“I’ve got a good idea”, said Paul, “Let’s start a band”.
It must have been early summer 1970. My brother, Lawrence, and our friends Paul and Howard were relaxing in the living room. It was true that I played the clarinet (a bit) and I had an electronic organ (which I couldn’t play), but the other three had never even touched a musical instrument. We stared at Paul in astonishment.
“No, I’m serious”, he said, “Why not?”
So we thought about it. I had just left school, the others had another year to go. None of us was earning and it would have taken years to save enough of our pocket money to buy the guitars, drums and amplifiers we’d need for a rock band. How did he think we were going to get some instruments?
“Our parents will buy them for us”, said Paul.
We didn’t share his optimism. Our parents were all from working class backgrounds; we had the basics and a holiday once a year, but they couldn’t afford to throw money away. Somehow, “we’re going to be rock stars” didn’t sound very convincing.
Then there was the question of who would play what. We couldn’t all be the lead guitarist. But Howard said he wanted to play the drums, I chose the bass guitar and Lawrence and Paul agreed to share the roles of lead and rhythm guitar. We had our band – in theory.
Of course, everything hinged on whether we could persuade our loving parents to stump up the cash for the instruments. No chance, I thought, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
About a week later, I was at home when Lawrence and Dad came in carrying what looked like guitar cases. Apparently, they’d gone to Putney (I think) and bought a semi-acoustic guitar and a bass guitar from a second-hand music shop. I could hardly believe it. I was a bit miffed that they hadn’t taken me along and let me choose my own instrument, but far too excited to complain!
Howard, meanwhile, had got a Saturday job as a petrol pump attendant at the local garage and started saving up for a drum kit. Ironically, the ever optimistic Paul was no closer to acquiring a guitar than when he first suggested the idea. His parents refused to cough up the cash and he had no other source of funding but, like Mr. Micawber, he was sure something would turn up.
Over the next few months Lawrence and I plucked and strummed away in our council flat and Howard bought a cheap drum kit and began hitting the skins at his house. Eventually we decided it was time to assemble all the instruments in one place, turn up the volume and see how it sounded.
We borrowed the church hall that our local youth club used, set up the kit and played The House of the Rising Sun. And it sounded great!
After that there was no stopping us. Lawrence and I bought proper guitar amplifiers (thanks to hire purchase agreements). Howard bought a better drum kit and an old banger to cart it all around in. Paul still insisted that he’d be joining us just as soon as he could get a guitar.
Then suddenly we had our first gig. A friend of Paul’s parents was organising the annual Tropical Fish Club do in a local pub and he wanted to put on some form of entertainment. He offered us £20 (each IIRC) and somebody said “Yes, we’ll do it. Thanks”.
There was an audience of about 25, aged 10 to 80-ish. Well, we didn’t have any songs about tropical fish – we were a rock band, remember – so we just worked through our limited repertoire. I don’t remember what we played, but I do remember that we ran out of material. Lawrence coolly handled that by telling us to jam some blues and then repeat some of our earlier songs. I remember, too, that we weren’t booed off stage, half the audience got up and danced and that we got our £20 fee. We’d made it!
After that we played at several school concerts. The first was in the St Dunstan’s College tuck shop. Paul still didn’t have his guitar so, on this occasion we added another friend and very fine musician, Andy, to the line-up. And I recently came across some old black and white prints of that event. I’ve scanned in the best ones and you can see them here: