on earth are we sitting here, in the Red Army cultural centre, surrounded
by insane Russians, all raving incomprehensibly in their native tongue?
Could it be something to do with Peter, the Australian lawyer, whose
enthusiasm for wild schemes is only matched by the extent to which he
has lost his marbles? I think we are losing the argument, despite our
big gun. The Russian officer who looks like a ginger pig is not impressed
by the fact that Georg and Alex are graduates of the Moscow College
of Jazz, and know how to play the chord H. Mind you, nor are we, every
time they collar us at the club, and explain to us exactly which blues
jams they are going to perform with us tonight, and exactly which Paul
McCartney songs they expect us to learn in the next five minutes. “It
is all here on this piece of paper - see? A D E A D E, then the chorus,
H E H E F# H, it is so easy!” No question about it. They never
ask, these Russians, they only tell. Too used to dishing out the orders
in East Germany - don’t they realise that we are free born Englishmen?
Now Peter is shouting at the Russians, who remain inscrutable. The third
of our tame communists is a bizarre hippy woman called Anna, who looks
exactly like you’d expect a Russian acid casualty to look. Peter
thinks she’s marvellous, despite her pale green chiffon dress,
flowing pink scarf and monstrous shoes. As she is a colleague of Mrs
Gorbachev, whose husband’s portrait is smiling down benevolently
upon us from the office wall, we are optimistic that she may carry the
argument. Unfortunately she speaks no English, so our requests have
to go through Alex and Georg, who are imperfect in that tongue, and
they only reach the Ginger Pig after a kind of Chinese whispering game,
made all the more tortuous by our friend’s imperfect grasp of
the concept they are trying to put across on our behalf.
Which is quite straightforward really. Wwe offer to play for the Red
Army conscripts, free of charge, and they send a Balalaika band to the
club in return. A cultural exchange, pure and simple.
“But who will print the posters? Who will sell the tickets?”
The Red Army is seeking to embrace the market economy and Peter’s
exasperation threatens to boil over.
“Tell them there will be no posters or tickets!” he storms.
“It is not going to cost anything! We come at our own expense,
and play for their soldiers. In return, they send some soldiers to come
and play for us. Why can they not understand?” More unintelligible
confabulations follow, in which I catch the phrase “Njet, njet,
njet,” which sounds like a Damned song. Once more the answer filters
its way back.
“Who will sell the tickets?” Peter is almost moved to scream
at this reply.
“Are you capitalists?” he roars, straight at the officers.
“Are you decadent sons of lickspittle imperialist running dogs?
Can you not understand? Georg - tell Anna to tell them - we need no
Which was true. All we needed was a room to play in, into which the
bored conscripts could have been herded. Worse off than prisoners, confined
in their barracks with nothing to do and no earthly reason to be in
Germany at all, the Red Army’s privates excited our collective
pity. Besides, what a lark it would have been. But the Ginger Pig was
having none of it. “Who will pay you?” he had asked - a
fair enough question considering the Red Army couldn’t even afford
to pay to keep the lights on in the corridors of the cultural bureau,
but we had told him a thousand times that we didn’t want to be
“Tell them,” we said “that all we ask is for some
vegetables to cook for our dinner.” This amused them, but they
had their brief to stick to, which was to make as much money as possible
before they all had to pack up and go home to Russia. Sod the troops,
let them all die of boredom and it will be less mouths to feed.
Peter is renewing the attack. “Tell them,” he pleads, “that
this is a great opportunity to cement relationships between East and
West, and that we can lay down our guns and share our music, and that
we can all be as brothers under one Heaven.”
“Yes”, comes the reply, “but who will sell the tickets?”
VII. Some Weird Tales
is the age of plenty!” Roddy announced from the top of the skip.
“Here in this wasteful society we can find all we need to thrive
and prosper just lying about in the streets. You want a couch upon which
to rest your weary bones - you pluck one from the fruitful branches
and bear it home to furnish your boudoir - here!” He flung the
mattress down onto the street and inspected it with the eye of a connoisseur.
“Not too bad if you keep it this way up,” he mused. “At
least it hasn't been rained on.”
“Some of those stains look a bit potent,” I said, eyeing
my new bed somewhat dubiously. “It looks like a map of the German
states in the 1860s. Look, there's Schleswig-Holstein, right where my
head goes, and that dirty great dark blotch at groin level is Austro-Hungary...”
“Don't be picky”, Roddy wagged his finger admonishingly,
“besides, Schleswig was outside the Confederation in 1860, so
it should be a different colour. I think it has character.”
“It's certainly been lived in.” I prodded the blotchy carcass
with my boot. “Probably died in as well.”
We took the mattress home and I installed it in my room along with the
rest of the junk we'd salvaged. Roddy believed wholeheartedly in the
bounty of skips, seeing them as a kind of squatters answer to the coconut
tree, which furnishes the dusky islander with all the bare necessities
of life. From these steel cornucopias he withdrew clothes, furniture,
fuel, and not least the half empty tins of paint with which he produced
his masterpieces. I believed wholeheartedly in Roddy, who had taken
it upon himself to teach me great things, not least of which was the
art of surviving in the metropolis with no visible means of support.
“The day will come,” he warned me, “when the great
ones in Acton will lose your claim, and you may wait for your giro in
vain. Do not then despair, for you are rich, and need want for nothing.”
Roddy was a kind of Mahatma Gandhi look-alike, dressed in an assortment
of shapeless clothes, and wore his hair cropped to the bone. The most
expensive thing about his attire was the Elastoplast that held his spectacles
together, and he bore himself with an air of irrepressible humility
that commanded respect in spite of his appearance. Wrapped in a long
tattered overcoat, tied shut with a piece of string, he would lead me
to Shepherd's Bush market, where we would gather up fallen fruits and
half rotten vegetables from the gutter and take them back to the sooty
black pots in our grimy kitchen to convert them into nourishment. Roddy
was the master of the perpetual soup pot, and daily topped up the evil
green brew in his cauldron with yams, peppers, sweet potatoes, and anything
else we found on the market floor, throwing in an ounce or so of garam
masala 'To take the taste away.'
“The Irish King Bran Mac Muffin also had a cauldron,” Roddy
would tell me untruthfully, upending a congealed pot of ginger over
the bubbling glop, “which magically refilled itself with porridge
every time his subjects had eaten their fill.” I would shudder
at the thought of what Roddy would do with porridge and think longingly
of the plates of half eaten Boeuff Stroganoff I used to empty into the
bins in my dishwashing days.
These noxious, though doubtless wholesome, stews sustained me for a
month or more of grinding want, until I managed to wring girocheques
out of the surly men at Bromyard Avenue and supplement my diet with
luxury items like bread, milk, and baked beans. It was a relief, too,
to smoke tobacco that didn't taste of the tube train floors from which
circumstances obliged me to gather wretched yellow dog-ends in order
to sustain my habit, but the lasting impression I have of this period
of my life is one of cabbage stems, several inches thick, that no amount
of boiling could make tender, and which consequently returned time and
time again to Roddy's cooking pot to take their chance at the next sitting.
Fibrous, tough, and bitter, they probably simmer still over some Spanish
campfire while Roddy - the last I heard he had gone native in Catalonia
- plans his next outrage.
Second only in my estimation, and not entirely dissimilar to his potages,
were Roddy's paintings. North West Passage in particular, I remember
walking across on several occasions. It occupied the entire floor in
the room next to mine, and consisted of layer after layer of Dulux splattered
onto several soggy pieces of hardboard, the congealed paint fully two
inches thick in places. I didn't understand it until I'd tasted his
soup. Thereafter it made a kind of sense, but if anyone other than Roddy
had tried to pass it off to me as a work of art, I would have called
them a wanker. I don't know where it ended up. Doubtless it was left
behind when the squat was evicted and found its way back to the skips
from whence it originally came, piece by piece and tin by discarded
tin. I think that's the way Roddy would have wanted it.
The house had no electricity, and as night fell the occupants would
spontaneously gravitate towards the ground floor front room, where someone
had rigged up a stereo to a car battery, and there we would crouch among
the candlelit junk and listen to Joy Division, Soft Machine, or something
obscure featuring the work of Hans Eisler. My co-habitees were mostly
art students from Warwick University, and their tastes were diverse.
They were all members of a percussive jamming band called The Good for
Nothings, which changed in time to The Federation, and latterly The
Murphy Federation, until all went their separate ways leaving only Rob,
the bassist, who has carried on producing works of eccentric genius
to this very day. As an artists collective they were refreshingly informal,
and it was this, along with their lack of self-consciousness while performing,
that made them interesting where others seemed merely pretentious. Several
of them wound up in Spain, I believe, and one inherited most of Perthshire.
I can't imagine that I left any impression on them, but our paths continued
to cross for years after I left number 12, and many highlights from
their extremely prolific cabarets remain with me still.
In actual fact I spent most of my time over at Woodstock Grove amongst
my old friends from Yeovil, with whom I had a lot more in common. Curtis
and I became a brattish pair of little brothers, being similar in both
size, age, tastes in food and music and in our sense of humour. We could
both fart longer and harder than anyone we knew, and our delight in
the comic potential of the humble Y-front provided us with many happy
hours of speculation as to the state of our gussets.
One of the older inhabitants of Woodstock Grove was a Frenchwoman called
Clarice, who was blessed with two darling children named Alex and Nicolas.
These we referred to as the J'ai Faims, which was their constant anguished
refrain, and we loathed them both for their constant whining - which
was unnervingly similar to our own - and for the ca-ca which they would
smear on the toilet wall, or deposit in little heaps in the back garden,
and into which our unsuspecting feet would plunge. The toilet became
hideously blocked for a while, and the entire household had to use the
public conveniences on Shepherd’s Bush Green, which was neither
comfortable nor salubrious, being constantly in use as a venue for erotic
social encounters. From somewhere we borrowed an amazing industrial
vacuum cleaner, and spent a pleasant afternoon blowing powerful jets
of air down the toilet pan. Out in the back garden a carnival atmosphere
prevailed, as we all sat expectantly around the open drain cover waiting
for something to appear. The birds were singing, the kids were j'ai
faimming, and at the bottom of the garden class 25 locomotives placidly
shunted rakes of carflats from the Motorail terminal at Olympia. When
it finally came we let out a cheer. The monster blockage from hell-
a three-foot solid smarty-tube of turd oozed out of the pipe like some
dreadful toothpaste. Curtis and I had hysterics, others retched, while
the children strenuously denied all responsibility for the solid bolt
of Andrex that had apparently caused the blockage in the first place:
“Alex! Nicolas! Qu'est que c'est?”
“J'ai faim maman! J'ai faim!”
Gingerly we collected up the log into old paint tins and left them,
at dead of night, in a nearby skip. I hope Roddy didn't find them.
Such communal activities were the fabric of our lives at Woodstock Grove.
One night a spontaneous party erupted in the basement front room occupied
by Curtis and Graham. The Mob had been rehearsing that day, for the
forthcoming Weird Tales tour, and the band's backline was set up in
what little space was not taken up by Curtis' bed - his pride and joy.
It was a huge sprawling affair made up from six sheets of foam rubber
bought cheaply from the market, and he loved it with a fierce passion.
To him it was a little oasis of luxury amidst the dark squalor. A link
with civilisation; a stand against the degeneracy that threatened to
engulf him if he gave it a chance. Before leaving on a visit to Yeovil
that evening he had taken me aside. “Joseph,” he said to
me gravely, “while I am gone I am leaving you custody of my bed.
You may, in token of the trust I hold you in, sleep in it if you so
choose, but no one else is to go near it. No one else is even to look
“Curtis, fear not,” I vowed rashly, “your bed is safe
I meant it I swear! Curtis' bed had already proved a source of controversy
in the house since the night he discovered Haggai, a junkie of several
years seniority, spread-eagled across it, stark naked and drunk. “What
are you doing on my bed!” he demanded. Haggai had opened one bloodshot
eye and regarded Curtis with an appraising leer.
“Suck my cock”, he replied. “Suck on my track-marked
old junkie's phallus and let me ride you tonight you pert-bottomed little
Curtis left around teatime, after the band had finished practicing,
and I was able to enjoy a couple of hours privileged repose on the great
bed before every squatter in W11 seemed to descend and take up the abandoned
instruments. Graham's great golden drumkit; the cabs and speakers and
anything else they could find to join in with the horrendous blues jam
that suddenly reared its ugly head.
And Oh! How they danced! On the stairs, in the kitchen, on the tables,
on the chairs, and - most damnably - on Curtis' bed. My charge became
a crumpled mass of boot prints as the carefree hippies caroused, gleefully
seizing upon the bed as a symbol of oppression and bourgeois decadence.
They didn't exactly dance until dawn, but long before the police came
round to ask us to shut up, I was forced to admit that I had utterly
failed to protect my friend's property, indeed I had joined in the dance,
and my tread marks were there along with the rest. “You could
always clean it,” pointed out Graham, that night from the pile
of old doors in the corner, which he had convinced himself was softer
than the floor, “then he'd never know.”
But what seventeen year old in the world ever knew how to clean a bedspread?
Curtis eventually forgave me, in fact before long I had moved into the
basement room with him and Graham, leaving Roddy's soup, and the Matching
Mole records behind me forever. Thanks to the great gift of personal
issue I was able to keep my claim running from Coverdale Road - 'Ooverdale'
the local youth had renamed it with marker pens - and my weekly trips
to Old Dole in Hammersmith continued uninterrupted. By now I had begun
selling my records for a pittance, to the Record and Tape Exchange in
Notting Hill Gate. I was becoming increasingly involved in the live
music scene in West London, and my enthusiasm for this had taken the
edge off my hunger for other people’s music. I wanted to play
my own. Attitudes had performed their first live show at the Lord Nelson
on Holloway Road, and although somewhat embarrassed to own to my West
London friends that I was in a Mod band, I had enjoyed the experience
immensely. Attitudes were tight and professional on-stage, something
I'd never been a party to before, and I wanted to play more.
I was also discovering new and forbidden fruits at Woodstock Grove,
which was entirely devoted to the Durian trinity of Sex and Drugs and
Rock and Roll. The latter was evident; drugs were apparent, and there
was undoubtedly lots of 'Free Love going on around me, although none
of it was taking place in the room where Graham, Curtis and I lurked
in our festering sleeping bags. In the higher reaches of the house all
manner of things were passing us by, as our elders dutifully lived up
to the image that society expected of them, while down in the basement
we were still cackling at our farts and throwing dirty underpants at
The first time I got thoroughly and convincingly stoned was a giro day.
Walking back from Hammersmith together Curtis and I came upon a discarded
package, just up the road from the police station. Curtis stooped and
“This,” he said knowingly, “is undoubtedly Grass!”
It was a page of Time Out magazine, folded up and fastened with a sticking
plaster. Some paranoid soul must have jettisoned it to avoid capture
by the Hammersmith drug squad, who were zealous in the discharge of
their duties. We scurried home guiltily and unwrapped the package on
the kitchen table.
“Quick! Where are the skins?” we cried. There before us
was a quarter ounce of brittle dried herb, musty and delicious. Before
long we were utterly ripped to the tits, and I had found the best reason
on earth for giving up drinking; this was so much better! Curtis and
I stumbled out to the nearest supermarket and spent the rest of the
afternoon on a bench in the precinct eating Russian sausages and giggling
at passers-by. Never was there such a giro day!
Serious students of Rock-Trivia among us may recall the exploits of
The Here & Now band, and Planet Gong in the late seventies. Long
before New Age travelling became fashionable Here & Now toured the
country in an old red bus, playing for free to large audiences and passing
a hat round to fund the venture with varying degrees of success. Alternative
TV, The Fall, Patrick Fitzgerald, and many others featured on these
tours, but probably their most far-reaching aspect was the patronage
of local bands, many of whom were given the opportunity, for the first
time, to play to audiences larger than three people, the village idiot,
and a dog. The Mob was one such band, going as far as to tour Holland
with Here & Now in 1979. Weird Tales was the name adopted by a group
of bands committed to carrying on the principle of free music, more
or less as a result of supporting Here & Now, who were the umbrella
under which they had all gathered, and whose equipment, PA and transport
they were able to borrow. Previous ventures had gone out under the name
Weird Noise, and the legendary Bad Music Festival at the Acklam Hall
had been part of the same scenario.
Woodstock Grove became Staff Headquarters for planning Weird Tales,
which was to feature The Mob, The Androids of Mu, and Zounds, with occasional
support from The Astronauts, and local bands from all the towns they
played in. Androids of Mu were an all girl band, whose lack of technical
brilliance was amply compensated for by their inventiveness and songwriting,
which in my uncalled for opinion constituted all the required hallmarks
of a true punk band. They veered towards reggae and blues, but their
inability to indulge themselves gratuitously kept them firmly in the
same ballpark as ATV, which was all right in my book - besides, they
had a sense of humour. Zounds, at this point in their career, were a
seven piece psychedelic band, given to lengthy jams and the ingestion
of much cannabis. They were soon to change dramatically, and our fortunes
were intertwined, but as at this juncture I was not involved in any
of the bands on Weird Tales, I got to stay behind for two weeks and
look after the squat. I was deeply envious, but there wasn't room for
any extras on the bus, so once again I was home alone.
Before they all set off in the borrowed Here & Now bus, we spent
a couple of days preparing tasteless merchandise to be sold at the gigs.
Someone had gotten hold of several thousand Chelmsford City Rock Festival
badges, after that festival had collapsed through lack of support. As
the tour drugs budget burned brightly, we dismantled these badges and
reassembled them with a number of ludicrous and tasteless designs taken
from old 1950s sci-fi comics, and the dregs of our warped imaginations.
If anyone still has an original 'I killed Mountbatten' badge, now you
know who made it!
While the heroes were all off on the road, living a wild life of drugs
and drugs and Rock and Roll - sex would have been tricky in the coffin-sized
bunks on the bus - I sold the last of my records and eked out the pittance
they fetched on tobacco and chips. When this ran out I was obliged to
root through the kitchen cupboards and concoct foul cement-like pastes
out of cornmeal and curry powder. After a couple of days I discovered
that the cornmeal became almost edible when mixed with sugar, instead
of spice, so thereafter I skipped the first course and went straight
But all was not completely lost. One day another left-behinder came
round to visit - probably on the offchance that I'd have some dope -
and I found myself recruited into another band, one which would enable
me to take a more active role in the Weird Tales scene, which Attitudes,
not being weird at all, wanted nothing to do with.
JB was a former NME journalist, who had dropped out of that organs employment
to become a roadie for Here & Now. I had met him a few times at
Woodstock Grove and liked him for his enthusiasm for bizarre projects,
and dedication to the art of not conforming. JB was the only person
I'd ever met who could smoke forty a day of other people's cigarettes
without them minding. Tragically his jewels of inspiration, and the
energy with which he was able to expound them, were pitted against an
almost overwhelming lack of personal organisation, and a breathtaking
command of leisure that caused him even to put off procrastination until
tomorrow. While the rest of us were merely idle, JB idled for England
- or would have if he could have gotten round to it.
The advent of The Entire Cosmos provided us both with a tenuous foothold
on the second Weird Tales tour, which followed the first some months
later, but before this, some fairly drastic events were to interrupt
my smoke-fogged idyll and drag me back to South East London for another
spell. Whether or not I would have moved back over with Colin if I hadn't
fallen foul of the law, I really couldn't tell, but the farce that I
will shortly unfold, coincided neatly with his name coming up on a special
lettings list in Lewisham and the offer of a cheap council flat in Deptford.
After the two days we spent in the cells, Curtis, Graham and I became
thoroughly disillusioned with squatting. They moved back to Somerset
and I jumped at the chance of moving into a house without having to
break it open at dead of night and change the lock.
Woodstock Grove had been evicted, and we had all been forced to seek
new accommodation. We junior members of the household, together with
another old Yeovilian named Gregor, had made an abortive attempt at
squatting a house on the Goldhawk Road. The front door was heavily barred,
and on breaking in through the back we discovered that changing the
Yale lock was impossible as the door jamb had been sabotaged - specifically
to deter squatters - so we were obliged to gain access to our new house
via a six foot wall and the back garden. After a couple of nights it
became clear that the place was a regular doss-house, and we were constantly
having to confront surly winos who couldn't come to terms with the fact
that this convenient empty house that they were used to crashing in,
when they were in the neighbourhood, was now our home. I suppose they
had a point; after all, the place did stink heavily of their stale urine,
so we should have realised that they'd marked it as their territory.
Beaten but unbowed, we left them to it and decamped to a house in a
nearby street that had been occupied for a while by some of our friends,
and these agreed to let us stay until we found another empty property
to open. 106 Godolphin Road was a huge place, full of hippies, dogs,
rooms full of junk and lumber, and a passing pair of German anarchists
named Schwanz and Fotze, whose immense rucksacks dominated the living
room and seemed to underline the suggestion that it would not do to
outstay our welcome. We set to work looking for a suitable house to
Opening a new squat was always something that I detested: the creeping
around in the dark, the breaking and entering, trying to get the lock
changed before someone saw you and called the police; I found it all
terrifying and would only ever have done it out of dire necessity, but
as no one else was about to house a bunch of young, single penniless
layabouts like us what choice did we have?
There were a few basic rules in choosing a suitable house. Firstly it
needed to be council owned, decrepit enough to be obviously off the
letting-list, yet at the same time not uninhabitable, and ideally with
all the amenities still connected. The myth of squatters depriving homeless
families of housing is both dangerous and misleading. There was little
point in choosing a property that had recently been rehabilitated to
council standards, as they would commence eviction procedures immediately,
and have you out in three months. As for the idea of occupying privately
owned, or furnished properties in the residents absence, that would
have been sheer madness! Private landlords were to be avoided, as they
had no scruples about sending muscular navvies round to turf you out
with pick-axe handles, an action to which the police were known to turn
a blind eye and the whole point with choosing a house was to find one
that was going to last you for as long as possible. It could be well
worth your while squatting a wreck, and spending a little time and money
fixing up the plumbing, as such a house would be unlikely to have any
short term plans pending. The council were in the habit of smashing
up empty houses, in a spiteful attempt to deter people like us, but
very often such a house could last a year or more before they got round
to commencing expensive eviction proceedings.
Another would-be deterrent was the phrase 'LEB off', which, painted
on the front of the house, made it known that the London Electricity
Board had turned off the power, trashed the meter and probably encased
the company head in radioactive cobalt, or something equally horrible.
Thus 'LEB off' meant you were unlikely to be able to hot wire the house
and steal the electricity. We found 'LEB off' pathetically amusing,
as Leb was short for Lebanese, a quarter of an ounce of which cost £14,
and was well worth cashing your giro for. 'LEB off' houses we usually
Living without electricity wasn't impossible. Living without water was,
though, and every time we broke into a house where the toilets had been
smashed and the pipe work ripped out we would curse the council for
their wasteful vandalism.
So we came upon number 12 Thornfield Road, W11. It was on a quiet street
between the Shepherds Bush and Goldhawk Roads, and had an easily-forcible
back window, through which we squeezed furtively, one by one; Curtis,
myself, Graham and Gregor. Inside all was dark, but a torchlight inspection
revealed that although the LEB was off, it was not irredeemably so.
Likewise the water. The one or two missing sections of pipe could easily
be replaced with rubber hose and jubilee clips. The toilet was intact
- though full of ancient caked excrement - and the basement door needed
only a few minutes with a screwdriver to fit a new barrel into the Yale
lock. Gregor did the deed while I stood a nervous watch, and then we
We broke in on Wednesday night. By Friday we had still not fixed the
amenities, although we had applied to have the electricity turned on
in the spurious name of 'Giles'. Getting it on legally, in a false name
was preferable to messing about with live wires, and still left us the
option of doing a bunk when the eviction notice came. The water was
going to take a while, as we weren't the most motivated bunch of people,
but we reckoned to have it sorted by Monday at the latest. In the meantime
we cleaned out one of the toilets and stocked up with sandwich making
materials. When we crept into our sacks on Friday night, we were the
legal occupants of number 12, and all was well. Or so we thought...
Saturday morning broke, and with it the basement door. I was rudely
awakened by a whole gang of black-clad gentlemen in unusual hats, who
hauled me from my sleeping bag and threw me my trousers. “Wake
up! Pack your bags and get in the van!” they told us, looking
around with distaste.
“You can't come in here”, protested Gregor, struggling into
his smelly jeans, “we're the legal occupants of...”
“No you're not, you're under arrest,” a thickset constable
interrupted him, “pack up your things and put them in these.”
He dropped a pile of large polythene bags on the floor
“Got any drugs?” demanded one of his colleagues.
“Ugh! There's shit in here! You dirty bastards!” came a
distant cry from the upstairs toilet, which we hadn't gotten round to
“That's not ours,” I protested, “That's weeks old
- you can tell by the crust - we've only just moved in.”
“Well you're moving out again,” another constable informed
me amiably, helping his colleague to seal my worldly goods in one of
the see-through sacks. “One suitcase, brown, small; one sleeping
bag, rancid; one parrot, plastic...”
“Roger!” moaned Curtis, “You can't put him in a plastic
bag - he'll suffocate.”
“Shut up and get in the van.”
“You can't do this,” insisted Gregor, “we have rights...”
but he was interrupted by a tall plainclothes man who held up the LEB
application form, neatly filled in my handwriting.
“Which one of you is Mr Giles?” he asked pointedly, knowing
there was no such person in the room. “Have you ever heard of
conspiracy to commit theft by fraud?” We hadn't. He probably hadn't
either, but we didn't know that. In fact we didn't know much at all
about the due process of law, and this sad ignorance led us down to
the van and round the corner to Shepherd's Bush police station, where
we were shown to a fat sergeant behind a desk, who had us processed,
fingerprinted, photographed and fitted up like kippers before you could
say 'Guildford Four'. No one advised us of our rights, or mentioned
anything about phone calls or solicitors, so we went meekly unto her
majesty's dungeons without so much as a rudimentary knowledge of Cicero
to defend us from our innocence. I was locked up with Curtis. Graham
and Gregor languished next door.
Later on they took us out to charge us. “How long are we going
to be here?” asked Gregor, who was oldest, and probably wisest.
“Until Monday,” replied the fat sergeant. “We can't
let you out until you've seen the magistrate, as you are of no fixed
abode, and we might never find you again.”
“But we're the legal occupants of 12 Thornfield Road,” we
insisted in vain. “We have a house...”
“Mr Giles' house?” the sergeant raised an eyebrow. We were
forced to admit defeat. Our scant knowledge of law was more than outweighed
by the guilt we undoubtedly felt at the thought of the LEB form. We
shut up and were charged, under an obscure vagrancy law of 1848, with:
Lyvinge in a manner liable to give ryfe to criminal damyge;
Lyvinge in a manner liable to give ryfe to virmyne; and
Lyvinge in a manner liable to give ryfe to other unpleafant confequences
“You could get three months in Brixton,” said the sergeant.
They gave us copies of the charge sheet and led us back to the cells,
careful to conceal their hilarity.
So I spent a long weekend with Curtis, bored to tears and desperate
for a cigarette. We tried to keep ourselves amused, firstly by playing
Frisbee with a polystyrene plate, and then by singing hymns and popular
librettos. First Saturday and then Sunday crawled by, with only the
howls of a claustrophobic drunk in a nearby cell for amusement. Sunday
passed on into Monday morning, and we were just running through The
Yeoman of the Guard for about the twentieth time, when the turnkey came
and hammered on the door.
“Shut up! You're up before the beak this morning you noisy little
bastards - I hope he sends you down!”
“The screw may twist and the rack may turn
And men may bleed and men may burn...”
“All right you lot - out!” We filed gratefully from our
cells, which after two days smelled strongly of armpit and farts, and
followed the file of fellow felons out to the waiting Black Maria.
“Shut up the lot of you!” The inside of this fascinating
vehicle was divided up into lots of little cages, just big enough to
sit down in. Locked in, no one could resist the temptation to play at
battery hens, but the conductor was unappreciative. “Shut up!
I've heard it before. It's not funny - save it for the judge!”
We were driven, via a couple of other pick-up points, to the West London
Magistrates Court, and locked up again in the basement with a load of
villains and undesirables. When our turn came we were led into the courtroom
and had to listen while the arresting officers told the most outrageous
lies about the state in which they had found the house. “There
was heaps of discarded food upon the floor, m'lud, and the toilets were
brimming with the prisoner's excrement.” Lies! Wicked lies! But
the spectre of Mr Giles hovered over us still, so we pleaded guilty.
Curtis made a short statement denying ownership of the toilet's contents,
and pointing out that the food was all wrapped up and we had been intending
to eat it. The magistrate looked us over with a foreboding eye, and
as his gaze rested upon me, quaking in the dock, I could read the single
thought in his mind as plain as if it were written:
We were each given a twelve-month conditional discharge and turned out
onto the streets. Back at Godolphin Road our story was greeted with
mild disinterest. “We wondered what you'd been up to.”
The only people who had noticed our disappearance were Colin and Bernadette,
who had come over to look for me at Woodstock Grove. I'd been very slack
about informing people of my whereabouts, and they hadn't known we'd
been evicted. They needed me to sign the forms for the new flat and,
when I called them up to relate my sorry tale, had no problem persuading
me to move in.
The police took us back to Thornfield Road to collect the last of our
possessions. When we got there, a little old lady came out of number
10 and hugged them all, thanking them for saving her house, which we,
no doubt, would have burned to the ground during our occupancy of number
“There's another bridge for community relations”, one of
the officers commented smugly.
“What? Her!” I was aghast, “Did she call you lot round?”
“She probably thought you were going to rape her in her bed,”
they seemed to find this thought highly amusing.
“Look, surely you guys can see we're harmless?” I insisted,
“We just need somewhere to live.”
“She doesn't think that,” he waved towards the excited neighbour
who was practically kissing the hem of another officer's tunic in an
excess of gratitude, “That's community relations see? - Poor frightened
old black lady terrorized by white junkie punks; along come gallant
policemen and save her! Good PR see? Word gets round, and everybody
loves us. Now she thinks we're the bees knees.”
“But we're not junkies - we're just homeless!”
“Yes...You are now aren't you.”
Curtis and Graham, together with Mark, whose beauty and charm had conspired
to keep him housed through all our misadventures, moved back to Somerset.
Gregor stayed on at Godolphin Road and became part of the furniture,
and I moved into the flat on Tanners Hill in Deptford. Initially I dwelt
alone, and in darkness, for three weeks while Colin and Bernadette eked
out their tenancy in Lewisham, and the LEB took their time over connecting
up the flat. Winter was drawing on and the flat was freezing. I spent
long candlelit evenings buried under a pile of coats and blankets, writing
songs in my bare, empty bedroom. When the electricity came on I resumed
my diet of liver, so once again my hair, which had been suffering from
repeated doses of peroxide for some months past, grew strong and glossy.
I wrote over forty songs, with passably decent tunes but horrendous
cringe-inducing lyrics that I have long since consigned to oblivion.
The tunes ultimately formed a pool of material that I began to draw
on a couple of years later, when I had learned to play guitar, and was
finally thinking seriously about forming a band of my own - rather than
clonking along in someone else's - and some of these tunes are still
awaiting resurrection to this day.
My exile wasn't complete, as I was on a kind of weekend remission. I
was still signing on in Hammersmith, and wanted neither the rigmarole
of changing my claim, nor to cut myself off completely from the friends
I'd made in West London. Deptford wasn't an easy place to make new acquaintances,
and outside the flat I never spoke to a soul in all the months I stayed
there. I was signing on now from 30 Ceylon Road, just near Olympia,
into which the Godolphin Road crew had moved when the time came. Schwanz
and Fotze, the Germans, had departed along with their epic luggage,
and the house was pleasant, comfortable, and always seemed willing to
Which was just as well. I settled quickly into a routine, which every
Thursday morning took me across London to the dole office on Hammersmith
Road, where all the familiar faces would be queuing up for their personal
issue cheques. Next stop was the post office on Hammersmith Broadway,
and then next door to celebrate the cashing of a fresh giro at the Majestic
Grill, and a weekly tryst with my comrades over a colossal greasy breakfast.
Thursday through to Sunday morning I would spend at Ceylon Road in a
variety of enhanced states of consciousness, and then trek back to Deptford
via Islington, where I was still rehearsing with Attitudes.
Attitudes had cut their practices back to one a week, as we were well
drilled by now. To their barely concealed disapproval I would invariably
turn up still suffering the after effects of Saturday nights drug ingestion.
If I'd been up all night on Acid, my drumming would be clumsy and inaccurate.
Speed was better - so long as I took some more in the morning - and
on the occasions I took a Black Bomber I would leave Hammersmith in
a state of frenzied energy, after maniacally washing up every dirty
dish in the house, walk all the way to Amwell Street chewing, burping
and chain-smoking, and then drum for four hours with an unstoppable
zeal. Speed is a disgusting substance. It used to feel great for a few
hours, but coming down would be so depressing that I soon stopped bothering,
as it wasn't worth the grief. 'Try some downers,' I was advised, 'they'll
knock you out when the speed wears off,” but that was a circle
I didn't want to get myself into. Their were too many people whose sole
topic of conversation was how good the sulphate was they'd had the night
before, and how badly they needed some more to pick themselves up again
from the mid-morning intake of Mogadon that had put them to sleep until
nightfall. Taking speed has left me with an ability to summon a belch
at will, something I could never do before. If only it had made me able
to fart on command - I would have been much happier.
The first time I took acid was also at Ceylon Road, although the only
permanent side effect this has left me with is a determination never
to touch the stuff again. It was OK for a while as I had absolutely
no sense of responsibility to nag at me while I was tripping, but the
stuff used to make me totally paranoiac at the slightest notion of disharmony,
and I inevitably spent longer worrying about the Hammersmith DS than
actually enjoying the trip. The first time was fantastic, as I didn't
know what to expect, and I was well looked after by the chap who sold
it to me. Mark the Hat, alias Mark the Hitcher, alias Skinny Mark kept
me amused and distracted throughout, muttering absurd suggestions into
my hyper-receptive ear:
“Have you done your homework yet?” he would demand with
mock severity, and I would shriek with uncontrollable laughter for half
an hour in response.
Attitudes were playing regularly, and I had started practicing with
The Entire Cosmos, which was fun as it allowed me relaxation from the
iron discipline of the Islington lads, not a good thing from the point
of my musical development, as during the lengthy drug-enhanced jams
I allowed myself to lay on the clonky drumrolls by the spadeful, and
got into some dreadful habits as a result. I enjoyed it a lot, and began
to think myself a better drummer than I really was, as in the slack
atmosphere of an Entire Cosmos session there was no one to put me straight.
Besides, anything sounds good if you're stoned enough.
Attitudes finest hour came when we were invited to support The Dark
at a pub in Islington. Their drummer, had been my predecessor in Attitudes,
which is how such an unlikely combination of bands came about. They
were about as hard-core as punk bands could be at the time and had a
large following of Kings Road delinquents, none of whom were impressed
by us. Fortunately enough of our supporters came along to help get the
gear out quickly after we'd played, because the gig got stopped due
to noise complaints. It was The Dark's come back show, after a year
or so in limbo, so we considered ourselves lucky to escape without a
lynching. I felt sorry for them, but the others laughed.
I moved into Ceylon Road after about six months of commuting. Mark the
Hat etc. moved out into his truck (never call it a van) and took to
travelling around to various unofficial campsites with his teepee (never,
but never call it a wigwam), so I inherited his room. It was a damp
electricity free zone in the basement, plunged into perpetual darkness
by the corrugated iron on the windows - a necessary protection against
the missiles flung by Mad Mary, the mental old gin drinker from number
Mary, a dead ringer for the actress Maggie Smith, was seriously barmy.
She was about fifty years old, lived alone with her ancient invalid
mother, and hated us with a vengeance. Partly because we were untidy
layabouts - which I guess was fair enough - and partly because she believed
we were 'in league' with a mysterious group she referred to as ' the
wogs in the basement' of number 28, which was empty. These 'wogs' had
'machines', the infernal purpose of which remained unclear, but which
seemed to cause her no end of worry. We would come back from the shops
sometimes to find her standing on the top step peering through our letter
box, or if we met her on the street, she would stare after us, speechless,
with hate until we disappeared from view.
One day when I was out in the back garden she began to pelt me with
empty gin bottles. I was happy to provide her with sport, and skipped
gracefully around between the weeds avoiding her lousy efforts to hit
me. Some concerned neighbour must have called the police, for they duly
rolled up at our front door.
“I understand, sir, that there has been some kind of disturbance?”
“That'll be Mary,” I told him, “She's barking mad!”
“Perhaps I'll go and see what she has to say on the matter. Just
stay there a moment.” The constable set off gravely to knock on
number 26, leaving me in the charge of a long-faced WPC who regarded
me with distaste.
“She drinks you know,” I explained. The WPC raised a sceptical
eyebrow, and we waited in silence for her colleague to come back.
“She's off her trolley,” he said sadly, when he returned,
“please be careful with her.”
“Did she tell you about the basement?”
“She did,” he sighed despondently, “try not to upset
My relations with the local police were becoming monotonous. Scarcely
a day went by without being stopped and searched on the street. Every
punk, hippy, squatter, bum, or indeed anyone who looked even vaguely
suspicious benefited from the enthusiastic devotion to duty of the Hammersmith
DS. They became bust-happy, and instigated a pointless reign of terror
against every squat in the district, raiding each house in turn, out
of a desperation to catch someone in the act. While crooks and villains
ran rife, Ronnie Biggs was still at large somewhere, and for all they
knew Jack the Ripper was still stalking the alleyways of Whitechapel,
these crusaders hunted us with every weapon at their disposal - except
logic! One dark night they steamed into 18 Verbena Gardens, only to
find that the LEB was well and truly off, and their normal ineffectual
search would have to be conducted in darkness. Hayden, an innocent and
innocuous hippy of noble birth, was just about to light up his bedtime
spliff when they came pounding up the stairs with their flashlights,
for all the world like SA brownshirts conducting a pogrom. While they
searched his room randomly and inexpertly with the beams of their torches,
Hayden sat in bed with a cup of cold tea and devoured the joint, bite
by bite, under the very noses of the foe.
Our turn came. About time too, we'd been expecting them for days. They
kicked the front door to bits one morning at seven o'clock and came
steaming in with lusty cries. I thought it was just Mad Mary going bonkers,
so I didn't bother getting up, until three smart gentlemen entered my
room and started making a mess. “Don't mind us” they said.
“Just looking around.”
Cannily we'd smoked everything, including the nursery plants that we'd
had high hopes of, and they had to content themselves with busting someone
upstairs for obstruction. They had to nick someone, or they'd have had
to mend the door. If only they'd left it another day, we were planning
on reinforcing the door, then they'd have had to knock and wait like
normal people, but that's dope fiends for you - “We'll do it tomorrow...”
In the spring of 1980 I was approached by Zounds. Stripped down now
to a three piece punk band, with a single on Crass Records in the pipeline,
they had sacked their drummer and asked me to join after seeing me play
with The Entire Cosmos on the second Weird Tales tour. I jumped at the
chance, handed in my notice with Attitudes, and collected my drums from
Amwell Street. If this sounds ungrateful, well that's because basically
it was. I had no idea at the time how much they'd done for my drumming,
and was keen to consolidate a more illustrious position for myself in
the Weird Tales scene.
I knew nothing of Crass at the time of my joining, beyond the stencils
that were appearing on the walls in tube stations, and on the leather
jackets of their growing army of devoted followers, but Zounds, hanging
on to the tails of Crass' coat, were soon to experience some considerably
weirder tales than the ones I was looking forward to. The sudden arrival
of such an incongruous bunch on the punk scene caused some speculation.
Mutton dressed as lamb? Gnarled old dope fiends cutting their hair and
riding in on the latest wave of Anarcho Punk? Ageing hippies cashing
in on the new craze - did we think it funny, turning rebellion into
Well, it wasn't like that.... we were just these three guys in a band....