

‘Wowza!’  Exlaimed the Cubans, in unison.

‘Then, later that evening, I ended-up playing table football with Clapton, Marley and his bass-player Peter Tosh.’  I added with an anecdotal flourish (all true), as Cody returned with what appeared to be several ounces of the white stuff.  The Cubans sampled it and left, apparently satisfied, after handing-over several thousand dollars.

Cody, the newly-revealed-major-coke-dealer, thanked me for being ‘a genuine English rock dude’ and suggested that we go out to dinner in ‘a really cool, Cuban place, where he knew everyone.’

We jumped into the Cadillac on a typically sultry Miami night and he stopped-off to show me Coconut Grove, which appeared to be Miami’s equally vulgar and ostentatious answer to Rodeo Drive in LA, then drove us to a Cuban neighbourhood, which appeared to be quite edgy, in a filmic kind of fashion. We pulled up in the parking lot of a seedy-looking motel – there was mucho technicolour neon – and walked through swing doors into a huge diner, which featured several rectangular bars-in-a-row – like horizontal, architectural castellations – where around 20 people ate at each one, sitting on stools, served by waiters from within. Cody’s rictus, coke-induced grin never left his face as one of these serving stations immediately cleared as we walked in – rather like when the piano player stops playing and everyone stares when dodgy strangers walk into a wild-west saloon.

‘Hey, that’s cool, mi amigos are making sure we get a seat,’ he insisted, in a totally delusional fashion, ‘Everybody loves my radio show in Miami!’

You could have cut the air with a knife.  It was obvious that us gringos were not at all welcome in this Hispanic eatery, but he was oblivious.  He ordered us Mojitos and was suggesting that we eat Ropa Vieja, which he explained was the Cuban national dish.  I made an excuse that I wasn’t hungry, and I gulped down my drink and managed to get us out of there… hopefully before his car got trashed or stolen outside.  Mind you, I guessed that these Cubans weren’t really interested in vintage cars – surely, they had enough of those back home in Havana – albeit far from as pristine as Cody Cadillac’s 60s Cadillac.

I finally gave-in to having a line of coke from the proverbial glove box, before he took me on tour of some amazing gay clubs, which were all in an industrial zone not far from the centre.  They were situated in anonymous-looking, converted factories and featured large, outdoor terraces or gardens, which were invisible behind high walls and… the music. Wow! This was an incredible blend of latin and soul, which was uplifting, vibrant and eminently danceable. This was, of course, later to become known as The Miami Sound. I seem to remember having a quickie with a beautiful Cuban guy in a toilet cubicle. Me bad. Hey – it was time to at least enjoy the high… after the low of realising that I was not with one of the good guys. Cody was evidently a jerk.

When we got back to his place in the early hours, he wanted to have sex, but I wasn’t interested, as now I’d discovered the real him.  He insisted on sucking my cock for hours, even whilst I was asleep, which was extremely irritating. Eventually, I escaped to the guest bedroom in the eaves – which, unfortunately, didn’t have one of those ubiquitous, metal air-conditioning units on the window ledge.  Somehow, despite the heat, I managed to sleep for a few hours, before he woke me up by sucking my cock obsessively and offering me cocaine, which I refused.

Now I was beginning to feel trapped. I had no money… at all.  I couldn’t escape, not without a cheap standby flight back to the UK.

In his inimitable and irritable coked-out manner, Cody suddenly offered me two options.  Would I prefer to visit Disneyland, or The Florida Keys?  The latter, I said immediately. Perhaps I might meet someone civilised who could help me escape from this maniac?  I’d heard that Key West was already a major, gay ‘destination’ and was intrigued, regardless of my host’s moronic nature, thinking of drinking-in the cultural history of the island as well, ‘Flipper’ notwithstanding. Perhaps he might find someone else to have sex with, and leave me to my own devices?

Now the double-decker bus was pulling into Raleigh train station and I clambered out with my bags, noting that I had at least half an hour before my train was due to arrive.  I was trying to recall: how the hell did I extricate myself from the evil clutches of the Miami moron? I found an empty bench to sit on and flicked through to the end of my ’79 notebook, looking for clues.  Again, there was nothing relating to Miami or The Florida Keys. Although I was distracted by an entry which read:

“Break The Chain… 10.12 ’79.

Move into 25 Eavesham Road in Holland Park.  RENT FREE!”

Evidently, I was finally to escape from the grungy basement flat in Notting Hill, it would seem, soon after my evidently successful escape, well, return, from the US.  This was a beautiful, spacious, one-bedroomed garden flat in Holland Park (yes, really), a Victorian terrace that was ‘owned’ (it later turned out that it was actually a squat) by a female friend of Pete Knacker, who’d played bass on my ‘Torn Genes’ demos and was later to play on the eponymous album early in 1980.  Perhaps inspired by my recent adventures in NYC and Florida, I later turned this unexpected dream-home into a completely, all white-space.  The diary then records how the bass-player’s friend then suddenly demanded £21 a week for me to live there, once she’d discovered that I had a record deal worth £80K.  Never trust a hippy, as Johnny Rotten had once snarled.

Then my Miami memory banks kicked-in once more, like overloaded, external hard drives (not that anyone could have imagined what those were in the late seventies – that would have been the stuff of science fiction).

Cody had suggested that we pack small bags with enough clothes for a few days. There was no need for a passport. We threw them into the trunk (aka boot) and set off for the Florida Keys at around 6 O’clock in the evening.  ‘On the way, we’ll stop off for dinner at an exclusive restaurant where everyone knows me – we’ll get one of the best tables!’ He’d stated bombastically, his all-ready coke-induced, over-inflated ego on overdrive, ‘then it’s just a couple of hour’s drive to Key West.’

Part of me was loving this sultry, tropical faux-romance of living life on the edge in an enormous 60s Cadillac convertible – although I’d have preferred it to be without him – and I was almost morbidly attracted by the evident danger of various ‘On The Road’ fantasies.  But my antennae were waving around frantically on top of my head on red alert, like an imaginary moose’s antlers, totally unaware of where I might be heading, being driven on a twisted road to nowhere by a drug-fucked lunatic. .

After we’d passed through the first of the Florida Keys (islands) – which was fairly unspectacular, just shopping malls, motels and gas stations – and crossed a longish bridge, he drove through some huge, ornate, wrought-iron gates and pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a Spanish-style, Hollywood mansion. ‘Welcome to Casa  Fantastico, the most exclusive restaurant in Key Largo!’ He trumpeted, as we screeched to a halt right outside the front entrance, before he threw his car keys to a ‘valet parker’, wrapped in a fifty-dollar bill.  Images of Humphrey Bogart crept into my mind.

He ushered me into the lobby, which looked like something from a Joan Crawford movie – but without any apparent irony. A female receptionist, who was dressed like Mildred Pearce (was there a theme here?) asked curtly if we had a reservation. My dubious host replied:  ‘We don’t need a reservation, I’m Cody Cadillac of Hex247.FM – I’ve been coming here for years!’

The receptionist looked down her nose at him and replied: ‘I wasn’t aware that the station was back on air…’

Cody gulped momentarily and stammered: ‘Oh, it’s just a temporary aberration my dear… a misunderstanding over taxes… now will you please let us in? I’m Cody Cadillac!’

Part of me was enjoying his humiliation, another part was hungry and another thought… let’s get the fuck out of here.

‘I’m sorry Mr Cadillac, but you don’t have a booking.’

I grabbed his arm and said: ‘Obviously there’s been some mistake, I think we should go.’

The receptionist raised her plucked eyebrows at me, as if to say… yes, I think you should.

‘I’m sure there are other fabulous restaurants on the Florida Keys where  we can dine with impunity.’ I stated firmly, grabbing him by the arm and marching him out of the building.

The parking valet looked a little surprised, as we’d returned so swiftly, but brought the car back regardless. He didn’t get a tip this time.

After we’d driven a few hundred yards, Cody – now palpably angry –  pulled up on the edge of the road, took a swig from a bottle of tequila (50% proof), passed it to me, and chopped us out two huge lines of coke and suggested that we drop another ‘lude’ each to help get us to our destination – Key West, about a hundred miles away. I complied, if only to help make sure that we got there in one piece. I was evidently on a road trip with a psycho – this was turning into fear and loathing…in Florida.

THE HIGHWAY THAT GOES TO SEA CONNECTS KEY WEST TO THE MAINLAND OF FLORIDA

The road, it’s called Highway 1, to Key West from Miami is a very unusual thing in the US – it only has (or ‘had’ – maybe it’s been upgraded since) two lanes  – yes, two lanes – once it enters The Florida Keys, as it was built over the tracks of the old Florida Coast East Railway line, much of which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1936. There are several bridges linking the Keys, one of which is seven miles long.  With two lanes… and only one thin ‘hard shoulder’.

There is a drop of scores of feet to the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico to your right, and to the Atlantic to your left.

We’d stopped off for a coffee and a burger at some tacky diner on the way, where an obese couple wearing matching Hawaiian shirts at the next table had commented on my ‘cute accent’ and had asked whether ‘I knew The Beatles’. I seem  to recall merely replying ‘No.’ And then ignoring them. The initially amusingly ironic quirk of ignorant Americans-without-passports-or-any-knowledge-about-foreigners had soon worn thin.

Cody foolishly necked another lude with his coffee before we headed back to the car, with him on suddenly, unsteady feet. Now I was literally holding him up.

‘Cody,’ I urged, wondering if I should slap him (not just a wake-up call, but also because I was furious with him), isn’t there a motel where we can stay round here? You can’t drive in this state, and you know I don’t drive…’

‘Listen dude…’ he drawled, as we got back into the car, ‘we’ll just have some more coke, that’ll keep me awake and alert – there’s not far to go, we’ll be in Key West before you know it!’

He handed me another lude (which I pretended to take, then put in my pocket), before chopping us-out two more enormous lines.  This time, I had to take it, so that we’d have marginally less chance of dying whilst driving to America’s southernmost point.  Coke does at least keep you awake and relatively alert, whilst, particularly if you’re an asshole, you think that you’re the king of the road… and the world. I was a little more pragmatic (it’s called staying alive), as we headed for the next bridge.

‘Hey maaan!’ Shouted Cody, the sudden sea breeze blowing his hair into his eyes, ‘We’re now on one of the longest bridges in the whole goddam WORLD!  This is SEVEN MILE BRIDGE DUDE!’ Then accelerated violently.  Luckily, the bridge was relatively traffic free. Cackling like a maniac, he drove onto the wrong side of the road, and nearly brushed the low crash barrier that stood between us and the dark, swirling Gulf of Mexico, far below. My heart was beginning to palpitate, but I somehow managed to stay calm and in control. Now his head was starting to loll.

‘Cody!’ I shouted, grabbing his arm, trying to sound calm – rather than the reality, which was totally panicked… ‘Slow down man… you’re off your head Cody, you’ll kill us both if you don’t slow down.’  I could see the far-off  lights of an approaching car.

Cody suddenly blinked, shook his head, blinked, and mercifully stepped off the gas.  Then I grabbed the wheel and manoeuvred us back into the right-hand lane.

‘Look Cody, I said quietly, confidently and urgently, still holding onto the wheel, as we veered slightly to the left, ’we have to get over Seven Mile Bridge, then you can have a big line on the other side, wake-up a little and get us safely to Key West. OK?’

As soon as we’d miraculously reached the safety of the other side, he pulled into a parking lot and chopped us out two huge lines.  It was at this point that I slugged down the hidden lude with a large gulp of tequila.  I was exhausted after my terrifying ordeal and decided to take a risk and get in the back seat, stretch out and try and relax. Seemingly refreshed by the coke, Cody drove on and I promptly fell asleep.

I woke-up as we were driving through streets lined by beautiful, 19th century, French-colonial style houses and tall palms – like you see in movies set in New Orleans. But I was surprised to see that there was someone else in the passenger seat.

Key West nightUnknown

‘Where are we?’ I mumbled, asking Cody to pass me the bottle of tequila to slake my dry throat. A large, rather unattractive black man turned around and grinned at me with gap-teeth and slurred ‘Hi  – my name’s Guerilla.’

The next thing I knew was that were pulling into the forecourt of some garish sort of guesthouse.  It was constructed of wood, painted an unpleasant shade of apple green, and looked like it had been built in the 50s, perhaps as the set for a B-horror movie.

We grabbed our bags and headed inside, along with Guerilla, then found ourselves in a sparsely furnished ‘triple room’.  There was one double and one single bed, both covered in gruesome, green and purple, floral-patterned nylon ‘comforters’.  I just wanted to go to sleep, but no, Cody had decided that we were going to have a threesome with Guerilla. I’d already tried to crash out when I found a huge, black dick nudging against my mouth. I reluctantly opened my eyes and noticed that it was completely bent – at right angles, like an L-shaped, 12–inch nightmare.

Then, mercifully, I passed out.

Bright sunlight filtered through the orange, rayon curtains as I heard Cody organising coffees for us on the phone.  The display on the cheap, pink plastic bedside radio-alarm showed 3pm.

‘Where’s Guerilla, I asked, stumbling into the mould-infested shower-room to get a glass of water.

‘He had business to attend to.’ said Cody soberly.

I went to get my bag.  I’d put it in the bedside cupboard before I’d passed out.

‘Cody, what did you do with my bag?’

‘What are you talking about?’ he replied irritably, like all people who need a line of coke with their morning coffee.

The bag was gone, obviously stolen by Guerilla and his L-shaped dick. There went my brand new Levi 501s, several T-shirts, swimming shorts, pants and socks, but not, thankfully, my passport or my treasured, black-leather biker jacket, which I’d left at Cody’s hacienda.

Cody was somewhat contrite and took me shopping for replacements after we’d had brunch on the terrace of a beautiful, funky, bohemian restaurant on the beach.  Then we headed to a idyllic beach  – white sand and palm trees, natch – which was full of seriously beautiful men, and sunbathed on the pier, which stretched into the bay. I went swimming from there in the limpid, blue water, and was hauling myself out of the sea when I clearly remember a huge stingray swimming directly beneath me.  Argghhh!

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Then I met some guys who invited me to go out on their Hobie Cat – one of those smallish, one-sailed catamarans with canvas slung between the floats. There were three of us, dressed in shorts… and it was an exhilarating and exciting experience.  The wind out at sea was quite strong and you had to hang off the edge of the floats to stop the boat capsizing.  It was brilliant, an experience I’ll never forget, rather like the dreaded crossing of Seven Mile Bridge, but perhaps marginally less life-threatening.

We stayed at the ghastly, green guesthouse for a couple of days, and, somehow, Cody calmed down, as if he’d developed a kind of reluctant respect for me and my lack of need, or reliance, for coke.  I loved wandering around the island, drinking in the ghost of Hemingway (who’d penned the immortal line: ‘write drunk, edit sober’) and wondering if Tennessee Williams still lived there.  Apparently not.

Of course, as you may recall, I was to meet TW a few years later with Christa, at The Phoenix Theatre in London, for the performance of ‘The Red Devil Battery Sign’,  which was, sadly, to prove to be his final play.Red Devil

Everywhere you looked there were beautiful, masculine ‘out’ gay men.  But they were all white (apart from their suntans); there was not a gay Cuban or black man in sight, apart from those collecting glasses in the bars, emptying garbage or performing various other menial roles.

I managed to briefly escape from Cody  – he’d found himself some new young boy to corrupt – to go and hang out at one of the most amazing gay clubs I’d ever been to. It was called The Monster.  It was mostly outdoors and had obviously been inspired by the 1950s movie The Swiss Family Robinson, which, by some delicious coincidence, was the first film that I’d ever seen, aged about five.

monster-fl-keywest-outside-sign

It featured a series of  palm-thatched, wooden tree houses and terraces arranged over several floors, with a main dance floor surrounding a swimming pool on the ground level. Everywhere there were giant candles in antique lanterns and strings of coloured lights.  The atmosphere was completely chilled-yet-vibrant, with funky (as opposed to faggy) music to match – with large speakers hanging from the bridges connecting the various levels.  I seem to recall that I flirted with several men, but nothing happened, and it didn’t matter, I was in some kind of tropical, gay heaven where the guys were not all swishy queens – most of them seemed to be cool dudes, which made a change from the more conventional strictures of ‘the gay scene’ in London in 1979, which was mostly lost in the past and apparently going nowhere.

Luckily, Cody had run-out of drugs, and there seemed to be little available on the island apart from some excellent grass (yay!).  So, after a couple of days we headed back to Miami without mishap, but with me increasingly wondering how the hell I was going to get back to London. When I asked him about my standby ticket when we returned, Cody kept avoiding the subject and kept offering me more coke, which I increasingly refused.

I realised that he was on a reverse-psychological power trip, having effectively been rejected by me.

I just had to sit tight, but uptight would have described it better.

Eventually, after two or three days, he apparently came to his senses, realising that kidnapping a would-be English rock star was perhaps not a good idea, and drove me to the airport. Our farewells were terse.  I was just relieved to get the fuck out of his mad-zone.  It was only when I got on the plane that I realized that, in my rush to leave, I’d left behind my treasured black, leather biker jacket, which pissed me off no end.

A few months later, after I’d successfully finished recording and remixing my Torn Genes album, Christa and her then boyfriend Robert Burton, who was by now making a name for himself as an art director on major pop videos (thanks almost entirely to her), told me that they were going to Miami for a working holiday. So the ‘Contessa’ and I hatched a cunning plan. They would call Cody and go and hang-out with him – albeit briefly – as he would definitely be impressed by their celebrity credentials; then they would get loads of free coke, retrieve my leather jacket and fuck off on holiday.  Which is precisely what happened. Many happy karmic returns!

Once safely home, back in my dingy basement, I continued to plan for the recording of the album.  Now, apart from my scuzzy living environment, THIS was a reality I could handle.  All sorts of famous producers were offering their services, albeit, as I later found out, at a price. One day in early December I was in my management company’s office and Billie Oldbelly, Phil’s wife and erstwhile business partner, grinned and handed me a post-it note on which a famous rock star’s PA had scrawled: ‘Brody Davidoff loves Thom’s demos and would like to produce his Torn Genes album’.

This was beyond amazing.  Brody (as he was universally known) was one of my heroes; a left-field, charismatic artist who was truly mould-breaking, a terrific songwriter and singer who was in the habit of adopting different personas and identities and who was already a massive star. But, it later transpired, after I ended-up producing the album myself at Up The Creek Studios in Cornwall in early 1980, that Brody, then in his somewhat, visually cadaverous ‘Snow King’ persona, had been beyond strung-out on cocaine and various chemicals.  Shame.  Imagine what might have happened?  Many years later, in the late 90s, he sent me a fax, saying ‘The album still sounds great’, which I framed, and still hangs on the wall of the studio at Rancho Deluxe

At the time, when I’d enquired as to how negotiations with Brody’s people were progressing, Billie Oldbelly had said dismissively: ‘Oh we really think that your egos might rub-up a little, so we don’t think it’s a good idea.’  I remember retorting honestly (somewhat miffed, to say the least): ‘No way  – I’ll do anything that Brody tells me to do!’

The rest, as they say, wasn’t history.

An announcement came over the tannoy: the next train arriving at platform one will be the sixteen hundred train to London Maddington, stopping at….

My head was full of memories (The Paradise Garage, my all-white garden flat, the horror of Seven-Mile bridge, Up The Creek Studios) as I gathered my possessions, put my ’79 notebook into my bag and positioned myself on the platform where I thought I might be close to Coach C (I’m that sort of person – I love a mildly O.C.D challenge), where my booked seat was to be found.

The train drew in, smelling as ever of diesel and overflowing toilets, and my Coach C guess wasn’t too bad – I was positioned right by the end of Coach D.

I hauled my luggage into the corridor, stowed the big bag in the racks at the end of the carriage and headed for my seat, only to find that I was going to be squeezed into a window seat at a table with a harassed-looking mother and her two young kids. I reluctantly took-up my seat, as the children shrieked and jumped around, the one next to me hitting me in the ribs whilst having a tantrum, then spilling juice on my trousers.

After my blissful-yet-monastic week of self-induced rehab (a glass of wine or three echo… echo) I wasn’t in the mood to hang with the kids, and after about five minutes I decided to upgrade to First Class, as this was a Saturday and thankfully financially do-able. Yes, it was extravagant at £20 (inc’ free tea and biscuits, woo hoo!), but, I felt that I deserved it.  Also, there would be plug sockets, so that I could check all my emails and go on People Pages, without worrying about the battery running out, assuming that is, that my famously malfunctioning mobile broadband dongle might splutter, at least metaphorically, back into life – apart from when the train was going through tunnels.

I found myself in the peaceful zone of a totally empty, first-class compartment. This was  beyond perfect. I plugged in the power and fired-up the laptop, then was pleased, no, thrilled, to see that my airport was showing five bars of reception.

I immediately downloaded all my emails (408) and went straight onto PP, where everyone was concerned that they hadn’t heard from me whilst I was in Cornwall.

I had been kidnapped by drug smugglers and sold to Somalian pirates, I quipped.

The train drew into Exeter and a slightly disheveled-yet-strangely-groomed, gangly guy with what looked like a carefully quaffed, blond hairdo and an elegantly wasted, almost styled sartorial demeanor got on. As he passed my seat and nodded hello, I typed into my PP status update: OMG! You’ll never guess who just got on the train! He’s one of my heroes! Lemme give you a clue (NO not THAT Lemmy!), Nuclear…

Meanwhile, Stephan Lincoln, the lead singer of Nuclear TV – one of the biggest rock bands in the world – settled into a single seat diagonally opposite from me and pulled out an iPhone and a MACBOOK Pro (we evidently had plenty in common) from his expensive-looking, brown-leather hold-all and put them on the table in front of him, along with a can of Carlsberg (oh dear, a bit of lapse of taste there then) and what appeared to be a takeaway salad (it later transpired that it was a vegan one from Anthony Carluccio), which he proceeded to eat, whilst sipping from the can of beer and presumably, checking his emails, or whatever.

I, meanwhile, opened a new tab to check out the Nuclear TV website, whilst staying in touch with everyone on PP, of course.  It was obviously him, but I just wanted to double check. After all, maybe my brain was reverse-fried after all that abstinence, sunshine and immersement in negative ions.

He glanced at me and I smiled a ‘We’re both on MAC’ (and seriously talented and poetic songwriters) kind-of enigmatic smile, then decided spontaneously not to let-on that I knew who he was.  He wouldn’t be used to that eh?  Plus it would be interesting and amusing for me psychologically, and deliciously humbling, for him… at least on paper.

I noticed that he had several backstage, security wristbands on his left arm, along with his watch, which looked like a chunky, expensive Swiss diver’s type. I pointed at his left arm, he looked at me quizzically, then pointed at his watch in a questioning manner.

‘No, no, not the time – I have that here, you fellow Mac-head,’ I said, grinning and waving my hand towards my iPhone and MACBOOK Pro on the table in front of me, ‘no I was wondering what the armbands are… are you a musician?’

A monetarily non-plussed look crossed his face like a fluffy cloud, then he said ‘Well, kind-of…’

‘Oh – so you’re more of a singer then?’

‘Yeah – you could say that, ‘ he replied, smiling and visibly relaxing, although his eyes were exhibiting something possibly called ‘lack-of-rock-star-recognition’ syndrome.

I was quite enjoying myself.  ‘Yeah, it’s definitely him’, I typed into my ongoing status thread on PP, which was by now attracting quite a few comments from my increasingly intrigued friends.  It wasn’t that I was being mean or trying to put him down, it was just my way of saying ‘hi’ – with a twist. After all, we were just two, Mac-head, singer-songwriting strangers in first class on a train heading towards London (the difference being that he was hugely successful and worth mega-bucks), although I’d already guessed that he’d be getting off at Reading, in order to change for somewhere in Berkshire, where the band were based.

‘So…?’ I wondered aloud, pointing at his wristbands, ‘these must be backstage passes to festivals?’

‘Indeed they are,’ he replied, with an enigmatic grin, reeling-off several festivals that I’d never heard of, before saying: ‘and this one is Somersby, although I never went anywhere near the main stage!’

This made me chuckle inwardly – Nuclear TV had headlined Somersby, the UK’s biggest and most successful festival, the year before – and I was now viewing his own page on the band’s website, where I could see that he was extolling the virtues of being in the farthest-flung field at ‘Somebo’. It just so happened that, simultaneously, a friend on PP wrote that Lincoln had performed a spontaneous, solo set in said far-flung-field at the festival, and I was therefore subsequently impressed by his modesty in the face of my alleged ignorance. Still, he looked just ever-so-slightly bemused, as, I guess he was so used to people asking to have their photo taken with him and all the no-doubt tiresome trappings of being a major (albeit ‘alternative’), international, rock star.

I guess that I wanted to know what his mindset was, and where he was coming from. I was also a serious fan of his work, particularly his songwriting – all those finely-woven, intricate melodies and cryptic, poetic lyrics.

People on PP were by now beginning to correctly guess who he was, but kind-of applauding my alleged ignorance.

‘So what were you doing in Devon, if you don’t me asking?’ I asked him.

Stephan looked slightly embarrassed, but in an ironic way (only what I would have hoped for) and replied: ’Hmmm, well, you know, slightly bonkers, feral, male-bonding stuff in the woods…’

‘Oh, saunas in yurts and all that?’

‘Yersh, that kind of thing,’ he said taking a swig of his beer, ‘anyway, I’ve got to get on with some work…’ he said, pointing at his laptop.

Some kind of remix, I imagined, then smiled and airily waved my hand to suggest that he carry on (arrogant, moi?), whilst inwardly chuckling some more.  What an excellent end to my monastic and contemplative week, I mused, as I continued to chat to people on PP, and wondering if I might allow myself drink (a glass or three of red wine, echo… echo) with my dinner – probably a take-away, when I got home. After all, didn’t I deserve it after my privations?

Then we were nearing Reading.  He finished his Carlsberg and scrunched-up the can on the table and started to put his stuff back into his bag.

As we approached the station, I said drily:  Hey, it’s been a pleasure to meet you Mr Lincoln…’

He turned to face me with the broadest (and slightly taken-aback) grin.

‘I’m a singer-songwriter as well – here’s my card – and I’m a huge fan of Nuclear TV, but particularly of your songwriting.  You’re the finest that England has to offer – a genius in a sea of mediocrity.’

The train was now drawing into the station at Reading. He walked backwards towards the nearest door with his arms outstretched (thereby ringing a delightfully Danny Divano bell, minus the mutual, sexual attraction), grinned broadly again, looked me directly in the eye and then shouted amiably: ‘It’s all about the songs Thom, it’s… ALL about the songs (echo…echo…echo)!’

© Thom Topham.  2010. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

My Unplanned Obsolescence. Chapter 11. By Thom Topham.

23 Aug NYC skyline 1979

Torn Genes.

NYC skyline 1979

NYC skyline 1979

My bag (a cheap, khaki, sports-hold-all-wheelie-bag from Sainsbury’s) is packed. I reluctantly lock the cottage and rattle (wheelie-bags are the new noise pollution, especially on cobblestones) along the Cleave, then up the hill toward the bus stop, dropping the cottage keys off – ready for the next tenant – in the shop on the way.

My timing is impeccable.  The double-decker arrives within four minutes and I’m heading for Raleigh – and home.

The bus lurches through the lanes, with tree-branches often crashing against its upper parts, until we reach the barren, windswept cliff top of Whitespur Bay. Here, I feel as if the bus could be blown over the cliffs at any given point – which gives me jelly legs. There are also hundreds of – dare I say, shacks? – nestling in inclines with their spectacular views to the famous Addlestone lighthouse, miles out in the English Channel. As a diversion, once we enter the dull suburbs of Raleigh and go ‘all around the houses’(and because I’m already riveted); I open the notebook where I left off in the early autumn of ‘79.

All of a sudden, there was evidently much self-initiated activity and a subsequent dramatic change in my everyday life.  The prose-written diary entries were, for a change, hardly in evidence, having been supplanted by page after page of song lyrics and chords, budgets for studios and various career game-plans and notes – leading up to the long-anticipated demo sessions with the real musicians; which were indeed (it says here) eventually recorded in Egg Box -a proper recording studio in Covent Garden – on the tenth of September 1979, with two of the best members of both The Eaglekings and Eaglestorm: Eddie Prince and Garth Gower-Jones, on drums and guitar respectively – along with Pete Knacker, from The Counter Geigers, on bass.  I could see by reading my diary that I was well aware that Winston Wallbanger, the Eaglekings’ bass player, was a bit pissed-off that I hadn’t asked him to play on my demos, as was the drummer Grahame Radcliffe; but – sorry guys – this was going to be a Thom Topham album (hopefully), as opposed to just another version of The Eaglekings, or, indeed Eaglestorm, their previous incarnation. That was the main reason, although, frankly, I’d never really rated Grahame’s drumming in comparison to the great Eddie Prince. The demos, thankfully, turned-out to be uniformly excellent – the songs, the musicians, my singing and my production – and I was beyond happy with the results.

The notebook then lists all the various options that were open to me based on my various contacts: potential managers, record labels, producers and people that I knew in the media and the public eye; all of whom might have proved useful in helping me to get a record deal. Christabel Galway was now running the office of Traniform, the management company that handled the hugely successful English rock group The Why, along with lesser acts, who, strangely, never seemed to ‘make it’. Christabel and I had already hatched a simple, but cunning game plan that would hopefully open doors for me in NYC, should I get to go there, as The Count had already insinuated.

Financial matters had also suddenly improved as I’d been paid £1000 to play all the keyboards on an album by a French singer-songwriter who was suffering under the delusion that he was the Gallic version of Bruce Springsteen. This, with hindsight, was to prove strangely prescient regarding my heady career trajectory later that year.

The erstwhile French-Springsteen album was recorded at Up The Creek, the appositely-named studio Near Fowey in Cornwall, which was only accessible by boat. One of the most attractive plus-points of working at this cool, funky and spacious complex (apart from its idyllic setting and atmospheric recording ambience) was being literally ‘spoilt’ by the fabulous, gourmet, home-cooked meals prepared by skilled, local chefs, served, in the evening, with fine wines in the capacious open-plan kitchen dinner, with its views over the creek and the estuary beyond.  This was pure class…in a wonderfully creative and inspiring environment, although, there were some technical issues in the studio itself. Was this due to a lack of regular maintenance due to the epicurean, laid-back ambience of the complex, perchance?

This was later to be my choice of studio to record ‘Torn Genes’, my second album (which would later come to be regarded as a classic – it was remastered and reissued last year on Grapes Of Wrath records, along with my first album Mediums), but at that time, I had no idea what strange twists of fate  – as opposed to my j**rney (the dreaded J-word) were in store to take me towards that cherished goal.

The title song was now demo’d and in the bag, and I was evidently beginning to feel like I had a credible album concept to sell. The fact that it was something of a groundbreaking chronicle of gay street cruising in the late seventies gave me curious confidence that it would find its niche all by itself, which, indeed it did eventually, but not due to any help from the record label, management, or the publisher.  I can only assume that it was due to the genuine, artistic qualities of the so-called ‘product’.

Torn Genes

You wake up of an afternoon, and wonder where you are.

You’re tangled up in some stranger’s sheets

and a record  is on repeat

across the street… in an empty bar.

You put your clothes on, find the door and then it starts to rain.

You pull your hood above your head,

and you wonder what was said,

that led to bed… and back again.

Torn genes, from the leather queens, to the cowboys and the clones.

Torn genes, from some magazines, not just words, but sticks and stones.

Torn genes, like those darker dreams, that can chill you to the bone.

Torn genes, like a silent scream, then you’re walking home alone… with your torn genes.

You wake up of an afternoon, and wonder where you are.

You’re tangled up in some stranger’s sheets

and a record  is on repeat

across the street… in an empty bar.

Torn genes, from the leather queens, to the cowboys and the clones.

Torn genes, from some magazines, not just words, but sticks and stones.

Torn genes, like those darker dreams, that can chill you to the bone.

Torn genes, like a silent scream, then you’re walking home alone… with your torn genes…

 

Words and music by Thom Topham © Copyright Control.

My notebook suddenly delivered a surprise, which is perhaps based on the lack of ‘diary’ entries prior to it.

“New York. 14.10. 79”

Then, about four weeks later…

“Now I owe Leonardo a whole lot more, at least in theory, as The Count has perhaps unwittingly provided me with the springboard I needed. He took me to New York (my first time) out of the blue a nearly a month ago and I landed a record deal worth £80,000 (on paper) within three days!”

Wowza! You couldn’t really make that up! Talk about fabulous – especially after years of struggle and hardship.   Suddenly, all my dreams seemed to have come true – but I wasn’t so naive to assume that it was a done deal, and that everything was on some illusory Cloud 9, or a fabled stairway to creative-and-career-heaven.  Caution was always a byword.  I simply didn’t trust these smooth-tongued purveyors of snake juice in NYC.

It seemed to me that they spoke with forked tongues.

Let me explain my… no, NOT journey… can we settle for ‘story’ instead?

Leonardo had suddenly suggested that we go to New York in late September. I’d never been to the US. My passport was out of date and he’d immediately paid for a fast-track upgrade as a result.

Back in ’79 you could get seriously cheap ‘Standby’ airline tickets to all the major destinations – a precurser of last-minute-dot-com, as it were; before the world-at-large even had an inkling of the upcoming ‘industrial revolution’ that was eventually to become known as The Internet (and guess who ended-up writing the internet column for 24/7 magazine for nearly five years in the late 90s under the name Webfoot?).

So, there I was on a plane heading for America – as the vague protégé of a rich Italian Count, who was sitting beside me on a deliciously inappropriate Aeroflot flight. We both took tamazapan (I got it on prescription) and slept all the way, once we’d had some appalling ‘food’… and excellent vodka!

 *Nostalgic magical, memory moment alert*

As we’d hit 30,000 feet, the lights saying ‘You May Now Smoke’ lit-up, with a aural ping, in the panels above our heads.  Delicious.  Even better than a post-prandial or post-coital cigarette (or roll-up, in my case).  Maybe it was the combination of air-travelling, transatlantic glamour and the oxygen. With a vodka and tonic (or three… echo…echo), to accompany it – and, of course, my excitement at going to the US.

I used to love smoking.  Then, for my sins, as you may recall, I was summarily punished with chronic emphysema, (or COPD as it’s more commonly known these days), after I was diagnosed in 2005, soon after my wonderful/eventful/dramatic New York Halloween week staying with my much-missed, ex-BBF Tommy in his apartment in Soho, close to the trendy Soho Grand Hotel. He’d insisted that my terrible rasping cough (and what were later confirmed to be panic attacks) were very likely to suggest chronic emphysema… and he was right.

As it happens, smoking DOES seem to help you concentrate and focus, especially creatively.  Unfortunately, it also tends to kill you.  Not a whiff of nicotine has passed my lips since I gave-up the cancer sticks, which was, literally, immediately after my diagnosis, with the help of nicotine patches and gum, and Christabel’s excellent reassurance that ‘the craving only lasts three minutes’, having recently given-up smoking herself. Best advice ever – over and above all the commercial ‘nicoquit’ hard-sell.

Giving up smoking is ultimately down to you.  You just have to stop. Then deal with it.  The worst possible thing you could do would be to smoke a UK-style joint containing tobacco. WRONG BELLS RINGING. You’d be back on the fags before you knew it. However, a nice friendly herbal cigarette from the health shop was fine. I’m still on my self-invented, two-step programme: just one spliff after dinner – of the finest Skunk – scattered, like some exotic, eastern spice over my herbal nico.

The Count and I arrived at around noon at JFK Airport.  I was amazed to find that you could actually hire a limousine, as if it were a cab – and negotiate the price into Manhattan (I seem to recall that $20 was the agreed fee), where Leonardo had booked a relatively modest hotel – barely 4-Star – but on Lexington Avenue in mid-town, very handy for all the major record companies, which were clustered around 53d street and The Rockerfeller Plaza (I’d done my research in advance). He was, as you may recall, renting out his palatial, 5000-sqaure-foot loft apartment in the soon-to-become fashionable East Village.

A silver Cadillac, stretch limo swished us into Manhattan via the dreary-looking suburb of Queens, with its pastel-painted, wood-clad, little doll’s houses. Ugly, metal air-con units were propped on most window ledges.  The traffic was ridiculously busy on the eight-lane (or was it ten?) highway.  We passed Shea Stadium.  Thoughts of The Beatles conquering America filled my head as Manhattan suddenly hove into view… phew… just like every movie you’ve ever seen. Then the famous  NYC buzz hit me like I’d just had a big, fat line of cocaine.  Stevie Wonder’s immortal line ‘skyscrapers and everythaang!’  Reverberated through my head as I soon observed that Manhattan’s tall buildings were actually in clusters, rather than pervading the whole of the island’s skyline, as in popular, visual myth.

I was in New York for the first time!  And the visuals and that famous ZING-factor were rocking! Yay!

We nosedived into a tunnel (I can’t remember which one) and emerged into narrow, leafy streets full of tall, elegant houses, with many architectural quirks and delights to please the eye and the asthetic senses – some modern, many early 20th century, but most from the 19th.

I was already sold – or should I say high? – on NYC. The city seemed to be bathed in an evocative, mellow, autumnal – Okay, ‘fall’ – glow, which, however, was rather spoilt by the cacophony of honking horns in the gridlocked side streets. At every turn there were amazing visuals on which to feast the eyes.  There were giant, chunky, articulated trucks everywhere, which were mostly retro-sixties:  a symphony of chrome, fog lights and mirrors, like a giant, Mad Max version of an English Mod’s scooter.  The street furniture was surprisingly eye candy-esque too – much evidence of art deco, art nouveau and earlier.  And, the buildings were so ‘statement’ – not only the famous skyscrapers (I was particularly beguiled by the Chrysler Building and the white one with the wedge on top which was designed by Mies Van Der Rohe), but also those at street level.  The only scars were the ubiquitous air-con units protruding out of the lower-rent windows and the circular water towers on top of the apartment and smaller office blocks – curiously old fashioned and thereby evocative, especially at night.  You half-expected to see Superman soaring around one of them at any given moment; trailing a tail of angel dust.

I was vaguely surprised to find that Leonardo had booked us into a twin room in our slightly dreary, but perfectly acceptable, hotel – I couldn’t help wondering how much more fun the infamous Chelsea Hotel might have been – but I was hardly complaining. Having dumped our bags and freshened-up, he suggested that we head to The Russian Tea Room (which was apparently, ‘THE place to be seen’ – as if I would care for such frivolous frippery) for a late lunch. That didn’t, however, detract from the innate, observational fascination.  I was already mutating into being Truman Capote (minus the campy voice… and just about everything else).

NYC 1979

NYC 1979

Leonardo hailed a cab (I was reassured to note that they were all indeed yellow) and the driver, who was maybe Polish, immediately got lost.  We all love a filmic cliche, but how can you get lost in Manhattan – unless numbers mean nothing to you?  Mind you The Village does have street names – I recall that it reminded me of Notting Hill in the late 70s too – that posh-meets-rough vibe which is somehow edgy and beguiling, if a little high-maintenance.

The Russian Tea Room turned out to be a very kitsch, ex-ballroom, in all its fin de siecle, red-plush glory. Quite vile, to be honest – and I wasn’t feeling any ironic intentions at all. It was full of that somewhat unique NYC demographic – the legendary ‘(old) Ladies Who Lunch’. The Count insisted that I had Borscht soup, and blinis with smoked salmon and caviar, which was a delightful culture-clash for my first time in this immediately captivating and exciting metropolis. Delicious too – despite the cringe-making décor.  After the disgusting food on our Aeroflot flight (I thought I was coming to the US, dammit!), this ‘Russian cuisine’ was delicious. I was loving the double irony.

Leonardo hired a little Fiat and kindly drove me all around lower and mid-town Manhattan, pointing out all the landmarks and lesser-known gay and/or underground hotspots: CBGBs, Danceteria,  Area, Save The Robots, The Mudd Club, AM-PM, Wally Android’s famous ‘The Warehouse’, Studio 54 (where Leonardo claimed to have designed one of the bars), The Paradise Garage, Christopher Street (the gay village) and its infamous Stonewall Bar, The Piers (where men cruised at night), the gay bathhouses in the West and East Village; Chinatown, Little Italy, Broadway, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, Grand Central Station, Brooklyn Bridge, the funky-chic vibe of Chelsea, the cutting-edge East Village, the rawness of the meat-packing district, the museums (including my favourite The Guggenheim)  galleries and the department stores.  Oh, and the Empire State Building, of course – oh my god (or OMG! these days) how stupidly TALL it was! And all the time, the car radio – Kiss FM – was playing ‘Off The Wall’ by Michael Jackson… wall-to-wall and back–to-back

It was the perfect soundtrack for this sensual and visual feast called Manhattan, where everything seemed to be turbo-charged: people speed-walking (Walk! Don’t Walk!) and bustling, hustling and muscling as they went earnestly about their business on the crowded sidewalks.

Homeless people, winos, hookers and junkies seemed to mingle seamlessly with immaculately-dressed professionals and business people.  I could see that the sartorial legacy of Jackie O and JFK evidently lingered on, along with the avowed scruffiness of the artsy types who swarmed around The Village and Chelsea (Soho and Noho hadn’t even been ‘branded’ at the time. Hell’s Kitchen and Alphabet City were also virtual no-go areas due to drug-related crime).

The late-70s uniform of Lacoste polo shirts, or white vests-under red plaid shirts, teamed with chinos or faded Levi 501s, was the look of the badge-wearing gay men, which was curiously close to that New Jersey working-class ‘look’, as sported by Bruce Springsteen. Funny, that.

Amongst all this sashaying, the ghetto-fabulous people ‘represented’ ‘super-street’ – with soul – which was evidenly absorbed into the clubbing mainstream. They and their contemporaries who’d been to university – school, if you wish –  were also now climbing the ladder towards the ever-burgeoning, ethnic middle and, indeed, upper class of the 80s, 90s and beyond (let me float Jay-Z, Obama, Kanye West, P-Diddy and Russell Simmons of Def Jam, for starters.).

Everyone seemed determined and busy – on a mission – as if there were some unwritten rule that underwrote all aspects of the city’s happening, cultural zeitgeist.  Work it baby!

NYC was on fire in 1979.

The Count and I had a ‘Disco Nap’ after we’d taken a Lude (Qualude) each, after we’d returned to The Drear Hotel (as I’d dubbed it), at around 5.30.  Ludes were multi-functional. If you wanted to sleep, you could sleep.  If you wanted to party – you could party! Everyone ‘who parties’, he’d explained, sleeps twice in this City: 6pm-9pm. Then shower, change and dinner; before heading out to the bars and clubs…. then home to sleep from 5am – 9am. ‘Hey’, I shrugged, ‘that adds-up to seven hours – which is cool by me.  Work it baby! Let’s PARTY!’

On that first night, we had an alfresco dinner on the terrace of a nicely boho restaurant at the top of Christopher Street, at its intersection with Sixth Avenue (therefore Christopher and Sixth). I don’t recall its name, but the food was really good (not expensive at all) and I soon noted  how New Yorkers – or perhaps most Americans – are really adept at ‘service’ – even though it might well have been through gritted teeth.  ‘Have a nice day (or night)’ indeed! And, indeed, we did. You seemed to get for a dollar what you’d get for a pound back home – a dollar cost around 50 pence, as I recall.  So everything was stupidly cheap. My first purchase was a classic pair of genuine Levi’s 501s for about $16.

Initially, when people had said ‘have a nice day!’ I’d responded like some kind of pre-Hugh Grant character in a crap film, bumbling like an idiot: ‘Oh-oh-um, thank you – you too,’ before soon realizing (after about 24 hours) that this response tended to freak them out – no-one in NYC actually replied to such meaningless homilies – but then I was freaked out myself when they instead asked: are you from ENGLAND? I LOVE your accent – it’s so CUTE!  Do you know The Beatles or The Queen?

What could you do but smile sweetly and explain that England wasn’t that small and that the Queen and The Beatles were quite difficult to hang out with… although I couldn’t resist occasionally throwing-in the true story of my teenaged invasion of Apple Corps, The Beatles’ headquarters in Saville Row, in 1968 (when I was just 16), jamming with Bad Finger in the studio downstairs and being allowed to play John Lennon’s white, upright piano in the lobby. How the fuck did that happen? I guess I must have charmed them all.  Never met ‘the guys’ though… just George, a few years later in Bristol (after an excellent gig with Delaney And Bonnie in The Colston Hall) in the back seat of a tour bus – sitting with Eric Clapton. They both shook my hand… then I fled, perhaps mortified by the high level of fame and influence – or my own effrontery.

My first night in NYC became a blur of bars and clubs in that night’s corrupted, memory-bank file. I vaguely remember The Cock Ring in the meat-packing district (how appropriate) being utterly decadent and depraved, which was fun, if a little old-school-gay in terms of its dress code:  leather and denim (some things never change in gayville).

I was also pleased to note that NYC’s gay, ethnic mix was far more variegated than in London – where it was wall-to-wall white men (until I opened my first ground-breaking club three years later).  New York and London’s gay ‘villages’ were also totally male-dominated. Lesbians had virtually no presence on ‘the scene’ back in 1979… but that’s a whole different story, and, frankly, one about which I’m ill-qualified to discuss, as only a few lesbians have crossed my friendship trajectory. Is this because they hate men?  Even gay MEN?  Oh, grow-up girls! How can you hate men, if you try – in the case of you butch dykes – to BE men? PC be damned, lets talk truth! I’m not beholden to a charity or a political party, so tell me your thoughts if you wish. Uh oh, now I’m on dangerous ground. Bring it on.  In my experience, Dykes-who-hate-men really like their gay men to be compliant little queens – they can’t seem to get their heads around the concept of genuinely cool, masculine men who happen to be gay.  Like me.  So there… I said it.

We arrived at the recently-opened St Mark’s Baths at around 3am. Leonardo bumped into a ‘friend’ and, a few lines of coke later, I was horny as hell in this huge, extraordinarily decadent, yet pleasingly funky, air-conditioned and stylish complex – the look was NYC warehouse loft – for cruising – and having sex in little private cabins, or, if you preferred, something a little more orgiastic (not ‘me’ at all – I always preferred one-to-one) in the saunas, steam rooms, pool and chill-zones and ‘role-playing’ rooms such as faux prison cells (which I found, frankly, rather pathetic). Dressed only in white towels around their waists, guys would cruise around looking for their prey. I just went with the flow, utterly fascinated and totally beguiled by the beautiful men swirling around my consciousness like guests at my ultimate birthday party.

A beautiful mixed-race guy (he turned out to be Puerto Rican), who was around the same age as me, was lying on a bed-cum-bench in a private room with the door partially open, playing with his impressive dick, before he languidly turned onto his belly and showed-off his magnificent, muscled, round, lightly hairy butt.  I ‘hung’ on the wall opposite, and started to play with my hard-on under my towel. The guy turned and grinned at me, sniffed some poppers and invited me in. Wowee!

Skyscrapers and EVERYTHANG!

I awoke the next day at around noon to find Leonardo on the phone; apparently negotiating some kind of deal.  After an invigorating shower (America gives good shower), I came back into the room to find him still on the phone.  After I’d got dressed, he hung-up (no comment!) and suggested that we head for brunch in the local diner in a converted, fifties, aluminium (aloominum) railway carriage, with red plastic booths and chrome and yellow, formica tables.

Now I was in filmic, counter-culture retro-heaven! Buxom blondes in yellow and brown, 50s-style uniforms really DID ask how you wanted your eggs, just like in the movies: ‘Sunny side up, or eggs over easy sir?’ Cue much batting of false eyelashes. Totally delicious.

Later, whilst Leonardo took a shower, I made some phone calls to music-biz contacts and managed to make a couple of appointments. Then I called the Traniform office in London, knowing that Christabel would answer the phone and put me straight through to The Why’s manager Phil Oldbelly, as per our game-plan. ‘Good luck darling,’ she whispered conspiratorially, ‘and have a faaabulous time in the Big Apple!’

‘Believe me,’ I enthusiastically replied, ‘I already am…big time!

We both knew that Phil would agree to speak to me on hearing about me being in NYC with some fantastic new demos.

He’d been brought-up in the mean streets of Holloway, in Norf Laandan and had apparently spent several years in prison, for a crime that, naturally, he hadn’t committed.

‘So, Thom, I hear that you’re in New York with some hot demo tapes.’ Said Bill, sounding genuinely intrigued.  He was aware that I’d been in the Eaglekings, which looked  good in ‘the biog’.

‘Indeed I am, Phil, ‘I said, trying not to sound too hyped-up: ’It’s my first time and I’m loving it. The demos are fantastic and I’ve got an idea that I could make an album called Torn Genes – with genes spelt G-E-N-E-S – which is one of the stronger tracks…’

‘Torn Genes – I like that – clever play-on-words.  So how can I help?’

‘Well, I’d like you to open some doors for me, if you don’t mind.’

‘No problem,’ replied Phil, ‘but if you get a deal, we’ll get first refusal on managing you, Okay?’

‘Of course…absolutely.’ I agreed, trying not show my delight at such a positive outcome.

‘I’ll make a few calls to some bigwigs and Christabel will fax you with some names and numbers. Good luck!’

The fax arrived within the hour.  One of the names was Morris Douglas, who was apparently the President of Inco Records – not a mere A&R man – and the company was part of the hugely successful Warmer Music conglomerate. I immediately called the number and got straight through to his secretary, having mentioned the seemingly magical name Phil Oldbelly. The doors were evidently already opening, after just one day in The Big Apple. ‘Morris can see you at 3pm tomorrow, how does that sound?’

Wow! I thought, then said coolly ‘That sounds fine.  I look forward to seeing you then.’

‘Have a nice day.’

On the hotel roof.

On the hotel roof.

When he returned soon after, Leonardo asked if I wouldn’t mind doing some exploring on my own (mind? Pope – Catholic?  Bears – woods?) as he had some business to attend to.  I later discovered that this turned-out to be spending quality time with two hustlers (rent boys) and paying them for their services with several grams of coke.  Sleazy? Yeah – but pleasingly film-noir. I didn’t, however, feel the need to get dragged into the Count’s vortex, despite their hunky good looks, as I discovered when I came back later.

I had now been on my own magic carpet ride in solo NYC heaven as I headed off to discover the pleasures and treasures of The Village, Chelsea and wherever took my fancy. I was immediately walking on air (NYC, like London, is great city to walk for miles in) and feeling that I’d lived in this vibrant, atmospheric and visually stimulating city in a past life – perhaps in the 20s or 30s. I know; this was perhaps a clichéd caprice, but it was one that made me smile.

I was window-shopping and exploring those ubiquitous thrift shops (the original vintage chic), checking out left-field art galleries, reading The Village Voice in funky, boho cafes and floating on a funky wave of cultural stimulation.  The Village was just a giant cruise-fest! ‘This is what I CALL a holiday!’ I enthused to myself as I drank-in the cappuccino pleasures of downtown Manhattan like a dog on heat – with a parallel lust for art, counter-culture and street life. Woof!

Later that night, after our newly customary ‘disco nap’ The Count said that I would meet a friend of his – we were going to have dinner together – explaining that he didn’t want to reveal anything until we got to his home to pick him up, before going out to eat.

We arrived at the Chelsea Hotel – my first visit.  I was intrigued. A grand and lofty, neo gothic façade – about fifteen stories, by the look, and with a whole catalogue of lurid beatnik, hippy and punk stories within. The smallish-yet-atmospheric lobby was stuffed with artworks and over-stuffed, mis-matched (ah – so that’s where the Groucho Club in London got the idea a few years later?) sofas and armchairs.  The receptionist eyed us with practiced insouciance, whilst eating a Chinese takeway from a box with chopsticks, and enquired languidly:  ‘Yes? You have a booking?’

This was irrelevant. It turned-out that The Count’s friend lived and worked in what was the former ballroom of the Chelsea Hotel – just to the left of the reception desk – and literally painted all the covers of Zeitgeist, which was the hugely successful magazine owned by the highly successful, commercially-adroit artist Wally Android. The magazine was living-up to its cutting-edge-yet-totally-celeb-orientated content, in terms of its sudden success, perhaps on the back of Studio 54 and the slew of NYC hangouts where the louche got douched before they went… along with their ruched collars and rather indiscreet little bottles of cocaine worn as pendants beneath their shirts.

The artist – whose name I forget – ushered us into his huge, live-work space whilst sniffing loudly.  Let’s just say, it certainly wasn’t as a result of a cold. Three fat lines of optimum Columbian marching powder were laid out on a huge, orange sixties fiberglass table, with a lime green marble top.

By now, after just one day in NYC, I’d realized that The Count was hopelessly strung-out on coke.  It wasn’t difficult. After waking-up and ordering a double-espresso each for us from the local deli,  he would make huge double lines of coke – and offer me one too.  I always declined.  A line of coke for breakfast was just a debauchery-too-far for me. I needed several cups of tea! And the Americans had no idea how to make it: warm water in a coffee cup with a Liptons tea-bag on a string?  Soooo wrong. Then he would carry on making huge lines around every fifteen minutes throughout the day. What a mess. But he did seem to maintain some decorum – perhaps it was down to his ‘blue’ Italian blood.

Having expressed my lack of interest in snorting high-grade cocaine regularly throughout the day (although I can think of several former partners in crime who would jump at the chance) – I confess, however, that I certainly didn’t mind the odd line after dinner (Leonardo was soon to take me and the Zeitgeist artist to eat at my first-ever visit to a Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side – Sushi being the ideal food to eat on coke, being mostly protein). Thereafter, I was spirited into a deliciously intense night of fleeting visits (this being my second night) to gay bars and clubs, then on to the ultimate destination in downtown Manhattan in 1979… but not before some interesting interludes.

Having tooted the fat lines and admired the painter’s (I’ll call him Rudy) portraits which were stacked around the floor of his studio like two-dimensional, celebrity trophies (Bianca, Mick, Bowie, Vanderbilt etc), Leonardo told me, over dinner in the Japanese restaurant, that he was going to drive us to Alphabet City, the darker, dangerous underbelly of the lower East Side – although this was more based on him and ‘Rudy’ ‘looking for a booking’ with the twin, low-life thrills of rent boys-and-coke-dealer combined; as I was soon to discover.

Suddenly, as Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ pumped through the Fiat’s speakers, we were driving through a would-be film set that again evoked Mad Max, one the big movie hits of that year, starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner.

The streets of Alphabet City were strewn with rubbish and detritus – mostly burnable stuff – perfect for the hobos, junkies, hustlers, hookers, winos and no-hopers to ignite in disused oil cans on the street corners.  As we stopped at a red light (I was hoping we might have jumped it), several rather menacing-looking, zombiesque characters approached the car wielding pieces of wood. It could well have been the prequel to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, not that we’d have known it at the time, as the album wasn’t released ubntil 1982. They had just started rocking the little Fiat as the lights changed and we swiftly headed to some seedy rendezvous that The Count had pre-arranged in a seriously low-rent tenement block on Avenue B.

Four floors up an outdoor, stone stairwell and we were in a tiny apartment with, perhaps conveniently, three rather handsome guys – two white/Latino and one black (mine? I wondered) reposing on grubby mattresses on the floor, smoking dope and chopping-out massive lines of coke on a large, empty upturned aquarium, which seemed to serve as a ‘coffee table’.

Why hadn’t they put a light inside it and lined it with various-coloured gels?  Hey – I guess that was just me – always and forever a chief inspector in the Interior Design Police! And I had to reluctantly remind myself that these were hustlers and dealers. Are all these people inherently bad? I asked myself, whilst enjoying another fat line of coke and flirting with the handsome black guy… how dare I make judgements about people whom, I can only assume, are merely trying to survive in this teeming metropolis. They seemed nice enough and even delivered intellectual ripostes to my cheekily subversive mental red herrings. What was not to like – apart from the décor?

Leonardo appeared to be not best pleased when the handsome black man ushered me through a velvet curtain into a small alcove containing a mattress covered (thankfully) with a clean-looking, fifties ‘comforter’ (quilt or duvet to us Europeans). He looked at me with a lovely, white-toothed smile and gave me a big hug. Damn! What else could I do but kiss him?  I knew that no money was going to change hands between us.  I figured that the other four were no doubt happily thrashing around in their throes of highness. It’s nice to be naughty in NYC, I thought, but I almost fell for my beautiful hustler/dealer and he for me… before we metaphorically realized that there was no hope. But it was a beautiful, poignant moment, as he looked me in the eyes, hugged me manfully and said. Next time Mr… just you and me in reality.

After a couple of hours, the three of us were heading uptown.  Leonardo wanted to surprise me, he said. We parked in a nondescript street, which contained mostly warehouses. As we walked towards what appeared to be an old theatre, a huge crowd of people – all dressed (outrageously) to impress – were spilling across the street and waving and shouting at a tall, black man dressed as a circus ringmaster, holding a clipboard, surrounded by enormous security guards, all dressed in black suits, and gathered behind a red velvet rope on silver stanchions.

Welcome to Studio 54, said the ‘door whore’  with a rictus grin, as we were fast-tracked through the baying mob and into the newly infamous club.  It was cool (thanks to effective air-con) and relatively empty – as it was only midnight. The décor of the bar and lounge areas of this lofty, softly-lit, black and silver space was minimalist but plush – there were huge flower arrangements everywhere– and all the waiters and bartenders looked like models, or porn stars. The men were dressed in black Levis, with no tops on, and the women in black mini-skirts and white blouses, unbuttoned and knotted around their waists. The music was pumping disco, of course (the flashing DJ box was right in the middle of the stage), but this was a very streety, funky version (soon to be dubbed ‘New York Garage’), and the dance floor was already jumping. The balcony was still raked, but the seats had all been removed and replaced with large, rectangular, stepped boxes, which were covered with grey carpet and multi-coloured cushions, where people could lounge, drink and smoke and watch the heaving dance floor below.

180px-Studio_54_logo

I watched from this vantage point as the place filled-up with a fantastic, colourful mix of people. Above the stage, and stretching for its full width, there was a kind of bridge, and suddenly, that too filled with exotically-dressed, half-naked dancers all punching the air and whooping and hollering as, much to my surprise, the ‘bridge’ suddenly, slowly started moving and came right over the top of the dancefloor and seemed to hover like some kind of spaceship, with banks of multi-coloured lights flashing, whilst expelling great clouds of dry ice and smoke.

Leonardo came to find me and said that it would be fun to meet the manager, who was British. We were ushered through another, velvet rope, up several flights of nondescript, concrete stairs and then found ourselves in the famous office – the ultimate VIP destination in NYC – and were soon drinking champagne and snorting huge lines of coke with the manager (whose name, perhaps not surprisingly, I forget) and his cohorts and celebrity guests.

After a while Leonardo said that we should go downstairs, but instead of heading for the dance floor, we went down into the dimly-lit bowels of the building, where, much to my amazement, a huge orgy – mostly gay – was taking place. My jaw dropped, and I could see that the count and the painter were obviously game for these shenanigans, but I wasn’t. In my opinion, having experienced some group sex in the early 70s, orgies were just an excuse for ugly people to get a piece of the action, albeit vicariously.

‘Have you ever seen such divine decadence?’ Whispered ‘Rudy’ in my ear. I just shrugged,

And in all the acres of print that have been written about Studio 54, I’ve never come across a mention of that infamous basement.  Perhaps it was a closely guarded secret – unlike the super-VIP office.

The next afternoon, I was able to easily walk to Inco records and set off with my tapes, after a long, restorative shower, then brunch in one of the local ‘delis’, with my heart gently pounding with excitement.  I was even more fired-up when I realized that the office was on the 28th floor of one of that clutch of skyscrapers that surround Rockerfeller Plaza and its famous ice rink. This was Gotham City man!

The high-speed lift opened into a capacious, plush, mirrored lobby featuring giant white leather sofas, huge palm trees and a massive, curved, red lacquered desk, behind which sat a power-dressed, elegantly coiffed young woman, whom, I was delighted to observe, was doing her nails whilst talking into a red phone which was cradled on her shoulder (thanks for the deliciously clichéd cinematic vignette, honey).  She smiled, and waved for me to sit down – a security guy in the ground floor lobby having already announced my imminent arrival. There’s no way that I’d have reached the 28th floor without those proverbial doors being opened by Phil Oldbelly. My heart was in my mouth as she announced – rather like the receptionist in ‘The Apprentice’ – that ‘Mister Douglas will see you now, his secretary is here to take you though.’

Another immaculately-dressed (Chanel?) and coiffed woman swung through the double doors and greeted me effusively:  how is Phil, we haven’t seen him for a month or so, but we know he has a very good ear for talent – so Morris…Mister Douglas is looking forward to hearing your demos.’

She ushered me into a huge office, the black leather walls of which were covered in gold, silver and platinum albums.  Morris Douglas was – rather theatrically, I thought – admiring the incredible view of Manhattan from behind his desk and swung around in an over-sized, black leather chair as Claudia, his secretary (always get their names – they hold the power of access), introduced me.  He stood up and came around the massive art deco desk to shake my hand enthusiastically, asking how I knew Phil.  He motioned me to sit, returning to his seat as I explained that I was close friends with Christabel, who ran Phil’s office. ‘Of course I know Christabel,’ enthused Morris, ‘Phil would be lost without her undoubted administrative and political skills.’ Then added, ‘so you were with The Eaglekings – why did you leave?’

I briefly explained why: then… the moment had come. He asked for a cassette, and I handed it over the desk and he slotted it into a towering stereo system, with huge speakers suspended in the four corners of his office, closed his eyes and swung around in his chair as the first track ‘Twisted Sister’, with its punchy, dirty synth riff, pumped out at high volume. After a minute or so, he swung back around grinning, giving me the thumbs-up, then carried on listening, jigging around in his chair and tapping his feet to the hypnotic rhythm and sneery-but-cool vocals.  Then he listened to the more downtempo and contemplative ‘Torn Jeans’ and turned again and shouted ‘This is terrific man!’

I took a deep breath, so as not to hyperventilate, thinking: is this really happening? He listened to all five tracks on the tape. Then he jumped-up and put his phone on speaker-mode and barked:  Claudia, honey, you’ve gotta get the A&R guys in here right now!  This English guy just walks-in off the street and he’s the goddam NEW SPRINGSTEEN!’

Walked-in off the street my ass! I thought to myself, with a wonderful warm feeling flowing through me like fine wine, as his entire A&R team of five guys  – sporting lurid satin tour jackets and pot-bellies – soon sauntered in to hear the music and beamed and shook my hand vigorously, as if to say, ‘Hey, if The President likes this shit, it’s gotta be HOT!’

The guys all shouted their approval after each track and Morris Douglas grinned, as if he’d personally discovered ‘The New Springsteen.’

Well, I guess I do sound quite like him, with a bit of Bowie and Otis Redding (I wish) thrown in for good luck… I mused to myself.

All the A&R guys clapped and whooped as the last track played and again shook my hand and slapped my shoulders enthusiastically.

‘Right guys, whadda ya say I offer this guy Thom Topham – that’s a GOOD name – a deal right here, right now?’

The A&R team all whooped and hollered – like trained seals.

My inwardly-focussed eyes were metaphorically popping out as I tried to maintain my composure. ‘Listen Thom,’ Morris said emphatically, ‘I’m gonna call Phil in London and I’ll get back to you tomorrow… with a deal on the table.’

The receptionist smiled indulgently as she said goodbye (she’d evidently already heard my good news about ‘this British guy who was the new Springsteen’ on the internal, jungle drums), as I left; and I couldn’t resist punching the air and doing a mildly triumphant victory dance across the glamourous lobby and into the lift – sorry, elevator – then back down into the teeming streets of my newly favourite city in the whole world.

 

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 10.

13 May

Poverty, Promiscuity, Paranoia, Parables… and Princesses.

TT 1979

“Sat. 6. 7. ‘79.

£5 to last the rest of my life!

The future of humanity will not manifest itself performing under The Westway.  Stories… tales of the shitty city.  A fenced-in expression of society’s disgust.  I should, I could have got up on that stage and shouted it out, but the bedraggled audience were too scraggy and insignificant to make it worth my while.

At least, on this occasion, it was possible for any no-hoper to get up and scream out his pain/ego/demons/traumas (delete where applicable) to a raggle-taggle hotchpotch of old hippies, Hells Angels, tourists, freaks, punks, leather-queens, gender-benders, chick-with-dicks, proto-anarchists, members of campaign groups such as Rock Against Racism and Legalise Cannabis… and me.

The DJs seemed to be running the show, with a rather irritating and unnecessary, vaguely Rastaaaafariii (mostly white) running commentary on the mic’, echoing around the arch beneath the motorway to the two or three hundred people drifting around, or sitting on the stony ground getting drunk and/or stoned.

Chain-link fences, barbed wire, concrete, graffiti, rusting corrugated iron, struggling saplings, and rubbish everywhere.

A tube train rattled by and at first I thought that it was part of the music. Hey, I confess that I broke one of my own rules by having a daytime joint,

Punk is so dated already, so last year; but I have a certain admiration for the whole ghetto-gang shabang. Hippies and punks, gays and football hooligans, Rastafarians and trustafarians, rude boys and rent boys and all the variants thereof. The un-united tribes of London.  Everything sub-cultural and ‘minority’ eventually gets absorbed into the mainstream (which is so typically British), from the Westway to the West Coast of the US. Perhaps it gets subjugated and absorbed into the blandness of it all, exploiting its inherent weakness, finding cracks; the San Andreas Fault, searching for eccentric Americans who’ve discovered irony living under a rock.  Intelligent neurosis is soft-centred… and a harder nut to crack.

Sunday 7. 7. ’79. < < < Three sevens! Wowee?  Full moon? I hope so. I enjoy a bit of mystical madness.

Slept and slept and slept. Am I cracking up? William played god today – gave me a fiver. The phone is not working – has it been cut-off again? Is there anything else left to go wrong? Oh!  The gas is still on, at least. Feel like getting drunk.

Monday 8. 7. ’79.

Yep, that was a good idea. I actually felt confident and relaxed and had a good time at the dreaded Bellstaff in Earls Court – England’s oldest gay pub (usually with a clientele to match – but this time it was different, if you ignored all the old leather- queens discussing opera and musical theatre), as I met a bouncy Yank who was both a music teacher and a gymnast – a near-perfect combination. His name is Mike and he has hard muscles and baby hair. Made me feel alive again – so much so that I couldn’t sleep. I guess that’s the price you pay on the rare occasion when you meet what appears to be a truly desirable man:  chunky, hunky, funky, spunky, punky… great sex, warmth and intellect too!  He thought I was Spanish or Italian initially – so do lots of people.

What am I going to do for four days before I see Johnny and Thomas? Arghh! No money.  Must try and relax – but how? I’m in the danger zone again and my Wurlitzer is virtually unplayable – there’s something wrong with the mechanism behind the notes. And I want Alfred.  HELP!

Now I’ve been round to see him and I don’t think I want him anymore.  How refreshing to be wrong.”

I put down the book, and try to remember who Johnny, Thomas and Alfred were – or maybe still are.  Thirty one years eh? William, I can still vouch for as a talented screen-writer and conceptualist who never really ‘made it’ (sound familiar anyone?) who now runs a video shop in his native Scotland, somewhere near Inverness, I believe, so I never see him, although we still crack jokes with each other on People Pages. ‘Home-made’ ones, as it were, as opposed to the ‘have you heard the one about the whatever’ variety, which tend to spout from ‘blokes’ whose mates repeat some racist or sexist joke ‘down the pub’ and viralise it, fueled by a pint or six. Shudder. A truly redundant form of recycling, without any apparent benefits to anyone, apart from the malignant, macho morons of this world.

In my diary, however.  I was evidently having a terrible time of merely surviving, despite having a music-publishing deal.  The phone was regularly being cut off, due to my non-payment of the bill (although it makes me chuckle to recall that I’d usually get it put back on using a different name).

Back in the 70s there were red phone boxes on many street corners. A story springs to mind. The nearest one to me when I was still living in the dingy basement at St Dukes Road in 1979 was outside the wonderful Spanish deli that used to be next door to the local pub on Westbourne Grove, the name of which I’ve forgotten (it’s probably been renamed The Royal Trustafarian now). One sunny afternoon I raided my ‘change pot’ to use the phone box (copper coins were acceptable in those days), which was occupied when I got there. I only realized this when I tugged open the door (they are quite heavy, as anyone over forty might remember) to find myself almost walking straight into a beautiful young, mixed-race man, wearing khaki shorts and a white vest, which displayed his muscular limbs to perfection.  I apologized profusely. He smiled, looked me in the eye, cupped his hand over the receiver and said, softly and sweetly: ‘I won’t be long’, then continued to smile at me whilst talking on the phone as I waited outside, smiling back at him.

Something was afoot!

When he came out I patted him lightly on the shoulder and said “Oh bugger the phone call, I’d rather bugger you!’ Or… probably  something less crudely forward.

My ‘gaydar’ had indeed been correct and we ended up having a wonderful time… and beautiful, fabulous sex.  Better still, he was actually an apprentice footballer with West Ham. Phwooooar!  Fantasy, or what? Sadly, I never saw him again.  I used to look out for him for years whenever The Hammers were on TV, to no avail.  I guess I’ll never know what happened to him… unless, of course, he’s reading this.

The iPhone ‘tings’ and I pick it up see that I’ve had a missed called from my French friend Marcel. The signal here in Cornwall is so pathetic that you have to go outside and walk up the Cleave for about thirty yards to even text someone.  It’s not only my mobile broadband dongle suffering from unplanned obsolescence: albeit temporarily. Both sim cards are on O!U, whose nearest mast, as you might recall, is ten miles (over the hills and far) away.

I call back Marcel on the landline. He answers ‘Allo…’ slightly questioningly, as he obviously doesn’t recognize this Cornish number. French accents are always so pleasing on the ear, I find, especially when the participants are being mischievous, or telling jokes. The French also ‘get’ irony, it would seem.

‘Marcel, hey, it’s Thom – I’m at the cottage in Cornwall – you called mon petit ami straight?’

He chuckles at my Franglais.

Oui, mon vieux queer Anglaise… how is ze wethurr down there?’

‘It’s parfait, mate, beacoup de soleil, et je suis un petit brun!  How are you – what was the call in aid of?’

‘I’m good mon ami.  Well, I have this French friend who came to visit London for the first time and he wanted to go – can you believe it? – to The Hard Rock café…’

‘…The HARD ROCK CAFÉ?  NO-one in London EVER goes there!  Only tourists!’

‘Exactomundo!’ Says Marcel ‘but he really wanted to go ; anyway, after queuing for about half an hour – big yawnz – we got a table for two right in the middle of the restaurant by the central pillar, underneath your album Mediums…’

‘No! What? You’re kidding me?’

‘No I’m not!  My friend was very impressed when I said that I knew you. The depiction of your album on the pillar is like a glass painting of the cover, an etching perhaps, and it’s back-lit, just above head height.’

I don’t believe it!’ I say, doing a Victor Meldrew; ‘but… that means it must have been there for over thirty-six years! I simply don’t believe it!’

‘Well, you do ‘ave one foot in ze grave!’

Yes, hmm, well, let’s NOT go there right now…

 ‘I’ve been FRAMED – and I didn’t even know!’

Oui, oui, c’est vrai, mais ce n’est pas mal!’

‘I guess not.  Sometimes you get happy mediums when you least expect them.’

Oui oui! Like my hamburger at the Hard Rock – I asked for mediums rare…’

‘… and they brought you a well-done, old friend on the pillar! Cha boom!’

‘Ze mediums is ze message!’

We both laugh.

‘Well, thanks for letting me know – I’m genuinely shocked.  And the weird thing is that it was reissued last year on Grapes Of Wrath Records.  I think I might have to write a song about it called You’ve Been Framed!’

‘Nice play-on-words Thom. I’ve got to go – le touriste wants to go to Madame Tussaud’s…’

‘…Is it still THERE? At least Madame Tussaud was French.  Now if you can persuade him to go somewhere that’s cool AND Franglais, you should take him to The Café De Paris.’

‘Ah hah! That’s a good idea. Didn’t you play there with your band… with the famous drummer?’

‘…BiJingo.  Yes, in 2007. Our one and only gig.’

‘Well, c’est la vie.  I ‘av to go!’

Au revoir. A bientot!!’

You’be been framed  hovers in my mind like a word-cloud which is about to produce light, summer rain – in the form of arcane, poetic lyrics. So, I instinctively pick-up my current notebook and start to write.  It comes pouring out just like the epic title track of my first album ‘Mediums’ (that has famously, of course, been on the central pillar of The Hard Rock Café for over thirty-six years), which was written from ‘spirit’ and was actually about what the lyrics pertained to – automatic writing – just like when I wrote intuitively about the secret garden and the oubliette dungeon in the environs of the cathedral in Ibiza town back in ’88.

 You’ve Been Framed

Look out for the hidden messages…

No nothing will ever be the same

You are the flotsam and jetsam of the past.

And people who refuse to play the game

will be guaranteed to always be the last

In the queue where no-one knows your name

you are forgotten like 80s ghetto blasters,

it’s so cynical and clinical, oh the shame

like a roller-coaster ride that’s always going faster…

You’ve been framed – like a Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster,

You gotta play the game to please your masters.

Hung up on a wall for ever after, in the hall of fame of tears and laughter..

You’ve been framed, you’ve been named.  It will never be the same.

In the middle of London’s Hard Rock Cafe – look out for the hidden messages….

Seen in every portrait, there’s a truth and there’s a lie

and everything that you were taught is an idea coming from on high,

Look out for the hidden messages….

by the spin doctors of phoney thoughts,  religions based on power,

hypocrisy from twisted minds who would crush anything that flowers.

Look out for the hidden messages….

In the queue where no-one knows your name,

you are forgotten like 80s ghetto blasters,

it’s so cynical and clinical, oh the shame

like a roller-coaster ride that’s always going faster…

You’ve been framed – like a Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster,

You gotta play the game to please your masters.

Look out for the hidden messages….

Hung up on every wall for ever after, in the hall of fame of tears and laughter,

You’ve been Framed, you’ve been named. It will never be the same.

In the middle of London’s Hard Rock Cafe – look out for the hidden messages.

You’ve been framed.

 (Words and music by Thom Topham ©  Copyright Control.  All Rights Reserved).

The Interior Of London's Hard Rock Cafe

The Interior Of London’s Hard Rock Cafe

Joyce the cleaner pops her head around the door and says brightly: ‘Right, that’s me all done, I just need to put the Hoover back in the cupboard under the stairs. Well, it’s not a Hoover, it’s a Henry – isn’t it funny how we call all vacuum cleaners Hoovers?’

‘…even Dysons,’ I interject, with a chuckle, ‘and all ball-point pans are Biros, regardless.  Well, that’s the power of good branding I guess.’

She puts the Henry back in the cupboard under the stairs in the corner, then nods in the direction of my open notebook and asks: ‘Writing a song then?’

‘I think so.  It looks like it’s going to be called You’ve Been Framed – a bit of a play on words.’

‘Sounds interesting… do you think Amy Winehouse has been framed by the press, what with them hounding her all the time? Do you know her? I think she’s so talented, but somehow so screwed-up.’

‘Well, she’s certainly a rich source of stories for the tabloids – partly her own fault, I guess, with what appears to be her addictive personality and her apparent lack of self-esteem.  I think that she’s incredibly talented and deserves every plaudit that comes her way. I don’t actually know her, but I do know her bass player and guitarist – both of them have played at my jam sessions on several occasions.  I’m particularly friendly with Dave Daleham – he’s her musical director. He played bass on three of my BiJingo tracks’

‘Ooh – I love your BiJingo stuff as well! But what about that awful, junkie husband of hers – he went to prison didn’t he?’

Love Is A Losing Game indeed – that’s my favourite Amy song.  Well, they divorced last year, thank god. She’s a got a new boyfriend now, he’s a film director, I believe.’

‘I hope she cleans-up her act, otherwise I think she might kill herself with all that excess…’  She trails off, then shakes her head and adds brightly: ‘Anyway, I must  be off!  Lovely to chat.  Hope to see you again soon!’

‘I’ve got to get the train back to London at 4, or should I say sixteen hundred hours? I always hate to leave, especially when the weather is so wonderful. You take care!’

I’m about to go and sit on the sea wall in the sunshine, perhaps for one last time, when a cloud obscures the sun, and a  sudden, silvery drizzle forms a gossamer curtain out in the bay.  I go out to the front door and watch as it approaches; then a huge rainbow suddenly appears above the village. The mythical pot of gold is up on what I call the Field Of Gravity, I muse to myself, then wonder if it’s a sign of sorts.  My fantasy of a potential, magical festival…

 There’s still a while before I have to get the bus back to Raleigh, so I make myself some more minty tea in the kitchen, then decide to dip-back into the roller-coaster year of ’79, wondering if the fortunes of my twenty seven-year old self had improved yet. It’s July the fourteenth, I observe, as I open the notebook. When did Leonardo, the Italian Count, eventually take me to New York? Was it in September of that year that I suddenly had some rocket-fuelled success? I don’t want to’ cheat’ by fast-forwarding; I’d like to understand my mind-set-of-the-time more fully.  After all, this is the first time I’ve read this notebook in – gasp! – over thirty years!

“Sat. 14. 7. 79

I have to thank the weather and various angels for helping me out this last week.  Beautiful sunshine and sultry summer nights. The last few days have been unusually carefree, apart from the ever-present paranoia about my relentless poverty.  On Thursday I waited for over three hours to see Stirling Johnson – my music publisher – who was getting pissed with someone who is vaguely famous and not very talented.  Eventually I got to play the arrogant bastard my new songs and he said that he really liked them,  declaring himself to be definitely impressed. Really. Impreshed.  Well, he was stupidly drunk.  Got home and collapsed, with just 20p in my pocket.

Later on, I decided to take John and Joseph a cassette and they loved the songs, cooked us all a delicious meal and gave me a lift to the Trop’, where Rick, my regular fuck-buddy, ex-army hunk and a working rent boy – well, rent man (not that he’d dream of charging me) – supplied me with money for drinks all night – and I somehow managed to come out with a profit!  Enough for brunch the next day.

On Wednesday, Jeremy had rescued me with a perfect day at The Y (Y.M.C.A) on Tottenham Court Road and dinner at Fred Dexter’s – where he’s the Maitre D’, of course. Fabulous.

On Thursday I’d ended-up having a good honest fuck with Mark – again – with some emotional response, for a change.

On Friday, Jeremy did it again by treating me to a swim and a sauna at the Y followed by dinner at Melksham’s in Covent Garden (an English restaurant specializing in pies, owned by the eponymous noble lord), where we stuffed ourselves silly. Then on to the Trop’, somewhat predictably, where everyone seemed unusually laid-back – must’ve been the glorious weather.

There were even scores of attractive men, including someone I’ve been after for years (I’ve even dedicated poems to him in the past), but he’d never seemed tempted. On Friday, I sensed that he was aware of my presence and was making a bad job of ignoring me and trying not to smile; but evidently he was with a bunch of friends.

We finally made contact; the attraction seemed mutual, yet muted. Then, as he left, (he appeared to be quite drunk), I called cheekily ‘Do I have to wait another five years?’

Jeremy and I had decided that it was time to leave and we hung around outside, as did lots of other people – I was feeling quite sozzled –  then Mr Five-Years-Of Nothing came back around the corner and smiled at me as he came close and I just said: ‘Will you come home with me?’ And he said ‘Yes’.

I was surprised… but not really.

Name: Den.  Occupation: dog-handler.  Face: beautiful.  Smile: melter! Nice man, easy-going, relaxed. We made LOVE… I’d almost forgotten what it was like. It was a shame that he had to leave at dawn to get back to his dogs.

I slept very well and woke-up feeling fresh and alive – and it was another beautiful day.  The song ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’ from ‘My Fair Lady’ was running on repeat in my head, which was quite annoying, but still made me smile. I had brunch in the café in Holland Park with Christa, but there was a slight tension between us, which is unusual. I think it’s maybe because I’m broke and she, quite rightly, resents giving me handouts. We spent the afternoon in the park with the dogs and I bumped into Francisco… and we talked. He seemed pleased to see me. I think he’s one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever met (and shagged) – a true, golden Adonis.  He’s Portuguese, tall and athletic, with dark olive skin and naturally blond, curly hair. I was hoping that he’d like a re-run of our passionate night together a few weeks ago. I certainly wouldn’t object.  I’d met him in the Italian Garden in Hyde Park – another popular, yet more subtly, dare-I-say discreet (I hate that word) cruising spot in ‘The Royal Parks’ at the Western end of the Serpentine lake. He has to go to work – he’s a waiter – but he smiled as he walked away, backwards, holding an imaginary phone to his ear. Good – that means he’s going to call.“

I stroke my goatee thoughtfully as a bunch of kids on mini-scooters clatter noisily by the cottage’s windows – and endeavor to remember if I ever saw Francisco again.  I recall that he lived in a basement bed-sit in Bayswater (sounds like a line from a song by The Betting Shop Boys) and we had a romantic fling for a while, before his father suddenly, unexpectedly died and he had to return to Lisbon, never to be seen again. Sigh. Not exactly a Portuguese Man O’War, but certainly another fine ship that passed in the night.

I flick through the notebook again – lots of lyric-writing (‘By The Ruins Of The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon’ about the cruising area of Hampstead Heath, for instance); angst about survival – I was truly living on a knife-edge – and philosophical musings and poetry, such as:

‘Lying in the sun, in the alcoholics’ garden, with the noise of the traffic drowning out the birds.  Nothing to be done; survival getting harder, another day of tension as I’m just waiting for the word.’

Then more and more increasingly solid and assured strong structures – lyrics, chords and melodies (I always write the principle notes of the main melody above the lyrics) –  start to develop through the pages.  The album was evidently beginning to take shape, not that I knew that at the time.  Having made some very basic ‘demo-demos’ in the poorly-equipped little studio at Warmer Music, although actually getting a couple of days in there was something of an achievement in itself.  However, I wasn’t very pleased with them, despite the fact that my drunken publisher had been impreshed ; there was something lacking – like a backing band – a goddamn 70s Linn drum machine does not provide sufficient oomph.  I’d been hassling my publisher  (whose company Big Ben Music was licenced through Warmer Music) to cough-up some money to put me in a proper studio with the musicians of my choice.  Then I found myself budgeting for that eventuality, making lists of goals, songs, people to see in the music biz… and starting to take control of my life, not just languishing in my ongoing poverty.

This approach was soon, at last, to reap dividends. Sterling had finally agreed to fund the sessions to the tune of £250 – which, however,  simply wasn’t enough.  I’d worked-out that I needed around £450 (which would be about equivalent to ten times that amount today) to get the results I needed.  But Leonardo had promised to help me fund some demos – so everything was swifly falling into place.  The knowledge that I’d finally won the support of my publisher, as well as The Count  had spurred me on to write some powerful, dark-yet-uplifting songs.  The project was evolving into a potential concept album about life on the streets, cruising and survival; and what would become the apposite title track ‘Torn Genes’ had started developing in my notebook

‘Torn genes, from the leather queens, to the cowboys and the clones.

Torn genes, from some magazines, not just words, but sticks and stones.

Torn genes, like those darker dreams, that can chill you to the bone.

Torn genes, like a silent scream, then you’re walking home alone…’

So often, I would walk home from the bars and clubs in Earls Court through the beautiful, half mile-long Holland Walk, a curiously romantic place, both visually and in my mind. I used to love singing soulfully there, just making stuff up, whilst drifting in my own world and heading for my bed, or perhaps, someone to share it with (which often happened as well, generally organically, rather than by the homogenous ‘gay rules’ of detachment).  I didn’t give a damn what people thought.   Reading those rather dark and dissolute lyrics reminds me of a series of extraordinary incidents which occurred on ‘The Walk’ which are related by a common thread: it was either the threat or the actuality of violence… but there was also always the risk of being arrested simply for being there, or for shagging in the park, having jumped over the fence. On other occasions there could be high farce, like the time I was heading home via ‘The Walk’ and heard raucous laughter in the distance. As I reached the second locked gate that led into the park, I was astonished to see three drunken, uniformed policemen on the other side waving daffodils – it must have been spring –  at the astonished cruisers. Yes, I really had to pinch myself, blink and shake my head with that particular vignette. It wasn’t a hallucination – it really happened.

In the early hours of another morning that year, I remember crossing Kensington High Street and entering Holland Walk through those huge, ornate gates, which were always open – as it was a pedestrian thoroughfare (to the immediate left, the curvaceous green roof and the turquoise façade of the 50s architectural gem The Commonwealth Institute used to provoke fantasies of me turning it into the most unusual club in London.  I believe that these days it’s standing empty, which is a great shame, and a waste of a great space). On this occasion, however, I ‘smelt’ that something wasn’t quite right. Why was there a great wave of woofters –  some with dogs – heading towards me at speed?  As they approached, I asked a cloney bloke with two, large chocolate-brown poodles, what was going on – was there a police raid? He replied that that wasn’t the case, but that there was a large gang of youths shouting abuse and causing trouble.  I asked whether they were queer-bashing people –  and he replied that he wasn’t sure if they were or not.

So I started shouting at the fleeing faggots, admonishing them for being a bunch of pansy cowards. Why wouldn’t they just turn around – complete with ‘attack-poodles’ – and face-up to their erstwhile attackers, who were apparently a bunch of kids?  There were at least a hundred of us – so I suggested that we face-up the little fuckers!  They ignored me and streamed out of the gates. What a bunch of wusses.

I was determined to not be beaten (either figuratively or literally) by some ignorant teenaged boys, so strode manfully up ‘The Walk’ singing soulfully, as was my wont, until I reached the bench that was positioned by the entrance to the Youth Hostel, which is all that remains of Holland House, the park being its former grounds, which had been purchased by London County Council in the the year I was born, from it’s last owner, the 6th Earl Of Ilchester (it says here  on my MAC – now that I’m editing and revising all this at home: ah – the joys of Google and Wikipedia!).

I sat down on the bench and started to make a roll-up.  I could hear the ‘gang’ approaching, but their shouting was becoming more and more muted, as there was obviously no-one left to abuse – apart from me, I suppose. Eventually, it just became teenaged chatter as they drew level with where I was sitting, as I lit my cigarette. I nodded at them – they looked about 17 or 18 years-old and there were perhaps twelve of them, mostly white. There were three mixed-race boys too. One of them asked me for a light and I lit his cigarette for him, asking him what all the shouting was about. He replied that ‘they were just having a bit of a laugh’.  The other boys shuffled their feet sheepishly.

‘You’re not queer are you?’ Asked a white boy, as if to suggest that I couldn’t be, because I didn’t look it.

‘Does it matter whether I am or am not? I suggested, shrugging, with a grin. ‘As it happens, I am, and I don’t give a damn what you think…’

‘You don’t look queer mate,’ said the mixed-race boy with the cigarette, ‘what’s it like to be a homo?’

I suggested that, if they’d like to know, that they were welcome; but to bear in mind that not all queers, homos or gay people, were homogenous, or  ‘the same’, but that we were a minority which comprised different cultures and personalities, predilections and preferences, just like black people, for instance, and that, ultimately, we were just human beings. Then I started revealing the names of some famous people – singers, sports-people – who were gay (if not ‘out’) and that really grabbed their interest and soon they were sitting on the grass in front of me in a neat semi-circle. The ‘queer-bashers’ had been neutralized – and I was rather pleased that my devil-may-care – perhaps brave – approach had worked.  It could have all turned out quite differently, but my instincts proved to be correct.

After about half an hour of ‘education’ from Thom T – it transpired that they all attended the famously liberal, comprehensive school which was adjacent to the park – they all shook my hand and trooped off – newly enlightened; leaving me with a smile on my face and  sporting a pleasantly proactive, metaphorical productivity badge.

On another occasion – I think it was a couple of years earlier –  I had been heading home through ‘The Walk’ on a cold autumn night – it was pretty deserted as a result – and heard a commotion up ahead and came across a white thug actually attacking a black guy, who I assumed to be gay. My survival instinct kicked-in so I shouted forcefully at him to stop, which, to my amazement he did, and ran off. The black guy was just a bit winded and his face (which was very handsome) was bleeding slightly.

Once he’d caught his breath, he smiled, looked me in the eye (he had huge, soulful eyes) and thanked me profusely for rescuing him, and asked if I would like to come for a drink at his flat around the corner in Philbeach Gardens (how very posh!). I happily agreed and was pleased when he hugged me, This not-so-beaten homosexual appeared to be one beautiful (and, as it soon transpired) intelligent and charming man.

His flat was a spacious, one-bedroom garden flat which was very stylish and chic – he evidently had style and taste as well.  I asked him his name as he poured me a Remi Martin.

‘Rodney Meadows’, he replied.

That rang a bell somewhere… wasn’t he the up-and-coming couturier who’d grown-up in a children’s home?

‘Didn’t I read something about you in The Evening News?’ I asked, as he handed me a large brandy glass – swilling it around and taking a grateful gulp.

‘Yeah – Black, British Former Orphan Dresses Foreign Princesses,’ he said in a mockney voice, then, reverting to his well-spoken self, added: ‘all a bit embarrassing really, as they are just faux royalty from some tin pot principality.  I met them at a party and now they’ve become customers.’

‘A terrific career boost though, ‘I suggested clinking his glass, as he sat down beside me on the huge, low-slung, black leather, Italian sofa. Our eyes met… and… well, you can guess.

We had a wonderful night together, which soon evolved into an easy-going semi-relationship, for about six months, before he became something of a shooting star in in the fickle world of fashion and got swept-up into that swirling whirlpool of cocktails, air-kissing, bitching and bullshit.

We always stayed as friends – we recently ‘added’ each other on People Pages – and subsequently, I couldn’t resist privately asking him my veritable pertinent question in his ‘inbox’: ‘So how is the Princess?’ Knowing full well what his reply would be.

‘Which one?’

//

//

2012 in review

12 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 1,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

//

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 9.

11 Dec

My Unplanned Obsolescence.  Chapter 9.

Dreamy Daniels.

The rocky beach outside the cottage, to the North.

The rocky beach outside the cottage, to the North.

Walking by the sea one day,

lost in thought, so far away,

heard a voice inside me say: ‘You’re gonna meet somebody…’

Wondered how this thing might be,

making sense of mystery,

thinking I was suddenly about to find my way.

I'm writing this in the pink one on the corner to the far right of the picture.

I’m writing this in the pink one on the corner to the far right of the picture.

Then, I saw you… walking on the shore.

You looked at me… I looked at you…

need I say more?

I know we’re gonna be forever,

Oh – we’ve got it going on.

I know we’re gonna be forever,

You know –  together we belong.    Together we’ll be strong.  Together we belong.

Then you smiled and I smiled too,

held my hands out, so did you…

heard a voice inside come through ‘I think you’ve found somebody’.

Walking now – we’re getting close

I said:  ‘Hi, you like this coast?’

You replied ‘yeah, it’s the most precious place to me…’

Then, I held you,  we were talking by the shore.

You looked at me, I looked at you…

need I say more

I know we’re gonna be forever,

oh – we’ve got it going on.

I know we’re gonna be forever,

You know –  together we belong.  I know – together we’ll be strong…. yeah…

Together we belong… I know…

Pirates! Tsunami!  Smugglers!  A glass or three of red wine… echo… echo…

I’m woken by a breeze wafting across my face through the open window by the bed (it’s only the next day that the thought occurs to me that ‘said breeze’ was most probably a ‘spirit guide’ gently waking me).  I put on my trifocal glasses, check my iPhone and note that it’s 3am. Drawing-back the curtain, I notice strange lights flashing in the woods on Smuggler’s Spur, the headland.  The yellowish light from a Victorian streetlight on The Cleave outside reveals that the tide is in.  But where’s Goldie?

Together… we… belong… sigh.  DAMN! I’m suddenly  really pissed-off, as I reluctantly realise that it was all a dream!  What an annoyingly cliche’d letdown!

Unfortunately, it now seems that all I will ever ‘get to hold’ of Goldie is a fantasy song – once I write it down.  So I grab a notebook, turn on the bedside light and quickly scribble down the lyrics that are in my head, wondering which great songwriter – who is, obviously, no longer with us – might be channeling through me.  Cole Porter? Ira Gershwin? Jim Morrison?  John Lennon? Dream on Thom; it’s all good, as urban kids always say these days (and now it’s caught-on and everyone is saying it – even Delia, my octogenarian mum).

More lights are flashing in the woods on the headland – I think they must be torches.

Damn that dream!  Why couldn’t it have been true?

A half moon appears from behind a cloud and shines palely across the glassy water – then, strangely, there’s a shadow… moving… something floating, rather large – and it’s heading towards the quay on the other side of the bay. I gulp some more water (a glass or three of vodka echo.. echo), and try to put the thought of doing erotic things to Goldie’s perfect, round, muscular ass (with its fine, soft coating of golden down, no doubt) out of my head.

Smuggler’s Spur… pirates!

It appears to be a large fishing boat, maybe a trawler, with no lights on (why?); and now I can just about make-out dark figures scurrying down the stone steps onto the quay, maybe five or six guys.  Then, just as quickly, they’re carrying dark bundles – bin liners? – back up the steps as the’ stealth’ trawler swiftly backs out into the bay, its engine faintly chugging, then turns around and heads back out to sea.  The dark figures disappear and the torches flash no more.  How deliciously mysterious.  I wonder what they were smuggling:  industrial quantities of cocaine, perhaps (gazillions of pound’s worth), or kilos and kilos of my favourite Thai sticks (that’s premium marijuana, for the uninitiated)? On a more prosaic level;  it was probably tobacco.  There’s still a lot of money to be made with that, I guess.  I turn off the light (I hope the smugglers didn’t notice, otherwise they might kill me), lie back on the soft, white cotton pillows and close my eyes.

Why can’t the smuggling have been the dream – and meeting, and becoming Goldie’s instant lover – the reality?

Life’s a beach, and then you die, I muse, as I fall back into a not-so golden slumber.

I wake up at around 10 O’Clock the next morning. It’s  another cloudless, sunny day (same-old, as people say when they’re a bit spoilt). I reluctantly remind myself that it’s Saturday and therefore my last day at the cottage.  The cleaner will be coming at 11 O’Clock.  I savour my solitary wake-up hour with my customary minty black tea, and toast with honey and banana, before she arrives and cheerily greets me with: ‘Hi! You must be Thom!’

‘Indeed I am!  What’s your name?’ I ask.

She’s new.  The old cleaner had left the village to live with a former Catholic priest in Raleigh, my mother recently revealed to me on the phone, with some relish.

‘I’m Joyce’, she says in her Cornish burr, hurrying into the newly refurbished kitchen in the back, the only room without a sea view, ‘I love your music, you know, I often put on your CDs when I’m cleaning, your stuff is often sad and  poetic,  but it’s always soulful and passionate.’

Wow!  I didn’t expect to hear that coming from the cleaner (no patronising attitude intended), but it’s really good to know. I guess that she’s about thirty-five.  She’s pretty and probably smokes dope.

‘Hey thanks Joyce.  I’m really glad you like my music.’

‘I certainly do. My favourite is Hejiro. I think that’s a really uplifting, even though I don’t  know what it means! She says, busying herself getting cleaning stuff out of the cupboard under the sink. “I sometimes wondered if it was a code for a secret lover.’

‘I wish, but I made the word-up! And I never reveal the meanings of my songs;  I’d rather people interpreted them in relation to their own lives,’ I reply, with a chuckle, ‘I looked it up in the dictionary after I wrote the song and the nearest actual word to it is hejira…’

Oh – and what does that mean?’ She asks, pouring hot water into the plastic mop bucket.

‘Exodus.’  I reply.

‘Ah! Bob Marley! Could you put on Hejira, sorry Hejiro, for me now, nice and loud?’ She asks.

‘My pleasure.’  I reply. ‘Then I’ll go for my last walk before I leave.’

<click into hyperlink below>

Hejiro

Unplanned obsolescence… hejiro…

Get the message… and light a candle.

Everything that you felt was the real and not the dark.

Don’t  get depressed, no, then fly right off the handle,

‘cos your fate’s in your hands and it’s time to light that spark.

Hejiro  – a slight thought of a presence.

Hejiro… it was not my unplanned obsolescence.

All those daydreams that turned to nightmares.

with that hatred and pain that you never ever asked for.

Where was the love, where was the somewhere,

when you worked for the hope, without ever needing to wear a mask?

Hejiro… hejiro… unplanned obsolescence.

Hejiro… hejiro.

Having put on the CD for Joyce, I wander up the hill through the winding lanes (then snigger ironically to myself  – if there’s such a thing – when I realise that I’m singing Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill‘, in my head), then sit on a bench on the acres of rabbit-mown grass on The Field Of Gravity – as I call it – looking wistfully out to sea and daydreaming about my eponymous, wannabe festival of improvised music in the grounds of the mansion on the river Oudle,  along with stealth trawlers, smugglers and, damn It, Goldie.  Then the words of my dream-fantasy song – ‘Together We Belong’ – come into my head and I can hear the melody –  I’m writing the music in my head and –  it makes me feel good.

Then I’m mentally reminded of my mother’s nickname for me when I was a growing kid – when I was about seven or eight… as-in that picture that I plan to use as the front cover of this book:  me with the big, soulful, sad eyes. The child with the man in his eyes (to paraphrase Kate Bush).

She called me Dreamy Daniels.

Having come back down the hill, I can hear the phone ringing as I put the key into the door of the cottage. I manage to pick-up the phone in time (when people in the know call the cottage they let it ring for a while as the current, temporary residents are often sitting on the sea wall, or on the beach below, which is part and parcel of the magic of staying there). It’s Delia, my mother.  ‘Hi Deal!’  I say (it’s my nickname for her).

‘Hi Dreamy Daniels!’  She says.

‘Wow, Deal, you haven’t called me that for years and years.  What made you address me thus?’

‘Oh, I just said it without thinking darling!’

‘That’s lovely and… a bit extraordinary,’ I say

‘I think I first called you that when we fled Birmingham to live with my mother and father in Bath after I walked-out on your father with you three boys… those great big, dreamy brown eyes you had. Why extraordinary?’

‘Because, by some weird coincidence, I was just thinking about you calling me Dreamy Daniels as a kid.’

‘Well, everything happens for a reason Dreamy Daniels, you know that.’

‘I sure do mother!’

It transpires that ‘Deal’ wants me to read a couple of chapters of her historical novel ‘Emily’s Cameo Brooch’ which she wrote in the 70s and recently re-typed and is re-editing on her iMAC. She wants my opinion as to whether it’s worth continuing to edit and upgrade it. So I’ll read the first chapters, when I get a chance, and see if they draw me in.

It’s only 12.30 and Joyce has finished cleaning the living room, so I can chill out(especially as it’s suddenly started to rain) and perhaps begin to read my 1979 notebook/diary.  I’m booked on train back to London from Raleigh at 16.00 hours, so I’m aiming to catch the  bus at 14.45, which will give me plenty of time, bearing in mind that the bus has to go on the ‘floating bridge’ ferry to get there.  I wouldn’t want to cut it fine, as my booked, budget ticket would be invalid if I missed the specified journey (in the literal sense of the word: as you may have noticed, I really dislike the term when used as  if it were some kind of odyssey, as opposed to a puerile quest for fame). I can read the paper and do the codeword (a clueless crossword) whilst I wait on the platform , in the station cafe, and/or indeed, on the train. All good.

Ah… 1979.  As I recall, one hell of a lot happened in that year, but I wonder how my notebook literally records it?  Is it going to be mostly prose – or poetry, lyrics and songs, like the one from ’78?

I open it. On the first page, there’s a doodle that looks like a sabre and some smoke, then a scribbled  phone number (just seven numbers again) for someone called Chris.

Then, on the next page, I’d written ‘Wow maan, the summer solstice!'(obviously meant to be vaguely ironic) in red felt-tip pen, against the date: ’22nd June 1979’, above my name, address  – still in the grotty basement at 9, St Dukes Road in Notting Hill –  and phone number.  Then, turning the page, I see that I go straight into diary mode on the same day.

“Oh God! A new book. It’s going to be more intimate and revealing, this one, so anyone surreptitiously reading this can expect more juicy revelations and embarrassing creative mistakes than of yore. It’s only ‘notes’ anyway. I can do what I like.  So there.  Actually, you might be interested to know that I am in Bath at the moment, in the front, double bedroom of the third-storey flat (which I  designed, along with the rest of this classic Georgian house) of the family seat in Great Balustrade Street in Bath. And furthermore, it’s been a perfect summer’s day. I sure needed to get away from town and escape from the phone constantly ringing about my spectacular defection from The Eaglekings. I’m getting my new songs ready to demo in a week or two (thanks to Count Leonardo Dimando).  I hope they’re good enough. Don’t panic.  This book signifies the beginning of a new era.”

The Eaglekings had been living and working for several months in a beautiful, rambling, six-bedroom Victorian, riverside house in Wales, which had an attached former chapel, in which we rehearsed and recorded demos of new songs. It was a wonderful space.  I only found-out many, many years later that ‘Briagadier’ Frank Ferrett, the guitarist and singer, had secretly recorded our ‘jam sessions’ and put them out as records, claiming all the songwriting credits (and therefore royalties) for himself.  What a bastard. The band were without a record deal, the charismatic singer Steven Elgin had had a nervous breakdown and had been ‘sectioned’, effectively leaving the band, and the drummer Grahame Radcliffe had also left, having been poached by another band offering more money (well, more money than virtually nothing, which was by now becoming the case). Eddie Prince, the drummer who had left during the recording of the last album, was somehow persuaded to rejoin –  and him and I bonded immediately, not having met before.  I my humble opinion he was definitely the greatest of The Eaglekings’ many drummers – he had a unique, hypnotic, driving style of playing and was also to end-up playing on my second album ‘Torn Genes’ – but more of that later. Eddie and I would play Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ over and over again, in the cosy music/TV room every night, after dinner, which was usually cooked by me.  We ended-up eating mostly vegetables and pasta or rice, as that was all we could (apparently) afford.

The band had no record deal and there were no gigs lined-up in the foreseeable future. I had, however, been beginning to contribute more and more to the songwriting process, and we’d demo’d a couple of them with me singing lead vocals: they sounded terrific. I was back in London for the weekend when Frank Ferret phoned and sprung a major surprise: he’d played the two songs to Neville Brown, the band’s manager, who had been impressed enough to suggest that I become the band’s lead singer. Somewhat shell-shocked, I told Frank that I would think about it, as I was very concerned about the total lack of money to fund this alleged ‘new golden dawn of swords and eternal, exploding supernovas'(or some other space-rock cliche; not that my two songs echoed this at all).

The next day I played the two demos of self-penned songs to Count Leonardo Dimando , who was a newish friend whom I’d met through another relatively new friend called Francesca Hoover-Dyson, whom Christa (still living in the flat upstairs) had introduced to me to as a result of their mutual involvement with various music-video productions.  On hearing the demos, the Count immediately suggested that I should leave the band and ‘go solo’ or form a new band – and offered to pay for me to record enough demos for an album in a proper studio.  I was ecstatic. I immediately called Neville, the Eaglekings’ manager, and told him that I couldn’t accept Ferret’s offer as I was ‘going solo’.

‘Alright cowboy,’ he drawled, sniffing loudly (no doubt with his legs resting on his desk and a rolled-up £50 note in his other hand),’if that’s what you want to do… although I think you’re making a big mistake, I can’t stop you.’

‘Count Leonardo Dimando’s family own at least one of the seven hills of Rome.’  Francesca had revealed when she’d invited me to a party at his house near Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, where I’d met him for the first time, several months previously. Francesca – I think she was in her late-thirties –  was something of a child of Chelsea – or perhaps, more realistically, the down-at-heel part of Earl’s Court.  She was  tiny, and, despite that, had apparently been mildly successful as a model in the 70s (she was always digging out the old photo albums to prove it). She was certainly rather beautiful.  Or had been.  Unfortunately, there was a toxic cloud of bitterness and falseness about her, as if she’d produced a posh, noiseless fart, which made me intuitively back-off, because it stank. And I sensed that she fancied me!  This was proved a couple of years later when she surprised me by drunkenly rubbing her vagina on my leg at a rather rocking, Indian-themed party (all the guests had dressed the part) at her tiny flat in Earl’s Court.  She tended to talk in smooth, syrupy, faux-upper-class tones which made me want to say: ‘Oh for god’s sake: you think people can’t see through your shit?’. But I didn’t.  Maybe I felt sorry for her. To be honest, with hindsight, I think I was fascinated to dip a metaphorical toe into the muddied waters of privilege and poshness of The Royal Borough – and all the ships which sailed through it, sounding their  hooray foghorns. And I was probably waiting to see what, if anything, might occur, although I wasn’t holding out too much hope of enlightenment other than confirmation that most of them were inbred (allegedly pedigree) assholes.  You know what lots of people say about dogs:  Pedigrees are generally stupid.  Mongrels are the ones to love.  Certainly true in my experience.

Count Leonardo’s home was a symphony of understated good taste, which helped me to continue with my anthropological study of that particular sub-species, The Chelsea Set.  This was a spacious Victorian house with a smallish patio garden, which featured white gravel and raised flowerbeds made of railway sleepers. It was beautifully planted with bamboo and and succulents, and subtly lit (as all outdoor spaces should be).  Leonardo had noted my smile of pleasure when I’d walked-in to the roomy, open-plan living area and was happy to accept my request to show me around. All the walls were white and the floors were covered in simple, coir, fitted-carpets. The white sofas and chairs were long, low, classic-modern-Italian.  There were antique, white marble, working  – well, coal-effect, gas and pumice stone – fireplaces in every room with marble obelisks and lots of massive church candles on the mantlepieces, then huge, ornate, antique mirrors with gold, gilt frames alongside cool black-and-white prints from the 50s on the walls. The lighting was soft, warm and flattering – a mixture of ceiling spots and antique and classic-modern table and floor lamps, all controlled by dimmers by the door. Bland-with-soul, if you like, in order to sell-on.  Clever.

Leonardo, an average-looking, balding man dressed in ironed (with a CREASE! Yuck!), pre-faded, Armani jeans, a pink Lacoste polo shirt and Gucci Loafers –  that dreary uniform of the posh, Euro-trash male –  looked quite a lot like Prince Albert of Monaco, and appeared older than his thirty-five years. We talked about design, architecture and art… we got on. He was intelligent and educated.  He explained that he bought period ‘wrecks’ in good areas and knocked-down walls to make them open-plan and tarted-them-up in this neutral, yet warm and stylish manner – then sold them on at a huge profit and continued to ‘move-on-up; (an all-time fave from Curtis Mayfield in 1970) the property ladder. I was fascinated and somewhat envious.  How much I’d have loved, and still would, to do something similar, but with, perhaps more originality; a leaning toward accommodating the unique needs of artistry? A blank canvas, perfectly presented. With style. I’m still waiting, despite all the kudos of people complimenting me on the retro-modern style of Rancho Deluxe, my current, NYC-loft-style home in North West London.

Was it also around that time that I met the Spanish painter Carlos Amigos who lived in the capacious basement of a stunning, six-storey Georgian house owned by his Swedish, industrialist millionaire ex-lover Sven,  which was actually on Cheyne walk, overlooking a bridge called Albert, one of London’s most beautiful? The vague mystique of the Chelsea mists of time.  All I know now is that I hovered (or is that hoovered?) around for while, like a boho, token semi-rock star who was apparently quite fanciable. The Chelsea Set. however, soon tired of me though (no doubt I was too forthright, middle-class and left-field), and more so, me of them. The Count, however, stayed on board the Topham train of thought (and deeds) for a few more years.

He owned an enormous,  5,000 Square-foot, minimalist loft apartment in New York’s East Village (in 1979 – waaaay before it was chic), with a two-storey ‘Greek Temple’ at one end housing the two bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms. The only furniture in the living space was three huge, white-leather day beds. Cool. Super cool. Apart from his ironed, designer jeans with a crease

Leonardo's amazing Loft in NYC's Lower East Side

Leonardo’s amazing Loft in NYC’s Lower East Side

It never occurred to me that Leonardo, my new friend and vague cultural ambassador, the Italian Count, might have had a secret crush on me which was to last for over four years – until I rejected his sudden and unexpected, cocaine-fuelled advances in NYC on our second visit in 1983.  I immediately fled, getting the next available plane back to London – you were able to book cheap, standby seats in those days – after he’d suddenly flown into a rage, accusing me of being ‘a grasping whore’, which was totally unfounded in any respect, after I’d politely-but-firmly rejected him.  I was extremely shocked and very hurt.

Allow me a flashback.  I think it was possibly a year later than 1979, but no matter. My mind takes me back to that fabulous Georgian house overlooking Albert Bridge.  Carlos, who was handsome, swarthy and hirsute, lived in the basement.  He was dark, from the South of Spain – with some traces of the Moor (and mooreish) about him. His work was quite Picasso-esque and pleasing to the eye. His ex-lover Sven, who owned this magnificent house, was stupidly rich and entertained lavishly, largely on the gay-mafia level: i.e people who were incredibly successful in, mostly, the creative industries: and who (no surprise here then) ‘attracted’ loads of good-looking young men; like proverbial moths to their financially-secure flames.

Therefore, most of those gay-mafia types automatically assumed – me being twenty-eight or so, and not ugly –  that I was also a hustler, rent-boy, escort or whatever.  Of course, I wasn’t.  But that was their twisted mindset.  Deeply depressing. Cold as ice. Diamond dogs.

Me at home in 1979

Me at home in 1979

One sultry summer night, I was invited to a party there (perhaps there was a link via the Italian Count with coal-effect, gas-fires-with-pumice-stones in every room? But Leonardo didn’t  actually know Sven, to my knowledge). The guests were gathered in the massive,  first-floor, double drawing room with it’s floor-to-ceiling sash windows leading out onto an ornate balcony overlooking the Bridge, which was festooned with thousands of yellowish lights (and still is), and the river.  About twenty or thirty people were there, drinking vintage wine and champagne and being served canapes by handsome, topless waiters with flawless bodies.  I helped myself to a glass of fine Rioja Reserva from a silver tray, and a couple of smoked salmon and caviar blinis and found a space on one of three, huge, pale-blue velvet-covered sofas which were arranged in a U-shape in order to take-in the amazing view.  A very good-looking, tall and athletic black gay came and sat on the next sofa to mine and smiled at me curiously, as if to say: ‘don’t I know you?’ Now I was racking my brain: he certainly looked familiar. After he had engaged in some pleasantries with a guy who turned-out to own a very successful, independent record label, he turned to me and asked: ‘Don’t I know you, I’m sure we’ve met – what’s your name?

I think… perhaps we have,’ I replied, ‘my name’s Thom – spelt with an H.’

‘Thom… Thom.  That rings a bell!’ He said loudly.  ‘My name’s Devon. So where did we meet?’

By now my memory-bank had kicked-in – and the other guests were starting to take an interest in our little intrigue. But I wasn’t about to let on. Devon, meanwhile, persisted, becoming more urgent in his ‘need to know’.  Perhaps he was on cocaine. I tried to send him subtle, mental messages that I was not telling him for a good reason.  Now the whole room was being drawn into our interchange, as I continued to resist revealing where our rendezvous had been.

‘It was some time last year, I think.’  I said vaguely.

‘But where and how?’  I think he was also quite drunk. Everyone was looking at us.

‘Are you sure you want to know?’  I asked, my eyes trying to tell him to stop asking.

‘Yes, yes – it’s driving me mad Thom!’

I had no choice in this glamourous, soapy, drawing-room drama, as he wouldn’t give-up, and so decided to reveal all… finally stating in a slow, calm voice: ‘Well, Devon, we met in Holland Walk late one night…’ Sharp intakes of breath all-round (The ‘Walk’ is one of London’s most notorious-yet-beautiful cruising spots), ‘and we jumped over the fence and I fucked you in the park!’

There.  I’d said it. ‘Well you were insistent.’ I added, as he appeared to blush slightly (he was quite light-skinned) and I smiled and shrugged.

‘Ah, I see, no I don’t think that was me!’

‘Oh yes it was.’

Devon, perhaps understandably, made his excuses and left.  Sven winked at me from the other end of the room and motioned for me to come over and join him.

‘That was hilarious!’ He said, grinning mischievously, his steely-blue eyes twinkling. Then I noticed some extraordinary artefacts arranged on the back-lit glass shelves behind him, in the alcove to the right of the second fireplace. There were scores of tiny, sparkling, colourful and intricately decorated ovoid shapes on the shelves. ‘Are those what I think they are?’ I whispered conspiratorially.

‘They are indeed Faberge eggs, he replied with an indulgent smile.’

I gasped slightly, then, thinking aloud, posited: ‘but anyone could slip one in their pocket!’

He chuckled. ‘No – no-one would dare, because they are no strangers here – and the house has an elaborate alarm system.  I would know who had helped themselves.

‘But they must be worth millions!

‘Yes, they are.  They’re my glittering pension fund.  Although, of course, I’d never willingly sell them.’

I found them utterly lacking in any intrinsic style or grace – they were merely vulgar and over-the top, like an expensive Euro-trash whore in a disco in St Tropez.  But, hey, they were Faberge Eggs.

After a while, his handsome ex-lover came and claimed me and we went downstairs to his basement flat and had a night of hot passion.

I blink as I return from my reverie.  I can hear a vacuum cleaner upstairs, and Joyce singing my song ‘The Keeper Of The Keys‘ to herself, which is rather pleasing.  I go to the kitchen and get some juice out of the fridge.  There’s still plenty of time until I have to get the bus to Raleigh, so I sit at the table and pick-up where I left-off with my notebook from ’79.

“I  really only like writing recto (on the right page of my notebooks), as I’m left-handed.  Shall I be a little extravagant? Yeah.  Got this nice new pen as well. Three new notebooks and six pens – for less than a night out at The Tropicana, my usual haunt in Earls Court. Oh, it’s just work and sex – fundamentals. I love sunny Saturday afternoons in Bath. The city shimmers with a golden glow from the local stone.  I’ll meet a dream man in the street and we’ll go and coffee in my favourite cafe.  Some hope!

Work is the big deal at the moment, along with keeping my confidence high.  That is proving to be a bit of a strain at the mo’.  At least I’ve managed to blag some studio time with my erstwhile music publisher Warmer Music (they’re totally useless, despite being a multinational corporation) to make ‘demo-demos’  – playing everything, using a Linn drum machine and keyboards, to sort-out which of my prolific output I should soon demo properly with actual musicians in the real studio, funded by Leonardo.

The song title show carries ever on…

‘The Outsider’, Blind Alley’, ‘Caught In A Trap’. Totally Wasted’, ‘Who’s Afraid Of The Dark’, ‘Somebody Just Stole Your Thunder’, ‘Aint Gonna Be No Stepping Stone’. ‘Street Dog’…

‘Only gods get control of situations, only dogs keep their noses to the ground’.

‘Notes hang low in the mist above the river… hopes get blown like the paper in the street’.

Then – ‘The Outsider’.

‘I am the outsider, a player of parts, you read what you want to, I don’t hide my heart.

I am the outsider, I don’t like your games, your kudos and status, your material gains’.”

On the next page there’s a list of already-written songs, many of which made it onto the ensuing album (yes – it really did happen!), then a list of band-name ideas, which I rather modestly thought I might need to instigate, in order to be successful: The Individuals. The Windows.  the Outsiders. The Clocks. The Government. The Opposition.  The Senate. The Business. The Consumers.  The Apprentices… all rather ahead of their time, in a way; but, as it turned-out, it just ended-up being me – the  forever-solo artist. The loneliness of the long-distance bummer.

“Sat June 30th 1979. 4am.

Oh what a week that was. Hello new demos (recorded in the little studio at Warmer Music)  – goodbye stereo (police: case no 1982).  Hello ME – goodbye England (I wish).  And Christa’s dog somehow managed to eat the last of my sleeping pills and she threw up all over my carpet.”

I recall that my mother had posted me a gold chain which was part of a collection of gold coins that she’d bought for the family business in her capacity as a numismatist, but it was surplus to requirements.  She’d sent it by Recorded Delivery, which meant that I had to sign for it when the postman came, but, of course (being the eternal nocturnal), I’d been asleep, and had to go to the Royal Mail Sorting Office to pick it up.

” Backtrack to Tuesday June 26th 1979. 4pm.

Came back from lunch and a walk in the park via the Sorting Office with my gold chain to find the front door smashed-in and, inevitably, the only thing of any value, the stereo, gone – although they did leave my giant Wharfedale speakers.  Totally traumatised, freaked out and paranoid.  No sex all week either; probably just as well.  I finally got to talk to an American hunk, who I’ve been after for weeks, last night in the Tropicana. Just another fucking air steward – but oh so nice-looking. Should be alright there. Then I met  my new young friend Ryan (Chung, a lovely-looking half Chinese/half Jamaican) walking home and he treated me to breakfast things from the all-night supermarket. We slept together, but I couldn’t bring myself to seduce him as, aged eighteen, he’s just too young.  Tender/tough, but street-wise, having grown-up on a rough council estate locally.”

I put the book down and get a glass of water from the kitchen, trying to recall how the door got fixed after the burglary – I think maybe Leonardo payed for it – then chuckle as I recall him driving down The Earl’s Court road one summer evening with Christa and Maddox in the back of his olive-green Rolls Royce, and me in front.  Christa was ostentatiously (but ironically, of course) talking on his car phone  –  a very rare and many-splendoured thing in those days –  in her Queen Of Hearts voice, with the windows open, so everyone would notice. And we just laughed forever throughout what often seemed to be an enchanted summer.

This triggers another rather amusing memory of a woman calling my phone in the summer of that same, eventful year – 1979 –  and asking in a posh voice if she could speak to Lady Cheyne.  Rather then telling her that it was the wrong number, I put my hand over the receiver to stifle my giggles, then said, as if I were the butler: ‘‘Can I put you on hold madam, I’ll see if I can find her ladyship, I believe she’s cutting roses in the garden.’ I then raced upstairs to get Christa, who rushed down and did a wonderful job of being ‘Lady Cheyne’. The calls carried on for several months; with the mystery woman apparently not suspecting a thing. I wonder who she actually was?

//

//

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 8

12 Jun Do it in '78!

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You Tube Clips Of Memorable Moments From My Mental Hard Drive.

I’m having another beautiful wake-up moment in the cottage.  As I blink and open my eyes I’m mentally massaged by the sound of the waves, the sparkling sunlight on the sea and the sensual, salty air wafting through the open window. I do believe it’s Thursday.  This is definitely a feel-good morning.

I roll out of bed, pull on my baggy, camouflage cut-offs and a white T-shirt and go downstairs, barefoot. Kettle on. Two slices of wholemeal bread in the toaster. Slice a banana. Put a normal T-bag and a peppermint one in the teapot, as is my wont.  Teaspoon of set honey in a mug.  Butter the toasts and spread honey on them, then add the banana slices.

I take my breakfast and my laptop outside and sit at the cast-iron table,  inhaling the air with relish and enjoying the hot sun on my face, arms and lower legs, then I try to check my emails –  but the signal is still pathetically intermittent and eventually I give up in frustration. After a while I go inside for a refill of tea, taking the laptop back inside, then pick two notebook/diaries at random from the selection on the dining room table and take them outside with my mug of tea. By pure coincidence, they turn out to be from 1978 and 1979.  So (deep breath)… I’ll be in my idyllic – for  two and a-half years, at least – relationship with Maddox, whom I met in 1976.  Then I’ll become a rock star with The Eaglekings – and Maddox will morph into being our temporary roadie.  Then, in ’79, the lead singer of the band will have a nervous breakdown and leave, one the original (and best) drummers will briefly return, the money will run-out, they’ll ask me (yes me!) to be the lead singer), one of the original (and best) guitarists will rejoin, then I’ll leave and eventually make some excellent demos (with the aforementioned drummer and guitarist, plus the bass player from The Counter Geigers), paid for by an Italian count who will then take me to New York (for my first visit) and I’ll get a record deal worth £80,000 (on paper) within three days!

I open the first book and an untitled, two-page poem in (my) red handwriting is loose inside the front cover, where I’d simply written: ‘Thom Topham. 1978′. Then underneath, somewhat cryptically: ”When my creative juices are flowing, you’re not going to be my condom’, along with some squiggly doodles and a London phone number (only seven-figures as opposed to today’s eleven) for someone referred to as simply ‘K’.

Keith? Kate? Kevin?

On the next page i’d drawn a graphic exhortation to myself: ‘DO IT! In ’78’ (it must have been New Year) and then, on the facing page, I’d written a list of mental targets and musings.

‘Direction —-> art versus commerciality?

Compromise?  Result: bland-out.

Commitment = obscurity (& integrity?). Eventual success.

AIM… commercial, yet committed ART.

Cliches work!  Create new cliches?

Don’t over-analyse – get on with it (oh yeah?).

SUCCESS in ’78.

Stick to what you feel is right (there’s nothing new in that).

DISIPLINE/regular WORK.

Time ALONE.

Get up earlier (very difficult, especially when you’ve been working late).

CONFIDENCE (PLEASE – just tell me I’m good)!

No more excuses – BE in love and enjoy it.’

I turn the page to find another untitled poem.

‘Don’t be downhearted, we haven’t  just started –

our hopes for the future won’t always be right.

Don’t be downhearted, we won’t become parted,

you’re not just a stranger who stays for the night.

You’ve given me strength, you’ve given me weakness,

by breaking defences and helping me fight.

I’m lost in my loving, so bold and uncertain,

not scared of commitment and changing my life.’

I was evidently referring to my relationship with Maddox – my first-ever long-term lover.  I was now 25 years-old and he was 24.  We must have been having the first blip in our previously fantastic relationship after nearly two years together.  We had great sex, great conversations, great fun and intellectual interaction and we were mostly rolling along sweetly.  Plus – he was so masculine and handsome.

My mind takes me back to the dingy basement flat which we shared at number 9 St Dukes road in Notting Hill – you hopefully recall, dear reader, that Maddox had moved in with me the day after we’d met.

Christabel now lived alone in my former, one-bedroom flat on the first floor, having split from Jeremy Organ, her first husband, in… 1976?  Ah – the mists of time!  They’d remained very good friends – right up until his untimely death in 2006.  I’d moved downstairs because I couldn’t afford the rent upstairs – it had been £18 a week –  but had made sure that Christa and her then husband could move in when I reluctantly downgraded.  There was also another more pressing reason:   I’d had big problems with the thuggish moron who lived in the flat above with his frumpy wife – we had to share the bathroom on the half-landing – who was always complaining about the noise of my nocturnal songwriting.  Once, he came banging on the door bellowing the immortal words: ‘Come out dinky or you’re dead!’  Dinky? Me? How very Orton-esque! I’d merely stopped the noise and ignored him, but it had shaken me somewhat.   The flat was, however, a really cool, light and spacious one-bedroomed pad with two almost floor-to-ceiling, sash windows overlooking the street.  The kitchen was big enough to eat in, and in nice weather you could put the table outside, on the roof of the porch and eat al-fresco, which was very civilised, but you had to be wary if you’d drunk too much wine, as there was no balustrade.

That was where we’d witnessed the police literally herding crowds of  black teenaged boys to the youth club at the end of the road… like sheep, in ’75 and ’76.  It was outrageous. We were only one street up from what was known as ‘The Front Line’  and the police were always hassling the yoot (youths) and arresting them on ‘Suss’ (suspicion of being in possession of… black parents?).  At the Notting Hill Carnival in ’76 you could smell the trouble coming – the tension on the streets was palpable – and the riot started right beneath Christa’s balcony. It was really exciting and we were cheering on the insurgents who were throwing bottles and cans at their long-time oppressors.  The police could only protect themselves with dustbin lids, which was faintly comical, and they soon, briefly, retreated.  There were hundreds of thousands on the streets.  I went out to investigate.  It was just the lull before the storm.  What had started as little pockets of resistance was to turn into a full-blown uprising.  I was standing outside the crowded local pub having a beer in the early evening sunshine, when I heard a huge roaring sound coming from the direction of Portobello road.  Then there was the most amazing sight: literally thousands of yoot (of all colours) running backwards and hurling missiles at a huge, ominous black wave – hundreds of police that had been belatedly mobilised.  Suddenly,  the turbo-charged, fired-up rioters were grabbing bottles and glasses off the tables outside the pub and all the drinkers, including me, retreated inside and shut the doors,  craning to catch the action through the windows.  The noise was incredible and the police were also adrenalised – on an aggressive high.  The black wave eventually passed and we poured-outside.  Some of the police literally grabbed drinks out of peoples’ hands and knocked them back in-one, then carried on chasing the riotous throng.  Afterwards, Notting Hill looked a bomb had hit it.  The Police had been oppressively racist for years, pure and simple.  The people had spoken and it signalled the beginning of a sea-change which took a hell of a long time to materialise: it’s still ongoing today (The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the ‘institutional racism’ of The Metroplitan Police springs to mind).

My basement ‘flat’ really was just one largish room in the front of the house with a large bay-window looking out onto a tiny front garden and the dustbins which belonged to the four flats in this rather down-at-heel, typical Victorian, terraced house.  But the rent was just £9 a week!  My king-sized double bed sat in the window, which I’d curtained with dark blue velvet, and was also covered with the same material.  I’d painted the room white, as it didn’t get much light.  There was the original working fireplace, which was just as well, as there certainly wasn’t any central heating. There were a couple of lovely leather armchairs from the 1920s, which my mother had given to me, and my beloved Wurlitzer electric piano (Knock knock – who’s there?  Wurlitzer!  Wurlitzer who? *Adopt Elvis voice*: Wurlitzer one for the money, two for the show…)

I had a  small black and white cat called Tiddles (her name was supposed to be ironic). My slightly battered gate-legged dining table from the 1940s was covered in green chenille on the back wall, with four matching, wooden chairs, and there was an hexagonal Art-Deco coffee table with a glass top, that I’d bought at the top end of Portobello Road for a couple of pounds.  The floor was covered in cheap, faded,  pale blue, fitted carpet.  An all-in-one stereo unit with record deck, radio and cassette (how quintessentially 70s!) sat in the corner, with two large Wharfedale speakers on either side of the bed, which doubled as bedside tables.

The corridor outside was flagstone-floored and virtually derelict. It was riddled with damp, with peeling paint, crumbling plaster and crusty mildew everywhere. There were even clusters of yellowish mushrooms! This led past the back room, which our landlord, who owned the whole house,  the repulsive and appositely-named Mr Lurcher, used as a storeroom for all his hoarded, useless junk. You could barely open the door it was so full of rubbish, including great piles of chipped, china plates which Christa and I would take great delight in flinging down the corridor and breaking on to the crumbling stone wall, with it’s broken window, by the front door, screaming things like ‘I hate you world!’ in really bad, vaguely Greek accents, on various occasions when we were feeling stressed-out. It was tremendously therapeutic.

We’d nicknamed Mr Lurcher ‘Scrooge’, as he dressed like a tramp and always wore the same moth-eaten, green, tweed overcoat and brown scarf (even on hot summer days), both of which were inexplicably covered in scorch marks.  He apparently owned four houses in the street and was a devout Christian Scientist.  He had a horrible whiney voice and made it his business to be as unpleasant as possible to his tenants.  He truly was from central casting – for a TV series set in Dickensian times. You simply couldn’t have made him up. He made the famously super-grumpy Mr Ripley in TV’s ‘Rising Damp’ look like a heroic renaissance man in comparison!  He’d actually tried to evict us 1976 when we withheld the rent because of the state of the house. We were issued with court summons, so we took pictures of all the various defects.  ‘Scrooge’ actually turned up in his usual tramp-like clothes at the hearing. Christa and I were power-dressed and the judge evidently took quite a shine to her (Galway, her family name, and its famous Irish Whisky brand didn’t do any harm either). As Lurcher blathered on angrily about us and our animals in the witness box, the judge actually said to him sharply ‘Mr Lurcher! If you don’t stop your gobbledegook I’ll have you thrown out of this court!’  Scrooge was hoisted by his own petard, and we won the case and the right to stay put. An ironic, if not exactly pyrrhic, victory.

The dank corridor in the basement led to a tiny, barely-functioning kitchen at the back, which contained a filth-encrusted, ancient, rusty gas cooker, a 1950s sink unit with just one tap -cold-only, obviously -and one of those tall, all-in-one, 1950s kitchen dressers – in pastel blue in this case – with a fold-down enamel work-top and two frosted-glass doors above (they’re actually regarded as retro-chic antiques these days). There was also a totally unusable, grimey old bathtub, which I’d covered with an old table top I’d found in the street. The half-glazed back door led out to a small, overgrown garden which was full of rubbish,and broken furniture (handy for the fire though) and – are you ready? – An OUTSIDE toilet!   The only one available in the basement! This was a virtually uninhabitable slum! I’m ashamed to say that I used to pee in the bath. If I wanted a bath, I had to go outside and into the house (I had a key) upstairs to use the communal  bathroom – which was also unheated.

I chuckle inwardly as I reminisce once again about the delicious irony of being dropped-off outside my seedy basement in one of those classic, black Daimler limos, after doing one of several TV shows with the successful pop group Aviator – who’d had a string of top ten hits – but unfortunately, not during my year-long stint as their keyboard player in 1976.  I recall that I was paid a rather measly £60 a week retainer and a £700 fee as a session player on the album that we recorded in the legendary Studio 2 at Abbey Road.  I was good friends with Freddy McGhee,  my predecessor in the band, and he’d recommended me for the job when he’d left the group (I suspect that they’d bored him into leaving – all they ever talked about were their upmarket cars and Scottish football).  He co-wrote ‘Sparkle’, their biggest hit, which went to number one in the US, and had also been a founder-member of the hugely successful seminally Scottish boy-band The Big Town Bentleys.  He was gay and, sadly, he died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989.

I had a beautiful, intelligent and characterful fluffy white dog called Ben; a collie/retriever cross – we’d found each other at Battersea Dog’s Home in 1974.  He went everywhere with me and would sit on stage next to my keyboard sporting sunglasses, a baseball cap and a red kerchief when I performed on TV shows with Aviator. We were performing at The Wimbledon Theatre to an audience of a thousand screaming girls, for a TV special on the band.  The stage set featured open, square, white-painted wooden boxes arranged to form a pyramid about thirty feet-tall on the back wall of the stage.  I was playing away happily when I noticed the audience all looking up at something behind me.  Then the follow-spots and the TV cameras turned up towards the top of the stage.  The number came to an end.  I turned around to see what everyone was looking and pointing at – and there was Ben, right on the very top of the pyramid stage set, wagging his tail furiously and posing in the spotlights – rather like the MGM lion.  Then he tossed his head like a doggy diva and loped elegantly down the pyramid steps, tail madly wagging, to huge applause, then had a canine cuddle with me on stage. What a show off!  What an amazing dog.

When we were recording the album I used to tie a luggage label with the studio phone number written on it (along with ‘My name is Ben and my master is recording in Abbey Road Studios’) to his collar and leave him to roam free around the leafy and prosperous streets of St John’s Wood.  We were actually recording in the studio for nearly two months – very extravagant. He was very street-wise and even knew to cross roads at Zebra Crossings – including the one made famous by The Beatles, of course.  Reading this, you may think that this was very irresponsible of me and dangerous for the dog.  I can only say that we had a strong spiritual bond and great communication. Nothing untoward had ever happened to him over the years of our libertarian, dog-man relationship.  He know intuitively when it was time to come back and would sit patiently waiting by the entrance to the studios, until someone let him in.  One evening, I was doing multi-tracked keyboard overdubs in the cavernous, atmospheric ‘live room’, with its fabulous ghosts (although Lennon was not to be murdered until 1980) when the producer Adam Priestly’s voice came over the tannoy:  ‘There’s a phone call for you Thom.’  I ran up the famous stairs, picked up the receiver and an upper-class, campy voice said ‘Your adorable doggy Ben has been entertaining us for some time, but we have to go out to the opera, so would you like to come and pick him up, we’re just around the corner.’  I wrote down the address and went to retrieve my… semi-retriever.  It was an enormous, six-storey, white stucco-fronted mansion.  I could see huge chandeliers, rococo mirrors and extravagant, gold and green brocade, swagged curtains through the windows: money, but little taste, evidently.   I rang the bell and it was answered by a foppish old queen dressed in a green velvet dinner suit with an enormous red-spotted bow tie.

‘We’ve quite fallen in love with Ben haven’t we Quentin?’ He cooed.  ‘He’s utterly adorable!’ shouted a slightly less camp voice from upstairs. The posh queen introduced himself as Stanley and added: ‘Ben’s in the master bedroom,’ leading me up the ornate staircase into a massive, luxurious but totally over-the-top bedroom filled with what looked like seriously valuable (but gaudy) antiques and and vast expanses of vulgar, velvet curtains.  There was an huge four-poster bed that looked Jacobean and… there was Ben, idly licking a huge fillet steak that was on a silver platter next to him on the quilted, red satin counterpane.  He slightly wagged his tail, as if to suggest that he’d rather be staying where he was!  Stanley insisted that I take the steak and produced a Harrods carrier bag. ‘That’s what you call a doggy bag!’ I quipped and they both giggled as I thanked them and left, Ben trotting beside me, somewhat reluctantly, it seemed.  ‘Ben’, I said, giving him a wink and a ruffling his head, ‘you’re such a tart!’

The Aviator album proved to be the band’s swan song, as they split-up soon after it’s completion and the guitarist and bass-playing singer were absorbed into their producer’s vaguely prog-rock concept, The Adam Priestly Project, which went on to sell millions, for some inexplicable reason.

And I was out of a job.

I have an abiding ‘video’ in my head of Peter McBairn, the singer, turning around to me in a limo – after we’d been shepherded to it by security men through a back-stage crowd of screaming girls – and saying brightly ‘So how does it feel to be a pop star?’ In a rather patronising fashion. My wan smile should have told him the answer, but he was too high on the adulation to get my gist.

Another You Tube clip of  memorable moments from my mental hard drive.

I feel warm raindrops on my nicely arms – aw!  Only the second shower in the six days that I’ve been revelling in my lonesome seaside reverie. I grab my books and mug and go back inside and stand at the window watching the filigree curtain of silvery rain falling over the sea, with intermittent shafts of sunlight providing a pleasing visual effect.  People run by the cottage looking to find shelter, perhaps in The Pilgrims’ Progress, the gastro-pub just a few yards down the Cleave.

Now sitting at the oval, antique dining table inside, I turn another page in the 1978 notebook to find another untitled poem – or perhaps a lyric in the making.

‘I wonder if you realise just how beautiful you are…

When I look into your eyes, I am looking at the stars.

I wish that you and I could make some kind of future plan,

to take away the barriers and begin to understand.

I wonder why it takes so long to get down to the core,

to brush away the cobwebs and the cuttings on the floor.’

Turning another page, I see that the words have progressed into the lyrics of  a (potential) song called ‘Surrendering My Soul’.  It was never recorded, as was the case with so much of my work in those days.  I could only dream of the luxury of having my own studio (which, I’m glad to say, I do  have now) and I had to pay for studio time, meaning I became used to working really fast – unless I could persuade my  music publishers to put me in the studio, which happened only spasmodically (which, frankly, rather defeated the object).  I’d signed a deal with them in the autumn of ’77 and had received the then enormous sum of £3,000 as an advance –  but there was little left the following year, as it had been mostly used to pay of debts and my overdraft, as I recall, apart from being my only income, until I’d joined Aviator.

Again, obviously, the song was about Maddox.  How wonderful to surrender one’s soul. I can’t recall the last time I took such a romantic and emotional leap of faith. I would be so happy if it could happen again.  I really need some emotional feedback – I sometimes feel like  a love-sick alien these days.

Maddox had endured a very strict upbringing in the North of Scotland and had been pushed to study hard as a teenager by his dour, Calvinistic parents, meaning that he never really lived like most teenagers do, or did, in the heady days of the sixties (he would have been fifteen in ’68) and early 70s. So when he met me (yeah!), he suddenly discovered fun and frolics, horny man-sex, recreational drugs, getting drunk, laughter and, indeed, love!  But this meant that, despite his intelligence, he was initially somewhat gauche and unworldly in ‘company’ and would try too hard to ‘fit-in’, not quite ‘getting’ the subtleties of intellectual punning and deliberately childish pranks, which Christabel and I referred to as ‘the therapy of silliness’.  Or was it ‘stupidity’? Either way, you get the gist. He also hated me calling him ‘Madd’ for short!

As I turn the pages – poetry and lyrics progressing steadily through 1978 – I realise that this notebook has no prose and… I  wonder why.  Thinking about it, being in a relationship might explain the absence of my usual prolific scribbling, which is much in evidence in my other notebooks.  As a jobbing songwriter, I could hardly hide them as they were always on top of my Wurlitzer, so Maddox would have been able to easily read my intimate diary, should I have actually written one. Maybe I should have.

Then, sadly, leafing through to the end of the book,  as 1978 drew to a close, it seems that our relationship was unraveling – after he became illogically paranoid about our perceived monogamy, increasingly believing that I was having sex with other people, when I simply wasn’t.  I was hurt and upset.  It was so unjust, so wrong.  But, eventually, in the spring of ’79, I felt compelled to surrender to his paranoia and let him go… whilst understanding that it had all been so good, so right, so fine. Was it a conspiracy of fate which killed this hitherto fabulous relationship?  I’ll never know, I can only surmise.

‘The Point

Last night was a turning point, I went back down the street,

remembering my old routines whilst beating a retreat.

It happened like I’d planned it, near the point of no return,

I played the one-armed bandit and lost everything I’d earned.

We played like naughty schoolboys, getting drunk, out on the town,

and reached a point of harmony which we had rarely found.

Then we went our separate ways – for the sake of something new?

And lost that magic feeling, when the point was me and you.

You found yourself a stranger and i found myself alone,

to walk the windy streets in search of bodies, rags and bones.

In retrospect this punishment was just what I deserved,

I forced the situation, maybe, living on my nerves.

At least it showed me something – I could love you without fear:

just give me time to show it and the point will be quite clear.’

A sparkle catches my eye; it’s sunshine on a wave.  The rain has stopped, and a pale, misty pastel rainbow forms above the village to the west. I look out to sea and I’m transported back to the late summer of ’78 when Maddox hired a Mini (he drove, I didn’t…and still don’t) and we went on a spontaneous camping holiday to North Devon – with Doggie, my second pooch, in a wooden trunk on the back seat – with her six, new born puppies: five mostly black, and one white.  Wonderfully eccentric.  Luckily, I took a camera. More of that magical mystery tour later, although the quirky pictures you may have already seen certainly tell the proverbial story.

Ben had uncharacteristically disappeared back in the summer of ’77.  I was devastated (and felt guilty) and put up photocopies of his picture on all the trees in the street, and, after a few days and several fruitless visits to the Dog’s Home, in desperation, I even got the local paper to run a piece, with his picture on it, with the headline ‘Ben The Randy Dog Is Lost.’ He was actually bisexual too – he’d shag anything with a tail and four legs!  Prior to him going missing, I’d had so many calls from posh people in Kensington or Chelsea (via my canine ‘luggage tag system’), saying that he’d been ‘begging’ outside their mansion block, or whatever, and, just like the two old queens in St John’s Wood, they’d always find him adorable – which he was.  After a two weeks there was no sign of him, and I could only surmise that he’d been taken in by one of these upper-class people – perhaps a lonely old dowager duchess.  This was some small comfort. But Ben was gone… forever.

One day, there was a knock on my door – I opened it to find Maggie,  the local alcoholic, junkie, Irish prostitute (she lived next door), outside my door holding the cutest little brown puppy. ‘I heard about you losing your lovely Ben,’ she slurred in her thick, Irish brogue, thrusting the little brown dog towards me, ‘so I brought you Bambi!’  Bambi?  How could I say no? However, no amount of post-modern irony would persuade me to retain her name.  Doggie was daft, but sounded vaguely similar to Bambi to a puppie’s ears, I hoped.

Bambi, sorry, Doggie’s arrival soon prompted Tiddles and I to have a perfectly amicable divorce.  She decided to move in with Maggie *Cue Irish accent* the junkie whore next door.

Christabel worked for a rock music management company called Way Hey based in the nearby Yarrow Road – basically, she ran the office – and very efficiently too.  The company was pretty successful as they looked after Eaglestorm, the Uk’s most successful space-rock band after Pink Floyd; their equally happening offshoot band Engineface (whose singer Gimme had been their bass player, until he’d got busted for possession of amphetamines in Canada, whilst they were on tour and was summarily sacked by the band’s erstwhile leader Frank Ferret).

One day in July, she’d called me, sounding rather excited, suggesting that we meet for dinner in our favourite restaurant on Portobello Rd, as she’d ‘had a stroke of genius regarding my career’.  So… what was afoot?

When I arrived she was sitting at the bar with a cocktail, looking fabulous, as ever, dressed in retro pink and black satin, wearing a  black pillbox hat with a pink ostrich feather in it. ‘Daaaarling!’ She enthused, jumping off her stool and embracing me extravagantly. At this point we pretended, as was our wont, to virtually make love on the spot.  There were some raised eyebrows, giggles and whispered exchanges from the clientele. We just fell about laughing, as ever.  I ordered a Bloody Mary and eventually she breathlessly rattled-off her cunning game plan.  ‘Guess who’s urgently looking for a new keyboard player?’

‘Hmmm… one of Way Hey’s bands, i would imagine?’ I suggested, rather hoping it would be the hugely successful American funk band Congress Of Crazies, whom they managed in the UK. ‘Go on then, tell me.’

She stirred her cocktail, pausing for dramatic effect, then said in an exaggerated stage whisper: ‘I’ve already told them it HAS to be you… it’s Eaglestorm (they were huge!  They sold-out major venues all over the country)!’

‘So! One of their roadies is going to pick you up tomorrow and take you to the farm where they’ve just started recording their new album in Cornwall, and, you’ll get the job, believe me.  You can take the very pregnant Doggie too!

‘Wow – that’s incredible! but I don’t have any suitable space rock keyboards.’

‘Oh don’t worry about that!  She said, tossing her elegant head, her eyes sparkling, ‘they’ve got all the latest polyphonic synthesisers and string machines, echo units, even some vintage keyboards too.’

I shook my head disbelievingly, but I couldn’t hide the huge grin on my face.

I hugged her and said ‘Thanks so much darling – you’re amazing.’

I was indeed invited to join the the band the very next day, after my ‘audition’ at the farm, and went straight into recording the album with them, playing the fantastic Yamaha CS-80, the first-ever ‘portable’ (although it took four people to lift it) polyphonic synthesiser, and a cool selection of keyboards. They were soon to change their name to The Eaglekings as they were,  it transpired, locked in a contractual battle with Enigma, their record label, so Frank Ferret, the band’s guitarist and erstwhile leader took the unilateral decision to change the band’s name, albeit for just a couple of years.

This brings us full-circle to the present day, after a thirty two-year hiatus.  The Eaglekings did a six-date mini-tour (with no rehearsals!) earlier this year with two original members (myself and Mr Wallbanger) and the cream of the ex-members of Eaglestorm, including the increasingly deaf founder-member Rik Bunsen, but certainly not the fiendish Frank Ferrett (the stealer of peoples’ souls), who has sole ownership of the Eaglestorm name, and still tours and records with what’s left of them.

I flick through the notebook and and see that I recorded that six puppies were born on my bed at the farm on August the 4th, 1978.

The album took about six weeks to record at the rented farm, which was a rambling, Victorian building decorated in a pleasingly shabby-chic style,  surrounded by rolling hills, verdant fields and forests. All the live recording took place in a massive barn – just as well it was summer –  which had great acoustics for drums and vocals.  They’d hired a mobile studio, which was housed in a beautifully-restored Airstream caravan(the classic American chrome ones from the 50s) which belonged to Reggie Street, the bass player from 60s acid-popsters-turned-raucus-rockers The Places – formerly known as The Tall Places.

The sessions went very smoothly and it seemed that I got on well with the band, which was a five piece. Although Frank Ferret kept his distance, he seemed amiable enough, despite insisting on talking like a Monty Pythonesque officer in The RAF, which soon became irritating. He referred to himself as The Commander. The bass player rejoiced in the name Winston Wallbanger, which was obviously a pseudonym.  He was charmingly avuncular, even at the age of thirty, and was rather badly behaved, drinking heavily and taking drugs (speed was his favourite) to excess, but he was always witty and intelligent, with a twinkly, knowing smile.  The drummer was called Grahame Radcliffe and was a flamboyant, rather corpulent character, evidently from an upper-class background, who seemed to come from another era-  Falstaff-meets-Terry Thomas, if you like. But he was good company and great raconteur, although a bit of a show off, especially when there were attractive women to endeavour to impress. Steven Elgin, pale and interesting, was the charismatic and characterful singer.  His lyrics were very poetic and pertinent and his voice sometimes reminded me of Brian Ferry, and at other times David Bowie (although technically he was nowhere near as good), but his delivery, rhythm and diction were spot on, and really quite compelling. His dress sense was wonderfully eccentric and whacky, which matched his droll and highly intelligent sense of humour.  We would construct elaborate, spontaneous jokes using clever word-play and arcane references, which I found pleasurable, as I boasted a left-field, daft-yet-clever sense of humour myself.  He was quite the creative genius and a truly original visionary.  We became IBFs:  instant best friends.

Steven suffered from manic depression (now more commonly known as bipolar disorder) and had massive mood swings, and, before long, I found myself acting as his ad-hoc, erstwhile therapeutic  ‘swingometer’ and sounding board. He was really relaxed with me and his extreme  mood changes became less frequent after I joined the band. At least for a while.

Christabel came down for the weekend, soon after the puppies were born and she, like everyone else, fell in love with them. ‘I have to HAVE one!’ She trumpeted, in her pantomime, Queen Of Hearts voice: ‘give me an adorable PUPPY or it will be ORF WITH YOUR HEAD!’  She chose the only bitch (hah!) and named her Maisy, knowing that she’d have to wait for a few weeks to take delivery, upstairs in St Dukes Road.  I, meanwhile, had chosen a black male with a white flash on its chest, and named him Slash.  Now there was a potential problem – how was I going to get Doggie and her brood back to London?

The phone rings:  ‘Hello’

‘Hello daaaarling!’ purrs Christa.   Typical:  psyching-in again.

‘Just reading my notebook from 1978, but you knew that didn’t you?’

‘Of COURSE!  Do you remember the HORSE?’

‘Which horse?’

‘At the farm with The Eaglekings, when I came down when you were recording the album.  There was a beautiful brown stallion in the field next to the farm and I wanted to ride him, but when we went to see him in his field you were a bit uptight – somehow scared of him.’

‘Ah! I forgot  all about that.  It’s because I used to go horse riding as a seven-year old kid and had a trauma, despite having those wonderful memories of galloping bareback at full tilt across fields and jumping over gates; horse and kid in total accord. But one day, a horse trod on my foot and broke it.  I’m sure he didn’t mean to, but, at my age, it signalled the end of my riding.  But I’ll never forget  those  beautiful, evocative memories of animal and boy galloping across the fields.’

‘That’s very sad,’  said Christa, ‘but it sends me lovely visual messages. But do you remember that I suggested that you truly communicate with the brown stallion, just relax, treat him as if he were a dog.  Then suddenly, you were like best buddies; with Doggie, you and him chasing each other around the field and bonding.  It was wonderful.’

‘But did you manage to ride him? I don’t remember.’

‘Sure did.  He was determined to fuck-me over.  NO-ONE rode this muther-fucking STALLION!  I wasn’t having it though. He bucked and bronco’d, he tried to throw me, but I just kept saying: no way Jose.  I’m here to stay.  Then suddenly he calmed, tossed his mane and I was riding proudly around the fields like a female warrior taking a break from the rigours of battle, with my trusty steed.’

‘I love that.  Heroics, healing and horses.’

‘But please don’t let people see the nude pic of us on the beach… that’s just a step too far.  I don’t do body parts.’

Wo nurries Contessa!  I won’t. So… do you remember the night of my 26th birthday in ’78?’

‘Of course, darling.  Maddox and I had organised a surprise party for you and had insisted that you dress-up for the occasion, but you got all grolschy and were moaning that it was YOUR birthday and that YOU wanted to go and hang out and have a good time, not just have an intimate dinner for three!’

‘Ha ha ha! That’s so funny, I’d forgotten that.’

‘Well, it WAS thirty-two years ago my angel!  Gotta go. Love, love love!’

‘Back atcha you old slag…bye!’

I’m naturally uplifted by Christa’s uncanny ability to zone-in on just about everything.  What a wonderful woman and an amazing friend. My bestest.  Shame that she now lives in the country with her very talented fourth hubby (he acts, he sings, he plays guitar, he teaches) and we never really see each other anymore – perhaps just at Christmas in Bath with my family.  I return to my reminiscing with a smile on my face.  Christa has doubled the power of my flash-backs with her enthusiastic recall.

The weather  in Cornwall in the summer of ’78 was really hot and sunny and a whole bunch of us decided to have a picnic on Porthcannan Sands, a stunningly beautiful  beach with miles of white sand, dunes and great surfing waves.  Strangely, the beach was deserted, so Christa and I decided to have someone (I don’t recall who) take the aforementioned picture of  Christa and I before we all ran into the huge breakers. After several minutes of swimming, jumping and splashing around, I suddenly realised that I could no longer feel the ocean floor.  I was looking towards the dunes and suddenly noticed that my bright-red towel seemed much further away.  Uh oh! We were being washed out to sea by the currents! I shouted and waved at everyone in the water, indicating emphatically that we had to get back on dry land… NOW!  Andy, one of the roadies, began to panic, so Christa and I shouted at him to calm down, then grabbed his arms and helped him to swim back to safety. Eventually, we all collapsed onto the beach, gasping for air. ‘Wow!’ I exclaimed, breathing heavily, ‘THAT was a close call.

Just before the album was finished, Maddox came down for the weekend in a quite impressively macho, rented truck.  Christa, ever resourceful, had ‘swung it’ that he could be a temporary roadie – he even got paid –  as some of the equipment needed to be taken back up to London.  So that’s how Doggie and her puppies got back to my place –  the puppies were in a cardboard box on the second passenger seat next to mine, and Doggie was at my feet.  Maddox was relishing his roadie role, dressed in a pair of the customised overalls that Christa had given him, which had been created by the famous artist and designer Dougie Dibbles,  as part of the whole touring concept for the band, which he was conceptualising with Steven Elgin, the Eagleking’s singer  – a heady, dystopian cocktail of Abstract Expressionism, Punk, Nietzscheian Nihilism, Modernism, Fritz Lang and The Bauhaus –  and hard rock. We laughed a lot, caught sight of each other’s eyes and squeezed hands:  it really felt like we were in love.  I get a lump in my throat even now, thinking about it.

We were soon to rehearse for the extensive autumn tour.  Along with the Yamaha CS-80 (with its groundbreaking ‘strip’ which ran the length of the keyboard, so you could play it like a violin, or make big fat chords rise or fall over three or four octaves in dramatic melodic freefalls), I also selected an ARP Solina string machine, a vintage, red Vox Contintental organ (its keyboard featured black notes that were white and white notes which were black) and a monophonic Mini Korg synthesiser for playing solos and swirly, spacy noises on, from the Eagleking’s large selection of keyboards. I was also to have four WEM echo units – and 3,000 watts of personal monitoring power on tour (which might explain the irritating tinnitus that I now occasionally suffer from in my left ear:  I always played sideways-at-an-angle, facing the band, on ‘stage right’).  This selection was going to make a fantastic wall of sound for the live gigs. I was also informed by Way Hey, the management company, that I could commission a custom-built, four-tier keyboard stand from a metalworks, to be ready for the rehearsals back at the farm. Rock n’ roll glamour!

I faxed my design and the measurements to the office.

We had a two-week break before rehearsals for the tour began, so that was when Maddox and I spontaneously decided to hire the Mini and go on a camping holiday in the South West – with Doggie and her six puppies in a wooden chest on the back seat. We stopped off at my parent’s house in Bath and spent the night there – we needed to borrow one of the family tents.  My sister  Loopy and the twins, Danny and Spike, were still teenagers and still living at home, which, in 1978, was one of those classic townhouses in Great Balustrade Street, which my parents had bought for £29,000 in ’74. Why was it such a bargain?  Because it had previously been converted into a warren of bedsits – many of the rooms having been crudely divided – but the stunning original features, including a genuine ‘Adam’, marble fireplace in the first-floor drawing room – had miraculously survived. They’d made a handsome profit on the house that my siblings and I had grown-up in, in the idyllic old part of a village called Tideford, by the river, between Bath and Bristol, so were able to commit a massive £60,000 to restoring the Georgian house in Bath – with me in charge. This design-and-architecture buff and enthusiast  was suddenly in seventh heaven.

When the old house in Tideford – a large, square Victorian six-bedroomed semi – had burnt down, just after Christmas in1968, leaving just four walls, I’d had a wonderful blank canvas on which to design the new one.  I created a highly detailed model for its rebuild, which later helped me to ‘sail’ into Art College in Bristol.  We had to live in two caravans in the garden for a year, before the insurance claim got successfully paid-out.  My parents and the three younger ones shared a wonderfully camp, kitsch pink, 50s monstrosity about forty feet-long (it was very similar to the one featured in the  John Waters movie Pink Flamingos), and us three older boys shared a smaller old wreck which they’d bought from a farmer for £50.  I completely gutted it and rebuilt it inside with two bunks forming an L-shaped ‘conversation area’ and a third bunk built above a communal desk, which was mine. I decorated it in shades of chocolate brown and orange. Austin was thirteen, I was sixteen and Bear was seventeen.

On the ground floor of what was now a burnt-out shell, there had originally been four reception rooms, each of which was about thirteen-by-twelve feet, along with a small kitchen extension ro the side.  I redesigned this to become two, double receptions, with folding, glazed wooden doors connecting them via the large, square, entrance hallway in the centre of the front of the house.  Then there was an arch from the kitchen/dining room (with its original cream-coloured, coke-burning Aga, which had survived the fire) containing a large, island breakfast bar, with eight stools around it, to the new, much larger kitchen extension, with its large picture window overlooking the lovely garden.  A spacious new sun-room extension by the front door was accessed from the dining area: it had a balcony on its roof, which was accessed from a glazed door in the first-floor hall.  This was truly radical and way ahead-of-its time.  I’d sacrificed one of the four bedrooms on the the first floor to create a luxurious bathroom with a rainforest theme when the house was rebuilt – totally to my design.  I painted a Henri Rousseau-inspired mural on two of the walls to give the impression that you were bathing in an open-sided, ‘The Castaways’-style, jungle tree house.  I recently heard through the family grapevine that this mural, having apparently being painted-over, had been re-discovered by new owners of the house and fully restored.  I’ll have to go and knock on the door the next time I happen to be passing and find out if it’s true: digital camera at the ready.

Before the fire, there had been two long, thin attic rooms on the second floor.  One had been a genuine  enclave for Bear, myself and Austin.  Our parents, despite being relatively strict on certain levels (especially my stepfather), had decreed that it was an adult-free zone, and never ventured into our magical kingdom, for which I had overseen the decoration – walls of purple and orange and room dividers made of chocolate-coloured curtains. The other attic room was a study and store room for our stepfather Gerald’s huge stamp collection. This was was his calling: he was a philatelist.  My mother had taught herself to become a numismatist (a specialist, or dealer in coins and medals) in an organic fashion, after marrying him, when I was six. They owned The Stamp And Coin Shop on the Adam-designed Balustrade bridge (with its amazing views over the weir) in Bath.  My brother Spike now runs the shop – along with his own mosaic tile business.

In my design, the attic became what we would now describe as ‘a loft apartment’ (like the one I’m blessed to now live in). Instead of two narrow rooms, I designed a large, lateral space of about thirty-five feet by twenty-five feet, with a massive dormer window overlooking the old village and the river valley and open countryside beyond.  This was to become teenaged party-central! As my reward for my endeavours, I designed a small bedroom (for myself) and a second bathroom for all three of us – just across the hall.

Everything got built according exactly to my plans.  There was no architect involved officially, apart from a family friend (who was one) and who drew-up the plans based on my designs and model, for nothing.  Grand designs!  At the time, I had considered the idea of studying to become an architect, but noted that it took seven years plus two years of internship, which was somewhat off-putting.  I was already playing in bands and writing songs, so it seemed logical to continue on that path.

These days, one of my of my regrets in my life is that I never been able to implement my plan to buy ‘wrecks’ in up-and-coming areas of London and turn them into arty dream-homes, making large profits and moving up the housing ladder as a result. There’s still a chance it could happen one day, I guess. I hope. I wish.

When work started on the Georgian town house in Great Balustrade Street in Bath in 1975, I was, living as I did in London, a part-time project manager .  This beautiful building had six stories, including a large  basement and a cellar.  The fact that it was adjacent to the house on the corner meant that it concealed a hidden secret: it was ‘double-fronted’ at the back, as it were, i.e L-shaped, and therefore massive – it boasted close to twenty rooms. With the aforementioned generous budget, I was able to oversee the restoration of this magnificent building to its former glory, whilst incorporating some somewhat radical design innovations, such as a shared en-suite bathroom for my teenaged siblings, a parental suite on the first floor, adjacent to the spacious and beautifully-proportioned, high-ceilinged drawing room, reached through new double doors; and in the large, open-plan kitchen-diner in the self-contained, two-bedroomed, top-floor flat (which was let mostly to actors performing at the Theatre Royal), a floor-to-ceiling, six foot-wide window created from glass tiles – which was inspired by Parisienne ateliers, after my first visit to Paris in 1974, to promote my first album ‘Mediums’.

In the basement and sub-basement I was able to run wild with a double-height, private cinema with raked seating for nearly thirty people.  I also designed a farmhouse-style kitchen in the spacious former dining room on the ground floor, with a red Aga (set against a chocolate brown wall), hand built units and a dresser created from reclaimed pine – again, way ahead of its time.  The tiny, former kitchen became Gerald’s study and the capacious, ground floor living room was a library and a cosy haven for the family, with its working, Victorian fireplace, art-deco three-piece suite (which I’d found at auction) and archway to a book-lined library alcove.

All the original pine window shutters were stripped down to the natural wood, as were the bannisters and newel-posts on the staircase. A beautiful wide-planked elm floor was revealed, then stripped and varnished in the first-floor drawing room, with it’s three large, floor-to-ceiling sash windows and (working) marble Adam fireplace and later – joy-of-joys! –  white, baby-grand piano (I think it was a present to thank me for all my design input into the house). All the reception rooms were painted with Georgian eggshell colours.  Pale blue, yellow, green and cream. The house was the ultimate, funky-and-friendly family home – not formal at all.  It was always full of interesting people.

And so it came to be that Maddox and I spent the night there with Doggie and her six adorable puppies (much cooed over by the family, of course), borrowed a two-sleeper tent with a sewn-in groundsheet and a flysheet, then set off the next day, with Doggie and her pups on the back seat in the wooden trunk (with its lid open, of course) , to a destination unknown, somewhere in Devon or Cornwall. We were adamant that we should just drive and follow our noses and have fun on the way.

We headed south- west.  All I can remember is laughter and love – we just had the best time-ever and were so relaxed, able to be really silly (always a good sign of true love), being a bit outrageous with the photos we took and having a great holiday – from the word go. As I recall, our first stop was at some very twee tea room in North Devon – I think it was in either Lynton or Lynmouth – and we were just taking the piss, pretending to be silly queens, which we weren’t; so there was a double irony which made it all the more enjoyable.  We were two handsome, masculine men who happened to be gay – and, we were in love.  We really were.

We wanted to find somewhere to camp (boom boom!) which would appeal to us because of its name.  It was getting late – dusk would soon be coming, and we had to pitch our tent and make sure Doggie and her pups were safe and sound.  Then we came across a road sign saying – and I kid you not – ‘Welcombe Mouth‘.  This was obviously destined to be our destination, so I asked Madd to take a picture of my very own ‘welcome mouth’ – then we headed for our soon-to-be legendary destination.  There was a campsite on a farm –  I think it cost £1 a night – which was set in rolling fields above a beautiful, sandy/rocky bay on the Atlantic coast. There was even a pub that did food in the tiny hamlet nearby.  There was a large stream running through the middle, with deep pools for (very cold) natural bathing and waterfalls.  As we arrived, it started to pour with rain, and we had great difficulty trying to erect the tent in a hurry, but managed eventually – and ended-up all snuggled-up on a double lilo under a duvet, with the puppies and their mother, drinking a nice Rioja, bathed in mellow candlelight (it was safe in a glass lantern) in our idyllic haven, with the romantic sound of the heavy rain on canvas – well, nylon –  eventually lulling us to sleep.

Could anything be more wonderful? We slept, spooned in perfect harmony, hugging and squeezing each other and celebrating being genuinely together in such an idyllic spot.

I was woken the next morning by the roaring sound of rushing water and noticed, to my alarm, that the side of the tent was actually fluctuating.  I shook Maddox and  told him to wake up – QUICK – then opened the zip and realised that we could be about to be swept over the cliff in a raging torrent – we’d pitched out tent right by the stream in the near-dark.  We rushed to take Doggie and her pups-in-the-trunk to safety in the car, then hurriedly took down the tent, just in the nick of time.  We then re-pitched it in the middle of a rolling field looking out to sea, on much higher ground.  The sun came out as we cooked sausages and beans on our single-burner Calor Gas stove, having made a pot of tea, as the puppies frolicked with their doting mother in the glorious sunshine as the clouds lifted above the sea. We were so happy, and, literally, in such a great place.  The photos say it all.

We spent a blissful, idyllic two weeks in this beautiful spot and were never, ever happier together. And the puppies were kind-of like the Disney-esque icing on the cake.  I remember that Doggie barked furiously if anyone came within fifty yards of our tent – protecting her brood.

When we reluctantly returned to London, Maddox agreed to look after Doggie & her doggielets – he didn’t have much choice really –  whilst I headed back to Cornwall for rehearsals for the UK tour, which was to take-in a massive forty venues – mostly hosting at least a thousand people – over the autumn of 1978.  The rehearsals went well and Steven (the ever-eccentric singer) and I bonded even more – I was his psychiatric support network, sending him good-energy-boosting vibes to make him perform freely as himself, not to be bogged down and hampered by his mental health issues.  He was happy. We laughed a lot.  His singing got even better, more strident and confident.  The band were tight and punchy…punky, even.  This is evident if you listen to the never-before released CD ‘Eaglekings: Live ’78’ which was released on Grapes Of Wrath Records in 2009, along with ’24 Hours Beyond’, the Eaglekings album which was recorded in the barn in Cornwall,  my first album ‘Mediums’ and my second album ‘Torn Genes’ (which went to number three in American Airplay Charts in 1980). All these CD re-releases occurred last year in 2009, the year that I moved to Rancho Deluxe – all good omens.

I close the book, go outside and sit on the sea wall in the early-afternoon sun, then, realising I’m hungry,  I decide to jump on the bus – having checked the timetable by the phone – and head to the Ferry Inn, for another of their delicious fresh crab and salad baguettes.  I also take my laptop to check my emails, as the signal had already proved to be strong there – knowing that my wretched broadband dongle actually worked in anything other than a coastal village behind the hills. When I got there and checked, there were over a hundred emails. I deleted most of them, apart from ones from family and friends and an interesting one from Larry Rogers, the Eaglekings guitarist, where he was mooting the idea that  he would take-on the organisation of the band touring Europe and The UK in the autumn of 2011, providing I would do the viral, internet PR and press, which I was already doing anyway.  I replied to his email in the positive/affirmative.  The last time I went on the road was with The Eaglekings in 1978, thirty-two years ago, which would have been the next instalment in the current notebook I am reading… had I written about it!  But I remember a great deal about that tour.  I’ll enlighten you further down the road, maaan!

I’ve spotted a boat with ‘Oudle River Cruises’ painted on its side coming towards the stone jetty by the pub.  That could be something a little different I think: why not?  Even though I don’t have my camera with me. I grab my bag and walk down as the crew tie-up alongside.  It’s £5.50 for an hour and-a-half.  And I haven’t been cruising, as it were,  for a long time.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any interesting men onboard.  So much for a holiday romance – the nearest I’d come to that was with Goldie – which was a complete fantasy long-shot – and chatting with various local yokels (arf arf) on Bangr, the gay, male hook-up Ap, which is currently only available on iPhone, although it will soon be on Blackberry too, I’m reliably informed. Enough social net geekery – it’s time to feel the river.

I climb the steep, metal stairs to sit on a darkly-varnished bench on the relatively empty, open upper deck as the boat heads into the estuary, snaking between four large car ferries criss-crossing the river – more like floating bridges really – which are propelled by huge chains which lay on the river-bed, I notice we’re passing the rather foreboding naval dockyards, with a variety of huge battleships, submarines and support-craft moored alongside vast hangars (or are they called sheds?) where they presumably get repainted (you can have any colour you like Captain – as long as it’s battleship grey!) and fitted-out.  Great rusty cranes dot the horizon like giant automatons, dipping and turning in a slow, random dance… of death?  Well, if this flotilla was heading for The Arabian/Persian Gulf, then that could indeed be the case.  We round a bend, leaving the dockyards behind us and there’s Brunel’s famous Oudle Railway Bridge high above.  The next road bridge is another twenty miles-or-so up-river – hence the ferries.  Eventually, the ugly, pebble-dashed, terraced houses and sprawling council estates of Raleigh on the right bank give way to verdant water meadows, teeming with wildlife.  I see a Cormorant diving from a bright green buoy and catching a fish near the muddy banks, then shaking off the water vigorously, the droplets hanging in the sunshine like a silvery haze. A beautiful, classic Georgian mansion appears on the left, with manicured lawns running down to the water’s edge, where there stands a large, two-story Victorian, wood-clad boathouse, with a large, first-floor balcony which I immediately fantasy-design-in-my-head as my new studio and holiday home – Rancho Deluxe Two!  Could this fantasy studio be the first place ever in my life where I could truly ‘freestyle’ without restraint of any kind,  singing my fucking tits-off really loud to a PHAT backing track – without anyone complaining, banging on the ceiling, knocking the door, texting me, phoning me… calling me ‘annoyingly noisy neighbour’, as opposed to simply ‘dead talented’? Long have I dreamt of such a songwriter’s Shangri-La, or, indeed nirvana (R.I.P Kurt); a fantasy of living and working where I can float into artistry on a cloud of no restrictions, across a river of inspiration, under a sky of true expression – without fear of having my magical moments disallowed by lemon-lipped, neighbourhood normality. I don’t blame them really – they have to get up for work and stuff.  I’m just a selfish singer-songwriter who loves to work at night.  It’s a frustrating catch-22.

The idea, however, of living in total isolation, as one who doesn’t drive, also miles from the nearest supermarket, simply  wouldn’t work for me, unless I was filthy rich, which, naturally, I fully deserve to be. So the likelihood of it happening is remote, to say the least.  It doesn’t stop me dreaming about such a perfect situation, and hoping fervently that one day it will before I evolve, or devolve,  into a doddering, spliff-smoking pensioner.

Now I’m getting fired-up: I need to shout, scream and dance to a great groove.  Scream down the house where no-one lives nearby and no-one cares – until they hear the results of this post-dated, somewhat senior baptism of fire – blown out of a delicious vacuum of complaints in the air, yet exhibiting a significant gulf stream of surging warmth and exhilaration; fecund, organic, growing, knowing when the tides are flowing and blowing in the wind.  And I will be a Merman:  waving, not drowning. Or perhaps… raving, not frowning.

I feel light drops of rain falling on my arms and head, and beat a hasty retreat to a seat in the boat’s cabin, with its panoramic windows revealing kinetic tales of the riverbank. I can feel words forming in my head and so I grab the 1978 notebook and a pen from my bag, find some blank pages and start to write:

‘The light… the water…the rain…the river….

it’s a serenade of  love for strangers who are in flux…

for the renegades of Rancho Deluxe.’

If only I could sing out my heart and soul at any time, day or night, without  the fear of metaphorical buckets of cold water being poured onto my head, then I would be in Rancho Deluxe Two, a heavenly place in which to simply CREATE fabulousness. Stretching boundaries, opening borders, crossing raging rivers, disobeying every order, in order to EXPRESS what is often locked in my heart, because of the constricts of control.  Noise pollution.  Neighbourhood watch.  Never being able to shout and sing like a true artist, yet, still managing, within those constraints, to write, sing and record passionate and committed songs – with heart and soul, against all the odds. Fate is a bastard sometimes.

So, all I need is for the Lord Of The Manor to give me the Boat House for… well,  life, in return for me being artist-in-residence and free mentor to those people who I see have natural gifts, which I can help to bring to fruition though advice and encouragement – following my week-end, open-mike, make-it-up-on-the-spot summer festival in the grounds of the mansion.  I’d better think of a good name for it.  The forests and meadows drift by through the boat’s windows. The words come into my head like a sea breeze:   The Fields Of Gravity.  But, unfortunately, like so many of my great ideas, it’s just a fantasy… until fate, luck (and some hard work from me) conspires to make it a reality. All fall down. Send in the clowns.

The boat has arrived back at the jetty by The Ferry Inn.  I disembark, having enjoyed a cognitive reflection whilst spending time alone in this wonderfully restorative environment.  I get lucky with the once-an-hour bus and hop-on after just five minute’s wait.

I stop off at the shop and get a frozen margarita  pizza –  which, naturally, I will customise with fresh herbs, red peppers and chorizo – and walk to the cottage feeling thoughtful, reflective, sober and, to be honest, more than a little lonely.

I make my ritualistic Virgin Mary (a glass or three… echo echo) and sit on the sea wall looking out to sea.  The first night of The Eaglekings’ forty-date tour comes twisting back to me like a headline-twisting rewind sequence in Citizen Kane. It was in Oxford, as I recall, at The New Theatre, in early October.  The show had gone very smoothly and it had been a turbo-charged performance – the musical interaction between us band members was electric.  There was a huge backdrop depicting a city of the future (from the early, 20th-century past), and four, scaffolding towers about twenty-feet tall, in each corner of the stage.  Atop each one was a follow-spot operated by roadies dressed in Dougie Dibbles’ paint-spattered white overalls. There were six dancers prancing around in a fairly meaningless manner (they only lasted a few dates),  cavorting with fluorescent hula-hoops.   The show was sold-out and the mostly male crowd roared their approval from the word go.  Backstage afterwards, in the capacious green room,  the mood was celebratory and much red wine and spliff was consumed by the band and crew (which comprised an astonishing twenty-two men).  I remember being asked by the road manager if I’d like to join him and several of the crew for a game of poker – gambling with stakes of no more than a pound.  I’d never played before, and when I explained this –  to hearty guffaws (they assumed I was being disingenuous – poker-faced, even), they simply didn’t believe me, especially when I later took the entire pot – then, naturally, bought everyone a drink!  I had been totally honest, as is my wont, and winning my first-ever game was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

The band were staying in decent hotels – sometimes even five-star – in single rooms (what a relief not to have to share) and we travelled in a proper tour bus with a toilet, kitchenette and even a couple of beds, at the back, which Steven and I commandeered for ourselves,  acting like naughty children, holding court like reclining, Romanesque rock gods, and constantly laughing. So much laughter.  Suddenly, I had morphed into being something of a rock star.  The level of adulation was almost embarrassing at times, but always very good natured.  There was always a large crowd waiting at the stage door after a gig, waving their programmes and records to get signed, sporting the band’s T-shirts and badges. Even in those days, the merchandise was really what made money. The production costs – especially with that mega stage set and huge crew – were enormous.  The ticket receipts barely covered it.  We were on a wage  – I think it was about £100 a week, plus we got perdiums – a daily allowance of £20 to cover expenses (mostly used on drink and spliff – although I rarely indulged until after a show).

Christabelle and Maddox joined us on the tour bus as we drove to another sold-out date, this time at Milton Keynes Leisure Centre, after a day-off in London.  One of the advantages of playing at such venues was that the band and crew got private access to the amenities – swimming pool, gym, sauna etc – once it had closed to the public.  On this occasion, no-one other than Maddox and I took up the offer, so it was great fun to be naughty boys and have sweaty, slippery sex in the sauna.

On another occasion, the bus had stopped at a service station somewhere in Kent for us to get some brunch.  Steven and I had been lolling about on our rock n’ roll recliners in track suits, seriously discussing the faintly ludicrous idea of going for a leisurely jog, perhaps only because we were vaguely dressed for it.  There was a garden centre adjacent to the service station and we set off, giggling, running down the path.  After about five minutes, we looked at each other, roared with laughter, sat down on a bench and had a cigarette – I smoked roll-ups (although I gave-up immediately – with the help of nicotine patches –  when I was diagnosed with emphysema in 2006) and he smoked Marlboroughs. We then ambled back to join the others in their feast of tepid baked beans, rubber toast, greasy, limp bacon and overcooked eggs. Life ‘on the road’ eh? Keruac and Dylan spring to mind, but the reality is, mostly, more prosaic.  But ‘space rock’?  Well, Steven was a star, a poet and something of an inspiration, so he made it all worth while, along with the excellent interaction between the musicians in the band. It was all good –  very good. We were very good.

A few days into the tour we’d ditched the Dougie Dibbles overalls (along with the ineffectual ‘dancers’) which we had initially been wearing, and a group of good-natured Hell’s Angels (who came to every gig for free as they acted as our unofficial security) insisted that I wear a ‘Hell’s Angel Original’ –  a sleeveless, leather biker’s jacket covered in badges – on stage.  I loved the honourable irony: me, a gay man, wearing such an ostensibly macho garment!  Mind you, there was definitely some gay – or bikesexual, perhaps – innuendo with The Angels. They angled for my attention (after all, I was a good-looking, young rock star!), one of them even lifting his jacket in the Green Room to reveal a tattoo inked above his arse which read ‘Pay before you enter!’ in typically gothic lettering

One night, we’d played at Bradford Town Hall, and were hanging out at the bar of our hotel at around midnight – I think it was a Holiday Inn, or something equally bland and dreary –  with our road crew, when the hugely successful, post-punk band The Angel Grinders shuffled in with their equally massive crew.  They’d also played in Bradford that night.  I ended up playing pool with their singer Paul Byron, who, it turned out, was also gay (but not ‘out’).  We were getting on famously – not that I found him in the least bit attractive;  too scrawny and short – when there was a sudden commotion by the bar, on the other side of the room. Then all hell broke loose:  fists were flying, glasses smashing – it was our two road crews having a massive brawl!  Guests fled the bar, fearing for their lives, a cigarette machine and a phone were ripped off the wall, chairs and tables were smashed and the place was trashed.  Paul and I hastily decided to retire to my room for a spliff (remember the days when you could smoke in hotels?) and a drink, leaving our tour manager to sort out things with the management – not only of the hotel, but of the bands.  Their problem, not ours.  Anyhow, there was always a fiscal contingency for such occurrences on tour in those less-than-halcyon days.

It was my 26th birthday when we were on tour too – November the 12th – which was actually a ‘day off’ in London, when Christa and Maddox informed me that they’d organised a birthday dinner for me. It was to be at a surprise venue; just the three of us.  Christa insisted, however,  that we had to dress-up for the occasion.  So we did – all in matching black and white.  Maddox looked so handsome. Christa looked stunning.  We shared a bottle of Champagne and a couple of spliffs at my place, then hailed a cab and headed North-west.  I can remember us being very raucous in the back of the cab and doing daft voices and indulging in general intelligent stupidity. Maddox was at last beginning to ‘get’  our ‘therapy of silliness’.  The cab pulled-up by Camden Lock Market.  ‘Come along birthday boy! ‘  Trilled Chista, in Queen Of Hearts mode, ‘We booked for eight and we’re very, very late!’.

The venue was that rather cool wood and glass restaurant that overlooks the dock and the lock itself –  it’s still there, I believe (it’s called The InSpiral Lounge these days, although it looks very ‘hippy’ now)), but I can’t recall what it was called back in ’78.  As we arrived Maddox said ‘You go first Thom, it is your 26th, after all.  Age before beauty!’

I swung open the door and was wonderfully shocked when about thirty people (seated around a square, banqueting table formation) chorused in unison ‘Surprise!’.

The rest of the night is a boozy, spliffy haze – but I certainly had a great time.  And so did one and all.

The next day The Eaglekings were playing at The Hemel Hempstead Pavilion (the glamour eh!), and when I arrived on stage for the sound check there was a large, flat white box sittting on top of my Yamaha CS-80.  ‘What’s this?’ I asked no-one in particular..

‘Open it!’  Everyone shouted.

It was one of those over-sized, really bad-taste, flowery sentimental birthday cards – an ironic joke, of course – which all of the band and crew had signed with lots of silly comments such as ‘Happy birthday Thom, leave your hotel room door open later – my bum is all yours tonight!’.