I joined the local junior tenpin bowling club which met every Saturday morning. We had a competitive league and played the odd match against other clubs, as far flung as Tolworth and Whistable. At Whitstable it felt like you were bowling into the sea. And we all got to play in the National Championships! It may sound grand but if you were a member of a club and weren’t rubbish at bowling you got to play in the National Championships. We were the cream of Britain’s young bowlers (the only ones practising on a regular basis). I bought my own bowling ball, inscripted with my misspelt name ‘Jeff’ and we had yellow bowling shirts with cloth badges sewn on showing our achievements. We hadn’t really achieved anything, we just turned up and enjoyed knocking as many of those pins over that we could.
Moving on from the Focus compilation, the next prog record I bought was a single, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It wasn’t until I got a Saturday job, though, that I began to buy records in any quantity.
The kids I knew were into prog and heavy rock and I went along with the fashion. Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd. School was prog-a-go-go. And in 1976 I went to my first gig, if you could call it a ‘gig’.
There was a new radio station opening in London called Capital. The big cheese at Capital was Dear Dickie Attenborough. To commemorate the opening of the station Dear Dickie held a bow-tie reception and concert by none other than Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. We arrived at the Wembley Exhibition Centre in time to see Dear Dickie roll up in his Roller. It was such a special occasion and Rick didn’t let us or the occasion down as he played a selection of his hits from albums such as King Arthur and the Knights of The Round Table and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, real toe-tappers. He blew our young minds with his stagecraft wizardy. It was an excellent introduction into the world of excess that was prog. I recorded the show for posterity as the whole gig was broadcast on Capital.
I settled down into the corner of the living room, large 70s headphones cutting me off from the family life going on around me. This corner of the room with its ‘music centre’, record player, radio and cassette deck all in one, was to be my home every evening after homework. I’d be taken to other worlds by ‘Little’ Nicky Horne, Tommy Vance and David Rodigan. ‘Little’ Nicky, as opposed to ‘Diddy’ David, played me not only the AOR stuff I was beginning to get into such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, but tracks from the exciting pub rock scene, The Motors, The Tyla Gang and Greg Kihn. Punk was not an issue, in fact I only heard about it when my dad asked me if I’d heard about this new form of music played by young idiots who didn’t know how to play their instruments. I didn’t read the papers or watch the news in those days so I hadn’t heard. And I was learning the guitar at that time so I dismissed the young idiots completely. I thought you had to learn your licks and chops to rightly have an audience.
As with Tony who taught me tennis, Brian was another of my dad’s friends from work who kindly agreed to teach me guitar. My dad would take me to Brian’s flat and he would patiently show me how to play chords then write out the words and chords to easy songs and we played and sang together. I had no discernible talent but Brian got something vaguely listenable out of me. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold was a particular favourite of mine, though I was embarrassed by playing Free’s Feel Like Making Love with Brian, especially when his wife walked in on us. Though I was past puberty, the last thing on my mind was sex and I wasn’t really ready for singing about my sexual longings in front of a married couple. I don’t think I ever will be ready for that!
Nonetheless, I enjoyed going to Brian’s and used to look forward to him teaching me another chord and playing me another song from his extensive record collection. Where else would I have heard Trapeze?
My musical career never came to anything. I practised and practised but all I could do was efficiently strum chords. I wanted to be a guitar wizard. Instead I was a prototype tube station busker, blowin’ in the wind, would never have made a fortune out of it in a million years.
The AOR I was listening to on ‘Little’ Nicky Horne’s show I was also lapping up from the local library and illegally recording onto cassette tape. I would cycle to the library, leaf through the wonders on offer, pick out something by Neil Young or Bob Seger, check that there were no more scratches on the records than on the illustrations accompanying them and cycled them home, flapping against the side of my handlebars in the wind and rain. To my immense pride, I never scratched a single LP.
My dad asked me a few times to get him some records from the library. I got him a Rolling Stones live album and several James Last records. My dad most enjoyed big band music, the big band sound was wired into his DNA. And James Last was the man to make modern chart music palatable for an older generation.
My dad’s favourite chart song in the mid-70s was Heart of the Union by The Strawbs. He took it at face value as a pro-union singalong though we know now The Strawbs were taking the piss out of working class union members and their sheep-like adherence to a movement which had outlasted its relevance in the modern world which was fast approaching its Monetarist nightmare.
My mum’s song was Art Garfunkel’s I Only Have Eyes For You, a beautiful version which I would have hated then.