I moved to York on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, but I grew up in a south London suburb. My parents came from a working class background. One of my grandfathers worked in a biscuit factory for 40 years; the other worked on the presses for some of the national newspapers, cycling through the London traffic for the night shift until his early 70s. Dad worked in the claims department of a small insurance company; mum was a secretary for the architect’s department of Courage, the brewer.
My parents were determined to give me and my brother the best possible start in life. They sent us to one of the best schools in our area, a local direct grant school called St. Dunstan’s College. It was (and still is AFAIK) a ‘public’ school – the headmaster attended the annual headmaster’s conference. Fortunately for me I was awarded a local authority grant; without it my parents would not have been able to afford the school fees.
At St. Dunstan’s the boys had lessons on Saturday mornings, but Wednesday (and sometimes Saturday) afternoons were for “games” – rugby, cross country running, cricket and some minority sports. On the morning of Saturday 7th June 1969 I was at school as usual, but it was a special day. As soon as lessons finished some of us went to the station and waited for a train up to London. In those days there were some carriages with separate compartments (and no corridors). Some of the lads ran along the station until they found an empty compartment. Not quite understanding why this was important I tagged along.
Catford Bridge, Ladywell, Lewisham, St. Johns. At each station we crowded around the carriage door to discourage other people from getting into our compartment. And as the suburbs rolled by the excitement grew. Next stop New Cross, the longest stretch between stations until we got off. As soon as the train left St. Johns the other 4 or five lads in the carriage opened their games kit bags. “What are you doing?”, I enquired. “Changing, of course!”, they said. It wasn’t their cricket whites in the bags, it was their casual clothes. We were going to a pop concert, and I was in my school uniform!
It was a glorious summer’s day and some 100,000 people had gathered in Hyde Park to see Blind Faith, the “supergroup” featuring Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream, Stevie Winwood from the Spencer Davies Group and Traffic, and Rick Grech from Family. I remember the crowds, the atmosphere, the flower-power feeling that everything was right with the world. I remember, too, how strained Stevie Winwood’s voice sounded and how strangely subdued the performance seemed. The music was good, but something was missing.
More than 30 years later, around the end of 2005, I saw a DVD of the concert and bought it for myself as a Christmas present. Amazingly, it’s all there on the DVD. The crowds, the general buzz, the music, the strained voice and that something missing. My memories hadn’t faded, hadn’t become distorted with time. And now they are preserved on that DVD for me, for you, for everyone.