Chapter 7: Summer of love
It was 1967 - the Summer of Love and I was working in the Ministry of Defence. I was commuting from Aldershot to London and playing a fairly heavy gig schedule with the JP Trio. On free nights, I went to ballroom dancing lessons and to the Cambridge Hotel, Camberley where they still had trad jazz nights which were surprisingly popular with the younger crowd, as well as DJ/group nights. On these latter, I saw a really good soul band that I think were called Bird's Nest and, on another night, Granny's Intentions. They played a great version of "My white bicycle" and I was tickled to hear them that weekend on Radio 1. Years later, I discovered that Jack Costelloe, who I'd known in Charlwood for some time, had been their bass player. They were a memorable group.
Commuting to London cost £2/17/6 a week. By the time I'd paid £4 'keep' to my mother, there wasn't enough left in my £8 week's wages for a five shilling lunch each day at the Board of Trade. There were times when I was in at 2 or 3 am, up for work at 7, then out again that night. All I had to show was a not-very-good Hofner President guitar, a new watch and a taste for beer. I left the JP Trio. Like many others, I heard the call of swinging London and, in due course, I responded to it by moving to Earls Court, to a Civil Service hostel.
The hostel moved my finances up a peg. Soul music was still the rage. On trips home to Aldershot and "free" tickets, I went to Pantiles in Bagshot, where Douglas Bader had met his future wife.. Pantiles had a well-furnished function room. The group's equipment was set up. There was a chunk missing from the drummer's cymbal. The P.A. was playing Billy Vera and Judy Clay's Country girl and city man (which I heard only once elsewhere, played by Emperor Rosko on the newly-established Radio 1). I later bought the record and, at the same time, the superb This is soul - a whole LP for 12/6d. The Pantiles group were The Fireballs - a mixed black and white band (noticeable in those days). The Fireballs came on and cranked up into Night train. After a several choruses, the sax player stepped forward to the microphone and rasped 'You heard of your Otis Redding, you heard of your Wilson Pickett, well here he is the king of soul ... Noel Watkins'. Noel leapt on stage and, despite that anti-climax of an introduction, proceeded to deliver the goods on the soul classics. A splendid evening. Years later I played in a band with their bass player, John Couchman. The following week at Pantiles featured another good minor league group The Shevelles who had a minor hit with Big city lights.
I went with a friend to Paris and lived on red wine, gruyère and our guitars for a couple of weeks. We stayed in Rue Moufetard, with American, Hungarian and other students. We witnessed that year's initiation ceremonies for new university students in the Jardins de Luxembourg. It was all very good-humoured, with the police watching amused as the "freshers" (bizoux?) were made to walk in squat position with hands joined backwards, between their legs, to the next in line. Those who broke the chain had to do press-ups and eat raw carrots. The seniors wore white lab. coats with a red, winged phallic symbol on the back. At the finish, all the 'bizoux' stood facing outwards on the rim of the main fountain. At a whistled signal, the seniors ran with the speed of light around the rim, pushing them in. One swam to the centre and, with great tenacity, blocked the fountain with carrots. They erupted with a might 'phut' in due course. I later wondered how many of those we saw that day were hurling torn-up cobbles only seven months later the following May as Europe teetered on the brink of student revolution.At the Marquee I saw The Nice, who were doing alternate Thursdays with Marmalade. They came on stage individually, introduced by the flamboyant John Gee. Their Rondo sounded very like the B side of Dave Brubeck's Take five, but then Keith Emerson would hold a note on his Hammond organ, dance around to the back of the instrument, then heave it towards him and play it upside down and backwards. He would then vault over it and produce knives which he plunged into the keyboard, causing discordant notes to be held, while he continued playing. A vocal number of their's which I liked was Little Arabella with its jazzy feel - I think Brian (Blinkey?) Davidson was the only drummer bold enough in the rock world to use brushes. The Nice could turn songs upside down like Bob Dylan's She belongs to me as well as rocking classical pieces like Bach's Brandenburg Concerto number 3. We were there the night Robert Kennedy was killed and they performed America. While Davy O'List took his guitar solo in the middle, Keith Emerson stood on his Hammond and sprayed the Stars and Stripes on a board behind him. At the climax of the number, Keith Emerson jumped on the organ again and tore down and destroyed the American flag. We all left the Marquee in stunned silence. Later I saw Love Sculpture there, the Tuesday after John Peel played their Sabre dance twice in one programme. Not only was there no alcohol in the Marquee (they took pride in this and cited it as the reason they were not subjected to police raids), but they also used to put out two or three rows of chairs at the front. From my chair I had a close view (you were never far away in the Marquee) of the playing of the frock-coated Dave Edmonds with his busy, buckskin-fringed bass player, John Williams and Robert Jones the T shirted drummer. And the sound seemed better balanced then. Love Sculpture were superb and played a range of material from Chuck Berry's Promised Land, to I am the walrus, A day in the life, and Sabre Dance.
Free concerts included Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park with The Nice, Traffic and others and, on a pouring wet Wednesday evening, I stood ecstatically in my pacamac on Parliament Hill Fields, Hampstead and saw Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention. I went to the recording of BBC radio shows like Humphrey Lyttleton's Jazz Club at the old Playhouse studio, Charing Cross. I was surprised at how scruffy Humph was with this comfy cardy-looking thing and glasses. Stan Tracey performed music that was over my head. At BBC's Paris studio in Lower Regent Street, I saw Disc Jockey Derby with Don Moss introducing Julie Driscoll and on another occasion, Esther Ofarim. They didn't perform, but looked stunning.
Ray McVay's band at the Tottenham Royal had a great show with vocalists Guy Darrell and the stunning Patsy Kelly. They played good arrangements of oldies like medleys of Four Seasons hits, as well as current hits like Jumping Jack Flash which Guy Darrell sang while reading the words. The Royal had a revolving stage which brought round a pop group twice in the evening. They played Come back and Yummy Yummy but were ok. I also heard Ken Colyer at the 100 Club and attended a class of six each week in Jazz appreciation with bassist Graham Collier; I was grateful that he introduced me to Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor and others.
Once Dad came to London in connection with the drum tuition LP he had made. I took him to see Beating Retreat on Horseguards Parade in the evening, then to see the great drummer, Phil Seamen, at the Bull's Head, Barnes. Phil was with the Tony Lee Trio with Terry Smith guesting. Phil had the trade mark fag hanging from the corner of his mouth and sweated profusely. He towelled his face between and during numbers, keeping the rhythm going with his free hand. At one point I wondered how he would reconcile this activity with the burning cigarette in his mouth. When he removed the towel, the cigarette had disappeared. I was distracted for a while.
We had riots in London at LSE and Grosvenor Square. The closest I came to one, was the night the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia. I emerged from Earls Court tube station and, hearing a roar from my left down Earls Court Road, I saw a great mass of humanity proceeding at what looked like a jog the width of the road and disrupting all the traffic. They had come from the Soviet Embassy and were proceeding to the Soviet exhibition at Olympia. I waited in the tube entrance until they had all passed.
At the tube station, there used to be regular handouts of free tickets to Earl's Cave - a disco in a cellar in Earls Court Road that played good soul records for most of the evening, including King Curtis's Memphis soul stew and Bobby Parker's Barefootin' and J J Jackson's Sho nuff. There were also free tickets to the Lyceum in the Strand to see Ray McVay again, with Patsy Kelly most memorably doing Tina Turner's River deep... with a strobe light which seemed to be on for too long for comfort.
Bill in the hostel was a family friend of one of the corps de ballet at Covent Garden. Together, we went to see her in Coppelia one Saturday (it cost 10/- to stand in the stalls), but not before we'd watched Jimi Hendrix on Lulu, the night he just kept playing with the closing titles running over him (not something you see when the film is shown now), so that they had to scrap Lulu's closing number with Pan's People - laugh. A good night of music all round.On a cold November night I went to see Jethro Tull, Eclection and John Dummer's Blues Band for 8/6d at the College of Printing, Elephant and Castle. Tull played mostly from their newly-released first LP. They all wore different hats. Mick Abrahams played a great version of Cat's squirrel and Ian Anderson teased the audience during Clive Bunker's drum solo, by producing a packet of fags and distributing them individually. We enjoyed Eclection, but I don't remember the songs. Similarly John Dummer's Band, with Dave Kelly, were good and I recall a rousing version of Koko Taylor's Wang dang doodle. With Chris Bentley. I went to the Blue Horizon Club in Battersea to see Fleetwood Mac, Duster Bennett and others. The club was held upstairs in The Nag's Head. It must have been the only place in the country where you closed the windows for fresh air - it was located next to the gin factory. I saw the great Muddy Waters with the superb Otis Spann in his band, at the Royal Festival Hall. Also on the bill were John Mayall, Aynsley Dunbar and Champion Jack Dupree who, to be honest, I enjoyed best. The problem was that I had a seat near the front at the right, but the sound wasn't mixed through a P.A. in those days and was imbalanced by whoever was playing directly in front of me - Mick Taylor riffing endlessly, it seemed, at one point with John Mayall, and Muddy drowned by his harmonica player.
One memorable evening, some of us visited 'Alastair's Restaurant' in Fulham Palace Road to see Hamish Imlach. Floor spots were by Sandy Denny and Johnny Silvo who each filled the room with their voices, Silvo eschewing the microphone. It was like having them in your front room.
I had sat in with Dad's dance band, The Keynotes, a few times and I now did a couple of depping jobs with them. I made the odd trip home for gigs and acquired an old Gibson Les Paul. I didnít like it. We played sitting down and the Les Paul didnít balance well. It was also very heavy. I changed to a Harmony Rocket which was more suited to my needs and ability. I played Frimley Green Working Men's Club with one of Dad's ex-pupils, Cliff Davies, on drums. Cliff was technically excellent. He later joined 'If' and Ted Nugent. At Frimley, he was enjoying stretching the independence of his left hand. This is very effective in jazz, but is lethal for dancers. We had many complaints from the jivers.
I also went to Hammersmith Palais and saw the Joe Loss orchestra with Andee Silver (who weren't a patch on Ray McVay's band), and to the Castle at Richmond. This featured two ballrooms - one with a disco that looked dead and one with a twelve piece band which included a Vera Lynn-type singer who I can still hear warbling in precise, clipped English tones There's a kind of hush (they say if you can remember the 60s, you werenít there Ė I wish I couldnít remember this bit).
Copyright © John Scott Cree 2001
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