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The Towers Of London (Part 1)

11 Aug

A Photo Blog

 

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Canon EOS 30D. GoProHero3BE.  iPhone4S and iPhoneSE (using the Camera Plus Pro app and Instagram).

 Cover design and graphics by Steve Swindells

Here’s my ambient instrumental multi-track album The Enigma Elevations for your listening enjoyment to accompany the photos.  I recorded this on my Korg T2 in the late 1980s.

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The Shard Seen From Tooley Street. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

On Saturday July 16th 2016, the weather forecast was good (although you wouldn’t think so from the ominous-looking clouds swirling around the ever-photogenic Shard in the photo above) so I decided to set off on a photographic odyssey, capturing not just tall buildings, but London towers of every description. I started off from London Bridge then headed down the beguilingly beautiful Bermondsey Street (the White Cube Gallery is awesome, but doesn’t count as a tower) taking pics of The Shard – designed by starchitect Renzo Piano – from various angles on my three cameras. The GoPro was a recent gift (thanks so much Abdul) and the quality really has blown me away – it’s tiny and looks like a toy, but certainly is not. It shoots great video too. My iPhone 4S recently died on me, so I was forced to buy a new one.  I’d seen good reviews of the iPhoneSE and had noted that it was smaller and cheaper than the 6S, so I piled yet more pressure on my credit cards and took the plunge. The quality of the lens is quite amazing – as you will see in the next photo.

A Shard Day’s Night. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells

I suppose I could have done the obvious thing and payed the outrageous sum of £28 to go to the viewing platform on top of The Shard, but I suffer terribly from vertigo – it actually makes my legs hurt really badly and I get really dizzy – so that wasn’t an option. One thing is for sure – it’s a breathtakingly beautiful building and truly iconic and sculptural.  Truly a thing of wonder.

 

 

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20. Tooley Street. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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A Shard Community. Bermondsey.  Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

I bought this excellent camera – complete with a 50mm lens – for £600 from a close friend in 2003, or thereabouts. He’d been a bit of a pop star and was constantly upgrading his ‘geek gear’.

 

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House Of Shard. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Architecture On Tooley StGlass And Steel.  iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

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Spikes. GoProHer3BE © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

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Shard Hats Obligatory. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

Ain’t No Stoppin’Us Now. iPhoneSE ©Steve Swindells

 

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Behind City Hall. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells

 

 


 

 

 

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A Cluster Of Towers In The City Of London. Taken from Bankside, on the Southern side of The River Thames.  Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

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Tower Bridge Hen Party. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells.  July 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Tower Bridge From The Dancing Fountains. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

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Cruising The Tower Of London. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

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Two Towers Of London And City Hall. GoProHer3BE © Steve Swindells

 

Shard Visions

Shard Visions. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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Golden Tower. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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Houseboats by Tower Bridge. The campaigning MP Jo Cox, who was brutally murdered in her Yorkshire constituency, lived here with her family. The towers Of Canary Wharf Are On The Horizon. Canon EOS 30D

 

 

The housing and architecture on the South Bank of the Thames as you head towards the dramatic architectural statements of Canary Wharf are quite dull and muted.  Mostly dreary 80s stuff with some warped and tired vernaculars going on. But the warehouses and their residential and office (or live-work) conversions in Rotherhithe are mostly quite spectacular. But where are the shops? A lovely old lady (a bit central-casting to be honest) was leaning on the wall above the river looking kind-of wistful. She must have been in her late 70s and was wearing way too much make-up.  She’d seen me taking pics – and had asked why I was doing that. ‘Just because I want to.’ I’d replied. Apropos of nothing she pointed back behind us and stated: ‘That’s my balcony’. It was on the first floor of an ugly 80s block and had a magnificent view across the river to Wapping. She must have read my green-fingered mind and said: ‘The plants are all fake, so much easier my dear.’

I surmised that this was social housing, and that she’d been rehoused when all the initial Docklands development had started in the 1980s.  But I figured it would have been churlish to ask for the details. Then I suggested: ‘It must be wonderful living with that amazing view!’

She replied: ‘Well, love, once you’ve seen it once, it doesn’t mean a thing.’  Then she added kind-of sadly , pointing across the river towards Wapping: ‘I grew up there love, everyone worked in the docks.

‘The main reason that you don’t like living here is the lack of shops.  Am I right?’

‘Spot on, my darlin’.’ Said the old lady, with a slightly plaintive wink.

 

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Towers Of Power. Looking Back Towards The City From Rotherhithe. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

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Tower Bridge Between Two Towers. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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A Cantilevered Living Room In An Art Deco-influenced Apartment Block In Rotherhithe. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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Heavy Metal. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

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Canary Wharf From Across The River. CanonEOS 30D © Steve Swindells.

I jumped on a bus to Canada Water and took the Jubilee Line To West Hampstead, then the Overground to Willesden Junction, five minutes from where I live in central Harlesden.

The following day, which was hot and sunny, I decided to journey deep into the heart of the beast known as Canary Wharf (which is incidentally now owned by a Qatari property company, aka the Royal Family).

 

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Canary Wharf From The DLR. iPhone SE © Steve Swindells

 

 

Inside Canary Wharf Tube Station

Canary Wharf Underground Station. iPhone SE © Steve Swindells

Arguably, the most beautiful tube station on the entire TFL network. The architects were Norman Forter & Partners and it opened in 1999.

 

 

 

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‘Insider Trading’

#1 Canada Square from the shopping mall below.  GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lobby Of #1 Canada Square (the one with the pyramid on top) at Canary Wharf. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells.  July 2016.

A security guard was approaching me in a somewhat challenging fashion and trying to engage me in conversation. A power-dressed elderly woman who was sitting nearby in the lobby pointed out: ‘The security guard wishes to speak to you’.  I shrugged my shoulders and said ‘How dreary. I know I’ve got a bit of a tan, but do I really look that Middle-Eastern?’ And strolled off purposefully, pointing my camera upwards, as if to find its weak points, or more accurately, its architectural details.

 

 

 

 

 

JP MOrgan Tower Canary Wharf

Bridge Tower. iPhone SE © Steve Swindells. July 2016.

It would seem that a ‘street artist’ has been commissioned to make a ‘gr0ovy’ design on the DLR bridge beneath The JP Morgan tower.  How unintentionally  ironic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Escape From #1 Canada Square.  GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016.

 

Canary Wharf  Reflected In DLR Glass

Reflections On Canary Wharf. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells.  July 2016.

 

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Skyscrapin’ Blues.  #GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016.

 

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#1 Canada Square From Beneath.  Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016.

 

 

 

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Be The Fastest.  #GoPreHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016.

#OlympicChampBolt #VirginMedia #Capital #ism #City #TheTowersOfLondonBlog

 

 

 

 

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Facade

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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Canary Wharf Cluster

#GroProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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U Tube

I have dubbed this nearly-completed tower thus as I have no idea what its name is. I believe that it will be a residential tower. It cuts quite a swathe on Canary Wharf already.

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Canary Wharf Tube Station

GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells. July 2016

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Sculpture-Scrapers

GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016.

 

 

The next day, the weather was again really beautiful, with a very special ‘light’, so I decided to take the overground train just a few stops to Hampstead Heath, from where it’s a short, uphill walk to take in the stunning view of London. I did take a few pics on my three cameras, but decided that just one would suffice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Towers Of London From Parliament Hill

The Towers Of London From Parliament Hill. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells. July 2016.

 

 

The following day was bright and sunny as I set off to Greenwich, taking The Tube to Bank, then the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to Greenwich Cutty Sark , where I tried to get a seat in the front of the driverless train (So I could pretend, as usual, that I was driving), but it was too busy. So I pulled my Canon out of my bag and went to the doors, brushing by a scruffy-looking man with a rucksack on his back. ‘You’re trying to get in my bag!’ He suddenly yelled, evidently drunk (it was about 2pm).  ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ I shouted, as people in the packed carriage looked rather worried.  I pointed to my camera, which I was holding towards the window and stated: ‘See, CAMERA, WINDOW… oh, and by the way, your bag is open.’ Several bottles of wine were pretruding from it. He continued to rant, slurring his words, this time about people posthing photos on the intherneth withouth permissionth.  I decided I’d had enough and got off at the next station to grab some shots,  then jump on the next train.

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Chimney And Towers. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

 

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Canary Wharf (And The Dome Of The Greenwich Foot Tunnel) From The Cutty Sark. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

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Towering Contrasts. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

I headed for the park in the glorious sunshine after a light al fresco lunch in a funky cafe.

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The Maritime Museum And Canary Wharf From Greenwich Park. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

The Towers Of London From Greenwich Observatory

Getting Higher! iPhone SE © Steve Swindells 2016

 

 

 

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Meantime… Sunny Selfie At The Observatory. GoProHero3 © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

 

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The Easterly Aspect From The Observatory. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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Enjoying The View And The Sunshine. Canon EOS 30d © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming Down – Behind The Observatory. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming Back Through Canary Wharf DLR Station. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

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Train-driving Photographer! GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ghost Train. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016. Note the architect Goldfinger’s stumpier version of  Notting Hill’s Trellick Tower (see below) on the right.  Apologies to the mystery woman whose reflection I inadvertantly captured. 

 

 

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Goldfinger’s iconic Trellick Tower. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells June 2016.

 

Coming back from Greenwich, I emerged from the DLR station at Bank (literally The Bank Of England) into the  heart of The City Of London, The Capital’s financial hub, which really is an architectural treasure trove.  Contrasts sums it up in one word.  Narrow streets and alleys now mere footnotes to the ever-growing cluster of towers looming above them. My undoubted favourite is Richard Roger’s Lloyd’s Building, the modernist daddy of them all, with its sinuous curves and exposed ducts and fire escapes.  Early evening, then sunset, on a gloriously sunny summer day, proved to be the perfect setting in which these ruling Towers Of London could strut their stuff.

 

TIme And The Walkie Talkie

It’s Walkie-Talkie Time! iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells

 

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The ‘Cheese Grater’ Resplendent In The Evening Sunshine. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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The Cheese Grater Stands Out From The Crowd. GoProHere3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

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It’s Not Cheesey At All – it Grrrrreat! Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

 

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Smashing The Blue Ceiling! iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016

Check out this amazingly detailed  and well-presented piece from The Guardian Online on the bevy of bold new towers being built in The City.

 

 

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Towers Of Steel and Glass. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016

The title above the above photo is a quoted lyrical slice from ‘Turn It On Turn It Off’,  from my second album ‘Fresh Blood’  which was released on Atco/WEA worldwide in 1980. It reached #3 in the US airplay charts in its second week of release.

Turn It On Turn It Off

And here are the lyrics from the rather romantically crumpled inner sleeve of my only  vinyl copy of Fresh Blood.

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‘Turn It On Turn It Off’ lyrics. Inner sleeve of ‘Fresh Blood vinyl 1980 photographed lit by cheap torch from Poundland. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells. 28. 7. 16

IMG_8216The Lloyd’s Building By Richard Rogers 

 Opened by The Queen in 1986, it received a Grade 1 listing in 2011, the youngest-ever building to achieve this status – and well deserved IMHO. I captured it at the perfect time on a beautiful summer’s evening –  it’s sinuous curves and famous inside-out innards (known architecturally as bowellism) glowing gold  as the sun began to go down.

One of my all-time favourite buildings in London.

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2015.

 

Gold And Silver

Gold And Silver. The Lloyd’s building and The adjacent Willis Building jostle for visual supremacy. You can catch a glimpse of The Gherkins in between.  iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells July 2015.

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The Frieze Above The Entrance To The Lloyd’s Building

This is all that remains of the original Lloyd’s building. Personally, I love the dramatic and rather cheeky contrast.

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2015.

 

 

 

 

Roger, Over And Out

Roger(s), Over And Out     

The ‘Walkie-talkie’ dwarfs The Lloyd’s Building in its curvaceous shadow.

iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells July 2015.

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The Cheese Grater towers over the gilded galleries of the ancient Leadenhall Market in the heart of The City, which is now home to upmarket bars, restaurants and retail outlets, encouraging the city fat cats to part with their annual bonuses.

#GoProHero3BE © Steve swindells 2016.

 

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A pink balloon is trapped in the rooflight of the magnificent central atrium of Leadenhall Market. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016.

 

 

 

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The Gherkin And A Pendant

Designed by Norman Foster and The Arup Group and opened in 2004. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Steel

Blue Steel                                                                                                      

The ‘Cheese Grater’ and its towering neighbour, subtly reflecting the Lloyd’s Building.

iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells July 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower 42

Silver Sculpture And Tower 42

Originally known as The NatWest Tower, this was designed by Richard Seifert, whose practice also designed Centre Point (coming later) and was also opened by her Maj, in 1981. Standing 183 metres tall, It was the first of the City Of London’s mega-towers but will soon  have a plethora of towering young pretenders raining on its parade.

iPhoneSE © Copyright Steve Swindells July 2016.

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I hear there’s a very good Sushi restaurant at the top of Tower 42! Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016.

 

 

 

 

The Monument

A Plane Flies over The Monument In The Golden Sunlight

iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells

This slender tower is a monument to the Great Fire of London and is 202 ft (62 m) tall and 202 ft from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on 2 September 1666. An elegant Doric column topped with a gilded urn of fire, it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and opened in 1677.  311 narrow, winding steps take visitors to the top. It could perhaps be described as the 17th Century forerunner to The Shard’s somewhat loftier viewing platform.

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The Gilded Urn of Fire Atop The Monument

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

I head South out of The City Of London and cross back over the river to Bankside in the vibrant evening light.

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Tower Bridge Shimmers Magnificently As I walk over London Bridge

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Game Of Shards

The Inevitable Return Of The Shard iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016.

 

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A Tale Of Two Towers – The Shard And Southwark Cathedral

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016

 

 

 

 

The Golden Hind

Tower 42 Glimpsed Beneath The Rigging Of The Golden Hind

iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016

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A Trio Of City Towers And The Golden Hind 

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

                                            Time For A Sundowner?  Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016

                               

No Busking

The Tower Of The Tate Modern Gallery

iphoneSE © Steve Swindells

sunset SillhouettesOn Millennium Bridge

Sunset Sillhouettes On The Millennium Bridge

iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016

Walking Across The Millennium Bridge At Sundown

St Paul’s – And Pedestrians On The Millennium Bridge In The Golden Hour

iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016

 

 

 

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The Switch House And Some Rich Houses!

 

 

 

 

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It Is What It Says On The Tin – The Oxo Tower

 

 

 

 

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Sunset Reflections

 

 

 

 

Sunset Towers

Eastward Ho! The Lights will Soon Come On –  All  four of the above taken on my Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016.

 

 

 

Streetlamp Sunset

Streetlamp At Sunset – iPhoneSE.  All photos © Steve Swindells 2016 .  All rights Reserved.  Part II coming soon…

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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

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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.

Mgate20. Spanish Studentsjpg

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!

Barcelona. October 2014.

2 Nov

On October the 22nd, my mother Audrey, my brother Mike and his wife Sylvie treated me to a five day holiday in Barcelona, which I hadn’t visited since 1988.  My mum, now a sprightly 86, had always loved my song Barcelona (now part of my alter-ego Thom Topham’s Multimedia eBook ‘My Unplanned Obsolescence’) and had never visited this magical city.

Following the recent death of my adoptive father Harold (her partner and soul-mate for over 55 years) in July, Audrey felt that her first holiday without him would possibly help to ease the pain of his passing and hopefully prove to be cathartic in enabling her to get over her loss. Also coming along for the ride were Mike and Sylvie’s son Thibault and my sister Josie and her husband Kae Bahar’s youngest, Leon.

Sylvie had booked a fantastic house via http://www.airbnb.co.uk for us to stay in in the very central CLOT area of Barcelona. This turned out to be an un-touristy, funky, largely working-class neighbourhood with a pedestrianised main street, a covered food market, great cafes and unpretentious restaurants and Parc Del Clot, a fabulous art/sports park which features ancient stoneworks, a wonderfully creative water feature, an outdoor squash court, a large paved area for people to play sports in and a long, pedestrian bridge overlooking it all.  It’s particularly attractive at night, when it is beautifully lit. Sylvie also booked our visits to Gaudi’s famous La Sagrada Familia (now virtually complete interior-wise) Casa Batllo and Parc Guell  online in advance, which proved to be a wise move.

We also took a day trip – only €8 return on the train – to the lovely seaside resort of Sitges, which is also famous as the gay holiday capital of Spain.

By some excellent synchronicity, the week before I left I discovered on Facebook that my old French friend Serge, whom I hadn’t seen for 27 years (as he’d been living in Fiji and Morocco) was also going to be in Barcelona at exactly the same time.

I  suggest that you might like to listen to the song ‘Barcelona’, the lyric of which was written in the city in 1988, as you look at my pictures.  These were taken on my iPhone4 using the Camera Plus Pro app (which I’d thoroughly recommend), before being processed via Instagram.

All photos © Steve Swindells. 2014.

 

Just landed.  Barcelona.

Just landed. Barcelona.

 

 

 

Clot Station. Barcelona.

Clot Station. Barcelona.

 

Clot-Arago (the overground) Station Escalator.

Clot-Arago (the overground) Station Escalator.

 

Our House In Clot - For Five Days.

Our House In Clot – For Five Days. L-R; Sylvie, Thibault, Audrey and Mike.

 

Family Selfie - on Career Meridional.

Family Selfie – on Carrer Meridional.  Thibault, Audrey, myself and Leon.

 

My Room.

My bedroom.

 

Mike in the main bedroom, with its balcony overlooking the street.

Mike in the main bedroom, with its balcony overlooking the street.

 

The terrace from the balcony of Audrey's bedroom.

The terrace from the balcony of Audrey’s bedroom.

 

The view from the balcony of the main bedroom.

The view from the balcony of the main bedroom.

 

 

We're walking through Clot in the direction the sea.

We’re walking through Clot in the direction of the sea – which we were to find took about 25 minutes.  Audrey wisely headed back to the house after we’d come across the beautiful Parc Del Clot.

 

 

The covered market in Clot.

The covered market in Clot.

 

 

 

Then later on after dark...

Then later on after dark…

 

Barca. Archi-tower:modern:clot

 

 

 

How does this cantilevered skyscraper defy gravity?

How does this cantilevered skyscraper defy gravity?

 

 

Nearly at the beach...

Nearly at the beach…

 

 

Leon tries to move the goalposts.

Leon tries to move the goalposts.

 

 

Shadows.

Shadows.

 

 

Sun Going Down On The Beach.

Sun Going Down On The Beach.

 

 

 

Barca Street Furniture.

Barca Street Furniture.

 

 

Selfie Reflection.

Selfie Reflection.

 

 

Urban walls as viewed from the terrace.  9am.

Urban walls as viewed from the terrace of ‘our house’.

 

 

 

The view from the terrace at night.

The view from the terrace at night.

 

 

The Stairs.

The Stairs.

 

 

Mother and son after tapas.

Mother and son after eating tapas at a local eatery in Clot.

 

 

Eureka! The house has a dressing-up box!

Eureka! The house has a dressing-up box!

 

 

Thibault & Leon Go Go.

Thibault & Leon Go Go.

 

 

Serge has arrived for dinner.

Serge has arrived for dinner.

 

 

 

The Family Ham It Up!

The Family Ham It Up!

 

 

Serge, SS and Audrey,

Serge, SS and Audrey,

 

 

Thibault Camps It Up.

The Boys Are Back In Town

 

 

Barca. Dress-up. Thib.

 

 

Serge is an old pro!

Serge is an old pro!

 

 

Leon is cool.

Leon is cool.

 

 

Audrey in her fave cafe by the market.

Audrey in her fave cafe by the market, before we head for La Sagrada Familia.

 

La Sagrada Familia is a total must-see for people visiting Barca. The interior is virtually complete and the exterior will be  – but I have no idea how long it will take.

It certainly is one of the most awe-inspiring buildings I’ve ever seen – especially internally (as a lot of the exterior is wrapped in scaffolding).  The music that they pipe into the building is quite magical too – like new-age, spiritual music from another world.  I’ve never heard anything like it.  I’m not religious at all – just naturally spiritual, but visiting this incredible basilica was an inspiring and moving experience.  Apart from when I stepped-out of the lift at the top of one of the towers.  I’m afraid to admit that I suffer from extreme vertigo, and this made me fall onto my knees and I had to literally crawl back in to the lobby of the lift.  My legs hurt like hell (no pun intended) just thinking about it.

La Sagrada Familia - a detail of one of the facades.

La Sagrada Familia – a detail of one of the facades.

 

 

Part of the main roof.  Astonishing.

Part of the ceiling and the soaring columns supporting it. Astonishing.

 

 

Audrey in the brilliant sunlight by the main doors.

Audrey in the brilliant sunlight in front of one of the awesome main doors.

 

 

God IS A DJ.

God Is A DJ.

 

 

 

Pillars lit by the sun pouring through the stunning stained-glass windows.

Pillars lit by the sun pouring through the stunning stained-glass windows.

 

 

Blue.

Blue.

 

 

Under The Blue Windows.

Under The Blue Windows.

 

The incredible ceiling above the nave.

The incredible ceiling above the nave.

Golden.

Golden.

 

 

One Of The Main Doors.

One Of The Main Doors.

 

 

 

Organ pipes coloured by the afternoon sunlight through the enormous stained glass windows.

Organ pipes coloured by the afternoon sunlight through the enormous stained glass windows.

 

 

The Ornate Ceiling From Below.

The Ornate Ceiling From Another Angle .

 

The following day, we took the train to the gorgeously funky seaside resort of Sitges and had a picnic on the beach before the boys (and men) braved the icy waters of the mediteranean (joking: it was lovely). It was a perfectly cloudless day and the temperature was 26 degrees.

A perfectly-formed roof terrace catches my eye as we walk towards the beach through the old town of Sitges.

A perfectly-formed roof terrace catches my eye as we walk towards the beach through the old town of Sitges.

 

 

Sitges. Art-Nouveau House

Sitges. beach

Sitges.  Audrey on beach

Leon and SS catching waves.

Leon and SS catching waves.

 

 

Thibault gets buried alive.

Thibault gets buried alive.

 

 

Sitges. Breakwater

Sitges from breakwater

This is my house, of course, I'm just renting it out at the moment… honest...

I’ve owned this house for years but of course I’m just renting it out at the moment… honest…

 

 

Sitges. Bendy medieval tower

Silhouettes on the breakwater.

Silhouettes on the breakwater.

 

Sitges. Silhuettes 2

The following day, we headed for the Gothic Quarter and The nearby Marina, before visiting Gaudi’s incredible Parc Guell.

A huge, metal sculpture dominates one of the main squares in The Gothic Quarter  - where we sat in the sunshine outside one of many cafes.

A huge, metal sculpture dominates one of the main squares in The Gothic Quarter – where we sat in the sunshine outside one of many cafes.

 

Barca.  Trina napkins

Audrey and I ambled through the gothic quarter down to the harbour.

Audrey and I ambled through the gothic quarter down to the harbour.

 

 

Streetlights designed by - yes, you guessed it - Gaudi.

Streetlights designed by – yes, you guessed it – Gaudi.

 

 

 

Barca, Goth Q street sunshine

 

Columbus Curve.

Columbus Curve.

 

 

Barca.  SS & Aud Marina Selfie

Barca Marina by Columbus

Floating Subuteo Sculpture in the harbour.

Floating Subuteo Sculpture in the harbour.

 

 

On The Metro Heading For Parc Guell - a Parallel Universe.

On The Metro Heading For Parc Guell – a Parallel Universe.

 

 

Barca, Parc Guell. View from abovejpg

‘The heat spreads like a blanket, on a hazy afternoon…’

Gaudi's mashed-up ceramic curves.

Gaudi’s mashed-up ceramic curves.

 

 

That's the cranes above La Sagrada Familia in the far distance.

That’s the cranes above La Sagrada Familia in the middle distance.

 

 

One of the two fantastical gatehouses.

One of the two fantastical gatehouses.

 

 

Barca. Parc Guell. Temple pillars

Audrey takes a well-earned, contemplative rest while the rest of us explore the gatehouse.

Audrey takes a well-earned, contemplative rest while the rest of us explore the gatehouse.

 

I wanted to show Serge our local Parc Del Clot at night.  He, like all of us, found it quite beguiling.  Then we heard loud music coming from the direction of Barelona’s answer to (or copy of) London’s ‘Gherkin’ and found ourselves at the opening of an exhibition of photos of reggae artists in Jamaica in the 70s and 80s, which was a coincidence, as Serge lived there for  seven years back then and had known quite a few of the subjects.  There was a free, outdoor reggae rave with cheap beer as well.  Our Saturday night’s entertainment was sorted!

After dinner...

After dinner…

SS in 'Graffiti Square' taken by Serge.

SS in ‘Plaza Graffita’ (as I dubbed it) taken by Serge.

 

 

Barca. ParcElClot. Woman:Dog2.

Sylvie and Mike dance in Parc Del Clot.

Sylvie and Mike dance in Parc Del Clot.

 

 

Barca. Parc El Clot & Akbar Tower

Serge enjoying Parc Del Clot.

Serge enjoying Parc Del Clot.

 

 

Serge at the reggae photo exhibition.

Serge at the reggae photo exhibition.

 

 

Barca. SS @ reggae exhib

People at the reggae rave.

People at the reggae rave.

 

 

Was it Sunday that we visited another of Gaudi’s masterpieces, Casa Batllo?  We packed so much in (and all that Rioja) that I’ve probably got the timelines wrong. Who cares?

Incredible stained glass in extraordinary windows of the main living room of Casa Batllo.

Incredible stained glass in the extraordinary windows of the main living room of Casa Batllo.

 

 

 

The same windows from outside.

The same windows from outside.

 

 

Bet you've never seen chimneys like this before?

Bet you’ve never seen chimneys like this before?

 

 

The massive wall of smashed ceramics at the back of the huge terrace.

The massive wall of smashed ceramics at the back of the huge terrace.

 

 

Then we went to the beach at Barcelonetta, at the Marina end, near to the Olympic Park.

Barca. Jetskis marina

Looks like Audrey's in goal!

Looks like Audrey’s in goal!

 

Barca.  Skate park

 

 

Barca Sag Fam facade across lake

Barca. Playa. S +T

Ancient and modern.

Ancient and modern.

 

Then it was time for me to leave, as mine was a separate flight to Gatwick, and the rest of the family flew back to Bristol a little later. What a wonderful five days!

Goodbye! X

Goodbye! X

 

 

Getting ready to take-off as the sun goes down.

Getting ready to take-off as the sun goes down.

 

 

Barca. EasyJet Clouds over France

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.

iPhone Phinger Paintings . June 2010 – June 2014

29 Jun

Check for hyperlinks to SS music in the captions.

All content © Steve Swindells. All Rights Reserved.

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Bam Boo is my 2nd instrumental ambient chill album

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A Tissue Of Lies.

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Summer Deep.

A Womb With A View by SS. 30.3.10

A Womb With A View

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Caveat.

Hello Yellow 4 signed

Hello Yellow 4

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City Of Night.

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Elephant Heat.

Infanta image compressed

Infanta De Castille

Hejiro

Hejiro

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Homo Alono.

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Homo Alono Too.

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The Red Mist.

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The Diary Of Tran Frank.

 

 

 

 

 

Chrystal Mesh

Chrystal Mesh

 

 

Your Wicked Way

Your Wicked Way

 

 

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