Another snippet from This is It.
(Disclaimer: I can’t guarantee precise historical accuracy – all these memories may be mixed up and reconstituted in a skewed way, probably due to the bin-bag full of potent Mexican grass we consumed during the period – it was the sixties after all!)
In 1969 when I was seventeen I went to London with my friend Dave. He picked me up in a transit van from where I lived with my parents and my siblings in the small council house on the outskirts of Llanelli. Dave was a roadie; well actually Dave was a brilliant guitarist but worked as a roadie in London at the time. He was a couple or more years older than me and he died in his twenties but that’s another story. Dave was one of my two best friends – the other one was Stu, who was younger than me and who also died in his twenties – that’s another story too of course.
I used to haunt the more liberal drinking establishments in the town, along with Dave, Stu, and a couple of dozen other long-haired, scruffy freaks who some might have referred to as hippies. We thought of ourselves as ‘Heads’ meaning we shared a secret that involved the consumption of drugs and an awareness of the alternative culture that was peaking around then.
Through Dave’s connections with musicians and their roadies he got a job driving a transit loaded with speakers, amplifiers, drum kits and the like, for groups of musicians – mainly Jimmy James and the Vagabonds who were, and, I think, still are, 46 years later, a big soul band, though I imagine the line up has changed considerably since then.
I slept on the floor in Dave’s room in a large flat on an upper floor of Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, a block of impressive red-brick buildings on the Old Marylebone Road in Central London. Dave shared the flat with several other roadies, including Cracky, who was also from Llanelli and later went on to work for Led Zeppelin and Van de Graf Generator and possibly others. Also living in the flat was a bloke called Scott who worked with Jon Hiseman’s Coliseum, and a guy named Ernie (and his brother, I think) who worked with Alan Price. There were other people who either lived in, or visited the flat regularly including another couple of blokes from Llanelli and at least one woman who was a Bunny Girl in the Playboy Club. (Disclaimer: see above.)
I helped Dave out and travelled all over the country to gigs but somehow found the time to hold down a full-time job as an assistant in a large photography studio off Baker Street where I soon moved from being a runner to processing the large format colour transparencies they created for mail-order catalogues. The boss, Mr Pilkington, talked to me about learning to use the cameras and becoming a photographer; he also told me that if I wanted to I could use the cameras and studio facilities to do my own work if it came to it. This was a time when such opportunities were easy to come by and you could walk out of one job before lunch and start another in the afternoon. (Disclaimer: see above.)
When I think about it now those few months provided me with a crash course in the late-swinging-sixties London scene, and included working visits to musical equipment suppliers, recording studios and various performance venues around the city, such as the Marquee Club. I brushed against many of the legends of that time including Ginger Baker and John Lennon. I met a lot more ‘cool’ people and a hell of a lot more happened during that brief period; it’s left its effects on me in the 45 years since, but it would be too boring to list everything here – though I might dramatise it one day.
It was early September when I first crashed on Dave’s floor in that flat; and by Christmas Eve I was on my way back to Llanelli in the back of a transit. I was dropped off at my parents’ house completely shagged out at 3 am on Christmas Day. I intended to return to London with the other boys after a short break but I never got it together in time so stayed in Llanelli and carried on taking drugs and flitting through jobs of one sort or another for a couple of years until I got married, and settled down (well not really, but that’s another story too).
I often imagine what my life would be like if I’d stayed in that photographic studio, became a photographer, and used my connections with the bands to create album covers. Maybe I’ll write that story one day.