Genesis To Revolutions

Fez 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.”
“Please sir!”
“Yes Gilchrist?”
“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:

‘Dauntless 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’

but 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

‘Where 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

I 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 frequency.
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 Leeds.
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.

Did 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 word:
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 innocent.
Years have passed and I am none the streetwiser.