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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.

Flipper

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

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

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

Rioja Siglo

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

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

The Paradise Garage Building By Day,

The Paradise Garage Building By Day

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

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

Paradise crowd dancing

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

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

PG Flyer by Keith Haring

PG Flyer by Keith Haring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Point Ferry

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

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

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

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

Miami Beach

Miami Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gangsters laughed approvingly.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Wowza!’  Exlaimed the Cubans, in unison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Break The Chain… 10.12 ’79.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key West nightUnknown

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

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

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

Then, mercifully, I passed out.

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

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

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

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

‘Cody, what did you do with my bag?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

monster-fl-keywest-outside-sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh, saunas in yurts and all that?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thom Topham.  2010. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 10.

13 May

Poverty, Promiscuity, Paranoia, Parables… and Princesses.

TT 1979

“Sat. 6. 7. ‘79.

£5 to last the rest of my life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 8. 7. ’79.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something was afoot!

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

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

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

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

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

He chuckles at my Franglais.

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

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

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

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

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

‘No! What? You’re kidding me?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Ze mediums is ze message!’

We both laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Well, c’est la vie.  I ‘av to go!’

Au revoir. A bientot!!’

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

 You’ve Been Framed

Look out for the hidden messages…

No nothing will ever be the same

You are the flotsam and jetsam of the past.

And people who refuse to play the game

will be guaranteed to always be the last

In the queue where no-one knows your name

you are forgotten like 80s ghetto blasters,

it’s so cynical and clinical, oh the shame

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

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

You gotta play the game to please your masters.

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

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

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

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

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

Look out for the hidden messages….

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

hypocrisy from twisted minds who would crush anything that flowers.

Look out for the hidden messages….

In the queue where no-one knows your name,

you are forgotten like 80s ghetto blasters,

it’s so cynical and clinical, oh the shame

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

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

You gotta play the game to please your masters.

Look out for the hidden messages….

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

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

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

You’ve been framed.

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

The Interior Of London's Hard Rock Cafe

The Interior Of London’s Hard Rock Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sat. 14. 7. 79

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was surprised… but not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Rodney Meadows’, he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Which one?’

//

//

2012 in review

12 Jan

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

//

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 9.

11 Dec

My Unplanned Obsolescence.  Chapter 9.

Dreamy Daniels.

The rocky beach outside the cottage, to the North.

The rocky beach outside the cottage, to the North.

Walking by the sea one day,

lost in thought, so far away,

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

Wondered how this thing might be,

making sense of mystery,

thinking I was suddenly about to find my way.

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

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

Then, I saw you… walking on the shore.

You looked at me… I looked at you…

need I say more?

I know we’re gonna be forever,

Oh – we’ve got it going on.

I know we’re gonna be forever,

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

Then you smiled and I smiled too,

held my hands out, so did you…

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

Walking now – we’re getting close

I said:  ‘Hi, you like this coast?’

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

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

You looked at me, I looked at you…

need I say more

I know we’re gonna be forever,

oh – we’ve got it going on.

I know we’re gonna be forever,

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

Together we belong… I know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smuggler’s Spur… pirates!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Exodus.’  I reply.

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

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

<click into hyperlink below>

Hejiro

Unplanned obsolescence… hejiro…

Get the message… and light a candle.

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

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

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

Hejiro  – a slight thought of a presence.

Hejiro… it was not my unplanned obsolescence.

All those daydreams that turned to nightmares.

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

Where was the love, where was the somewhere,

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

Hejiro… hejiro… unplanned obsolescence.

Hejiro… hejiro.

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

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

She called me Dreamy Daniels.

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

‘Hi Dreamy Daniels!’  She says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I sure do mother!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me at home in 1979

Me at home in 1979

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh yes it was.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘But they must be worth millions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The song title show carries ever on…

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

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

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

Then – ‘The Outsider’.

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

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

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

“Sat June 30th 1979. 4am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

//

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 8

12 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

Keith? Kate? Kevin?

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

‘Direction —-> art versus commerciality?

Compromise?  Result: bland-out.

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

AIM… commercial, yet committed ART.

Cliches work!  Create new cliches?

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

SUCCESS in ’78.

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

DISIPLINE/regular WORK.

Time ALONE.

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

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

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

I turn the page to find another untitled poem.

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

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

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

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

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

by breaking defences and helping me fight.

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

not scared of commitment and changing my life.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I was out of a job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to take away the barriers and begin to understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Point

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

remembering my old routines whilst beating a retreat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You found yourself a stranger and i found myself alone,

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

In retrospect this punishment was just what I deserved,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The phone rings:  ‘Hello’

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

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

‘Of COURSE!  Do you remember the HORSE?’

‘Which horse?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Back atcha you old slag…bye!’

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

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

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

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

I faxed my design and the measurements to the office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

for the renegades of Rancho Deluxe.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Open it!’  Everyone shouted.

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

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.

“20.8.1988

Plaza Real.

4pm

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…

10pm.

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.

“Ibiza

22.8.1988

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.’

22.8.1988.

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!”

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 5.

23 May

Devils On Horseback – And Angels On My Shoulders


Fears and anxieties seem to follow me like devils on horseback.  Apocalyptic horses. I worry about bringing home the, well, the bacon – and the sausages of success, or the lack of them.

I get stressed because no-one appears to be impressed enough with my talents to invest in them.  But why am I apparently being pursued by a plateful of chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon?  It’s not Christmas – that’s the only time anyone seems to eat such alleged delicacies, as part of ‘all the trimmings’ that traditionally accompany turkey, at least in the UK. I’ve never spent Yuletide anywhere else, so I don’t know. 

And why can I hear waves crashing on a seashore, as if I’m sleeping on a beach?

I wake up and blink, shake my head and pull the curtain open on the window by the right-hand side of the bed.  Of course, I’m in Cornwall – and it looks as stunning as ever.  The window is open and I inhale deeply.  The sea looks quite rough today – I remember, it’s a high tide –  there’s a pleasant, spumy breeze and the sun is breaking through the clouds.  The clock on the tower of the village social club reads 11.15.

It’s Tuesday – I really must take a long walk today and take some pictures, especially as it looks like it’s going to be a scorcher.  

I take a slug of water from the glass on the windowsill – that was a very strange dream – and lay back on the pillows, half-closing my eyes. Then I fall back to sleep.

I was sound-checking with my band BiJingo, it would seem that we were to perform in that large, white , tented pavilion by the Westway, off  the Portobello Road (cue floods of memories from my various visits in the late 60s and then in various homes there throughout the 70s) in Notting Hill –  where they have the vintage clothes flea market and where bands play at The Carnival.  In my dream, it was for some different kind of festival.  Something to do with Oxfam?  But all my equipment was malfunctioning and I was becoming increasingly frustrated.  My three keyboards and the little mixer and leads, pedals, lights and the mic were just like a pile of electronic spaghetti in front of me.  Nothing would work!  I was fiddling with this little circuit board and it was driving me nuts. I looked across at Jason Greenaway, our infamously famous drummer, who was playing slightly annoying and repetietve  rolls on his tom toms and grinning at me maniacally.

Jack Mann-Davies waved cheerily at me from some sort of kiosk he was in under The Westway – the raised motorway that runs over Central West London –  and beckoned for me to come over.  Jack and I had had a bit of fling in early 1994, when I was living in a tiny room in my ex-business partner Adrian Oasthouse’s upside-down (the huge living room with the stunning view over London was in the converted attic) penthouse in Highgate.  Jack and I had actually met back when I was doing the PR and helping to design a fabulous venue called Strictly Ballroom set in twenty acres of lush grounds in the country in Surrey the year before.  Adrian and his cousin Clive had somehow managed to obtain a twenty-year lease and get a late licence for it.  They’d raised half a million from the bank and from pop-star investors who were friends with Adrian, to completely renovate the buildings and the grounds and turn it into a destination –  which is where I came in. There was an incredible, 1920s wood-built ballroom, straight out of Agatha Christie,  with french windows in it’s five-sided facade, behind the stage, opening on to balconies overlooking a small lake, in which there was a simple, spouting fountain.  It was linked, at the other end, by a corridor , to a massive, lofty, medieval barn, which housed a bar and restaurant, which I’d designed.

Finally – I got to design a bar/restaurant! Eureka!  It had a forty foot-long bar down one side clad in five-inch, black and white tiles (my homage to the seventeenth-century painting style known as Dutch Interiors), with a row of oversized, industrial-style, aluminium pendant lights hanging low above it from the medieval beams, with quirky framed canvases and tasteful arty black and white prints on the walls.  It was furnished with a deliberate mish-mash of retro-modern and shabby-chic antique furniture which I’d had great fun buying in auctions.  Nothing matched,  apart from the odd pair of armchairs, which was quite deliberate on my part.  It was also inspired by The Freud Club in Soho, that chrystaline maze of media and celeb networking and intrigue.

Strictly Ballroom’s grand opening featured my all-star jam session, in the ballroom, of course, where we made-up songs, as ever, literally on the spot – with Jason Greenaway on the drums, a guitarist who’d played with Madonna, a percussionist who’d played with Soul II Soul, the bass player from Major Offensive  (or was it SImple Minds?) and several singers, some well known, some unknown.  Jack was one of the latter. There were several limos in the car park – The Betting Shop Boys and The Fourth Reich were amongst the eight hundred guests.

It was a great success, on a beautiful summer evening, so people could happily wandder in the grounds, around the lakes and ponds, which I’d lit with flaming torches and strings of old-school coloured lights. I was in my  extreme comfort zone – ie PR, design, and making-up songs on the spot with some fabulous musicians and singers.

 Later, I had an in-depth conversation with one particularly erudite gay, pop-star, who, after he’d told me how much he’d enjoyed the jam session – which he said he’d felt soulfully unqualified enough to join-in with.  He had then asked, apropos of nothing, if I’d like to guess how much money he had in the bank (I think he’d had a line or three of coke).  Slightly taken aback, I’d suggested around a million.  Not bad, he’d replied cheerily:  nine hundred and fifty-eight thousand.  These days, he’s fully paid-up member of London’s art establishment.

Jack (who is black) and I got talking afterwards; he was obviously gym-fit and masculine, but evidently also had a keen intellect, which is always a plus.  We’d never met before – one of the other singers had brought him along –  and I’d been impressed with his powerful voice, although I’d noticed that he over-emoted to an extent, or perhaps he was trying to show-off a bit with his ‘licks’, like people in gospel choirs, and Mariah Carey, do. I didn’t know if he was gay or not, but I had a feeling he could be.  We exchanged numbers and it turned out that he also lived in Highgate, well, more like Crouch End,  about a mile away from Adrian Oasthouse’s grand-yet-slightly-bland domicile.

I invited him round for a drink a few nights later and we  talked and talked into the early hours.  It turned out that he was bisexual – and was living with a guy who knew me from when I lived in a a squatting community in Camden (small world, big belly) , when I’d first moved to London in 1973 – when I was twenty-one. So Jack, who was thirty-one,  was ‘taken’, it transpired, by a very obese white person of forty-five; which was weird, as Jack was so fit and sexy.  I therefore discounted any chance of sexual interaction, but we soon started writing songs together in their slightly dingy place down the road, when Michael, his ‘other half’ was out at work at some ‘youth outreach’ program in Kentish Town.  He would come back home and make me feel slightly uncomfortable, as if he saw me as a threat, whilst feigning friendliness; but I was innocent, so I always made my excuses and left.  I’d never ‘tried it on’ with Jack and he never gave the impression that he found me attractive. This carried on for several months, as we wrote and recorded several songs together.

I’d moved to a funky little studio flat which I’d  sub-let (illegally) from its young, gay, slightly hippyish tenant, who wanted to go back-packing for a year or so.  It  sat alone on the top floor, the fifth, of a Victorian, charitable housing trust estate near London Bridge, in South East London, way before the area became gentrified.  Perhaps it was formerly intended for a janitor.  My stay in the little room in Adrian’s penthouse had only only been intended to be temporary. And Strictly Ballroom, despite being quite a success (apart from the restaurant, which they’d closed after a few months, having ignored my advice how to make it work), was to mysteriously burn down a couple of years later.  The cousins’ official line was that it ‘been as a result of an electrical fault’, but tongues were soon wagging that they’d fallen-out and that Clive had done it deliberately to claim the insurance, after ‘buying Adrian out’.  They never spoke again. And how Clive later twisted the knife with Adrian over Nirvana was a whole different ball game.

Jack knew someone who was happy to lend me a Fostex eight-track tape  recorder and little mixer, the make of which I forget.  I soon learnt how to use them in my delightful little  impromptu studio, with its wonderful skyline views on three sides. And when Jack wasn’t there I was able to record many of my own songs, which was very liberating and satisfying – and  it was also a first.  That’s where I wrote and recorded *click here!* ‘Chatterton‘.  

‘Chatterton is hangin’ out, on forty-second street, just another youth who found that truth gets trampled underneath your feet.

Chatterton is goin’ round all those corridors of powers – to show his works to coked-out jerks, who never could smell a perfect flower’.

The song had been inspired, to an extent, or at least triggered, by the view from the main bedroom window at the cottage in Cornwall, where I am right now. It had made me think of that famous, somewhat mawkish, Pre-Raphaelite painting by Henry Wallis, depicting Thomas Chatterton, the seventeen year-old poet, as he lay dying, having poisoned himself with arsenic, beneath a window looking-out over what was apparently the English countryside. He actually committed suicide  in Brook street, in London’s Holborn, in 1770.  My song put Chatterton in the modern age, in New York, where I myself had been trying unsuccessfully to tout my musical wares just the year before. You can tell that there’s quite a strong Tom (Thom!) Waites-meets-Springsteen influence in the song.  My respective faves (as you may have noticed if you clicked the hyperlinks just now <<<< echo…echo) are ‘Tom (THOM!) Traubert’s Blues’ and The Streets Of Philadelphia (which, incidentally, I don’t find cheesy at all).  I like the low-tech fact that you can actually hear me clicking the tape on at the very beginning of the song to record the lead vocal.

It will be interesting to pull the 1993 diary out of the bag, but I’m not going to do it now (I’m only half-way through the one from 1988 and ‘will be going to Ibiza on the night ferry’ very soon).

Outside ‘the shoebox’ in London Bridge, I even had the whole roof  – which was L-shaped and about fifty yards long – all to myself.  One evening, having had an al fresco dinner and drinks out there in the delightful summery night,  Jack and I were singing and recording multi-tracked backing vocals together on the mic, back inside, and they sounded so good on playback that we whooped and hollered and hugged each other.  That’s when it happened. We didn’t stop hugging…  and could hardly ignore our sudden mutual hard-ons.

Before long, we were regularly having sex after our recording sessions – or even during! Despite this interesting development, I was trying to get Jack to be more laid-back in his singing.  He was always trying to hit really high notes, but in a slightly melodramatic, over-stated way.  He was a naturally gifted soul singer, but maybe his inner hang-ups were reflected in his delivery. This was also evident in his sexuality.  He only went ‘half the way’, as it were – meaning he loved to have his beautiful, round butt played with and his tight little arsehole licked forever, but wouldn’t get fucked, dammit. He had marvelous, almost heroic, pectorals, but he hated his nipples being played with.  Once, I playfully slapped his arse whilst were having half-arsed (geddit?) sex and he almost hit me, becoming, for a moment, slightly pyscho, holding me in an aggressive bear-hug.   He’d split from fat Michael, but, regardless, after a while, we  also drifted apart.  Plus,  no one in the music biz seemed interested in our collaborations – the songs were really quite good – although the best thing we ever did was a version of  Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On’.  He disappeared to Turkey, where he met a local girl and lived  in a relationship with her for many years.

Flashback to a few months after I’d unexpectedly had sex with Jack:  I was in The Workhouse , a gay club in Soho, the very same club (but under ‘new management’) where ‘my night’ The Mine had been so successful on Fridays for five years, up until the late Eighties, although the wonderful pillars-which-were-aquariums (inspired!), that had been so beautifully described by the gay, Booker Prize winning writer, were long-gone.

I saw this handsome, manly-looking black guy with a neatly clipped beard by the bar, talking to a friend.  I sensed that he was checking me out.  He looked very un-gay, which is, as you may have noticed,  is always a thumbs-up for me. Eventually, I went to get another beer and found myself standing next to him at the bar.  He smiled shyly.  He had nice eyes, silky mahogany skin and full, soft, pink, kissable lips.  I smiled and said ‘Hi.’

‘Hello.’ He said, with a half-smile, which a revealed a fine set of teeth, then turned around and carried-on chatting to his friend.

I went to check out the music – nice funky house – and smoked a sneaky mini-spliff, disguised as a roll-up, that I’d made earlier, jigging around on the dance floor (obviously, you could smoke at least cigarettes in clubs back then).  After a while, I sensed a presence behind me… and there he was again – half-smiling.  I stubbed-out my spliff on the floor (there wasn’t enough left to offer him any) and went over to him.

‘Fancy a drink?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, why not,’ he said, in a deep, slightly metallic-sounding voice, ‘that would be nice.’

We went to the bar, at the same place where we’d met, in the corner. I got us two cans of Grolsch. ‘My favourite,’ he drawled’

‘What’s your name?’  He sked. I told him and asked his: ‘Derek, he said.’  

Suddenly he kissed me… and kissed me.  We held each other close. I was grabbing his impressively round, muscular butt cheeks and could feel an equally impressive erection pushing into my crutch, where my dick was also responding extremely positively.

Before too long we were climbing the five flights of stairs to my little eyrie, the shoebox on the roof, with its evocative, romantic views over London on three sides. You would have been able to see The London Eye, had it been built at the time. We had fantastic sex that night.  We were definitely very compatible on that level.  But on a mental level he seemed distant – maybe he was just shy.

Despite this,  Derek soon became a regular fuck-buddy; but  only in a relatively detached way.  He would generally only come to visit very late. I think he came to a ‘proper’ sit-at-the-kitchen-table dinner (with its amazing view over South London)  just once.  That’s when he asked me if I thought he might be schizophrenic. I replied that I didn’t, but suggested that he had some sort of mental affliction. He agreed, but explained that he had no idea what it might be. I said he should go and see someone about it – maybe get his his doctor to refer him.  He did eventually, a few years later, and the problem seemed to ease, but not his inner anger.  He even did the washing-up that night.  Just once – in seventeen years – or is it eighteen?  But  he would mutter  gibberish under his breath, like he had a private language for himself, and was telling himself off for something, then would chuckle in a slightly manic and almost sinister fashion. Still, the sex was so goddam good and he liked to get high and get fucked, which was fine by me (and he still has the most perfectly beautiful butt…ever).  He drank a lot too, and so did I. He still does – in fact,  he’s probably an alcoholic.  He said so the other day.  Just a glass or three of wine… echo…echo.

Back in my dream, at the BiJingo sound-check by The Westway, I went over to Jack’s kiosk, which appeared to offer a range of tiny electronic items.  ‘You need a new wah wah circuit board,’ he said, in his slightly strident, teacherish voice, offering one to me. It was like a little metal staple gun, but covered in silicone chip…olatas. All that was missing was the streaky bakolite. Electric devils on horseback.

There were beautitful  people of all races dressed in vintage, mutli-coloured clothes swarming around everywhere, which made it hard to concentrate on getting everything up and running.  I went back to my electronic spaghetti and fiddled around with the circuit board.  Jason continued to do pa pa pa rolls on his tom toms. Then Maddox appeared from nowhere, grinning broadly, wearing a brown suit, with a matching shirt and a big, pink silk tie. To say I was somewhat taken aback would be an understatement.

It  really was Maddox, looking just the same as when I’d first met him outside Notting Hill tube station, as large as life. ‘It took me so long to get here from Memorylania.’ He said pleasantly, looking at me intently with those huge, green eyes, ‘the traffic was really awful.’

‘It took you well over twenty years Maddox,’ I said, with a rueful smile, ‘but I’m glad you made it at last, in the flesh, as it were, or at least in spiritual 3-D.’

‘So you’ve noticed when I’ve visited you in spirit?’ He asked.

‘Of course, I think I sensed you most times.  It was a comfortable, reassuring feeling, as if you wanted me to know that you were alright and that you were there to guide me and gently push me in the right direction.’

‘Oh good! I’m glad, very glad.’ He said.  ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ ‘But the sound-check… ‘ I protested. ‘Fuck the sound-check.  Let’s walk to Cornwall.’ And that’s, of course, when I woke up, smiling; safe in the knowledge that he was indeed an ‘angel on my shoulder’ –  and willing and able to help me do battle with the devils on horseback.