Schooldays and odd chemistry
Some good things about attending Southend High School were the list of musos that had been, were currently, or would go to school there. A list of Southend's finest would definitely include Gary Brooker and Robin Trower (the Paramounts, Procol Harum, Robin Trower band), Mickey Jupp, John Bobin and Bob Clouter (the Orioles, Legend), Barrie Martin (Eddie & the Blizzards, the Kursaals, the Hamsters). Noted musicologist, lyricist and drummer Will Birch, and stalwart of the bass guitar and journalistic pencil, David Murdock, met up with me in the almost-famous Surly Bird, precursors of the Kursaal Flyers.
It was a struggle at Southend High, that quasi-public school and single-sex bastion of middle-class hypocrisy - after a brilliantly studious couple of years, which passed pleasantly enough, I succumbed to insulin-dependent diabetes, which forced a couple of spells in hospital of some months.
I must mention a few of my former classmates as we, recently (ie 2010), met up for a glass or two. Graham Robbie, Jim King, John Lyall, Paul Aliker, Ian Worpole, Peter Knock, Erich Hancock, Doug Whiting and Stephen Dugmore, consider yourselves mentioned!
A couple of the above, having formed a pop band, thought of me as a suitable candidate for the position of piano player in the Saints and Sinners ("heavenly music with a devilish beat" - in fact, totally incompetent music with no sense of rhythm whatsoever - I've been trying to come up with a photograph of the band in action but, it seems, that no-one has any. Not surprising as we rehearsed more than we gigged and that wasn't very often either!). We did manage to play at various church youth clubs etc. David Hatfield, the original Kursaals bassist, was also a member, with Ian Worpole and Peter Knock on guitars, with a drummer named Alastair Lintern if my memory serves me well (no prizes for spotting the quoted Dylan!). I was very keen on being in a pop band - it seemed like a good way to meet girls. It also gave me a good grounding in actually listening to the songs that we wanted to cover, not only for the lyrics, but for the chords and the arrangements. It was a skill that I use to this day, although I might have become a little more sophisticated in my arranging skills.
Ken Pitman then invited me to join the Fugitives; it was good to get paid for playing music. (On the Naughty Rhythms 2001 tour, I was accosted by Ken, who I don't think I'd seen since 1967 - he reminded me that I never paid him for the extended hire of his Selmer Thunderbird amplifier. He contacted me recently, and I have adjusted my story here to take account of his recollections). The drummer was Dave Fowler and the bass player was Barrie Cleasby. He and I became good friends, terrorizing Southend Youth Center dances with our arrangements of mod classics with Who, Hendrix and Small Faces covers thrown in.
As an afterthought, with the advent of Facebook, I was contacted by the girl who lived downstairs from Barry Cleasby - his cousin Erika. Now Erika was a bit older than Barry and I, but was quite stunning. Raging hormones and her cute, turned-up nose gave me quite a thrill each time I came into contact with her. Before I had joined the band, she had hooked up with drummer Dave.
I had graduated to the Loud Guitar, and it was with some pride that I persuaded my mother to sign HP forms for my first Marshall stack, took it to the Friday night gig, and proceeded to give them definitive versions of "Kids are all right", "Purple Haze", "My friend Jack eats sugar lumps" and "All or nothing". Drummer in Pig Iron, (for, as others had left to take up regular employment, we changed the name of the band to something more up-to-date), was Robert Welsford, keyboards were handled by the Mighty Mouse, Ian Gibbons. Ian has played for every successful band from Southend, to my knowledge - he, currently, plays for the Roger Chapman band - the bass player was one Daddy Dick Coombes who couldn't play bass all that well, but had a mean moustache! It was here that I first met Janet Tolmie. Now Janet was absolutely stunning and we became much-more-than-friends for quite a while. Her father was a great guy, and offered me summer employment in the local Vehicle Excise Duty office during my vacations.
About this time, public exams were looming. Having dealt with O-levels with no let up to my extra-curricular activities, I found the job of going to school for A-levels too tedious, consequently I didn't achieve good enough results. Needing a re-sit, I enrolled at the local tech. and scraped together a few passes. This led to a job at May and Baker, Dagenham, as a trainee research technician. It became apparent very soon that I had no real talent for messing about with toxic chemicals, and even less talent for getting the 7.30 train each day from Chalkwell station. After a spectacular incident which involved a bunsen burner, a flask full of alcohol and the Dagenham Fire Brigade, which left the entire Research building taking cover on the football pitches, it was suggested that I re-think my career path in Medicinal Organic Chemistry research.
I left to take up a teacher-training course at Brentwood College of Education. This also featured a bloody train journey each day until one of my fellow trainees Stuart Clarke mentioned that he drove up from Leigh and would I like a ride? You betcha! Funnily enough, this Stuart was an old boy of Belfairs High School, and this was a school in which I would find employment after graduation.