Tag Archives: gay

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

28 Aug

The title speaks for itself.

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

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

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

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

10. Sainsbury's homebase, Finchley roadRS

Ten

 

Abandoned Morrocan PouffeRS.jpg

Abandoned Morrocan Pouf

 

Grand Union Canal Towpath, Harlesden.

Allotment ArtichokeRS

Allotment Artichokes

Bath.

 

Arches - Parc El Clot, BarcaRS

Arches

 

Parc Del Clot, Barcelona.

 

Autumn glory - Roundwood ParkRS

Autumn Glory

 

Roundwood Park, Harlesden.

 

B4 it's BegunRS

B4 It’s Begun

 

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

 

Barcelona From Parc GuelRS

Park Guell

 

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

 

Barcelona MarinaRS

Marina Marinara

Barcelonetta.

 

Barcelona Metro StationRS

Metro Windows

Barcelona.

 

BarchitectureRS

Barchitecture

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

 

Billy Fury wayRS

Billy Fury Way

 

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

 

Canal Wharf. JPGRS

Wharf

 

Grand Union canal. Harlesden.

 

Cat And Tiger Bike. NCYRS

Hidden Tiger, Surpised Cat

 

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

 

Cawsand BayRS

Lemon Grey Horizon

Cawsand Bay, Cornwall.

Chiswick Mall SunsetRS

Chiswick Mall Sunset

 

 

Cool Venue, Hackney WickRS

Hipster Hangout, Hackney Wick

 

 

Damnation Alley, West HampsteadRS

Damnation Alley

West Hampstead.

 

 

Derelict 50s Building, Hammersmith BridgeRS

Derelict Sunset Reflection

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

 

Dining Afloat Alfresco. BathRS

Alfresco Dining Afloat

 

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

 

Diversity At summer Rites, Tobacco DockRS

Diversity

 

Summer Rites.  Tobacco Dock.

 

 

Ella Ella TooRS.jpg

Ella Ella Ey

Soho.

 

 

End Less. SohoRS

End Less

 

Soho.

 

 

Film Crew. Poundstretcher HarlsdenRS

Save

 

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

 

Fox In The Hood. ladbroke GroveRS

You lookin’ at ME?

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

 

Framed landscape. BathRS

You’ve Been Framed

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

 

 

Gaudi's Park Guel GatehouseRS

Park Guell Gatehouse

Barcelona.

 

 

Happy Selfie. SS & LexRS

Happy Daze

 

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

All photos © Steve Swindells.  Part 11 coming soon.

 

 

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

9 Feb

Suicide Note And The Amateur Dramatic Society. Part II.

By Richard Racket.

 

SS portrait late 80s

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

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

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

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

Back to the first person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s strange.

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

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

Boys on the bed 1

Some friends hanging out on my giant bed

 

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

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

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

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

I’m carrying on… for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m off to buy cucumbers and carrots!

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

 

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

November 1949.

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

Dick bucked and groaned.

Stephen gulped and hungrily swallowed Dick’s semen.

Able Seamen.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

October 31st, 1992.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wave my hand mock-dismissively around 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like old times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allow me to ellucidate.

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

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

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

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

So I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 1953

 

SS and Rob in pram (cropped). 1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘He’s an absolute HOOT!’

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

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

 

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

November 2nd, 1992.

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

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

Probably. Possibly.

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

What, all of them black?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could always read what you’ve just written?

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

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

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

Nov 3rd.

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re right, I will.

‘… and don’t forget to press SAVE!’

Fuck, yeah, thanks!

 

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

Nov’ 2nd 1992.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Go go! Drink! Down in one!’

We clinked the glasses and I did as he instructed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I don’t actually.’

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

‘… Maiden England!’ He quipped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I leapt to my feet and shook their hands.

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

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

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

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

What a warped life.

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

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

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

29 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lift II Stallions Fridays

With Vicki Edwards @ The Lift.

With Vicki Edwards @ The Lift.

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

Kevin and me celebrating.

Celebrating with Kevin Millins.

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

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

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

Posing with new backdrop - in 1984?

Posing with new backdrop – in 1984?

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

DJFat Tony @ Jungle

DJFat Tony @ Jungle

DJ Colin Faver

DJ Colin Faver playing @ Jungle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breeze  door-whoring @ Jungle

Breeze door-whoring @ Jungle

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

DJ Vicki Edwards.

DJ Vicki Edwards in the 80s.

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

It was called house music.

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

Ralph Chan and Ronald Falloon @ Jungle.

Ralph Chan and Ronald Falloon @ Jungle.

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

The quieter, upstairs bar at Jungle.

The quieter, upstairs bar at Jungle.

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

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

Why?

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

TheLostAlbums_Mod3+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first Jungle flyer - designed by yours truly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phillips Studio in Stanhope Place, Marble Arch.

Phillips Studio in Stanhope Place, Marble Arch.

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

Messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s more to this back story though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS on stage with Hawklords

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

Hawklords Live 1978

Hawklords Live 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me in the porch at The Mill House

Me in the porch at The Mill House in 1979.

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

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

Fresh Blood Album Cover

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

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

David Bowie's faxed response to getting my albums.

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

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

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

We’re both wearing shades.

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

© Steve Swindells. All rights reserved. 2014.

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

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

The Baron’s Court

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

London 1977

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

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

What forbidden planet were we allegedly on?

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

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

Messages

Messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So…tell me Stephen…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bertie certainly hadn’t bored me to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earl’s Court was more my thing.

© Steve Swindells. 2014. All rights reserved.

All Human Beings Welcome.

10 Mar
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Party goers at The Lift Reunion Party at Queer Nation, Feb 8th 2014

Gay and straight and black and white united.

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Early in 1982, I was in New York City and spent several memorable nights at the legendary Paradise Garage, an extraordinary gay club in a former car park where 3,000 people of all ages, colours and backgrounds danced to the funkiest, loudest black music imaginable. I can remember thinking: why isn’t there a gay club  that plays music like this in London and attracts a totally mixed black, white, gay, straight, up-for-it crowd? In the early 80s, most gay clubs played anodyne and dreary so-called ‘gay disco’, or ‘high-energy’ music and were populated almost exclusively by mustachio’d white males – generally known as clones. I resolved to do something about it.

If there was one hotspot in London that year it had to be The Gargoyle Club, which had last been fashionable in the 1930s. It occupied the fifth and sixth floors of an office building in Meard Street in Soho. It was operating as a fairly seedy strip joint until 10.30pm after which it was transformed into different club nights run by various promoters. The club was only accessible by a tiny lift. Visiting the club one night, I had a light bulb moment after noticing several clutches of cool-looking (definitely not cloney) mostly black, gay men in dark corners of the room, clearly enjoying the amazing music and fantastic energy of the night.

The idea of The Lift was born.  Why shouldn’t I launch London’s first ever, underground, hip, diverse and inclusive gay club night right there?

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The Lift opening party was a huge success and the music and atmosphere was electric. The flyer encouraged people to “bring your mother” – and people did! The crowd was deliciously mixed and  even included Susan Sarandon. The Lift went on to run successfully until 1987 in various West End venues, and it was immortalized as The Shaft  by Booker Prize Winner Alan Hollinghurst in his first novel The Swimming Pool Library. Later that year, The Face magazine ran a double-page interview with me, during the time that The Lift was situated at the end of a dark alley behind Tottenham Court Road tube station.

The Face interview picture (David Johnson)

The Face interview picture (David Johnson)

The Lift had most definitely arrived – and it was hip. Next up, The Lift  hosted London’s first-ever underground, all-night, illegal rave in a four-storey warehouse in Rivington Street in Shoreditch (which was then just an industrial, working-class area) and it was a massive success. There had been no glossy flyers, just a photocopied sheet which simply read “Memorise And Destroy” with the address, date and time printed below. The dance floor was in the basement, which was accessed by a rickety, wooden staircase. By midnight, it was a sweaty, heaving mass of wildly boogieing bodies. The other floors were chill-out areas, which I’d decorated with shower curtaining that I’d spray-painted with abstract designs – all pretty low-fi. The atmosphere was buzzing, sexy and warm.  Some plain-clothed police  arrived at around 5am, but they were really polite and pleasant and simply asked me to turn the music down, then left.

Fast-forward 30-odd years to Febuary the 8th, 2014 and my Lift reunion party at the long-running, leading black-music, gay club night Queer Nation, which is held on the second Saturday of every month at Bar Code in Vauxhall. I got there early to find the front bar already busy and the original Lift DJ Mel pumping out the soulful classics.  Soon, true to the original spirit of the club, my friend Marlon arrived with his mother Angela.

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Well known Gay Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell – a regular at The Lift back in the day – arrived, followed by Vernal Scott, the handsome author and diversity, HIV and AIDS media commentator. They were later to make inspirational and heartfelt speeches about LGBT History Month and all our community has achieved over the years, before the main dance floor opened and over 600 people got their groove on until 6am.  I’m happy to say that ‘All Human Beings Welcome’ – The Lift’s original slogan – still very much applies and was celebrated with great gusto after all these years.

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I was chatting on the phone with my mum the other day and told her that I was going to be writing a couple of articles to coincide with LGBT History Month.  She then had a bit of a June Whitfield-in-Ab-Fab-moment, asking: “Is that something to do with London transport dear?” I laughed and replied, “No, it’s the rather ungainly acronym for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender – not the greatest bit of  21st century branding really, but hey…”

I ‘came out’ to my family as bisexual in 1970, because I was. Then I decided that I preferred men when I was 21 – the year I moved to London – and they’ve always been completely fine with it. I’ve often slept with boyfriends in the room next door to my parents, with their knowledge and consent.

I’d opened The Lift after visiting  several largely black, illegal, gay, house parties (or ‘Blues’ as they were generally known), which were usually held in council flats in South London. People were charged £1 or so to enter, beers were the same price, with spirits costing maybe £2. They were unlawful because money was changing hands, in completely unlicensed premises. The music was always pumping and comprised mostly of black Amercian and Jamaican imports and the flats were always packed – with a large queue for the only toilet. My memories are of lots of beautiful men, much bumping ‘n grinding, clouds of weed smoke, really good vibes and no trouble at all. I don’t recall the police closing any down, but this was before the days of the dreaded Environmental Health Police, or whatever they’re called.

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Photo by Dave Swindells

After The Lift’s successful first warehouse rave in Shoreditch in 1983, I went on to successfully hold several more in various venues, mostly in South London. For example, my New Year’s Eve bash in a band rehearsal complex (the sound-proofing was a definite plus) on the top floor of a warehouse in Clink Street, near the now achingly fashionable Borough Market where over 500 polysexual people partied ‘til dawn and beyond. The positively Orwellian year that we were seeing in was 1984 –  so I decided to call this rave Big Brother Blues. Again, there was no trouble, no police, no worries – and all for three quid, including authentic West Indian food.

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I started a bit of a Lift tradition by holding a Bank Holiday Blues. Most people wouldn’t be working the next day, after all.  With the second one, I took a bit of a risk by holding it in what was usually the old peoples’ social and dominoes club in the middle of one of Stockwell’s most notorious sink estates with its  graffiti-covered, grey concrete walkways, abandoned shopping trollies and burnt-out cars. Well, at this night, there was a problem.  One particularly flamboyant, queen got mugged by local teenagers on BMX bikes on his way to the party. He came rushing in and recruited a vigilante ‘posse’ of about 20 party-goers (most of whom happened to have their tops off) to get his wallet back (and steal the boys’ bikes for good measure). This task was successfully accomplished by employing the shock tactic of the muggers being potentially ‘queer-bashed’… by a bunch of queers.

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They triumphantly bought the bikes back in and we bolted the doors. Was this the first instance of what might be termed ‘poof-power’?  Some of the muggers’ big brothers started banging on the doors and I got my two, very large, gay black security guards to go out and inform them: “Right, there are 400 angry batty men in here who are gonna come out and rape your asses unless you fuck off. You can have your baby bro’s bikes back when we’ve finished partying!” A bit of a hairy moment – but everyone went home happy.

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Photo by Dave Swindells

There were many more successful and trouble-free Lift all-nighters over the next few years in various unusual and left-field venues.  The only one that almost matched the potential danger and drama of the Bank Holiday Blues in Stockwell, was when a DJ on Kiss FM announced (unsolicited) that we were holding a rave in a dance studio complex in Covent Garden, resulting in us having to barricade ourselves (nearly a thousand people) in the building as a near riot erupted outside, caused by the hundreds unable to get in.  The police came and cleared the street – having been told that by me “this was supposed to be a private party.” We carried on drinking and dancing until dawn.

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Steve Swindells.

This is an amalgam of two articles which first appeared in Planet Ivy in Febuary 2014.

All photos (and flyer designs) by Steve Swindells, unless otherwise stated.

Shifty Shades of Gay. By Steve Swindells.

16 Aug

Shifty Shades Of Gay

By Steve Swindells

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      Amongst the many tribes, creeds and nationalities of the so-called ‘black community’ – which is just as heterogeneous as the so-called ‘Gay Community’ – there exists a mysterious, cultural curiosity known as DL.

This is an acronym of Down-low, which is a term pertaining to masculine, black men who like to have sex with men, but who generally pretend to be straight  – especially to themselves.  They’re often in relationships, or even marriages, with unsuspecting women, who would probably never even imagine that their big, ‘butch’ blokes like cock and ass. After all, gay men are just a bunch of girly men, aren’t they?  And there’s no such thing as a gay, black man, right?

HAH!  What planet do you, or they, they live on?

There was an American TV series called ‘The DL Chronicles’, which I’ve never seen. I can only hope it’s better than that appallingly awful US show ‘Noah’s Arc’  which, unfortunately, I have seen a couple of episodes of.  It features a bunch of stereotypical, black queens swishing around and being…well… queens. A cringe-making, gay-blacksploitation embarrassment, as far as I’m concerned,

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My favourite black, gay character on TV is definitely the handsome, masculine, wise and intelligent cop, played by Mathew St Patrick, who’s the boyfriend of the badly-behaved, gay son in the brilliant and much-lauded ‘Six Feet Under’. In the series, he’s most definitely not on the DL. What a great role-model for young, black men who think that they may be gay.

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My good friend Monty has been homeless for a while and is sofa-surfing with friends and family in London.  He stays with me quite regularly and is mostly a total pleasure to spend time with – unless I happen to trigger his tumultuous temper, which has, unfortunately, happened on a couple of occasions, usually when we’ve had a few drinks, thereby triggering my equally tempestuous temper! Thankfully, these rare explosions end as swiftly as they begin, and we always end-up apologising to each other profusely and giving each other big, conciliatory hugs.

Monty is a thirty year-old, gay, multi-mixed-race (Lebanese/South African/Trinadian/Tunisian), black man who’s about to finish a course in massage therapy.  He’s planning to get a job working for one of the major cruise lines in the Caribbean – his tutor has already sent him to an informal ‘open-day’ interview with one of biggest tour operators, who informed her thereafter that they would definitely offer him a job, once he’s qualified, which he will be next month. Monty evidently charmed the pants off them, though not literally, of course. That might have qualified as a corporate-cruise orgy!

Monty is charming, articulate, complex, intelligent, funny, immaculately-dressed and extremely good-looking. And, in case you’re wondering: no, we haven’t and nor will we. He’s not my type – despite his looks – and I’m not his.  End of,  as the saying goes.

I’ve met Monty’s mother – we took her to GhettoFabulous, London’s biggest and best monthly, ‘urban’, polysexual (but mostly gay-black) club in South London.  It’s about the only club I go to these days.  Not only is the music – R&B, house and various variants of reggae –  fantastic, but the eye-candy count is usually around sixty percent – which is incredibly high – and Monty is certainly in the top-ten percent.  He’s as handsome as his mother is beautiful (she’s only forty-eight). She chatted to me as we smoked a joint (made with herbal tobacco, as I gave-up smoking many years ago) on the large, heated, ‘smoking terrace’, and explained that Monty was actually christened Montgomery, after her favourite actor, Montgomery Clift.

‘It’s a shame he turned-out to be so ugly,’ I quipped – Monty’s mum looked momentarily non-plussed – ‘but at least he’s got a sense of humour,  that’s why I call him Monty Python!’ Then she roared with laughter – a great big, throaty chuckle – and gave me a hearty high five… then slipped me an E, with a conspiratorial wink.  What a naughty mum!

Sometimes, Monty randomly shows me pictures of stunningly beautiful, masculine-looking, muscular, mostly mix-race guys, with their tops off, on his smart-phone.  He enjoys clocking my reaction (which is mostly jaw-dropping), I reckon.  At first, I assumed that they were perhaps porn stars and/or models (many of them are indeed the latter), but it soon transpires that they are either his ‘exes’; people that he’s recently met – or what us poofs refer to as fuck-buddies. He certainly is a magnet for beautiful, masculine men. Unfortunately, many of them are apparently on the DL.

A couple of months ago, when he started his Level Two course (he’s now on Level Three), he’d told me that there were several ‘hotties’ studying massage as well. One in particular had caught his eye – and, apparently, vice-versa:  ‘Apart from being stunning-looking, with an awesome, muscular physique,’ Monty had told me, ‘he’s black, but with huge BLUE eyes!’

“You’re kidding!’ I’d responded, ‘Are you sure they’re not tinted contact lenses?’

‘Deff not,’ said Monty, ‘he’s mixed-race:  Greek-African, and he’s called – are you ready? – Apollo. He makes sure that he sits beside me all the time in class and is always volunteering to massage me, and yesterday, he walked me to Baker Street Station, even though his station is Marylebone Overground. And, he also asked for my number.’

‘Hmm, ‘I said, stroking my goatee in an ironic fashion, ‘I suspect that your gaydar monitor is off the scale!’ Monty nodded and smiled; then I added: ‘Greek-African – that’s highly unusual – although, strangely enough, I had a boyfriend who boasted exactly the same exotic, mix-race parentage, in the 80s – he didn’t have blue eyes, but he rejoiced in the name Achilles, I kid you not, and I used to refer to him as a Bleek.’

‘I’ll bet he was a bit of a heel,’ quipped Monty, as his phone pinged, indicating that he’d received a text ‘but why Bleek?’

‘Black-Greek, of course, just like Blindian is Black-Indian,’ I said, then added, ‘I was with Achilles for over two years, but he wasn’t a heel per-se, perhaps more of  a high heel!

‘Duh… obvs! That’s brilliant, I’ll ask Apollo if anyone has ever referred to him as Bleek at college tomorrow,’ said Monty, chuckling, then suddenly gasped and pulled an exaggerated jaw-drop face, looked at me with a broad grin, handed me the phone and said:  ‘You are so not going to believe this – I wonder if you can guess who it is…’

I have to confess that my eyes popped out of my head as I clocked the photo of an incredibly beautiful, muscular body (the head was deliberately out-of-shot, a typical DL trait) – obviously taken in a gym – with an impressive hard-on poking into a strategically-placed, white towel, on which he’d scrawled with a large felt-tip pen: Go Obama!

Monty carried on grinning, as a psychic thought popped into my head: ‘OMG, it’s Bleek, the godlike Apollo, isn’t it?’

‘It sure as hell is,’ he replied, his head now shaking in an I don’t believe it fashion, ‘and he’s invited me over to his place in Hampstead on Friday!’

He then showed me a picture on his phone of yet another stunning and muscular (this time much-tattooed), mixed-race man who was posing topless with a combat rifle, wearing camouflage fatigues, in what looked suspiciously like Afganistan.

‘Bloody hell –  who the fuck’s this bloke, giving it loads?’ I asked, handing him back his phone, wondering if I might run out of exclamatory words or phrases – other than ‘Wow!’ – in reaction to this procession of beauties that were waltzing before my eyes like actors in an imagined play, featuring the most beautiful, masculine, black men in the known universe.

‘Oh, that’s Paolo,’ said Monty nonchalantly, now texting away again on his phone, ‘he’s a Blatino, with Brazilian parents’

A thought occurred to me that Brazil is one of the few genuinely multi-racial, ‘rainbow nations’ on this earth, along with South Africa, The US, Cuba, Canada (just) and The UK. Then I asked:  ‘And who might this stunning-looking man be to you?’

‘Oh, Paolo is, or was, a fuck buddy, he’s in the army and is also a model’ he said, tapping away on his phone from the chill zone in my living area; ‘but he lied to me.’

‘How so?’ I asked through the open door of my studio, where I was multi-tasking away, checking my emails and advancing various, creative endeavors. ‘So, that pic was taken in Afganistan – and how did he lie to you?’

‘Yes, he was in Helmand province for a six-month tour of duty – and he still has his fantastic legs.’

‘Dark,’ I commented drily, whilst uploading one of my latest mixes on Garage Band * subliminal commercial break alert* a cool collaboration with a soulfully talented Israeli girl called Hadas Balas, whom I’d met and jammed with – instant rapport – at a house-warming party for my new neighbour Doctor Clive – who has his own circus, as you do, and is also a real doctor – earlier this year *commercial ends*.

‘Quite,’ said Monty in his usual sprightly fashion, then continued: ’ Well, we’d been fucking for a while – and he really is a fantastic shag –  but he’s on the DL.  He’s not even out to his friends – even the army guys who he has sex with… and there are several – he’s shown me pics’.’

‘Damn…’ I said (inadvertently crashing my MAC by being impatient – and through having way too many windows and tabs open. Firefox is usually the main culprit), ‘that’s pathetic!’

‘It is a bit,’ said Monty, with a kind-of rueful disdain, then added:’ Anyways,  I kind of gave him an ultimatum.  Either he came out to his friends, colleagues and family, or he wasn’t gonna get any more of my ass!  So he promised me he’d start by telling his parents. I was pleased, and naively thought we might be heading into a genuine relationship as a result, especially as he’d finished with his long-term girlfriend, ostensibly to be with me.  But I was wrong.  On the night that he’d supposedly confessed all to his parents, in Surbiton, I was supposed to go over to his place in Kilburn, after his return. But he was suddenly unavailable.  When I texted him to ask why, he said that he was hanging out with his army mates and ‘chilling’.

‘That was somewhat insensitive.’ I suggested.

‘Indeed it was,’ agreed Monty; ‘he insisted, however, that he’d told his parents. But my instinct, however, told me otherwise.  So I went over to his place at One in the morning and banged on his door until he opened it – looking fabulous as ever in a pair of running shorts.  I dismissed all thoughts of lust, and, when we went inside, I accused him of lying just so that he could continue to have sex with me. He tried to deny it, but his eyes told me the truth, and I promptly left.’

‘That’s really sad,’ I said, as my MAC stuttered back into life, ‘that’s DL for you. Perhaps it should stand for damn lies. Looks like he wanted to have his cakes – and to eat them too!’

‘You know what I’m saying?’ Said Monty, slightly plaintively. His phone pinged again and his eyes widened as he read the text: ‘You’re not going to believe this…’

‘Paolo’s asked you to marry him?’ I suggested, jokingly.

‘Nope, but Apollo the Bleek has asked me over right now, says he’s got a bottle of voddy and some nice skunk. I’m gagging!’

‘Just as well you’ve got the day off tomorrow then.’ I said drily.

The next day, Monty rolled-in at around 2pm and slumped onto my chill-zone-come-guest-bed in the living area. ‘God! I’m hungover!’ He moaned, rolling his eyes.

‘So… what happened?’ I asked.

‘He got me really drunk and vaguely seduced me, in a clumsy sort of way, then laid-back and let me do all the work!

‘Typical behaviour of a DL!’ I said, before Monty promptly fell asleep.

A few days later, he came ‘round after college and exclaimed:’ The Bleek is, as of now, excommunicated!’

Why, what happened?’

‘All the guys were in the showers (the course took place in an up-market health club in Marylebone) after a work-out, and he made that typical oh-so-straight, alleged joke, you know:  be careful you don’t drop the soap in the shower guys! Everyone laughed, except me; I was furious with him.  It’s a matter of principal, you can’t be hypocritical like that, it makes me fuckin’ sick! ‘

‘Did you express your disgust in front of everyone?’ I asked.

‘Nearly… I had to bite my lip to stop myself, but nah, I told him when he tried to walk me to the station, and stated in no uncertain terms that I don’t live a lie, and I don’t wanna be friends with people who do, and walked off.’

‘Good on ya!’  I said, giving him a hug, then simply said: ‘respect!’

More recently, during his Level Three course, Monty reported a frisson of flirtation with a great big black hunk, a semi-pro rugby player called Mack, who was showing interest in being his ‘new best friend’. Monty told me that Mack was an awesome figure of a man, and that the gaydar needles were seemingly flickering on the dials as well. Or was he fooling himself?

The funny thing was that Bleek was also on the course – and was apparently watching Monty and Mack like a hawk.

‘Did you say ‘hi’ to Bleek?’ I asked Monty.

‘Yeah – of course,’ he replied, ‘But, I was just polite and kept my distance. Then Mack asked me to be his partner in a stretching session in the gym and… well, I do believe that there was a level of tumescence in his shorts.’

I laughed and said: ‘All hail the latest admirer!’

A few days later, we were having dinner (my new signature dish of  salmon fillets marinated in lemon, honey, coriander, soy sauce and sesame seeds then char-grilled with courgettes, red onion and baby corn) and Monty received a text. He turned to me with a serious jaw-drop look and passed me his phone. The pic’ was of a stunningly beautiful, black body – but with no head (no surprise there then).  The guy had a huge hard-on poking through a white towel in what was obviously a gym. ‘Is this history repeating itself,’ I asked Monty. ‘ who the fuck is it this time? Mack?’

‘You got it babe.’ Replied Monty, with his winning smile.

The next day, after college, Monty reported back to me that he’d informed (a no-doubt slightly shocked) Mack that he simply shouldn’t send pictures like that, as nothing was going to happen;  but that it was cool to be friends. Mack apparently took this in stride, was not freaked-out, and was even more indulgent towards Monty as the day carried on – with Bleek observing their every move. I suggested to Monty that this might be… well, perhaps less of a DL situation than usual. Was my sixth sense smelling a burgeoning relationship – or just willing it to happen?

Mack is totally Monty’s type. He loves those big, masculine, muscular guys, especially if they’re intelligent and happily gay… and not on the DL.

Steve Swindells © 2013.  All rights reserved

Another Entry In The Journal Of An Eternal Nocturnal. By Steve Swindells.

12 Aug

Another Entry In The Journal Of An Eternal Nocturnal.

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(The stairwells – one already stripped of glass bricks – at the complex where I live) 

For the fourth day on the trot I was rudely awakened, at 8.30am, by a loud, motorised buzzing noise as a hydraulic platform rose to the top of the stairwell which is on the Northern-western side of the gated enclave where I live in a so-called ‘gritty area’  (although now no doubt ‘up and coming’, being so close to Notting Hill), in North West London. This was followed by several, deafening thuds from a sledgehammer.  A workman whooped as he threw the first of hundreds of dislodged glass bricks into a skip three stories below, with the inevitable, jarring crash of breaking glass.  Despite my annoyance and irritation at this intrusion, I couldn’t help inwardly smirking as I recalled an unusual, hit song by Nick Lowe from the late 70s called ‘I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass’, featuring that most excellent and radically ‘different’, jagged piano solo, played, I think, by Chaz Jankel of The Blockheads. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’ve googled it big-time, but have been unable to find the answer).

I grabbed some pathetically ineffective orange (why?), foam earplugs from the bedside table and, despite the morning heat of the first day of August, closed the window, hoping that the ineffective double-glazing of my New York loft-style apartment – in an apparently jerry-built complex – might help shut out this appalling, galling, teeth-gnashing intrusion into my hitherto sweet dreams.

This being the journal of an eternal nocturnal, I’d been trying – with the help of some prescribed Zolpiden sleeping pills (having been previously informed about ‘ the upcoming works’ in a ’round-robin’ to all twenty five apartments) to adjust my body-clock back to what many disapproving ‘normal’ people would describe as ‘conventional’ hours – that is, going to sleep around midnight, or soon after, and waking up at around 8am.  Hah! Dream on (as it were)!

I need lots of sleep because of my various illnesses (the main ones being chronic pancreatitis and emphysema), but – being an artistic polymath – there’s nothing I like more than dancing with my muses, when most of the world around me is asleep, and the spirits are buzzing like cicadas around a secluded, funky beach house in some imagined sub-tropical paradise – with no neighbours to complain about the noise.

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The complex where I live was seemingly jerry-built about twelve years ago, as all the huge, external, steel frames and double, glass brick-clad stairwells of this U-shaped building (which acts as a natural amplifier of sound – any sound – like a residential, whispering gallery) are covered in rust.  Major rust – not just little blemishes. This signifies, as my landlord explained when I moved-in just over four years ago  (although the flat itself is my current apogee regarding my dream-home), that the company which constructed the building had obviously used cheap steel to save money and, that there was an ongoing, insurance claim taking place.

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(My kitchen-dining area)

This was only recently settled – hence my peace now being disturbed – and it transpires that both stairwells are apparently going to be totally rebuilt and the work is scheduled to take TEN bloody weeks. Nightmare. Teeth-gnashing, angle-grinder hell to follow, no doubt. I have a horrible feeling that I’m about to morph into Dustin Hoffman being cruelly, dentally tortured by Lawrence Olivier in the film Marathon Man – for TEN, agonising weeks.

Xxxxxxxinnnnnnnnngggggggg arrrrrrgh!

Then there’s  also the sound of drilling and banging and crashing emanating from the flat next door, through the thin, breeze-block wall behind my bed- head.  This is because another apparent corner-cutting aspect of the construction of these otherwise fabulous, spacious, apartments, with their high ceilings, etched-glass panels and industrial detailing, is that the walls separating each flat are only one block thick! This means that if there are any noisy sexual antics taking place on either side, then all parties can hear every grunt and gasp, or screams and wails.

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(My living area)

So, with the ridiculous orange earplugs stuffed in my ears, I tried to grab maybe another hour of sleep. It didn’t work. The earplugs fell out (I’m a ‘tosser and a turner’, especially when aurally disturbed), and simply couldn’t go back to sleep because of all the noise around me.  Was this a karmic punishment for some vile crime that I’d committed in a past life? Could I have been Hitler, Dracula, Attila The Hun, or other evil villains in history – or just just some badly-behaved, low-life scoundrel?  Answers on a psychic postcard from beyond the grave please.

I threw on my favourite pair of Nike, pale-green swimming shorts – this meant that I would be going swimming in them later –  a nice, refreshing thought – took my wake-up handful of meds washed down with effervescent vitamin C; inhaled twice from my steroid inhaler (two in the morning, two after dinner); fed almighty JJ the God-cat (he must have Egyptian roots); then fired-up my MAC PRO (about ten years old and slightly knackered – but still somehow, mostly rocking) and checked my emails.

Glad to be reminded that my Linkedin.com connections have passed well-over a thousand people (many of them seriously influential) and that I was in the top 5% of profiles viewed last year.

Before you jump down my throat with any figurative, judgmental disapproval about my braggocio; may I simply inform you (not justifying anything – I NEED this kind of feedback) that I am a songwriter who’s had much artistic and critical acclaim, but who has hardly ever made money out of this all-or-nothing career (despite covers from Roger Daltrey – he’s done four –  Lulu and Hawkwind – how’s that for eclectic?). So, therefore I’m suffering under the possible illusion that online, social networking might help lead me to finally attaining some sort of ‘hit’ (via a cover version – I’m way too old) or enjoying having a big song in a hit movie. My songs tend be evocative and cinematic. Wide-screen. So, the latter is perhaps more probable.

I am sixty, after all.  But I write songs right across the board, even R&B (are you shocked, maybe because I’m white? Why?).  I am not hidebound by homogeny. Having said that, I suppose that my most successful song to date is ‘Shot Down In The Night’, from 1980, and I’m very proud of it. Did you know that there’s an excellent, brand new CGI video of my original version of the song (as opposed to Hawkwind’s cover version), which was created by the very talented Phil Gornal, on You Tube?

Talking of moving pictures, a few months ago, an American guy called Damon White inboxed me on Facebook and explained that he had written, and was also directing, a film called Holy Galileo, which he explained had been inspired to an extent by The Who singer Roger Daltrey’s cover version of my song ‘Martyrs And Madmen’, which was released in 1982 (along with my song ‘Treachery’, that were the two ‘bonus’ tracks on Daltrey’s compilation album ‘Best Bits’. The two songs also made it onto his ‘One Of The Boys’ compilation, when it was reissued in 2006).

Damon then added that he had been unaware of my original, 1980 recording until I’d recently added it to my soundcloud and ‘shared’ this on FB and Twitter. The remastered track was taken from my double CD The Lost Albums, which was released in 2012 on Flicknife Records. Damon stated that, having suddenly discovered it, he really liked my original version, and wondered if it would be possible to use it in ‘Holy Galileo’, which he was shooting in Texas, Pisa, Florence and LA.  He also suggested that he’d like to interview me on-camera when he visited London in the fall, to capture my back-story about how the song came about and why the follow-up albums to my 1980 release Fresh Blood (now available on CD and iTunes folks!) were never released: for the documentary about the making of the movie.

I replied that, in principal, that would be fine, providing that we could sort out a mutually acceptable deal regarding him using the song in the film, and assured him that I could guarantee ‘fast clearance’, as I now owned 100% of the publishing.

This helps to explain why, as an artist, I tend to put so much faith in social media. How would Damon have come across my original version of the song (as sung by Daltrey), which helped inspire his script, if it weren’t for FB (Facebook)?  How would I have collaborated with Jay Tausig in the US, and Pigs Of Oblivion in Canada were it not for FB?  Many fresh opportunities are also arising through Linkedin.

As I continued my inadvertently early (thanks to the destruction of glass bricks), bleary-eyed, morning routine, I noted that I had 58 emails – mostly from peeps posting on Mixcloud (block-up my inbox, why don’t you?), along with notifications, messages and requests from my large number of friends on Facebook, including Damon White.

Being in Pilot (’76) and Hawkwind/Hawklords (’78) then getting my second major, solo record deal with Atco/WEA (Warner Music) in ’79 (I was signed in person by Doug Morris, who is now the all-powerful president of Sony Music), makes me wonder why good, even great, songs should not prevail in this corrupt and corrupted thing which we still refer to as ‘the music industry’.

All you need is one big CHART hit and then you’re set-up for life.  Not me though.  Still wishing and… hoping (as the great Dusty Springfield once sang).

Back in the real world…

Read/answered all my emails. Played with my Words With Friends ‘opponents’, then also online Scrabble; freerice.com (English vocabulary being my chosen field, starting at level 21); followed by Cryptoquote and Multipopword to wake up my brain – as is my wont – whilst drinking endless cups of black, minty tea (from a teapot, of course… I am British, after all).

I then checked my editing and proof-reading of Chapter Two of ‘Mitty In India’, the second volume of my mother’s most excellent historical trilogy (I’ve already edited the first – ‘Mitty’s Letter’ – which you can read chapter-by-chapter as a blog here.

Re-read the lyrics of ‘Damage Limitation’, my new transatlantic collaboration with Ralf Lenz, of Pigs Of Oblivion.  What a wonderfully daft band name. I’m hoping to sing all the vocal parts in my digital, home studio tomorrow afternoon.  The track is rocking. My lyrics are about an evil PR company called Cosmo Nought that exists only in space and is therefore beyond jurisdiction.  Have I now invented vaguely poetic, political space rock?

Carried-on proof-reading Chapter 11 (will it be the final chapter?) of my good friend Thom Topham’s multimedia autoBLOGography ‘My Unplanned Obsolescence. In this, he’s been taken to New York City for the first time by an Italian Count in the fall of 1979, and he lands a major record deal within three days, leading to the 1980 album ‘Torn Genes’.  Thom is going to feature my 2010 remix of the title track in this chapter, he tells me.

This must have been the hottest day of the year so far. I put a clean towel, T-shirt and underpants into my new, Adidas knapsack (Argos – £17.99) and got lucky with the immediate arrival of the 206 bus, which stops right outside my home, and headed for Willesden Sports Centre.  Ten Minutes.

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(A random shot – nice back eh? –  taken on my mobile phone outside the sports centre that day)

I didn’t need socks because I was wearing ten year-old, velcro-fastened-open-toed sandals that I bought in a shopping centre in Bangkok in 2003 for £3. ‘Woolfies’, as  X , my ex-best-friend, had dubbed them, having insisted that I was evidently a German paedophile. Silly man. I miss him so much.  But the ‘Wolfies’ are still going strong after ten years – unlike our previously, rocket-fuelled friendship, which he decided to end in 2009. Only he knows why: Cue sad shrug.  I sincerely hope that all is well with him and his lovely dad. I wish that he misses me too.

Free bus ride (thanks to my over-sixty-Oyster-photo-pass card – or whatever it’s called).  Free swimming (also thanks to being 60).

I headed for the male changing room, which was deserted apart from a grossly obese, hairy white man who was scrubbing his pubic area with long-handled brushes in the shower (obsessive or what?) and then took a shower myself, wondering why there are no sinks where you might shave, for instance, or something as obvious as drinking fountains. I guess the sports centre hopes to boost their meagre, municipal budget by selling mineral water from vending machines?

The faintly homoerotic smell of a male changing room – fresh sweat and socks – tripped my mind back to when I was a six year-old and used to go to the municipal swimming baths in, yes – Bath (the city) – most Saturdays.  I usually went with my older brother Rob and sometimes on my own.  Kids, it seems, were far less supervised in the oh-so-innocent, late 50s.

Audrey, my mother, had walked-out on the father of us three boys (I am the second), when I was five, in Handsworth Park in Birmingham, and had somewhat reluctantly, having no other viable option,  taken us all to live with her parents –  who lived their lives in some kind of eternal 1930s,  Ivor Novello fantasy-land – in a spacious, three-bedroomed, third floor flat overlooking the Roman Baths, opposite a Chinese laundry, in Swallow Street, a narrow thoroughfare of tall, mostly warehouse-type buildings, in this beautiful city.

The laundry’s chimney constantly pumped-out strange-smelling – but not unpleasant – steam.  My olfactory recall is one of cleanliness, but also a certain pungency. My aural recall is of  my mother and my grandmother having endless, screaming rows.

Many years later, my mother and my stepfather Harold (whom she married about a year after our arrival in Bath) had ‘gone halves’ with Nana – who lived to receive the famous, signed card from The Queen when she passed her centenary (although these days you have to request it) – and GP, as our Grandpa was dubbed, to buy a capacious, ground floor flat in a classic Georgian house overlooking Victoria Park in Bath, as GP, who’d been a heavy smoker of ‘roll-ups’,  was having difficulties with all the stairs leading up to the flat in Swallow Street, which they’d rented for years.  My parents and grandparents had inherited £3000 each, after the death of an elderly, female relative in Bournmouth: this was a large deposit at the time.  My brother Rob, having recently passed his driving test, got the ancient Austin 7 (therein lie many more exuberant teenaged tales – and this vintage car didn’t even have a clutch!).

After Nana died, my parents sold this centrally-located flat for a tidy sum.

This triggers another, more recent flashback.  I was on tour with The Hawklords in 2011 – it was very heavy going for me because of my health issues – and I used to share hotel (well, Travel Lodge) rooms with Ron Tree, the singer.  He’s from the Bath area, and is now living in the boho, arty town of Frome.  I was reminiscing with him one night, as we drank red wine after a gig, about how fate had brought me to Bath at the age of five and told him about my grandparents’ flat in Bath, opposite the Chinese laundry and over-looking the Roman Baths. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he said: ‘You’ll never guess who squatted in that flat for a few years, back in the day…’

‘You’re right, I said, I won’t.’

Well, it was me and a bunch of n’er-do-wells!’  Exclaimed Ron gleefully.

‘No! Coincidence or what? You really couldn’t make that up!’ I responded.

The municipal swimming baths in Bath were a short walk away, through elegant and visually-pleasing streets.  I can distinctly remember admiring naked men in the changing rooms and finding them – well, some of them – attractive.  Mostly the olive-skinned, brown-eyed, masculine and athletic-looking ones. My eyes were also drawn to their dicks (mind you, all men’s eyes always are, it’s only natural) and some kind of inner voice stated:   ‘You seem to like men’.  I just knew, even at that tender age (but only confirmed it to myself, as it were, when I was a pupil at The Bristol Cathedral School, aged fourteen, as I was now regularly having sex, of sorts, with school-friends and so forth. And girls.  I was never short of admirers).

One man in particular – he rather resembled a young Sean Connery – used to encourage me to hitch a ride in the water on his muscular back, and seemed to enjoy my vague, boyish attempts at humping his pert, round, muscular bottom, as we did laps. I was a little… fucker! Looks like my preference was almost pre-determined. But I wasn’t abused per se at the pool… only on paper.

I enjoyed it – there was no trauma.  It was almost as if was in control of the situation.  Never under-estimate the power of precocious young boys who know in their hearts and souls that they’re ‘gay’ (in my case, way before the word was brought into general use in the late 70s).

After our saturday swims, me and my brother Rob would invariably head to Evan’s, a large fish and chip shop just off Abbey Green, around the corner from Nana and GP’s flat. We used to have chips, served ‘open’, in newspaper, and always asked for free ‘scrumps’, the crunchy bubbles of batter that had been left in the fat-drainers after the fish had been served. Freshly fried, hand-cut chips (and scrumps) always tasted doubly delicious after swimming, with salt, malt vinegar and tomato ketchup, when your skin tingled and you felt pleasingly hungry.

When fate decided many years later that my younger brother Frank would find himself living in a double-aspect, second-floor flat overlooking Evan’s chip shop on one side (Abbey Green was on the other) about twelve years ago, it was still there.

Sometimes we would be treated to a proper, ice-cream milkshake at Hand’s Dairy (which was also still going the last time I looked – maybe it still is), opposite the Abbey Churchyard, which was utter heaven for us kids.  ‘Yum yum, pig’s bum!’ we used to chorus before noisily sucking the utterly delicious, creamy concoction through straws; then giggling as we reluctantly reached the bottom of the glasses and enjoyed deliberately exaggerating the loud, gurgling noises that we made sucking up the foamy dregs.  My favourite flavour was strawberry.

There used to be a tiny antique/curio shop, with a bow window, in the pedestrian street to the side of Hand’s Dairy, which led into Abbey Green. I used to gaze longingly at a large, red crystal bauble which was in the centre of its window, which was displayed in an ivory-coloured, silk-lined case (I’d decided that it was definitely magical), and eventually saved up enough of my pocket money to buy it. It was all very Dickensian: maybe it was even called The Old Curiosity Shop.  I do believe it might still be there.

As I disrobed in the bland changing room at the Sports Centre, I noticed a few, small, blue-ish-yellow bruises around my arms. Where the fuck did those come from, I wondered. Then I recalled that last Friday, after I’d invited six people – all immediate neighbours – over to dinner (emphatically NOT a dinner party, what a horribly bourgeois concept, but we had a wonderful night – I’d served my own-recipe, deluxe Shepherd’s Pie Provencal) – that way too much red wine had evidently over-reacted with my various medications and that I must have fallen over or something, after everyone had left.

The next day, I was surprised to find that what I’d dubbed the ‘Madmen (the cult TV show set in an advertising agency in New York in the 60s) tribute, 60s coffee table’ which I’d found in the street in Willesden Green in 2006 was smashed and my beloved Mathmos, rocket lava lamp was broken. No memories. Just bruises.

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(My dinner guests, having ‘a fag break’ outside the flat next door)

This was not good. Luckily, I have another, fabulous retro-modern table – German, branded underneath as from 1960 – which I’d picked-up in a charity shop in West Hampstead in 2006, for £25. It has a black glass top, which is etched with thin strings of electric yellow and blue and is inset with tiny, jewel-like, iridescent rectangles of Nacre (more commonly known as mother-of-pearl).

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(my ‘Madmen’ tribute table, mark two)

As I headed for the pool from the changing room, a squealing cacophony assailed my ears.  Just what I need, I thought, after my unwanted, wake-up call of sledgehammers and broken glass.

The main area of the pool appeared to be packed-full of scores of very noisy little tadpoles – mostly black, but some brown and white, all squirming and splashing about and squealing.

There were two lanes for swimmers, such as myself, who wished to do laps. Medium and fast.  Clockwise and anti-clockwise.  All the ‘lane swimmers’ were, for some unknown reason, doing the opposite (had they recently arrived from Rumania or Latvia perchance?).

I clocked all my fave bodyguards and swimming teachers. There are at least four guys who work at the sports centre who tick my various boxes. It’s encouraging to have some eye-candy to spur-on your physical efforts, I always say, although I can only see fuzzy beauty without my glasses.  I was vainly hoping that they might have been impressed by my backwards froggy-swim, which is quite original.  I swim like a frog… on its back.  But I don’t, or won’t, croak. Yet.

Then I always do a breast stoke for the next length, trying to remember to do that seemingly unnecessary dip-your-face-in-the-water-then–breathe-when-you-resurface thing.  What’s that all about?

I’d swum ten lengths, and was sitting on the edge of the pool, thinking of leaving, when a beautiful black man, perhaps about twenty five years-old, swam towards me, then touched the pool’s edge beneath me, breathing heavily with evident triumph (perhaps he’d beaten his own record?), then smiled at me with warmth and… something.

Obviously, I grinned back at him, and he returned my grin.

You may have gathered, by now, that I’m mostly attracted to black, or mixed-race men.  Don’t ask me why. It just evolved organically after I opened my first successful, polysexual-but-mostly gay, one-nighter The Lift, at the deservedly legendary Gargoyle Club in London’s Soho, in 1982. The music we played every Thursday night in this wonderfully wacky space (art deco-meets-60s) on the top two floors of a building on the corner of Dean and Meard streets, was a heady mixture of seriously streety black music (mostly American) and English Electro.  The Lift was an instant hit and ran successfully for about five years in various venues, after The Gargoyle sadly closed down in 1983, despite the efforts of the various promoters (myself, The Mudd Club, The Language Lab, The Bat Cave etc) who ran nights there, tried unsuccessfully to raise the money  – which was, as I recall, £75K – to buy the lease.

I swam another two lengths, perhaps in honour of the black swimmer’s fineness, noted that he’d disappeared, then headed back to the Spartan, pale-blue-tiled, male changing room, which was deserted, as ever (most people use the cubicles in the so-called ‘changing village’); then showered, dried-off, got dressed and wandered back home in the hot sunshine, feeling energized and refreshed, wondering what fate might have in store for me next time at the sports centre; now that I’ve vowed to go at least twice a week.

As I headed home, I was musing about surreptitiously putting a print-out over the new ‘do not enter’ signs on the three floors of the  North-western stairwell.

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It would have read: ‘People who live in stone houses should not throw glass (bricks)’.

But, wishing to preserve the peace (if not ‘my peaceful sleep’), I reluctantly decided against it.

© Steve Swindells. 2013.  All rights reserved.

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