sucked his lip and contemplated the surly boys of 4X with a hooded eye.
“The Owen in question,” he continued, “is a Welshman
referred to in ballad lay and poem as ‘Owen ap Gruffydd’,
who is reported as having died in 1169. Owen’s Tail, and pay attention
here Bint, is based on a poem by Thomas Gray called The Triumphs of
Owen, which is in turn based on a Latin translation by Evan Evans of
Gwalchmai ap Meilyr’s Arwyain Owain Gwynnedd, or The Triumphs
of Owen, which celebrates Owen’s victory over the fleets of Henry
the Second at Tal y Moelfre in 1157.”
“Would that be Owen Glendower sir?”
“No Gilchrist. We will ask the questions here.” He continued
wearily. “Owen ap Gruffydd. Neither Gray nor his bardic predecessor
mention Owen’s subsequent defeats and subjugation, so neither
will we. We’ll just take a quick look at Gray’s effort,
The Triumphs of Owen, and leave the problems of geneaology to Mr Faulkner,
who I’m sure is better qualified than I to expand upon its mysteries.”
4X shuffled their dog-eared copies of The Sheldon Book of Verse and
the learned master continued.
“Gray starts by informing us that ‘Owen swift and Owen strong’
is not only the ‘Fairest flower of Roderick’s stem,’
but also ‘Britain’s gem.’ He is, Gray continues, ‘Lord
of every regal art / Liberal hand and open heart.’ No doubt he
would have been ‘Loud of belch and vibrant fart’ if the
poem had been written by some dreadful schoolboy wit like you, Perrett.
In the second stanza we learn that ‘Squadrons three against him
came / Big with hosts of mighty name.’ Indeed! In fact when eventually
we learn that ‘Black and huge along they sweep / Burthens of the
angry deep,’ we are moved to thank our lucky stars that Owen is
there to sort it all out for us. Certainly it becomes apparent that
Gray wasn’t, as the ham continues:
on his native sands
The Dragon son of Mona stands
In glittering arms and glory dressed
High he rears his ruby crest
There the thundering strokes begin’
it is only when we reach the bit about his ‘glowering eyeballs’
and ‘Where he points his purple spear’ that we realise what
exactly the poem reminds us of.”
4X waited with bated breath, familiar with the English teacher’s
eccentric flights of fancy, and eager for the punchline. Fez gave himself
up to his inner demons and delivered his censure. “By a happy
accident of rhyming pattern and meter - those familiar loping trochees
- Gray has led us into the enchanted realm of Rupert Bear. Thus
he points his purple spear
Rupert and his chums appear
Badger, Pig and blue with funk
Algy Pug and Edward Trunk’”
VIII. A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Entire Cosmos
have nothing left but this short and muddled history of The Entire Cosmos
to remind me of how the unfathomable twists of fortune once again intervened
to take me where I wanted to go, but without making their intentions
fully clear. They were always doing that to me, but I would never realize
until it was too late to take full advantage of their good grace - if
only I could have gotten into the habit of listening to good advice
when it was given!
Not that I ever came to depend upon fate to bail me out. This would
have been foolhardy. Not because a miracle wasn’t always there
when I needed it most, but because nine times out of ten I’d make
a cock up of it anyway, regardless of the Deus ex machina. Sometimes
I tried to excuse my mistakes by imagining I was being manipulated by
a team of stoned Olympians, making a board game of my life, and knocking
over the pieces at a whim, just like in ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’
“Ha!” says Artemis, “Here’s a masterstroke -
The band will go to Australia for massive guarantees, and make their
fortune! Top that Chalis!” and she moves her white bishop diagonally
across the board. The villainous Chalis rubs his chin thoughtfully,
ponders a while and then slowly screws his face into a leer.
“The band will indeed go to Australia,” he agrees, moving
his own black pieces forward in a counter-attack. “But so will
Morrissey - and he will get all the radio play, and then the record
company will pull out of the distribution deal! Suck shit loser!”
And so it goes on.
Not that joining The Entire Cosmos was in any way a trip to the stars,
but it did get me out of the obscurity in which I languished in Islington,
where Attitudes were faced with little prospect of playing any further
afield than Highbury Corner, and into the wider realms offered by Weird
Tales, which was taking its bands to all kinds of exotic places like
Manchester, and Scunthorpe, and even Bishops Stortford.
Having learned to beat my drums with confidence, if not style, I was
anxious to go on tour and start playing at being a real punk rocker.
Living in the shadow of the Westway was all very well, but now I was
ready to go out and scrawl my name in some smelly dressing rooms, and
inhale the heady mixture of stale ashtrays and beer-rotted carpet that
symbolize the glamour and romance of the road to those more used to
cheese factories and their like. I had still not taken any formal lessons
in drumming, and once free of Attitudes strictures, I decided that the
best thing that I could do was to try to sound like Graham. All very
well in theory, but in practice the ten years experience he had over
me counted for considerably more than I allowed myself to admit.
When a good drummer sticks in a roll or a fill it comes across as a
smooth continuation of his basic pattern, punctuating the music without
disturbing either the motion or the integrity of the song - complimenting
without trying to dominate. When I tried copying some of the things
I’d heard, you could almost see the joins. Bass-snare-bass-bass-snare
the pattern would go, and then would come a momentary fumbling pause
as I started a cumbersome roll round the kit, snatching at the end to
catch up with the rest of the band who, being as wrecked as I was, hadn’t
noticed the sudden disappearance of the beat. I am still unable to decide
whether to consider myself fortunate in having been able to learn by
my mistakes while crucifying the works of the songwriters I was supposed
to be serving with my ham-fisted ignorance, or to mourn the years I
wasted playing the fool, when it could so easily have been avoided by
owning to myself that I didn’t actually know best. I was alright
so long as I didn’t try to show off.
The first rehearsal of The Entire Cosmos took place at Here & Now’s
farmhouse in Buckinghamshire, where isolation from near neighbours allowed
them to use a large outhouse as a permanent rehearsal space. I’d
spent the small hours of the morning coming down off acid, while Kenny
Rogers crooned Coward of the County on the radio. Not in the most creative
state of mind by the time I climbed behind the huge borrowed drumkit,
it took a couple of joints before I began to feel at ease with the unfamiliar
pedals, the weight of the cymbals, and the ocean of rack toms set out
at improbable distances from my tiny arms. Rob the Boogie, the owner
of this extravagant collection of percussion, had a considerably longer
reach than I did - he also knew what to do with it all and I experimented
self-consciously at first, just in case he was listening somewhere.
The best part of the kit was the trimmed down remains of an eighteen
inch crash cymbal, which being extremely thick made a sound like a pistol
shot if you hit it hard enough. This I proceeded to do with indecent
The original line-up of the band was DB, vocals and most of the songwriting,
Gregor, my fellow vagrant, bass, Gary ‘from Newcastle’,
guitar, myself on drums and Gavin Da Blitz on synthesiser and keyboards.
Gavin was a long-standing member of Here & Now, and his collection
of antique seventies equipment provided the perfect compliment to Gary’s
virtuoso Ritchie Blackmoresque axe wielding. We were not only heavy
metal, we were heavy psychedelic metal.
After a few rehearsals we had a handful of DB’s eccentric songs
prepared, which we augmented with a couple of Gregor’s, and an
infinite repertoire of cosmic jams, over which DB would recite strange
science-fantasy stories. Overall it sounded pretty good, and the worst
of my depravations only showed up when listened back to on tape. We
soon felt that we were ready to unleash ourselves on the public, and
with Weird Tales Two in the offing, we badgered the hierarchy for support
slots. This time they had their own bus, a huge green piece of vintage
army-surplus, with an unquenchable thirst. Once again their were no
spare berths, but it was agreed that we could make our own way to some
of the gigs and do a short set if there was time. We were accorded a
low priority, however, and warned that our set would be the first to
be cut if things were running late.
Things, of course, always did run late, but this notwithstanding, we
managed to play two dates on the tour, one at High Wycombe Polytechnic
and one in a similar establishment in Manchester. We went to Brighton
intending to play a third, but one of the local punk bands droned endlessly
over their allotted span, and as the stage management were off somewhere
getting stoned, we became abgeblasen! After the tour - while being driven
home from High Wycombe in someone’s car - Gary and Gregor fell
out massively, to our intense discomfiture, over a point of ego. While
Gary threatened to punch Gregor’s lights out and Gregor vowed
he would break Gary’s fingers, DB endeavoured vainly to mediate
and I pretended to be asleep. Gary won the toss. Gregor left the band.
Grant Showbiz replaced him. Grant was formerly the sound engineer on
Here & Now’s free tours, and had latterly put the experience
and the contacts to more profitable use mixing The Fall. We did a few
dates, with him playing, around West London, notably at The Raindrop
Club, which was the silly name superimposed onto a squatted pub called
The Trafalgar, that has provided the backdrop to more photo sessions
than even The Clash could pose for, and in a park near Portobello called
Meanwhile Gardens, which was the venue for miniature music festivals
on a few Saturdays throughout the summer.
My first appearance on record found me plodding through a lengthy instrumental
passage at the end of DB’s epic dirge Looking for You. The song
is great. The drumming terrible. We had contributed one song to a four-track
compilation EP, which featured various of West London’s finest
from the squat scene around Latimer Road - also known as the free state
of Frestonia. Fortunately for me all known copies of this record were
destroyed by government order in a bizarre freak purge in the mid-eighties,
so no evidence remains to haunt me. Far less gruesome was the first
demo we recorded out in Buckinghamshire, as it included a couple of
DB’s best songs, and the drumming was slightly better, but the
crowning moment in the band’s short history was the two night
stand we did supporting Here & Now at the Fforde Green Hotel in
The first night was OK, a few air guitars played along to Gary’s
histrionics, but on the second night everything went suddenly right.
The audience, being the Fforde Green’s regular crowd of headbanging
types, had obviously taken the right combination of drugs and were in
the right frame of mind for pomp and circumstance, so we gave it to
them with a vengeance. Everything was longer, louder, and contained
more notes and more beats per bar than ever before. Our jams soared
and sailed on topographic oceans; we were close to the edge; we were
climbing a stairway to heaven; we were going for the one; we were the
Gods of Hellfire and we gave them Heavy Metal!
Or so it seemed at the time, but as I’d never played to more than
thirty people before, the sight of an ocean of greasy hair and sweaty
denim mewling and puking against the front of the stage was bound to
give me ideas above my station.
And then there was our final stand. Persuaded out of retirement a year
or so later - we never actually split up, we just went our separate
ways - we did a final show supporting Here & Now again, at the Porterhouse
in Retford. After being off the leash all this time, my drumming had
degenerated into a thundering racket, which one discerning onlooker
described as sounding like ‘a herd of wildebeeste falling downstairs.’
Not far from the truth, although in retrospect I’d have said it
sounded more like water buffaloes, which are heavy and cumbersome throughout
and lack the athletic hindquarters of their smaller cousins.
It gives me great pleasure to recall that I left Retford behind a Deltic
- 55002 - which was hauling the milk train up to London that night.
I had to get back for an uncharacteristically early Zounds commitment,
so I made my tearful farewells, smoked a couple more spliffs for the
road and stumbled down through the town to the station to doze for half
an hour in the waiting room. Calling at Newark, Grantham, Peterborough
and Stevenage, the 02.25 rolled into the platform on time and took me
away from the mesmerising ticking of the railway clock, from the British
Rail posters saying ‘Have an Awayday,’ from the coal fire
burning in the nationalised railway grate, and finally, with Napier
engines ringing out over the blackened countryside, it took me away
from The Entire Cosmos.
I become ‘streetwise’ as a result of these experiences?
My dictionary is unhelpful on this score, defining the word crisply
and economically, but without reference to the darker subtext of the
streetwise / ‘stri:twaiz / n. esp. US familiar with the ways of
modern urban life.
To this extent, I suppose I was. I was certainly familiar with the ways
of modern urban life, but the term streetwise implies an ability to
guard against or to exploit these ways to advantage, a habit I never
acquired. I was always too trusting, too naive, and lacked that essential
streak of ruthlessness necessary to gain the instant respect of strangers.
Neither did I have the flair for lovable roguish villainy that is an
integral part of the ‘streetwise’ myth. I didn’t steal,
not because my conscience forbade it, but because I was afraid of being
caught - this may sound like common sense, but it certainly wouldn’t
pass as a piece of streetwisdom. Streetwise, in the accepted sense of
the word means knowing how not to be caught....
I suppose, in my vanity, I would have been flattered to have considered
myself streetwise, but the fact was that in spite of all Roddy was able
to teach me about foraging in skips and street-market gutters, I remained
at heart a guileless country lad.
Do I consider this a failing? At the time I did, but having since met
a number of persons who had taken pains to learn the arts of ducking
and diving, and disliked them all intensely, I am thankful that I remained
Years have passed and I am none the streetwiser.