‘Sex N’ Drugs N’ Sausage Rolls’. Title Page.

12 Jul

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Suicide Note And The Amateur Dramatic Society. Part 1

17 Mar

'Suicide Note And The Amateur Dramatic Society.  Cover Art

October 31st 1992. 5AM.

To whom it may concern.

I have decided to end my life.

It is the morning of my fortieth birthday, or would be.

The Big Four-oh.

Uh-oh.

I am most definitely having a mid-life crisis. Although, at this juncture, bearing in mind the decision that I’ve taken, it could be more accurately be described as end of life crisis. Terminal. Kaput. End-of. Expired (anyone for a dead parrot sketch?).

I can’t just top myself, however, without thanking those who have supported me through the hard times – the never-ending hard times and tests, jumping through hoops, over hurdles and getting lost in dark tunnels, looking and hoping for the light at the end. Now it is the end and there is no light, only darkness.

I should have been called Jason, but the only golden fleece that I will be awarded is a funeral shroud (and the number of times I’ve been fleeced doesn’t bear thinking about).

The ubiquitous clichés of the awards ceremony: ‘People too numerous to mention (they might know who they are), my analyst (I don’t, and have never had one… no wait! I lie: but that’s another story).

My dogs, my cats, my lovers, my friends, my family, my mother – the blessed Celia Racket (thank you for everything Ma, even though you never fully understood, you tried, especially when I was seriously trying). For forty years I seem to have been trying. What went wrong?

Whilst pondering this eternally irritating question, I absentmindedly flick open the first page of the type-written manuscript for my semi-autobiographical first novel ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’.

“October 30th 1952.

I was born in a toilet in the armpit of England, that grey mass and mess of industrial wastelands, motorways and wasted lives known as Birmingham, where people speak in an accent only marginally less unpleasant that that of South Africa.

The toilet in question was the smallest room in a very ordinary flat on the first floor of a very ordinary little pebble-dashed, semi-detached house in Handsworth Park, a while before the area became inhabited largely by West Indians.

My mother Celia Tinderman, as she was known then, had been married to Dick Tinderman for just over two years, and I was her second son. My father was an East Anglian of Dutch/Jewish descent and mother’s family boasted Italian, French and even Romany blood.

I was most definitely due to make my debut at any time that morning, but Celia mistook my wish to be born as a bowel movement. If first impressions are lasting impressions, then perhaps I should have been known as ‘The Little Shit’. My mother was somewhat surprised to hear her ablution crying, so she waddled through into her and Dick’s bedroom with my blood-and-placenta-covered head poking out, phoned the midwife, and out I unceremoniously plopped.

The midwife soon arrived and a neighbour was dispatched to find my father Dick, with the whispered advice as to his whereabouts involving the names of various local pubs and betting shops. The midwife clucked her tongue and continued with the no doubt gruesome task of making me presentable for the imminent arrival of my doting dad. He was eventually tracked-down to a pub with the somewhat appropriate name of The Cock And Bull, where he’d been attempting to chat-up what was surely a role model for the young Bet Lynch (the tarty barmaid in the UK’s longest-running TV Soap, ‘Coronation Street’).

My older brother Larry, aged 18 months, slept blissfully through my inauspicious arrival into this world. In those days, of course, fathers weren’t expected to be present at births, they were more likely be living that other cliché; pacing the floors of some green-painted hospital corridor chain-smoking – Senior Service, no-doubt. This archetypal 50s brand would have been appropriate for Dick, as he was in The Navy – a Petty Officer (and a petty thief).

My mother had married this charming and rather attractive rogue at the the tender age of nineteen, in order to escape the clutches of her parents Gladys and Henry, who seemed to think that life was an Ivor Novello revue; lower-middle-class snobs who had never reached the social strata to which they aspired. They’d dressed little Celia to look like Shirley Temple and had brought her up in an atmosphere where children were to be ‘seen and not heard’. She spent most of her teens confined to her room reading quite serious literature.

Culture for her parents involved sporadic visits to the Quaker Hall in Great Yarmouth where the Amateur Dramatic Society performed chintzy little musicals and whodunnits. This unlikely setting provided Celia with her escape route, for it was here that she got to know Dick who, having joined the group, tended to land the roles of the romantic lead, to which he applied an almost ‘method’ approach; living the part, so to speak, in various dark and dusty rooms, with his female (and sometimes male) counterparts wearing their underwear around their ankles.

Thus Celia was partnered with Dick in The Great Yarmouth Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of ‘No No Nannette’. During rehearsals, Larry was conceived under the stage on a pile of old pantomime costumes.

IMG_5762

Dick was not deflowering a virgin though. My mother was concealing a dark, mysterious and curiously romantic secret.”

Stay tuned (to the bakelite radio).

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

I s’pose I’ve been the black sheep of the family – or perhaps the pink one? I’ve not been particularly ‘bad’ (more like ‘badly-behaved’) or ‘criminal – just a minor record for when I was busted as teenager in Bristol for possession of three ‘roaches’ (cardboard filters for joints, in case you weren’t aware).

I’m an artist and therefore sensitive, yet assertive; unconventional, yet stubborn; gay, but certainly not misogynistic (why does the media still promote this myth?); continually struggling financially, yet always hopeful and optimistic – perhaps until now.

I’ve always been close to my brothers and sisters – there has never been any distinction about the three youngest being from a different father, my stepfather WIlliam Racket. But even after he adopted us three boys, he was very strict, especially towards me. He used to pull me out of bed in the morning by my feet, calling me ‘scrounger’ and making a point of telling me how much he hated me, staring at me with cold eyes, usually over the breakfast table when it was just him and me in the room – thereby ensuring that no-one knew of my secret torment.

In 1973 I moved to London to live in a squat in Summerstown in Camden, aged 21. As I subsequently lurched from one financial crisis to another, often caused by the incompetence or greed of others, my parents always offered their support where possible, but it was my mother really making the runnings – William was merely supporting the wife he clearly adored (and who wouldn’t?). I’d also landed my first major (obviously, not financially) music publishing and record deals that same year.

I later discovered from my younger siblings that I been something of a father figure towards them in our formative years, as both our parents were running the family business, the stamp and coin shop, which my mother had enthusiastically thrown herself into promoting, with her natural flair for PR. This meant that I was cooking from the age of eight – mostly cakes and puddings. We did have a succession of au-pairs and pregnant single mothers (in the early 60s it was still considered morally wrong) staying with us, and they would cook too. The parents would usually get home at around 7pm, in time for dinner, which we all ate together at a large, refectory table in the dining room in the six-bedroomed Victorian house which we had now moved to in the pretty, old part of a village by the river, in between Bath and Bristol.

Despite getting two major record deals (in 1974 and 1979 respectively) and joining a successful pop group in 1976 and a space-rock band in 1978, I was always in debt – not because of any extravagance on my part – but a combination of being exploited, ripped-off and mis-managed.

As a result of the younger ones looking up to me in the 60s, they were at a loss to understand why I wasn’t consistently happy, successful and solvent.

I lost Omar, the first love of my life, to AIDS in 1986. I only found out about his death third-hand. Someone – I think it was Digby – had almost casually mentioned how awful it was about Omar at Swamp, the wildly successful Monday-night club I was running in London’s West End. I remember literally reeling in shock – I had no idea that he’d been ill, apart from mentally.

I’d left him in 1980, after he’d spent months imagining that I was seeing other people – which I wasn’t – and we’d had hardly any contact after that.

And after? A string of minor obsessions and unrequited agonies, an awful lot of casual sex and another long-term young lover (we’d met when he was actually just 17, but he’d lied about his age being 20) who slowly developed into a raging psychopath before my very eyes: he tried to kill me, it would seem, on several occasions. Destiny seemed determined to wind me up and spit me out.

Alone again, naturally.

I’d always had the benefit, from my early teens, of ‘knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up’.  Songwriting. I was already a musician. A poet. A writer. A singer… maybe a star? STAR had always seemed to written in neon on my forehead, at least as far as several friends, teachers and family saw it, from an early age. I wasn’t so sure.

Meanwhile, there’s a cruel twist of fate – a psychological and physiological head-fuck – to deal with.

A lot of the dear people who I would have wanted to say goodbye to me have already departed this mortal coil into the unknown destination of whatever the afterlife might bring. Another dimension – perhaps the fifth, or even the sixth. Many, or most of them were taken by a cruel force which we could have never possibly imagined in the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s. The BIG A. Our war. Our grief. Our problem.

HIV. I have it. AIDS. I have it. Full-blown AIDS. I’ve got AIDS.

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

I carry-on reading ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’, wondering, for the final time, if it might actually be any good.

“During The Second World War, my mother’s parents, Gladys and Henry Rogers, were the stewards in a golf club on The Norfolk Broads which had been appropriated by The War Office as a convalescent home for injured or mentally traumatised officers from the British and allied airforces.

Pretty little Celia, in her ribbons and bows, was their only child, and despite the miserably inadequate love and attention she received from them, she was something of a mascot to the convalescing airmen.

Her parent existed in a shallow, social pool of whist drives, cheap novels, lower-middle-class morality, snobbishness and self-righteous hypocrisy. This, however, enabled ‘our boys’ to do precisely what they wanted behind the Rogers’ backs.

Gladys was like a domineering-yet-clueless caricature of all that was worse about the British in the war years: parochial, small-minded, totally devoid of intellect and jolly good fun at parties.

Henry, her long-suffering husband, was the epitome of the the downtrodden little man; at his wife’s beck and call. She made him wear brilliantine on his ‘short back and sides’, which was slicked back and parted in the middle. He looked like a band leader without a band, but somehow managed to retain some dignity by being something of a snappy dresser and raconteur, with a quirky sense of humour.

‘The boys’, as the wounded and traumatised officers were generally known, referred to Gladys as ‘The Dragon’ and generally felt sorry for Henry, whom they indulged to an extent, in order to be able continue with their extra-mural activities, which included drunken parties in the old boathouse, which was far enough from the golf clubhouse (where the Rogers lived in a small a flat) for their raucous laughter to remain unheard.

Here, they would invite local, lonely wives whose husbands were away fighting and help to fill the holes in their lives, as it were.

Young Celia received a rather thorough sex education, which she couldn’t have hoped to get from her uptight parents, by being a secret and frequent observer of the Bachanalian rites, through a hole in the boathouse wall.

She was a lonely, only child and had developed an inner fantasy world which was based, to some extent, on the stories which the airmen had told her and the antics which she’d observed.

One kindly officer had supplied her with the books that she craved: not cheap romances or pot-boilers, but classics of modern and not-so-modern literature: Dickens, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Trollope, D.H Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh and E.M Forster, to name a few. All these had enthralled her and transported her into a world where she was not just a pretty, young thing sporting ribbons and curls. She was learning about life from the combination of literature and the battle-scarred airmen that she served as a mascot to. She had no intention of being as ill-educated and narrow-minded as her parents were and was already developing a precocious wisdom and survival instinct which would serve her very well in later life.

After the war was over, the golf club continued to serve as a sanctuary for allied airforce officers recovering from the various ill-effects of combat.

When Celia reached seventeen, she had become a virtual slave to her parents, serving as a waitress, general dogsbody, glass-washer, dish-washer, housemaid and all manner of menial matters that were simply beneath her; but she held herself higher than her tasks, thanks to her self-education and burgeoning sense of self.

One day in April, 1947, there was a new arrival and Celia was there to welcome him, take his bags and show him to his quarters. Count Vladimir Romanofski was a Polish flying ace who had been shot down over Burma and taken prisoner, but after just a few weeks he’d somehow managed to make a daring and heroic escape and had found his way to Singapore, soon after the Japanese had surrendered to the allies. He’d had to have his left arm amputated below the elbow, and was suffering from the after-effects of malaria.

Celia was quite taken by his resemblance to Clarke Gable. Her parents had taken her to see ‘Gone With The Wind’ at the local ‘flea pit’ as an erstwhile treat for her seventeenth birthday, but this rare outing was short-lived and she only got to see about half of the movie: she’d been hustled out of the cinema by Gladys and Henry because of their distaste regarding the ‘heavy petting’ taking place all around them.

As Celia took the Count’s coat (he wouldn’t let her take his bags) he decided, as he eyed this blossoming beauty, that things were not bad as they might have been.

Celia was quire taken aback by the sudden, uncharacteristic attack of shyness which had overcome her. As she observed this tall, dashing and handsome man from beneath her eyelids she couldn’t help wondering if he might be able to provide her with the real-life, second part of ‘Gone With The Wind’.

With her natural innocence tempered by an innate understanding of the ways of the world, due to the company of the airmen and the books that she’d read, she allowed herself to make an ironic observation – that he probably would be ‘gone with the wind’ before too long. The aptness of this thought, considering the Count’s chosen vocation, made her chuckle to herself involuntarily.

Iss cood choke?” he asked, curious.

Celia merely lowered her eyes and mumbled: “Maybe…”

The Count was now certain that this girl was not only lovely to look at, but mysterious and intriguing as well as… a challenge. He was twenty five-years old and a little taller and slimmer than Clarke Gable, but had a similar mysterious charisma and a nonchalant detachment.

Celia was soon to be become quite besotted with him. He was, of course, the perfect gentleman who was equally aware that by being so he would possibly… probably be able to deflower this delectable and charming virgin. Besides, he genuinely liked her. He too had been an only child, brought up by his Polish Father and French mother in a crumbling, once elegant chateau in Normandy.

He spoke several languages and had been studying politics and philosophy at The Sorbonne when The War had cruelly intervened. He’d volunteered to join the Polish Airforce in 1940, having lied about his age.

Gladys and Henry were terribly impressed with this charming, aristocratic gentleman-officer and unwittingly encouraged their daughter, whom they considered to be no more than a little girl, to spend time in his company. Celia’s first sexual experiences were subsequently magical and exciting.

The other airman were amazed by the rapid changes which occurred in her personality and demeanor. She was blossoming into a confident and sophisticated beauty before their very eyes.

The Count indulged her by bringing her clothes, stocking and perfumes, after he was given leave to visit Paris, where his parents now resided, at Christmas Time in 1947. This made the girls in the village gossip and become jealous of Celia as, in those frugal post-war years, she was the first to sport what was dubbed ‘The New Look’, which had been created by by Christian Dior.

The Count was very gentle with her, as he was skilled in the art of seduction, building-up slowly towards his intended conquering of her silky defences. She, meanwhile, wondered why he was taking so long.

One balmy evening in late spring he was rowing her across the golf club’s lake in a skiff. He had somehow managed to get hold of a bottle of champagne. Celia had never experienced such a effervescent high. She felt elated and wanted. As he rowed them back to the boathouse, she felt a dryness in her throat and an insistent moistness between her thighs. Is this it? He helped her off the boat and she giggled and nearly fell in the water. Will it hurt? Please don’t let it hurt.

They went up the rickety wooden stairs into the sail loft where the early-evening sunshine streamed through the cobwebs on a crumbling circular, stained-glass window. He carefully laid her down on a pile of boat cushions, kissed her first gently, then more deeply; then slowly, artfully made love to her. Once he was inside her it was… too wonderful.

He was her fantastical, dashing hero.

Nine months later, Anastasia Romanovski was born. In Denmark.

When Celia had realised that she was pregnant, she kept it a secret for some time. Luckily, she didn’t suffer from morning sickness, but even her remarkably unperceptive mother noticed that she was having eating binges, which Gladys assumed were just as a result of ‘growing pains’. Celia was therefore able explain her expanding waistline in a fairly satisfactory manner.

After four months, she felt able to tell Vladimir. He appeared to be delighted, yet aware of the problems involved. He made it clear to Celia that an (illegal) abortion was out of the question.

He then secretly started to hatch intricate plans, whereby the baby could be, well, taken care of.

Celia was beginning to wonder why he hadn’t asked to marry him. She loved him unreservedly, but some sixth sense told her that it was somehow not to be. She had never felt so happy and fulfilled in her short life: but was her dream about to be demolished?”

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

Anna Karlsburg is one my oldest girlfriends – she came to England in 1973 from South Africa after her mother had moved there with her as a baby with her husband Arthur Karlsburg, a member of the famous Danish brewing family, who ran the family’s business operation there.

Anna is HIV-positive and, erm, quite positive that she isn’t going to die anytime soon, at least not from The Big A. She firmly believes that positive thinking (ironic isn’t it?) will help her survive. In the absence of any known cure, it certainly has… thus far. She was diagnosed in the mid-eighties, one of the first women in the UK. She, unlike many, knows exactly where and from whom she caught it. She had a wild night of drink and drug-fuelled passion with a bisexual man in Australia (the long-term boyfriend of someone whom I was obsessed with in the 70s, as it happens), who was diagnosed as positive about a year later.

Anna will be furious – and devastated – when she hears that I’ve ‘topped’ myself. And hurt. She’ll call me a negative, selfish shithead. Her best friend. Her soul-brother. Gone… with the wind.

The thought of observing her grief and reaction from what we presume to call ‘the other side’ is enough to make me reconsider my decision.

What options do I have? Nobody knows I have AIDS. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone of my plight for various reasons. I couldn’t bear the character changes which would affect my friends and family. I would loathe the forced chumminess which would be made even more awkward with their awareness of my impending demise. The eyes that indicate: ‘I don’t know what to say’. The sympathetic little smiles, the reliance on the nostalgic memories, all those good times we once shared, soon to evaporate into the acrid air above the crematorium.

Of course, I guess I could milk it for all I was worth; hitting social security and various charities for whatever I could get out of them; but then I would have to look ill. I would have to act like I had AIDS. Perhaps vanity has something to do with it… and pride and my desire for privacy.

The loneliness of the long-distance bummer, the eternal bohemian.

I’ve never looked healthier.

As a result of my ongoing failure to get anything off the ground career-wise, despite my own – and other’s – belief in my abilities, along with my reluctant reliance on my friends and family for financial support, I’m going to kill myself.

Because fate seems set against me.

I work my arse off creatively whilst trying to promote myself. I’m bloody good at what I do. I’m multi-fucking-talented. I can sing, write, play, perform, organise, design, conceptualise, predict trends, inspire and teach. I’m a spiritual healer and even a clairvoyant.

I can help people on so many levels and so many people take that for granted, as if it were their God-given right.

I am regarded as a demi-deity or a demi-devil. Extremes. I am under-estimated and over-estimated but never correctly assimilated.

I feel lonely, confused and lost. Broke. No food. No tobacco. No lifestyle (that dearly-beloved term of 80s). No escape from myself. I am chained inside my own fertile brain, like a hamster on a wheel. No alcohol. I need a fucking drink! I want to get drunk and just FORGET! Maybe that would probably be the best way to wave goodbye to my wayward world – vodka and barbiturates.

I would just drift away into oblivion, with a beatific smile on my face… no doubt.

Then there’s always the river; the majestic, murky, malevolent River Thames. My morbid alliteration triggers a horrible memory from only three years ago: The Marchioness Disaster.

I was travelling home in a taxi after a night-out (I think my date had payed), crossing Westminster Bridge, when I saw all the ambulances and police cars. The driver slowed down and said: ‘I hear that there’s been a major incident guv’, lots of people drowned on one of those party boats which sunk.’

It later transpired that I knew at least 20 of those who had lost their lives. More to add to my miserable tally of misery, with all those deaths of friends from AIDS. And there was worse, much worse. When the so-called ‘Emergency Services’ discovered that it had been a largely gay party, it was rumoured (and later corroborated by an enquiry), that in their ignorance, they actually refused to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on victims who might have been saved and to have any (dead) body contact with those who had drowned.

I love the iconic view from both sides of Waterloo Bridge. Who doesn’t? The graceful arcs of that wonderful building that looks like it’s going to sail away from Charing Cross Station; The Palace Of Westminster beneath a hazy sunset, redolent of a water-colour by Turner; that fabulous wedding cake of building which houses The National Liberal Club, where the artist Felix Topolski lives in a duplex penthouse in one of the towers. How I would love to see inside before I depart this mortal coil.

Then, in the other direction, the huge dome of St Paul’s still dominates the skyline, despite the glass-and-steel young pretenders springing up in The City (aka The Square Mile). The only contender for iconic status so far is the magnificent Lloyds building, with its blue lights and exposed, industrial innards. I’m sure it won’t be long until London’s skyline begins to resemble that of Manhattan or Hong Kong.

Then to the right lies South Bank centre, with its design representing the 50s (the rather fabulous Festival Hall and The National Film Theatre), the 60s (The Purcell Room and The Queen Elizabeth Hall) and the 70s (The National Theatre And The Hayward Gallery). It’s a bit like a modernist architecture master-class.

Then there’s a body washed-up on the muddy, rubbish-strewn bank at low tide – probably in one of the bleaker areas of the newly developed Docklands, that capitalist joke which mis-fired. No life, just megalithic towers full of empty offices. No life in my body either – after it was discovered by some yuppy walking his his English Bull Terrier (for protection from the dwindling, indigenous working-class population?) along the windswept embankment, wondering what attraction this cold, new city of lost souls ever held for him.

Anyway, drowning in the Thames would be cold, dark and extremely unpleasant – rather like my flat.

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

“In the early summer of 1949, Vladimir had arranged for a distant relative who was a minor member of the Danish Royal Family (which would of course thrill the easily-impressed Rogers) to come and chaperone Celia for a month’s ‘holiday’ in Copenhagen. This was, of course, so that Celia could give birth in secret.

Eva Kronen, The Count’s third cousin-once-removed, had been chosen specifically because she was barren and desperately wanted to adopt a child.

This was to be Celia’s first trip abroad and she was flushed with excitement: the baby, Vladimir, the trip… but her intuitive heart kept missing a beat.

Vladimir had a acquired a rather racy, rattling, three-wheeled Morgan sports car.He strapped their luggage onto the rack above the boot, Eva squeezed onto the narrow ledge behind the front seats and everyone came to wave them off. Disabled veterans waved their white scarves and omnipresent tobacco pipes, the staff waved white napkins and Gladys and Henry hugged Vladimir and Celia – more for effect that out of affection – before they clambered into the car and roared-off to Harwich to board the ferry to Copenhagen.

The Count was due to be discharged from The Links in a week’s time, and he insisted that he would join them afterwards. After he helped them board, he waved from the dock, silhouetted against the setting sun, as the ship sounded its foghorn and sailed off. Soon his figure became tiny and Celia’s heart-stops told her that he was gone… forever. She started shedding torrents of tears and Eva comforted her, assuming that her weeping was as a result of the emotions of leaving home for the first time.

Eva and her husband Dachiel had a beautiful-yet-simple, wooden holiday home in a larch forest overlooking a lake, thirty kilometres from Copenhagen. Celia was enchanted and felt very relaxed in this sylvan setting. Eva had made sure that everything was just right for the birth, including telling her husband that she was pregnant by him, but that she would like to be alone for the birth, with only the company of a midwife.

He happily agreed, with some relief, so that he could go about his business in the burgeoning pilsner lager trade and continue to bed various comely, buxom blondes.

A letter arrived from Vladimir and Celia opened it excitedly, but with some trepidation, whilst Eva grimaced behind her, as she already knew what the contents would be, having planned every move with The Count in England.

The Links

Bourton Water,

Norfolk

England.

May 1st, 1949

My dearest Celia

Please do not be angry with me, but I’ve had to go away – to Australia. An uncle recently died and bequeathed me a sheep farm in his will. Whilst this is fortuitous, unfortunately he also made a stipulation that no women were to be allowed on the property unless they were working in the kitchens. As I would never allow you to be subjugated thus, it is with the deepest regret and sorrow that I leave you in the capable hands of my relative Eva, whom, I trust, will be able to take care of the baby. At least then I can rest assured that the product of our love will in safe hands.

Fondest regards

Vladimir

Celia, understandably, was dumbstruck, yet at the same time, she felt an irrational calm, as if she had known that this would happen all along. Eva held her from behind and made suitably comforting noises as Celia softly sobbed .

Count Vladimir Romanofski was, at that moment, prospecting for gold in Northern Canada.

Celia had no option but to hand over the child to Eva, who, to be fair, had grown fond of her, despite being smitten with guilt about deceiving her. She had also payed Vladimir, who was largely penniless, a small fortune to adopt the baby. To say that Celia was devastated, emotionally traumatised and utterly disillusioned would be an understatement.

On the lonely journey back to England, having bid a tearful goodbye to her daughter, whom she had named Anastasia, with a certain rueful irony (the Romanov that got away), she tried to force herself into denying that these awful events had ever happened. At the tender age of eighteen, she had been given a crash course in harsh realities and cruelly twisted manipulation, the sudden, unexpected nature of which gave her innate wisdom which would serve her well in the years to come. She maintained her dignity and inner strength, against all the odds.

She reluctantly encouraged herself to subtly flirt with some of the single males on board the ferry, knowing instinctively that to harbour bitterness and to hate all men would be counter-productive and foolish. The compliments and flattery that came her way helped her, in a curiously warped sense, to slowly regain some vestige of her shattered self-confidence.

Dick Tinderman flung his canvas kitbag onto the threadbare, candlewick counterpane covering the thin mattress of a rickety, steel-framed single bed and ruefully surveyed his new home. He had never seen so many conflicting patterns in ghastly shades of pastel pink and green. He spat into the cracked wash basin, then turned on the only tap, which sputtered, then fizzled out, as ancient pipes rumbled in the bowels of his seedy lodgings in Great Yarmouth. There was a knock at the door. He cursed under his breath, then shouted cheerily: ‘It’s open!’

His new landlady, a Miss Pratt, shouted ‘Are you decent Mr Tinnerman (she always got his name wrong)’?

‘I’d like to think I’m always decent!’ Replied Dick, turning on his ever-ready charm with a chuckle.

She poked her head (which was wrapped in a gruesome lilac-coloured flowery scarf to conceal her omnipresent rollers) around the door: ‘I just wanted to see that everything were alright with the room n’ all.’ Miss Pratt leant against the doorframe in what she considered to be an artful pose.

‘All ship-shape and Bristol fashion ma’am!’ Said Dick, with a snappy salute, wishing that she’d get lost.

‘Oooh, you sailors are soo saucy!’ She cooed, as she sashayed out and shut the door, leaving a vapour trail of cheap perfume and over-boiled cabbage.

‘Silly cow.’ Muttered Dick, pulling a face as he started to get his things organised. He looked at his watch (fake Omega, bought in Hong Kong) and cursed. He was due to meet Stephen at the docks in Harwich. His ship was due in under an hour. He could just about make it if he hurried.

Stephen and Dick were lovers. Sort-of. In 1949 it was virtually impossible for any male to admit to being homosexual (queer, bent, poof, shirt-lifter, shit-stabber) and actually doing it was, well, so squalid. Their sex-life comprised of little more than embarrassed fumbles on lumpy mattresses in anonymous, musty rooms. wiping-up their come with cotton handkerchiefs. Hardly the stuff of great romantic novels.

The word gay hadn’t yet entered the lexicon of sexuality – that wouldn’t happen until the late 60s – and was only used to describe a certain frivolity, like gay abandon.

Anyway, Stephen and Dick weren’t ‘that way’, they were ‘just playing around, having a giggle’, usually after a few drinks, or ‘feeling horny on a hot afternoon’ after looking at some cheap porn.

Stephen, eighteen to Dick’s nineteen, was hopelessly in love with him, and hated it when Dick would say that ‘they should go out and find some crumpet and make babies.’

Dick hurried out of the room, casting one more withering glance at the décor, as he slammed the door behind him. He was still wearing his uniform, not having had time to change.

Celia stood at the top of the gangway and briefly paused to survey the scene before her. She was, in a curious way, pleased to back in England, although she didn’t have the faintest idea what the future held in store for her. One thing was for sure: her taste of freedom on her first trip abroad, away from her parents, had convinced her that her stay at The Links would be as brief as possible.

Something had hardened inside her – a steely resolve, which would help her through many a crisis in the years to come.

One of her male admirers offered to carry her bags, but she gracefully declined, thinking that she’d never get rid of him. What she’d not factored-in was her relative physical weakness following the birth of her daughter. The bags were heavy. Eva had insisted on giving her some money blood money, despite her protestations, so at least she could take a taxi to Bourton Water. Now where was the nearest cab rank?

She staggered along the dock with her luggage then noticed a young, blond, good-looking man in naval uniform sitting in the driving seat of a slightly battered old Austin 7, smoking a cigarette with his arm on the windowsill. He’d spotted her and asked through the open window: ”scuse me miss, are you a little lost?’ Displaying his usual winning charm, then that devastating devilish smile.

She faltered, having heard tales about charming sailors. ‘I… er…I’m looking for the cab rank.’

She dropped her bags with a sigh of relief and waved her hands in a gesture of futility.

‘C’mon, hop in young lady, I’ll drive you to the cab rank.’ Again, that smile. He stubbed out his cigarette on the window sill, and jumped out.

‘Th…thankyou,’ said Celia, thinking she must be mad, but he seemed, well, charming. Dick flung her bags into the back seat and she sat on the passenger seat.

‘Cigarette?

‘No thanks, I don’t smoke.’

‘I was waiting for a mate of mine, but his ship’s late arriving, so I’ve got a bit of time to kill. Would you care for a quick cuppa in one this fair town’s celebrated caffs?’

She laughed and threw back her head. Exorcising the pain. She couldn’t think of anything better than a steaming mug of English tea.

‘Yes, thankyou, that would be lovely.’

‘Atta girl!’ Said Dick, patting her gently on the knee.

Celia leant back in her seat and observed Dick as drove, through the corner of her eye. He had a fine, healthy-looking, handsome face, sparkly cornflower-blue eyes and thick blond hair, swept back from his forehead. A smile seemed to play around his lips constantly. Suddenly it widened into a grin and spoke: ‘What, may I ask, are you looking at young lady?’

Celia was somewhat taken aback, but she summoned a confident tone: ‘Oh, I was admiring the wonderful designs created by the spots of rust above your window!’

She stifled a guffaw and he laughed as they drew up outside a cafe on the seafront called ‘The Milk Bar’. Music from a jukebox filtered through the open windows.

‘Frank Sinatra honey!’ He said, in a fairly awful American accent, ‘Aint ya a bobby sox kinda gal?’

She hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about; light classics from the Victor Sylvester Orchestra being the preferred radio soundtrack back at The Links.

The Links? They’ll be wondering where I’ve got to… oh well, I can telephone and say that ferry was delayed. I like this person, he makes me laugh, he’s charming and attractive. Damn the rules!

The smell of freshly-ground coffee assailed her nostrils as Dick led her inside and pulled-out a red, formica and bentwood chair for her to sit in at a red gingham-covered table by a window overlooking the promenade and the sea.

She couldn’t help smiling. I need to feel frivolous!

She observed that the cafe was obviously popular with young people, who seemed to be mostly dressed in black, gathered around a garish-looking Jukebox. A girl sporting a pony-tail pouted at her, chewing gum, and boy in a black leather motorcycle jacket winked at her. She lowered her eyes and fiddled with a paper napkin she’d taken from a chrome dispenser on the table, aware that a smile still played around her lips, yet feeling that she didn’t belong in this faux American tableau.

Dick observed her mixed emotions from the counter whilst he waited for their tea. Celia was certainly very pretty and slender, with her luxuriant mass of auburn curls and peaches and cream complexion. There was also something mysterious and detached about her, which intrigued him, but her lively, raucous laugh indicated a free spirit, unbound by conventions.

He imagined that she would be good ‘in the sack’ although, if he were frank, he could only admit to having fumbled with a fair amount of people – both men and women – but he’d never actually made love with anyone.

He put the steaming mugs of tea and a couple of rock cakes on a brown, bakelite tray and took them to the table, with a napkin draped over his arm. ‘Danish pastries are off ma’am,’ he said in a piss-elegant waiter’s manner.

Delia laughed, but looked at him quizzically.

‘Well, aren’t you just back from the land of the aforementioned delight?’ He suggested, eyebrows raised over imaginary spectacles.

She giggled and nodded, then stirred her tea absentmindedly.

He switched to a broad East Anglian accent: ‘Uz zailerz knows about them boatz you knowz!’

She hooted with laughter, looking straight into his cobalt-blue eyes.

The baby. My baby.

She poked him in the ribs with her teaspoon and did a passable imitation of Ingrid Bergman as she replied: ‘You are a very clever sailor, but do you realise that I was staying with minor member of the Danish Pastry Royal Family?’

He leaned-in close to her ear and half-whispered: ‘You should be an actress…’

She was surprised, yet flattered; such a thought had never occurred to her.

‘And so should you!’

‘Well, I did once play one of the Ugly Sisters in S.S Pygmalian’s production of Cinderella, somewhere South of Chile…’

‘Oh, I’m sure you’d look delightful in a dress!’ She chuckled.

He affected a look of mock horror and held her hand. She didn’t attempt to take it away.

His blue eyes blazed into her luminous, dark brown eyes. She held his gaze.

He’s gorgeous.

‘Right!’ He leapt up out of his seat, ‘That’s it! You have to join the G.Y.A.D.S!’

‘I’d love to…’ she said sweetly, ‘If only I knew what that was!’

‘You’ll be gyad to know that it’s The Great Yarmouth Amateur Dramatic Society!’

‘Ah ha – I see! And how does one go about joining said venerated society?’

‘One gets to know…’ intoned Dick deeply, somewhat in the style of Lawrence Olivier, touching his nose conspiratorially ‘…one of the leading men!’

‘And… might he be known as a bit of a clever… dick?’ Suggested Celia, in her best Ealing Studios, little-starlet-voice.

They embraced and knocked over the remains of her cup of tea.

‘Existential…’ murmured the girl with the pony tail by the Jukebox.”

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

It might seem strange, but I feel that it’s time for a cup of tea. I now realise that writing one’s suicide note isn’t as straightforward as one might imagine. There are certainly not any literary precedents that I’m aware of.

I can’t just write: ‘sorry, thanks and goodbye’ because I have explain and justify, to an extent, my rather extreme action.

Maybe this is merely a note to myself; perhaps I haven’t got the courage to go through with it.

The reader (should there ever be one… you see, even killing oneself as a final, definitive creative pursuit induces feeling of self-doubt) might wonder why I have a tendency to turn erstwhile tragedy into black comedy.

I guess it stems from years of facing yet another nadir with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders, suffering as they are from the combined weight of the world, the guilt of the Catholics, the oppression of the Jews, the repression of Muslim women and several million closets  which, let me tell you, adds-up to a great deal of pressure, even if they are of the bedsit variety, sporting the finest teak-effect veneer and gilt handles (or should that be guilt?)… I digress.

Yes, the weight, the puns, the jokes, the yokes, the deliberately pathetic one-liners, anything to raise a laugh. How we laughed! All the way to the bank… of the river, where we would wander, dreaming of converting one those Victorian warehouses into New York-style lofts, where would have studios and host wild parties and make merciless fun of any brainless zombie who was unfortunate enough to stray into our sparkling flight paths. Being zombies, of course, meant that they never noticed, which made our ‘extraction of their urine’ quite harmless, if not entirely innocent.

That was back in the 70s, before the monster corporations saw the potential and watered down our pioneering fantasies with concierges, underground car parks, communal gyms and swimming pools and absurdly high prices – especially if there was a river view.

We remember Andrew Logan’s original Alternative Miss World Contests with great affection. The first one was held in a squatted warehouse in Butler’s Wharf, overlooking Tower Bridge on the South Bank Of the Thames, before Terence Conran got his hands on it and turned it into a ‘lifestyle opportunity’.

Being a writer, of sorts, I can’t help, well… writing. Therefore, there’s a chance that this suicide note might delay my death by days, weeks or even months. Now, however, it’s the grey, drizzly morning of my 40th birthday. I’ve been up all night writing, reading ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’, thinking and drinking what was left in my 50s cocktail cabinet (£15 in a local junk shop), with its mirror-mosaic-front rounded bit which turns around to reveal… well, at this juncture, precisely zilch, because I’ve drunk it all; even the hideous Martini, which is only marginally less vile than Campari, which tastes like mouldy boiled soap.

Crampton St Cocktail cab

Now who could wish for a greater justification for suicide? Hence the tea. Damn! No milk! What do I have in my pocket? 32p. See, fate is determined to humiliate me even at the hour of my intended demise. Milk costs 37p in the local 7-11.

If I go down there I’ll probably be accosted by the punk who habitually hangs around outside and asks ‘prosperous-looking’ people like me if ‘they can spare any small change?’ I always feel like saying ‘No, but could you? I’ve just rummaged through my change jar to find enough for a pint of milk OK, nuff said?’ Then adding, with a flourish that only the nouveau pauvre can muster: ‘but at least I didn’t have to lower myself to one-pence pieces, they are such small change!’

The punk would no-doubt shift and shuffle uncomfortably in his purple and green-painted Doc Martens, hands deep in the pockets of his dirty, drainpipe jeans, no doubt to muffle the giveaway rattling of several pounds in small change. Have I got any small change indeed! Perhaps I could throw myself under a number 12 night bus in front of him, having exclaimed ‘I’m BROKE and I’m gonna KILL myself!’ before leaping athletically over those ridiculous railings that Southwark Council have, for some inexplicable reason, installed all the way down the Walworth Road, which we local gays refer to as The Straza, because it’s so cruisy – mostly with local black guys (who, natch, have wives or girlfriends, or both).

‘Penniless’ punk as undertaker? No, he’s an agent of the devil himself – and it would so unfair on the bus driver. They have enough to contend with already, dealing with people on god-knows-what-the-latest-cheap-high-is, taken by the latest incarnation of hippius extinctius. It’s weird for us thirty-somethings – well, I was, until this morning – to observe the cycle repeating itself and people making all the same mistakes that we did, except that then the world seemed lighter. Less cynical. Oh! The wonderful naivity of the 60s (the tail-end in my case). Not that I ever indulged in any Warhol-esque decadence, which is probably just as well, judging by what happened to the likes of Edie Sedgewick and co. I do remember wearing a flower in my long hair to the Bristol Cathedral School (which was a very liberal establishment), thinking it terribly daring. I was fifteen at the time.

Back to the business of the pint of milk. Semi-skimmed. My last one ever, possibly? But I haven’t got enough money, dammit! And… I’m more-or-less certain to bump into one of my nightlife acquaintances, no doubt ‘off their faces’, buying crisps, chocolate, tobacco and ‘skins’ (cigarette papers). They will no doubt mumble something like ‘How ya doin’ man?’

I always feel that if someone enquires after my health and general well-being that they are obviously genuinely interested in my welfare, so tend to launch into a detailed low-down on my week’s high and low points, and soon their eyes glaze over and they search for the pause button on their metaphorical remote control, but it won’t work.

‘7-11 does sell Triple-A batteries!’ I might suggest helpfully, before performing a little jig in the aisles.

You’re never going to believe what just happened – well, actually, it was a few hours ago, but I’m only writing it up just now. I never did make it to 7-11.

I was typing away happily on my borrowed word-processor – as happily as one realistically can whilst writing their erstwhile suicide note – having just reached the bit about the batteries in 7-11, when BANG! Off went the electricity and the flat was plunged into darkness. I thought, either this is symbolic synchronicity, my flat is committing suicide out of sympathy, or… the money has run-out on my high-tech, budget electricity key. The latter was, unfortunately, the prosaic truth. There was one major problem. Cash flow paralysis. The early hours. No milk – and now, no way of boiling a kettle, although, thinking about it, one could heat a saucepan of water on the rather wonderful, pale-blue-and-cream, 50s gas stove.

I rummaged around in a draw and found a candle and rolled a cigarette, having spent my last pound on tobacco. This had been based on the logic that when one is about to kick one’s own bucket, having recently discovered that one has full-blown AIDS, that there some justification for describing said situation as stressful in the extreme. Comprende?

Dinner had been the remains of dinner from the day before – cauliflower cheese – reheated and served with garlic bread and petit pois from a tin, washed down with my last bottle of Grolsch.

What a way to go! Actually, what should or indeed could be my last meal turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Food tends to mature in the fridge overnight and tastes much better the next day. I’m sure the recipe is to be found in ‘Ricky Racket’s Urban Cookbook’, yet another of my creative projects. But I don’t need to tell you about it because when I’m dead it will just part of the veritable INDUSTRY which will spring-up around my name. My songs, my lyrics, my poetry, my paintings, my photos, my musicals, my diary, my letters, my book ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’ and… possibly this epitaph to myself, which I find myself writing right now.

At least I won’t be stung by any criticism. Or will I? I’m thinking of that wonderful post-war British film by Powell and Pressburger where David Niven played an airman who crashed and died and went to ‘heaven’. What was it called? Oh yes, ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’. Not the most riveting of titles. In fact, I seem to remember that it was retitled ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in the US, and that was allegedly where Led Zepellin got the inspiration for their eponymous, rather irritating song. Anyway, he ascended said giant stairway to heaven and it was an all-white, sort-of fifth dimension in the clouds (did dry ice exist in those days?) where the ‘angels’ observed what was going on down below on earth through large, horizontal, circular windows. So there you have it. The proof. There IS life after death. At least in the movies.

My life, my art: I’ve spent all my existence working on it and never really got anywhere beyond the occasional major record deal that went nowhere. Dropped. Spat out. Hung out to dry. Once, a few years ago, a friend and sometime lover reassured me after I’d moaned that sometimes my career felt like swimming in treacle and I didn’t know which direction to take… and he’d stated: ‘your role in life is being Ricky Racket – that’s your career.’

I seem to remember gulping and suppressing a grimace. He was horribly correct. What an indictment of my failure to deliver anything other than a vaguely charismatic personality!

So… the lights went out. I had managed to press save on the word processor after the word batteries, but have forgotten the punchline, if indeed there was one. Although, under the circumstances, batteries was somewhat close to the bone. Maybe that was the punchline? You see, my brain is going. I’m typing out stream-of-subconscious rubbish that even I don’t understand. And I’m not on speed, like Kerouac or Burroughs.

But I can’t stop. I am compelled, nay driven… even though I’m as sober as a nun at a hen party.

Continue Ricky, you have nothing to lose… indulge yourself and enjoy, for tomorrow, or the next day, or week, or whenever: we die.

Thus spake Zarathustra, my higher self (that’s his name, I didn’t steal him from Nietzsche, honest guv’ – it’s just a coincidence); the still, small, voice inside. Apparently, our higher self is a golden, androgenous figure that is with us throughout our lives – all of them. There could, however, be a small problem with taking your own life, regarding what happens afterwards. There’s a rumour flying around in my brain which suggests that people who committed suicide become trapped in a sort-of nowhere-land, becoming the unhappy, homeless spirits who often make guest appearances at seances and tarot card readings and the suchlike. I know – I’ve met some of them, and pretty bitter and twisted they are too. How long have they been trapped? A 100 years? In limbo, suspended? This I don’t like!

The concept of heaven and hell is anathema to me. Religious propaganda to foster fear, guilt and obedience in the masses. Then the divine and blessed forgiveness. How convenient! Step right up Mr mass murderer! Give us all the loot you stashed in your mother’s cellar and we will absolve you, as long as you accept Christ/Mohammed/Siva (delete where applicable) as your saviour and you will be sure to go heaven! Boom boom! Just like that! Just like artists believing their own publicity, the mass murderer starts to believe his own little religious scam, even though those nasty little truthful voices are saying: you giant con-artist, who do think you’re fooling, you fucking hypocrite? Heaven, as such, does not exist. Karma is what it’s all about, kid!

The mass murderer then thinks (whilst absentmindedly admitting to himself that the small voices are indeed speaking inside his head): er, yeah, but what about all those villains who make millions in so-called ‘legit’ businesses, like managing rock groups, or property deals, when all they’ve done all their lives is to shit on people from a great height, usually with the aid of electric drills, blow torches and chainsaws?

My dear mass murderer, continues the small voice, I do believe that your recently discovered religious vocation is blinding you to certain truths. Making millions is by no means a recipe for happiness, fulfilment and inner peace.

SO, sailing on the horns of that particular dilemma I continue, with my metaphors as mixed as ever (all in the name of double irony), because it amuses me to play with preconceptions, images and cliches, whilst being a lover of beautiful language. I suspect I’m something of a philistine. Just call me Phyllis. She has no guilt or shame. She’s as pure as the driven… cocaine.

Last night, being my last night, winding-down this proverbial mortal coil – well almost – I decided that it would be appropriate to go out to a party. Somebody was opening a new gay night called KY down by London Bridge in a museum called The Clink (London’s first jail, apparently). Having decided to go, I was trying to work out whom I might visit to hit-up for some cash, so that I might at least get annebriated. Can you imagine going to the last party of your life sober?

I couldn’t call anyone as my phone card had run-out the day before. It had to be someone local who stayed-up late – it was already 1AM. I did a fairly accurate reconstruction of Rodin’s The Thinker which yielded a suitable candidate in the form of my friend Tonski, the handsome, dreadlocked drug dealer who, conveniently, lived on the way to the party. I just hoped he would be at home.

I set off towards the Old Kent Road, anticipating being mugged by several beautiful young men (if the reader is a heterosexual male he might compare this slightly warped fantasy with being robbed by five gorgeous young women).

I started to compose a surreal reaction in my head that would render the muggers speechless and open-mouthed, frozen in their tracks.

Good morning gentlemen, but I’m sorry, not today thank you…

Mmm, a bit weak.

How about the old standby of being a partly-deaf tourist in a no speaky de Engliss kind of way?

No, they probably think that all foreign visitors (regardless of any disabilities or ineptitude with the English language) are loaded.

Okay then, let’s try that old maxim that telling white lies that are close to the truth are generally effective, regardless of who the recipients are – it usually works with one’s bank manager, for instance, and what are they if not robbers?

So now I’m thinking of something along the lines of: Jesus (turning-out my empty pockets)! This is the final fucking straw!I’m penniless, my fake Rolex is broken, my phone card’s run out and I’m going up there (points at vast, grey, council-owned tower block) to jump-off!

An optional extra might to throw in a reference about getting some charlie off your mate Tonski, the local dread drug-dealer, because they might be impressed by your social standing and high-level connections.

By now I had reached the council block that Tonski lived in – un-mugged. Tempting fate can often have the opposite effect, I like to think.

I shudder every time I think about visiting. If he lived somewhere less like a film set for A Clockwork Orange, I might come by more often than in times of emergency. Like now.

This shoebox-shaped 70s building rejoices in the name Dunstable, which is barely decipherable due to the amateurish graffiti adorning the building. Tonski lives on the 6th floor.

I gingerly opened the metal door, with its shattered ‘safety’ glass, and entered the litter-strewn, bare concrete lobby. There, waiting to transport me to heaven, were two of those brutally functional lifts designed to take coffins which, if they are working, seem to take forever to arrive and even longer to reach their destination.

There’s an omnipresent odour of urine and the discarded ephemera of people ‘chasing the dragon’ (cooking heroin on tin foil).

This nightmare, when repeated in reverse, after visiting a generous, friendly drug dealer, is enough to induce a heart attack brought on by the acute paranoia caused by a combination of the dystopian environment and the tasty selection of international delicacies the the dealer has proffered unto thee, wot wiv you being his mate.

Thankfully, Tonski was home and seemed happy to see me. I was pleased to see that his wife Alana, an attractive, blonde, American woman who looked like a 60s movie star (on a good day – perhaps something directed by Russ Meyer) had returned to England after her mother’s funeral. We hugged. I apologised for calling around so late as Tonski shut me up by shoving an enormous joint into my mouth, grinning broadly. The lift!

I took a deep toke – damn that’s strong! – and explained that I needed to borrow a tenner so I could go out to a party and that my electricity was about to run out and that I was sorry and embarrassed… I waved my hands around in a gesture of hopelessness. Tonski nodded his head and passed me a small mirror sporting a huge line of coke –The Lift! – and a crisp, rolled-up £20 note. ‘Keep the paper.’ He said, patting me on the back. I was definitely in the mood to get high, so damn the paranoia. What the hell did I have to lose?

Anyway, Paranoia is just a state of mind that mostly rookie drug-takers, or stupid people who cackle a lot when they get high, are likely to succumb to. If you refuse to accept that such a silly, subjective thing can succeed in entrapping you, then poof, it floats away like an acrid, purple cloud of smoke, to invade some other mother-fucker’s space.

Having become a conscientious objector to the Big P, I was now ready to enjoy myself.

Your final hours and you finally get it right, dick-head!

I stayed a while and chatted – Alana revealed that she was pregnant and I congratulated them both – and partook of more of Tonski’s excellent wares, whilst his three mobile phone jangled incessantly and the radio played cool mixes from Lips FM, the recently legalised, former pirate station.

Tonski is a beautiful-looking man. Tall, lithe, lean-yet-muscular, with finely-chiselled, classic West Indian features mixed with, I don’t know: Portuguese? South American? Add a stunning smile and a wicked laugh, seriously stylish dress sense and the demeanour of a gentleman, and you have the coolest drug dealer in South London. His merchandise is also always of the highest quality and dispatched with flair and generosity.

I’ve known Tonski for nearly a decade and, to be honest, he has flirted with me, but that’s because I’m his buddy, who happens to be gay. Straight men appreciate having a gay mate, because they can be more emotional and warm with them than with laddish, straight friends.

I’ve never tried to get Tonksi into bed, that would be just foolhardy. Mind you, I never try to get anyone into bed.

I sailed out of there at about 1.45 in the morning. The dreaded, descending lift was somehow transformed into a chariot of the Gods, but my enjoyment was short-lived when I reminded myself that I had to walk about a mile or so to the party. What the hell, I thought, I’ll take the scenic route down Borough High Street (that was my little joke to myself, although there are some fine, grandiose old buildings at the London Bridge End).

It was really quite warm for late October and the blustery wind felt stimulating as leaves and papers flew by my face. I imagined that I was walking on an endless travelator which carried me into the Victorian splendour of Borough Market. This is very reminiscent of Covent Garden when it was London’s main fruit, vegetable and flower market (think ‘My Fair Lady’), before the market was uprooted to the wastelands of Vauxhall in 1974 and renamed New Covent Garden. And the original was transformed into a giant vacuum cleaner to suck-in gullible tourists’ cash.

I remember it well from the late 60s and early 70s, when I used to hitch-hike up to London and stay with gay, hippie friends who lived in fabulous squats in Notting Hill. I can remember emerging from the legendary dope-smoky haze of the legendary Middle Earth club into the bustling hubbub of Covent Garden Market, and finding everything so evocative and atmospheric – a tall, entranced teenager felt like a wide-eyed, magical prince, scattering metaphorical fairy dust on everyone he encountered. He could also be invisible if he so desired.

Borough Market was buzzing with life, sounds, smells and colours as the hands on the clock on the tower of Southwark Cathedral hit 2am. As I sauntered through it, I felt like I was an extra in an Ealing Comedy based on Dickens, where all the salt-of-the-earth traders and barrow boys call anyone who appears to be above their station Guv’.

Former gas lamps cast an amber glow over the multi-coloured fruit and vegetables, spilling out of crates and boxes piled high beneath the vaulted wrought-iron and glass roofs of this otherwise open space.

As I glided by filming-with-my-imaginary-camera-0n-a-dolly-on-rails, I had to admit that despite how miserable the British can be at work, there was a carefree, light-hearted atmosphere. People, young and old, were laughing, shouting, joshing, telling jokes (even at that time of the morning), whilst loading their boxes of fruit n’ veg into vans and trucks. I doubt whether the Victorians were aware of avocados, sweet potatoes, yams, mange-tout, globe artichokes and aubergines, I mused, as I glided past the workers, who totally ignored me.

I left the market behind and found myself in the Dickensian gloom of Clink Street, a narrow thoroughfare behind the tall, imposing warehouses fronting the Thames. All thoughts of Jack The Ripper and his ilk were politely told to fuck off. I arrived at The Clink Museum – ostensibly on the site of England’s first large prison, hence the name. I looked at the very large, black doorman quizzically and he informed me that I couldn’t come in, as ‘the place was packed’.

‘Oh that’s OK, I’m on the guest list.’

‘Whose?’

‘Windy’s’ I replied, trying not to sound too smug.

‘OK, the guest list is at the bottom of the stairs.’ He said brusquely, waving me in.

I’d discovered this building in ’83, having been the first person to hold illegal, all-night raves in this fair city. Gay raves were first! Hooray! Straights and not-sures, however, were always welcome, so long as they conducted themselves in a suitably cool and non-aggressive fashion. My party had been held on New Year’s Eve in the spacious, sound-proofed rehearsal studios on the top floor. The memories came flooding back, but my wave of nostalgia was short-lived – the door whore asked for my name and waved me in.

Good times never evaporate, I thought, as I stepped into the gloom, assailed by a barrage of soulful house music, they remind of your self-worth, guv’, especially when people come up to you, bright and fluffy-tailed with happy memories, and you allow yourself to wallow a little in their indulgence, with a rewind and a… pause. For thought. Luv’…

I headed through the gloom – a half-empty dance floor – towards the makeshift bar, to find that they’d already run out of booze. Amateur hour! I reluctantly bought a can of Perrier water and thought to myself: if this is a commercial museum, it can’t be doing very well if the management let a bunch of funky fags take it over on a Friday night.

I noticed a few people I vaguely knew and they made small talk. I half-heartedly joined-in and then spiced things up by telling someone how difficult it was to write a suicide note without it turning into a veritable book. Their glazed-over eyes showed me that they had no idea of what I was alluding to and obviously thought I was bonkers and off-my-head.  A bit close to the bone, perhaps.

The ‘party’ dragged on. At least the music was good. I couldn’t connect, certainly not sexually. All that went out of the window with my wretched diagnosis. Who’d want to sleep with a PWA (Person with AIDS)? I figured that I would only be able to have sex with fellow PWAS – not that you would guess from looking at me, yet… and I wasn’t gonna be going round clanging a bell with a ball and chain around my leg croaking ‘Leper’!

Most males who have full-blown AIDS look very thin and sickly, often yellowish, and their facial skin is stretched tautly, almost like parchment. Often, they get mistaken for junkies, although, in some cases, they are. The new curse of the shared needle – along with hepatitis.

I guess there’s a certain thrill in being unavailable, the comfort of knowing that attractive men still find me irresistible. Not tonight Jo, I’ve got to be up in time to kill myself for my birthday dinner.

Shit! That’s truly awful. How could I be such a bare-faced selfish cunt? All my friends expecting me at La Crevette at Nine O’Clock to celebrate my big Four-Oh (no) and I’ll doing my impersonation of a dying swan in some gutter somewhere (whilst the world walks by ignoring my final, pathetic performance).

What a wretched way to draw attention to myself and my sorry plight. I’m appalled by my brutally introverted, bloody-minded dickheadedness!

This suicide is postponed until further notice!

I left the party and walked back home, forgot to load-up the electricity key and fell asleep in the dark – the sort of slumber that you’re surprised to wake-up from (you’ve might remember that this was yesterday, before my written thoughts took-over). So I’d cancelled my subscription to The Suicide Times (this week’s headline: Guilt-wracked Ricky Returns From The Grave!).

You may, dear reader (there’s probably only one), be wondering after all that nonsense about batteries and Seven-Eleven whether my power, as it were, was restored.

Could product placement have any validity and financial benefit in this curious project? Funeral homes? Cheap vodka? A brand of sleeping pills? Batteries?

Well, I’m EVER-READY to deal with an ongoing crisis, but it’s tough when you wake up the following day and find that the money has been half-inched by some dodgy rent-boy type at the party-in-a-prison. This was, at least, my impression when I awoke from a dream that featured my death and departure down a long tunnel to Elysian Fields, or whatever, escorted by Marvin Gaye, Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix.

The truth was more prosaic. I’d put the money in a sock in my top drawer. I was being practical, but not really admitting to a bout of paranoia.

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

“May 1949.

The Great Yarmouth Friendly Society was certainly living up to its name. The two lead actors in the G.Y.A.D’s (Great Yarmouth Amateur Dramatic Society) production of ‘No, No, Nanette’ were being very friendly AND getting their proverbial oats beneath the stage of the building that also served as a theatre. Dick had climaxed and rolled-off Celia’s half-naked body, sighed contentedly and lit a Senior Service.

‘Do you have to smoke those horrible things?’ She coughed, ‘you’re going to send this place up in smoke!

He grinned and cupped her chin in his his hand. “I’ll give up if you give-up your body to me.’ He said, cigarette dangling from his lips, running his other hand up the inside of her silky, bare thigh.

‘I already have, on occasions too numerous to recall.’ Said Celia in her best convent-girl voice, patting the pile old costumes and curtains that they had fashioned into a Rubenesque love nest.

A cloud of dust rose into the air. Dick stubbed his cigarette out in the mouth of the pantomime horse.

‘One day soon, we’ll have our own bed, our own place.’ He murmured, looking her in the eyes, then tenderly kissed her upturned face.

Anything to get away from the folks, she mused, hmm, how appropriate… it’s to break the chain around my neck. My stifling parents and their chintzy little fantasy…

Dick interupted her reverie: ‘C’mon my little duckling, it’s time to return you to the bosom of your family’.

‘Yuck’ She pouted.

Gladys and Henry had, perhaps conveniently for Celia, left The Links a few weeks before, following the departure of the last wounded officer. They had moved with their daughter to a brand new, rented, semi-detached house in a dreary suburb of Great Yarmouth, after Henry had secured a mundane lower-managerial job in a mustard factory.

They’d welcomed Dick’s intrusion into their humdrum lives. He was, after all, an officer (albeit petty) who presumably had a good career ahead of him. They basked in the small-time reflected glory of his and Celia’s success in ‘No, No, Nanette’ and were the life and soul of the sherry party in the mayor’s parlour at the town hall after the opening night, especially when the happy couple used the occasion to announce their engagement.

Naturally, tongues were discretely wagging, as they do in amateur dramatic societies.

Certain members of the group, both male and female, were jealous of the fact that Celia Rogers, a relative newcomer, could spoil their chances and land a leading role.

Dick, ever mindful of people’s needs, was only too happy to apply his new-found sexual confidence to the chosen few. After all, despite his roguish behaviour, the Count had been an excellent teacher of the finer details of lovemaking and Celia had been able to pass-on this knowledge to Dick. He, in turn, passed it on to whoever took his fancy, male or female.

Chains were being broken and chains were being perpetuated, an arrangement which seemed to suit all concerned. Celia, however, was blissfully ignorant of her fiance’s wandering hands.

They were acting out a trite, tight little English drawing room drama, with all the fierce passions and resentments smouldering beneath the thin veneer of the amateur dramatic society’s social mores.

Celia discovered that she was pregnant in September 1949. The marriage was brought forward, with unseemly haste, to October. The secretly agnostic Dick (Gladys would have hit the roof if she’d found out) was persuaded to attend the main Anglican church in Great Yarmouth – not a cathedral as it didn’t hold city status – in order that the happy couple could have a white wedding on consecrated ground.

The wedding went without a hitch. Celia looked like a film star and Dick looked very handsome in a dark suit. The best man was Dick’s supposed best Navy friend (another fuck-buddy). The reception was held in the main hall of The Quaker Friendly Society. Scores of rather boring relatives whom Celia had barely met had turned up, and, of course she was to meet new family members from Dick’s side, some of whom were Dutch and had come on the ferry from The Hook Of Holland to Harwich.

'Celia and Dick' wedding

Celia had only met them recently, but got on very well with Dick’s parents, and his younger sister, who looked rather like Doris Day. They lived in Ely, Britain’s tiniest city, located in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire. The seemed to be kind people and liberal free-spirits – compared to her own.

Dick and Celia were to live temporarily in Dick’s room at Miss Platt’s seedy, seafront boarding house, until they could find somewhere more permanent. Celia was not at all happy with this arrangement, but anything was better than the stifling atmosphere of her parents’ bland and tasteless new home.

November 1949.

Ordinary Seaman Stephen Harris was whistling chirpily whilst carefully folding his clothes and putting them in the locker beside his bunk, deep in the throbbing bowels of HMS Pygmalion, anchored in Portsmouth harbour.

Petty Officer Tinderman flung open the door of the cabin. ‘Dick!’ Exclaimed Stephen, throwing his arms around him.

‘I’ll give you dick!’ whispered the object of his affection glancing over his shoulder for an unwanted audience, before closing the door.

‘That’s what I was hoping!’ Said Stephen with a grin, pushing Dick’s shoulders back and looking into his cornflour-blue eyes.

‘Look… I’ve got something to tell you Stephen. Sit down.’

They squeezed onto the narrow bunk.

‘I know you sucked somebody’s knob to get transferred to this ship, OK, there are ways and means…

Stephen tried to interject, but Dick put his hand over his mouth.

‘I’ve tied the knot – I’m married.’

Stephen held his breath, removed Dick’s hand from his mouth and slowly exhaled.

‘You bastard! You know I love you!’

Dick looked around the cabin, trying to find something to focus on. Suddenly, Stephen was on him, grabbing at his uniform, with madness, sadness and lust in his eyes.

‘Just one more time Dick pleeeease…’

Dick, despite himself, felt sorry for him and held him close. Reluctantly wanting him. Feeling his own cock getting harder.

‘Let me… please.’ Whispered Stephen, brushing his hand over the growing bulge.

‘I’m not queer.’ Said Dick, matter-of-factly, as Stephen un-buttoned his flies. He sighed, closed his eyes and, in the manner best known to men of vanity, put his hands behind his head and lay back on the bulkhead.

‘Just one more time… yulp.’ murmured Stephen, taking Dick into his mouth.

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

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

 

 

Street Life London. Instagrams from April – June 2014.

28 Jun

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via Street Life London. Instagrams from April – June 2014..

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