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2014 Revisted Via My Old iPhone 4S (which died). Part 1.

28 Aug

The title speaks for itself.

This is most definitely a photo blog, but I will probably feel moved to comment on pics in passing.

I’m writing this in the early house Bank Holiday Monday in N.W London. The stragglers from Carnival are still dribbling by on this sultry, late summer night. I just had a joint on the balcony, accompanied by a V&T. So I’m feeling creative, having just up-pixellated (I think I invented that word) all these pics using the iResize App.

2014 was an interesting year. In August, I’d literally moved-up-in-the-world (to an even better loft apartment in the same complex but one floor up!) and had a brief but wonderful autumn holiday in Barcelona with my mum (aged 86 at the time), Mike, Sylvie and Thibault Swindells, and my teen nephew Leon Bahar. I also released my pretty-damn-rocky album The Hanging Baskets Of Babylon (why not click to listen to it, as you peruse the pics?), which is available to stream and download on all the usual digital suspects. Most of it is collaborative,  with some cool high-caliber American musicians: Jay Tausig, Ralf Lenz and former Captain Beefheart (yes really!) drummer Robert Williams, amongst others.

I’m just going to post the photos in the order that they appear in the desktop file.

10. Sainsbury's homebase, Finchley roadRS

Ten

 

Abandoned Morrocan PouffeRS.jpg

Abandoned Morrocan Pouf

 

Grand Union Canal Towpath, Harlesden.

Allotment ArtichokeRS

Allotment Artichokes

Bath.

 

Arches - Parc El Clot, BarcaRS

Arches

 

Parc Del Clot, Barcelona.

 

Autumn glory - Roundwood ParkRS

Autumn Glory

 

Roundwood Park, Harlesden.

 

B4 it's BegunRS

B4 It’s Begun

 

Elephant and Castle.  These bleak and strangely evocative subways no longer exist.

 

Barcelona From Parc GuelRS

Park Guell

 

The view of Barcelona from Gaudi’s surreal,  pleasure garden is quite breathtaking. You can see the scaffolding around the towers of his ever-evolving masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, in the centre of the pic. It looks like the great man also invented ‘upcycling’ with his imaginative and creative re-use of broken crockery.  Mind you, he probably broke it on purpose.

 

Barcelona MarinaRS

Marina Marinara

Barcelonetta.

 

Barcelona Metro StationRS

Metro Windows

Barcelona.

 

BarchitectureRS

Barchitecture

Barcelona is full of architectural and visual contrasts and surprises at every corner. It’s such a great walking city too. And there are cable cars, a funicular railway and even escalators (up to Park Guell) to help with the hills.

 

Billy Fury wayRS

Billy Fury Way

 

I find this so evocative. It’s over the road from West Hampstead Overground Station.

 

Canal Wharf. JPGRS

Wharf

 

Grand Union canal. Harlesden.

 

Cat And Tiger Bike. NCYRS

Hidden Tiger, Surpised Cat

 

I found the kid’s tiger bike in the street. I thought one of my neighbour’s children would appreciate its retro, wooden charms. JJ, my wonderful cat (he passed earlier this year aged 19) looked somewhat taken aback by this territorial intruder.

 

Cawsand BayRS

Lemon Grey Horizon

Cawsand Bay, Cornwall.

Chiswick Mall SunsetRS

Chiswick Mall Sunset

 

 

Cool Venue, Hackney WickRS

Hipster Hangout, Hackney Wick

 

 

Damnation Alley, West HampsteadRS

Damnation Alley

West Hampstead.

 

 

Derelict 50s Building, Hammersmith BridgeRS

Derelict Sunset Reflection

A beautiful 50s block overlooking Hammersmith Bridge which has since been demolished (criminal!) to make way for yet more tiny, anodine, dreary unaffordable apartments (with river views) and no architectural merit whatsover.

 

Dining Afloat Alfresco. BathRS

Alfresco Dining Afloat

 

What a cool invention – that’s the first time I’ve seen such a sliding/canvas roof thing! Sydney Gardens, Bath.

 

Diversity At summer Rites, Tobacco DockRS

Diversity

 

Summer Rites.  Tobacco Dock.

 

 

Ella Ella TooRS.jpg

Ella Ella Ey

Soho.

 

 

End Less. SohoRS

End Less

 

Soho.

 

 

Film Crew. Poundstretcher HarlsdenRS

Save

 

A TV interview with… a homeless woman? A drug abuser? Or maybe both. Outside Poundstretcher in Harlesden.

 

Fox In The Hood. ladbroke GroveRS

You lookin’ at ME?

A fox in a derelict site by the canal at Ladbroke Grove.

 

Framed landscape. BathRS

You’ve Been Framed

The view from Mike and Sylvie Swindells’ terrace in Larkhall, Bath. Thom Topham is my Bowie-esque alter-ego.  Double album coming soon.

 

 

Gaudi's Park Guel GatehouseRS

Park Guell Gatehouse

Barcelona.

 

 

Happy Selfie. SS & LexRS

Happy Daze

 

Me and Lex on holiday in Kingsand, Cornwall in May 2014.

All photos © Steve Swindells.  Part 11 coming soon.

 

 

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The Towers Of London (Part 1)

11 Aug

A Photo Blog

 

TTOL Tower graphic mash-up 413879366_10154518663659180_3373159376131942003_n

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

 

 

 

 

Shard Hats Obligatory

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.

 

IMG_8061

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

 

 

 

IMG_8072

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

 

 

 

IMG_8085

Heavy Metal. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

IMG_8102

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).

 

IMG_8115

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.

 

IMG_8129

#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

 

 

 

 

IMG_8134

Facade

Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells

 

 

 

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Canary Wharf Cluster

#GroProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_8147

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.

IMG_8180

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

 

 

 

 

IMG_8155

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

IMG_8156

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.

IMG_8163

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

 

 

 

 

IMG_8168

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

 

 

 

IMG_8172

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_8197

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

 

 

 

 

Blue Sky Thinking. the Cheese Grater & Neighbours13731566_10154477565319180_7749315989022298129_n

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.

'Turn It On Turn It Off lyrics on inner sleeve. 29.7.16. iPhoneSE. jpg

‘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.

IMG_8224

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.

 

1A Pink Ballon Trapped In The elegant Roof Of LeadenHall Market

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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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

Images Of An Indian Summer.

7 Oct

London. September and October 2014

All pictures taken on my iPhone 4, using the Camera Plus Pro app, then processed in Instagram.

© Steve Swindells. All Rights Reserved.

 The musical accompaniment is my moody autumnal ambient track A Peace Of My Mind

Graffiti Tunnel, Hackney Wick.

Graffiti Tunnel, Hackney Wick.

 

 

Hackney Wick.  Canal Warehouse, rusty tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hackney Wick.  Canal, boats, rusty tower

 

 

Hackney Wick. Graffitipub

Hackney Wick. Skatepark

Hackney Wick. Feet

Hackney Wick. Sunlit Graffiti tunneljpg

Broadwick s,t Soho

Broadwick St, Soho

 

Rainy street, Soho.

Rainy street, Soho.

Rainy Soho Fabric Shop Berwick St

 

Ella…ella.

Ella…ella.

 

Berwick St Market, Soho.

Berwick St Market, Soho.

 

Trellick Tower Cocktail. Made.com Showroom, Notting Hill Gate.

Trellick Tower Cocktail. Made.com Showroom, Notting Hill Gate.

 

 

 

Egg-Timer Cruet.

Egg-Timer Cruet.

 

Afternoon sunlight - Newcombe House Notting Hill Gate

CZech embassy Sculpture gdn

 

 

Kensington Gardens.

Kensington Gardens.

 

Sunset Lake, Kenington Gdns. 1. 10. 14

Serpentine Bridge.

Serpentine Bridge.

 

Serpentine Gallery

The Monolithic Henry Moore Sculpture By The Serpentine.

The Monolithic Henry Moore Sculpture By The Serpentine.

 

 

The Italian Garden.

The Italian Garden.

 

Lovers On A Canal Bridge.

Lovers On A Canal Bridge.

 

Canal Oct Walzing Weasel

3 Swans

Orange Is The New… Houseboat.

Orange Is The New… Houseboat.

 

POWERDAY reflected.

POWERDAY reflected.

 

A Rainbow Over Willesden.

A Rainbow Over Willesden.

 

Roundwood Park, Harlesden.

Roundwood Park, Harlesden.

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

 

 

The Baron’s Court

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

London 1977

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

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

What forbidden planet were we allegedly on?

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

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

Messages

Messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So…tell me Stephen…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bertie certainly hadn’t bored me to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earl’s Court was more my thing.

© Steve Swindells. 2014. All rights reserved.

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