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‘Suicide Note And The Amateur Dramatic Society’. Part II. By Richard Racket

9 Feb

Suicide Note And The Amateur Dramatic Society. Part II.

By Richard Racket.

 

SS portrait late 80s

My suggested soundtrack to this continuing saga is ‘Enigma Elevation 7’  from Steve Swindells’ Enigma Elevations Album.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: over my hangover, at least, and all the love. It’s enough to make me want to live forever.

Yeah right. Back to reality with a bang. I felt truly, awfully mercenary opening those envelopes, hoping that there was maybe money inside. Being broke destroys everything: Your confidence, dignity, self-respect, pride and your good health.

Sometimes, you can wake after a sexy dream feeling momentarily terrific, before sinking back under the duvet with the awful realisation that pennies must be counted, bills and bags of laundry must be ignored – and stress-reducing leisure pursuits must be postponed until your ‘budget’ has crept past the £10 mark, depending on the generosity of friends, family… and fate.

Back to the first person.

The loneliness and hopelessness is further compounded by the fact that the phone is, yet again, cut-off, which makes you feel like you’re marooned on an urban desert island.

You can’t invite people to join you for a humble repast because: either there’s not enough food; or when you find a pay-phone that’s actually working, you encounter multiple cheery-toned rejections in the cruel, inhumane form of the answerphone.

You don’t want to leave a message because people can’t call you back, which makes you feel pathetic, like a total loser.

Consequently, you find yourself spending an awful lot of time alone, which only increases the paranoia, feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth and adds to the general demise of your fighting spirit, resulting, I guess, in your disappearance from peoples’ radar screens.

The only wreckage to be found is your piddling, or possibly brilliant, scribblings and jottings, which might make your life seem worthwhile. All that work, all those hours, all that intensity and poetic enthusiasm teased from the dark night of your soul (which is always 3am – as I believe F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote).

All that effort, all that striving, all that chasing and selling and smelling and meeting and chatting and battling and… bullshit.

All those promises and wind-ups and tricks and double-crosses from bosses and tossers, all those crosses you bore… but that doesn’t mean that you’re a bore. Does it?

On a slightly lighter note, there is one advantage to not having a phone. Most of my calls seem to be from people wanting something. Sometimes, they even have the temerity to demand what they require of me without even enquiring after my well-being. Nice.

How incredibly thoughtless and rude, as if I were a free, one-man agency for every aspiring two-bit researcher, socialite, would-be club runner, journalist, singer, actor, musician, painter, rent boy and cleaning lady in London. Generally, I’m happy to help people with advice or connections, but what about me?

MY career, MY needs, My income, My happiness? Good old Ricky, always there when you need him. So confident, always smiling, in charge, happening, major, Mr Man, on top, out there…

‘That’s Ricky Racket…’ people would whisper as I walked by in my own little world, as if I were actually famous. Hah! I’ll show you famous. I’m only marginally more famous than Van Gogh was in his lifetime – and the only thing I’ve cut-off (but not intentionally) is the goddam phone!

Have you ever tried to have a proper conversation in one of those call-boxes that are open to the elements in a howling gale (my open-plan office, as I jokingly refer to it, with more than a tinge of bitterness)?

Apart from the elements, the roar of traffic, or Concorde passing directly above you, there’s inevitably a queue, either before or after you, and that’s only if the call box is actually functioning.

Have you ever tried to set up a meeting from a call box? Apart from the inherent psychological disadvantage, which automatically diminishes your natural assertiveness, as the people whom you wish to speak with are always in meetings (or pretending to be).

‘Can so-and-so call you back?’ Asks the receptionist, secretary or PA (if you get that far up the chain of command), who is usually called Sharon.

‘Erm… well, I’m waiting for a line to be put in as I’ve just moved to a new flat… ‘ You trail off, realising the absurdity of it all, and give up.

 

And that point, a minor indulgence like brunch at Bar Italia in Soho, would soothe your troubled breast.

Reading the paper, doing the crossword, people-watching, munching delicious delicacies and sipping cappuccino… but no, you’ve spent the last of what little money you had talking to answerphones, Sharons and walls.

It’s 5:30PM and it’s already dark, cold and windy. I’m feeling horny. This is not practical. I don’t WANT to feel horny, even though it’s the most natural thing in the world, especially for us allegedly sexy Scorpios.

PWAS (people with AIDS) can have safe sex, just like anyone else, if the other person is willing to take the risk (which is why sex with a fellow PWA is less stressful). But… I haven’t told anyone, and even having safe sex without telling someone that I have AIDS would be grossly deceptive.

I guess it will have to come out at some point soon.

My balls are aching with all that unreleased cum. I take a long bath and wash my hair, then reluctantly decide to have a wank, just to ease the pressure. A succession of faces, bodies and bottoms flash across my mental screen. Stolen moments. Thighs and whispers. Memorable nights of real passion. Dirty/wholesome, meaningless/loving… SEX.

God, I miss it. I suppose masturbation is, in a way, the ultimate self-indulgence and tends to be the only sexual activity that induces something approaching a feeling of guilt in me.

That’s strange.

Is it because I feel I might be wasting moments of love? Or that mummy or daddy might walk in on me (I added that one for creepy laughs)? Or is it because it’s somehow mundane and lonely?

I catch sight of my body in the mirror – something of a masturbatory cliché in itself – and note that the stomach, aged 40, is still doing a reasonable imitation of a washboard and that the bum is quite round and pert.

Boys on the bed 1

Some friends hanging out on my giant bed

 

I wish my pectorals were more pronounced, but that’s my fault, I should get into swimming or ‘gymming’, but that costs money.

I idly brush my left nipple and there’s a perceptible inner reaction (my nipples have always been hard-wired to my dick, unlike many men – I guess it must be something in the homo genes). More faces from the past flit across my consciousness like warm shadows… so whom shall I invite into the bathroom for virtual intimacy today? They come in one-by-one, peeling off their pants, or running shorts (mmm, my favourite, especially with the smell of fresh sweat) to reveal the warm, dark curves and the soft hairy crevasses beneath. Aghhhhh! I’ve come in about 30 seconds.

I blink as if I’ve just awoken, wash the spunk off my dwindling tumescence and get out of the bath, feeling unburdened, at least temporarily.

Then I have a shave and tell myself in the mirror that I’m OK.

I’m carrying on… for now.

The flat is a disaster area. The floor hasn’t been vacuumed in weeks, there’s a pile of washing up and dirty clothes, towels and bed linen are overflowing from the laundry basket. I just can’t face doing something about it – and it ain’t nothing to do with my physical condition.

Oh nostalgia – the days when I could afford a cleaner! It was a small price to pay for the mental stimulation of a pristine flat. Now, the more I let it pile up, the more depressing it becomes.

I want to go out somewhere. I want someone I like to come and eat with me, talk with me and be with me. I’ve got post-birthday blues. The former centre of attention is now all alone and feeling sorry for himself. The child within, the child without. Without company. Without love.

The carnival is over within these walls, within my mindset, within my heart.

I haven’t been to the launderette for weeks – the cash flow dribble dictating that somehow eating was more important than clean sheets. Being something of a clothes freak, however, I’ve usually got something clean to wear. Now I have a little money, birthday presents from friends; but I can’t face doing the washing today – I want to treat myself.

SHIT! OF Course! I’m brain dead! It’s the ‘Sue Summers And Sake Party’ at Anna’s place. I nearly forgot!

Help! I need props! I don’t have any sex toys! Maybe I can improvise with some phallic articles?

I’m off to buy cucumbers and carrots!

This has immediately made me feel immeasurably better… I’m already giggling to myself with the thought of how stupid we’ll be. Sigh…just like old times.

 

**********************************************************************

November 1949.

“Ooh…uh… aaaaagh… that feels soooo good. Yeaaaahhhhhhh!”

Dick bucked and groaned.

Stephen gulped and hungrily swallowed Dick’s semen.

Able Seamen.

Crash! Suddenly, the cabin door was flung open. Burly arms grabbed the unsuspecting pair and hauled them to their feet from the bunk, as they tried to pull up their underpants and trousers.

They knew that they were busted and that there was no point in protesting, so they stood and hung their heads, like naughty schoolboys who’d been caught smoking behind the bike shed… but this was much more serious.

Their two pieces of irrefutable evidence drooped and shrank, as if to cement their humiliation, which was only made worse by their realisation that bringing up the rear, so to speak, of this unwelcome boarding party, was Admiral Peregrine.

Now we’re in for the high jump, they thought in unison, like an imagined scene you’d never, ever, see in one of those post-war, black and white, British movies.

 

Celia eyed the various shades of green in their room with distaste as she flicked through a copy of House And Garden (which Miss Platt, the landlady had ‘handed down’ to her, once she’d finished reading it), sitting on the only piece of furniture in the room which could lay claim to being welcoming – a battered, faux-suede armchair, which she’d draped with an antique shawl that an aunt had given to her, in an effort to make their ghastly digs more homely.

‘Pristine Christine’ read the headline above some archly posed pictures of some minor starlet’s dream palace in a Surrey suburb. Celia grunted dismissively at the actress’s bland, nouveau riche décor and thought: at least our place is real.

She’d had enough ‘reality’ to last a lifetime in the month that Dick and her had been married – and in Denmark before. The de rigueur honeymoon period had never even happened. End of story.

Being married seemed to entail her mostly being alone. She patted the small bulge in her abdomen which was the first product of this liaison – this loneliness – and imagined loving and nurturing their first child, as a pleasant distraction from the mundanity of struggling to survive.

She was discovering things about Dick which were as sobering as he was drunk most nights.

Staggering in in the early hours, waking her from crying herself to sleep, demanding to fuck her, then falling asleep halfway through his limp impersonation of an inebriated missionary (position).

What little money he gave her was barely enough to cover the rent and to buy food to cook on the single gas ring which sat on the floor by the yellowish-brown-tiled, boarded-up moderne fireplace in front of which there was also a battered, single-element electric fire.

‘Out of the frying pan… into the fire.’ She sighed, as she knelt on the brown lino and cooked sausages for their dinner, awaiting his return, which could have been anytime.

She heard footsteps on the wooden stairs and annoyed herself by leaping up and patting her hair as she checked her appearance in the cracked mirror above the mantlepiece.

‘Perfect little wife…’ she whispered to herself in a nursery rhyme voice, scowling at her broken reflection.

A few moments later Dick slowly opened the door, looking tired and ashen-faced.

‘Dick… whatever’s wrong?’ She took his coat and fedora hat, absentmindedly brushing a hair off his lapel as he sunk onto the bed, sighed deeply and undid his brown brogues, throwing them on the lino.

‘It’s all over!’ He said, putting his head in his hands, messing up his beloved coiffeur.

She sat beside him and put her arms around him, waiting for him to explain what had happened.

‘He took a deep breath and said: ‘I’m finished with The Navy… I… I’ve been chucked-out, dishonourably discharged…’

‘But Dick.. why… what happened? What did you do that was so awful?’

‘I didn’t do anything, sweetheart. I was set-up… and spat out. Just like that!’ He made a futile gesture with his hands and and shrugged his shoulders.

Naturally, Dick wasn’t about to tell the truth. She wouldn’t have believed him anyway – after all, he was a married man, so he couldn’t be ‘that way’.

He’d had to pull a few strings to make sure that there was no publicity about the Court Marshal: Admiral Peregrin’s rather thick string, in fact, along with a cat-o’-nine-tails that Dick administered to his rear. Rear admiral. The admiral, putting his uniform back on, had been grateful… and apologetic.

‘I’m so sorry, my dear, beautiful boy, you know Captain Blonde is such a spoilsport, but one has to go along with it. Mustn’t rock the proverbial boat, eh what?’

This attempt at making little pleasantries was lost on Dick, who was merely relieved, not only of his duties, but to get the hell out of this vile old queen’s quarters, safe in the knowledge that his secret was safe… for now.

Criminal acts, not having two pennies to rub together, loneliness and the struggle to survive were not supposed to be in Celia’s curriculum vitae. They were forced to do a ‘moonlight flit’ from Miss Platts’ boarding house; which she ruefully had to admit had given her a certain satisfaction.

Dick brought the battered Austin Seven to the back alley, having instructed Celia to keep watch for the landlady, then she’d thrown their possessions over the back fence and her husband – this is my husband? – had thrown them in the boot and on the back seat – and they were off, to Birmingham – where her cousin Nelly (who was also pregnant) had agreed that they could stay with her and her mentally retarded (that’s the term people used in those days) husband in their small house in Acock’s Green, a grimy, smoke-ridden, working-class area of the city – having been told a pack of lies by Dick.

‘Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it sweetheart, he’d urged her.’

Celia’s far-from-little head was growing in bitter experience by the hour.

She stood at the side of the road clutching her coat collar to her throat with one hand and disconsolately waving the other with its thumb raised, to hitch a lift, as the cars, vans and trucks thundered by in the cold drizzle in Warwickshire.

Dick leaned against the boot of his broken-down car, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, rather like James Dean in ‘A Rebel Without A Cause’.

‘Hitch-up your skirt a bit, old girl, then someone will soon stop.’

She reluctantly did so and within a couple of minutes a truck screeched to halt fifty yards down the road. It started to back up, but when Dick emerged from the shadows, it halted abruptly, then sped off into the inky darkness.

‘Oh Dick, this is BLOODY AWFUL! Wailed Celia, feeling utterly frustrated, cold, tired and disillusioned. She’d surprising herself by swearing.

‘Can’t we at least try and get the old wreck started again?’

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with it!’ He said, shrugging his shoulders, ‘Why don’t you just keep trying to thumb a lift?’

Celia stomped over to the stricken vehicle and opened the bonnet.

‘Oh that’s a laugh… ‘ snorted Dick, stubbing out his cigarette with his shoe ‘… and now she’s a bloomin’ mechanic!’

‘The fan belt’s gone!’ She announced with a grim smile, then, balanced on one leg, she unclipped a stocking from the other, then pulled of her shoe and the stocking as Dick looked on, nonplussed.

‘Where the hell did you find out about stuff like that?’ He asked incredulously.

‘During the war… I used to watch the airmen tinkering with their cars…’

She nearly lost her balance. Then lent on the wheel hub, tying the stocking where the fan belt had been and added, with a certain breezy satisfaction: ‘There – that should do the trick, there are only about twenty miles to go!’

‘Sometimes you amaze me.’ Sighed Dick, his lazy macho pride slightly wounded.

They arrived at the dreary-looking Victorian, terraced house in Acock’s Green just after Midnight.

The area looked rather like Coronation Street, the as-yet-unheard-of soap opera.

Celia knocked gingerly at the door, as the house was in darkness. Sounds emanated from within and the hall light went on. Her cousin Nellie appeared, dressed in a pink candlewick dressing gown and brown slippers, her smile conveying relief as she ushered them inside with their battered cases.

‘You finally made it, thank goodness you’re alright, what happened?’

Everyone was talking at once as they dumped their belongings on the floor of the sparsely furnished dining room.

‘Now don’t you worry, my sweets, leave all your stuff there for now, I think what we all need is a nice cup of tea.’

Celia took a deep breath, comforted by her cousin’s down-to-earth homeliness.

The doors of the serving hatch from the kitchen to dining room were suddenly flung open from inside.

‘Hello folks!’ Said Cedric, her husband loudly, in a reedy Birmingham accent, then slammed the doors shut as abruptly as he’d opened them.

Nellie smiled ruefully and raised her eyebrows and whispered: ‘Don’t mind him, he means well.’

This was the first of many performances of that particular routine to be witnessed by the new arrivals. It soon transpired that Cedric insisted on living in the kitchen, sleeping on an old camp bed. The ‘hatch show’ was basically his only form of communication.

Despite this bizarre ritual, after just a few days of acclimatization, Celia felt more secure than she had for some time.

Nellie was a true friend: warm, caring, motherly… and pregnant with her first child, just like herself (how her husband had managed it didn’t bear thinking about – and why had she married such a strange creature?). This was not the time for questions, only answers and practicalities.

Having her cousin there to share their impending births was a comfort beyond belief, although the house was dismal, cold, and draughty.

Nellie had no concept of design or décor. The house, which she had inherited from an elderly maiden aunt, was pretty much the same as it had been for forty years. Everything was brown. Shit brown.

The relief of having her own space – the spare room was quite large – and relative security was enough to bring out Celia’s natural, cheerful and resilient creative spirit. Soon, she was able to persuade Nelly to let her ‘brighten up the place a bit’ with bits and bobs which she would source very cheaply from local junk shops and markets.

The fact that Dick was continually absent, supposedly looking for a permanent job, was dealt with philosophically. The cousins had much cause for shared laughter concerning their husbands’ shortcomings and idiosyncrasies.

Within the space of three months Dick had flitted in and out of various jobs, ranging from an electrician to an undertaker, a television salesman and a clerk in a betting shop, doing various dodgy deals, gambling, womanising, petty theft and hanging out in Gentlemen’s Public Conveniences along the way.

However, even he had become more relaxed and grounded and Celia was happy to note that his natural charm had reappeared, along with his seductive grin.

He was quite a hit with Nellie’s neighbours as well: running errands, fixing leaks and generally performing the role of local man-about-the-house. Especially the bedrooms. His sex life with Celia was now nonexistent, as her bulge became bigger and the birth was imminent.

Her sexual needs, however, were tempered by the glow emanating from the heartbeat and movements in her womb.

Lawrence was safely delivered by the local Midwife in June, swiftly followed by Nellie’s Rupert in July.

They had a joint Christening, as both mothers attended the local Anglican church regularly.

Everyone, including Celia’s parents Gladys and Henry (who had recently moved to the city of Bath) and a gaggle of dull, lower-middle-class relatives in their ‘Sunday Best’ duly witnessed the official naming of the boys by a Vicar who was straight out of central casting – perhaps for an Ealing comedy – complete with goofy teeth and a tendency to misread the texts.

Next came a reception of sorts at the house in Acock’s Green, where little men in ill-fitting suits, sporting pencil moustaches, and rotund matriarchs with tight little perms, which looked like they’d been formed from clay, wore twinsets in pastel shades, fake pearls and horrendous floral, swirly frocks.

They were sipping tea in dainty little china cups and eating cucumber sandwiches and Celia’s homemade fairy cakes and exchanging pleasantries with the Vicar, whilst cooing at the two babies in their Moses baskets, when suddenly, the doors of the kitchen hatch were flung open and Cedric exclaimed ‘Hello Folks’!

Some of the children stifled giggles and a few tea cups rattled in their saucers in the brief silence which followed before Cedric pulled the doors shut, then everyone carried on making small talk and exchanging trivial pleasantries… as only the post-war, British lower-middle classes could.

 

**********************************************************************

October 31st, 1992.

It’s 8 O’Clock and Hercules hasn’t arrived yet, damnit!

I reluctantly throw on a warm jacket, grab my phone card and head for my open-plan office… the call box down the road. Much to my annoyance, Hercules answers the phone.

‘What the hell are doing there?’ I ask, irritated. ‘I thought you were coming straight after work… the party starts at 9 and it’s in my honour, well, along with Stephen Redford, who’s birthday it is today. There will be plenty of sushi to eat; I’m starving, and Anna will be pissed-off if we’re too late.’

‘Oh God, I’m leaving now, I didn’t realise the party was so early,’ says Hercules in his usual gentle and unassuming manner,’ and I’m looking forward to meeting your very own Mrs Madrigal.’

I laugh at the comparison, although Anna is not actually a sex change (whoops, sorry about the spoiler if you haven’t read the books).

Hercules has amazed me recently by revealing his love of the brilliant ‘Tales Of The City’ series by Armistead Maupin. I wasn’t aware that he read anything!

‘The Bunch’ (as-in ‘wild’), which is how this group of my close friends describe ourselves, all relate to various characters in the books – I suppose I must be Mouse. It was Anna who introduced me to them, and I was instantly hooked. Hercules was very impressed when I told him that I’d met Armistead Maupin on two occasions, when we’d both been performing (him reading, me playing the piano) at AIDS benefits in the late 80s.

Hercules arrived, slightly breathless, at nearly 9 O’Clock.

‘The bloody cab driver went the wrong way and I ended up in poxy Peckam. So I refused to pay him and got out and had to get a bus!’

‘A bus! My goodness, the indignity!’ I say sarcastically, pouring us a glass of cheap, Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon (actually, quite drinkable) each.

‘Happy belated!’ He says, clinking my glass, and pecks me on the cheek, looking intently at me with his enormous, warm, caramel-brown, liquid eyes.

‘Peckham-On-The-Cheek!’ I say with a chuckle. He looks slightly confused.

‘Well, you know that there a little tributary of the Thames called the River Cheek which runs through Peckham, where you were recently stranded!’

‘You silly man!’ He laughs, then throws a sizeable lump of black hash on the red, formica, 1950’s kitchen table. ‘Now make yourself useful and roll us a big fat spliff before we head off to Mrs Madrigal’s!’

I suppose Hercules is the nearest thing I have to a boyfriend right now. He’s only 21, strangely beautiful, sometimes too effeminate (which turns me right off), and very shy. He sports a shaved head – it’s a good symmetrical shape – and wears funky (as opposed to prissy) designer clothes (Chipie, Armani, Chevignon etc), as he works in a ridiculously over-priced menswear boutique called The Study in South Molton Street in Mayfair. He gets paid a basic wage plus a generous commission on the sales he makes, so he’s not short of a bob or two, as he’s very charming, if a little shy

He’s told me that his father is African/Greek (how unusual is that?) and owns a newspaper in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where he grew up, and that his mother is French/Sengalese – hence his exotic beauty. He came here to study at the renowned St Martin’s School of Fashion and graduated last year and is working whilst he looks for backers for his first womenswear collection.

Naturally, I’ve seen his sketches, and he’s very talented.

His mother is apparently a bit of a raver (she’s MY AGE!) and lives in Hackney with her second husband, whom Hercules has been trying to seduce by doing the vacuuming wearing just a skimpy pair of Nikos briefs, bending down to reach into corners, showing-off his small-but-perfectly-formed, round posterior. His stepfather has yet to ‘rise’ to the challenge, apparently.

His telling of this story actually made me feel slightly, well, jealous, whilst finding it amusing, regardless.

I’ve been seeing him for nearly a year, maybe once every couple of weeks or so (which makes us fuck-buddies, I guess).

We have wild, safe sex, usually off our faces. His body is like a Greek statue, in mahogany-coloured marble.

He gives me absolutely no indication of his emotional requirements, makes no demands, doesn’t seek attention.

He’s recently begun to show more warmth, as if he’d previously been afraid of the consequences of cuddling, slowly building a more emotional base? Who knows?

He fascinates me – except when he gets a bit girly.

We smoke the joint that I’ve rolled and I show him the ‘dick noses’ that we should wear to make our entrance with, wondering if he’ll be too shy to wear one.

As we head towards the tube at Elephant And Castle in the rain and cold, he suddenly offers to pay for a black cab to take us to Anna’s place in Kilburn. I readily concur, but after several roar by on the Walworth Road – with their ‘vacant’ yellow lights on – having observed that I’m with a BLACK man (who would obviously ‘do a runner’, or mug them) I suggest that I should ‘play the white man’ and that he should hide behind the bus shelter. Sure enough, one screeches to a halt immediately and we jump in triumphantly, sniggering.

As I ring Anna’s doorbell, I put on my dick-nose, he hovers behind me, holding his nervously.

‘Dahhhling!’ Screeches Anna, throwing her arms around me and thrusting her hips into mine in a pretend-lustful manner. She looks terrific, dressed as rock-chick groupie, in black leather and lace.

‘Meet the lovely Hercules!’ I say, as she ushers us into her flat, where ‘Shit On My Finger’ by Millie Jackson is playing at full blast on the stereo. ‘The Bunch’ all seem to be there and are dancing in sex-shop costumes and joshing, as usual, trading pretend insults.

‘Where the fuck have YOU been faggot?’ Demands David Hackney, grinning and grabbing my crotch. Hercules looks slightly taken aback. I wink at him, to reassure my fuck-buddy that’s it’s all part of ‘The Bunch’s’ usual ritual. David’s dressed as a sixties pimp, wearing mustard-coloured Farah hipster slacks, and a purple satin shirt with a huge collar, worn open to the waist, revealing an enormous and particularly unpleasant fake-gold medallion.

Anna’s bisexual, first ex-husband Jerry Judge sidles over – he’s flown-in from France, where he’s the editor of Paris People magazine. He casts an admiring eye over Hercules and looks back at me questioningly. I shrug my shoulders with a wink, as if to say, yes, he’s with ME! Hands OFF! Hercules hovers uncertainly.

I don’t blame him. Meeting this lot for the first time would be testing for anyone, no matter how gregarious they might be.

‘This is Hercules!’ I announce, pulling him into the circle, ‘and this…’

I wave my hand mock-dismissively around 

‘… bunch of degenerates are some of my OLDEST friends!’ Everyone groans at this tired ‘old’ in-joke, but that IS the joke.

‘Come and get some Saki and have an ENORMOUS line of Charlie in the kitchen! Shrieks Anna, grabbing the now broadly-grinning Hercules by the hand.

Anna’s two-bedroomed flat is co-owned by her second ex-husband Jason Toogood, who is the father of her nine year-old daughter Jasmine, who’s generally known as Jazz.

Anna had kick-started his career by making him art director on big-name pop videos that she had produced in the early 80s. From there he progressed to directing them, then commercials, then Hollywood and movies.

Elton John’s manager once told me that the only reason that he’d ‘made it’ in LA was because all the gay, Jewish film producers fancied him. However, unlike Anna’s first husband Jerry, he wasn’t bisexual and I’m *ahem* sure that he didn’t lead them on at all.

The flat is a spacious and well-proportioned Edwardian conversion, with large, sliding patio doors leading out from the main bedroom onto a patio and a lawned garden with a large tree, where Jazz had asked me to build her a large tree house, inspired by the classic movie ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ which I’d given to her on video for Christmas. Unfortunately, I never got around to it, blaming the distinct shortage of bamboo growing on the railway embankment.

Anna is happy to have somewhere to call her own home, after several years of struggle and uncertainty. She’s HIV positive.

Until recently she was running a charity for women living with HIV and AIDS called Female Focus, until it was taken-over in a coup by a pair of PC lesbians (a demographic which is, ironically, the lowest-risk regarding ‘the gay plague’) , leeching-in on the burgeoning AIDS industry.

‘You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties!’ I sing as Anna pours warm Saki into shot glasses and Jerry, who’s dressed in biker’s leathers, offers us large lines of coke on a mirrored tray.

Clementine appears, dressed in a nifty peach-coloured satin slip and gold sling-backs, looking amazing for her 45 years.

‘Hercules, meet Clementine Casely-Smith!’ I intone with fake grandeur, followed by a loud snort as I ingest the coke: ‘She’s older than your MOTHER!’ She mock-scowls at me, then smiles demurely at Hercules and introduces us to her latest toy-boy, who’s dressed in a pink rubber mini-skirt, and is sporting a black bobbed wig.

Soon, David Hackney, who is one of the foremost fantasy film critics in the country, is urging Hercules to give him the inside dope on a celebrity party which he recently attended, thrown by the 90’s answer to Greta Garbo, an actress called Inga Thompson, where he spent the evening talking with Joan Collins (very camp), Sylvester Stallone (he’s tiny) and various stars of stage and screen.

‘But tell me how Joe Flirt tried to pick you up and offered to take you to the States!’ Insists David, having been given the low-down the day before by your’s truly, on the phone. I’ve been astonished by Hercules’s ability to effortlessly hang-out with the rich and famous – and was slightly pissed-off that he hadn’t asked ME to accompany him to said bash. He shoots me a you big gossip look.

Joe Flirt is probably Hollywood’s most bankable, young male star and sex symbol of the 90s. He’s supposedly rampantly heterosexual.

Evidently, he likes youngish black men – just like me.

Hercules is not the first of my bed-mates to have been approached by him either. I once had a wild night with one of Grace Jones’ live stand-ins (hence the apparent ultra-fast costume changes), who’d been chatted up by Joe Flirt when Grace and her boys had hitched a ride to New York on his private jet.

Hercules seems to be enjoying all the attention and ‘The Bunch’, for once, are being really quite nice to Hercules, as if they’ve psyched-in on his self-consciousness, which I have been trying to break down gently, over a period of time. I want him to be confident and self-possessed – and, I have to admit, more masculine, which is a bit of a long shot.

Anna lurches elegantly towards us, smiling benignly, glass of saki in one hand and a joint in the other. She’s enjoying herself; releasing the tension of the last few months – her relationship with rich socialite Kenneth (call me Kenny) Cockburn (pronounced in the english, upper-cass way: kohburn) all washed-up. On Ice. Finished. Or maybe not. So no more pre-dawn trips to the seaside for Anna and The Bunch in his Bentley convertible.

For now, she doesn’t care, she’s flying, having fun.

Just like old times.

‘He’s an old softie really, that Ricky Racket!’ She exclaims into Hercules’s ear in a stage whisper. He smiles enigmatically.

‘Don’t believe that hard, cynical front that he gives out – it’s bullshit, darling, he’s sensitive and kind and caring and… ‘ She raises her voice theatrically ‘… I juss lurve him to death!’

‘Anna is just gushing again.’ I say, patting them both on the bum.

Hercules looks blissed-out and Anna is like the cat that got the cream, the saki, the smoke and the coke.

The doorbell rings. Someone lets in Tonski (Best Drug Dealer in London award, 1992), his wife Alana and Eddie, another dealer who’s reputedly the son of a major gangster (and therefore higher up the food-chain than Tonski: his ‘wholesaler’ I would imagine).

This is opportune, as cocaine supplies seems to have dwindled somewhat.

‘Darling!’ Purrs Anna, squeezing my arm, ‘Could you be an absolute angel and zip down to the cashpoint for me, I’m FAR too off my face!

I agree and she whispers her pin-number in my ear then intones loudly in her mock-Queen Of Hearts voice: “We feel that more class A drugs are required immediately!’ Then adds, before doubling-up with helpless mirth, ‘Orf with their heads… as we’re all orf ours!’

I glide off towards the cashpoint in the November drizzle on an imaginary hover board (imagine if such a thing existed!) powered by saki, hash and cocaine, having pressed a mental ‘save’ key to remember Anna’s pin number.

Her flat is just around the corner from the dubious merits of Kilburn High Road, a never-ending cartoon strip of trash shops, pawn shops, betting shops, greasy spoons, old-school pubs, kebab-and-chicken-take-aways and, curiously… a Marks And Sparks. It’s seemingly populated by Irish hookers, homeless people with dogs-on-strings, junkies, drug dealers and begging Romany women. It’s hard to believe that there’s so much prosperity in the nearby tree-lined streets, which are filled with handsome Victorian and Edwardian houses – mostly converted into flats.

I reach the cashpoint, check there are no mugger-types in the immediate vicinity, and am amazed when it generously gives me the £100 that I’ve humbly requested. It makes me nostalgic for the days, back in the 80s, when my own account regularly delivered such amounts without question.

I put the money safely in a zip-up side pocket in my cargo pants, pull the hood on my jacket over my head, as the rain is getting heavier, and wander back to the party, musing about people who’ve never used (with the emphasis on used) recreational drugs. It may be difficult for them to comprehend the therapeutic benefits which can be derived by someone who, like me, has a good mental handle relating to the partaking of various illegal substances.

Allow me to ellucidate.

If you’ve spent the majority of the past year in tense suspension – waiting, pushing, hoping, praying, surviving and basically believing in yourself and your abilities… then, getting off your face, out of it, high, bollocked, smashed, zonked, mashed (and all the other ever-changing colloquialisms that describe this state of being) takes the form of a welcome release, a virtual holiday, a breath of air to blow away the cobwebs of struggle.

Because of your rich experience in this matter, you find that you are always ‘on top’ of said situations, unless you deliberately wish to reach a cut-off point –  which could be described as planned amnesia, I suppose.

That particular combination that I have snorted, smoked and imbibed does not induce paranoia in me at all, largely due, I guess, to the saki, which has a mellow, warm, calming effect.

Cocaine never makes me edgy (probably ‘cos I’ve never been ‘strung-out’ on it – and I don’t believe that it’s physically addictive, just habit-forming, because it can give people with low self-esteem the belief that have snorted super-powers), but oddly enough, smoking dope on its own without alcohol (red wine preferably), can lead to me questioning everything about myself in a most irrational manner.

So I don’t.

I depends on one’s metabolism, I guess – you could say that there are two distinct ‘types’ amongst dope-smokers: those, like me, who find that it triggers creativity, stimulates the intellect and sexuality; and others, who it makes all floppy, dopey, stupid and sleepy, banishing all deep and meaningful thoughts from their minds, preferring to drift down a shallow stream (not necessarily of consciousness) to the sea of oblivion.

I always seem to find unexpected rapids and waterfalls around the next curve, and enjoy a bit of metaphorical white-water-rafting and then, when I reach the sea, I scan the horizon looking for new adventures, then turn around to see a beautiful, half-naked stranger (male) emerging from the woods behind the dunes on the deserted beach walking towards me, with arms outstretched.

A person exhibiting their shallow metabolism’s beatific, stoned smile and hollow, self-conscious cackling, reminds me of people with no direction in life who’ve been brainwashed into becoming Seventh Day Adventists, or who follow some bogus guru or whatever, and are high on their belief that it’s good for them and their low self-esteem. To me, they’re just cannon fodder for manipulative masters-of-their-own-universe who make a career out of exploiting stupid people.

I’m so lost in my thoughts that I suddenly realise that I’ve walked way too far down the road – well, all the houses look the same – then turn around and go back, allowing myself a self-derisory chuckle.

Back in the living room I pronounce in a stentorian fashion: ‘The machine refused to give me any money – it said you didn’t have ANY!’

Anna looks momentarily stunned, almost believing me, before I whip out the £100 and throw it on the carpet snarling: ‘Grovel bitch!’ She gathers up the money, after everyone pretends to steal i, and stuffs it in her bra, like a gangsters moll, helpless with laughter. I follow her into the kitchen with my hands around her waist, singing ‘Hi Ho, hi ho, it’s off to coke we go!.

Keiron Davies is sitting at the kitchen table rolling a huge joint, dressed in a white Victorian lace frock and sporting a huge black wig and huge pair of fluffy rabbit ears above his ever-mischievous visage. Just like me and Clementine, he never really made it creatively – in their case in the film industry – and after five years of trying to break through in Hollywood, with his brilliant scripts.

He’s now back in the backwoods of Wales – running a video shop.

‘We’ll all get there in the end Keiron,’ I say, reassuring him, maybe reading his mind, ‘So what’s your latest story? I ask. Hercules listens transfixed as he takes us into his latest magical world of mystery and monkey business .

We talk about talent and managers and agents and all the hoops we have to jump through in order to even begin to make any headway.

We get in deep: not silly, druggy deep, but real baby. Telling it like it is. Mutual support, admiration and understanding. Emotionalism is not an issue to be avoided, like in a professional manner.

Why can’t we get at least ONE away? Is it because we make people uncomfortable with the truth?

He seems surprised, relieved even, and points out: ‘That’s the first time we’ve ever talked like that.’

‘Nah… really? Impossible, after all these years’. We’ve know each other since the mid-seventies. Maybe he’s right.

After this, my memory banks go into meltdown and a delightful blackout ensues, until Tonski’s voice enters my consciousness announcing: ‘Hey Ricky – our cab has arrived man!’

You may recall that Tonski and his wife life near me in The Elephant And Castle. ‘I wonder if he’ll take five people?’ I wonder aloud, my natural organisational abilities springing into life, despite my drugged and drunken state. I leap unsteadily to my feet.

‘Offer the driver a couple of quid to wait for a bit.’ Says Tonski, slapping his recumbent wife gently on the cheek to bring her to life, pressing a £20 pound note into my hand; then poking Eddie, who’s fast asleep, in the ribs.

I run out into the now pouring rain where the inevitable Orange Datsun is waiting, with its equally predictable African driver, who happily agrees to my request, once I show him the money.

Somehow I manage to muster the flock and we squeeze into the cab for the journey South (giving the driver directions all the way, as per usual) which seems to take minutes – cocaine always makes the mundane enjoyable – and I invite everyone in for Chilli Con Carne.

*********************************************************************

November 1953

 

SS and Rob in pram (cropped). 1953

I display an early grasp of the Elvis sneer, aged 7 months

Not surprisingly, I don’t recall a great deal about my first birthday, in Handsworth Park in Birmingham, but another photo taken on that day exists (I just can’t find it) showing myself and my older brother Lawrence, who was always known as Larry, sitting on mutli-coloured bedspread depicting flying yachts, in that rather cool, stylised design peculiar to the 50s.

Larry, was already a good-looking boy, blond and blue-eyed – like his dad – and there’s little me, chubby with jet black hair and big brown eyes, with a dreamy, far away look in them, exhibiting a goofy, toothless grin.

Both of us were dressed identically and rather charmingly in bright red woollen waistcoats (which our mum Celia had knitted), yellow, short-sleeved shirts and blue bow ties.

This first-floor flat had three bedrooms, one of which had been occupied for over a year by a couple of lodgers who were actors performing in repertory (rep’, as it was known) in various theatres in the Midlands.

Celia’s brief taste of the spotlight with the Amateur Dramatic Society in Great Yarmouth had been the start of a frustrated love affair with the theatre and show business in general (which lasts to this day). So she was only too happy to accommodate two people who could give her vicarious access to a world which was denied to her. They, in return, were happy to have a charming, intelligent and attractive landlady who would devour their their thespian gossip, listen to their problems with a sympathetic ear, and help them read-through their scripts, taking, of course, the female roles.

I think that she already knew that she’d never get the chance to become the great actress that she have been, should her destiny had taken a different path.

Both actors were to become very famous indeed – through the rapidly burgeoning medium of television. One, Donald Piper, as the husband who wished to live off the land in suburbia in a hugely successful 70s sitcom which ran for years, and the other, Peter Toddington, as the nouveau-riche husband next door who totally disapproved. Celia was to be so thrilled that both her former lodgers were to become massive TV stars in the same show.

In later years, the former became a distinguished member of The Royal Shakespeare Company, playing many of the major roles, including King Lear, whilst the latter became uber-famous when he played a minister who later became the prime minister in what was allegedly Margaret Thatcher’s favourite TV show of the 80s – although I must confess that I find it hard to imagine her laughing at anything. Ice queen.

They both remained friends with Celia as the years went by, and would often visit her for a cup of tea if they were passing through Bath, where she now lives with my stepfather, or performing at the Theatre Royal (she adored the fact that they would be given free tickets). She still likes to drop just their christian names into conversation, expecting everyone to know who she’s talking about.

Back then in Birmingham, Celia’s life had reached a plane of tolerance. My parent’s stay at her cousin Nellie’s house had ended not long after Larry’s birth, after the local council had offered them a council flat in Handsworth Park (although sub-letting a room to lodgers wasn’t, of course, legal).

Dick’s nocturnal wanderings had eased-off to a degree, now that he had a young family to support; he’d actually managed to sustain a self-employed job as a TV repair man for over a year. The fact that the ‘repairing’ consisted of using his bottomless pit of charm to persuade his mostly female customers to buy ‘reconditioned’ TV sets (i.e stolen) from him, then covertly selling their damaged ones, once he’d repaired them, as if he was ‘doing them a favour by getting rid of them’, only helped to bring in more ‘housekeeping’ money. Celia would have been horrified if she’d known the truth, but with Dick’s income and the additional money from the lodgers she was, for the first time in her life, relatively secure.

She also thoroughly enjoyed the company of her charming lodgers. Donald Piper was a cheeky sort of chappie (as they would have said in those days) aged 23, with an engaging grin and wonderfully natural comedic talent. His mimicry used have my mother in fits of laughter.

‘He has me tickled pink!’ She’d exclaim, in that curiously clipped fashion that we find so amusingly twee in 50s black and white movies these days,

‘He’s an absolute HOOT!’

He reminded her of some her airman friends back at The Links in her youth, having been in the Airforce, and even imprisoned in Colditz.

His best friend and colleague Peter Toddington was 24, tall and handsome, with Italian features, jet-black hair, large and luminous come-to-bed eyes and an undeniably alluring sexual charisma. He and my mother seemed to have a magical bond between them which was almost mystical.

 

**********************************************************************

November 2nd, 1992.

The flint on my gunmetal black Zippo lighter has ‘gone’. Smoking roll-ups, as I do, which are constantly going out, this is causing me some consternation, especially as I can’t afford to buy any more. Surely I have some in a box somewhere? It will probably be easier to raid the change jar and buy a disposable lighter for 20p in the market.

Back to counting the pennies again dammit! I’ve lit a candle, as is my wont, to provide me with a sort of focus, to re-light my soggy cigs, to create an evocative atmosphere and maybe to help ward-off malevolent spirits (just like I’ll be doing when I do the dreaded deed). Suicide appears to invoke a cast of ghost characters who will accompany you into the dread zone, where you will float, like an exotic fish in a cosmic aquarium on the other side which is ‘actually just about around the corner.’

Probably. Possibly.

Who would think that such a pathetic little hiccup could cause me such anguish? Why can’t I have a box full of disposable lighters with colours to match my moods?

What, all of them black?

No, that’s not fair on myself, even in my current impasse.

I’m able to laugh, hang-out with my friends, get high and pissed, flirt, have an almost-love-thing with Apollo and great sex, tell pathetically awful jokes… write this… the longest suicide note in history… no doubt.

That’s hardly gonna help your mood is it? Says the still, small voice inside.

Sometimes my ‘higher-self’ gets on my tits.

Uh-oh, he’s getting pissed off with me!

He’s beginning to mock me! Hey you up there, or wherever you are, how about a bit of sympathy and solidarity huh?

You’re getting tired and ratty – why don’t you try to get some sleep?

It’s true, I’m exhausted, but I doubt if I’ll be able to sleep. I wish I had a new book to read…

You could always read what you’ve just written?

Oh great, that will cheer me right up! If only the TV worked, then I could ‘veg-out’ and stop being so intense with myself. Maybe the TV not working is some kind of warped karma, like father-not-like son, or something.

I stopped paying the rental several years ago, and the computer just sort-of forgot about me, not that it was in my actual name (I’d rented in my father’s name just to amuse myself with the double irony)!

I can hardly ring them up and demand that they fix it, can I? Although it would be a tantalising dare. Anyway, it’s only got four channels! How antiquated.

Nov 3rd.

So what?

So what indeed have I go to look forward to tomorrow? Two meagre units left on the Phone Card. Small change rattling in my pocket (I really shouldn’t have bought that musical, two-speed Elvis vibrator – Love Me Tender and I’m All Shook Up – for the party) and… might my would-be benefactor be back in the country yet? I somehow doubt it.

I can’t ask my sister for anymore cash – it’s not fair, with her being the only member of the family on the spot, in London.

Mother relayed a message through her the other day suggesting that maybe I should get a job.

In this state, just after my fortieth birthday? If only she knew.

It’s the old catch 22. If I’d had a job, then I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all the things that I have (two major record deals, enormous success as a club promoter and party organiser, for instance). And now, fucking great mountains of creative outpourings all stored to floppy disc on my 16-track Korg T2 digital dream machine, which ma and step-pa bought for me in 1987, bless ’em – and it cost £1,200!

Maybe I could, or should get a job, perhaps be a consultant to an ad agency, or a trend advisor (I always accurately predict everything that’s going to happen – for instance: people have no idea how communicating by using computers will be like the second industrial revolution).

But people would look at incredulously and say ‘But you’re Ricky Rackett! You’re a legend, why should you need a job?’

So if I signed-on as unemployed (or claiming disability because of my condition – now there’s a thought), there would be probably be some lefty, right-on queen, with hair shaved at the sides and a dreadlocked ponytail on top, presiding behind the glass screens and the iron bars, lord of all who must grovel in her presence, who turns out to have been a regular at some of the hugely successful, one-night clubs I promoted throughout the 80s, who would proclaim loudly enough for all the other failures, alcoholics, junkies, queers, dykes and down-and-outs to hear: ‘My GOD, I thought I recognised you! What on earth is the famous Rocky Racket doing slumming it HERE? Well, well, how the mighty have fallen!’

Exit AIDS-infected former semi-famous person and failed songwriter/poet/author/spiritual healer/interior designer/potential consultant to the creative industries… with tail very much between legs.

Besides, you have to wait over six weeks to get a penny, then you get a paltry weekly sum like twenty quid, which would last about two days, once you’ve re-stocked the fridge with beer and food.

Mind you, just like with the TV rental company, databases do have a tendency to forget my existence, which, in some respects, is something to be grateful for. I haven’t paid the rent on my little council flat for months – and I haven’t heard anything… yet. But as Social Security instruct the local council to pay one’s rent when signing-on, it’s obvious that my cover would be well and truly blown should I go down that route.

Ohlordgivemestrength and several thousand pounds and pass the bag of tamazapan! I’ve had enough of this endless frustration,

I just need to get in a recording studio to do the vocals on all the songs I’ve recorded at home, before it’s too late.

Now, if I told people of my condition, they would probably whisk me into the studio before you could say Terence Higgins… but I can’t use that kind-of sledgehammer, emotionally blackmailing approach; it’s just not right.

I want someone to invest in my talent because they believe in ME, not out of sympathy.

That’s more like it!‘ Says the small voice in my head, appearing to be supportive this time, for a change: ‘Keep saying it, keep believing it will happen… you know I’m on your side.’

But sometimes you make me feel like I’m a schizo, like my own rationale’s making me think I’m going off the rails, hearing voices…

‘Forget it kid, take a nap, you’re becoming delirious…’

You’re right, I will.

‘… and don’t forget to press SAVE!’

Fuck, yeah, thanks!

 

*********************************************************************

Nov’ 2nd 1992.

I first met Christopher Goldberg in the new year of 1992. He was perched on a stool at the oval-shaped bar at the centre of The Lear Lounge at The Starlight Club.

He twinkled at me in what I assumed to be a psychic, rather than a flirtatious manner; at least, that’s how I interpreted it, perhaps due to the fact that dumpy, Jewish Americans aren’t my cup of (Kosher) meat, as it were.

Despite being vertically challenged, he had a handsome, smiley face and a cool, expensive-looking haircut.

I sat on the stool next to him and we immediately got into a lively conversation about the nomenclature of the bar.

I’t’s called The Lear because it’s trying to look like a V.I.P Lounge – and failing miserably – like where people might board Lear Jets.’ I snorted.

‘No, it’s because everyone is leering at each other!’ He joshed.

‘Well, it’s nothing to do with Shakespeare,’ I cut-in, perhaps surprising him with my un-British, quick fire delivery.

‘Talking of King Lear, ‘ he said brightly, ‘isn’t that Ian McKellen being histrionic in the corner?’

‘Sir Ian, if you don’t mind, or Serena, as he’s sometimes known by some of his more campy friends!’

The barman, an occasional porn star, who’s apparently straight, put two cocktails on the bar in front of us. Christopher handed me one – a shot glass with three layers of liquid in shades of brown – I looked somewhat nonplussed.

‘Go go! Drink! Down in one!’

We clinked the glasses and I did as he instructed.

‘It’s called a B-52, and the layers are Bailey’s, Grand Marnier and Kahlua. ‘ He grinned.

I gulped, feeling a warm glow spreading through my lower abdomen.

‘Mmm – wow that’s lovely – don’t you think that’s taking the aeronautical theme a little too far though, presuming that it’s named after a giant bomber?’

‘Oh no, this baby was invented by a fan of the eponymous band in NYC in the 70s!’ Explained Christopher, ordering us another on his bar tab, as I surmised that he obviously wasn’t short of a bob or two.

‘Great band, I saw them once at The Electric Ballroom in 1979 – which inspired my song Fall Down Fred – it appeared on my second album in 1980.’

‘Oh my gosh – I’ve just met a gay rock star!’ He laughed.

‘Gay, yes, rock star no!’ I said ruefully, rolling a cigarette, ‘but talking of the dreaded music industry, do you know who owns The Starlight – the biggest gay club in Europe, as it happens?’

‘I don’t actually.’

‘It’s that quintessential multi-millionaire English eccentric Cornelius Maiden, owner of Maiden Records, Maiden Airlines, Maiden Clubs, Maiden Holidays…’

‘… Maiden England!’ He quipped.

‘… and the town of Maidenhead, for all I know,’ I suggested, ‘and that’s why the various areas in this salubrious establishment allude to Maiden Airlines – here we are in The Lear Lounge, then the main room is called The Jumbo – the second The Concorde…’

‘…And what does he call the toilets, the Mile-High club?

I laughed as he handed me another B-52: ‘Well, yes, that would be rather appropriate with all the shenanigans going on in there – not that I give a flying fuck!’

Ten months later, it’s just after 11pm and I’m heading for the Starlight again, where the aforementioned Christopher and Anna’s ex-hubby Jerry Judge (who hasn’t yet returned to Paris) are awaiting my arrival. I’m kind-of walking on air because I’ve actually eaten out, albeit at the good ol’ Tonno in Soho. It’s hardly La Crevette, but it’s a cheap n’ cheerful Italian cafe with rather charming 60s décor and a boho ambience. I’ve been going there for nearly 20 years, long before there were queues of starving trendies waiting to get in.

It’s the perfect place to eat alone in this loneliest of cities. You can’t avoid talking to people, unless you have a chronic case of laryngitis, because everyone shares the cramped tables. I got seated – having been ushered in front of the queue as I am, or was, a regular (before my more recent financial fall from grace) – with a stylish and intelligent caucasian Canadian couple, which is, ahem, unusual in itself. Stylish, I mean; well, they weren’t wearing lumberjack shirts.

He, it transpired, is in advertising and she is a journalist. I employed my usual tactic of feigning shyness, or indifference, whilst listening to every word of their conversation, then weighed-in at an appropriate point with my considered opinion on a moot point they were discussing, swiftly dousing the flames of any potential hostility by then swiftly asking; ‘Canadian?’

All Canadians get pissed-off by being presumed to be American, so their momentarily frozen expressions were immediately replaced by broad grins.

So I was allowed to join their intimacy, which also gave me carte blanche to tell stories about myself.

In case this might appear selfish, I’d like to point out that I’m one of those people whom others often perceive as a sounding board (or a sponge, as I see it) for them to tell me all their problems, rarely pausing to enquire about mine. MY TURN! I decided inwardly, and careered on, apparently charming the Canadian pants of them.

They, in turn, managed to get a few words in edgeways (or Edgware, as I like to quip). Of course, I’m being satirically hard on myself: I play good conversational table tennis.

I was enjoying this rare opportunity so much that I lost all track of time and had started to wave my arms around like a deranged acid house dancer in 1998, due to two double espressos I’d consumed (after a half-carafe of dubious red plonk), which was also designed to wake me up after the debilitating effects of the excesses at Anna’s party.

I leapt to my feet and shook their hands.

‘It’s been great to meet you!’ Said the girl brightly.

‘Yay, good luck and SUCCESS! Said the guy, making a clenched-fist salute.

As I float swiftly down Charing Cross Road on a cloud of caffeine, I figure that they must have liked me and found me interesting, or it would have shown.

Apparent confidence is a flimsy fence which conceals our anxieties. It would never have occurred to them that the ‘novel’ that I had told them about was actually, probably the longest suicide note in history. Maybe it was always MEANT to be a novel anyway, or the proverbial ‘semi-autobiographical’ one. Who knows?

What a warped life.

But hang on, I AM writing a novel, as I trust my dear readers might recall: ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’ being the (ahem) semi-autobiographical tale of my my mother and father’s early married life.

So it could all end-up as a book-within-a-book, despite it possibly (probably?) ending up like… well… you know.

MGate. The rebranding of a classic, English seaside holiday resort. By Steve Swindells.

4 Aug

IMG_5888

Suggested listening to accompany this travelblogue is The Enigma Elevations by yours truly.

July the 19th, 2015

On a recent warm, sunny Sunday, I spontaneously decided  to visit a Kentish seaside resort with a bit of a dodgy reputation, both from the past and the present.  I’d heard, however, that the town’s future, if not orange, is probably bright, due to the relatively recent opening of that guaranteed saviour of any run-down town or urban area – an art gallery.

The Turner Contemporary turned-out to be simply magnificent.

Brilliantly cool architecture and judicious curation meld this inspired addition to the cultural cannon of Kent into a massive draw for this surprisingly alluring and aesthetically-pleasing resort.

It was formerly renowned as a tacky ‘kiss-me-quick’ resort for mostly working-class Londoners who were attracted to its golden sands and, later, for its proto-Coney Island, pre-theme-park attraction – the recently restored and re-opened Dreamland.

Then latterly it was on the cultural map as the stomping ground of alleged artistic icon Tracy Emin (sorry, I just don’t get her, beyond the hype) and the late, bipolar genius Hawkwind/Hawklords singer Robert Calvert (I was a member of the band in the late 70s). Margate’s most famous son, however, is indisputably the great English artist Turner. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to have a gallery named after him.

This was to be my first-ever visit to Margate.

MGate. Charing Cross Train to Margate

My journey… no, I really can’t use that reality-TV cliche to describe my excursion (that’s better) from the urban wilds of Willesden Junction, five minutes from where I live (in a dreamy loft apartment gifted by the gods in Central Harlesden), to Margate, by train from Charing Cross (changing at Gillingham), not realising initially that I could have travelled there direct from St Pancras on the UK’s only high-speed train.

Heaven Night Club, now a populist shadow of its former ground-breaking self (owned by supposed gay-culture-spokesperson Jeremy Joseph), still lurks in the arches beneath the station and is, regardless, a great venue that resonates with its long history of innovative and inspirational club nights in the 80s, a couple of which – Bad and Babylon – I instigated and promoted.  Happy daze.

MGate. Shard And Guys Hospital

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The train rattled past South London’s landmarks and emerging neighbourhoods and new architecture, the views from the tracks always offering a unique visual insight into the exponential rewards (monstrous carbuncles n’ all) of London being newly-annointed ‘best city in the world’.

Architecture trackside

The train trundled through Lewisham (now there’s a property hotspot, I imagined, with its DLR terminus, fine Victorian housing stock and new-build blocks sprouting like genetically-modified concrete crops), Blackheath and Charlton (memories of living in some old queen’s little terraced house with a bunch of gay hippies in the early 70s invaded my brain) and then, after Dartford and the great arc of its crossing, at last, the big skies and verdant pastures, hop fields and salt marshes of Kent, along with its power stations, docks, gravel pits, industrial estates, caravan-common parks, Travellers’ camps, mega-shopping centre at Bluewater, and a seemingly randomly moored prison ship, offering no chance of escape, other than a freezing swim to freedom. Or perhaps it’s designated to be converted into a floating Travel Lodge for illegal immigrants (this being the county closest to our often xenophobic French cousins).

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I caught a glimpse of the sea, a silvery sliver in the sunshine, as the train approached Whitstable, already established as Notting Hill-On-Sea, with it’s seafood restaurants and rustic, perhaps now trusticarian, half-timbered housing stock.

MGate. Kent from train

I was reminded of a strange period in my life in the early noughties, when X, my long-term fuck-buddy and muse (he was the nearest thing I had to a lover for many years) revealed that he was in love with someone who shared the same birthday as me (weird), who’d invited him for a day out to Whitstable with some friends.  Great – thanks for sharing. He then revealed that he’d attacked this obsession of his, whom he told me looked like a well-known TV news-reader, in a gay bar in Clapham, because this guy was ‘with someone else’. I advised him to go and seek help at The Maudesley Hospital, South London’s premier mental health destination, whilst wondering why he felt it necessary to burden me with all these strangely disturbing details.  Was he testing my jealousy threshold, or just being a bastard? The latter, I suspect.

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I cut X from my life last year, after realising that he was draining the lifeblood out of me and was a waste of space; someone whom I’d wrongly thought was special to me, by default, in the absence of anyone more substantial or less disturbed. What really ‘did it’ was when he wound-up JJ, my now fifteen year-old ginger tom, by pretending to threaten him with violence. JJ had always hated him, and now this was compounded and X was duly excommunicated.

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As the vistas of Kent sped by like an alt-tourist video on YouTube, I sighed and wondered why I’d been beguiled by X and his wonderful bum for nearly twenty years. Oh yes, it was nothing more than his beautiful bottom, wasn’t it?

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Then the train pulled-in to Herne Bay Station, and I was mentally transported back to a sunny afternoon in said seaside town back in September 2008, when I’d joined several mutual, former members of Hawkwind and The Hawklords at The Kings Hall to commemorate the 20th anniversary of former frontman Robert Calvert’s death with a rather ramshackle, unrehearsed benefit for his last wife Jill, who was very ill.

I recall it being a beautiful day, weather-wise, and ‘a jolly good time’ as erstwhile Hawkwind leader Dave Brock might have said in his favourite cod-colonel voice, had he bothered to attend.

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When I’d played keyboards and sung backing vocals on The Hawklords’ seminal, classic album 25 Years On, and played with them on a huge, sold-out UK tour in 1978, Calvert and I had become very close, so I felt it important to attend and perform, unrehearsed, with a host of other ex-members (apart from main-men Dave Brock and Lemmy) for this anniversary gig. The venue was terrific, there was a great turn-out and the atmosphere was rocking.  I immediately dubbed it ‘Hernia Bay’, which was possibly a bad thing to do Karmically: I got my very own umbilical hernia about five years ago, whilst having particularly vigorous sex.

On stage with former members of Hawkwind and Hawklords at 'Hernia Bay'

On stage with former members of Hawkwind and Hawklords at ‘Hernia Bay’

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I love travelling alone on a train as it evokes memories. which can be something of an emotional roller coaster ride.

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The train arrived at Margate, but no memory buttons were pushed, as this was my first time. I was, I suppose, a Margate virgin.

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I emerged from the architecturally impressive station (the facade seemed vaguely art deco and somewhat reminiscent of all those Fascistectural –  I just invented that –  railway stations in Italy) into glorious sunshine and immediately noted that I was a stone’s throw (not a pebble, as the beach is famously sandy, so na na na Brighton) from the seafront.

As I surveyed the scene, my eyes were immediately drawn to the right, where the town’s only tall building, the iconic (if you’re into ‘brutalist’ architecture – which I am) Arlington House, erected in 1964, dominates the town’s skyline, along with the newly-opened Turner Contemporary Gallery and the harbour’s clock tower. I realised immediately that Margate was extremely photogenic – especially on that Sunday, with dramatic cloud formations immediately evoking Turner’s vigorous and vibrant brushstrokes.

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Arlington House

Arlington House

Arlington House could be described as Margate’s answer to Notting Hill’s Trellick Tower, but unfortunately minus the outside spaces. Later research revealed that a small, two bed flat with a sea view (they all have sea views, although one facing West would be best) and needing total refurbishment, could be had for a mere £80K.  Although, apparently the service charge is quite steep.

MGate. Arlington House

Facing Arlington house across a small park is a rundown terrace of houses and shabby hotels diagonal to the seafront – with views across the bay. Ripe for redevelopment, obviously. How great would it be if the terrace could be gradually bought by a housing association, with a good percentage devoted to social housing (funded by the other percentage of better-off buyers).  Don’t hold your breath.

Mgate, Rundown houses with sea views

Then,  heading down to the promenade and looking a few hundred yards to the right, you’ll see the iconic, retro, vertical  signage of Dreamland on its brick tower, which gave me a bit of a photographer’s hard-on, sorry, thrill.

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Next – to the promenade, to take pics of the parading passers-by and the beach and its immediate surrounds. First-up, A nicely-restored pavilion on the prom’. A shelter, I guess you might call it? But it’s rather beautiful.

Mgate. Pavilion on the prom

Then the deliciously retro-tacky-cool delights of the still-faded facades of the newly-reopened Dreamland (which immediately transported me to my youthful memories of seaside, family camping holidays in the 60s) which I didn’t visit this time, as I was more interested in the Turner Contemporary Gallery as my first objective. The exterior visuals of Dreamland made me almost salivate – so who knows what visual joys will captured on my next visit when I take a ride through this vintage amusement park’s living history?

Mgate 7. Dreamland 1

Why can’t I live in a duplex apartment in the tower which hosts the vertical sign? Come on fate – gimme a break! It would be vaguely redolent of a young Woody Allen growing-up in a shack beneath the Coney Island roller-coaster in – what was it? – Annie Hall? Yes.

Mgate 8. Dreamland 2

Apparently, the big wheel and the retro-roller-coaster aren’t open yet, but I love this Instagram shot of a family passing by the still semi-derelict vibe of Dreamland.  Fun for all the family! Kiss me quick! Saucy seaside postcards! Hot dogs, warm cider and unrequited teenaged love and…

Mgate 9. Dreamland big wheel

Now for some random peeps-on-the-prom shots – mostly taken using my Canon EOS 30D. The other shots (can you work out which are which?) were taken on my iPhone 4S using the Camera Plus Pro App – highly recommended.

MGate, Statue on beach

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Now here’s a pic (taken on the Canon) of what appears to be the continuation of another deliciously retro 50s/60s throwback – a bikers’ cafe on the seafront, as I continue my walk along the prom’ towards the Turner Contemporary Gallery.

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Soon after, I came across some serious gentrification on the seafront as I headed for the gallery, whist musing about what fun it would be to set up The Tina Turner Contemporary Gallery as an alternative pop-up, in some derelict art deco lido, or something. Imagine if there actually was one? 😉

Mgate 9. Rickus Cocktail bar

Mgate 10. The Sands Hotel

The view from The Sands Hotel (which is pretty cool, I see from the website, although I didn’t go inside).

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Then next door…

Mgate 11. Retro cool

Retro-modern Beach Reflection

Retro-modern Beach Reflection

Bring on the gallery!

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I really liked the building immediately. It looked totally ‘right’ and beautifully clean and simple with more than a nod towards a maritime, local-fishing-industrial vernacular.

Mgate 13. Turner Contemp

Mgate 14. Turner Contrast

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The next pic looks almost like a Canaletto transported to 2015.

The view from The Turner Contemporary Gallery.

The view from The Turner Contemporary Gallery.

The kinetic installation – or is it a sculpture? – in the foyer features a whole lot of cymbals.  Does that make then cymbolic? The backdrop is real though, that’s a huge window overlooking the sea.  Cool huh?

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I was thrilled to observe that the featured exhibition was by Grayson Perry, a supremely talented and out-there potter and artist – and Turner Prize winner. He’s a very confident cross-dresser, or transexual, with a great deal of style and intellectual panache, coupled with an almost Hogarthian observation of our social mores, laced with satire and affectionate humour.

Mgate14. Provincial Punk stairs

It was called Provincial Punk, which raised an inner smile. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed in this free exhibition, so I bought a postcard of one of his punky pots (featuring Kurt Kobain and Janet Jackson) and a really funny/cool postcard collection entitled ‘Playing To the Gallery’.

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As I left the gallery I mused about the award-winning British film Mr Turner, starring the consistently excellent actor Timothy Spall and directed by the uniquely talented Mike Leigh, whose clever, improvised films I’ve always enjoyed (he doesn’t do scripts).

There’s a Swindells family link to both the movie and the location; as Margate in Turner’s time was recreated in the Cornish village of Kingsand where my family are lucky enough to own an idyllic holiday cottage (which is available for rent) overlooking the beach. And our cottage was one of those transformed for the few weeks of filming, before being returned to exactly how it looked before. Here’s my elder bro Rob looking distinctly un-19th century posing on ‘the set’.

Norcott Starring as Margate

Here’s the cottage returned to normal.

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I walked past the gallery and along the sea shore, wondering what I might discover around the corner. I was not to be disappointed.

MGate. Red boat, white cliff, blue sky

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Mgate 16. Breakwater

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I came across  the crumbling, strangely beguiling facade of a Victorian or Regency building (with art-deco additions), which seemed to me to be hiding an architectural mystery secreted in the stubby chalk cliffs.  I wondered what it might be.

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I noticed that an exit door was open – it would appear that some sort of matinee performance had just ended. Was it a theatre? I wandered in unchallenged to investigate.

Mgate17. Winter gdns

Welcome to The Margate Winter Gardens. An absolute gem, both culturally and architecturally.

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The original Edwardian building (later research revealed that it was constructed in 1911) was obviously re-styled in the 30s.

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As I wandered around taking pics on both my iPhone4s and my Canon, I noticed a kind-of pantomime throne with a cheap cardboard ‘crown’ on its seat cushion sitting randomly on the edge of the auditorium. So I couldn’t resist taking a deliberately silly ‘royal selfie’ of ‘King Stephen’.

MGate. King Stephen

Sometimes, I wonder how many people actually get ‘double irony’. Then again, having probably invented the term myself, I guess it’s in its cultural infancy.

To me, as I wandered lonely as a kiss-me-quick postcard along the nether regions of Margate’s enchanting seafront, I felt I was acknowledging not only the genius of Grayson Perry, but also all those faded, end-of-the-pier stars of British variety and comedy that had been part of my youth.

I was mentally transported back to my childhood holidays with three maiden aunts who shared a tasteless little modern bungalow in Polegate near Eastbourne in Sussex.

The lovely, subtle scent of sweet peas, geraniums and pinks in the outside space of my loft apartment in North West London immediately transports me back to those halcyon days spent in their little garden (I recall making a puppet theatre out of a stool), when I used to travel unaccompanied on the train (it was still STEAM – and I remember my train once being powered by that awesome, blue, iconic modernist loco the Mallard) from Bath Spa, aged 7 and 8, to London Paddington.

The ‘Aunties’ as we called them (I wonder if they might have been lesbians?  Nah. No way) used to meet me there, then we would travel on the wondrous and magical (to little me) tube across to Victoria, to get the train to Sussex. They used to spoil me rotten, and special treats included going for afternoon tea at a wonderfully glamourous (to me ) Italian cafe called BonDolfi’s (which, with hindsight, was an art deco delight) in Eastbourne, where my favourite indulgence was a Marron Glace – a delicious confection of meringue, chestnut puree and whipped cream.

Then they would take me to shows at the end-of-the-pier theatre, where the big star was a tame, but rather charming old drag queen called Sandy Powell, or a variety revue called The Fol-De-Rols, which inspired me to dance along the promenade afterwards and jump-up and swing around lamp posts, like a wannabe Gene Kelly.

Then I wandered into the delightfully tasteless bar, with its plastic plants and awesome views.

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As I left the Winter Gardens and continued my walk, I was reminded how blessed I was with good weather and great views.  Margate was being rebranded in my mind into MGate. I began to wonder if I might live here one day.

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OMG – what the hell was this wonderfully evocative, semi-derelict building? All my entrepreneurial instincts started to automatically kick-in as wondered why such an apparent gem had been allowed to go rack and ruin.

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Mgate19. Abandoned Lido

As I turned the corner I realised what the fascinating derelict building was – the bar, restaurant and nightclub attached to what had been Margate’s (now abandoned) art deco Lido, which had originally been a Victorian sea-bathing resort.

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Later research revealed that the local Council, Thanet, have indeed mooted redevelopment of the Lido, but I didn’t see any evidence of regeneration.

The sound of raucous, youthful laughter echoed from the remains of the walls. So I shot a suitably ironic mini-art movie to try and capture the elusive MGate zeitgeist *add pinch of irony to taste*.

 It turned out to be a bunch of Spanish students hangin’ out in the ruined Lido, who, noticing my camera, asked if I’d take their pics. I was happy to oblige.

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Then I took one on my iPhone and gave them my name on Instagram, so they could check it out.

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Mgate23. Lido bar

This is MGate’s second iconic ‘vertical logo’, after Dreamland, and it’s damn beautiful – and still so well-preserved, unlike the derelict buildings and mysteriously beguiling subterranean aquatic facilities beneath it.

Mgate21. Lido sign

I crossed the road to check out the run-down-yet-charming Cliftonville area, where it soon became evident that this was a bit of an ‘immigrant ghetto’ and obviously somewhere where seaside bargains might be had, if one was in a position to invest.

I reminded myself that the local UKIP candidate for Thanet had been a favourite to win a seat in Parliament at the last election, but, thankfully didn’t.

So fuck you Farage!

I only wish I’d been able to see inside Frank’s club, but there was no sign of life.  Then I imagined the tacky, 60s flats above, with their direct sea views could be bought and refurbished very cheaply and turned into something rather special.  I would relish such a challenge.

Mgate24. Frank's Nightclub

I reluctantly turned my back on the sea to check out the Victorian and Regency terraces (along with some modern ones copying the vernacular) of Cliftonville and entered a square with a kid’s play area in the middle, where I captured this lovely moment.

MGate. Immigrant football

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The area was scruffy and run-down, but had a certain charm and some interesting architecture, along with great views of the sea as the shadows lengthened on this gloriously sunny, late afternoon. Then I turned the corner into what seemed to be the High Street, which was parallel with the seafront a couple of blocks away – lots of fast-food outlets and Asian corner shops – I could almost have been in somewhere like Bradford if it weren’t for the bracing fresh air. Then my inner gaspomoter went off the scale as I spotted a beautiful Victorian Warehouse behind a Car Wash and wondered if it was empty and, naturally, er… when I might move in!

Mgate25. Carwash and warehouse

I turned the corner, back towards the seafront, and was astonished by the facade of this magnificent building, obviously a former storage facility for a removals company. I saw a man about my age coming out of the main entrance and asked him what went on inside and he replied that the building’s spacious rooms were let out to local artists.  ‘Are the rents cheap?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘very cheap really.’

‘Lucky local artists!’ I responded and he smiled enigmatically.

Mgate26. Depository

As I walked down the hill I saw a group of young girls coming towards me, dressed in colourful, ethnic clothes, which seemed to be a cross between Romany and Middle-Eastern.  They had rosy cheeks and olive skin and were laughing a lot. One of them pointed at my camera and they giggled as she asked in broken English ‘Can take picture of we?’ I was excited to smilingly agree but forgot to click the auto-focus; so, unfortunately, what could have been a great photo later turned-out to be all blurred.

When I’d asked where they were from, they’d all happily chorused ‘Slovenia’.

Now I was in a very attractive square surrounded by gorgeous Georgian, Regency and Victorian terraces – I was obviously in MGate’s renowned Old Town – but it was far more appealing than I could have imagined.

I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign at the end of an alley that widened into a little square and saw a very strange little house that seemed to have been designed in the sixties in a cod-Tyrolean vernacular – overlooking the Morrison’s supermarket car park. A friendly-looking woman got out of her car to go into her adjacent cottage and she said hello with a smile. I grinned-back and said ‘Hi,’ then pointed towards the little house: ‘I saw the For Sale sign and just wondered what it was…’

‘Oh it’s been for sale for ages.’

‘It looks tiny – maybe just one bedroom.’

‘Yes, minuscule.

‘This is my first visit to Margate – what’s it like living here?’ I asked.

‘Oh, I love it.’ She replied. ‘Quite a lot of locals moan about the immigrant population but I like the cultural diversity that they bring to what would otherwise be a rather dull, sleepy little provincial, seaside town.’

‘Has the Turner Contemporary gallery made a big difference?’

‘It’s been a total game changer,’ she enthused, ‘now there are lots of artists moving here and independent galleries are springing-up in disused spaces. It’s breathed new life into the town – and it’s made property a good investment too, although it’s still pretty cheap…’

‘Compared to somewhere like already-gentrified Whitstable?’

‘Absolutely – and a lot less pretentious!’

Mgate 27. Retro Shop

Now I was in retro-vintage heaven!  This was the third such shop I’d seen. I was drooling over both sideboards in the window.  I made a mental note to come and visit again on a weekday, when the shops would be open, but I did notice that the fabulous Seventies one sitting on top of the Sixties (?) one below was priced at £150 and looked to be in very good nick.  If that had been in a shop in Shoreditch, Islington or Clerkenwell, it would have been about £600 at least.

Then I came into the main Market Square and noted that there were several art galleries and bistros housed in various beautiful old buildings.

Mgate 28. Mkt square

Mgate29. Mkt square 2

I headed back towards the seafront, intent on getting some fish and chips, which I would accompany with the decent bottle of Chilean Merlot I’d bought with me (half-price at Tesco), along with a plastic glass, before reluctantly getting the train home. This being a Sunday, I didn’t want to get stranded. On my way, I noticed some cool development opportunities. Ah – if only I was in a position to implement them.

Mgate 30. Blue boarded-up

I later found out that these two beautiful houses with direct, Westerly sea views, one comprising four flats; the other a three-bedroomed house, were priced at £475 (which is what my two-bedroomed, London loft apartment might cost if I could buy it) and £450 respectively.  Drool.

Mgate32. Albert Terrace

I found a fish and chip shop that was just about to close (at dinner time?), but this meant that the affable owner gave me a huge piece of cod and loads of chips for just £3, as, he said: ‘That’s me last bit of fish mate!’

Mgate. Alfresco dinner

I ate my dinner on a park bench in the West-facing square overlooking the beach in front of Albert Terrace, where the two aforementioned houses were for sale (the fag-ends were not mine!). I was trying to work out how I was about to see the sun going down, when I was on the North-Eastern tip of Kent. The mystery was solved when I got home and found that MGate is actually situated on a promontory and faces West. I screwed the cap back on my half-consumed bottle of wine so that I could finish it on the train home, then ambled back to the station taking pictures of the sunset and it’s reflections, both on my iPhone and my Canon.  The next Instagram photo looks like it could have been taken in St Tropez!

Mgate31. St Tropez sunset

Mgate33. sunset Beach

That was another Instagram – now for some taken on my Canon EOS 30D (with its 50mm lens).

That’s the setting sun ‘illuminating’ the big wheel.

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Turner would have liked this cloud formation.

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When I reached the station and checked the departure board, I was delighted to discover that I could get a high-speed ‘Javelin’ train direct to St Pancras  – and would only have to wait ten minutes. Excellent!  That meant I could sit at a table on the train and charge my phone, which was nearly dead, despite me having brought an extra battery (because of the scores of pics I’d taken), then process my Instagrams via the Camera Plus Pro app that I use, whilst finishing the rest of my Merlot.  Happy daze again!

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Mgate34. Hi-speed train home

And finally, Rochester Castle silhouetted against the sunset, taken from the train.

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All photos © Steve Swindells.

BTW – the etched-glass sleeping pod for two people in my live-work loft apartment is available to rent via airbnb for just £49 a night. I’ve had eight five-star reviews so far!

Club-running, Concerts, Chords, Conundrums, Conceptions, Creativity, Coercion, Comfort, Cognac and Cocaine.

29 Aug

In the very early eighties I was living in a post-war prefab just off the Old Kent Road – opposite the imposing, wrought-iron gates of Burgess Park. There were about 20 prefabs packed close together in what was known as University Village, as they were mostly rented to students. My little house had three tiny bedrooms, a minuscule kitchen, a small living room and a minute bathroom. I payed £40 a week in rent, which was pretty reasonable in those days.

I took-off the kitchen door and the one that led from the living room into one of the bedrooms (which became my office/studio) to create the feeling of more space – which was a bit of a long-shot. These doors were then put to use as an L-shaped desk – set on trestles.

Me in the prefab - complete with some of my first retro-modern pieces.

Me in the prefab – complete with some of my first retro-modern pieces.

But at least I had a whole house – which had the feel of a cosy, urban log cabin – all to myself; complete with the hitherto unthinkable luxury of a micro guest room.

Having been simultaneously and unceremoniously ‘dropped’ by Atco Records and Trinifold (The management of The Who) in 1981, I’d decided it was time for a career change  – whilst continuing with my songwriting and recording.

My first venture into club promotion had been with The Lift in 1982 (see ‘All Human Beings Welcome‘ for the story on that) and in ’83 I was soon to start expanding my burgeoning club-running and party-organising business by forming The Pure Organisation with Kevin Millins, who was the promotions director of Heaven, Europe’s largest and most successful Gay club. He hosted Asylum at the club on Wednesdays (Wednesdays!), and it was a huge success, appealing to the more alternative demimonde – both gay, straight and all things in between.

The Lift was also packed every week – largely with a gay/mixed, people-of-colour crowd. Before its Thursday night slot at the late-lamented Gargoyle Club on Meard Street in Soho was terminated (due to the lease ending), I launched Lift 2 on Fridays at Stallions, which was a wonderfully authentic 70s, gay night club at the end of an alley behind Busby’s (later Mean Fiddler two) on Charing Cross Road – knowing that it would soon become the main night.

Lift II Stallions Fridays

With Vicki Edwards @ The Lift.

With Vicki Edwards @ The Lift.

Kevin and I were promoting London’s two, hippest, coolest polysexual club nights, so it would later make perfect sense for us to team-up.

Kevin and me celebrating.

Celebrating with Kevin Millins.

Kevin In the Pure Organisation Office in Craven St, Charing Cross.

Kevin in the Pure Organisation Office in Craven St, Charing Cross.

Mondays at Busby’s had been home to BANG! for many years. This was an old-school gay/mixed night that featured campy, trash-disco DJS who talked on the mic (no!) and go-go boys. It had been massively successful back in the day, but now it was very much past its sell-by date.  So, as I had a very successful Friday night which was all over both the gay and style press (I’d done a two-page interview in The Face magazine, for instance), I decided to approach Busby’s manager Vic Sparrow with a view to offering my services to the promoters of BANG! as a consultant – to drag it kicking and screaming into the 80s. My offer was declined by the promoters. So I had another meeting with Vic whereby I suggested that The Lift and Asylum could combine their ‘crowds’ and create a new night on Mondays (Mondays!) at Busby’s. Vic liked the idea a lot. It was, I explained, just a formality to present Kevin Millins with this ready-made proposal. I’d already dreamed-up a name: Jungle.

Posing with new backdrop - in 1984?

Posing with new backdrop – in 1984?

Kevin readily agreed and so all we needed were two DJs. He was already friends with Colin Faver of Kiss FM (which was still a pirate station at the time) and we both knew Fat Tony from his outrageously silly, deliberately so-bad-they-were-good drag shows at Heaven. He’d also started DJing at various one-nighters – playing really good music (he’s still a very successful DJ – over thirty years later). Kevin and I agreed that Jungle’s music policy was to feature the best of contemporary black music, which essentially meant mostly New York-style garage, soul (‘Aint nothin’ goin’ on but the rent’), anything by Chakka Khan, and American funk like Parliament and Maze, the first rap hits (‘It’s like a jungle out there, sometimes I wonder how I keep from going under...’), along with Blondie, Talking Heads, The B-52s and Madonna, home-grown soul and jazz funk (‘You’ve got me hangin’ on a string…‘), and remixes from the cream of British electronic/indie/pop acts such Soft Cell, ABC, The Human league, Visage, New Order, Gary Numan, The Pet Shop Boys, Heaven 17, Bronski Beat, Culture Club, Erasure, Eurythmics and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

DJFat Tony @ Jungle

DJFat Tony @ Jungle

DJ Colin Faver

DJ Colin Faver playing @ Jungle.

Many of the aforementioned groundbreaking bands also boasted (if that’s the right word) the first-ever ‘out’ gay pop stars – all of whom became regulars at Jungle – which was a massive hit from the outset – along with Sade, The Sex Pistols, Mica Paris, Neneh Cherry, Bananarama, Rifat Ozbek, Judy Blame, Jasper Conran, Leigh Bowery, David Holah, The Face Editor Sheryl Garrett, Ben and Andy Boilerhouse, Damon Rochefort (of Nomad), Andi Oliver, Eric Robinson, Stephen Linnard, Steve Strange, Germaine Stewart, crimpers Stephen Hamilton, Sam McKnight and Ronald Falloon, Princess Julia, Duggie Fields, John Maybury, John Galliano, ‘starchitect’ Nigel Coates (another ex from the 70s), Anthony Price, Ashley Lloyd-Jennings (of Hackett – we’d had a fling in the 70s) the milliners Stephen Jones and Phillip Treacy, the late Justin Fashanu (soccer’s first ‘out’- not to mention black – premier-league footballer) and many more luminaries from a decade which saw British achievements in fashion and the arts reach new heights – particularly from the gay and polysexual underground.

Jungle in '83. Behind me is Tony Wilkinson, who tragically drowned in Jamaica in 2014.

Jungle in ’83. Behind me is Tony Wilkinson, who tragically drowned in Jamaica in 2014.

One night, the ‘Red Indian’ from The Village People showed-up at Jungle – dressed in full ‘tribal’ mode, complete with enormous head dress – and tried to pick me up! Sorry dude, not my type. The Village People were just considered to be a camp joke by us London movers and shakers. I was far more interested in meeting John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez (he came to Jungle and we chatted at length) who’d produced ‘Holiday’, Madonna’s first hit single, which the DJs at both the Lift and Jungle had played to death. When it had come out as an import from the US, everyone had assumed that she was black.

Ashley Lloyd-Jennings (co-founder of Hackett) and friends at Jungle.

Ashley Lloyd-Jennings (with beard, co-founder of Hackett) and friends at Jungle.

And suddenly, there were black, gay men out clubbing in force – especially at The Lift and Jungle (where the legendary and sorely-missed Breeze was the ‘door whore’, before becoming a resident DJ, along with Vicki Edwards, at The Pure Organisation’s subsequently wildly successful club night BAD in the Soundshaft, which was part of Heaven, but had a separate entrance).

Breeze  door-whoring @ Jungle

Breeze door-whoring @ Jungle

The lesbians took a little longer to get on board, but the first-ever (and only) lesbian mega-club was Venus Rising on Thursdays at The Fridge in Brixton, where my good friend Vicki Edwards was the superstar DJ, but that didn’t open until the late 80s, as far as I recall.

DJ Vicki Edwards.

DJ Vicki Edwards in the 80s.

In 1985, Jungle had arguably became the first club in London to play a new kind of club music which had sprung from gay, black underground nights in Chicago.

It was called house music.

We certainly put on the first-ever PA by a house artist in London, which was ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ by Farley Jackmaster Funk, in the larger-than-life form of featured vocalist, the late Darryl Pandy. I clearly remember him asking me in what passed as a dressing room (a glorified cupboard behind the stage), whether he should wear the sparkly turquoise kaftan or the orange one. I suggested the former. He went down a storm, with a gaggle of gay pop stars (do you remember that night Paul Rutherford?) dancing wildly at the front and being showered with Darryl’s sweat.

Ralph Chan and Ronald Falloon @ Jungle.

Ralph Chan and Ronald Falloon @ Jungle.

Kevin and my roles in The Pure Organisation (Pure… Organisation. I’d dreamed-up this neat bit of branding) were clearly defined from the outset. I was the creative and PR director, he was the financial and business director. Occasionally we crossed-over, but with little friction, until when he decided to try and take-over my natural, creative director role after Jungle moved to Paris (which is totally another story), which unfortunately resulted in the downfall of our little empire (along with the Heaven management’s racism, which later caused BAD to close) – and my departure from it.  It’s OK, we’re friends again these days (he’s running European Gay Ski Week). I guess you’ll just have to ask him why that  anomaly occurred.

The quieter, upstairs bar at Jungle.

The quieter, upstairs bar at Jungle.

In 1979, I’d been signed to Atco Records in New York by Doug Morris (whom, as I write, is the most powerful man in the music industry – the President of Sony Music) and the result was my second album ‘Fresh Blood’ (regarded as a classic by many and reissued on Cherry Red/Atomhenge in 2009. Check-out my sleeve notes elsewhere in this collection). I’d had terrific reviews (‘Boy can this guy write lyrics; a sparkling debut’: Rolling Stone) and it reached number 3 in the US airplay charts, two weeks after its release, with little or no promotion.

Then I made some great follow-up demos with terrific, all-star musicians before, much to my chagrin, as I mentioned earlier, I was subsequently summarily dropped by both Atco Records and Trinifold Management.

Why?

I’m happy to report that these high-quality demos were finally released as my double CD ‘The Lost Albums’ on Flicknife Records in 2012. This makes me believe in Good Karma – albeit delayed by over thirty years. My sleeve notes  are also featured in ‘Sex N’ Drugs N’ Sausage Rolls’.

TheLostAlbums_Mod3+

I’d withdrawn from trying to continue as a recording artist in the music industry as a result of this devastating roller-coaster ride and was licking my wounds when I decided to re-invent myself as club promoter and party organiser. I had to pull something out of the survival bag.

Stellar events which either The Pure Organisation or myself individually later organised included Prince’s ‘Love Sexy’ after-parties in 1988 (along with my good friend Thom Topham) and parties for Madonna, Warner Music, Time Out and The Face magazines, to name a few.

Suddenly I was a successful face, although I kept a relatively low profile – I was not one for air-kisses and calling everyone dahling.

The dark side of the 80s was the strangely back-to-the-fifties reign of La Thatcher, along the spectre of AIDS – the dark, frightening and oppressive cloud that was to invidiously create so much anti-gay propaganda and was infect or kill so many of my friends (including straight women) and lovers – as the decade became a strangely convoluted mish-mash of coping and surviving, good-will, bonding and charity (The Terence Higgins Trust), creativity, clashes (the trade unions, the miners) and sometimes consensus, covetousness (think Wall St and The City Of London) and, for me, successful club-running and party organising, along with the party peoples’ consumption of industrial quantities of cocaine. I was given copious amounts of it – simply for putting certain people on the guest list.

Naturally, not being greedy or possessing an addictive nature, I generously distributed these gifts amongst my more interesting and charming Junglers  by inviting them into the nearest thing we might have called a VIP room – our office.

I always saw myself as a facilitator and mentor to young people who were talented by introducing them to more well-known and successful people.  As a result, several flourishing, creative careers were virtually launched at The Lift and Jungle.

Jungle was VIP in its entirety, apart from our little office, or orifice, as I’d childishly dubbed it.

Perhaps I’d been inspired by my visits to the legendary orifice in Studio 54 in New York?

When Kevin and I first teamed-up to launch Jungle and formed The Pure Organisation, he’d suggested that the best way to guarantee a full club early in the night (thereby keeping the tills ringing behind the bars to keep the owner’s aligned drinks company – in Busby’s case Whitbread – happy) was to make it cheaper to get in the earlier you came. Then I came up with the idea of the first-ever see-through, acetate flyer, which I designed. The reason for using this material was not just its cool novelty (you had to hold it up to the light to read the print), but also the fact that you could easily have holes punched out of the flyers after printing several thousand.

The first Jungle flyer - designed by yours truly.

‘The hunter gets captured by the game’: the first Jungle flyer – designed by yours truly.

The key to our Jungle PR campaign was a word-of-mouth whisper that the flyers without the holes punched-out allowed the holders to get into the club for free before midnight. The ones with holes enabled people to get for £1 before midnight (after all, you can’t replace punched-out holes, can you?). Therefore – due to this gently deliberate confusion – on the opening night, the queue to get in stretched all the way around the block – which included The Astoria.

Sadly, both venues have now been demolished to facilitate the new Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road.

Kevin had negotiated a clever deal with Vic Sparrow, the canny, avuncular and portly manager of Busby’s. He’d offered a bar guarantee of something like £2,000 or thereabouts (I don’t remember exactly, it was 31 years ago, after all) and, in return, we’d take 100% of the money on the door and pay the DJs, our door staff and our team that ‘dressed’ the venue before we opened. The club would pay the security and bar staff. This was all agreed and the arrangement suited all concerned for more than three, successful years. Rarely did the attendance dip below 1,000 people (often it was 1,300) and the atmosphere was always electric, with great vibes all round. And it was sexy. You should also remember – this was a weekly club night held on a Monday! And there was never, ever any trouble.

One day in 1985, I took an interesting call in The Pure Organisation’s wood-panelled, 1st floor suite of offices in a classic Georgian house in Craven street, behind Heaven (where Kevin Millins’ Asylum had transmuted into the massively successful Pyramid on Wednesdays). It was from a member of Janet Jackson’s management team. He wondered politely if we’d be able to let her in to Jungle through a back door as she wanted to hang out anonymously with a couple of friends. This was accomplished with minimum fuss, as she didn’t require any special treatment whatsoever. It was my pleasure to get her a drink – I seem to recall that it was a JD and Coke – and to have a good chat with her about her brilliant producers Jam and Lewis and that beautiful guy who’d starred in her video of ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’. I asked her if he was gay. She simply replied: ‘What do you think?’ With a warmly-delivered wink.

On another occasion we managed to persuade DJ Fat Tony (who wasn’t actually fat at all) to perform a tribute to Dusty Springfield at the first Jungle Trash Ball – lip-synching in Dusty drag – which he pulled-off with his usual deliciously daft mix of insouciance, irony and panache. It was only years later that I read somewhere – perhaps after Dusty had died – that she used to joke about how she ‘looked like a drag queen’ in her shows in the late 60s.

I still think that she is one of the greatest female singers ever. Along with Aretha.

I was watching an excellent documentary about Dusty on BBC4, just the other day, and was suddenly transported back to 1974 when a picture of what was Phillips (Dusty’s record label) Recording Studio in the 60s and 70s came-up on screen.

Some amazing music had been recorded there: At least two albums by Dusty, The Walker Brothers and, later, The Electric Light Orchestra. It had a unique sound quality – it was BIG, basically. I recorded some of what was supposed to be my second album ‘Swallow’ there, and had been thrilled to drink-in that magical, aural atmosphere. I’d always thought it pleasantly quirky that you accessed the studio through a slightly formal little garden.

Phillips Studio in Stanhope Place, Marble Arch.

Phillips Studio in Stanhope Place, Marble Arch.

‘Swallow’ never saw the light of day, thanks to my evil, junky, alcoholic, Svengali-like manager/producer Mark Edwards sweeping everything off the managing director of RCA Records’ desk in a drunken rage. But Karma eventually kicked-in and the album finally came out as the ‘bonus CD’ with the reissue of Messages in 2009.

Messages

I have a broad taste in music: from soulful rock and singer-songwriter to soul and R&B and classical and jazz, but not really prog-rock generally (apart from perhaps some Supertramp, Caravan and selective early Yes and Genesis tracks).

I’d been classically trained on the piano from the age of Seven – just weekly lessons. In 1966, my elder brother Rob and I left the wonderfully-named Sexey’s School in Bruton in Somerset: a very good grammar school (where we were boarders). We departed because we were being bullied as a result of perceived favourtism by ‘Matron’; perhaps because we slept in a small ‘dorm’ with just one other boy called Willy (who was probably my first boyfriend). Both Rob and I had passed the entrance exam to The Bristol Cathedral School after taking and passing our Eleven-plus (as it was called back then) exam a few years earlier.  However, I wasn’t Eleven, I was ten, as I’d somehow jumped a year in primary school. I think it was something to do with my IQ, which was pretty high, but I don’t recall the exact figure (141 seems to ring a bell). Suffice to say, I was later invited to join Mensa, but didn’t bother. I’m not a fan of elite smugness.

Meanwhile, my new piano teacher at The Cathedral School had me playing pieces by my favourites like Eric Satie, Stravinsky, Delius and Debussy.

When I turned 15, he asked me one day what I was planning as a career, if anything. I answered immediately that I wanted to be a songwriter. A huge smile crossed his face as he replied enthusiastically: ‘then you must learn the basics of jazz and blues. These two genres are the basis of all modern songwriting, along, of course, with classical music. But, you must unlearn everything you learnt with classical music and start again from scratch by understanding complex chord structures and the power of improvisation.’

‘I’ve been improvising for years.’ I replied happily.

‘Excellent!’ He said. ‘Then let’s explore some jazz and blues magic.’

And so we did – for several months. He was the best teacher-ever and the only one I ever needed.

There’s more to this back story though.

In 1973, I was signed to RCA and my first album ‘Messages’ came out world-wide to generally excellent reviews in 1974.

There was a launch-party in the luxurious, penthouse hospitality suite of RCA’s headquarters in Curzon Street, Mayfair. It was a fairly dull corporate affair until a tall man walked in who seemed familiar. Wasn’t this Mr Whatever – my former piano piano teacher (obviously he wasn’t actually called Mr Whatever, but I don’t remember his name)?

Indeed it was. He came over and shook my hand and I naturally asked why he was at my album launch. He laughed and explained: ‘I now live in London and work for your publishers, Chappell Music.’

‘What an amazing coincidence!’ I exclaimed, and went on to thank him profusely for having introduced me to the core basics of songwriting back in the day.

‘All that classical training enabled your fingers to do complex things, and gifted you an innate appreciation of melody, form, harmony, timbres, dynamics and the very mathematics of composition.’

‘Indeed it did.’ I said, sipping champagne and trying to ignore the rictus grins (probably cocaine-induced) of the dreary, oleaginous RCA executives.

‘And the blues and jazz basics that I made you aware of allowed you to tap into your songwriting muse, with all those spirits flying around your head like soulful butterflies.’

‘That’s a lovely analogy, I can’t thank you enough for enlightening me as you did.’

‘Steve, it’s my pleasure,’ said Mr Whatever, clinking my glass. ‘I’m extremely proud of what you’ve achieved with your first album – how brilliant to have a full orchestra on many of the tracks – and you are now officially my highest-achieving and critically acclaimed pupil. Your songwriting is of the highest calibre.’

To say that I was humbled would be an understatement. I felt blessed.

‘Messages’ had been recorded when I was 21. It was all a bit glamourous and high-end with top musicians, including members  of Elton John’s band, Mike Giles, the drummer from King Crimson, and John Gustafson, Roxy Music’s bass player. Studios where it was recorded included AIR, Island, The Who’s Ramport studio in Battersea, and (yay!) Abbey Road. But my manager/producer Mark Edwards (who’d ‘discovered’ me playing with Squidd – the first proper band that I’d played with – at Fulham Town Hall at a Gay Liberation Front Benefit Gig in 1972) was an upper-class gay man who became obsessed with me. And I did not reciprocate. At all.  He looked like Gandalf. Therefore, he bitterly resented my rejection.

He was a mess. To his left on the mixing desk – a pile of cocaine. To his right, a bottle of Cognac. He was violent and abusive. He made my life hell.

Eventually, in 1975, I escaped, thanks to my great friends Caroline Guinness and Tim Clark, who literally kidnapped me, thereby releasing me from his evil clutches; and my extraordinary mother Audrey, who took my ‘management contract’ to a lawyer, who declared that it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Audrey and Harold, my late, adoptive father, enthusiastically attended many of my club-opening nights as well!

My mind is suddenly drawn to a concert in 1979 at what was then the Hammersmith Odeon (now it’s the *insert sponsor* Apollo). It was a sold-out gig by Todd Rundgren’s Utopia – I had a standing-only ticket, so I naturally headed for the mixing desk – where the sound would be optimum –  and was able to stand right behind it without being challenged; in fact, the sound engineer turned around and smiled – a dazzling smile – at me. He was handsome, Latino-looking with longish curly black hair, stubble and a moustache and what looked like a fine athletic body. Obviously, he couldn’t be gay, could he..?

A few more songs into the show he turned around again and smiled and motioned for me to sit next to him on a drum stool which he’d produced with a flourish. His leg brushing against mine told me all I needed to know. My ‘gaydar’ had been on-point. He was an excellent sound engineer too – and the band were superb. After the encores and as the audience started to file out, he asked me my name and invited me back to the hotel where the band and crew were staying. I was happy to accept. A fleet of limos took us to Marble arch and the rather magnificent Georgian crescent that housed the Five-star Montcalm Hotel. ‘Let’s go straight to my room’ he whispered conspiratorially, ‘so we can party all night, just the two of us – ‘cos the band have a day off tomorrow.’

I tried to suppress a bit of a gasp as we entered his first floor room at the front of the hotel, with its huge sash windows. This was as a result of clocking the stylish luxury of what was actually a duplex suite. The massive double bed was on a mezzanine above a capacious lounge area which featured cool, Italian-looking, minimalist-chic furniture.

‘How about some Champagne?’ Suggested Ernesto with a grin, ‘and a big fat joint and a line of the finest Columbian marching powder…’

‘That would be totally spliffing!’ I replied, in a cod, upper-class English accent.

‘I think that the Krug is a good vintage’, he said brightly, uncorking a bottle of  it expertly, ‘then there’s a bottle of Remy Martin for us to enjoy later!’

This was my first experience of high-end Rock N’ Roll decadence (the most we got up to with The Hawklords was a joint or two after a gig with a few beers – and the odd line of coke here and there). Before long we were tearing off each other’s clothes and kissing passionately. Damn, he was a great kisser, a great everything, and he had the most athletically perfect posterior. The rest of the night is a complete blur of clouds of sensuality.

I would, however, suggest that sharing a bottle of brandy after a bottle of champagne, along with coke n’ smoke is likely to lead to a very bad case of the whirling pits. I just managed to make it to the marble-tiled bathroom to throw up. Then we both passed-out on the tangled sheets after an amazing night of hot passion.

In the 70s, gay people in rock culture were generally pretty thin on the ground; rare exceptions being Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks, the wonderfully talented Billy McKenzie and Rob Halford, the singer from Judas Priest, although there were plenty of gay managers.

However, to come across, as it were, gay sound engineers, tour managers and road crew was totally unheard of. After all, I’d been a rock star myself in 1978, playing keyboards and recording the classic album ’25 Years On’ with The Hawklords (better-known as Hawkwind – the name-change was because of some Byzantine contractual obligations) and taking part in a massive UK tour – we’d also sold-out the Hammersmith Odeon, just the year before.

I met Pete Shelley at some hideous sub-Holiday-Inn in Bradford where both The Hawklords and The Buzzcocks were staying, having performed at different venues in the city. Pete and I were drinking beers, chatting and playing pool (how very gay) in the bar, where both bands and their crews were drinking and socialising – until an altercation suddenly occurred between two of our respective roadies; then all hell broke loose and the bar got completely trashed (how very Rock N’ Roll).  Pete and I escaped to my room and smoked a joint or three, as I recall.

I was avowedly out-gay in the band, but being a masculine man who just happened to be gay, I was determined not to be pigeon-holed or pressurised into tolerating ignorant provocation in the form of squealing voices or camp mannerisms from fellow band members or crew – as if I was supposed to relate to such fripperies?

Any such behaviour was met with a glacial stare and a short, sharp lecture from me.

Being out-gay in an all-male environment, however, can create some curious consequences, like guys almost surreptitiously asking for sexual advice and being emotionally forthcoming and confessional… but only ever in a one-to-one situation.

The tour had kicked-off on Oct 6th, 1978 at the New Theatre. Oxford. Backstage after this very successful first gig, some members of the 22-strong road crew (yes TWENTY TWO), invited me to join them for a game of poker and to drink beers. ‘But I’ve never played poker before!’ I protested. There was much laughter and head-nodding. ‘Yeah, sure, Steve,’ said Dave, the tour manager, ‘we’ve all heard that one before.’ Despite it being my poker debut, guess who won?

SS on stage with Hawklords

After a few gigs we soon ditched the rather silly, paint-spattered overalls that were part of the stage design by the otherwise extremely talented Barney Bubbles. The arty group of ineffective dancers were also swiftly dispatched and one of a group of Hells Angels who came to every gig, acting as our unofficial security posse, insisted that I wore his ‘Original’ (a customised, sleeveless American biker jacket) on stage, and I happily complied. Rockin’! If you check out  Hawklords Live ’78, (which was finally released on Atomhenge/Cherry Red in 2009), you’ll no doubt agree that this was the band at its peak… totally firing. The musical interaction between guitarist Dave Brock and myself was particularly noteworthy – an amazing energy. The rhythm section was powerfully in synch and singer Robert Calvert was on peak form. We’d bonded from the very start – he was an amazing man.

Hawklords Live 1978

Hawklords Live 1978

It’s a shame that it all went politically pear-shaped at the sold-out Hawkestra reunion concert (all the living ex-members, including Lemmy – apart from the great Simon King – showed-up,) at the Brixton Academy 22 years later in 2000. The gig itself was pretty good – I organised the recording and filming of it, under the impression that I was going to get paid what had been agreed, plus a percentage of the gate and the subsequent DVD and CD. After all, I was the only non-core member of Hawkwind who’d attended rehearsals for six weeks at Dave Brock’s farmhouse in Devon – in a roughly-converted pig house, staying in a tiny, cell-like room at some horrendous pub where the only food available was from a ‘carvery’, where (shudder!) joints of meat were kept warm for hours under large copper lamps. It was beyond vile.

Suffice to say – the audio and visual tapes are safe and maybe one day, the DVD might be released. But only if all the members get an equal share of the royalties. Period. The songwriters, however, would already be sorted in terms of publishing royalties as a matter of course.

A monitor mix of me singing ‘Shot Down In The Night’ at the concert is available to listen to on my Sound Cloud.

Back on tour in 1978, the day after my birthday, on November 22nd, The Hawklords were playing Wolverhampton Civic Hall, and I arrived at the soundcheck to find a very large birthday card in its box on top of my keyboards. All the band and crew had signed it, and quite a few of them joked that I was welcome to ‘share a room’ with them anytime!  Thanks guys, but I didn’t actually fancy any of you, although I enjoyed beating ya’ll at Poker.

Why do so many straight men assume that all gay people find them attractive? ‘You’re so vain – I bet you think this song is about you’.

The 42-date tour was mostly sold-out and critically lauded. Then, before long, within just a few months, all the money was gone and there was no record deal. Robert Calvert, the charismatic and talented singer who suffered from manic depression (now known as bipolar condition), had departed and I was surprised to be asked to take over his role, having demo’d two of my songs (‘Shot Down In the Night’ and ‘Turn It On Turn It Off’) with the now penniless band at the rather idyllic, riverside Mill House, Rockfield Studio’s residential rehearsal facility.

Me in the porch at The Mill House

Me in the porch at The Mill House in 1979.

So I left the band, made some demos with two of the most accomplished ex-members of Hawkwind (Simon King and Huw Lloyd-Langton on drums and guitar respectively) and Nic Potter from Van Der Graf Generator on bass, including the aforementioned songs that I’d originally demo’d with The Hawklords. These were paid for jointly by Pendulum Music, my new music publisher, and Francesco, a friend who was an Italian Count whose family apparently owned half of Rome.

He took me to New York in September 1979, and, largely thanks to my best girlfriend Caroline Guinness being the office manager for Trinifold (who managed The Who) and who’d introduced me to the boss, Bill Curbishley, I landed a record deal in NYC within three days, with metaphoric doors having been opened by me using Bill’s name – with his consent, of course. I was signed to ATCO (part of the WEA, now Warner Music) by its President Doug Morris for a deal worth £80K… on paper. The result was Fresh Blood. Now regarded as a classic, it was reissued on CD on Esoteric/Cherry Red in 2009.

Fresh Blood Album Cover

Having heard the demos, several major names including Jimmy Iovine and *gasp!* David Bowie  had offered to produce the album  – but I ended-up doing it myself. I imagine that the big names were simply too expensive. No-one at Trinifold ever told me the reason.

It was only much later, when I was writing the internet column for Time Out magazine throughout the second half of the 90s (under the pseudonym Spyder), that I had a form of contact with Bowie, when I wrote a piece about Bowie.net (now www.davidbowie.com) in which ‘Spyder’ mentioned his metaphorical brush with Bowie. So, through his publicist Alan Edwards, Bowie asked if I could get copies of my two albums to his publicist’s office. I only had one copy of each, so I had to go through the ironic rigmarole of buying them in the secondhand record shop which was conveniently located in Kingly Street in Fitzrovia, where I was living.

David Bowie's faxed response to getting my albums.

David Bowie’s faxed response to his finally listening to my albums .

In 1988 Kevin Millins and I were featured in the centre-page-spread of the 100th issue of The Face – along with 98 of what the most influential magazine of the decade perceived to be the UK’s top 100 ‘movers and shakers’ including Jazzy B, Norman Jay (both now honoured by her Maj with an OBE and an MBE respectively), Leigh Bowery, Patrick Lilley, Graham Ball, Fat Tony, Rusty Egan and Chris Sullivan, to name but a few.

Kevin and I are the only ones wearing shades. Must have been a heavy night before.

We’re both wearing shades.

I wonder if anyone has got a scan of the other half of The Face centre-page spread?

© Steve Swindells. All rights reserved. 2014.

Main photo – from the Fresh Blood cover photo session (1980) by the late, great Bob Carlos Clarke.

All other photos (apart from The Face 100th issue centre-spread) © Steve Swindells.

The Diary Of Tran Frank.

30 May
'Femon' By Finlay Cowan

‘Femon’ By Finlay Cowan

Click for more on Finlay Cowan

 

*Warning!  Not for kids or the faint-hearted!*

 

There is a true back story as to what inspired this badly-behaved little collection of yarns, but it’s so so unbelievable that I won’t even try to explain.

Image

So… about *cough* Tran Frank…

Industry Arts
Occupation Professional Stalker
Location Little Withering, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Introduction Well, modesty prevents me from revealing the size of my willy, but post-op, I’ll keep it pickled in a large jar displayed alongside my You Too memorabilia and karaoke trophies (my specialty is singing ‘Bloody Bloody Mary’, that well-known You Too anthem about ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, where I studied philosophy and physics at Queens Uni). I’m a single tranny and live in a picture-postcard village in a bijou 50s, council-owned studio flat.
Interests An Irish rock band called You Too, lingerie, midi-skirts, lavender talc, Boots (the chemist), collecting cuddly toys, making my own pot-pouri, transvestites, transexuals, transgendered, travel, wigs, make-up, nuclear physics, the early recording of Cilla Black, existentialism, lateral thinking, the songs of Jimmy Webb, crochet, Burt Reynolds, windowbox gardening, origami, cocaine, champagne, becoming a real woman… one day.
Favourite Films Ooh – anything glamorous and featuring female-bonding, like Thelma And Louise, Some Like It Hot, Pink Flamingoes and Carry On Screaming.
Favourite Music You Too.
Favourite Books The Diary Of Tran Frank, by Frank Lynne-Mint

You forgot your mom’s birthday! What can you make out of super glue and olive pits?

An organic dildo!

 

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The Diary Of Tran Frank

 

Monday

 

Woke, up got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. My wig came off.

Tuesday. 

Bought lovely, mushroom-coloured pleated midi-dress in Dorothy Perkins. Sooo very feminine. Went home to my bedsit in Acacia road, Milton Keynes. Well, I like to call it a studio flat. Rearranged all my lovely, cuddly toys on the end of my futon sofa-bed. Listened to Heart FM. Sprayed on some lavender talc – no time for a shower – and went to Uganda.

Wednesday. 

Went to LA. Met a film producer on Sunset who said I looked like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie! Could stardom beckon in the remake, Tootsie Too? Bought some specs in Rodeo Drive, a snip at $500! Went to my seedy motel and got raped, doggie-style, by the pool boy. What a hunk! Offered him a part in the movie.

Thursday. 

Flew back to London and went and dusted You Two’s 20-bedroomed penthouse in Dagenham. It’s a very up-and-coming area. Their penthouse used to be the Ford factory! They’ve got a Ford Mondeo hanging from the roof – how post-ironic and rock n’ roll, eh?

Friday 

Went to Dublin, sold some cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh! Then had a meeting with the Real IRA in the Presidential suite of The Florence, You Two’s sumptious, boutique hotel. Shagged the bass player with a dildo. He said it reminded him of Noomi a bit. Sprayed myself with Lavender talc and went to Boots to buy some suppositories.

Saturday. 

Beano came to the suite with a bottle of Bailey’s and an ounce of coke. That’s what I call breakfast. We talked very fast and raced each other round the room. Then the Reverend Ian Paisley came to tea. Did he wear paisley underpants, I wondered naughtily? He drank the rest of Beano’s Bailey’s and started shouting obscenities about gays and catholics. Beano called President Bush and told him to save the starving in Africa, then we read the collected works of James Joyce by candlelight.

Sunday.

Went to church in a fleet of limos. Beano distributed grams to all the needy urchins pressing their dirty faces to the blacked-out windows of the limo. How thoughtful and kind he is at times! Flew to SA to meet Nelson whatshisname. He patted my butt and whispered ‘Would U like to come back to my cell on Robben island?’ Oooh! What a naughty fantasy! I felt like Venus in chains! It’s true what they say too…

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The Diary Of Tran Frank Two

 

Monday.

Woke up with a terrible case of TB.  Went to Swiss Clinic, paid for by The Boyz.  Only €20,000 a day, with champagne and cocaine included!  The nurses all wanted to shag me, until they found out about my little testosterone problem.  Stayed up all night in my sumptious Tyrolian-style suite playing Pokemon and listening to old Marlene Deitrich 78s on a wind-up gramophone. The two-speed Elvis vibrator sent me off into the land of nod.

Tuesday.

Ah! The wonders of that alpine air!  Knocked-off a few mathematical equations before breakfasting on muesli, cocaine and my own urine.  Beano came to visit, bearing a huge bouquet of white lillies.  He said they matched my ashen complexion.  Adam took me to lunch and I gave him a blow job under the table – he nearly choked on his schnizel with noodles.  The Leibfraumilch went down a treat.  These are a few of my favourite things, I mused.

Wednesday.

Felt well enough to don some leder hosen, grabbed a concertina and performed Tyrolean folk songs to an eager audience of local youth (such marvellously Ayrian blond tresses!).  Larry played the bongos.  My mother called from Holloway demanding more phone cards and rolling tobacco, and complained about lesbian warders harrassing her. U should B so lucky, I hissed.

Thursday.

Made miraculous recovery from TB and flew to the US to plan You Two’s triumphant appearance at the Super Bowl (why they were playing at a cookery competition is quite beyond me).  Well, ISH is a bit of a whizz in the kitchen.  Dined with Robert (De Niro, silly), Madge and The Duckess Of York at TriBeCa.  Robert was feeling my leg under the table until Madge shot him a glance that could’ve melted ice!  Fergie kept going on about her ‘Italian estate’ in Tuscany. Hah!  They saw her coming!  A former concentration camp, I believe.

Friday.

Flew to Barcelona and started anti-globalisation riot with a few petrol bombs.  Assembled a private army of around 300,000 and was carried shoulder high through the throng. I felt just like Joan Of Arc!  Then the idiots dropped me when the tanks started rolling towards us and I broke my arm!  Dined with Melanie (Griffiths, silly) and that greasy hubby of hers, Antonio Banderas.  Some fat, old queen came over and I asked for a bottle of Marques De Caceres Reserva, 1935.  Well, how was I to know it was Pedro Almodovar?

Saturday.

Went to recuperate at my country (council) estate in Cambridgshire, surrounded by all my lovely cuddly toys. I felt the words of that delightful Atomic Kitten song were spookily appropriate: ‘You Can Make Me Whole Again’. Indeed.  So I rang for the gardener and he was happy to plant his seeds in my flower beds!  Took a nostalgic look through my digital photo album of Beano in compromising poses, then demanded more money by email.

Sunday.

Went to church after a late lunch of pot noodles and caviar and a browse through the Sundays –  there I was in Barcelona.  I really shouldn’t have worn THAT wig, but hey, the camouflage hot-pants looked sensational in the Mail On Sunday.  Father (Phil) O’Sophical was a little concerned about my health, but I assured him that it was nothing that a little communion wine and confessional-role-playing wouldn’t cure.  We retired to his manse, or whatever it’s called, and re-enacted scenes from The Thorn Birds – he does rather resemble Richard Chamberlain. I thought he overdid the crack a little though.

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The Diary Of Tran Frank Three

 

Wednesday

Went to Cornwall with my friend the incredibly famous DJ and her two lovely sons.  Tried to have lesbo sex on the train, but a babysitter wasn’t available.  We managed a quick snog in the toilet anyway. Does that mean we joined the 250 mile-long club? Dabbed on some lavender talc and ate a Great Western Trains cheeseburger instead. Arrived at our caravan and threw up all over the children, then smoked loads of crack.

Thursday

Our initiation into the ‘white trash’ ghetto improved by the hour as the chicken nuggets cooked in the microwave. Went to the disco in the caravan site clubhouse with the kids at 11pm – hey, that’s early for them – and demanded You Two tunes from the DJ.  He refused, saying that he only played pop like Steps and S Club Junior.  Well purleeeze!  Grabbed the mic and insisted that DJ Snatch play all the housey You Too remixes and threatened to kill all the people on the site with my suicide bum.  They eventually gave in and I played the bongos.  But it was all a fiendish MI5 plot and I was arrested by armed police!  Came in my pants (aka knickers).

Friday

Plymouth Police Station.  The pigs tried to torture me into admitting I was Yasser Arafat’s secret love child, but I hung on in there and stated emphatically:  ‘I’m fookin Oirish, you fookin’ dickhead pigs and a nuclear physicist!’ (well, the prozac was still firing).  Got out on bail after Beano flew down by hang glider and put up 50 million Euros.

Flew with him to Uganda.

Saturday

Went shopping in Harare’s lovely bazaars – so many feminine-yet-ethnic gowns to choose from – and those were just the ones for  men!  Felt so empowered that I went to visit a witch doctor, but only after consulting Which magazine (the Ugandan version). I mean, which witch doctor?  They recommended Ongobonolarryedgeirlando.  Lovely mud hut!

He suggested that I get sectioned then shagged me senseless.

Sunday

Flew to Jerusalem to liberate the Christians from the evil clutches of the Palestinian fascist dogs who’d saught refuge in the church of the nativity in Bethlehem.  Unfortunately, I was too late, as Blair n’ Bush had sorted it.  Got there in time to seize a photo op in my new ethnic robes with some Palestinian wannabe suicide bombers and some Jewish settlers at their annual karaoke night.  Hot gig dudes! The meze was rockin’ too!

Monday

Was invited to Afganistan by the British army to press the detonator to blow up the Al Queda arms cache in the caves.  My, what a rush!  So much so, the force of the blast blew off my wig, but one gallant soldier thought I looked like Sinead in the ‘Nothing Compares to You’ video. So I shed a tear, albeit somewhat theatrically, as he fucked me up the ass in a genuine army tank.  Not very comfy though, I mean, where’s the upholstery?

Tuesday

At last! Back home in Milton Keynes!  I cuddled my cuddly toys, put on the kettle, turned on East Enders and thought of my life in the fast lane.  My! The lows, the highs, the fast food joints, the libraries, the bus stops, the supermarkets, the wheely bins, the cornflakes,   the trashy magazines… the… emptiness of it all.  And I hadn’t had time to bathe all week, what with the drama of it all!  Thank goodness for aromatherapy in the form of Lavender talc!

Next stop: Boots!

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The Diary Of Tran Frank Four. 

 

Monday.

Beano drove us to Heathrow in his bullet-proof Smart Car – so eco-dinky (it runs on Irish peat) – as we were going to Thailand to publicise the terrible plight of the eight (eight!) people who’d so far caught some mystery disease there. I went on Thai TV to explain that it was in fact a WMD originating from that axis of evil, North Korea (or should that be ‘North career?). Had marvellous anal sex with a commie spy posing as a Taiwanese chef in a lady-boy bar in Phuket. Almost ripped my tie-dyed sarong!

Tuesday.

Caught malaria in the floating market from a swarm of mozzies whilst shopping in vain for lavender talc (do these orientals have NO class?). Larry rented the entire island of Kay Hole to aid me in my recovery. Beano decided to build a designer, boutique hotel featuring Thai-style teepees thatched with recycled glass noodles on the beach and You Two performed a benefit concert for the victims of SARS (now numbering ten and a half) to an audience of gay, Aussie backpackers and a posse of mixed-race, South African Lesbos, who were having a conference about the political relevance of the strap-on.

Wednesday.

Flew with ‘The Boyz’ to Hong Kong to distribute thousands of free You Two designer face masks to the few remaining residents. Had a great Chinese! ‘Dim sum lights!’ I squeeled, making exaggerated slitty eyes at Beano, as he plunged his Ming vase (BC 394) into my nether regions whilst shoving an opium pipe under my grateful nose. Flew to Antiqua for a few day’s treatment at Erica’s (Claptout, silly) lovely re-hab clinic-in-a-genuine-tin-roofed-shack. Watched millions of Chinese peasants dying live in the paddy fields (but where was the peat?) on cable TV. ‘It’s the opium of the people!’ Said Erica, whilst her guitar gently wept.

Thursday.

Went into the disabled toilet sporting the pink, towelling trackie that I’d liberated from Madonna’s Oxfam bin-liner and who should be coming out but that perma-tanned hunk David Dickinson! ‘I didn’t know you were disabled…’ I cooed, fluttering my eyelashes at his orange-tinged, craggy features. ‘Oh no!’ He replied, looking like the cat that had got the cream, ‘That’s where Erica keeps her secret stash!  Then he led me tenderly to his rented vintage Bentley Convertible and took me for a drive through the sugar cane fields, scattering terrified workers in all directions as I gave him a lovely blow job. ‘This is what I call The Antigua Road Show!’ I gasped, as I came up for air.

Friday.

Got bored of Erica’s shack and flew to Basra to organise You Two’s benefit concert for legless people (I didn’t know Muslims DRANK! Like FISH darling!) and cleared a few token mines with Lady Heather Hills-McDonald (she was sooo ‘method’, I thought: how selfless to actually stand on a REAL mine and lose another leg, just for the cameras!). The support act, Saddam Kool, performed for the assembled media pack in a huge bathroom (lovely gold-plated bidet! Tasteful, erotic murals!) in Saddam’s burnt-out palace, and were brill. You could really believe they were him! Eight of them! All identical! Their version of Bohemian Rhapsody was classic (was it the moustaches that made it so authentic?)! I wouldn’t mind finding THEIR weapons of mass destruction! They would definitely win Iraq Has Talent!

Saturday.

Decided to board the Trans-Siberian express and gasped in awe at the disused labour camps (what a waste!), whilst sipping frozen vodka martinis and shovelling caviar into my mouth. The soldier opposite offered me ten Roubles to give him a blow-job. ‘Make it twenty and I’ll tweak your nipples too!’ I trilled, in perfect Russian. ‘Perestroika!’ He intoned, eyes rolled heaven-ward, trousers round his ankles, in the ornate, almost baroque elegance of the toilet. I reached into my Fendi bag for my dwindling supply of Lavender Talc and sprayed some down my knickers.

Sunday.

Went shark-hunting in the Caspian sea with President Putin and Tony Blair. We didn’t catch any, which is hardly surprising, seeing as sharks don’t actually live there. Tony made jokes about Bond villains (pointing at Vladimir) and said I looked like a bit of a Bond babe (it must have been the white, leather catsuit and the purple, vinyl kinky boots). ‘Can I try your rod Tony? I asked coquettishly and grabbed it in a girlie sort-of fashion. ‘How do I look?’ I asked demurely. ‘Oh Frank,’ He giggled manfully, sweat starting to stain his Marks And Spencer shirt. ‘Are you fishing for compliments?

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Now looking for The Diary Of Tran Frank Five and Six…. buried somewhere deep in the broken heart of my hard drive.

Found Them!

 

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The Diary Of Tran Frank. Chapter Five.

Sunday

Woke up feeling very wobbly, and realised I was bouncing around in a circular water bed, not a giant bowl of vomit. I felt seasick, or maybe it was the drink and drugs of the night before, or both, or… where the fuck was I? I wondered, lonely as a cloud. I looked out of the floor-to-ceiling windows and that was all I could see – clouds. ‘Clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee – you’re so vain…’ I found myself humming. Perhaps it was somehow appropriate. Or not. Where was I? I wrapped a lovely oriental silk sarong around my finely toned body, slipped on some Jimmy Choo flip-flops and staggered through double Egyptian-style doors into a vast hallway lined with what looked liked spatter paintings done by chimps. What a load of old pollocks, I mused. Where was the kitchen? ‘Can I assist madame?’ Asked a somewhat posh voice suddenly. I turned to find a tall, handsome young uniformed black butler smiling at me inquisitively. ‘Well, er, yes…’ I replied, trying to stop my eyes travelling downwards towards an impressive-looking package. ‘Could you tell me where I am?’. 

‘Certainly madame, ‘replied the butler. ‘My name is Chapsworth, and you are in the penthouse of You Too Towers in Shanghai. Would madame care for some coffee – fair trade beans, naturally?’ A strange, muffled whimpering noise made me feel slighly uneasy. Perhaps it was my stomach. 

‘Ooh yes please, I croaked. And where is ah…?’

‘Mr Lil is feeding his favourite pet, it’s called Anna, Anna Condo, ha ha, and this package…’ He pointed to the large parcel he was carrying, ‘is a litter of live puppies for Anna to – ahem – play with! Follow me please.’ How very odd!

Mr Lil – Shanghai? It had a certain ring to it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, as it were. Chapsworth led me into a vast, hi-tech circular kitchen set inside a glass pyramid. ‘I bet the knives stay nice and sharp naturally,’ I muttered to the butler, who merely nodded with a hint of a smile, and pressed some buttons on a black and chrome machine, having placed the box full of puppies on a table. ‘Would a double espresso be suitable for madame’s requirements?’ He asked. ‘That would be marvellous, ‘ I replied, eyeing his sturdy forearms; they were like mahogany covered in soft, black silky gossamer. His huge hands found some Phillipe Starke cups – was he was going to join me perhaps – ooh-er! My back bottom twitched involuntarily (my front bottom still hadn’t quite ‘settled in’ to having sexually-triggered muscular spasms, despite the best efforts of Mr Federico Feline, Beano’s plastic surgeon). Chapsworth placed two espressos on a silver tray and beckoned for me to follow him through some double doors into another vast pyramid, which was like an enclosed rain forest in the sky, surrounding a huge artificial pond.

‘Ah so, my dear Flankie, ‘ said a voice with a strong Chinese accent, ‘I am seeing that Chapsworth hass tekken care of you. You seemply moost meet Anna.’

The tiny, Buddha-like Mr Lil was standing on a bridge that spanned the ‘lake’, holding a little puppy. ‘How adorable!’ I cooed, ‘is Anna a Pekinese?’

‘Oh no – Anna is positively Amazonian’ giggled Mr Lil, holding the puppy out over the water and whistling. Suddenly a huge snake’s head lunged out the water and towards the bridge, but instead of grabbing the whimpering puppy it wrapped itself around Mr Lil and dragged him screaming into the foaming depths. Somehow, the puppy had managed to jump back onto the bridge. ‘Do something Chapsworth!’ I yelled hysterically (some might say my screaming was, well, hysterical, but that’s ‘cos it’s soooo deep. Hmm. Goes with the territory). Chapsworth just stood there and winked at me, passed me my espresso and said ‘Oh well, there goes Shanghai Lil. Fancy some bird nest soup madame?’ 

I slurped down my coffee, scooped the pekinese puppy into my arms and followed Chapsworth back into the kitchen. Somehow my antique silk sarong slipped to the floor. Chapsworth’s trouser crotch seemed to twitch and grow… and grow. He took me in his manly arms. ‘Wait!’ I whispered, putting the Pekinese down, ‘The poor, adorable little puppies!’. 

I tore open the large box and out tumbled five little bundles of joy, snatched, indeed, from the jaws of death. ‘Meat! Chapsworth, Meat!’ I exclaimed urgently. He started to unzip his fly. ‘No, for the adorable little puppies first!’. 

Soon, we were all feasting on prime steak. The puppies got fillet, and I somehow made do with Sir Loin, once I’d got the butler to call the police about the horrible accident and ghastly death that had befallen Mr Lil. 

Monday

Fate is strange sometimes, I mused, as I sprayed lavender talc between my somewhat sore thighs. Thighs and whispers, I whispered into the deeply vulgar ormulu mirror in one of the opulent (after the Dubai school of interior design) bathrooms in ‘lil ol Lil’s palatial master suite, checking my lippy. Boots #7 – so reliable and economical too. I’m sure Joy Borge SWEARS by it. I fucking love Boots, she might bellow, apropos of nothing, other than the pain in her builders’ arse. I sashayed back to the bowl of vomit to find a pleasantly arousing site: Chapsworth lying face down in his butlers white shirt. Only. His magnificent legs spread like mighty oaks, his tremendous buttocks protruding alluringly through the white cotton. Shame he was asleep.

Still, I had plenty to take care of, like my newly acquired billions. Just a few legal niceities to sort out. It had all been such a tragic accident – but we were so very close, even after such a short romance. That’s why he left his entire fortune to me, and a lovely island called Battee, well more of an atoll really, with a lovely palm tree and a litle beach bar called Crusoes, to the adorable Chapsworth! That’s when I came up with the idea of the floating atolls in the Carribean – a bit like the Maldives, but with drugs and studs, hookers and hoodlums just to add some real retro-romantic-rumpy-pumpy-for-the-old-the-rich-and-the-humpy-dumpy. But only in cyberspace, of course. http://www.tranfrankia.tv became a legend in its own launch time. And Tran Frank became ruler of all before her. Chapsworth changed his name to Merc Anthony and got murdered by a rent boy on crack. So much for a dull Monday eh? Virtual reality is so much less stressful than hateful, horrid real life, espcially when you’re the queen as well! 

Then I got out of the shower and realised that it had all been a dream!

 

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The Diary Of Tran Frank Six.

Squirrels Ate My Crack.

Monday.

It was buried in the garden under the begonias. In Liddle plastic bags. 

Then it  all turned into The Liddle Shop Of Horrors! 

Allow me to explain it all as best I can – even though it couldn’t possibly ever make any sense.  OMFG!  The pain, the humiliation, the addiction, the squirrels, the fluffy tails, the Hitchcockian horror, the desecration of my sunflowers by dark, animal forces (on crack) and… well…

A hunky mixed-race rapper (or should that be wrapper, as he was initially so sweet?) was something of a fuck-buddy of mine for the occasional drug-fuelled, long weekend through the summer of 2009.  I believe he called himself Crackatoa professionally. I’d love to think that his moniker was inspired by my very own, uptight little burning volcano of love. 

Then there was my bank manager, Mr Panini, who once offered me a loan at zero percent, after I’d absent-mindedly dropped my handbag under his desk and tasted his assets, as it were.  Actually, Crackatoa’s ‘professional’ name has bugger all to to with Mr Panini… or does it?  You see, I took Crackatoa, better known as Colin Dale,  to meet Mr Panini, who was most accommodating.  Naturally, I filmed it all on my iPhone.  Mr Panini wouldn’t, or couldn’t have noticed – as he was face-down; getting royally rogered by Colin. Crackerjack! You could say, although not exactly a ‘Crackerjack pencil’.  Crackatoa was hung like a horse on Ketamine. That’s why he needed the Viagra.

Mr Panini was soon innocently ‘banking’ Crackatoa big-time – Those ‘pregnant’ Yardie mulettas  don’t come cheap, I can tell you – they cost at least £50 per kilo in real terms!  Quite good value, generally, I’d say, apart from the unfortunate ones who suffered ‘miscarriages’ on the plane. Cheap condoms eh? 

Lets talk eco-friendly shall we? No, not white people with dreadlocks, but Trains.  Personally, I think EuroStar should have ‘Miss Carriages’, where only females (and, perhaps, conveniently, mulettas) are allowed to wear their Hijabs-and-or-dread-hats, pleated maxi- skirts and-or-burkas, and, of course, the holy Christian cross, bejazus!  A haven for the modern-day Mata-Hari, where I, Tran Frank, could become a martyr!  A true martyr for the cause… the cause and effect of the effectiveness of You Too being the main factor in the recovery of the Irish economy/the second potato famine.  I mean, look at Abba (and which tranny wouldn’t drink in their iconic style?) and the fact that they were actually more important to the Swedish economy than Vulva!  Such lovely, safe cars!  Just like driving a Smorgasbord with a dashboard through the mountains and by the Fjords. Pickled herring anyone?  Although, for some strange reason, that makes me instinctively reach for the lavender talc.  Oooh, don’t! 

I can’t wait to visit Dykea on the ever- romantic North Circular to catch-up on my cheap rug-munching and to pick-up closetted couples in the scented-candle dept for heavenly threesomes!  

Surely, there must be a dogging site near to Dykea?  The bleakness and total lack of any aesthetic pleasures would surely suggest that a once handsome, dusky,  ex-premier-league footballer would be ineffably drawn to the car park of the Trollyday Inn, along with hundreds of other extremely attractive suburbanites in ill-fitting, cheap ‘bondage’ gear, as they activated a complicated, multi-texting-thingie-event and headed towards some suitably discreet-yet-foreboding, dark, industrial wasteland in which to invade each others’ spaces by mutual agreement.  It’s not really my thing, I have to say – as I don’t drive a Range Rover, or anything with wheels (other than my pink and purple Tyson  – I call it Mike – with its dual thermosuckerthingie). It was a bit of a bargain in my local Ukip charity shop where I like to stock-up on lovely, feminine, pleated, pink maxi-skirts and diaphanous  purple, fuscia and mauve rayon blouses. 

Don’t even suggest that a hint of  the hot flushes had affected my state of mind!  My taste has always been towards a Thatcherite look.  Sensible,  mumsy, practical, yet subtly vaguely dominatrix-esque.  My lovely local yokels just adore it – especially when I talk dirty (this lady IS for turning!). Most of them work at the local call-centre (most of their clients are Indian companies looking to ‘out-source’, so my guys have to watch hours of Bollywood movies and pretend that called Shiva or something).  The other phalanx work at the local Service Station on the M whatever – the Costalotta Cafe, Bugger Queen and Travel Dodge. All class acts, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, back to Colin Dale’s begonias and those fluffy-tailed space-invaders!

Gerbils?  Richard Queer?  Hey, this is way beyond that particular urban, ahem, ‘myth’. The squirrels, however, weren’t up a crack, they were on crack, having dug it up from Crakatoa’s back garden and consumed it, presumably in small measures (like little nuts); otherwise the crazy-paving patio would have been littered with little fluffy, dead tree rats who’d OD’d.  Not quite the cull that the local council had in mind. But, little squirrel cracky-wack had had years of experience of storage and gradual partaking of his chosen ‘five a day’.  Clever. Controlled addiction – rather like me and my lavender talc. And You Too.  Giving Larry blow jobs,  and my frequent trips to Uganda with Beano. 

After a while, of course, the supply of crack ran out and the squirrels had to go into animal rehab with some sunflower seed remedies and a load of pecans and almonds that they’d nicked from the allotment belonging to Al Queerda, a radical, underground Muslim gay club, in my local village!  Not that the locals didn’t notice all those ‘women’ in Bhurkas disappearing into the local ‘cottage’ hospital, which had been recently shut down by the coalition.  Rumours soon began circulating about them being funded by Foamali pirates.  As if!  A bit of a training ground for suicide bummers, I’d suspect.  Nothing like a hairy butt in your face as you pray in the erstwhile mosgue in a light, white cotton gown to get you inspired to become a martyr.  Seventy three virgins!  And all of them  trannies!  Bring on the holy strap-ons!

© Frank Lynne-Mint.  2011.

iPhone Phinger Painting © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

The Baron’s Court

16 Apr
1977.  St James's Park? Battersea?

London 1977

In the early-to-mid-70s, Earl’s Court could certainly lay claim to being London’s first ‘gay village’, but back then, the expression ’gay’ was in its relative cultural infancy – and the Red Tops were still putting-out clichéd stuff about paedophile vicars and teachers – some of which, unfortunately, was true, although the vast majority were evidently warped closet-cases.

Generally, however, gay men were perceived by the media as being some kind of low-life-ne’er-do-wells who apparently wore brown, suede hush-puppies, tight, white trousers and minced around like Larry Grayson (shut that door!), Liberace or Charles Hawtrey.

What forbidden planet were we allegedly on?

In 1974, RCA had released my first solo album Messages worldwide (see my sleeve notes to Messages – The Reissue, 2009 ) when I was just 22 and I mistakenly thought that my career was on an upward trajectory after receiving some excellent reviews and plenty of press attention – not to mention the absolute joy of having played a Steinway Concert Grand piano live with a full orchestra on my 11-minute piece-de resistance ‘Messages From Heaven’ at the old AIR Studios on the top floor of what is now Nike Town at Oxford Circus.

It still sounds pretty good today, although a touch over-elaborate, in my humble opinion. Perhaps that was something to do with me being 21 at the time of the recording and the fact that Mark Edwards, my erswhile manager and producer, was an upper-class gay, alcoholic junkie who looked just like Gandalf, as later portrayed in by Ian McKellen in the film cycle of Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings’.  Just to over-egg the traumatic pudding, he was also obsessed with me, but was firmly rebuffed (why on earth would I be attracted to someone who looked like that?). Then came the violent abuse. Physical and mental. Sometimes in public.  Fleeting, horrible memories linger in my brain like rancid leftovers in a broken-down fridge which was disposed of at the local dump a long time ago. I’m not in denial at all, but why should I invoke traumatic memories – what’s the point?  He was just a fucked-up, grade-A bastard who for some reason sported a ludicrously creepy beard featuring two 8-inch plaits.

Messages

Messages

One of the songs on ‘Messages’ is called ‘The Earl’s Court Case’ which was me imagining myself as a judge of the sleazier side of what was then a fairly run-down area populated by transients, back-packers (mostly Antipodean), junkies, hookers and rent boys and their punters who filled the cheap hotels. At night it became a mecca for gay males, who were, back in the day, almost exclusively caucasian. So, if you’re familiar with this slice of West London,  I guess that ‘The Baron’s Court’ (the title of this true tale that you’re perusing. Keep up!) could have been a sequel song to my Messages song ‘The Earl’s Court Case’, if I’d ever written it.

This makes me pause for thought: has anyone ever actually written a sequel song? I imagine that such a thing could have occurred in the crasser quarters of American country music – with all its tear-jerking bathos and commercially-led emotional arm-twisting. Not that I could steel myself to cynically write something so contrived. That’s not to say that there are not great songs in that genre – one of my favourites is ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston, albeit in its beautifully-sung Pop/R&B incarnation. It was written by Dolly Parton, and her original version proves what a great song it is. Willy Nelson and his tremulous stoner voice gives ‘good song’ though, as did Glen Campbell, via the fantastic songwriting talent of Jimmy Webb.

After falling into abject poverty in the second half of 1975,  I suddenly found myself becoming fairly successful in early ’76, having been recommended for the job of keyboard player in the top pop group Pilot by their former keyboard player Billy Lyall, who was a friend and a fellow gay man.

Billy had co-written their biggest hit ‘Magic’, which had been a top ten single on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as being the music for a Coca Cola advert. So it was not like he was going to be short of cash any time soon. Sadly, like so many of my friends and lovers, he was to die from an AIDS- related illness over a decade later, in 1989. R.I.P you sweet man. Thanks for the friendship and the props. I got the gig with Pilot on the spot and was soon recording all the keyboards on their album ‘Two’s A Crowd’ in Abbey Road’s legendary Studio Two (The Beatles’ second home, before their untimely demise) with the equally legendary Alan Parsons (who had famously been the sound engineer on Pink Floyd’s multimillion-selling Dark Side Of The Moon) in the production seat.

Suddenly, I was on a retainer, which was a bit of a first. As I recall, it was the princely sum of £60 a week (plus expenses and session fees), which was not bad for someone who was essentially broke, but it was hardly generous, coming from a very successful pop group.

If you put it into historical, economic perspective, the rent for my scummy basement ‘flat’ (I use the description loosely) at number 9, St Luke’s Road in Notting Hill – which basically comprised of one room and a very basic kitchen, with no bathroom and an outside toilet (outside!) – was £7 a week. Meanwhile, the members of Pilot swished around respectively in a Lotus Esprit, a Porsche and a vintage Rolls Royce. I didn’t drive – not that I could afford to. Still don’t.

Pilot with myself (top left) and my dog Sam.

Pilot in 1976 with myself (top left) and my dog Sam.

Pilot’s catchy little ditties frankly left me cold, although the musicianship was of a high standard. I’m a pretty proficient player myself. Alan Parsons was a big fan of the uber-producer-of-the-60s (and convicted murderer of the future) Phil Spector, who had famously multi-tracked many of the instruments on his recordings – especially the pianos. Alan made me play the keyboard parts over and over again – even solos (I had to duplicate every single note) – then multi-tracked them at ever-so-slightly different tape speeds (thereby putting them ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune) to create a big fat sound, using a new-fangled 16-track (16 track!) tape machine.

We also did a few TV shows – traveling only in vintage, black Daimler limo’s –  and then we had to run the gauntlet of hundreds of screaming girls, which was a whole new surreal experience for me.

My extraordinary dog Sam (rescued from the Battersea Dog’s Home in 1974) came with me everywhere, appearing on stage sitting next to my keyboards wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap.

He absolutely lapped-up all the attention and everyone fell in love with him – he was also a complete, polysexual doggy-slag – he’d shag anything that wagged its tail.

However, the ultimate ironic contrast was being dropped-off after a show by a big old Daimler limo outside my dingy home – and slamming the door loudly so that the neighbours would notice (although that was actually a bit of post-modern – or most-podern, as alter-ego and pretend-friend Thom Topham would say. I didn’t actually give a shit what the neighbours thought, apart from my dear friend Caroline Guinness, who lived in my old flat on the first floor upstairs. But we were so close and in-tune that everything was doubly ironic and therefore thrice most-podern.

Unfortunately ‘Two’s A Crowd’ was to prove to be Pilot’s swan song, so suddenly, at the beginning of 1977, I was out of a job. Ian Bairnson, the guitarist, and David Paton, the bassist and singer, got absorbed into what became the massively successful Alan Parsons Project. Needless to say, I didn’t. Not that I was a big fan of prog-rock anyway. That didn’t mean that I couldn’t perform it with aplomb, if required – I was really good at the twiddly-widdly bits – but my real love was soul music and soulful rock, and therefore, by default,  creating the soulful, singer-songwriter rock music that I was now starting to write in earnest.

By far the best gay hang-out in Earl’s Court at the time was called The Catacombs, where the DJ Chris Lucas would play the best American soul, funk and disco imports from the US.  Sometimes, the very talented and latterly legendary DJ Talulah would guest on the decks too.  This was a cramped, low-ceilinged basement which was essentially a glorified coffee bar. The only available seating was in the booths in the  the vaults under the pavements, as the building was on a corner. These were arrayed in an L-shape around the stone-flagged dancefloor, with its central pillar. It was kind-of crypt-like. After 11pm, when the pubs closed, it became a seething mass of gyrating, sweaty bodies, dancing their asses-off to the fabulous music, many sniffing poppers in the badly-ventilated (air-con – are you kidding?) smoke-filled gloom. It was also massively ‘cruisy’ and the atmosphere literally stank of man-sex. In those days, night clubs had to offer membership, or some form of ludicrous  food-with-temporary-membership deal (a bit of coleslaw and a cocktail sausage roll anyone?) in order to serve alcohol after 11pm, when the pubs had closed.

The Catacombs was not a licenced premises (how formal and 70s does that sound?), but I, like many others, would have often nipped into the off-licence around the corner earlier in the evening and bought a quarter bottle of vodka, or whatever, to smuggle-in later. Also, this was when the gay scene started discovering recreational drugs – and the main, cheap drugs of choice at the time were barbiturate pills which were branded as mandrax (or ‘mandies’ as they were better known) and purple or blue amphetamines – usually slimming pills aimed at women – which were known as uppers or blues, or simply ‘speed’.

In November 1975 I had been thrilled to find myself at Bruce Springsteen’s debut British gig at The Hammersmith Odeon – a friend of mine at his record label had blagged me a free ticket. There had been feverish interest in ‘The Boss’. I owned all his records and was already a massive fan. This was more than vindicated by his incredible performance with the magnificent E-Street Band, which left me elated and inspired. No more semi-prog-pretense for me – I felt that I was now confident enough to start writing and singing from the heart and soul, rather than the head – which was exemplified, I hope, in my 1980 album Fresh Blood (which was reissued on CD in 2009 and is on iTunes and all the usual online outlets). Reviews at the time compared me to Bowie, Costello and Springsteen and I was beyond thrilled.  Rolling Stone Magazine had described Fresh Blood as ‘a sparkling debut’ (not that it was – it was my second album) and the review concluded with the line: ‘And BOY can this guy write lyrics!’.

After Springsteen’s brilliant show, I headed for The Catacombs, feeling like I was walking on air with a metaphorical woolly THE BOSS hat on my head. My good mood must have been infectious, because within an hour I was heading back to my grungy basement with a beautiful, masculine Spanish painter. Now, this may well be an urban myth, but the next day, one of my friends called to say, somewhat breathlessly, that post-gig, Springsteen had been seen slipping into The Catacombs.

I had heard rumours that he was bisexual, and certainly his performance suggested, subtlety, that he was in touch with his homo-erotic-emotional side (porn in the USA perchance?). I guess I’ll never know if that was true (unless I come across him on Grindr).

After the Catacombs closed at around 1.30am, most of the people who’d been in the club would ‘cruise’ around the block – probably much to the annoyance of the local residents. There was also an endless stream of cars whose drivers were looking to pick someone up. I was a regular pavement-pounder, as it were.

On one occasion, in the summer of 1977, I became aware that the driver of a vintage racing-green, convertible Bristol (a beautiful, very expensive. hand-made British car that is no longer built) seemed to be shadowing me as I ambled along, probably singing to myself – no doubt slightly high on a mandie and what was left of my quarter bottle of vodka. The driver was a bearded, bespectacled and respectable-looking man of around 40 – not my type at all. He looked like something from central casting for an old-school movie about the English aristocracy – probably starring David Niven. Eventually he stopped the car and smiled, leant-over, opened the passenger door and indicated for me to get in. I was intrigued enough to do so, despite my better judgement.

‘Well, good morning you handsome fellow! Would you care to accompany me for a drive to somewhere wild and exotic, like the Essex coast? Asked the driver in a ludicrously upper-class, cut-glass voice; but with a twinkle in his eye.

“I don’t know about that,” I said, laughing, “mind you, it is a beautiful night. And I do fancy some bracing sea air.”

“Excellent!” Said the posh man, then added, “shall we drive around the corner and take the roof down, so as not to draw attention to ourselves?” We were already drawing curious looks from the cruisers promenading by like poorly-paid extras in a film noir, porn B-movie. “Sure, why not? I replied, taking a swig from my quarter bottle of vodka, then making a roll-up. I asked the driver his name as the car purred-off towards Old Brompton Road. “It’s Cuthbert, I’m afraid…” he said (I stifled a chuckle) as he turned into the uber-posh, residential enclave called The Boltons, “but everyone calls me Bertie.”

“I’m Stephen, but everyone calls me Steve.”

He pulled-up outside a huge, white, stucco-fronted mansion set in what was evidently a massive walled garden, and stopped the car. “This used to be Douglas Fairbanks’ London home.” He said, turning a handle above the windscreen.He then got out and folded the fabric roof down.

The wonderful scent of night jasmine assailed my nostrils as I turned and asked: “So Bertie, I know this fabulous motor is a Bristol, but how old is it?” “It’s a Type 407 from 1961. It was the first production Bristol to feature a Chrysler V8 engine.” He said enthusiastically as he got back in. “I’ll bet it’s fast.” I said, sinking deeper into the luxurious, soft, cream leather seat. “Indeed it is!” Said Bertie, as we headed off in an Easterly direction, the warm summer night’s air ruffling my  longish hair. “I’d have to drive you to Germany to really show you though!” I laughed and started to sing in a vaguely German accent: “Fun, fun, fun on ze autobahn…”

“What song is that?” He asked, as we passed the gaudily-lit Harrods on our right. “Or did you just make it up?” “No I didn’t make it up, although I do write songs… it was a big hit by a German electronic band called Kraftwerk a couple of years ago.”

“Electronic?” He looked puzzled. “I’m not familiar with such a thing. I’m more of an opera chap myself.”

At this point I was tempted to sing in a cod-operatic fashion: “Opera, oh ha ha ha, how are you-hoo-hoo?” But decided against it.

“So…tell me Stephen…”

“Steve!” I interjected, “no-one calls me Stephen… Bertie.”

“So, erm, Steve, is that what you do for a living – write songs?” He asked, as we swung around the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham place – the flag was flying, so her Maj’ was at home – then turned into Birdcage Walk. “I try,” I replied, “but my last, well my first, album came out nearly three years ago. Are you going to drive East along the embankment?” “Yes, the romantic route.” Said Bertie. “So what do you do in life? I asked him, building another roll-up. “I’m a surgeon.” He replied, matter-of-factly. “I see,” I said, wishing I had some grass to add to my smoke ‘that’s impressive.’

“And where do you live?” I asked. “Baron’s Court.” He answered, “My late uncle Peregrine bequeathed me one of those wonderful studio houses on the Talgarth Road.

“Wow!” I said, “with its vast, double-height studio room – that must be fantastic; lucky you, but what about the traffic noise?

“I installed a form of double glazing.” He replied, turning on Radio 3 on the car radio. Fortunately, we were regaled by some of my favourite composers (Debussy, Delius, Satie and Ravel – as opposed to some dreary, pompous operatic histrionics) as we headed through The City, then the wastelands of the East End, on our way to the Essex coast, which I’d never visited before, not least in a vintage Bristol convertible. Fun, fun, fun on the autobahn… or at least the A13.

Bertie was full of what appeared to be genuine curiosity about my creativity in songwriting. He was asking: did I write the lyrics or the music first?

A somewhat predictable question based on lack of knowledge. Answer: neither. But… mostly music first, then singing ‘nonsense’ words along with musical improvisation on the piano to form the bones of a song. Unlike Elton John – who always works with the words first, apparently. That’s not to say that I don’t do that either. Sometimes what I thought what was a mere poem becomes the basis, or the complete lyric to a song. “You write poetry?” He asked, as we skirted the grim industrial wastelands of  Dagenham and Tilbury, having turned-off the A13 and headed South-East. “Yes, I do,” I replied, “I have a potential collection which, perhaps ironically, is called Songs Without Tunes.” “Why ironic?” “The clue is in the title. Most of my poetry is too abstract in its meter to be a lyric, but sometimes poems do become lyrics, and on other occasions, they can inspire, or kick-start lyrics with a title, or a poetic fleeting memory or an emotional impulse…”

“I’d love to read some of your poetry.” Said Bertie, as we headed towards Leigh-On-Sea. The sky soon started to glow with a silvery pre-dawn light as the ever-widening Thames Estuary started to reveal itself in muddy reflections as we bowled along with the sea air in our hair listening to ‘The Walk To The Paradise Garden’ by Delius, which is one of my favourite-ever classical pieces.

Leigh-On-Sea seemed to have a certain, faded charm in its old town, despite the endless swathes of post-war chalet bungalows, mock-tudor semi-detached houses and ugly little sixties boxes with beyond-tacky, mock-Georgian’ features’ which threatened to strangle its almost soulful heart with their architectural mediocrity, like an oversized, cheap nylon scarf.

Now the salty sea air and the open-top breezes were becoming an ever-more sensual pleasure as we purred through Southend-On-Sea, with its kiss-me-quick, low-rent ambience and closed amusement arcades, fish and chip shops and ice cream parlours. There was not a soul to be seen on the streets.  Hardly surprising, as morning was only just beginning to break. Yes, I know. Cat Stephens’ ‘Morning Has Broken’ (a singer-songwriter that I always admired, before he found Allah and started to look like a member of the Taliban). He had been such a beautiful man.

After we passed the last of the ubiquitous caravan parks (“South African-style townships for the Cockney holiday makers”, I quipped) the endless mud flats and shabby industrial buildings near the shore were beginning to give way to sandy inlets and hidden coves as the rising sun started to glint on the calm waters. Colourful boats bobbed benignly as seagulls soared above us, squawking triumphantly, as if to challenge the supremacy of the serene and sensual music emanating from the car’s powerful sound system.

“Steve…eve…eve…” A disembodied voice was resonating and interrupting my dream of renovating an imagined art-deco beach house in Leigh-On-Sea. I blinked and opened my eyes to find Bertie gently shaking my shoulder and saying: “Stephen –  I mean Steve –  you fell asleep. We’re back home now, well, at my home, in Baron’s Court.” The pleasingly abstract fog started to clear.

Evidently, I had succumbed to the heady combination of sea air, vodka, a mandrax and the late night… to a soundtrack of classical, impressionistic music. Nice.

Bertie certainly hadn’t bored me to sleep.

“Come in for a while – have a drink,” said Bertie in his ridiculously posh voice, “then I’ll drive you home later if you like.” There was a slightly plaintive edge to his voice, I noticed, as my brain started to revive. “Sure, sure,” I mumbled, as he closed the convertible’s fabric roof, then opened the passenger door for me in a gentlemanly fashion.

The rush-hour traffic thundered by on Talgarth Road. I followed him up the stone steps into the imposing Arts and Craft house and asked him “When were these studios built?”. “1891.” Bertie replied, as he opened the front door, revealing a rather grand hallway, complete with an ornate terracotta-tiled floor, “and they were grade-two* listed just recently in 1970.” He added, checking his mail on an Art-Nouveau console table. I couldn’t help noticing that the letters were addressed to Sir Cuthbert Donaldson.

“So, you’re a sir!” I said. “Yes, I’m afraid I am, a life peer, or a Baron, if you prefer, courtesy of Her Majesty.”

“How come?’ I asked, as he led me into the wonderfully proportioned, North-facing (of course) studio room, furnished with relatively modern antiques, mostly by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. “For services rendered by cutting-up members of the royal family, apparently.” Said the Baron dryly, rather like John Cleese in a Monty Python Sketch.

“How deliciously apposite that you live in such chic splendour in Baron’s Court.” I said. He chuckled as he poured large – very large – measures of vintage Remy Martin into huge, crystal, balloon glasses for us: ” Yes, isn’t life grand sometimes? 1961 was a pretty good year,” he said as he swirled the brandy in the glass then inhaled the fumes as if they were from a pipe of the finest opium, then added: “and it also marked the birth of my beloved motorcar.” He clinked his glass against mine.  I was somewhat concerned that  the no-doubt, priceless Sevres Chrystal glasses might shatter if our mutual toast was over-enthusiastic. Luckily, they remained intact as the Baron continued to spoil me with vintage cognac for what was ostensibly… breakfast.

1977. Me on a borrowed bike by the river in Saltford, where I grew up.  Visiting the family.

1977. Me on a borrowed bike by the river in Saltford, where I grew up. Visiting the family.

‘Baron Bertie’ was true to his word and dutifully drove me home to Notting Hill (or Westbourne Park, to be more accurate). I asked him to drop me at the end of St Luke’s Road, as I would have been embarrassed for him to see the shabby basement that I inhabited.  Naturally, we exchanged numbers.

A couple of days later the phone rang, and Bertie rather shyly invited me to dinner the next evening, adding that cooking cordon bleu food was one of his passions – and that he would like us to sample a different glass of vintage wine with each course.  Mmmm – that would make a change from my home-made shepherd’s pie with half a bottle of plonk, I thought, as I accepted his invitation.

He asked me to bring along some of my poetry, so, the next day I photocopied a selection from ‘Songs Without Tunes’ at the local print shop for 5p a copy. I obviously wasn’t expected to bring any wine, so took the ten poems as a present for his Lordship, or whatever you call a Baron.

I arrived at the appointed hour of 7pm and Bertie greeted me at the door with a glass of champagne. “Barons De Rothschild 1952 – a very good year for this delicate blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noire and Pinot Meunier from their best terroirs!” Enthused Bertie as I followed him downstairs into a smallish, yet ornately decorated dining room (“Original William Morris Wallpaper above the oak panelling.” He told me later) which overlooked a charming, patio garden (“Gertrude Jeckyll designed it – she had an affair with my uncle Peregrine.”).

The evening sun poured into the room along with the heady scents of honeysuckle, jasmine and roses which wafted  through the open French Windows on what was a splendidly sultry summer night.

“1952? What a coincidence!” I exclaimed, between sips of the precious, effervescent nectar (how much was a bottle worth?), “The year I was born! A toast to the Barons De Rothschild and to the benevolence of Baron Bertie!”

We clinked our glasses and he smiled shyly and led me to an ancient stone bench outside. I then presented him with my selection of photocopied poems in a manilla envelope on which I’d inscribed: To Bertie, a selection of my humble verse, from Steve Swindells, with affection. “What a charming present! Thank you so much.” He said, obviously touched, as he opened the  envelope and pulled out a page. “Broken Roots – that’s an interesting title. Would you read it for me?” I took another sip of the exquisite champagne and answered: ‘I’d like you to read it, if you don’t mind. To see if you catch the meaning and the meter.’

‘Of course, I’d be delighted.’ I built a roll-up as he started to read aloud:

“I waited for my beverage,  the meter let me down. I sank into my silent room and tried to make some sounds.

But nothing would come easy on that misty, autumn night, I forced my hand, to make a stand but soon gave up the fight.

The consciousness of number one, my inspiration would not come, emaciated, like a tree, in barren autumn, fallen leaves.

The tree did not draw in its roots to show the world its fresh, green shoots. I wanted to forget my past and find myself some greener grass.

I pondered my organic dreams and tried suppressing primal screams whilst waiting for a fateful quirk, I tried to make my thesis work.

Confusion caught me in my prime, though I was guilty of no crime, I ‘kept thinking of the way I looked instead of hiding in my books.

Scientific abstract art is like an artificial fart. I wanted to combine extremes, but traumas break your roots, it seems.”

He paused and said: “The last line is very good, and the one before made me laugh –  at its irony, of course.” He coughed lightly and continued.

“I want to climb out of my brain and sing the world a sweet refrain. My old dilemma won’t sit down, my feet are firmly off the ground.

The summer of my discontent, I hope the winter might relent. I’ll make the autumn circumvent the barriers that heaven sent.

I want to plant a row of trees, to take my pleasure when I please. My bird in hand gives me a push; two hands are worth more than a bush.

My broken roots will surely mend, my season will come ’round again. I’m really longing for the spring, to find what fate, or nature brings.”

He  smiled at me, raising his nearly empty crystal flute.   “Does that indicate that you approve?” I asked brightly: “you did spontaneously pull out a rather appropriate poem.”

“Indeed I did, and I like it very much,” said Bertie, “particularly the seasonal and horticultural metaphors. Pleasingly adept, yet filled with allusions to frustration and loss. I see by the date you typed that it was written last winter. Evidently, you were somewhat depressed, yet…” “… looking forward to a fresh start… this year.”

“That’s the spirit!” Enthused Bertie, leading me to an antique, oval table, which was elaborately set for two. Several pieces of very formal-looking, antique silver cutlery – rather like what one might see at a royal banquet – were placed on each side of pale red leather place mats which were inscribed with Bertie’s monogram in gold – on a crisply starched, white linen tablecloth.

He lit the tall, red candles in a large silver candelabra, which looked Georgian.  Each table setting featured five (five!), crystal glasses of various shapes and sizes. “One for each course…” said the Baron, noticing my slightly raised eyebrows and hint of a smile, “I must adjourn to the kitchen.” “Can I come?” I asked, eager to see what level of culinary professionalism he might aspire to. “I’d rather you didn’t, as I’d prefer each course to be an – ahem –  epic… epicurean surprise for you.”

I was evidently about to be spoiled rotten with gourmet delights and fine wines , but couldn’t help wondering if he had secreted a culinary assistant in his kitchen who’d had to take an oath of silence, like a Trappist Monk.

“Firstly, knock back the last of your shampoo, and I will pour you a fine glass of South African Pinot Grigio from my aunt’s vineyard in Port Elizabeth. She bought it off that awful painter who was known as the King Of Kitsch and incredibly successful.” “Tretchikoff?” I asked, “I wish I owned one!”

Bertie looked slightly puzzled a he uncorked a half bottle then showed me the label (Trechtikoff Estate, Port Elizabeth, 1967), poured me a glass, then placed the bottle in a silver cooler.  I pondered what the first course might entail whilst I savoured the wine, until he returned two minutes later with two small plates – they looked like antique Royal Worcester – and placed one in front me saying: “Allow me to present an amuse bouche of a home-made blini with sour cream, Beluga caviar and a chopped, hard-boiled quail’s egg.”

I visualised an imaginary menu spinning around like the newspaper headlines in the  classic film Citizen Kane and dutifully slipped into an epic, epicurean dream which I only woke up from the next day, in Bertie’s bed, which he’d earlier revealed had once belonged to Napoleon.

Over dinner, he’d also imparted the rather juicy information that in the early sixties a certain European Royal’s sister – for whom he’d been appointed surgeon – had been having a lesbian affair with a chorus girl in the world of musical theatre.  In a curiously  misplaced form of noblesse oblige this particular Queen had banished her sister’s lover to a small, Caribbean island (with a generous allowance and a charming house)… for life.  And this, added The Baron, was why the Princess, who was still very much alive and notorious for her love of gin, was still such a regular visitor to said island.

As I prepared to leave, Bertie casually remarked that Dame Joan Sutherland, the famous Australian operatic diva, was coming to stay with him that very day. Perhaps I’d like to meet her? He continued to invite me intimate, gourmet dinners for a few weeks, until I felt obliged to rebut his amorous advances.

I might well have immensely enjoyed the extravagant meals and vintage wines in his wonderful house in Baron’s Court, but I was unwilling to be caught in the Baron’s clutches like some sort of pet, bohemian poet by whom he wanted to be fucked rotten, or had even entertained fantasies of romantic involvement with. Baron’s Court was not for me.

Earl’s Court was more my thing.

© Steve Swindells. 2014. All rights reserved.

Sex N’ Drugs N’ Sausage Rolls

3 Mar

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A multimedia collection of short stories and true tales by Steve Swindells 

https://steveswindells.wordpress.com/about

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When Whitney’s Band Jammed At The Wag.

12 Jan

Way back in 1986, I was well established as a successful club promoter and party organiser, having largely failed to make it as a singer-songwriter, despite having had two major record deals, great reviews and – in 1980 – lots of airplay in the US.

It was ironic that I was now well-known as ‘a face’ in club land. Myself and Kevin Millins, my co-director in The Pure Organisation, even appeared in the centre-spread of The Face magazine’s 100th issue which featured ‘100 of London’s Movers and Shakers’ in 1988.  Our fellow posers (or should that be poseurs?) included Jazzy B, Norman Jay, Leigh Bowery, DJ Fat Tony and Chris and Spike of The Wag Club, to name a few.

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One half of The Face magazine’s 100th issue centrefold – I’m in the Levi jacket, wearing sunglasses (must have been a heavy night before) behind Leigh Bowery.

The Pure Organisation didn’t have a ‘share’ in my open mic/jamming nights, however, as it was entirely my concept, being a musician who’d always loved to improvise. The first was called Downbeat and had started out at a little basement club called The Piano Bar (now The Arts Theatre Club) in Frith Street in Soho in 1986, as London’s first open-mic, club night – It was soon jam-packed every Thursday (people used to queue on the stairs when it was full – we had to operate a one-out-one-in door policy).  I would kick-off the night by improvising on the baby-grand piano on its tiny stage, as the club quickly filled-up. Then a gay, black American musician called Eric Robinson (who had a background in professional gospel music and had worked with some of the biggest US names in that field) would take over on the piano, as he knew hundreds of songs – which I didn’t. Then I would direct operations on the mic’, from a tiny mixer in front of the stage.

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Some very well-known singers performed spontaneously there, including the late, great Sharon Redd (sadly, she died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992); Afrodiziac (who famously sang the ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ chorus with The Special A.K.A), featuring Claudia Fontaine, Caron Wheeler and Carroll Thompson; Juliet Roberts, Mica Paris, Mary Pearce and Angie Brown – all great black, British female singers. American regulars at Downbeat included Kym Mazelle and Chaka Khan’s sister, Taka Boom.

One night, the crowd were mesmerised by a very tall, voluptuous woman sporting platinum-blonde dreadlocks piled high on her head sauntering into the club, swathed in designer clothes – she was like a galleon in full sail. She came straight over to me and asked – in a very LA accent – if I was Steve.  I replied affirmatively and she asked if she could sing. ‘I don’t know – can you?’ I replied jokingly and she laughed in an uproarious fashion then said, hands on hip: ‘Honey – aah caan SAAANG! And my name is Victoria Wilson James!’ She then sashayed over to Eric at the piano and whispered in his ear.  He smiled broadly and started to play the intro to ‘And I Am Telling You’, the show-stopping song from the stage musical ‘Dream Girls’.  All eyes were on her as she belted it out with highly proficient gusto, before receiving a well-deserved, standing ovation.

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Victoria Wilson James In The 90s

A few days later, after I’d invited her to dinner at my place in South London,  she explained that she’d told some globetrotting friends in LA that she was planning to fly to London to further her career in musical theatre and as a soul singer, and had asked where the ‘hottest place to go’ might be on a Thursday night (the day she would arrive) and they’d unanimously suggested Downbeat, which kind-of shocked –  and pleased me.

Then she told me how she’d tried, in advance of traveling to London, to find a cheap hotel in some directory-or-other (this was, of course, pre-internet) and had found somewhere in The Old Kent Road, of all places.  She’d turned-up in a taxi, with six pieces of matching Louis Vuitton luggage, only to find that it was, basically a hostel for the homeless which rented-out private ‘rooms’ (‘More like cells.’ She said derisively) to help fund their charitable work.

I immediately invited her to stay – I lived in Walworth, near Elephant And Castle, at the time. And she totally messed-up my front room for several months!  This was a while before she became one of the lead singers of Soul II Soul (she sang lead vocals on their hit ‘A Dream’s A Dream’ in 1990). She always thanked me for setting her on the road to success.  Soul II Soul’s founder Jazzie B was a fellow club promoter at the time – and I knew him and his co-producer Nellee Hooper reasonably well.

The Piano Bar was owned by a gay couple in their 60s, who were queens of the old school.  They also owned Stallions, which had hosted my streety, soulful gay-mixed club ‘The Lift’ every Friday from 1982 for over three years, until it got too successful and had to move to a larger venue, Fouberts, just off Carnaby Street (this was a wonderful club which was stylistically a genuine 60s time-warp, with red velvet booths arranged around a circular dancer floor that featured clusters of tin cans on the ceiling, with ordinary, coloured bulbs in them).  Then, after just a few months,  Fouberts was sold – or maybe the lease ran out, I can’t recall –  and The Lift was forced to move to the rather grand old Embassy Club on Bond Street. Thus Mark Fuller, the co-owner, kick-started his career as a club-and-restaurant tycoon.

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The photo of me taken at The Lift at Stallions that accompanied my two-page interview with The Face magazine in 1983

Bizarrely, regularly to be found playing the fruit machine in the basement bar was Lemmy of Motorhead. So… two ex-members of Hawkwind could be found on a Thursday night at a swishy venue in Mayfair at a largely black, gay club night promoted by one of them… me!

The Embassy Club was a wonderful venue but entirely unsuitable for The Lift crowd, despite me hiring Kiss FM’s Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson to DJ.  It was too posh – and sadly, The Lift slowly died.  But soon after, BAD was born in The Soundshaft in the back of Heaven on Fridays, featuring the brilliant DJs Vicki Edwards and (the late, lamented) Breeze.

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Vicki Edwards. Paris. 1988

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Breeze – 1985? 

In late 1986 ye olde, gaye couple sold The Piano Bar and ‘Downbeat’ temporarily moved to Tuesdays at The Dakota Bar at Heaven, where it was also very successful.  Minnie Driver used to regularly get on the mic and sing jazz and soul classics. I managed to resist to the temptation to ask if her middle name was ‘Cab’, as she was far too nice.

In 1987 Chris and Spike of The Wag Club in Soho offered me the whole club on Thursday nights.  This was undoubtably the coolest, most stylish club in London in the 80s and held around six-hundred people on two floors. I called the night ‘Upbeat’. The main dance floor was downstairs and featured my good friends Vicki Edwards and Raggy D playing soulful, vocal house and New York garage music.  Upstairs was perfect for the open mic night, but, by now I’d become tired of hearing wannabe vocalists singing ‘Summertime’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’ over and over again and decided to make it more of a jam session, with a full-blown band and singers (selected by me from a pool of performers, based on their availability), making up songs on the spot.

All musicians love jamming, regardless of whether they’re famous or not, and the roll call of the guys  (sadly, no female musicians) who regularly jammed with me at The Wag included Culture Club’s Jon Moss, Simple Minds’ Mel Gaynor and Prefab Sprout’s Neil Conti (on drums) and bass players Alan Dias of P.I.L, Winston Blissett (later to play with Massive Attack and Phil Collins) and Dale Davis (later to become Amy Winehouse’s musical director).

Jon, Winston and Dale all became part of my somewhat legendary DanMingo recording project in 2003. All twenty-one tracks that we recorded can be downloaded from my Reverb Nation page.

DanMingo

L-R: Me, Jerry Richards, Jon Moss and Winston Blissett

One night, Upbeat was packed, as usual, and we were jamming up a funky storm, when the manager came up to me on stage and whispered in my ear: ‘The Whitney Houston Band are here.’ I was pleasantly gobsmacked and stopped playing my keyboard momentarily (well, good dynamics were always one of my ‘house rules’), then he added: ‘and they’d like to jam!’

‘Wow!’ I enthused, motioned for the band to finish the number, grabbed the mic and announced: ‘Ladeez and gentlemen, we’re gonna take a break, but don’t go away…’

The band all looked surprised.  I smiled broadly and said ‘We have a very special surprise for you.  Will you please give a very warm, Upbeat-at-The-Wag Club welcome to some truly amazing musicians who were performing at Wembley Arena earlier…I give you The Whitney Houston Band!’ I saw a sea of jaws dropping simultaneously in front of me, then the audience  clapped and whooped and hollered as Whitney’s all-black band filed through the crowd and onto the rather cramped stage.  Me and my musicians were all smiles as we surrendered  our instruments to them, then gathered in front of the stage to take-in the surprise show.

As you would expect, these were amazing players of the highest calibre, and they performed a master class in effortlessly making-up the funkiest, soulful grooves for over an hour. It was pure magic.

As they were playing, the guy who appeared to be their leader, who was playing my keyboards (a Korg T2 and a Roland Juno for the musos amongst you) kept smiling at me and giving me what felt like suspiciously flirty vibes – or was I imagining it?

When they eventually, reluctantly finished (it was nearly closing time) the band leader came straight over to me and I shook his hand, then he hugged me.  I invited him into the little dressing room and he introduced himself as John Simmons, Whitney’s musical director.  I offered him a beer, we sat down and I asked him if he’d like a line of coke (someone had given me a gram, as so often happened if you were a successful club promoter in the heady 80s). He nodded affirmatively and asked him: ‘So is Whitney a dyke?’

‘Of course she is!’ Said John, laughing and touching my leg as I chopped-out a couple of lines.

‘Is Bobby gay?’ I asked.

‘He’s bi… or pretends that he is. Would you like to come to the show tomorrow?’

‘I’d love to, but I have a club night called BAD to run – it’s gay-mixed and in The Soundshaft, at the back of Heaven, every Friday. The music and the crowd are really cool.  Perhaps you’d like to come after the show?  Then I could I come to Wembley Arena on Saturday with a friend?’

‘I’ll be there’ Said John, getting up to leave. ‘I’m a bit tired now, but great to meet you Steve – there will be four, front row tickets for you on the door on Saturday.’

‘That’s amazing John, thanks so much,’ then added cheekily:  ‘will there be backstage passes as well?’

‘Of course! Nice to meet you – see you tomorrow.’  Said John, giving me a hug, then left.

It would have been great if I’d found Whitney’s musical director attractive – but, unfortunately, I didn’t.

He came to BAD the following evening – I’d put him on the guest list, of course – and he later told me how much he’d loved the club.  BAD was packed and had a great atmosphere, as usual, and the funky house music was pumping. I introduced John to The Pet Shop Boys and Jean-Paul Gautier, and they were soon all deep in conversation with each other. John looked across questioningly as I interacted physically with a beautiful young, mixed-race dancer/model by the bar. Well, better not to appear to lead John on, I figured.  After all, when people find you attractive, they always blame you – as if you’d come on to them.

The next evening found me and my fellow keyboardist Eric Robinson with our respective guests (I don’t recall who they were; perhaps they might read this and remind me) sitting in the front row at Wembley Arena, where the stage was ‘in the round’.  I explained to Eric that the last time that I’d been to a concert there, it had featured a proscenium stage and that this had also been a ‘freebie’ given to me by an American admirer: the difference being that I had slept with him the night before! This guy was the conductor of the full orchestra that magically appeared as huge curtains opened behind The Eagles in the second half of their show. I took my great friend Caroline Guinness and we were literally in tears with the emotion of it all.

The lights dimmed and Whitney’s band – all dressed in white suits – were soon playing up a soulful storm on the huge, circular, slowly revolving stage – John winked at me as he passed by – then Whitney’s unmistakable voice soared over them unseen, until she sauntered onto the stage to a huge roar from the crowd of over 12,000, looking fabulous in a tight, black pencil skirt and a crispy white blouse. What a beautiful woman she was! Once all the poppy hits were skillfully performed (this was about five years before ‘I Will Always Love You’, of course), she unexpectedly introduced a gospel section, reminding the crowd that her mother Cissy was a major gospel star and that (say it loud, proud and staccato) CHURCH was where she’d learnt to sing. Now her voice became huge and both her range and elaborate vocal licks were astonishing and emotionally charged. As she started the second song of this gospel section, Eric, sitting next to me, suddenly grabbed my arm, with a sharp intake of breath.  I turned  around questioningly to see his astonished face shaking in disbelief.  ‘What on earth is it?’ I asked, in a stage whisper.

Oh… my…God.  I don’t believe it!’

‘Don’t believe what?’ I hissed.

‘I wrote this goddamn song! I had no idea that it was in her repertoire!’

‘Wowee!’ Was all that I could whisper.

© Steve Swindells.  2014.

Footnote: my current all-star, ad-hoc jamming band is called The Plastic Sturgeons.  So far, my special guests have included Guy (Pink Floyd) Pratt and Dale (Amy Winehouse) Davis.

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