My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 8

12 Jun

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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!’.

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