Genesis To Revolutions

Part One - Work, let me see...

When I grew up, I had decided, I was going to be a Train Driver. Not in the 'Boys Own' sense of Flying Scotsmen and the romance of steam, nor as a childhood fancy based on the antics of Thomas the Tank Engine, but a real working engineman on the British Railways of the 1970s, when trains were blue and yellow and the system had not yet been reduced to the pale shadow of itself that it subsequently became. My decision sprang from the twin facts of my father, and his father alongside him, having been railwaymen, and the doubtless connected circumstance of my having been a trainspotter for as long as I could remember.
My father had left the railway some four years before my birth, so although it wasn't exactly a daily feature in my life, it got into my blood somehow, and remains there to this day.
He had started work as an employee of the Southern Railway, at the age of fourteen, in the wagon shops at Templecombe. This was in 1943, before nationalisation. Company loyalties were still strong enough to demarcate between the Southern men at the top station, where his father also worked, and the men of the former Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway which also passed through the town under the auspices of the LMS. By the time he left the railway he was an S&D man through and through, having transferred his allegiance and worked his way up through the links to the position of 'Passed Fireman' - a fully qualified shovel wielder capable of taking control of a train but not yet officially granted the mantle of driver.
Father left the railway when BR's looming modernisation plan began to whittle away at the industry and he was offered a transfer to Brighton to drive electric trains. As neither the change of traction, nor the prospect of leaving Somerset appealed to him he turned it down and went into the building trade. Templecombe gradually lost its railways; the loco shed, the marshalling yards, the wagon shop and eventually even the station closed. The S&D itself is now little more than a series of ditches and banks stretching intermittently from Bath to Bournemouth, and the fact that Templecombe today has a railway service again is only slightly more unlikely than that I, after some years of intemperate behaviour, a delayed adolescence, and an almost Woosterian inability to comprehend the consequences of my own actions, am still a practicing trainspotter.
Nevertheless, I was serious about my intended career. When I reached my final year of school my application was successful and I was offered a position as a Traction Trainee at Salisbury, where no doubt I would have cut my teeth on Class 33s, or 46s on the Mendip stone trains. Tragically, fate and folly were to intervene and dissuade me from this righteous course, but at the time it seemed logical that I should follow in what I like to believe is the family trade. My father I still see as a railwayman, even after so many years, and my mother's father too had been on the payroll of the Great Western Railway. Everyone seemed content with the choice I had made, or, if that was not the case, no one saw fit to mention it to me.
Except for my headmaster that is.
Shortly after I had first made my decision known he had summoned me to his office and told me in his unpleasant nasal tones that he had been informed of my plans by the careers officer, and felt that as no formal academic qualifications were required for train driving I should sacrifice my place at the grammar school and go to the local secondary modern instead, allowing a potential insurance broker, advertising executive or some other of equally worthy ambition to take my place. My refusal to comply with this addled suggestion fueled his fomenting dislike for me, and a minor vendetta ensued, in which I had my first taste of officialdom's capacity for injustice. I had fallen foul of both parents and teachers before over petty misdemeanours, but never, I was aware, without some plausible justification on their part. This was different. On one occasion he seized upon a stupid misunderstanding and swooped on me with a righteous passion, leaving me frightened, confused and extremely resentful at this first experience of the potential for artifice and vindictiveness in an allegedly responsible adult. I was accustomed to that kind of behaviour from my classmates but had hitherto been naive enough to believe that our elders were to be trusted, especially a headmaster. Feared maybe, but only because of his exalted position. I lost any respect I may have had for him, and a number of my teachers as well, and although I would hesitate to make too close a connection, the fact that I subsequently became an easy victim to my brother's Sex Pistols records seems, in retrospect, less remarkable.
Various people have cited differing reasons for his extraordinary behaviour. Hopper, the careers master, to whom I took my grievance on the rather vain assumption that I could trust him to give me a fair hearing, fobbed me off with the excuse that the man had an ulcer. I was not impressed. Some say it was my brilliant elder brother's eccentricities that antagonized him. Colin was much liked by the deputy head, on account of his regular successes in the school operas, and this, on top of his sporting prowess and all round casual genius, enabled him to get away with lime green socks, brothel creepers and other minor infringements of the dress code, while we mere mortals would be up before the beak for much less flagrant breeches. Still others claim that he was right, and that far from exhibiting duplicity his desire for my removal was justifiable, and that all those boys who went on to become farm labourers, squaddies, and factory hands should have suffered the same intolerance. As they didn't, I found myself reluctantly forced to lend credence to the words of wisdom uttered by my old chum and fellow trainspotter, Fat Bob, who summed up the situation with a clarity and breadth of wisdom far beyond his years.
"It could be that he's a shit-faced old cock-walloper."
Be that as it may, I have harboured a grudge ever since, and it was no small satisfaction to me to see the fellow making an ass of himself, some years after these events, on a stupid TV game show. What price his dignity? Who cares? I reaffirmed my allegiance to the railway and got on with the more serious business of copping the class 50s, which were then arriving in the area to replace the last of the 'Westerns.'
Trainspotting - I reject the term 'Railway Enthusiast' as being a feeble attempt to make sound grown up what is a perfectly legitimate practice without that effort - has often been a source of both comfort and inspiration. Nurtured in school, which was perched on a hillside overlooking the WR main line, it has since provided me with travel, adventure and some of the best of friends. Latterly I was quite content to rise before dawn, after a late performance in perhaps Munich or Berlin, at the prospect of a long morning with my cameras amongst Bavarian class 111s or ex-East German diesels, when little else would tempt me from a warm bed. Back in Somerset it was normally the 06.58 to Bristol Temple Meads and beyond that provided the stimulus, and if I chose to depict myself as a struggling railway photographer with side interests, rather than a struggling musician who photographed trains, then it was for reasons of grace as much as levity. One former manager was once quoted to me as saying 'If he spent as much time on his career (sic) as he does on British Railways he would probably be considerably more successful.' My response to this would be something to the effect that if I had spent as much time on my 'career' as I have on British Railways, I'd have jacked it in a long time ago and got a proper job. No wonder he dumped us for pastures greener.
Being a trainspotter preserved me from some of the worst depredations of mid-70s fashion crime. While my peers were cavorting in flares, trying to cultivate facial hair or indulging themselves in aggro on the terraces with Bristol City, I was down the station seeing out the last of the WR diesel hydraulics. Football to me was just something that clogged up the telly on a Saturday afternoon, and my only serious interest in music lay in the fact that the annual Pilton pop festival, as the Glastonbury Fayre was locally known, brought occasional rare locomotives in on special trains from other parts of the network. As for facial hair, my chief hope was that the miserable wispy tufts that were the pride and joy of the early pubescent would pass me by. In this at least I was not to be thwarted.
Music to me, up until about 1974, meant my parents' collection of Jim Reeves, Nat King Cole and Glenn Miller records. I was aware that my elder brother liked something called 'David Bowie', but as he also liked his purple striped tank-top and owned a lab-coat with Bristol City rule OK painted on the back this rather hinted that it was something to be avoided. I was to turn out a late developer, probably the third from last in my form to even think of kissing a girl, and the railway was providing me with all the social life I needed so I was content.
My first real subliminal link with music stemmed from my involvement with the railway. There is a certain combination of sounds that when combined with a backdrop of wet railway lines and signal lamps glowing on a wet winter's evening could move me quite dramatically, and throughout the mid-seventies I was hearing songs, and these same sounds, that would never quite leave me alone, and although I was only listening casually - to Top of the Pops, or to my elder siblings playing the top twenty on the radio of a Sunday evening - would come back and plague me time and time again in years to come. That was why, when my hair was at its most spiky and my trousers at their most bezipped I was driven to order a copy of Peter Skellern's 'Hold on to love' in Acorn Records, and only the resultant loss of face prevented me from hunting out 'If you leave me now', by Chicago, on the same impulse. It was the strings and synthesizers that really got under my skin, and thus it was that although a lot of my attitudes and theoretical opinions on music were partially shaped by my interpretation of the Punk movement in 1977, the music I eventually found myself writing and playing owed far more to The Rubettes than to The Damned.
I recall coming home in triumph from a long day's spotting in Birmingham or Cardiff and writing up my numbers in neat copy, while my Mother would be ironing in the kitchen with Tony Blackburn playing songs like 'I can't give you anything' or David Soul's classic 'Silver Lady'. Songs that a year or so later I would denounce utterly and never admit to even a knowledge of. At school everyone was drawing elaborate Queen and ELO logos on their book covers, but I had no inclination towards rock stars. The forbidden music crept into my subconscious on a stream of engine numbers and lay dormant for long years, only emerging when I finally got round to heaving off the yoke of Punk credentials that I'd clung to along with my para-boots through thick and (generally) thin, stood up to myself and owned to the inadmissible:
"I want keyboards in my band."
There are such a lot of records from that period, 1974 - 1977, that I only ever half knew or overheard, that to pin down specific artists and own them as influences is difficult, but if I had to cite one collection that epitomises the music I was hearing at that time it has to be Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' LP, which my brother bought on a family holiday one summer, while I was buying Airfix kits. One way or another I've never been without a copy of this - generally on cassette. Side one, specifically, is almost a dictionary of keyboard sounds and the successful application thereof, within the framework of a pop song. Even at my most narrow minded, when I would listen to The Nosebleeds and Slaughter & the Dogs as a statement, but couldn't to this day hum you the tunes, I still retained an affection for this masterpiece. Last time I bought it was in 1985, when I was a po-faced Anarcho, Elton was as rich as Croesus, and my life's work had just been described by the popular music press as 'dated garbage.'
Snatches of so many songs stayed with me through a decade or more of musical Stalinism: 'I'm not in love', 'Jarrow song', 'All the way to Memphis', 'Mississippi'. Stuff I couldn't possibly own to liking. Disco, Soul and even on one occasion a flagrant piece of Country and Western managed to bypass the deflector shields in the shape of Mike Nesmith's 'Some of Shelly's blues'. There was one memorable moment on a German Autobahn in the small hours of the morning, when 'Sugar baby love' came on the British forces' radio station, and I swear I could see, there and then through the windscreen, the floodlight towers and the silver flashing pointwork at the south end of Crewe station, and there were class 24s and class 40s - and it was good!
The collapse was inevitable. Those songs caught up with me in the end.
Around the age of twelve, thanks to my sister's copies of 'Music Star' and 'Pink' I had a fleeting fascination with The Osmonds, even going so far as to acquire a copy of the dismal 'Twelfth of Never', although 'That's my Girl' and 'One Bad Apple' were far superior songs. This shameful flirtation came back to haunt me at the time of the Gulf war, when my Blyth Power was invited to stand in for Donny Osmond at the Marquee. Due to the hostilities and the assumed threat of terrorism, a number of American artists had decided to stay at home for the duration, leaving the venue with a number of cancellations at short notice. Through a friendly agent we were invited to step into Donny's shoes for £50, some sandwiches, and an unlimited guestlist. We were, of course, flattered at their magnanimity but, deciding that a cup of tea and an early night was a more tempting prospect, politely declined. The only other record I can remember owning before 1977 was 'How come' by Ronnie Lane, which like the tedious 'Twelfth' was a birthday present. Other than these two gems, my only exposure to vinyl was the aforementioned parental record collection. 'The Glenn Miller Story' still has a place in my meager stock of tapes, as will 'Geoff Love and his Orchestra play Big War Movie Themes' if I can ever find it again.
Punk Rock had a more physical effect on my subsequent writing, but on the arrangement, shape and the form of a song, rather than its sound. The ideas I picked up from my extensive collection of Punk singles, when they finally filtered through the layers of exhibitionism and self-aggrandisment, left me with an unshakable faith in austerity. Simplicity, and the subordination of technical proficiency to the needs of the song attracted me to bands like Wire, The Clash, The Buzzcocks and the Ramones and although I certainly wasn't listening to them with composition in mind at the time, they taught me that no amount of instrumentation can make up for the lack of a good song. Making music for me so often ended up as a series of interesting accidents, whereby one fed in words and a tune at one end of a group of musicians and the finished result came out at the other end as the sum of the square of their individual abilities and influences. For years I could readily acknowledge the overwhelming influence of The Clash on my songwriting. Hearing Steeleye Span for the first time merely confirmed an intuitive affinity I already possessed for the narrative style of English folk music - although not much of its wretched lyrical content. Adding the mood and the sweet sounds of those 70s keyboards and successfully fusing the three forces was a goal I one day hoped to achieve, but which thanks to my rather crude self-schooled approach and complete lack of technical knowledge constantly eluded me. Whatever form my creative spirit chose to take, it found itself trapped in the body of a reluctant drummer and forced to communicate itself through some weird and inadequate musical semaphore, which only ever enabled it to complete part of the picture.
I never did become a train driver. First I became a whinging adolescent, then a Punk and then - by slow degrees - a musician, which has left me on the lineside as far as the railway is concerned.


I. FROM GENESIS TO REVOLUTIONS

At the beginning of 1977 I cut, to all external appearances, a sorry figure. I was just short of fifteen years old and sported the kind of greasy fringe and freckles that would not have seemed out of place among the Partridge Family. My dress sense was unfashionable to an extent that would have been negligent had I harboured any desire for social intercourse outside the local trainspotting fraternity and most of my clothing was daubed with blotchy evidence of my most recent phase of Airfix kit-building. Nature has endowed me with a lower jaw which, if not quite prognathus, is sufficiently prominent to excite occasional comment. Of this I was as yet unaware, being more concerned with my ears which I rarely let escape from the thick confinement of my pudding-bowl haircut, as they did not lie quite as close to my head as I could have wished. 'Segel ohrige insel affen' the Germans call us. 'Sail-eared island monkeys!' I suppose I should be proud to sport a national characteristic of sufficient Carolean splendour to attract the envy of our square-headed cousins. I wasn't, and hated my ears for the rest of my teens. It wasn't until some years later when someone, in a moment of intimacy, said that I had the biggest chin they'd ever seen, that I stopped worrying about the dratted flaps and resigned myself to more jaw-orientated witticisms:
"Why does Joseph look like Jimmy Hill?"
"Because when God was handing out chins, he thought He'd said 'Gins' and asked for a large one."

1977 dawned, and with it the beginning of the Jubilee celebrations, which culminated in London with the Sex Pistols being arrested on a riverboat on the Thames, and in Castle Cary with a disco at Ansford secondary school. Great affairs of state had still not replaced locomotives as my first love, but a slowly dawning awareness of my gender had led me by the nose through an assortment of teenage crushes on actresses and tennis players and it was this same irresistible force that drew me to Ansford against all the dictates of taste or common sense. I was aware that there was something that had to be done there, that everyone else would be doing, and that I shouldn't miss out on. What it was, or how it should be approached I wasn't entirely certain, so there was something of the lemming about my coming out that night, as I ambled blindly into the fray.
The 'fray', as it turned out, left me none the wiser. I 'danced' with four or five girls, some of them twice, and neither touched them nor left any lasting impression. I was still outwardly nerdy, but as the whole affair was a nerd's ball, I didn't make a fool of myself either. The whole shindig was organised by the village elders, and in this utter shrine to dorkhood I was just one more Ritchie Cunningham going through the motions. At the end of the night, all we children were presented, gratis, with a newly minted Jubilee crown, worth 25p, which seemed like a good deal at the time, but which, on my subsequent ascension to Punk enlightenment, I daubed with red swastikas and hurled out of my bedroom window.

I still had my Genesis to come, however - or to be more precise, my brother's Genesis, for these were among the first of his records that I was slowly beginning to find an interest in. Torn between Airfix kits and 'Selling England by the pound', the latter, encouraged by my devious sibling, slowly began to gain the upper hand. I began to listen to selected user-friendly tracks from 'Lamb lies down on Broadway' and 'Trick of the tail', but the preoccupation I still retain with tunes and words made hard work of most of it. I needed a hook or a gimmick to get me into a song, so 'Lamb lies down' and 'Battle of Epping Forest' proved early favourites. Queen, the easier bits of David Bowie and, of course, Elton John found their way onto the syllabus and began to compete with Geoff Love for my affections. Colin tried all sorts of things, with varying degrees of success: Global village trucking company's 'Dancing on the judgement day' was a hit, while 'Close to the edge' put me off Yes for life. He tempted me with Lou Reed, and gave me music papers to read with the result that by the time he bought 'God save the Queen' and 'Damned Damned Damned' I was clay in his hands. The seeds of revolution sown - he couldn't know how effectively - I embarked heroically upon my first clandestine mission, and wrote 'RAEL' with a black indelible marker in several obscure locations around the town.

By the merry month of May I had reached that difficult age of youth when one doesn't know what one wants, one only knows that what one has isn't good enough. I was now aware that there were girls in the world besides Chris Evert, and I wanted one but didn't have a clue what to do about it. My parents, I believed, could do no right and I could do no wrong. I hated the village and Airfix kits had lost their appeal. What was I to do?
I bought some safety pins.

As the summer holidays commenced, my metamorphosis gathered pace. Elton's 'Benny and the Jets' was no longer number one in my hit parade of revolutionary anthems and my appearance slowly began to change. To the utter disgust of my fellow trainspotters I failed to turn up for the passing of The Atlantic Coast Express, one of the final workings of the 'Western' locomotives. I developed a strange reluctance to Mrs. Alan's shopping after school, when the financial recompense for this long-standing ritual became offset by the compromise her shopping trolley made to my dignity. My first attempts at fashion comprised safety pins in the lapel and a stupid padlock and chain which I wore around my neck, just like Sid Vicious in the photographs in New Musical Express, where Parsons and Burchill were telling me all I needed to know about evolution. The chief beneficiary of my dawning self-consciousness was the local newt population, which I had been molesting, abducting, and imprisoning in fish tanks for years. I hung up my nets and the amphibious sighs of relief from Park Pond and Dimmer Camp must have been audible for miles around. Punks, according to NME, did not fish for pondlife. Neither did they spot trains, build model aeroplanes or go shopping for the neighbours. My former preoccupations thus curtailed, I was free to devote all my energies to this newfound passion, although in time I was to encounter pond life of a different and much less sophisticated nature.

Punks did, however, wear unusual clothing and listen to punk rock music. I began to experiment further with fashion, and my first serious outbursts of creative energy took the form of heavily grafittied clothing. Painting 'White Riot' across the back of a T-shirt was shortly to become more than just an idle pleasure. It became a sublime piece of self-expression of a kind I'd never even dreamed of before. The thrill of anticipation I felt with a clean white shirt in front of me and a paintbrush in my hand, was keener even than the joy of copping my first Deltic, or bagging a Great-Crested newt in one of Dimmer's wells. I became obsessed with a creative need, and as it had so far not occurred to me that the punk ethic would allow me to become a musician, without having to go through the tedious rigmarole of learning to play an instrument, my wardrobe bloomed with what I then considered masterpieces. I also had my hair cut ruthlessly short, to expose the full shape of my head in all its ghastly glory - not to mention the dreaded ears - but punks had short hair, so short hair I had to have. Initially it clung unmolested to my head, but this unsatisfactory state of arrangement eventually succumbed to treatment, first with lard and later with soap until the desired vertical effect was achieved.

By the end of the summer I had amassed an enviable collection of destroyed, slogan-encrusted shirts. I had a three piece suit spattered delicately from top to toe in white paint, and early unsatisfactory experiments with dustbin liners had led to the more durable - and quaintly rural - option of nylon string onion sacks, which could be worn as passable impersonations of the loosely knitted jumpers that Paul Cook and Johnny Rotten seemed to favour. To my lasting shame I even wore a dog collar, purchased with some embarrassment at the Cary pet supplies.
Firstly, though, I had to pupate. My parents were understandably not keen on their son's new image so I was obliged to state my case diplomatically. My younger sister, I argued, had freely sported her Bay City Rollers uniform: scarves, tartan trimmings, the works, and as brother Colin had spent most of the last three years seemingly dressed as a clown - these were the Seventies, remember - why should I not in my turn make an idiot of myself in the way I deemed most fit? This at least was the substance of my argument, though couched less subtly. Being the most reasonable of people, they gave in, and let me get on with it.

So I emerged. To the amusement, and frequently the scorn, of the citizens of Castle Cary I became conspicuous, who had previously been a non-entity. My appearance in the High Street would be greeted by shouts of "Yerr! Punk Rocker!" from the local bootboys. Intended, I believe, to wound, these ineffectual taunts only spurred me on to seek greater notoriety. I bought my first spray-can and tried out some punk slogans in suitably low key places. Anonymity was not possible for me now, in Castle Cary, and as there was unlikely to be anyone else in town to whom the crime of spraying the war memorial or the Roundhouse with 'Slaughter and the Dogs' could be traced, I confined my art to the very bowels of the public toilets in the playing fields, and dreamed of a whole city of walls waiting out there somewhere for me to spray.

The hitherto non-existent need for records led me to seek a holiday job. My Thursday evening paper round was neither highly paid nor fashionable, so I gave it up and cast about for something more lucrative. Eventually I was taken on by a local farmer, who had played cricket with my father for the village team, and no doubt employed me as a kindness to him. Farm labouring confirmed my worst suspicions about work. The first day I was introduced to a short-handled billhook, which was my close companion all that week, hacking down thistles in huge Savannah like fields. It was a bit like white washing coal only without the army. No doubt the farmer felt he was performing a public service in helping to keep young people off the streets. I graduated from billhook to shovel and pick, and spent a further two weeks digging up chalk floors in the cow kennels, which were due for replacement with concrete before the onset of winter. Occasionally I would be called upon to help with the cows, which was a blessed release from navvying. I eventually got to muck out the milking parlour every morning, which involved a tool like a giant windscreen-wiper with which one could send forty gallons of soggy dung, at a sweep, slithering across the yard to cascade into the slurry pit with a gigantic soul-satisfying flop.
"You're not afraid of a little bit of shit?" queried Tom, the cowman.
"Not in its proper place" I conceded. Unfortunately farmer Wyatt's cows had no formal toilet training and were apt to drop their load where they stood. In the milking parlour we worked in a trench at eye-level with their hooves. The more experienced hands knew the signs of impending peril, but I, green and pure, was caught off guard by the 'incoming' more often than not. This, I decided, was not punk rock. Perhaps I would have been happier if the beasts had gobbed at me.
The high spots of my farming career were those few occasions when I was called upon to help bring the cows in for the evening milking. I got to stand in the middle of the main road, lording it over the traffic for twenty minutes as 180 softly mooing beasts ambled past with udders swinging. "Come on there! Come on!" I would cry importantly, slapping the odd rump with a twig as the drivers hissed and cursed at the delay. Power! Soul satisfying and glorious!

But all too fleeting and too little. Most of the time I was lord of nothing but chalk, shit and thistles, but the fifteen pounds a week I earned for these indignities were soon put to good use. The first punk record I bought was the Strangler's 'Go buddy go/Peaches', which had all those satisfying expletives. The milestone first LP in my collection was obtained dirt cheap from a squat youth in Ansford who travelled weekly to Yeovil and shoplifted to order. Records, books, calculators - you name it! I'm sure he came to a bad end. For all my treasured punk credibility, I wasn't prepared to steal anything unless the risks were non-existent. A few union jack flags disappeared from patriotic gardens at the dead of night that summer, to resurface as fashion accessories, but that was the extent of my potential for crime.

This priceless first waxing was a live compilation called 'Live at the Roxy WC2' and proved a tremendous find. The music, never the most important part of my involvement in the punk scene, slowly became familiar with repeated listening, but a lot of it was fairly tuneless ranting. Exceptions to this were the Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, whose singer sounded like nothing on this planet, and the sublime Adverts, playing 'Bored Teenagers' to which farmer Wyatt's cow kennels echoed over the ensuing weeks, my shrill voice competing with the tapping of my feeble pick-axe blows to scare off the rats and the starlings:
"We're just bored teenagers! Dadadadadadadadadadadadada! Bored out of our heads! Bored out of our MINDS!"

In actual fact, farming aside, I wasn't bored at all. I was discovering countless new and fascinating worlds. But punks were bored - they said so, and wrote songs about it. They owned a monopoly on boredom. It was their inheritance so I would be bored too. In pursuit of the perfect state of boredom, I closeted myself for long hours with 'Live at the Roxy' and marvelled at all the photographs on the sleeve, even taking notes of what some of the punters were wearing in an effort to keep abreast of things. Of more interest to me than the music were the lengthy spoken introductions to the songs. While Johnny Moped ranted on and on before 'Hard lovin' man', you could catch snatches of conversation from the bejeweled and bedecked audience - "Is Sid Vicious 'ere tonight?" one cockney harpy asks sotto voce, somewhere at the start of side two. I was mesmerised. It was almost as if Sid had walked into the room.

Sid never did. It was generally Anthony or Terry, friends from school, who while stopping short of the pitfalls of contemporary fashion were sympathetic to the music. They were the nearest thing to fellow punks that I possessed, but as the summer wore on I began to see them less and less. Previously we had partaken in harmless acts of petty vandalism together - everyone else pees in the phonebox at West Park, so why not us - and the occasional soggy pornographic magazine, found in the long grass by the conservative club tennis courts, had proved entertaining and amusing while teaching us nothing we hadn't already worked out for ourselves. My dismissal of anything that didn't strictly conform to my new ideology made me very uninteresting company to the not fully indoctrinated, and they still owed strange allegiances to football and Black Sabbath, which in my book were now dark blasphemies. Anthony had been one of my earliest childhood playmates, pre-school even. He died young in a car crash not long after I left Somerset for good.
I wanted to be where the real punk rockers were. I wanted to be at the Roxy, but most of all I wanted to be under the Westway, because the second LP to arrive by the same devious means was the breathtaking first album by The Clash. This knocked me for six and came complete with an instant pre-packed political conscience. My slogans took on a whole new meaning to me, and changed from straightforward band names to more cryptic affairs like 'Sten guns in Knightsbridge' and 'Knives on west eleven'. I didn't trouble to inquire too deeply into the meaning, as Tony Parsons had taken care of all that for me. Instead I scoured the increasingly punk-orientated pages of the NME and managed to glean a fair amount of Clash lyrics from old reviews and features, including many not yet available on vinyl that lent themselves readily to the backs of T-shirts. I was aware that a song existed called 'Clash City Rockers' and this to me represented the very essence of all I wanted to be. 'Strummer saves and punk rules', these were my watchwords.
Besides my underworld connection, I had taken to spending farmer Wyatt's cash on records in Yeovil on a Saturday afternoon. It became a ritual for me. The 11.00 Wakes' bus took just over an hour to crawl the twelve miles through the country villages to Yeovil bus station and the Mecca that was Acorn records, whose in-touch proprietor kept a box on the counter with all the latest dreadful punk 7-inch singles, which I would spend hours browsing through and eventually bring home in triumph. Yeovil, though not quite Clash City, was as close to it as one could get on the bus from Castle Cary. It had lots of things that real cities had: the bus station; the record shop; two railway stations; a Wimpy bar, and even Teddy boys.

My first, but by no means last, encounter with these ghastly creatures took place on the day I bought 'No more heroes' and 'Complete Control.' King's Road conflicts between punks and Teds were rife at the time, so it came as no huge surprise to me when the three ridiculously dressed youths who had been following me down the High street finally overtook and accosted me outside Woolworths.
"What are you meant to be?" they demanded. I was perplexed by this opening line - I thought it was obvious.
"I'm a punk," I said.
"Yeah, we can see that." Clever chaps. "What's it all about then?" This was easier.
"Music," I replied "You lot like Showaddywaddy, and I like the Clash. You know." This was a mistake. Never say Showaddywaddy to a Teddy boy.
"That's shit! We're into rock 'n' roll - The King!" I decided against further attempts at sarcasm, being both small and outnumbered.
"What do you look like?" they inquired with ironic politeness. Numerous rejoinders sprang to mind, but I instantly settled on a mantle of stupidity as being the best means of avoiding a kicking - a strategy I came to depend upon in subsequent encounters with these unlovable retrospectives.
"A bit like the milkman, my father says", I replied with an idiotic grin. The most hideously bequiffed of my assailants spat on the ground at my feet.
"I reckon he's a bit of a divvy", he sneered. In spite of my apprehension I was enchanted at this hitherto unknown choice of expression. Not since Andrew Stevens called me a 'dildo' in the third year had I been so outgunned in the matter of vocabulary.
"Looks bloody stupid", one of his less imaginative friends agreed, a short-arse with a blue drape coat that almost swept the pavement. "What's that all about then?" He tugged at my shirt, which was a particularly splendid one with 'Clash City Rockers' sprayed across the back, and a host of minor daubings of which one was, unfortunately, 'Elvis is dead' (which he was). I assumed an expression of beatific innocence and assured them that it was there as a tribute to the influence that Elvis Presley's music had exerted on the punk movement. I'd gotten that one out of the NME and thought that it was tailor made for the circumstances. That I actually believed Elvis to be a sad, fat old bum who had just 'undergone his terminal event while sitting on the commode' seemed less appropriate.
"Are you saying Elvis is a punk?" The first, and most belligerent of the three demanded.
"No, of course not - he was a Ted like you lot wasn't he?" This seemed to appease them to some degree. Mumbling ensued, in which the word 'divvy' cropped up a few times. They leered collectively.
"You just come with us now", they insisted. "We'll go and meet some of our mates at a café - they'll like you!" Relatively secure in my character as village idiot, now that their attitude seemed to be changing from aggressive to patronising, I went along for the ride, taking care to avoid any accidental treading on their blue suede shoes, which I knew was taboo. They took me to a café at the bottom of the town where they seemed well known, but their promised friends, to my relief, were not in evidence. They bought tea - not for me - and we sat down.
"We don't like you," big-quiff said.
"Cos you're a divvy", added short-arse. The third abductor, more modest in his appearance, and less vocal than his comrades nodded his agreement. I looked hurt. "Look at your stupid clothes!"
"Don't you like my shirt?" I pleaded, "It cost a fortune." They smirked.
"Take it off", demanded big-quiff, " I want to make some improvements". They helped me roughly out of the offending article. The T-shirt underneath caused them some mirth, artistically festooned as it was with bullet holes dripping red enamel paint. The word 'divvy' cropped up a few more times as they spread my Clash City special out on the table and proceeded to write 'rock 'n' roll rules OK' on the flimsy material with a laundry marker.
"Oh bugger!" To their dismay, and my barely disguised glee, the ink had soaked through and indelibly vandalised their favourite haunt. They beat a hasty retreat, cursing, and left me to find my way back to the bus station, shaken but undaunted.
I was obliged to retire my shirt, but my mother was enchanted by the episode and laid claim to the ill-used garment. For all I know she has it still.

I returned to school that September with a new book of rules and a new haircut, the appearance of which caused a huge chorus of ear-orientated hilarity on the bus that first morning back. I had new quarters at home, as Colin had had been spirited away to university in London allowing me to inherit the downstairs front room, along with a priceless two year collection of NME, his radio, the John Peel show, and several large stacks of books purloined from the school library which it was now my clandestine duty to return.

I also had some enemies, a new and interesting experience, and one that I could have done without. The local bovver boys had decided to embrace the strictures of youth culture and declare themselves as Teds, for the greater glory of Elvis - second only to The Quo in their malignant hearts - and as a good excuse for causing me grief. In fact their interpretation of the rock'n'roll lifestyle owed more to the then popular 'Grease' than to anything else. Perhaps they were alarmed at the prospect of someone more outrageous than themselves in the small pond in which they considered themselves top dogs, or maybe it was simple red-necked spite, but they threw themselves wholeheartedly into a vendetta in which my only defence was that semblance of idiocy that enabled them to regard me with the requisite amount of scorn, while generally falling short of physical violence. I was fit to be taunted and spat upon, but not worthy of their boots.
The grudge stemmed from the results of the eleven-plus examination, which I had been injudicious enough to pass. We had all attended the same primary school, and some of these fatheads had been friends of mine up until class six. We'd attended each other's birthday parties as children, swapped newts and Brookbond tea cards together and probably even sworn terrible oaths of secrecy and loyalty to the same nameless causes. But that was all in the dim and distant past. Educational matters can be a great source of emotion in some English communities and give rise to suspicion and mistrust where matters of drinking, fighting, football, and fornication are disproportionally uncontroversial. I find it even possible to believe that the accidental acquisition of an education is on a par with selling heroin to toddlers in some peoples eyes, especially among this particular section of the working people of rural Somerset. That was how they saw themselves - good solid working class lads with no ideas above their station, loyal to Bristol City FC, The Heart & Compass public house, and the bench by the Horsepond, which they had claimed for their own, and where they loitered every evening with their mopeds and their flared jeans. Looking back now they appear to me as the very worst of Gilray caricatures; neck-or-nothing men, or turnip nosed French revolutionary peasants with malevolent scowls and straggly long hair. Of course I'm viewing them through spectacles that are far from rose tinted, but then, they never gave me any excuse to see them otherwise.

Even the names they called each other by were caricatures. Diminutives, generally ending in 'er' in the case of Christian names, or taking the first syllable of the surname and bastardising it with an affectionate suffix. Thus amongst the Castle Cary branch of the 'City Boot' there languished 'Jimmer' and 'Brakey', 'Reever', 'Stever' and 'Ozzy'. I had other names for them.
1973 was not a good year for Castle Cary County Primary as far as the eleven plus was concerned. Out of a handful of passes, only two of us were boys. We were destined to go to Sexey's Grammar School in Bruton, while the girls went to Sunny Hill, a sister-establishment in the same village. The four miles to Bruton might as well have been forty as far as the rest of my peers were concerned. They all went to the mixed comprehensive in Ansford, which is, geographically at least, a part of Castle Cary. We 'Sexians' became instant outcasts from the Ansford mob. Our black uniforms and the fact that we had been singled out by the powers that be for some kind of preferential treatment gave rise to a passionate and righteous resentment which voiced itself in the frequent taunt "Sexey's snob!" This, I believed, was nonsense, as I was there by accident, not design, and was not sufficiently aware of the trials and concerns of my fellow men, at that tender age, to look down on anyone. There were as many cretins at Sexey's as there were at Ansford, and both schools were likewise blessed with their share of sages, but the tar was as black as our blazers, and terribly sticky.

I had made early attempts to fraternize with the 'City Boot' - the legend that appeared on toilet walls and telephone kiosks throughout the town that seems to have had some sporting significance - but this was before I had burst so floridly into the full splendour of punkhood. I was getting narky at home and wanted to get out and air my imagined grievances to some sympathetic ears. The railway wasn't the answer, being a place for gentler mood swings. Wandering through the playing fields one evening I encountered several of the denim-clad ones lounging on the mechanical horse.
"Yerr! Punk rocker!" they jeered. I saw no reason to take offence, after all, I'd known these people for years, and some of them were neighbours. I'd even gone to Army cadets with them for a while. They indulged themselves in a few jokes at my expense but it seemed harmless enough. Even when, a few days later they threw me into the Horsepond, I still assumed it was just a bit of a joke - but then, I'm always a bit slow on the uptake, and at the time was naively grateful for their attention.

Relationships didn't really sour until later in the summer, by which time I'd met Alvin, who was crawling out of the same closet as I was and could be seen occasionally round town in a variety of ripped and decorated jackets, dark glasses and often a black beret which gave him the appearance of a Baader-Meinhof terrorist. Alvin had been in the year above me at primary school, gone on to Ansford but come out with his brain intact. He lived in Hadspen, a settlement too small to describe as a hamlet, on the lower road to Bruton. He worked as veg chef at the George hotel, which lay at the centre of town and boasted three AA stars and a thatched roof. I was soon thick with Alvin, on account of his punk credentials and genial amiability, and through him I renewed my acquaintance with other Ansford alumni whom I hadn't spoken to since primary school. Castle Cary became a better place to be as a result, and any feelings of warmth I may have considered entertaining towards the uncouth bootboys were quashed.

It was just at the beginning of September that things began to turn nasty, if so strong an expression can be applied to the petty vindictiveness that was to become a daily feature in my village life. The annual 'Caryland Fair' was held in the last week of August on the cricket field, which marked approximately the border between Ansford and Castle Cary. I had taken to meeting Alvin after his evening shifts at the George and lurking in dark alleyways with him, talking sedition far into the night. He was working during the afternoon of the fair but we arranged to meet at the disco, which was to be held in a marquee next to the cricket pavilion. My brother, Colin, and I strolled around the fair in the afternoon - Colin was sporting similar Clash-style gear to me, having laboriously converted his white flares into tight drainpipes, which I was shortly to inherit along with his room. The City Boot were out in force, allowing the good citizens to admire their New English Library wickedness, and the jeers on this occasion were far from good-natured, hinting at trouble to come if we showed our faces at the disco that night. A couple of grolleys and a beer can bounced across the turf in our direction, but nothing more serious for the moment.

Later that evening, the booming strains of Showaddywaddy's 'I wonder why', reaching out across the field to welcome us, caused me some apprehension. I don't know why we went. Lord knows I wouldn't be seen dead at such a freakshow now, but as before, at the Jubilee hop, there were things that just had to be done. Colin, whose visits to Ashton Gate had left him with a clearer understanding of the ways of the mob, argued against our going, but I in my innocence was adamant, so he had little choice but to come along and try to keep me out of trouble.

Inside the marquee we spent much of the night badgering the DJ to play some punk records. He was not keen. Alvin turned up, along with a couple of other partisans he knew through the hotel. We begged and pleaded for 'God Save the Queen', while our enemies stalked us, or glowered from the other side of the tent, but it was apparent to all except me that the slightest whiff of a punk record would trigger off the trouble that was obviously brewing. Colin, as the atmosphere thickened and began to bode ill, dispatched Alvin on a secret mission to the nearby Wagon & Horses for reinforcements, and we settled down in our corner to await events.

Events arrived. At the onset of a particularly choice piece of Quo, the enemy formed a chorus line and began to advance slowly across the dancefloor towards us, kicking their Doc Martins high in a ghastly can-can to the beat. Seated as we were, on the bare ground, we had only two options: to remain seated and be walked over, or to stand and invite further confrontation. Colin, with whose aid Horatius could probably have held the bridge indefinitely, advised the latter. We rose, and the chorus line broke, rearranging itself instinctively into an arrowhead formation, the harder, more certain lads at the front, the more timid at the back, ready to despoil the bodies of the slain.
It would have been appropriate at this point, for the music to have stopped, and for all eyes to have focused on the stand-off between Colin and the denim-clad phalanx, but this was not to be. As the innocents tried to continue their revels, wary-eyed in anticipation of flying chairs, the City Boot's champion invited Colin to step outside "for a foight."

"That would be stupid", he pointed out, "there are a dozen of you and only one of me".
The enemy moved in and surrounded us. Grolleys and beer cans were thrown, along with a venomous range of abuse and dire warnings. Someone burned a hole with a cigarette in the back of Colin's shirt while he was attempting to reason with another antagonist. There was one particularly rodent like creature, known as 'Rubberlips' even to some of his fellows. He was prominent in this, and all their subsequent misdemeanours, and I can pronounce with absolute certainty that he was an utter 'divvy'. We were cornered and outnumbered and things might have gone bad for us if the cavalry hadn't shown up - although there wasn't any one among the 'Boot' who would have dared to pick on Colin single-handed.

Help arrived in the shape of Alvin's elder brother and his mates, who were serious greboes, and not to be messed with by anyone. Not being motorbikes, we would normally have been beneath the level of their interest, but they were not averse to throwing their weight about when occasion demanded, neither were they overly fond of the bootboys, whose juvenile approach to hooliganism they resented as throwing their own lifestyle into a bad light by association. "That lippy one needs a good kicking", I was gratified to hear one of them say. He was absolutely right. This sudden change in the balance of power, while filling me with barely disguised glee, provided a fresh problem for Colin. Being a civilized individual, he had no wish to see any blood shed, having only come in the first place to prevent my premature death. The Greboes, called from the warmth of their local, were anxious to destroy someone, while the bootboys wanted only to lynch the punk rockers without themselves suffering any physical harm. In this difficult situation Colin provided a voice of reason that successfully Kissengered the lot of them into laying down their arms, and saving their bloodlust for another day. The City Boot, unlaced, retired to sulk. The Greboes, firmly in control, strutted their stuff, and the DJ, realising that the serpents teeth were drawn, played 'All around the world', by The Jam, to which we ecstatically pogoed, while the powerless foe confined themselves to cries of "Animals!" and "Yerr, punk rockers!" My final recollections of that night include walking out of the tent between two ranks of greasers, a seeming guard of honour. Anxious to keep on the right side of 'Might', one of the bootboys, a bit of a village idiot, who liked to tag along and talk 'the talk', just as long as he didn't have to walk any of 'the walk' without at least two of the others to help him, came up and chatted to us as if we were his best buddies.
"Yerr, what was all that about then Col? What be on then eh?"
"Nothing," we said, valiantly suppressing our collective impulse to do him serious mischief, "Nothing at all."

I rode off in triumph to take the news from Aix to Ghent. Colin, some years later, told me of the aftermath. To the village elders, whose wise councils had once again engineered the event, a potential riot between the Bootboys and the Greboes had seemingly only been averted by the noble intervention of the punk faction. Sage heads wagged in approval at palaver. Our part in bringing the leather jackets to the disco in the first place remains unknown. As to whether or not the Greboes finished off their grisly business, I cannot tell. Suffice it to say that from that day forth the Cary 'hards' drew the line at physical violence, the fear of reprisals forcing them to confine themselves to pointless abuse and the occasional grolley. Only their distant cousins from surrounding villages felt safe enough to pursue the vendetta further, but assaults from this direction were blessedly rare. I can only wonder at the extent to which pride must have been damaged that night - my own suffered not one bit, but then, I was young and very, very stupid.
I had no qualms about the use of big brothers' in all this strife. It was not of my choosing, and on more than one occasion it was very frightening. By the end of my last year at Sexey's, my younger sister and I were the last two at our particular bus stop, which by a regrettable happenstance was right next to Ansford School. More often than not the bus would be waylaid behind a herd of cows at Hornblotton - on some days not arriving until after the Ansford buses had disgorged their maroon-blazered hordes. On these days I would try my hardest to blend in with the background and pray for the bus' wheezing arrival, not always with success. The Ansford boys were jealous in defence of their turf and I enjoyed these encounters so little that on one visit to Colin in London, I bought a knife and began to carry it to school each day in my pocket. On another occasion I was down at the railway station, indulging my never quite dormant trainlust, when a large stone smashed against the wall within an inch of my face. It came from the direction of the tyre centre, where blue-overalled sympathisers of the City Boot were known to lurk. It was definitely meant to hit me, and hit me hard. In light of such liberties I felt that any measures taken in self-defence were justifiable. The rules, not of my making, seemed to suggest that might was right, and if I could have laid my hands on a piece of might that would have, at the time enabled me to burst Rubberlips' fleshy namesakes across his face with impunity, I would have had no trouble in persuading myself that it was right, very right indeed! As it is, I have had to make do with the pleasure of seeing him prematurely bald. Rubberlips married the mother of another of the City boot boys and moved into a house with her called 'Gracelands'. Henceforward he became known to his detractors as 'Motherfucker'.

Through Alvin's good offices, I was taken on as a dishwasher at the George hotel, working evenings and weekends for 75p per hour. Here I learned to wash pots - an invaluable asset for anyone embarking on a career in the music industry - and discovered not only that I was an efficient and reliable worker, farming aside, but that a good kitchen porter should be worth his weight in gold. That they're still worth less than £4 per hour is one of the less remarkable of the many social injustices under which we collectively suffer. That I, self-confessed anarchist and enemy of the state, should, at the time, have made such a jolly fine job of washing up all those bourgeois pots and crockery is merely a contradiction.

Working at the George was great. I liked the people there, and got on well with them. It wasn't the farm, which was a major point in its favour. I was able to earn enough to keep my record collection growing at a healthy, steady rate, and the food was pretty good too. As long as we didn't stray down the wrong end of the high street, and avoided the Heart & Compass we didn't see too much of the Neanderthals-in-flares so life - except for the ongoing 11 year non-stop blot that was school - was passable indeed.

Over that winter, two epoch making events occurred.
I discovered London. I paid my first visit to Colin, at the Rachel MacMillan hall of residence, Creek Road, Deptford, in October 1977. Colin had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the business of being a student: drinking, eating expensive takeaway food, and cultivating an overdraft. From my perspective it all appeared terribly grown-up, and for a while it almost seemed worth spending an extra two years in school to achieve a similar state of grace. I was charmed by his quarters, charmed by his friends - particularly Sam Featherstone, who immediately took upon himself the task of encouraging my further corruption - charmed by the student union bar, in which I became cheaply and horribly drunk, but most of all charmed by Deptford itself, which featured prominently in the mythology of the punk scene, and was a concrete manifestation of all my record collection had led me to aspire to.

Previous visits to London had been made solely for the purpose of trainspotting, and I'd never bothered to look beyond the boundaries of railway property. Now, as I approached Paddington station, I had no mind for the diesels and suburban units that swarmed around Westbourne Park and Ranelagh Bridge, being more impressed by Joe Strummer's legendary Westway flyover and the surrounding tower blocks in which hundreds and thousands of punk rockers lived, breathed and were gloriously and dynamically bored. This was, quite literally, the stuff that songs were made of.

I took to Deptford like a duck to water. Just being there simply blew me away. It was everything that Castle Cary was not: dark, evil, mysterious, but to my eyes fantastically beautiful. What in later years was to become a rather seedy chunk of South London, to be avoided like the plague, presented itself to my guileless teenage self as a land of plenty and promise, full of walls and bridges, spray-painted angst, music, life or in the words of Deptford's chosen one, 'Action, Time and Vision'. I was hooked. I was mesmerised. I was fresh from the sticks, and how I avoided getting mugged or stabbed by vengeful punk-haters on those initial carefree visits, only the good fairy knows. As far as I was concerned the enemy was a million miles away, on the bench by the Horsepond. On the streets of Deptford I was never afraid.

My second visit involved time off school. In a fait accompli Colin had acquired tickets to see The Clash at the Rainbow on a Thursday night in December. I travelled up on the Wednesday evening and awoke the following day to the sounds from the street, and the pleasing knowledge that the school bus might call for me in vain. I had a hangover from at least two and a half pints of lager in the union - I was just discovering drink, an element in which I was never either graceful or comfortable - but above all I was not in Castle Cary, and that was something worth waking up for. Sam and I made meticulous preparations for the evenings entertainment. We dyed our hair green and red with carpet dye and rubbed it full of Vaseline. The effect, after a quick dousing under the communal shower, was less dyed hair than dyed head, neck, chest, floor, carpet, and a trail of colour everywhere we walked. To my immense regret it washed out, as expected, on Sunday night. I had rather hoped it might prove stubborn enough to take to school on Monday.
This was my first live concert. The rainbow was huge. We had tickets for the balconies so were unable to get to the front and gob at The Zones, who were bottom of the bill. Sham 69, who had not yet turned into the Muppet Show, had second billing, and from our lofty vantage point I could see the light flashing off the shaven skulls below chanting 'We are EEEEEEEVIL!' and 'What have we got? FUCK ALL!' the exact significance of which was lost on me. Sham 69 had not yet attained press notoriety and I only knew of them because I had their first 12-inch single, one of my many discoveries at Acorn.

When the Clash came on, the sound was so bad that I still to this day couldn't tell you what they opened with. To my virgin ears it was all a colossal roar - I couldn't have cared less. I wasn't there to listen to their music.

Another visit found me outside the Music Machine, trying to lie my way in, underage, for the Richkids and the Slits. I reached the head of the queue and put on my finest expression of age and experience.
"How old are you?" asked the towering bouncer from somewhere a foot and a half above my head.
"Eighteen," I lied in my piping West Country tones.
"What's your date of birth?" I paused fatally.
"February the twenty-first, nineteen sixty...uhh...fifty...uhh...eight...nine...."
"Sorry, can't let you in, too young. Sorry."

Mildly vexed, I went and sat on the steps where brutal-looking youths with extremely short hair were lounging and eyeing up passing punks with a menace that was totally lost on me. One of them turned and motioned to the paintings on my jacket - reproductions of the back sleeve of the first Clash LP, where black and white pictures of policemen with sticks pursued unidentifiable miscreants across the streets of Lewisham. I knew nothing of race riots, nothing of the British Movement and whilst recognising his cultural identity, with a vague awareness of its reputation for disorderly behaviour, still less of the type of politics he was about to enlarge upon.
"What's that all about then?" His finger underlined the word 'Clash' stencilled underneath one of the paintings. "You like the Clash then?"
"Yes." He frowned.
"They're SWP ain't they?"
"I don't know". I sensed his displeasure.
"SWP - Socialist Workers Party. Communists..." I looked blank. Politics to me were a simple matter of 'Us', the righteously angry youth, and 'Them', the government and all their works, which were undoubtedly evil - it said so on lots of my records. The skinhead pulled out what looked like a large leather wallet and opened it to reveal an engraved silver heraldic eagle, squatting over a swastika, and some words in Sütterlein script which looked something like 'Blood and Horror.' "Ever seen this before?"
"No." I wasn't entirely convinced that his intentions were benevolent. Fortunately one of his colleagues intervened.
"What's up Den?"
"This'un's SWP." My protagonist sounded aggrieved. He turned to me again. "We don't like SWP, see?" I saw.
"Oh let 'im alone."
"But he's SWP."
"No he ain't. He's all right, let him alone."
"He's just a divvy."

London had ceased to be a monopoly board. All those romantic sounding names that had become so familiar on the peripheries of my trainspotting trips began to fall into place. Bethnal Green, White City, New Cross. I was to come to know them all in good time, but for now they reached out and clapped me, welcoming, on the shoulder.

Colin moved out of the halls of residence and into Speedwell House, a condemned block of flats just off Deptford High St. Technically they were squatting, as the council had given up on trying to collect rent there. The whole place was a magic maze of brickwork, stairways and balconies, covered in graffiti and full of lost souls in which Colin and Sam kept the flat in a constant state of devastation that I found irresistible. Coming back one day after a hard day posing in the West End, I found a minor music festival happening in the courtyards below. The Realists, This Heat, and a host of Deptford's alternative heroes played and jammed until late at night, the whole scene illuminated by the beams of a car's headlights. This was Deptford Fun City at its finest.
Some rudiments of social awareness were creeping into my consciousness, along with the nihilistic, but more accessible tenets of the punk ideology. Through Tom Robinson I became aware that some people were glad to be gay, and stopped using the word 'queer' as a term of abuse. The Clash had made me bored with the USA, but also opened my eyes to the multi-racial society that existed beyond the narrow limits of Castle Cary, where the only 'black' person was an Asian GP whom half the population wouldn't go to see until his colleagues read the riot act. Despite these stirrings it was still largely the prospect of the bands on the bill that led me, and doubtless thousands like me, to converge on London in the spring for the first Anti-Nazi-League carnival. I spent the day shouting lusty slogans on the march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park, hanging onto the cab steps of various floats and marvelling as cockney skinheads sang that wicked song about Harry Roberts. I rode part of the way on a flatbed with a band called Charge, who were then in the process of bankrupting themselves for worthy causes, a matter about which they spoke ruefully five years later, when we shared billing at the Clarendon on Hammersmith Broadway. On the way back to Deptford after the Clash and Tom Robinson had played, and I had gathered up about fifty dislodged badges from the mud in front of the stage, I was threatened by three youths with lock-knives, who thought I was 'screwin'' them. I don't know why I wasn't frightened, as I reassured them that nothing was further from my mind. Perhaps it was pure stupidity - it simply didn't occur to me that anyone had any reason for wanting to hurt me. Whatever, I never grew hardened in all the years I spent in London. I was always 'Just a peasant in the Big Shitty'. Who's the man with the smile Mom?

The second life-changing experience that winter took place at dead of night, after a late-shift at the George, up by the toilets in the playing field. Alvin decided that we should form a band. Thus sank home the final nail in the coffin of my putative railway career.

Alvin was to be the guitarist, as he already owned a guitar and amp. Colin Marsh, who manned a petrol pump in the centre of town, and was one of our small band of intimates, was to be the bassist - he played a little guitar, so it seemed logical that he should just adapt himself to four strings. That left me, who would have given my soul to be another Joe Strummer, but hadn't even mastered so basic an instrument as the kazoo, and the vacant position of drummer - which didn't seem to require much skill beyond a vague ability to hit things in time. By one of those little accidents that seem to have my life planned out in advance, I became a drummer by default.
Initial workouts took place in my bedroom, where Alvin played through his amp and I improvised a drumkit out of a school satchel full of O-level textbooks and a fireguard, which made a passable impersonation of a cymbal. I beat out jungle rhythms with inch thick lengths of wood, while Alvin played snatches of Clash songs and we added what words we'd been able to decipher. My hands became horribly blistered, huge bags of water dangling around the base of my thumbs. It was even worse than my old friend the billhook.

I relegated my O-levels to a more appropriate place in my priorities. The band, still nameless, recruited a girl singer and I made a commitment to stay in Somerset for another year at least, by ordering a drumkit on hire purchase, from my mother's catalogue. This first step on the road to glory cost me £180, spread over eighteen months, and was by the illustrious 'Hoshino' drum company. Finished in shiny silver vinyl, it comprised a bass drum and pedal, a snare, one rack mounted tom, a cymbal mounted on the bass drum, and a hi-hat. That most crucial of items, a drum stool, was not supplied. The cymbals were of a quality that barely improved upon the fireguard and the hardware was flimsy enough to bend with your teeth should the mood take you hold. To my dismay I learned that drumsticks were disposable, and required periodic replacement.

I also discovered that a drumkit is an extremely loud piece of equipment. After I'd spent a week or so working out how the dratted thing fitted together - grappling with the hi-hat stand alone boosted my krypton factor by 20%, and no instructions were provided - we embarked upon the first serious rehearsals in the garden shed that we'd laboriously cleared out and decorated with full page adds from the NME.

Pandemonium broke loose. Every cat in Victoria Park had kittens, and every neighbour gravitated to the bottoms of their gardens and to adjacent fences to stare as if hypnotised at the small brick outhouse which had suddenly started behaving so extraordinarily. I thought we sounded great. No one else could hear anything, as the drums were too loud. We were obliged to shift our rehearsal space to Hadspen village hall, where Alvin's mother was caretaker, and where the neighbours were fewer, farther between, or too frail to make it down the road to complain. Will, our singer, had a good turn of phrase, and an ear for a tune, but they were lost on Mr. Sawyer, a local farmer who was prepared to spend half an hour hiking down from a distant hillside, through several hedges, along the valley and up the lane to ask us to turn it down. We would take great delight in taking a strategic tea break to allow him time to get back up the hill and then burst into song again with renewed vigour.

We settled on a name, 'The Sulzers'. My O-levels came and went and I was largely indifferent. I left school and achieved a status which to my way of looking at things was Nirvana itself, but which set the heads of all right thinking people shaking in despair at the thought of my final disgrace.

I had gotten my drums, and gone on the dole.

TOP OF PAGE