My Pop Life #232 : C’mon – Man


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C’mon   –   Man

it’s better than doin’ nothing
it’s better than sittin’ round thinking of yourself
Get up !  c’mon
Get up…c’mon 

*

The summer of 1973.  I’m thinking right now it was the most carefree moment of my entire life.  Just turned 16.  Just finished my ‘O’ Levels.  Hardest exams ever, but they were done.  Free.  In a band.  Happy.  Just happy to smoke dope, drink beer, listen to music, chat to friends.  My family was Ok, by which I mean no crisis for the moment, but I didn’t spend much time there anymore.  My friends and family were in Lewes, 25 miles away.  Sixth form coming up – a long way off, with no exams for two whole years.  A-levels were the distant horizon.  Let’s face it, my recollections are fuzzy, and so are the photographs….

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No information about this – maybe 16, maybe 17 in Hailsham, East Sussex. Youth.

Then it was summer holidays.  I had tickets to Reading Festival, as advertised in Melody Maker with some of my favourite groups –  Rod Stewart & The Faces (who I’d seen the year before My Pop Life #128), The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Status Quo among others.

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Before that treat were lazy hazy days in East Sussex and a holiday up in Scotland with Simon Korner’s family.  They’d rented a cottage on The Isle of Arran…in a little village called Lochranza on the north coast.   Simon and I decided to hitch-hike up from Lewes.  Would we make the last ferry from Ardrossan in Ayrshire?  Would we even get there?

Simon had emerged as a close friend earlier that year when I’d stayed with his family in St Henry’s Road while Mum was in hospital.  Nerves they called it.  I wrote a little bit about it in My Pop Life #64 ‘Fresh Garbage’.

I think it was 1973 when Simon became my best friend.  We both had other friends of course.  He had Mathew Ford, Chris Clark and Patrick Freyne, one of the year above boys.  I had Conrad Ryle and Martin Cooper in particular, and soon, Andy Holmes.  But I think Simon and I liked each other kind of unreservedly already.

Simon and I hitched up in late July and got to the ferry terminal in Ardrossan at about 10pm.  The ferry was not there, but the gangplank was, so we unrolled out sleeping bags and slept on it.  Woken at dawn by seagulls and the sun, and caught the ferry across to the island. Arran.  It’s one of those places that looks spectacular from every angle.

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The crossing of the Firth of Clyde was an hour, and breakfast was available on board.  We were scruffy and unwashed of course, but that was the fashion in 1973 for teenage boys.  Maybe it still is.  The town of Brodick welcomed us and upon perusing our handy map (no phones then kids) found the road out north to Lochranza and stuck out our thumbs.  A yellow ex-GPO transit van pulled over after about 30 minutes, they were going our way, perfect.

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Two fellas up front, Simon and I were in the back of the van with our rucksacks amid a heap of random rubbish, a mattress, papers, and a football which I sat on against the side of the van.  It was an hour’s journey more or less.  As we started a long gentle downhill road from Sannox to Lochranza they sped up somewhat – they could see nothing ahead for a mile – and then, remembering that we couldn’t see out of the windows really, apart from glimpses through the front window – something extraordinary happened.

I felt the side of the van disappear behind me as the doors I was leaning on opened and I started to fall, ever so slowly backwards out of the van and into the air towards the road.  I distinctly remember thinking, because I had the time to do so, that it felt like I was doing some kind of James Bond stunt in slow motion and perhaps if

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I hit the ground with a thump and instantaneously went into fast forward backward somersaults once twice thrice four times before the absurd circus act stopped abruptly and all was still.  I was on my back at the side of the road, head facing downhill legs up.  I dare not move in case of pain. I would lie there for a while until I felt braver.  There was grass on my right, road on my left where my hand was.  I moved my fingers one at a time, then my wrist, my arm, twitched my shoulder. The right hand and arm.  The feet, one at a time.  Nothing was broken.

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I could hear a voice behind me shouting my name.  I didn’t move yet.  Simon got there first and then the two ashen-faced scotsmen.  They helped me stand up, checked that all was in working order.  My trousers were ripped right across my arse.  That was about it.  Everyone was shaken, disbelieving.  It was a kind of miracle that I didn’t land on my head because to quote Johnny Moped “Crack afore the skull, blow the skull open, OK?” * The van reversed back up the hill and I got into the front seat.  By the time we got to Lochranza I felt lucky, indestructible, magic.  The fellas dropped us off and – according to Simon because I do not recall this – we both ran up the fell opposite the house because we were the first there.

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The others arrived – Shirley, Joe, Jess and Shirley’s friend Noreen Ford and it was decided to call a nurse the next day because there appeared to be some of the road left in my buttocks.   She was a cheery young woman who cleaned it up and put a dressing on the rather sore area.  I should note that I didn’t fancy her.  She came every day for about four days as I recall.  She would arrive in uniform then briskly announce her task “Good morning Ralph, I’ve come to change the dressing on your bem”  You have to read it in a Scottish Accent!  At some point around here Martin Cooper arrived.  He was a proper carrot-top redhead with pale skin and blue eyes.  We’d become friends via the school football team, and subsequent visits to The Goldstone Ground in Brighton to see The Albion.  Martin wasn’t like the rest of my friends – he didn’t take drugs, or grow his hair, or play records.  He and I would become political allies in the 6th form when we became Head and Deputy Head Boy.   I wrote about him a bit in My Pop Life #70 : The Stylistics.  Simon had long fair hair and brown eyes, I was bushy-haired with grey/green/blue eyes and slightly darker skinned than both which is odd, perhaps.  Simon tells me that he felt slightly challenged by Coops’ presence now, as if competing for my brotherly love.

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Goat Fell in the mist and the ferry to Claonaig leaving Lochranza

Coops and I it was who made the journey to Goat Fell, hitching back up that same road to Brodick Castle then walking through the grounds and up the rocky path.  It was a stiff climb but stunning at the top.  Highest point of the island, which is all peaks.  We shared a mighty joke at the top when we noticed a man walking up the path, no sweat, perfect clothes, not a hair out of place. When he reached the summit – we were on the east side by now looking at southern Scotland – he stopped and gazed at the horizon with strange purpose then pfffft opened a can of Tizer as if he was in some cheesy advert.  Fuck me it was hilarious.  We had to duck behind a boulder to laugh hysterically.

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Lochranza, Isle of Arran

Other days we went onto the beach.  Clear water, so much clearer than the English Channel in Sussex.  We took the ferry north to Claonaig one day on the Mull of Kintyre then took it back to Lochranza.  I suspect we smoked some dope and read books too.  Simon was reading Sons and Lovers by D.H Lawrence.  I cannot remember what I was reading but I was into Dostoyevsky at the time.  It was all bliss.  We talked about the incident, and Simon felt that the van had been going about 50 mph, which would account for my absurd rolling backwards down the hill.  I don’t remember any aches or bruises – apart from the obvious – but maybe time heals.  Ot maybe I just bounced.  The trousers – kind of blue flares with a black stripe pattern – were ruined and binned.  I must have had a pair of jeans with me. Or borrowed some?

Scotland is so beautiful.  It was my first time back since I was one year old.

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Dad and me, 1958.  Scotland

And I have been back many times since, especially to the West Coast, which is where I suspect I am in the photo above.  My Dad had just finished at Cambridge University and we went on holiday with his friend Tony Inglis and his wife.  I don’t remember it obviously but it is nice to have this picture of us enjoying ourselves.   Jenny and I have been to Iona & Mull, the Kintyre peninsula, Fort William, Arisaig and Skye together on three separate occasions, (twice with cats!).  I’ve been to Edinburgh many times (3 – Ed.) as a fledgling actor (see My Pop Life #140 Carly Simon), visited Shetland when Mark Williams did a gig up there, worked in Glasgow a few times on TV shows, went to Aviemore and Inverness one year.  It is a beautiful part of the world.  I’ve always fancied the Hebrides, especially since my university buddy Lewis actually came from Lewis.  Not Lewes.  Another story.

Bright clear air, bleak moorland, heather everywhere, wild flowers, rocky outcrops, sheep, water close by, streams and rivers. Mist.  Nurses who dress your bem.  It’s all good. But all good things must come to pass and thus the day came to say farewell to Korners Coopers and Fords and hitch-hike south to Reading and the Festival.  I cannot remember this journey at all.  It is quite possible that Martin Cooper hitched south with me, because I have a vague memory of us camping together in Newbury on the side of the road near a nuclear power plant?  Perhaps we even went to Reading together?  All assistance gratefully received, and apologies to Martin if indeed it was he, for it would have been a dry run for aour giant intrepid hitchhiking escapade behind the Iron Curtain to years later to Budapest (see My Pop Life #70 The Stylistics)

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I’d been to Reading the previous year which was something of a vintage line-up (see My Pop Life #103) and particularly dug the Welsh band Man who’d played Saturday afternoon.  Lovely groovy guitar work, intermeshing riffs with a tone a little like Joe Walsh my guitar hero, but a vibe all their own.  I’d come back from Reading 72 and bought the LP Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day the following spring.  Rumours that it referred to wanking, which was big news in 1973 (he flexes like a whore, falls wanking to the floor – Bowie’s Time) could not be verified.  The 1st track on side two Bananas was certainly about dope though :

I like to eat bananas cos they got no bones I like marijuana cos it gets me stoned

The LP had a quite splendid gatefold-out map of Wales as a cartoon to enjoy while listening and smoking :

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I can’t remember who else liked this record but I’ll plump for Tat, who played guitar in Rough Justice, the band I was playing in.  It has a certain sound which takes me right back to those carefree days of 1972/3 – it’s certainly of its time in that respect.  They have riffage in abundance and twin lead attack like Wishbone Ash or Blue Öyster Cult, they have a terrific organist on top like Osibisa or Greenslade (my discovery of Reading 73), a warmth to the vibe like Jo Walsh or Spirit, a sense of humour like Gentle Giant or Status Quo.  They weren’t trying to be American blues or country.  Just a good band.

reading-73-rod-2Reading 73 wasn’t as good as 72 but had its highlights.  Rod Stewart & The Faces were going through the motions a bit.  Ronnie Lane had left and we had Tetsu on bass like the year before… thus I’ve never seen Ronnie Lane with the Faces.  What was good about early Reading Festivals was the open-minded spirit that meant you could see The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and French bands like Magma or Italian bands alongside folk, rock or even >gasp< R’n’B or jazz – George Melly’s Feetwarmers or Johnny Otis.  And even country which would become the sound of the early seventies. The Eagles didn’t play Reading but they were huge.  We watched the mighty Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen with hoedown fiddles and harmonica and accordion along with the slide guitars and speeded up bluegrass country rock.  Quite tremendous.  Then there was the beer-can throwing vibe in 1973, a practice which I believe has continued to this day.  Some slightly heavy scenes too.  But we – whoever we were – just got stoned & enjoyed the music .  It was the year of feeling carefree and not worrying, of being giggly and stoned and untouchable, miraculously unbreakable, free.

Rory Gallagher was amazing by contrast playing the Irish blues.  He could play.  *Reading-1973-Rory-Gallagher-1swas

The police walked around a bit busting people for dope.  Pretty shit really but you could see them coming for miles off because they weren’t blending in very well.

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Sunday afternoon was a treat – in retrospect at least because I hadn’t heard of these people – because we got Tim Hardin (If I Was A Carpenter, Reason To Believe), Lesley Duncan and…

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John Martyn with Danny Thompson, soon to be a hero on the University and drink circuit (see My Pop Life #153 Small Hours).    And of course we had Genesis again.  They did more or less the same set as the previous summer, ie Supper’s Ready, The Knife, Hogweed, Musical Box – but with different sets and costumes.  Peter Gabriel had gone full theatrical.  In fact I recall that the set opened with him suspended from a rig 25 feet above the stage inside a pyramid with his head poking out the top.  Having just written and remembered that I cannot find any evidence of it on the internet.  But I saw it readers.

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Gabriel at Reading 1973

I found their songs kind of indigestible though frankly and although I enjoyed the costumes and the undoubted musicianship of Tony Banks, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins the only song of theirs which I almost liked is called Firth of Fifth from the LP Selling England By The Pound which they’d recorded a few days earlier, but revealed none of in the live set.  It was released in October with a single I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe.  Whatever…

Look at these guys*Geordies-campfire-R73-800reading-73-blanket-guyReading-1973-Audience-1swas

 

That was me that was.  Reading Festival, August 1973. 16 years old. Stoned, drunk, skinny and couldn’t care less.  Precious moments.

 

*all photographs taken by kind permissions – credit to Vin Miles, Steve Austin, Stan Was, Gareth Tynan, Peter Kelly from the website http://ukrockfestivals.com/reading-73.html

 

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: My Pop Life #103 : Focus II – Focus | Magicmenagerie's Blog

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