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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.


Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams


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 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.


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

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.


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.


2012 in review

12 Jan

The 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>


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

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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).



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!’.

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 7.

17 Jan

Chapter 7.  Homo and Away.

“Ibiza. 21.8.1988.

Es Cavallet, the gay nudist beach, has changed a lot from when I first came here in the late 70s. Then, there was nothing but the sea, the dunes and the acres of fragrant pine forest behind.  Then the next time I came – in the early 80s –  a ramshackle hut had materialised and became an ad hoc bar – with half an old oil drum used as a barbecue. Now, however, there’s a fully-fledged  brick-built, white-painted restaurant with a large paved terrace under a pergola thatched with reeds to shade people from the sun, and two bars.  There are even toilets and showers.  The menu is extensive and rather expensive  – lots of fresh seafood  – and there’s a wide range of wines, beers, spirits and cocktails. I never drink in the day, even on holiday – I more than make up for it at night though.   Next time I come, I won’t be surprised to see a marina and a swimming pool here!

It was very busy when I arrived. Relatively big waves because of an unusually brisk breeze.  Azure sea and sky. Soft, white sand covered by hundreds of mostly naked , male bodies varying in shades from lobster pink to mahogany. Not much beauty as far as I could see, holding my hand over my eyes to survey the scene.  Lots of ageing ‘clones’ and a large number of very obese, ginger Germans.  I didn’t particularly care – I was just happy to be there. There were also some very funny sights:  like a Quentin Crisp look-a-like ‘dressed’ in a huge gold chain dangling above a tiny, gold lame posing pouch, who was constantly brushing his bleached-blond coiffure, in vain, because of the wind.  Another weird specimen was sporting an artfully arranged, Tarzan-esque chamois-leather loin cloth, with matching ethnic booties, all carefully torn and tied with leather laces, to the mid-calf.  This wild ensemble was topped with a leopard-print headscarf tied around his hair, which was dyed and bleached to look ‘savage’.  What really made me gag was the massive Louis Vuitton shoulder bag (on a beach?) which he was flouting like a trophy.  It was probably fake.

Black, white or fluorescent cycle shorts seemed to be the most popular fashion item, along with skinny, torn T-shirts with ‘Boy London’ written on them.  But most people were nude, certainly not ‘boys’ and probably not from London. Having staked my claim to a spot on the beach (I didn’t feel the need to pay for a sun-lounger) I laid out my towel, stripped-off, and ambled into the foaming breakers through a good deal of grungy seaweed which was beneath the surface.  God only knows what was lurking amongst it (jellyfish, turds, condoms, conga eels, sharks etc) but I made it to the relative safety of the mild, mediterranean surf and spent several minutes playing ‘jump-up when the wave comes’ and swam a few miles, okay, yards, before heading back to the sand for some serious nude sunbathing.

I didn’t talk to, or meet a soul.  I guess none of them appealed to me. Around 6.30 in the evening I decided that it was time to put on my shorts and T-shirt, grab my bag and check out the dunes and the pine forest for any signs of homo sapiens erecto, but there was no-one who appealed to me – it was also much less busy than ‘B.A’ (Before AIDS).  Ho hum. Regardless, I still felt wonderful, glowing in the dappled sunlight with my light, golden tan.  After a while I wandered back through the pine-scented forest to Las Salinas and caught the bus back to my cool and spacious studio apartment in Ibiza Town, showered and changed and headed for dinner at Olmos.  This is a charming little boho, gay restaurant selling authentic, Spanish food  – with a menu in French, for some reason –  beautifully cooked and presented (the moules farcies was one of my faves), which I washed down with a very decent bottle of Rioja.  I sat outside on the terrace in the little piazza, enjoying the music emanating from the funky little bar opposite. African music crosses over at last!  Then I sauntered off through the narrow, winding, cobbled streets to check-out all the gay bars.  Several new one have sprung-up since I was here last – mostly beneath the castle walls.  The actual bars are generally tiny – more like booze kiosks really, generally no bigger than my bijou living room back in Crapton Street in South London.  Everyone sits outside on colourful cushions themed to match the bar’s decor on benches fashioned from concrete and painted white.  All very funky, but mostly populated by ‘clones’ (gay men with moustaches or beards, trying to look manly, wearing Levis 501s, work boots, and white T-shirts or vests  – tank tops to you Yanks – and/or plaid shirts). I made a mental note to shave-off my moustache (which I did today – it makes me like five years younger – about thirty then!  – but  I feel strangely naked without it).

I met a guy called Guy (pronounced ghee) who, it transpired, owns the bar called GG’s. By now, I was more than slightly schlozzled and probably bored the pants off him by going into a diatribe about ‘clones’ and anything else that came into my head.  You get an awful lot of Vodka for just a few pesetas in Spain!  Then I met a guy from London called Roger – he’s been living here for over four years now – whom I thought that I’d fucked once, but it turned-out that I hadn’t. He reminded me that not only had I screwed his beautiful Fijian friend, but also his even more gorgeous brother  (the Fijian’s, not Roger’s) in my bed, when I rented a whole Georgian house near Regent’s Park in 1980 for £25 a week.  Yessiree!  There was a catch though – it was semi derelict with no kitchen or bathroom. It all came back to me. Mmm! What fun! Then, what I thought was a complete (and decidedly unattractive) stranger stopped me in the calle, by grabbing my arm and stating:  ‘You’re from London, you’re a singer-songwriter (huh? must have been a long time ago, I mused ruefully), and we had lunch with Mary Whitehouse and the theatre critic from The Guardian, it must have been about twelve years ago.’  He enthused.  I remembered the lunch very well.  Who wouldn’t remember having lunch with England’s self-appointed ‘moral guardian’.  She revealed, as I recall, a massive ego and a seriously batty demeanour.  The journalist had a bit of a crush on me, I think, and thought it would amuse me to have lunch with Mary Whitehouse. Indeed it did.  But I didn’t remember this guy at all.  He stared at me like an eager old dog and continued breathlessly: ‘It was in Parson’s restaurant on Fulham Rd – I’ve got a very good memory for faces…’ ‘

Well, nice to see you again.’ I said pleasantly, turning to walk away.

‘Oh… goodbye then.’

I found myself in the Incognito bar, which was packed, and was forced to listen to the moronic, baying banter of a bevy of British ‘nelly clones’ who were from oop north – Manchester, perhaps. ‘Ooooh loov, what’s she liiiike!’ Screamed one, arms flapping histrionically. ‘Tell me abaht it gurlfriend, Ah mane, she’s not exactly Steve McQueen, is she loov!’ Squealed another. And so it went on ad infinitum. I naturally kept schtum, wishing to keep my nationality a closely-guarded secret.  Luckily, they didn’t try to embroil me in one of their pathetic little scenarios.  If they had, I would have merely stated: ‘No hablo Ingles.’ With a suitably apologetic expression.

Weds. 24. 8. 88.  9.30pm.  On the balcony at 11, Carrer De Mar (my temporary home).

I had a wonderful time last night. I really felt like I was on holiday, which was kicked-off  by a brilliant dinner at La Torre, a funky French bistro overlooking the harbour.  A guy I’d seen at the beach and had named Mr Hunk (with the beautiful eyes) and his two bitter-looking companions sat at an adjacent table and ignored my presence completely.  Well, they are French.  Mr Hunk’s body language suggested that he’s a hung-up, wannabe (gay) macho bore.  Maybe I’ll find out. Very good-looking, but… I somehow doubt that anything will happen there.  Then I wandered happily up the narrow streets which were teeming with people, heading for Incognito.  All the shops and restaurants were still open at midnight, with everyone sitting outside.  It was a wonderfully vibrant-yet-mellow atmosphere; sights, sounds and aromas all wrapped-up in the mediterranean heat of the night and that unique, up-beat Ibizan magic.  I noticed fishing boats headed out to sea all lit-up, like a string of fairy lights in the inky black void.

I hit the bar at Incognito (not literally, you understand, I was far from angry) to discover, as I ordered una cerveza, that Lyndsay, the English barman (who by now, it would appear, had something of a thing for me),  ‘was feeling depressed and would reveal all later’.  I said that might be difficult as I had a free ticket to the legendary KU club.  Get-out clause!  I’m on holiday, man!  The last thing I need is to be someone’s depression sponge.  Fuck right off!  I don’t even find you attractive – you’ve just latched, or leched, on to me.

I get a taxi To KU. Wow!  What an amazing space.  It’s a vast outdoor pleasure dome set around a massive swimming pool with terraces, palm trees, exotic plants, fountains and a huge dance floor  on several levels with a stonking sound system playing really interesting music: essentially, black/street-meets-electro/indy.  Esoteric, eclectic and decidedly electric. But the people?  OH MY GOD, the people!  A gruesome Eurotrash nightmare! Tourists, I imagine.  Very, very straight.  One token drag queen (presumably to add a bit of ‘outrageous’ to the equation).  Swarthy men sporting medallions and mullets!  Even grandmothers in POLYESTER! The crowd made the clientele of London’s dreadful Hippodrome club look hip, but on this wonderfully sultry night, in this incredible outdoor fantasy-space, it seemed a shame.  Evidently, I came on the wrong night of the week!  Some dog-woman singer called Joanna Charlie (arf arf) was supposed to be doing a PA, which I thankfully missed, but as was leaving, I over-heard  her issuing ‘lighting directions’ to a stage technician, regarding her ‘best angles’.  She was  wearing the most vile lime-green lurex ruched mini dress – it had  enough flounces to make a drag queen dance a waltz of joy – then steal it from her dressing room.

I walked down the road heading for another  legendary all-outdoor club called Amnesia,  using the club’s lasers criss-crossing the starry sky as my guide.  I’d met a Brazilian beauty on the gay beach earlier who’d said he’d let me in for free.  Said? Yes, that reminds me:  SAID (with two dots over the i – or is it the A?) is here in Ibiza too.   This is the Arab guy who tried to score  with the man I loved, Tony McCord.  Said,  the beautiful young man who slept with me so many times but refused to let me touch him.  Said, the guy who managed to drunkenly lurch onto the stage at the Hippodrome and actually TURN OFF the Revox tape recorder that was playing the backing track for The Gruesome Girls debut performance in front of two thousand music industry professionals last year.  Yes – THAT Said.  Nuff SAID – what a twat.

I’ll write more about The Gruesome Girls at some other point… that’s probably another chapter in itself.

I bumped into SAID on the way to the beach yesterday, where he declared that he was now ‘an international, penniless waiter’.  I s’pose he made quite a good accessory, as he is rather beautiful.  But what an idiot.

Renaldo, the doorman at Amnesia, was obviously as impressed with my club-promoting credentials (as indeed he should be) as I’m impressed with his pectorals. We chatted a little at the gate and he kindly shared a spliff with me and gave me an ecstasy tab.  He seemed a little odd – kind-of nervous and/or neurotic.  Drugged-fucked perhaps?  Too much free coke and E?  Oh well.  I floated in, bought a beer and necked the E.  Amnesia is another incredible club space.  All outdoors again, great sound-system, but here the crowd was much younger and cooler, much to my relief.  There was, however, no so-called ‘acid house’, no flowery Bermuda shorts, no smiley T-shirts or gypsy head scarves.  Strange.  I thought the whole acid-house thing started in this very club. Hmmm, I think London took some roots and cultivated them organically.  Perhaps Ibiza had got bored and already moved on? The  Amnesia DJs were playing what was basically really good American, black, streety music.  Short interludes, mixed very fast.  It was great to hear a re-mix one of my all-time faves ‘Going Back To My Roots‘ by Richie Havens, which, oddly enough, I recall hearing on my first visit to Ibiza about nine years ago.  The original mix, that is.

The club was very busy, but comfortably so.  Plenty of space to move around the huge dance floor under the stars, with its giant metal obelisks, fountains, pools and parasols.  The floor was jumping, so I jumped-in with both feet flying.  Yes ME!  I can really dance well when the spirit moves me.  I was off on one like a whirling dervish.  I went into a dance trance, my feet were hardly touching the ground –  wheeeeee! –  and then, after a few numbers, I suddenly noticed that I was surrounded by a big circle of smiling people all clapping.  What – me?  I can only describe it as ‘the Ibiza effect’.  It was both liberating and uplifting.

I got another cerveza and noticed a beautiful young black man I’d spotted earlier sitting alone on some stairs, but looking slightly the worse for wear.  I pulled  a questioning ‘are you OK’ kind of face from the bar.  He motioned back with ‘too much smoking dope’ in sign language, with a wry grimace.  God – do I remember THAT from when I was a teen (he looked about 17)? I recall turning green and lying in a foetal position on a bathroom floor having smoked too much Nepalese temple ball, Lebanese red or Afghani gold, probably washed down with cider, on many occasions in those  heady days in the late 60s.  I went over to him, put my arm around him and said: ‘I’ll make you better.’

To my surprise, he gave me a trusting, almost relieved look. I tested the aura around his head with my hands about four inches from  each side of his head. It seemed fine.  Nothing cold, dark and swirly. I said gently ‘Look, it’s all in your mind and I’ll get rid of it, OK?’ He smiled sweetly and looked me in the eye. They  were big and beautiful.  I put my right hand about two inches behind the back of his head and pumped in positive energy, using horizontal  bands of pulsing white light which I then sent around to my left hand, which was positioned about the same distance from his forehead, and released the energy through my own head into the universe, like a super-charged, white tornado.  ‘Tell me if you feel dizzy…’  I said.

‘I feel…fine.’ He mumbled, his head rolling just slightly from side-to-side. Obviously, it was working. I turned and held my hands horizontally on each side of his head, swirling the white light around anti-clockwise and releasing the white tornado out of the top of my head and into the heavens again.

‘What’s your name and where are you from?’ I asked softly, still giving him aura healing.

‘Topher. from Germany.’  He said dreamily.

‘Oh yes, I can tell, with your blond hair, blue eyes etc…’ I joked.  He laughed sweetly.  ‘And how old are you?’.

‘Twenty.’  He replied.

‘Liar!’  I thought to myself, ‘You’re younger than that.’

Seventeen, I reckoned.  ‘Right, you should be fine.  Now, just blink, as if you just woke up,  sit still for two minutes, relax and breath slowly and deeply.  I’ll see you later.’ I said squeezing his shoulder.  He blinked his long black lashes and looked at me warmly and said:  ‘Thank you so much, I feel refreshed and so much better!’

I didn’t want him to think I was ‘coming on to him’ – and nor was I.  I wandered off, wondering whether Topher was gay.  Yes.  Of course he was,  Beautiful, fresh, inexperienced perhaps. Maybe I would have my wicked way later – but only if it was mutual, organic and acceptable to him.

Then I spotted the most beautiful man I’d yet seen on the island  – an Egyptian/Italian whom I’d inveigled into conversation at Incognito the other night. He’d been pleasant, but slightly offhand, possibly because what appeared to be his boyfriend had been sitting next to him.  He’d seemed older, not particularly attractive (to me, at least).  They’d left.  Now here they were in Amnesia. I observed them from a short distance and realised that they’d noticed me and were talking about me – you know how people can’t avoid looking at someone that they’re discussing, even though they think they’re being subtle or discreet?  The Egyptian smiled and beckoned for me to come over.  ‘Hi’, I said, sitting next to him on a low wall with cushions on it, by the fountain, ‘so I guess you two are lovers?’ They exchanged secretive smiles and both nodded happily.  I was buzzing, enjoying myself, a little bit drunk as well as high from the E, and from healing Topher – who was now happily dancing in a world of his own.  The Egyptian/Italian had huge blue eyes and jet black hair – very unusual – and his eyes were warm and intelligent as he smiled at me.  His Italian lover now visibly relaxed – I think they’d decided that they liked me.  I was giving out positive energy and they seemed to be picking-up on it. Soon, we were acting like new best friends. Topher came over and said brightly: ‘It worked!’ I grabbed his hand and said ‘Lets dance – it’s the spirit of Ibiza!’

The Italians, who it transpired earlier are from Milan, got up to dance too.  The older one was a pharmacist called Guillermo and the younger one a fashion student (no surprise there, then) called Islam.  They smiled indulgently as Topher and I went wild on the floor.  Then suddenly it was 6am.  Closing time.

‘Do you sleep with men?’  I asked him directly, but slightly gingerly.

‘Yes, sometimes,’ he replied, his dark eyes burning into me, ‘but I can’t decide what to do – my friends want to go to Space, the all-night club, and I would really like to come with you.’

Wow!  ‘I’d really like you to come with me too!’  I said, giving him a man-hug.  He went off to find his friends. That was the last I saw of him.

26. 8. 1988.  Cafe Montesol.  10.30pm.

I’m waiting to meet Guillermo and Islam for dinner.  They’re late.  After losing Topher, I’d at least found them, so we could share a cab back to town.   The sun had risen over the mountains – which really do look white – hence La Isla Blanca.  Maybe it’s something to do with salt. Islam keeps touching me and squeezing my arm in the cab, dammit. They are lovers Thom!  He looks at me intently with his huge, turquoise-blue eyes and says:  bellisimo – you are beautiful.’  I nearly die on the spot.  Guillermo nods and smiles in agreement. Who the hell wouldn’t like the odd wonderful compliment?  ‘Come back to my apartment – I haven’t had any visitors yet.  I have drinks!’

They came back and we had coffee and brandy and talked happily for an hour or two.  Islam has been to London (damn, how did I miss him?) and liked the clubs The Oven and Nirvana.   What! Not MINE? It was only a weekend visit, he explained. I have to FORGET any thoughts I might nurture of sleeping with him as the two of them are obviously very content and trusting with each other.   No way was I trying to suggest a threesome, as I didn’t fancy Guilermo at all, and, frankly, I’m really not into threesomes – especially with couples.   You just end-up being their metaphorical tennis net (trust me – I’ve been there). But it was really good to have someone to communicate with, on a level.  On holiday, and even in my normal life, I spend too much time alone.  I think it’s because I’m very choosey about who I spend my time with.  I always demand that they be witty, intelligent, intellectual, have an understanding of irony,  love being silly (in a clever way, natch), surprise me with inspirational things, bring me warmth, be a joy to spend time with (and, should we have some mutual, sexual attraction, for massive bonus points, be really fit, masculine and sexy with luscious lips and a fabulous butt)… otherwise, I’m the hermit. That’s really what being an artist is all about: the arcane ability to be an anchorite – ie the lonely priest of your own visions, with a congregation of spiritual ghosts.

27. 8. 1988.  11.30 am. On my balcony.

We had a pleasant dinner in a little Italian restaurant in an alley off the main square.  Really good food.  Initially, I felt quite nervous, for some reason, as I often do. Perhaps I tend to over-analyse myself and consquently over-compensate by talking too much. In this case, I did presume that I might be an intruder in their private world, something of a voyeur. But hey, in a sense they’d saved me from going quietly nuts, without anyone to actually communicate with.  I told them all about my club-running and songwriting life in London They might have found me quite glamourous, on reflection.  I never really think about it, but objectively, I guess I live the high life to an extent: eating out at really good restaurants every night, taking taxis everywhere. I mean, I really AM friends with Jimi Sommerville, Paul Rutherford (of Frankie Goes To Hollywood), the successful couturiers Anthony Price and Bruce Oldfield and Jon Moss of Culture Club, to mention a few.  I know Boy George but don’t really get on with him that well.  I actually KNOW George Michael (we have so many long, in-depth conversations), Sade (she even tried to pick me up a couple of times!  Great for the ego!), Leee John of Imagination, Andy Bell of Erasure, Mica Paris and John Reid, Elton John’s manager. I’ve even MET Prince – when I organised his Love Sexy after-show parties just a few weeks ago (that’s why I’m here – it’s my reward from myself for being so clever and making loads of money and excellent kudos)! I regaled them with stories relating to various celebrities – and they were quite wide-eyed about my exploits and seemed to  hang-on every word.   We  also laughed a lot, which is always a good thing.

Then they told me about their lives and the fact that neither of their families were aware of their gayness.  After dinner and a few bottles of Rioja we wended our way up through the crowded, cobbled streets to Incognito, where we could only find seats in front of a blaring speaker.  But the music was really good – especially for a gay bar.  Instead of the usual dreary ‘gay disco’ it was salsa, soul and African music.  We ‘people-watched’ for a couple of hours, knocking back the beers, giving people secret silly names and trying, in vain, to find someone for ME! We left and wandered down to Maralla, one of a cluster of gay bars beneath the towering castle walls, where we referred to the queens waving fans in their hand as  ‘Contessas’ and mercilessly wound-up a poor, ravaged, ageing clone waiter who served us drinks, mercifully, without him realising.  As they hadn’t been (weren’t missing much), I pointed out where the quite horrid gay club Anforra was as they went back to their hotel.  I went in.  The only interesting about the club is that it’s actually in a cave. The place was packed.   There was porn projected onto a  large screen in one of the bars upstairs, caged birds in another. There’s a metaphor there somewhere.

Downstairs in the main dithco, wall-to-wall clones were punching the air robotically on the dance floor, which is surrounded by somewhat treacherous, slippery (in the heat) asymmetric ceramic terraces and steps, which people perch on precariously. The thoroughly unpleasant shrivelled little German clone DJ played exactly the same horrid records at exactly the same times as he  had yesterday and would  do tomorrow. Next to the porn bar is a dark back room  which was, strangely, quite empty.  Too early for the last chance saloon, I guess  I wandered around, feeling utterly brought-down by the depressingly old-school gay disco vibe.  I didn’t see anyone to ‘get my teeth into’ and settled on the ‘bird bar’ as being the most comfortable place to get drunk and morose.  All I needed was someone to take it out on and lo… he appeared like a geni out of a bottle of poppers:  a remarkably unattractive American clone with awful, acne-scarred skin.

‘Hi,’ he said brightly, offering his hand for me to shake, ‘my name’s Herman!’ Herman! Ye gods! I thought.

‘I saw you at Maralla earlier – I overheard you telling your friends a joke about Ronald Reagan.’ He said, half-smiling, limply, as I shook his hand back, unenthusiastically.

‘Which American politician would you talk about?’ I asked.


‘Well, there’s not much to say about him is there?’

We talked some more about cultural differences (why do so many Americans (from the dull side) always complain about the todal lack of air-conditioning and twelve-lane highways in Europe?).  Then I suddenly felt slightly sorry for him. I was being aggressive and opinionated and he was really dreary – a punch-ball for me.  At least I had someone to talk to, or at. I couldn’t stop myself and ‘went into one’ about how tired and old-fashioned the whole ‘gay scene’ was and how it didn’t cater for the ‘new breed’ (unlike my club nights in London). Somewhat to my surprise, he was nodding his head in agreement.  Maybe he was just being polite.

Where in The States are you from?’ I asked.

‘San Francisco.’ He smiled.

‘Ah – Armistead Maupin!’ I said.

‘What? Is he a writer? I  don’t know his work!’ He stated blandly.

‘He’s San Fransico’s best-known gay writer, is very successful and his work is most excellent.   He told me recently when both appeared at an AIDS benefit that he’s  in negotiations regarding a TV series based on his Tales Of The Cities books, which, personally, I’d love to see if they do it well.  He even hinted (‘Don’t tell a soul’) that the wonderful actress Olympia Dukakis (that surname again) might play Mrs Madrigal.  So is the gay scene in San Fran moving with the times, growing up and becoming more integrated, or is it still stuck in its glorious, clone-zone past?’ I asked.

‘Stuck in what? I don’t understand .’ He replied in his dumb way. ‘But hey, you know, it’s so great to meet someone in their thirties who’s cute (cute?) and intelligent. I like your politics (my politics?) and I think you’re truly wonderful.’ He gushed, in his strangely sad and dull, collegiate manner.

‘Well, thanks for the compliments,’ I said, sort-of meaning it, somewhat taken aback, ‘but don’t fall into that typical gay trap of thinking that just because we’ve talked means that we’re going to automatically have sex.  If more gay people communicated as human beings, I feel we’d all be a lot happier. And I’m not a hypocrite or holier-than-thou. I don’t ‘pick-up’ people, I just interact organically. I do talk to people because, on occasion,  I’m attracted to them, but only when they send me a psychic and/or visual ‘go ahead’ sign.  Now I have to go because I’ve seen a hunk whom I wish to pursue and I’m not into blondes anyway.’

I was lying about ‘the hunk’.

Thom, you bastard, I thought, as I walked away, left the club and headed up up to the castle ramparts for a ‘cruise’.  Up there is a series of ruined  buildings with only some crumbling, ancient walls remaining – like a series of archeological digs, a few feet deep, now all grassed over.  This is the main stomping ground for brief encounters – or more.  The mystic maze (as I call it) seemed to be deserted.  I went and leaned on the ramports to marvel at the evocative view of Ibiza town spread out below, the  glistening lights of the harbour and of various craft dotting the sea beyond.  Suddenly, I felt a presence.  I turned to my left to see a beautiful vision.  A vision of beauty.   But, magically,  it seemed that he was for real.  He smiled and said ‘Hola’.  I felt like saying ‘Hola guapo‘ (hello handsome) in reply, but felt that might come across as somewhat tawdry – or he might murder me. So I just responded with a ‘play safe’ ‘Hola‘ and went and sat on the wall next to him and offered him a cigarette. He took it, smiled back, then touching my arm and looking into my eyes, starting talking to me in Spanish. I had to say sadly ‘No comprende’.  Then we started talking with gestures, expressions and our  eyes.  It was beautiful and very romantic.  He’s  about the same height as me – 6ft –  looked to be in his mid-twenties and was very dark, handsome and swarthy, with sexy stubble, maybe he was of Moorish descent (he no doubt would be more-ish too, one hoped) and looked  fit and masculine. Sorry about the cliche – but …was I dreaming?  He was dressed in a sporty/funky/relaxed/casual fashion – mostly shades of khaki – and had  huge dark-brown eyes and full, very kissable pink lips.  He sported what looked like a soldier’s short haircut and his tight combat pants emphasised the pert, muscular roundness of his butt.  Soon there was plenty of touching going on, along with our innovative communication skills, and it wasn’t long before I indicated to him that we should go up to the tower above the ramparts.  There was nobody else around, and as I suddenly felt like I was in a Jean Genet film (minus the self-loathing and masochism), perhaps more Jean Cocteau, I took him by the hand and led him through the rather forbidding medieval tunnel that led up to the top.

It takes a lot to beat the gorgeous visuals and the hot, breezy sensuality of Ibiza Town at night.

We sat down on the grass and looked out to sea, with its magical flickering lights, and carried on our visual ‘conversation’, interspersed with little spurts of Spanish, English and French.  Then, with glorious synchronicity, the full moon took its opportunity to come out of hiding beyond some wispy clouds on the horizon and started to shine a silvery path across the water towards us. We held each other close and smiled into each other’s eyes.  It seemed that he was indeed a soldier, and either bisexual or gay and – oh my god! – was this his first time with a man?  Dayum!  Then – joy of joys – he pulled a joint of his pocket and we shared it, between increasingly horny kisses. Then we were exploring, touching.  He put his hand down my pants and started stroking my cock and balls.  I put one hand inside his T-shirt and start gently playing with his left nipple, then pulled up his T-shirt and start flickering my tongue on it.  Another hit of spliff.  He had my dick out and was doing a gentle jerk-off, which I love (as opposed to overly ‘fake’ macho, like people enacting scenes from a porn film).  I grabbed his hand, pulled him up and we went up to the wall of the tower. I undid his trousers and pulled-out his impressive rock-hard  Moorish cock and gave him some subtle, sensual head.  Then I pulled them down as the warm wind blew around us and turned him around and found it hard to suppress a gasp as I saw the full magnificence of his butt.  This needed the urgent attention of my ever-attentive tongue!  He moaned softly and deeply as I flicked it expertly into his soft, hairy arshole, lubing it with my saliva.  Then,  slowly… very slowly and gently… I slid my dick up his perfect posterior.  Then we embarked on a heavenly journey of fucking for what seemed like a lifetime before we both climaxed… in total synch.  It was beautiful beyond compare.  We  gathered our breath, hugged and pulled up our trousers, sat down and held hands and had a cigarette.  Then, after a wistful silence he looked me in the eye meaningfully.  I knew intuitively that he had to go and that, sadly, I would probably never, ever see him again.  I squeezed his hand and said. ‘Muchas, muchas gracias, adios guapo, mi amigo…’  I reluctantly stayed put, sat on the grass, biting my lip at the inevitability of the ending of our all-too-brief and suddenly lost romance .  He turned back and waved and smiled, illuminated by the moonlight, as he descended the  steep grassy hill above the cliffs, before disappearing into the tunnel. I lit a cigarette and stared out to sea, still mesmerised by our magical encounter.  I never did get his name.

Not only had I found someone to have wild, romantic sex  and wonderful interaction with (a memory that will stay with me forever), but nor was I flung off the castle ramparts by homophobic gypsies, as is apparently sometimes the case – or is this just an island (as opposed to urban) myth?

The next day, I met the Italians at 4pm and we went to the more ‘straight’ Las Salinas Beach, as opposed to Es Cavallet,  the nude gay beach .  It was much nicer.  The wooden shack that housed the cafe/bar is much more funky/boho and the beach faces in the right direction for the afternoon sun (it’s a bore lying in the sun with your head lying downhill). There was a mixed crowd, with brilliant music coming from the bar’s huge speakers – mostly African and Brazilian. I spent a leisurely three hours reading the Italians’ cards for them.  I use Psi Cards, which, in my opinion, are less likely to summon the dark arts.

My God, their relationship is made in heaven!  Lucky guys – they will be together, very happy and relaxed, for a long time.  I felt pleased for them, and my pointless, mild obsession with Islam was helpfully dimmed by the the fact that he is actually slightly overweight and, judging by the cards, is the top in their relationship!  I rest my case.  Lovely guy though – and mmmm, those kissable lips.  Friends.  We stayed until sunset, which was a spectacular array of purple, gold and red.  Beautiful and magical. It made me think; how wonderful it must be for them, being together, on holiday and seeing their life stretching before them like so many fabulous sunsets.  We were two loving soul-mates and one slightly green-eyed (actually, they’re brown), sentimental, old (ish) fool.

6pm.  Saturday. 29.8.1988.  Cafe Montesol.  Ibiza Town.  My last day!

Thursday night was –  cue jokey sarcasm –  just another routine Ibizan rigmarole. After a  delicious French meal on the terrace below Incognito  I got – surprise! – rather drunk. Didn’t talk to anyone ‘cos they were all disgusting.  Went to Anfora – the club in a cave.  Hated it, as usual.  Just before I was planning to go there was a power cut.  Someone groped me in the dark, then, when the lights quickly came back on (as the back-up generator kicked-in, no doubt), I noted that he was incredibly white (ugh) and then he started blathering nonsense at me in a heavy Northern-Irish accent – like a nightmarish, gay version of The Reverend Ian Paisley.  So I staggered off in search of hot chocolate at 7am and had a chat with the drug-crazed English waiter at Incognito, then went home – only to find an interested person eyeing me up at the end of the street.  He clocked me going in to my building and I correctly assumed that when I had taken of my shirt, exposing my toned and tanned body, and sauntered on to the balcony, he would be waiting below – on the other side of the street, smoking a cigarette.  Film Noir  in the bright, morning light.   I beckoned to him to ‘come up’, like a new twist on a  Shakespearian balcony scenes(Romeo and Romeo?).  He was a shortish, mildly good-looking Italian. Didn’t speak English.  Took off all his clothes.  Sniffed poppers. It seemed he’d never had sex with a man before. Let’s get this over with quickly, I thought, as he declined to suck my dick. I jerked-off all over him and sent him on his way.  I slept very well.

On Friday, I got up too late to go to the beach, which was probably just as well, as I’d discovered there is actually no night ferry back to Barcelona on a Sunday (my logic had been that with my flight back to London being at 10.15 on Monday morning, it would have been perfect). So; to ‘plan B’.  I decided to try and get an afternoon flight back from Ibiza. No go. All the flights were full.  ‘Plan C’.   Get a ticket for the day boat leaving at at 11am, which would mean staying up all night, as my body clock is set to ‘night’. No go.  The seats were all fully booked.  Arggghh! ‘Plan D’.  I had no option but to book a private, single cabin! Well, I figured, at last I’d be able to crash out  after my final sunbathe on the top deck and a dip in the bath-sized pool.  At 11.500 Pesetas (about £55) it was definitely not cheap, but the romantic aspect appeals, as well the luxurious indulgence of it. So off I go: two nights on the trot with hardly any sleep.  I’ll be a suntanned-but-happy wreck when I get back to London.

I said goodbye to Topher, the 17 year-0ld, black German, at 4.30 this afternoon.  He’d re-appeared at Amnesia last night, well, morning, and I took him back to my place at 6am. He was sweet, sexy, warm, loving, innocent (in a strong way) and trusting.  We had a beautiful night together.”

The sound of a double-decker coming down the hill is perfectly timed as, back in 1988, I leave La Isla Blanca in my my own private cabin on the day ferry to Barcelona.  That was quite some holiday – in marked contrast to my rather sedate, reflective, relaxing and, frankly, uneventful sojourn here in Cornwall. I put the red notebook back in my rucksack and jump on the bus – which wends it way around the tidal creeks of the estuary on its way to Queensbury and Cavelly on its way to Plymouth. I’m the only passenger and I sit upstairs in the front seat, admiring the ever-changing vistas in the early evening sunlight.

Having just read in my diary how I regaled ‘The Italians’ with my celebrity tales, my mind wanders back to the amazing parties which I organised for Prince  from July 31 in 1988.  They were the after-show parties after  the last three days of the seven sold-out ‘Love Sexy’ dates at Wembley Arena. The Sure Organisation, the promotion and events company which I co-directed with Adrian Oasthouse (he mostly handled the business and I ran the creative side of things) had initially been contracted by Prince’s record label to organise just the ‘look’ of the parties, which they were planning to hold in a really rubbishy, tacky venue in London’s West End (these days it’s a lap-dancing club).  I went to meet  a woman called Sharon (she simply had to be called that eh?) from the record company at the venue. As I walked in she was on the phone in the reception area (this was before mobile phones had really taken off – although Adrian and I did have them; they were really big and could only just about fit in your pocket).

Sharon was evidently speaking to the manager of the venue on the phone.

‘What do you mean, we have to stop everything at 1am?’ She was harumphing. ‘But Prince won’t even GET to the venue until midnight – and he’s going to be jamming with some seriously A-list stars!’  She slammed down the phone and turned to me and said in a squeaky Essexy (as opposed to sexy) voice: ‘The manager says that this venue is only licenced until 1am because there’s a residential block above.’

 Then why didn’t you check that out when booked this dreadful, cockney-themed glorified pub you silly cow?  I felt like saying, but didn’t, instead suggesting that perhaps I could help them to find an alternative – in a hurry.  She glared at me down her nose and flounced off – a tarty bottle-blond rock chick-with attitude.  Typical record company biatch.

I raced back to our office near Charing Cross with the germs of a game-plan in my head. I could get on to the MD (that’s what they were called in those days, as opposed to CEOs) of the label – I knew him quite well as I’d been signed to them, albeit briefly (via New York), in 1979 – and suggest a bit of PR masterstroke:  why not let The Sure Organisation take over the running of the events (as I’d come-up with a brilliant idea, which was essentially to hold the parties in a different, cool ‘secret’ venue every night) and build this huge anticipation as to where the parties were to be held.  The people invited – all VIPs – would be ‘biked’ tickets at the last moment and all the radio and TV stations would be speculating as to where it might be that night and it would be all over the newspapers and magazines.  Brilliant!

I rushed into the office and spurted out my plan to Adrian.  A huge smile spread across his face. ‘That’s a fantastic idea – call the MD right now!’

So I did. And we got the gig – and £600 per day.  A lot of money in those days.

I lined-up all the venues,  getting them for nothing (the prestige of hosting a Prince party was self-evidently brilliant PR) and drove around with Prince’s manager to check them all out in his hired black, stretch, Roll-Royce limo.  Nice.  He was fascinated by my mobile phone!  Prince’s manager?  In a stretch Roller? Fascinated by my mobile?  I was really enjoying myself.  He loved my choice of venues and the fact that they were also free meant that he appreciated that the budget was much bigger for the ‘dressing’ of the parties:  Sumptuous swathes of purple and white silk, masses of purple and white balloons and huge displays of purple and white flowers.  Not to mention that there would no doubt be champagne on tap!

The first party was at Trilby’s, where Adrian and I held Wilderness, our hugely successful night, every Monday (yes, on  MONDAYS – with over a thousand people!).  I was in charge of every aspect at the venue and Prince’s secondary road crew – there were twelve of them setting-up identical stage gear to what Prince had at Wembley – all called me ‘boss’, much to my delight.  The fact that I was also a musician helped. I sound-checked Prince’s keyboard and fantasised about playing with his band . There was also no way that I could smuggle-in any of my friends, other than using them as part of my ‘dressing’ team.  So there were quite a few well-known London faces blowing up purple balloons with helium and arranging flowers – and they even got paid for it!  Everyone wanted to be at Prince’s parties.

Everything went swimmingly – the radio stations were bubbling with the speculation as to where it would be held. It was all over the newspapers.  The record label  biked out the tickets – only four hundred – at the last minute and when the doors opened – on time –  at 11pm, I was astonished to see who showed-up.  Every major rock and pop star in the country seemed to be there.  Eric Clapton wandered with his guitar.  Prince swept in like a little dynamo soon after midnight, dressed in orange silk pyjamas (he was in deep conversation with Nile Rogers of Chic – one of my musical heroes) with his backing band, plus a sizeable entourage.  After a little while, his manager introduced him to me as the organiser, in the quiet bar, and he looked up (well, you know) into my eyes, smiled and quietly uttered the immortal words

‘Thanks for the atmosphere.

He was spot-on – creating a great atmosphere has always been my strong point.  It’s attention to detail mixed with an almost spiritual approach. Now I had a perma-grin on my face!

It wasn’t long before Prince, his band, Clapton and Nile Rogers were onstage jamming, making the most sweet music you could imagine.  Then, after a few minutes,  Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones showed-up and jumped up on stage to play with them. I was deliriously happy and buzzing, perched on top of the PA, listening intently to the wonderful noise made by some of the most incredible musicians in the world.  Absolutely priceless. And… I was in charge!

The next day the party was to be upstairs at Nirvana. Prince had indicated that he wouldn’t be jamming that night but, through his manager, agreed to my most cunning stunt.  Nirvana has three main rooms.  It was a Thursday night and the regular night there was to be held only downstairs, on the main dance floor – and the promoters were sworn to secrecy about the secret party upstairs.  Everything went according to my plan – with the help of walky-talkies.  The main room had, at the time, a long balcony about 100 feet long, running all the way down one side of the dancefloor.  At around midnight, we had this cleared and placed security men on each of the two stairs.  We’d hired a ‘follow spot’ who’s operator was now pointing a narrow beam at the back door of the club from the DJ box at the other end. The music faded – and the crowd were utterly amazed to see Prince appear in the light, smiling indulgently, holding a gold-topped cane, but not waving, and then slowly, ever so slowly, walking the length of the balcony, all eyes (with suitably dropped jaws) on him, smiling indugently at the astonished crowd in the spotlight, then eventually disappearing into his own party, which was being held in the two upstairs rooms. The smaller room he entered was a ‘VIP VIP’ room as all the guests were celebrities, but some more so than others!  I walked into the room from the DJ box and there was Sharon from the record company trying to engage a slightly bored-looking, world-famous UK pop star (this was before he’d ‘come out’)  in conversation.  She scowled at me – no doubt jealous that I’d stolen her crown.  Her face, however,  was a treat to behold when he said, putting his arm around my shoulder:  ‘Hi Thom – great to see you – let’s mingle baby!’

All eyes were on us  – he kept his arm around my shoulder – as we headed into the main room upstairs and the celebrity crowd parted like the dead sea as we walked, well, to the toilets!  Magic.

Friday night’s party was held at one of London’s most exciting and unusual venues (as chosen by me, of course) in Kensington – The Sky High Club.  This lovely art deco building is set in two acres of gardens on the roof of  a department store and was, and still is, owned by a major British magnate who not only had a hugely successful record label, but was also in the process of setting up an airline.  He also owned Nirvana, the club,  at the time.   When I’d rung the manager to arrange the details, she’d initially insisted that Prince’s record company had to pay some ridiculous  sum (£20,000 or something) to hire the place. Adrian knew the magnate personally and  I asked him to phone him to ask him to tell her to drop the hire fee – which he did – and she did.  It was all rather delicious and put me in a very good light.  Prince wanted to jam again, as it was his last night, and again Eric Clapton and Nile Rogers joined him and his band on stage, though not Ronny Wood.  And Prince is an amazing dancer too.  After they finished jamming, I was in the DJ box with Mitzi, who was DJing, of course. I’d turned around to make a somewhat incongruous roll-up and turned back to see the whole club transfixed – looking seemingly at, well… us!  I looked behind the DJ box, which was quite high above the dance floor, to see what they were all staring at, but… nothing, Then I noticed a small figure staring up adoringly at Mitzi (even with her headphones on she’s a beautiful woman).  He came up the steps to to the side and leant over  – she reluctantly took off her headphones as she was in the middle of doing a mix (why DO people  always do that?) and he said to her:  ‘can I get a request?’

She laughed and replied. ‘Sorry, I don’t do requests.’ And put her headphones back on!  Prince (for it was he) looked dejected and went back to sit with his band  and Clapton and company in the ‘VIP VIP ‘area. I nudged her and we grinned and shrugged our shoulders.  Later, his drunken record label people were drunkenly slagging me off about ‘the incident’.   ‘Mitzi is her own woman.’  I’d stated emphatically.  Despite that minor setback, it was another awesome night, capping three of the most amazing nights of my life.  And I was payed lots of money to enjoy myself too!

I blink and see the green hedgerows and rolling hills of Cornwall through the front window of the old double-decker as it trundles up and down hills. Coming out of my deliciously nostalgic reverie, I realise that Queensbury is the next stop. I ring the bell in the nick of time,  get off the bus and wander down the hill through the unbelievably picturesque seaside village, chuckling to myself at the disparity between its multi-coloured cottages and genteel ambience in 2010, and Prince’s opulent after-show parties in 1987 and the gay scene and rave clubs in Ibiza in 1988.  Is it really thirty three years?  Wowee. Tempus fugit.

I stop-off at the shop and buy some stuff to cook for dinner.  A chicken breast, a large leek, a red capsicum, baby potatoes, mushrooms.  Some crab pate (from The Orkney islands, ironically) for a starter.  The wine bottles try to tempt with me their labels (a glass or three of Australian Shiraz… echo echo), but I successfully demur and head for the cottage along The Cleave as the late evening sun glistens on the water, lighting-up the boats bobbing in the bay, before setting behind the hill. Sigh.  Organising and attending Prince’s parties and meeting Topher at Amnesia was magical, but so is this.

Penelope, the charmingly eccentric woman who lives in the cottage next door-but-one is sitting on the sea wall with a glass of chilled white wine (…echo echo).

‘Hello Thom!’ She chimes in her upper-class voice (she’s a former opera singer), ‘What are you cooking tonight – would you like some herbs from the garden?’

‘Hi Penelope,’ I reply.  ‘I’d love some basil if you’ve got some.  I’m making roast chicken breast with leeks, garlic and mushrooms and roast baby potatoes with red pepper.’

‘Mmm, sounds delicious, you know I love your recipes. Let’s get you some basil now. Don’t forget to show me your creation when it’s ready!’

I follow her into the lovely, terraced garden behind her house (we don’t have  one as we’re on the corner) and she picks a large bunch for me.  It smells delicious.

After an excellent dinner (only one thing missing… echo echo), I see my red notebook, with my marker indicating that I’m nearly reaching the end. I pick it up and open it.   I wonder which date the book I’ll randomly chose to read next will be – maybe the 70s?  That should be interesting too!

“Back in London. 4.9.1988.  Sunday 3pm.

Refreshed, relaxed, happy, healthy and brown.  Still clean-shaven.  Feeling inspired by my songwriting.

Where is Tony McCord? He said he was flying over from LA this week. No word from him.  I can’t wait to see him – I’m always so happy to spend quality time with him.

Yet,  he also makes me so sad, because my love is unrequited. Does he really not find me attractive – someone whom he shows so much love for – or is there something I don’t know – another mysterious-yet-valid reason?  Or is it that I’m just not ‘his type’?

Anthony Parker has resurfaced, just in the last few days, to become one of my best black/male/gay friends in London again. He’s very funny, hunky (he’s been working out), handsome intelligent, entertaining, badly-behaved, deep and clever. He came round to dinner last night and I read his cards (he’s got the love of his life coming soon, it would seem –  so I guess we won’t be having the odd shag like we used to) and then, nervously, played him some of my new songs, hot off the press. He seemed genuinely amazed by them and very complimentary.  His favourite was ‘Barcelona’.  I wrote the music soon after I got back from that very place last week. I’m very pleased with it – it’s a beautiful melody.

I called Mitzi as soon as I got back from the airport (what a nightmare journey that was – having to spend the night in a hotel with no money in Valencia as my flight was diverted because of the massive storms in the UK and then there was no tube operating from Heathrow, just massive queues for non-existent ‘replacement’ buses). I told her about the lyrics that I’d written whilst away in Spain, and said, jokingly, that I was going to write the music right now!  Much to my amazement, I got the bones of a beautiful, strangely old-fashioned melody straight away, just like that! From the other side. In 3/4 time. Very unusual, satisfying and inspiring.

Something is definitely stirring.

Mitzi and I are off to Paris for the weekend on the night ferry from Dover tonight. I had a fleeting bad/strange feeling about something relating to the trip, but I just checked the cards and it seems to be quite unfounded – at least in the short term.

Following my experiences with the automatic writing in Ibiza, I decided to  briefly call The Medium Line to check on my intuitions. I told the medium woman (so to speak) that whilst I was on holiday I’d experienced a strong feeling from spirit that I could be a trance medium myself –  ie a channeller (the English channel, of course).  She said that I was blessed with ‘the gift’, but would be unlikely to pursue a career in that field, as I was more concerned with with being creative, but that I would bring it on when necessary – either spontaneously with total strangers, or, more likely, with good friends. She also said that she could see the words ‘beauty’ and ‘beat’, no it was ‘beast’, and she could hear a waltz, like the music to an old-fashioned black and white film, it was French, set in Paris. How very intriguing.

On Wednesday, Mitzi came to dinner and afterwards I thought it would interesting to try and go into a trance.  It turned out to be really quite easy and natural, but I stopped myself, having proved that I could slip into one, because she was staying over and had to get up pretty early to do some film-extra work. She was worried about getting to sleep (it was already after midnight) and getting up on time. I suddenly came out with a phrase from the automatic writing in Ibiza:  Hamni An Oublie At.  It was a bit like some sort of Buddhist chant and told her to repeat this over and over, holding a little piece of turquoise glass (ah!) from my ‘glass bead game’ on the beach in Barcelona. It instantly became hot as she chanted and… she was asleep in five minutes.  Hey – maybe it was the red wine, but… eenteresting regardless.

6. 9.1988. Paris.  Hotel America. 3.30pm.

I thought I should at least record the fact the we’re HERE – and having such a good time that there’s simply no time to write about it!

I am, at least, writing the lyrics to a potential song called ‘The Beauty And The Beast’ (amongst others) which chronicles our wild weekend in Paris.  We somehow managed to get invited to the a lavish Jean-Paul Gaultier party in some theatre in Bastille, I think (or was it La Marais – anyway it was beyond fabulous),  and both met hot and handsome men and got laid!  Mine was one of the podium dancers and was called Raphael – dressed as a Gaultier cowboy.  He’s just 18 and an aspiring model;  French, but of Armenian ancestry. Mitzi’s man was a beautiful mixed-race guy (more MY type really) of 25 called Philipe, who’s a part-time model. I’ll let the words and music  take over the narrative.

*Click on the title Alert *

The Beauty And The Beast

A tale of two cities,  a fifties movie in monochrome,

reading Tarot in The Tuilleries, they saw that France would be her home.

The wine was velvet valium, as they dined by candlelight,

talking of their conquests and laughing with delight.

They danced with Gallic cowboys at a Gaultier soiree,

Then slept with perfect strangers in a film-noir verite.

And they felt they were fated, ghosts of honour at the feast –

the place names on the table read: the beauty and the beast.

They were actors in a film that could not ever be released…

it was sweet, but it was bitter, for the beauty and the beast.

Bleary-eyed, with secret smiles, they slept right through the day,

then found two could-be lovers in a jungle hideaway.

Lost in conversation, bodies touching as they spoke,

whilst  music played and bodies swayed in coloured lights and smoke.

She said: ‘Il est heureux‘. He said: ‘mais il est triste‘,

The moment passed, it could not last  for the beauty and the beast.

They were figures in a painting, a forgotten masterpiece…

with two perfect strangers waving to the beauty and beast.

She said: ‘Il est heureux‘. He said: ‘mais il est triste‘,

The moment passed, it could not last  for the beauty and the beast.

Words (Paris) and music (London by Thom Topham. September 1988 © Copyright Control.

12.9.1988. Back in Paris with Mitzi. 4.30pm.

Waiting for Raphael to come round to The Hotel America.  Mitzi and I get a really cheap deal here – just £25 a night (that’s because of Wilderness Paris, of course, but I don’t want to think about that right now, as I’ve walked-out of The Sure Organisation, essentially because of Adrian’s coke habit and sudden desire to take control of the creative side of the business.. byee!).   It’s just around the corner from Paris’s trendiest, large club Le Palais.  My room looks out on to Les Folies Bergeres.  I’ve just seen Mitzi off after a late lunch in St Germain.  Ironically, she has to go back to London to DJ tonight at – dammit! – the last night of Sodom And Gomorrah, The Sure Organisation’s highly successful Thursday night at Nirvana for over a year – perhaps its success was PR-led by the whole Prince-on-the-balcony scenario the year before and the fact that the second dance floor was London first-ever rare groove/jazzy space and attracted loads of really good break dancers.  But Nirvana’s management suddenly decided to close it because of a random fight which happened at THE OTHER CLUB around the back!  Nothing to do with the fact that the clientele at Sodom & Gomorrah is largely BLACK then?  The management at Nirvana are decidedly RACIST. Grrrrr.  Regardless of its demise (like, fuck you Nirvana!) I’m going back tomorrow, late, on a flight at 9.30pm because I’m stealing a much anticipated second night of passion with Raphael tonight.  And I’ve resigned from my directorship of The Sure Organisation, so no longer have to be there. This is all very well, but what the hell am I going to live on? It’s autumn in Paris and, true to form, incredibly romantic, but I could be… waiting for the fall.

13.9.1988. The evening after.  5.30pm. Hotel America.

A poem.

With Debussy On The Radio

Soft hairs on soft skin, into soft eyes I dive. Hard-on on hard muscles, burying my head in his musky heat.

I run my tongue from his head to his feet. He murmurs in French and groans. He wants me inside of him.

We are synchronised swimmers in waves of erotic emotion, knowing each other’s need with an intuitive harmony.

I am nearly old enough to be his father, but it seems he’d rather have it that way. Any day.

We smile directly, comfortable in our compatability, flowing around the contours of the landscape of love.

There is sweetness – and light at the end of the tunnel, a respite from biting tongues and sleazy dark indulgence.

After we climax in unison, we curl into a comfortable cocoon. I say ‘This is my best part’

as I run feather-fingers over his temples and caves, making him sigh in a deep sleep,

keeping the faith alive, believing that we can thrive on deep interaction

bubbling from the earth like natural hot springs.

We bring each other to life, smiles and energy rising, from the well of the lonely soul.

Always the idealist who suffers the pain of others along with his own private longing,

we belong to no small-talk society existing with vacuum-packed optimism on the shelf,

alongside the cheaper brands of pessimism which wait to be noticed and placed in suspended animation

in someone else’s deep freeze.

The joy of being away from established patterns of behaviour and thought and caught in a cloud of French kisses.

The hits and the misses momentarily forgotten;  the rotten eggs and the bad apples confined to the dustbin

in the drugged-out world of Alice In Wonderland.

Soon he will come to my blue room with his photographs, dressed like an aspiring model in black.

Then I will pull down his trousers and enter his consciousness via his rippling back

and we will squeeze each other until the light fades and we are drifting into a pink and grey Parisian dusk…

with Debussy on the radio.

16.9. 1988.  For 24/7  Magazine’s 20th anniversary issue.

They’ve asked me to write a piece called  ‘Twenty Years Of Cruising’.

My first-ever journalistic endeavour!

‘1968. I’m 16.  I attend a grammar school in the centre of  Bristol. My 22 year-old boyfriend picks me up some days from school in his car, dressed in his tennis shorts, smelling of fresh sweat. We make love in fields, woods and barns. I met him at the bus station, in the toilets.

1969.  For some inexplicable reason, I find myself chairing a crowded meeting of The Gay Liberation Front in Powis Square in Notting Hill, in that community centre  (no longer there) where Pink Floyd  had played their debut gig.  With hindsight, I think ‘the committee’ asked me to do it because I was a rather good-looking young man.  The only politics I noticed were the interaction of eyes between the participants and the scribbled exchange of phone numbers on the GLF’s fliers.  That’s not to decry the importance of The GLF in successfully kick-starting public awareness of gay oppression and homophobia in all areas of public and private life.

1970.  At my 18th birthday party in my shared bedsit in Clifton Hill in Bristol, I stand up on a chair and declare to the assembled throng that I’m bisexual.  I was. The only person who took offence was my sort-of girlfriend.  I never saw her again.

1972. I find myself visiting Earl’s Court, at the centre of the London gay universe. THE happening club was The Catacombes. which was a coffee bar in a cellar at the top of Finborough Road. – and it didn’t even have a drinks licence.  Everyone used to get off their faces on mandrax or speed – with dance-floor popper-boosters.  It was jam-packed every night and the music was brilliant – all the best soul imports from the US, like The Staples Singers, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Vickie-Sue Robinson and George McCrae.  I rarely went home alone in those carefree BA (before AIDS) days.  There was another little club around the corner – its name at the time escapes me – but I cherish the memory of seeing Charles Hawtrey (of Carry On fame) there with two bottle-blond-with-fringes rent boys. On another occasion, (I’m loving the  fabulous cultural contrast), I met the famous beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg there, and he appeared to be with the same two boys!

1973.  I move to London aged 21 and find a squat to live in  in a lovely Georgian house in Somerstown in Camden.  I have the whole ground floor to myself – two interconnecting rooms with original features and a real fireplace.  No bathroom though.

1975.  American, gay tourists start appearing in London sporting short hair, moustaches Levi 501s, clumpy brown leather or swuede work boots and plaid shirts. I’d always worn 501s myself, as I thought they were sexy, especially when naturally faded, and initially I thought that this influx of  allegedly masculine men was sent from heaven, but I soon realised that these ‘clones’ (as they were  soon to become labelled) were generally rather unimaginative, dull and boring.  And the music that went with this alleged style statement!?  Gay Disco entered my consciousness with all the subtlety of hydraulic drill outside my bedroom window.  The horror! I didn’t need or relate to this nouveau-ghetto mentality. I was an individual, not a faceless, pseudo-macho blob!

1977.  The Cococabana opens in Earl’s Court.  Mostly clone city  – and they STILL play that awful goddam gay disco music now!  A famous rock star with a moustache and zany comedian with a beard used to hang-out there all the time – in clone mode.  Once, Rock Hudson tried to pick me up there and I turned him and his fat belly down, having soon realised that he just wanted sex with me – not an intellectual discourse about the actors studio and James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Tenesse Williams. I could rarely find anyone interesting to talk to, so I sometimes ended up shouting random drunken abuse at the slightly startled throng.  It was fun! Then I’d walk home home to Notting Hill through Holland Walk (it’s about a quarter of mile long) singing soulful improvisations at the trees – this is possibly the most visually stunning gay cruise in the UK – and would often end up taking someone home and insisting on having an actual conversation with them until six in the morning (they were mostly looking for just sex) – then eventually making LOVE – or hoping to. I was slightly too old to be a punk and found it, frankly, decidedly unromantic, although I liked the rebellious side of it. And I was hanging-out with The Sex Pistols. But there was a new breed of young, ‘alternative’ gays looking for somewhere to relate to.  They found it on Sundays at The Bell in King’s Cross, but even that whole scene evolved into its own nouveau cloneism – everyone looked pretty much the same. All you had to do was shave your head on the sides and back and dress like Jimi Sommerville.

1982.  I open The Mine in Soho on a Thursday night out of sheer frustration with gay music, ghettoism, cloneism and gay male-only elitism.  I wanted to give ‘the scene’ a soul injection, in every meaning of the word.  A meat injection! On the flier and with the PR I’d exhorted people to ‘bring their friends, their mothers and their brothers and sisters’ to the opening night.  It worked.  It was packed with the first-ever truly gay-mixed crowd – black, white, gay straight and lesbian (and Susan Sarandon) –   I’m proud to have pulled that off. And the music? The best of American black streety soul music – rap was just breaking out – mixed with spiky British Synthpop like The Human League, Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. It was firing. And there was the roof which was accessible only via the fire escape from the gent’s toilet.  It was usually full of half-naked male bodies making out.  Diiiirty!

1983.  Adrian Oasthouse has a hugely successful, alternative gay/mixed Wednesday night at Nirvana called Bedlam and I approach him with an idea to team-up and open a reasonably-priced Monday night at Trilby’s, where I’ve already set the wheels in motion. Our night Wilderness becomes a huge success. Things were changing and suddenly certain gay club nights in London (following New York’s lead with The Paradise Garage and many others) were becoming hip and fashionable for all the right reasons.

1988.  My partnership with Adrian has matured into our company  The Sure Organisation –  and we’re currently running cool, alternative and funky club nights on every night of the week – with two on a Friday at the moment!  The gay scene has had a wake-up call and is now leading, rather than following its own toxic vapour trail. The 80s seems to have been about Thatcher and AIDS, but now most people  in  London’s cool, alternative clubland are having a whale of a time and fighting the nascent negativity and prejudice with love, optimism and creativity.”

Here endeth the red notebook from 1988 and the many memories that it triggered, by reading it again for the for first time since I wrote it.  To say that a whole lot has changed in those 30-odd years would be an obvious understatement.  There was so much more that I could have written about the amazing weekends that Mitzi and I spent in Paris, the irony being that it was such a good time, which meant that I had no time to write prose; just poems and potential (at the time) lyrics.  The ‘medium woman’ had been spot-on in her prediction on the phone. The waltz from an old, black and white French movie was, of course ‘The Beauty And The Beast’ (I trust that you clicked the hyperlink to hear it), the tale of our wonderful nights of  wild excess and romance.  And the food… oh, the food. We were so young, so gorgeous, so exuberant and so happy to be there!  The vivid,  visual memories of the misty, golden light of Paris in the autumn will stay with me forever.  I must call Mitzi and reminisce – if she can tear herself away from taxiing her three boys around South London swimming pools (two of them are turning into champions in the water), street-dance classes and sleep-overs, cooking wonderful dinners for them and her second husband or running her DJ Agency.  I might get five minutes if I’m lucky.  Hopefully, she might even get a chance to read this.  Dream on Thom!

Who would have thought back then that my autobiography would become a multi-media experience that could be perused ‘online’, with ‘digital pictures’and ‘links’ to my music on a thing called ‘the internet’? I’ve got to remind myself that I’m just finishing Chapter 7 and I’ve only used ONE notebook as source material so far. There are over twenty more notebooks and diaries, plus a whole heap of typewritten material – both prose and poetry, not to mention lyrics –   written  over a period of perhaps twenty years, until  I obtained my first Apple Mac in 1997.  I wonder what happened to my old electric typewriter? I think I gave it to William Keith, a screenwriter and old friend who now lives in South Wales and runs a video shop these days. I’m pretty sure, as mentioned before, that this only Volume One.  I’d better get on with it though, otherwise, as I approach my sixth decade with my previously documented, serious health issues, I might find that I could be, as it were, blogging a dead horse.

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 6

25 Aug

The Living Room Window Looking Out To Sea

A Stately Home And A Baleairic Castle

Maddox is sitting beside me at the antique, oval table in the living room of  the cottage.  I could have sworn I felt him gently stroke my left arm just now as I gazed out of the window and across the beach, whilst eating sliced banana and honey on wholemeal toast and slowly working my way through a large pot of tea (one bag of Tetleys, and one of peppermint which I drink with honey, no milk), while checking, or trying to check, my emails. He was speaking quietly into my left ear in that wonderful warm, Scottish burr: ‘I’m so sorry I ever doubted you, I should have been more trusting, I guess I must have been obsessively jealous and paranoid. That’s why I’m here for you now. You were there for me, and I blew it and now I’m on the other side… but it’s all beautiful, it’s another dimension and really hard to explain.’

I’m sure that’s what he said, even if I didn’t entirely trust my own psychic ‘ears’ (we rarely do – it generally scares us shitless and we need to remind ourselves that ‘the first thing that comes into your head’ is actually ‘it’).  I didn’t ‘cheat’ on him ever:  only in mutual sense, when we’d had our one and only threesome – and that was about six months after we’d split-up.  It was with a guy I was vaguely seeing at the time, which might look a bit twisted, on paper, I suppose.  He was the original oily Levantine – in terms of central casting – but, in reality, I felt little for him emotionally apart from the fact that he was worldly, wickedly intellectual, intellectually wicked – and witty with it.  I really just wanted to be with my beautiful and once-so-compatible Maddox again. Which doesn’t quite explain why me and Garfunkel, the oily one, both fucked Maddox – at the same time. He was not best pleased:  it must have hurt, in more ways than… two.  Then again, he didn’t stop us. I’ve always felt bad about that.  Maybe it was a form of revenge from me for him not trusting me and thereby creating ‘I will definitely be dumped’,  his self-fulfilling prophesy .

I never understood it and never will.  Despite that, he’s now he’s an angel on my shoulder.  My left one, I think.

Talking of self-fulfilling, my despicable little ‘broadband’ dongle is now threatening to become entirely obsolescent – the emails are slowly slithering into my in-box like snails on valium. I could simply resort to my iPhone, but that would be defeating the object and allowing the money-grabbing, totally inept, new-media, corporate bastards to win.   I look out of the windows at the clear blue sky and the blistering sunlight glistening on the waves, check the time – it’s One O’Clock – and decide it’s time to hit the heathery high road to the glorious gardens of  Harbinger Hall, the beautiful, pink-walled Tudor stately home, which is about an hour’s walk away, depending on which route you take. The one over the top of the hill, through the deer park, is the fastest way to wander in, and marvel at, the magical formal gardens designed by Capability Brown, that super-star creator of follies, fountains and fantastic visions and vistas.  His ‘planting’ was pretty amazing too, as my horticulturalist younger brother Austin (AKA Grizelda, as opposed to ‘Powers’) would inform me.  Shame I’ve only caught the very tail-end of the flowering season for the rhododendrons and azaleas. Those jewel colours would look spectacular in this intense sunshine as it sends multiple golden shafts of light through the trees.

I put my two digital cameras (a fairly new Canon EOS 30D and an older Sony Cybershot that I bought in NYC in 2004) into my knapsack, along with a mini-umbrella (just a precaution), a cold bottle of water, the red 1988 notebook, my laptop (so I can check if the dreaded dongle works better nearer to Plymouth) and a light,  cotton V-neck sweater in pistachio green. I’m wearing a white T-shirt from Asda (they’re the cheapest and the best), light-green camouflage cut-offs and a pair of sandals that I bought in Bangkok in 2003;  well, they’re not really sandals, they’re more like open trainers – with velcro-straps – you know the type.  They’ve lasted all these years and are very comfortable and cool to walk in, although, in sunshine like this, you guaranteed to get a suntanned pattern on your feet.  Back then, Tommy Haslam – who’d taken me to Thailand as a treat – called them my ‘Wolfies’.  He insisted that ‘they were the evil footwear of an eponymous German paedophile who worked as a guide at the Dachau museum, trying to lure unsuspecting visiting youths into the former gas chambers for some one-to-one tuitional experiences.’ He went on, now adopting a cod-German accent: ‘Vwolfie had  been introduced to ze charmink and readily afailable chailbait off ‘Ze Golden Triangle by Harry Highlights, ze ludicrously successful glam-rocker of ze 70s, as, confeniently, he ran his (now defunct, due to Harry’s propensity for teenaged girls) Cherman fan club. Heil Harry!’

Tommy… I miss your wonderfully wicked humour. I chuckle at the memory as I cross The Field Of Gravity (as I call it), heading for the proverbial hills.  The locals know it as The Whinnybrow (must be derived from some ancient, Arthurian Cornish myth, or something), and it’s essentially the sweepingly picturesque ‘park’ of the twin villages, stretching for several acres atop the low, wooded cliffs above the assorted sandy, pebbly and rocky beaches below.  But I’ve always known it as the place where me and myriad friends visiting the cottage over the decades (yes, decades!) would come and talk and drink and marvel at the moonlit sea and the extravagantly starlit sky at night when we were totally drunk and/or stoned.  Why The Field Of Gravity?  Because it sloped so steeply that one would inevitably end up at the bottom, and would be in danger of being pricked by the gorse bushes, or, even more scarily, kidnapped by pirates (ooh arrgh!), or perhaps by  hard-pressed, local paedophiles who would probably make-do with pretty people in their twenties, or even thirties, given half a chance.

On this occasion, of course, I’m not drunk, certainly not in my twenties or thirties, and manage to remain on the broad path (dotted with wooden benches at regular intervals) at the top of the meadow-cum-park, which looks like it’s been freshly-mown.  Actually it hasn’t;  it’s organic.  The clue is in the little piles of tiny brown balls that dot the grass and the regular sight of fluffy white tails disappearing into the bushes as I approach.  A veritable army of Disney-esque, lawn-mowing rabbits!  Even when I was a heavy drinker (like last week), I never, ever drank in the day (unless I’d been up all night, of course) – even on holiday, apart from once or twice, like that time in The South Of France, during a fabulous five-course lunch in a garden overlooking the River Tarn in Albi (the birth-place of Toulouse Lautrec) in, um… perhaps the mid-80s? – with my outrageously camp French friend Genet (I’ll wait for him to ‘pop-up’ in the notebooks, like a trendy one-off , left-field club night in Whoreditch/Shoho). Yes, I know; I’ve stated that I don’t generally have camp gay friends, but Genet is a lovely old Gallic queen with a big heart and soul and is very, very funny and extremely badly behaved. He claims that he lived  – as a lover – with Firing Javelin, an enormously successful reggae star in Jamaica, for seven years in the 70s – and indeed, he probably did. He told me that there was this whole group of reggae stars who were all living the DL (‘down-low’) lie back then –  and the only batty men that they were  ‘shooting up’ were… their own bredren – and/or vice-versa. Isaac Edwards and Gregory Dennis were more big names that he mentioned who apparently used to hang out around Javelin’s pool and who maybe invented the whole concept of DL, perhaps in some sort of unspoken collusion with their American and British ‘brothers in arms’.  How underground is that?  And still the PR-led DL denial goes on. There are so many huge R&B , hip-hop and sports stars who are gay, or at least conveniently bisexual, who will probably remain in the closet that stays closed… forever. The lion (of Babylon and Judah), the witch and the wardrobe. And R Kelly.

Genet once took me to Paris for the weekend,  at around the same time in the 80s (the actual date is, not surprisingly, lost in time).  His bank had mistakenly credited his account with gazillions of Francs. So we lived the highlife in an outrageously extravagant and decadent, five-star, champagne and cocaine-fueled fashion, eating at all the best restaurants (and in Paris that really does mean good) and buying complete strangers (who we probably fancied) drinks in stupidly expensive  night clubs like Les Bains Douche and Le Palais.  It was fantastic.  And, better still,  the bank never discovered their mistake until much later, when it was too late.  Genet had disappeared under something of a cloud (it transpired he’d been somewhat ‘flexible’ with the accounts of the trendy French restaurant he ran in Soho for many years), only to surface in the Seychelles, where his brother, conveniently,  ran a 5-star hotel.  He lived there in luxury for many years, before relocating to Tunisia after a near-fatal car crash.  We recently ‘friended’ on People Pages after nearly thirty years, so he was able to update me.  I just wish he wouldn’t call me ‘sweetie’  online in public and would at least attempt to speak better English after all these years. What will my fans think? ‘Hay – hoo give a fuk, mon petit choux!’ As Genet would say.

I’m walking in brilliant sunshine, the wide reaches of the gravitational meadow are bordered above, to the left, by wonderfully evocative (Tolkein, perhaps?) windswept woods, where the trees are universally bent in the same direction, shaped by the prevailing winds.  After about a quarter of a mile, the track narrows into a sandy/gravelly path sheltered by hedgerows on each side, bursting with wildlife and flowers, with regular views of the sea to the right, woodland and gorse to the left and of the forest and gardens and deer park of Harbinger Hall up ahead. Then it takes you briefly into the forest, and a sun dappled dingley dell, and before long you’re out into the sunshine again.  Crickets twizzle,  birds twitter (although not literally, in the sense of social networking), and today, at least, the sun beats down wonderfully remorselessly whilst sea gulls (and the occasional birds of prey) circle and squawk in the azure heavens, coasting on the warm-air currents.  Is there anything more deliciously sensual than the feel of the sea breeze cooling the hot sunshine on your skin and making it, and your heart, tingle and glow? Then, when it gets dark later and you chill-out, you see that the feeling on your skin and in your heart persists, and is a wonderful therapy to repel all the evils of the world – at least temporarily.

I take photos, using both cameras.  I want to compare them later. Sometimes the ones on the cheaper Sony actually look better than those taken using the ludicrously expensive Cannon, with its SLR technology. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been that interested in the minutiae of taking pictures;  I just have a good eye. I know how to compose and frame stuff and, hopefully, to capture a moment or a feeling without losing that sponaneity by twiddling knobs and dials and squinting into an LED display – especially in this bright sunlight – trying to make sense of meaningless squiggles, symbols and mumbo-jumbo.  Point and shoot say I!  I’ve just got to find that perfect ‘default’ setting on the Canon again, the one that Tommy Haslam set-up for me when he sold me the camera and its 50m lens about four years ago. It used to work for everything (no flash required, even at night, providing the lighting was bright enough), but my dear brother Danny (a professional photographer) ‘lost it’ when I asked him to take pictures of  me and The Eagle Kings at The Pavilion in Bath earlier this year.  I don’t blame him – he’d just assumed that I would know what it was, but I didn’t. And Tommy  had never explained the details – he’d just set it up for me, and it was perfect, regardless of whether you were using auto-focus, the default camera setting on the main dial, or the other more arcane ones like ‘AV’ (no, I don’t know what it means either).

I can hardly email Tommy now and ask him what it  actually was, seeing as he has disowned me, as mentioned before, for reasons best known to his dark (and formerly fabulous) self.  I hope he misses me like I miss him. He sure as hell should, after all I did for him over over the years. The list  of my good works is quite lengthy, but  did I get no recognition at all (a platinum disc would have been nice) for the fact that I introduced him (as his pseudonym Flounder) and his musical partner (Flatfish) to the label that was to release what was to become their million-selling, number one single in 1998 ?  Maybe he was testing me when he told me, blow-by-blow, in that devastating phone call just before new year, that he really didn’t feel he could be friends with me any more.  Did he want to see just how much I needed his friendship?  I don’t think so; I may be wrong, but it could be the case.  I believe that he’d already made-up his mind that I was ‘good gone bad’, or something.  I also think that his Churchillian black dog got the better of him.  Perhaps it was subjugated by my very own devils on horseback.  I wonder whose depression rated higher on the Thom Topham-invented trauma-ometer, at least in his book?

*Music alert! If you’re reading this online, please have your headphones ready, or your speakers on – then click the hyperlinks.*

I’ve never revelled in my depression myself, nor used it as some kind of egotistical,  emotional blackmail (yes; people who are depressed can also be egotistical and warp it to their supposed advantage).  To me, it’s always something to get over – to beat.  But I’m not bipolar,  I just suffer from depression due to… well, a whole heap of stuff; but mostly, my bona fide status as an alien on this earth, and an unsuccessful one at that.  A lot of people just don’t get me.  Well, that’s because I’m  from planet Thom – and possibly a ‘genius in a sea of mediocrity’, as my favourite ‘ex’ Luther once dubbed me.  Or as Van Morrison sang decades ago on Astral Weeks ‘I’m nothing but a stranger in this world’.   Boy, did I relate to that back in 1968.  Nutshelled nicely Van! And one of my all-time favourite songs – and it’s only got two chords! – on one of the greatest albums ever made.  Much more relevant than ‘The Outsider’ by Camus, ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ or, indeed ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath and pretty much anything by Queen (apart from Another One Bites The Dust and Under Pressure, with David Bowie).

Rites of passage?  Yeah –  right up your own arses!  Okay, I’m deeply pissed-off at my own lack of success and/or recognition, but I just don’t understand how or why music that is basically mediocre and utterly lacking in soul or substance becomes not only hugely successful, but also allegedly iconic.  Why – because it doesn’t challenge anything other than people’s compliance with the norm? What about emotional reactions?  I get the feeling that most people go through life walking down a stoic, unchallenging and dreary path – and perhaps showbiz is their only fizz. What else is ‘pomp rock’ but showbiz? That includes many of the so-called ‘indie’ bands.  Yeah right duuuude.  Read and believe:  Muse and Green Day will end-up playing Vegas in a decade or so. No doubt  in cahoots with some vaguely esoteric and supposedly ‘ground-breaking’ most-podern ((c) Thom Topham) twiddly waddly circus troupe de nos jours.

The path meanders along the wooded cliffs for about another quarter of a mile, then opens up into scrubland and reaches a kissing gate. These strangely British contraptions always evoke memories of me in my young teens – I grew-up in an urban country village –  with my various girlfriends:  I would always make it de rigeur to have an actual kiss over the gate, even if it was only on the cheek.

To the right there’s a Boy Scout encampment in an idyllic spot overlooking the sea:  this triggers more childhood and early-teen flash-backs – all those silly songs we used to sing around the campfire like ‘Gin gang gooly gooly gooly ging gang, ging gang goo, ging, gang goo…’  and other complete, harmless nonsense.  And I was never abused, sexually or otherwise, by Akela or any of the Scoutmasters either.  It’s pleasing to debunk myths sometimes – especially as someone who is happily homosexual (if not entirely happily human). I do recall fiddling about with my fellow scouts in our tents at night now and then, which was fun.  I was a Sixer too! In my mind I won the imaginary Friend-Fiddler badge!

In front of the kissing gate there’s a beautiful, isolated home which looks like a 50s gingerbread house.  It has a lovely landscaped garden with a large lily pond. Look! A huge orange and turquoise dragon fly! I cross the lane that leads, on the right,  to Fort Ficklecombe, a rather bleak-looking, megalithic semi-circular structure built on the rocks, which was converted in the 70s into maybe thirty ‘luxury flats’, all with impressive sea views and their own 007-esque harbour.  I’ve seen pictures of the interiors in estate agents’ windows though, and they look pokey and almost suburban. A style-free zone. Like so many British homes. The bane of the officers of the taste-police.  Naturally, I’m a superintendent, at least.

Through another kissing gate (banish any lonely thoughts) and I’m climbing the hill, which is dotted with yellow-flowering gorse bushes, and rising steeply ahead of me.  I am now in the extensive grounds  of Harbinger Hall – around eight hundred acres –  and heading for the scenically persuasive (I’m thinking of instigating a rock/cultural festival here) deer park on the plateau above.  Question:  why is grass at the seaside always springy?  The hill is like a giant grassy green beanbag! As I rise hundreds of feet, I turn back and look at the amazing view of the twin villages and Smugglers Spur, and the fertile hills beyond, and the now tiny boats bobbing in sparkling waters of the bay.  Breathtaking.  A water skier cuts a swathe through the calm waters out in Raleigh Sound, the speedboat sounding like an angry wasp.  I sit down on the natural, grassy cushion, drink some water and take some pictures. Since I left the village I haven’t seen a soul so far… not one, single person. In my head, I realise that I’m singing ‘Nature Boy‘, a beautiful old classic song, my favourite version being the George Benson one, although the song was first a hit for Nat King Cole (what a beautiful, deep, velvety voice!).  I wonder if he wrote it?

There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy… they say he wandered very far, very far, over land and sea…

I Google ‘Nature Boy’ on my iPhone, wondering if there’ll be a WiFi signal up here and –  miracles!  –  there is, although slow.  It transpires from Wikipedia that the song was written by one Eden Ahbez and was published in the US in 1947.  Intriguingly, Ahbez was apparently a member of one of the very first hippie-like communes in Los Angeles at the time (that was even pre-beatnik) and the song was allegedly a paean to their evidently radical, pioneering lifestyle. It also features the same melody as parts of Dvorak’s piano quintet No 2 in A, I read, but it’s not known if this was a coincidence, or actual plagiarism. But the lyrical denoument is surely one of the best lines ever:

‘The greatest thing you could ever learn is to love and be loved in return.’

You’re telling ME Eden Ahbez!  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Imagine if that person was sitting next to me right now? I’ve never heard the Massive Attack/Bowie version either.  I’ll have to wait – I didn’t bring my headphones out today.  I’m not really a listener of Mp3s with headphones clamped onto my ears.  I like the sound of what’s all around me… and I spend hours working on, and listening to music at home. My own. So the sounds of nature, and of the city, are fine by me, when I’m not slaving over a hot MAC.

Suddenly, I feel a cool breeze brushing my face.  Thanks Maddox. Thanks. Deep breath.  I bite my lip, push myself up of the grass, dust myself down, put my bag on my shoulder and we… carry on up the hill.  Various species of  magnificent trees (Oaks, Ashes, Beeches, Silver Birches and more) are intricately detailed in the brilliant sunshine, against a dazzling electric blue sky.  Not a cloud, not even in my heart – at least temporarily – to be seen, as I cross the deer park.  Not a deer to be seen (I would have loved to have said ‘hello deer’ – in an Australian accent, naturally – if one had materialised) either, only hundreds, no, thousands of sheep, raising their heads from chewing the grass and staring at me intently as if to say: ‘Excuse me, who are you and why are you here in our lovely meadows? Have you got any grass?’

Now I can see Plymouth stretching out before me, across the Tamar estuary and the marina. The city is an ugly mass of greyness, apart (in terms of colour) from those three 60s residential tower blocks, which have unpleasant patterns on them painted in primary colours, and the red and white-striped little lighthouse on The Hoe (who you callin’ a hoe?!).

The sea is now on three sides, teeming with boats, ships, cat and trimarans, gin-palaces, jet-skis:  to my right The Sound becomes the Atlantic – a huge Santander ferry heading to Spain sounds its foghorn as if to make that point – and to my left I see a series of salty creeks and lakes dotted with boats, surrounded by little villages, farms and fertile fields and forests.  The sheep scatter as I amble through the fields making my way to the magical gardens of Harbinger Hall. I see the first folly – a fake ruin – which signals that it’s time to descend the hill to the sensual awakening that awaits.

I open the gate (and close it behind me, as requested on a notice – as if they needed to say it) and enter an enchanted forest.  Despite the fact that the glorious blooms of the rhododendrons and azaleas are, sadly, mostly depleted, I’m still immediately transported into a sylvan, bucolic wonderland as I follow the slowly spiralling, sun-dappled path down to the water. Capability (it was a nickname, his real name was the equally flamboyant Lancelot) created these wonderful vistas and they lift the spirits and make you want to keep on keeping on,  all follies notwithstanding. I pass the lake and the willow at the bottom of the valley, photograph the neo-classical white ‘temple’ folly to my right, then turn left, walking along the path that runs besides the rocky sea shore and then across the gently rolling lawns of Harbinger Hall, before entering the formal garden through a large double-door-sized gap in what must be the biggest hedge in the world.  It has to be one hundred meters-long-by-ten-meters-high! Then suddenly you’re in another magical world – it’s very Alice In Wonderland – and you have a variety of delicious visual and scenic options to chose from.  There’s the exotic fern and palm garden to your left, the well-ordered and colourful symetry of the parterre garden to your right, the English country garden straight ahead, the topiary garden further to the right and the tropical garden, with its apparently spontaneous ‘geyser’ fountain which suddenly spouts and falls onto giant pebbles as you pass by  (it’s actually triggered by an infra-red, remote control).

*Check the slideshow above if you’re reading this online.* 

My rumbling tummy reminds me that I must get to The Orangery for a late lunch, before it closes. It’s a huge, stunning beautiful and perfectly symmetrical, white, single-storey Georgian building with giant sash windows about twenty feet tall, set in a formal Italianite garden with a very grand, baroque central fountain and ne0-classical statuary.  Inside, there’s what passes as a restaurant, with awful, cheap, cane furniture and unpleasant fixtures and glass-fronted fridges and chill cabinets that make it look like a wannabe motorway service station. Sacrilege! Unfortunately, I find that there’s nothing left to eat but ice cream – then remember that ye olde country pubbe just outside the estate, close by where the foot ferry comes in from the marina, has been renovated quite tastefully, is under new management and serves decent, if overpriced food.  At last!  Fresh crab (with salad in a freshly baked baguette)!  Why is it so difficult to find, so close to its natural habitat?  I get a large apple juice (from a carton, not fresh) and take my lunch out to one of those ubiquitous ‘picnic tables’ which litter the British country and seaside, which look like they’re made out of glorified wooden pallets. I imagine that obese people have a bit of a problem swinging their legs around and under the table.

The baguette is stuffed full of genuinely fresh crab and exotic ingredients like red onion, chopped pimento and Lollo Rosso lettuce. Quelle Surprise! Delicious.  Of course, the bracing sea air always gives one a healthy appetite, which is something of a rarity for me, especially with my poor, malfunctioning pancreas.

Watching the boats is endlessly fascinating.  The foot-ferry moors at the pier – it’s high tide – and disgorges a motley crew, well, passengers;  they seem to be mostly local people, all chattering away with their West Country burr.  Teenagers looking like they’re about to audition for The X-Factor; the boys with that silly side-swept basin cut (how much hairspray must they need?) and skinny jeans which look SO wrong worn low on the butt, whetto-ghetto-style.  The girls walk awkwardly on too-high heels up the cobblestone jetty in tiny mini-skirts which are more like belts, wearing cut-off, stripey tank tops, cheap hair extensions and huge  earings. Then older men with wrinkly sun-baked and wind-blasted complexions in paint-spattered overalls, fat mothers with too-short skirts and badly-dyed hair wheeling double buggies holding rosy-faced, wailing kids and vast amounts of supermarket carrier bags on the handles.  Then the holiday-makers, mostly middle-class, trying to look like they’re wearing Barbour or Burberry, wielding ludicrous ‘hiking’ sticks and bulging plastic cooler bags. This being Cornwall, as opposed to Hardesden in London, the majority of the passengers are white, but there’s one Asian family, and a lone, rather handsome , young-ish black man who nods and smiles at me as he passes. I smile back thinking:  surely not?  Then I see A VW Beetle convertible coming down the road and stopping by the bus stop.  I recognise the driver as a ‘neighbour’ in the village – his daughter is married to the black guy.  Hence the smile. We met a while back.  He gets in and off they go.  I could have asked for a lift, but I can get the bus back;  I make a mental note to check the timetable – they only come about every hour but are always exactly on time.  How very un-British!

Having finished my baguette, I decide to continue reading my old, red notebook.  The sky has clouded over slightly, and it’s become slightly cooler, although the wind’s not too gusty, so I don my light cotton sweater, and turn to where I left off last time.  I was evidently still in Barcelona.


Plaza Real.


Of course, I got-up too late to get a ticket for the night-ferry to Ibiza. Everything closes here at 2pm for siesta (note:  rhymes with fiesta).  I’d wandered down to the harbour to the ticket office for the ferry, which was at the end of a rather bleak, industrial wharf, under one of the rusty towers which support the cable car as it clanks above.  There was at least a sign which said (in Spanish): Next Ferry to Ibiza.  23.30.  Yay! So, providing I can get a ticket later, I’m going on a night cruise to The White Island!

Talking of cruising, it really is the most irritatingly stupid way to carry on (Carry On Cruising?), if you look at it objectively.  Grown men, like me, wandering around in ever-decreasing circles looking for what… a fuck? Warmth? Love? I always wanted  to meet someone beautiful who was interesting to talk to.  I know, it’s a bit of a tall order, but one which I could claim to live-up to, to a degree (depending on your taste) myself.  So why should I not expect it of others? Unfortunately, the whole gay ghetto ethos of cruising is that you don’t talk, you stalk.  How mind-numbingly mundane.  I think it’s time for a change, it’s time we GREW UP!  Somebody once said that promiscuity is ‘hopping from bed-tobed in search of love’.  Maybe it was me?

Having said that, I’ll probably spend all night cruising around the ship, should I get a ticket,  looking for some sort of encounter, dependent on the quality of the male passengers and their availability, of course. Should be good for the leg muscles anyway, all those steep stairs (I imagine).

Cruising The Mediterranean (now find a rhyme for that!  Uranian, alien, subterranean?) on a beautiful ship of fools…


I’ve just had dinner in one of the numerous restaurants that surround the Plaza Real. They’re all pretty good and not too expensive.  So I guess  I’m in ‘restaurant rotate mode’, along with the Gypsy, Spanish and African hustlers.  Have they noted that I definitely don’t ‘donate’ and have they compared notes? I certainly doubt the latter. Earlier – post-siesta-time –  I queued for what seemed like hours in the hot sun to get my ticket for the night ferry to Ibiza. Done.

In a way, I’ll be glad to get away from Barcelona, but only because it’s not quite carefree enough, as holidays destinations go (there’s always someone tapping you on the shoulder hustling for money.  One ignores them, of course.  I must learn the Spanish for ‘go away!’).  Anyway, it seems that my steely laser-eye look usually does the trick, which is a relief.  I can be a real soft-touch on occasion though. Employ METHOD man!   How long is it since I’ve been to La Isla Blanca?  Maybe four years?  I wonder how it’s changed and could it be for the worse? Have the hustlers tapping one on the shoulder moved in with the English football hooligans on agony (well, acid) and ecstasy?  I certainly will be avoiding San Antonio and hope to find somewhere to stay in Ibiza town itself. I’ve been advised that it’s better and much cheaper not to book;  just go to a gay bar when you get there and ask if they have any studio apartments for rent. A bit risky at high season, I know, but I like living dangerously.  If there are hassles and thuggery then I’m sure that I’ll be able to find placidity on Escavallet, my favourite beach in Las Salinas, which is primarily gay and nudist.  It’s right at the end of the promontary, far from the madding crowd, near an ancient tower (a former lighthouse?) which I fantasise about converting into a bijou holiday home with unbelievable views.  This sandy beach has a funky little beach bar and barbeque – well, it did last time I was here. Maybe it’s become more commercialised – it wouldn’t surprise me.  Then I can go wandering (okay, cruising) through the sand dunes and the fragrant pine forests behind the beach for hours, hoping for that  elusive holiday romance… at least for a few days. That would be wonderful. Even better if it turned into the real thing.

Why am I so deprived of emotional fulfillment?

Before dinner I had my Tarot Cards read on Las Ramblas.  It was intriguing that Gypsy Rosa Sangria (my name for her) pinpointed the apparent conflict between my head and my heart (her English was excellent), as did another clairvoyant recently, in London.  I’ve been trying to work it out. Does it mean that I over-analyse and thereby block my emotions, or that I let my emotions lead me blindly? I would have thought that my cock was the main offender in that sense.  Ibiza – watch out!

I wish that I could shake off all these irrational anxiety attacks –  where do they come from and why? – along with the infamous Barcelona eczema rash (which I develpoped the last time I was here, for some inexplicable reason).  Last time, though, it was on my the back of my neck, as opposed my back.  Maybe it has something to do with the salty water-quality measured against my emotional stress levels?  Last time, I was preoccupied (in London), or maybe even obsessed,with Jusef, someone very beautiful that I’d had amazing sex with, just once, then we’d become friends. I wanted more, but he was an uptight Persian who was not in touch with… a great deal, really.  He had a nice Italian sports car as it happens, but I was wasting my time believing we had a future.”

I remember telling my friend Steve Swindells about it at the time – and him promptly writing a song about it called ‘Breaking And Entering‘ and recording it in Pete Townsend’s Eel Pie Studios in Soho. I think it was in 1980. He tells me that his Lost Albums (of 1980) are coming out soon on Flicknife Records.  Not before time Steve!  We’ve been talking about forming a band that makes-up songs on the spot spontaneously, like at his legendary Groove jam sessions at WKD in Camden in the late-eighties and early nineties.   He’s come-up with the brilliant name The Plastic Sturgeons – and he’s got the dot com.

My iPhone plinks. I put down the book.  It’s a text from Steve Swindells.  I laugh out loud (LOL?).  That’s a bit psychic!  He’s asking if I’m having a good time and wishing he could be there too – and could I call?  I text him back to say I’ll give him a shout when I get back to the cottage and that I hope he’s okay. This makes me remember that I was going to check the dongle signal and check my emails.  I pull out my laptop and fire it up.  Eureka!  The signal is full-on.  The emails are flooding in, like the tide (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one).

I return to the diary.

“This time, my mind is full of Tony, Tony McCord.  The lost ‘chord’ (I’m feeling a song).  Tony is my obsession of a the last few years:  we’ve never had sex and I’m afraid that I’m in love with him, but, unfortunately, we’re just really, really good soul-buddy friends, when he’s in the UK, that is.  He spends half his time in LA (he’s a scriptwriter, he tells me, although I’ve never seen any evidence of his work; he’s extremely inscrutable) and the other half in London, in his huge, stunningly cool apartment overlooking Regents Park.  He’s black, masculine, handsome, fit, a couple of years older than me, extremely intelligent and funny.  We get on like the proverbial house on fire.  But my sex is on fire too.  I guess we’re not lovers because we’re both ‘tops’?  Or maybe I’m just not his type?  We certainly are very close, which makes it all the more frustrating, but, it’s still wonderful to actually BE close to someone, regardless.  I never try it on –  I don’t do ‘loss of dignity’ unless I’m really, really drunk (I have, of course,  blown it, on various rare occasions, I’m afraid).  He told me that his long-term lover of many years, a highly successful American, black lawyer, had died in the early 80s, not long before I met him.  So I did wonder if Tony was rich as a result of his inheritance… and was merely an aspiring screenwriter.  Maybe I’ll find out one day. Meanwhile, I’d love  to be playing the beautiful Beckstein baby grand piano in the middle of his massive living room overlooking the park,  fabulously furnished and decorated in shades of sensual, mutually-Scorpionic dark-brown, whilst he makes us the bestest vodka-martinis and lights loads of candles, smiling into my eyes… always smiling deeply into my eyes.”

I take a drink of my juice, blink,  stretch my body, cast my mind back twenty two years and sigh deeply.  Tony, Tony… you were like a mysterious, protective guardian angel sent by the Gods.  Why did you have to suddenly disappear from my life?

When we dance,  we dance… alone.

The foot ferry is coming in again and disgorging its passengers.  I need to check the bus times. I amble over to the stop and check; It’s cool – the next one is in precisely twenty minutes. Back at the ugly al fresco picnic tables, a magpie is actually perched on the edge of someone’s discarded wine glass and drinking the remains.  Amazing.

I open the next page of the diary and note that I’m suddenly in Ibiza.  I guess it’s hardly suprising that I didn’t write anything on the night ferry, although I can remember it well, even now.

I didn’t really know what to expect of the boat from Barcelona to Ibiza (the journey time was approximately ten hours, as I recall).  I walked down the same bleak, industrial wharf that housed the ticket office, but the visuals were way more romantic than in the daytime.  Lights  reflecting on water, the moon rising over the harbour, that kind of thing.  A sense of adventure.  I would love to say that my ship came in… well, it did, in the form of the ferry, but unfortunately, despite the hot and balmy mediterranean night, there was no romance other than in my mind. No poetry by Lorca or Cocteau, no handsome. swarthy sailors, just a great big car ferry, entirely similar to the British cross-channel ones, and with about as much style and class – ie very little.  People just slept, which was hardly surprising. I’d bagged a sun lounger on the open, upper deck and simply lay gazing at the stars, or looking wistfully over the rails at the calm, moonlit sea, as we plowed on through the night. My idea that there would be a bunch of beautiful and fascinating polysexual, international ravers on board was sadly misplaced.  I found it very hard to sleep – the mere romance of wanting romance was enough to keep me awake (along with several brandies and a couple of spliffs), but I managed about three or four hours sleep eventually. Then I woke as the first glimmer of the sun rising made a golden arced, sliver above the horizon, and a shiver of excitement ran through me as Ibiza, Ibiza town, slowly materialised  on the horizon as the new day dawned.

I recall that it was 9.30 in the morning on the quayside, some of the cafes were just opening their shutters, but nothing was actually open.  I walked out onto the nearest thing that Ibiza town has to a pier, the breakwater at the harbour entrance, sat on a stone bench and looked at the curious mixture of white gin palaces and genuine fishing boats in the harbour. I couldn’t, or didn’t want to walk too far with my luggage, so I just hung out and watched Ibiza town wake-up, along with all the fishing boats returning to port and offloading their silvery cargo onto the quay,  until I noticed a cafe open, at last.   I had a breakfast of omelette (Spanish, of course) and a capuccino and read my diary from Barcelona, just like I’ve been doing again for the first time, after all these years.  It’s fantastic how it takes you straight back into the action – like Youtube of the mind..

As it approached 11am, I felt that there might some sign of life in the gay bar (I can’t remember its name – probably something American-based like The Bronx –  that I’d been advised to visit, to ask for a somewhere to rent.  It was in the next street up from the cafe, as the centre of old Ibiza town is built on a hill – and very picturesque it is too.  I imagine it still is – I haven’t been back there in years.  I knocked on the antique, brass-studded wooden door and after a while a quite handsome, dark man wielding a mop opened it. Luckily, he spoke English, and within ten minutes I was clutching the keys to a second-floor studio apartment on Carrer De Mar (the imaginatively-named Sea Street, I assume); all mine for under £20 per night.  Sorted!  It wasn’t far away and I was surprised at how cool and chic it was.  Really spacious and light, with an open-plan kitchen and ‘neutral decor’ (as we say these days).  The sun streamed through French (oh okay, Spanish) windows which opened onto a balcony overlooking this pedestrian street – a broad alley, if you like –  which boasted a little metal ‘bistro’ table and two matching chairs. There was a large, comfortable beige futon sofa-bed, a plain mahogany dining table and four chairs, a beanbag, a coffee table, a large TV,  a terracotta-tiled floor, and plain white walls.  It was just perfect. I think I stayed awake deliberately  – and don’t remember much at all until my first diary entry  the next day.



My left hand  has started twitching (which I’ve recently realised is a sign of psychic/spiritual activity), having just got out of bed. I figure that it’s evidently time for some automatic writing. So here it is. I am  deadly serious! I’m going to write this straight out:

You were born into this world to create something. So far, you haven’t achieved it. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel guilty.  The title of your debut album makes the path clear. But you have been blocking the messages and, basically, working out your sexual karma. The two are linked, but the right side of your brain has dominated the left, hence the constant romantic idealism. You will go up to the castle today and a further message will be given.’


In The Cathedral in The Castle.

I’m sitting in a pew in wonderfully cool (as-in not hot) Baroque nave and my left hand (I’m left-handed) has started twitching again and become sweaty, whilst my right hand remains dry.  The sign of a spiritual presence.  I immediately start more automatic writing:

You are entitled to do whatever you wish for the good of mankind and yourself.  You may move freely throughout the world without fear. You are meant to be here. You know it well. You have conquered in this life, whereas you were conquered before, as the abbott of this monastery, by The Inquisition, and imprisoned here for many years. You had created a beautiful garden in this very place.  See if you can now find it. Don’t be sad and nervous.  Be happy for what is coming in the near future. Be at peace with yourself and remember that  you’re here for a purpose. You will discover what it is very soon.'”

Then there’s a squiggle that looks some kind of  arcane signature, and what can only be described as an automatic drawing, which resembles either a man in a cloak, or perhaps a plan… of the castle… or both?  Beneath it is written:

Hamni-on, oublieatt.’ What the hell language, if any, is that?  I Google it on my laptop thinking, yeah… dream on, and take the last slug of my juice.  The first thing that comes-up is the word Oubliette.  It’s kind of spooky in as much as it means ‘a dungeon or cellar that is reached through a trap door in the floor above’, in French.  Typing simply ‘Hamni-on‘ reveals that Hamni seems to be a christian name, apparently in several cultures and countries, mostly Eastern, but also North African.  It also appears to be associated with Japanese martial arts, as some sort of fight move, a swing of the arm. Perhaps the Abbott, my erstwhile past-life regression, was named Hamni,  and was maybe a Moor from North Africa and had been imprisoned in an oubliette in this very compound?  All very Da Vinci Code! But perhaps less contrived.

My eyes are drawn to an RTF (rich text format) file on my desktop entitled ‘The Keeper Of The Keys’.  I read the lyrics, which are  strangely apposite in many ways –  to what I’m reading and recalling, to my current situation (I wrote and recorded the song quite recently), and… there are ferries everywhere! Multiple metaphors and meanings (the keys and their keepers) and so many memories and question marks.

The Keeper Of The Keys

The keeper of the keys

is watching from the waterside,

he’s waiting for the ferry man

to take him for a ride.

The keeper of the keys

is fated to be engaged, 

to someone who is invisible

and locked in their own cage.

The keeper of the keys, he’s not like you and me,

he changes with every stranger that he meets.

The keeper of the keys, he’ll never set you free,

Because you’re animal and criminal and something that must be beaten….

The maker of the waves

is waiting for the full moon tide

He’s not fated to be otherwise

Every storm is his to ride.

The angel of the dark

is staring through your window.

No more demons bringing broken dreams,

It’s time to burn all your back-pages.

The keeper of the keys, he’s not like you and me,

he changes with every stranger that he meets.

The keeper of the keys, he’ll never set you free,

Because you’re animal and criminal and something that must be beaten….

The keeper of the keys.

The keeper of the keys, he has no place in society.

Words and music by Thom Topham (c) 2009. Copyright Control.

I don’t need to add anything.  I hope that the song speaks and sings for itself.

*You did click the hyperlink from the title to hear it, I trust?*

So, did I find the secret garden?

I turn the page to find out more.

“Cafe Montesol

Mon. 22.8.1988

I didn’t find the secret garden and I can’t make out the drawing, although, if it were a map, it seems to suggest that the garden is beneath the castle wall, just like Incognito, the gay bar.  Hey – hang-on! Maybe it’s a metaphor.  No wonder I like it there. It’s probably one of the most beautiful gay bars in the world. Terraced outdoor seating, ethnic (Hamni?) cushions on low walls, cool modern, Italian-style furniture inside, warm lighting and candles,  plants and flowers everywhere and a wonderful view over Ibiza Town to the sea and the harbour. It’s about as ‘incognito’ as a monk in a gay disco, if you’ll pardon the, er, parallel.   I think this could indeed be Hamni’s secret garden. Spirit messages, I have found, can perhaps be more easily interpreted if you allow a little humour and playfulness into the equation. Perhaps more will be revealed as I read on.

Meanwhile, if I see anymore hairy, muscled, suntanned legs in shorts, I’m gonna… have to have another drink and chill out… in my secret garden. Incognito, of course.

Backtrack to my first day.  Having arranged everything in the apartment to my liking, and put all my clothes etc away, I  take a shower and head straight off  to get the bus to the beach at Es Cavallet. I hope that being dressed in black Adidas (lycra/nylon?) running shorts and a black ‘Fashion Cares’ T-shirt should have the desired effect.

Ibiza – I have arrived!”