Book Of The Week – In Search Of Captain Beefheart – Pt. 6 – The Beat Goes On.

The Beat goes on

By 1964 we had all grown. Our hair, in particular had grown. I was fourteen and fifteen which was a good if difficult age to be. I was full of hormones, frustration and increasing angst which was beginning to bring me into conflict with authority. Rock Music was much more important than school. The commercial chirpiness of Merseybeat had been replaced by a harder, more individualistic and aggressive sound. Seemingly every week a new band burst upon the scene complete with a new sound, image and style.

Our TV programme ‘Ready Steady Go’ (A little bit of ‘Thank your lucky Stars’ and ‘Juke Box Jury’) featured them live. The Beeb was still too matronly to put on anything so we tuned in to Radio Luxembourg. Its sound kept phasing in and out but at least you could hear the stuff you wanted. Then it was the pirate radio stations with ‘Caroline’, ‘Atlantis’ and ‘London’.

Music was our life. We lived it.

The Stones burst upon the scene, closely followed by the Animals, Them, Yardbirds, Who, Smallfaces, Kinks, and Downliners Sect. Hardly a week went by without another one showing up. These were the days of the Mods and Rockers, scooters, Parkas and layered hair.

The toilets were always crowded with boys preening their hair and moulding it into shape. I went for a distinctive look. My hair was combed back at the sides and carefully arranged to cover my forehead with a long quiff. I tried to get it to create a unique wave. That was really difficult with only greasy brylcream and none of these modern day styling waxes. But I had the longest hair in school. It hung down to my shoulders. Hat was one of the coolest kids. He had a greasy rockers hairstyle with a quiff that he could pull down to his chin.

Hat and I were into motorbikes and that made us Rockers. We liked leather jackets, jeans and motorcycle boots. Hat wore really tight jeans and long winkle-picker boots.

  Opher & Liz on my first motorbike 1967

I idolised Phil May. He had the longest hair of any of the guys in the bands. My appearance caused some consternation among some staff. My Physics teacher affectionately called me ‘Squirrel’ but the Deputy Head took me on as a project. She was determined to get me to toe the line. I was even more determined to do the opposite. We had fun and games.

I also came into conflict with the prefects. They were worse than the teachers. They tried to intimidate and control you. I developed a nice line in smart repartee and sarcasm. It infuriated them even more which was the whole point. Bowyer was a particularly snooty prat who swanned around the school like some bantam pretending to be a peacock. He gave me a four sided essay to do because I refused to pick some milk bottles out of a puddle when ordered. He was a pretentious sod who thought he was at Eton complete with quilted waistcoat. The title of the essay he set me (bear in mind I was fourteen at the time) was ‘Should psychoanalysis be used as evidence in courts’. I wrote in big letters – ‘No! But those in positions of authority should be psychoanalysed before being put in that position!’ He was incensed and wanted to take me under the school and have me caned – prefects were allowed to give three lashes. I explained to him that he could try but either then or later I would beat him to a pulp. I was always a quiet, peaceful young lad. It was out of character – but he was a smarmy geek (reminds me of Cameron) who got right up my nose. He took me to the Head. I exceedingly calmly explained to our illustrious Headmaster that the next time Mr Bowyer asked me to pick up dirty milk bottles out of a muddy puddle would be the day he would be operated on to have them de-inserted. The Head was a wise man and figured out what was going on here. He put oil on the troubled water.

I wasn’t interested in school; I was only interested in girls and music.

One week there’d be the Kinks bursting on the scene with ‘You Really got me’ and then the next it’d be the Who with ‘I can’t Explain’ and Them with ‘Baby please don’t go’, the Prettythings with ‘Don’t bring me down’, the Yardbirds with ‘Good morning little school girl’ the Animals with ‘Baby let me take you down’ and the Small Faces with ‘What you gonna do about it’. It seemed inexhaustible.

We used to watch them on TV and marvel at the length of their hair. Ray Davies’ hair flicked up, Brian Jones’ fringe hung over his eyes and Phil May’s hair was down to his shoulders. We used to comment on the size of the zits on display. Eric Burdon had loads but Phil May came out tops again because he had a particularly big one on his forehead.

At the time the newspapers were trying to create a story by describing the nice cuddly mop-top Beatles as the good guys and the scruffy disgusting Stones who peed against garage walls as the bad guys. Ho hum. We didn’t fall for it.

At half term I used to go round my friend Mutt’s. His mum was out at work and he lived next to a school that had a different half term. We took it on ourselves to entertain the girls by playing music at full volume out of the window. We got quite a fan club. I can remember the two tracks we played endlessly as being ‘Everything’s alright’ by the Mojos and ‘Tobacco Road’ by the Nashville Teens.

I never got to see a lot of these bands play. I was fourteen and fifteen and the Yardbirds and Stones both had residencies in Richmond which was really just down the road but when you are that age without transport that might as well have been on the moon.

The first live gig I ever got to was the British Birds at the Walton Hop. The Walton Palais was supposedly where Jonathan King used to groom and pick up young boys. He never tried to pick me up I was much too ugly.

The Birds featured Ron Wood, later of the Stones, and were incredible.

I can’t remember who I went with. I was too boggled by the whole experience. It was another world.

As I arrived there was a whole bunch of jeering Teddy Boys in the car park. They were all shouting and pushing and the girls, still in bee-hive hair-dos and full long flouncy skirts were shrieking encouragement. I sidled up and looked in and there were two Teds slashing at each other with long vicious stiletto flick-knives.

That was quite a start.

Inside the big hall was dark with a big staircase leading off to the sides. There were a group of Teds on the landing taking turns to shag a rather large, blousy bee-hived girl. Her skirt and petticoats were up round her chest and her legs were up in the air as she was held up by the supporting cast. The boys were all around offering encouragement and jeered as they took turns and a bunch of girls, all similarly attired stood and watched looking bored, chewing gum and smoking.

When the band came on I got to the front. See – I was there right from the off! They looked the part in their waistcoats, beat boots, skin tight trousers and mod haircuts. They played this heavy riffed beat music, stamping in time with their Cuban heeled Chelsea boots. Someone was flicking the lights on and off in time to the beat. It was undoubtedly the most exciting thing I had ever seen.

In July 1964 I went off to France and spent the summer hitch hiking round with my mate Foss. I was just fifteen and he was sixteen so he had to look after me. We had big rucksacks with all our clothes (both lots of underwear – we were only away six weeks) and a tent which did not have a front. By this time I had really long hair and a beard. Wherever we went the local kids, who seemed to be dressed in jeans with leather jackets and short hair, all stepped aside yelling after us – ‘Les Beatles’ and ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’. We loved the adulation.

Somehow I had just bought the Stones first album and the ‘It’s all over now’ single and took it with me. I had them in a bag that dangled from the back. Miraculously they didn’t get wrecked and I still have them.

We didn’t get many lifts but got quite fit walking around with big rucksacks on our backs. In fact I got very fit. We stayed in Youth Hostels camping in the back gardens with the rats. Our tent had no front and the rats scampered over us in the night. Foss lay awake one night waiting for one of the rats to come into the tent holding a big knife aloft so that he could stab it. He must have dozed off though and found the razor sharp knife in his sleeping bag the next morning.

The other youth hostellers either loved us or hated us. I got fed by these Romania girls who decided I was much too skinny. They introduced me to French cheese, bread and yoghourt. Bread for me had been either sliced white or a white bloomer and cheese was either cheddar or gorgonzola (gorgonzola was still a rarity in England but was a regular with us because Dad had been stationed in Italy in the war) and I’d never tasted yoghourt. I started with the chocolate flavour but was soon working my way through them all. I couldn’t believe the bread and cheese. There was black bread, brown bread and French sticks. It came in all shapes and sizes. There was cheese with holes in, bits in and all different flavours. England was so bland compared to the continent but that was about to change.

All the Youth Hostels had record players and I played my Stones album and single to mixed reaction. There was this huge German kid called Hans who must have been six foot eight and built with it. He would make a sandwich by cutting a whole loaf in half, stuffing it with cheese and sausage and eating it all. He loved the Stones. Whenever he came in he demanded we put the album on and played it loud.

There were these two Viennese girls who, rather stereotypically used to timidly sit around the record player and listen to Strauss. Hans would stride over to the record player, bang his fist on the table so that the needle jumped across the record and say ‘Walking the dog!’ which was his favourite track. The girls gathered up their things and scuttled for cover. Hans loved us. He was always giving us big hugs.

What a summer. That album is etched into my brain.

I later played rugby for the University Vandals team in Walton. I was the hooker and my prop was none other than Ian Stewart the Rolling Stones pianist. He was a big angular guy and Andrew Loog Oldham had decided that his image did not fit in with the rest of the band so he had him side-lined. Image was everything! Ian played on the albums and actually played in live concerts in the wings but was not photoed with the band. He seemed happy with the arrangement. At least he had a life and didn’t get mobbed all the time. I spent my Saturday afternoons with my arm round him.

In later years Ian put a band together called Rocket 88. They played Hull a few times and I always wanted to go along and say hello and see if he remembered his old happy hooker. Something always came up and I never did – I always thought I’d catch him later. Then he went and died! It’s amazing how often later never happens.

The Kinks were one of my favourite bands and in particular the numbers ‘Well respected man’ which seemed to sum up everything I felt about the society I had been born into with its class structure and inbuilt unfairness and disparity, and ‘I’m not like everybody else’ which summed up how I perceived myself. I would sit in my bedroom with the arm raised on the Dansette and let it play endlessly. It fed my mood – music to feed your angst with. I was nurturing my rebelliousness from the beginning.

 The second band I got to see live was Them with Van Morrison. ‘Baby please don’t go’ was still in the charts and ‘Here comes the night’ had just been released. They were brilliant but I was a bit disappointed that Van didn’t jump about more. I’d been a little spoilt by the Birds lively act. All Van did was stand there and belt out the songs. His voice was amazing and the band was great and they did all the songs with a brilliant ‘Gloria’ but only once did Van jump in the air.

After the show I went backstage and the band all signed these postcard size photos of themselves. I got two of them and got to talk to the band. I wish I still had those signed photos. They’d be worth a bob or two. I gave one away to Phil when I worked as a Lab Tech in the early 70s. He was a big Van fan. The other one my mum threw away when she had a clear out of my room.

The Nashville Teens were a local band and I got to see them play. They had an amazing dual vocal attack that made them very powerful.

My favourite Beat band was the Downliners Sect. I found their first album in a rack in Rumbelows – a department store on Walton High Street. They were more of an electrical goods/hardware shop with a small rack of albums at the back. I loved the cover. There was no way I could play it as the shop had no listening booth  but the image of the guys looked just up my street and the track listing with Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters looked spot on. I took a chance. It sounded exactly how I knew it would. They were the best R&B Beat band of the time. I caught them live and they were brilliant. They thrashed and wailed better than anyone. What a shame that they then tried to jump every trend going and produced their ‘sick’ songs EP, Country album and Rock album instead of sticking to what they were so good at which was raw R&B. But hey – I’m still a Sect maniac!

I remember an old girlfriend of mine (she will, like me, be old by now!) sending me a valentine with a little poem in it. 

Little lad with long fair hair

I’ve got you on the brain

Becoming Sectomaniac

Is driving me insane

See I still remember it. At the time I was trying to decide whether to go out with her or this other girl. She’d already sent me the Kinks single ‘Tired of waiting’. The poem made up my mind for me. Anyone who was into the Sect was OK with me!

By the end of 1964 the quest had thrown up all sorts but none of my heroes. They were still in the future waiting for me. I was trying to assimilate the music that was coming at me, cope with girlfriends and always looking for new musical developments. You never knew what was going to turn up next – all I knew was that it was already one hell of an exciting journey.

My personality was interacting with the music I was listening to. It’s debatable as to whether I listened to the stuff that reflected me or whether it was changing me to mirror it?

We are products of our environment. I chose to be different. Yet I epitomised the era I lived through.

I wasn’t like everybody else and I knew I was going to resist leaving the house at six thirty every morning like my old man. The Kinks summed it up so well.

I learnt a lot from my school days which I later took into my teaching career – mostly about how not to do things! The education system was very good at demonstrating how not to do things.

I learnt that corporal punish certainly warms the backside but it heats the heart more. The internalised fury and rage will find its way out in violence, insolence and aggression.

I learnt that you can say ‘sir’ in a number of ways some of which are worse than telling someone to go fuck themselves.

I learnt that stuffing facts in kids’ heads for them to regurgitate for examinations is not education.

I was one madly rebellious child.

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