The youth club scene was really excellent from my experience and I think we probably enjoyed it at its best. There was always something going on and I have nothing but affection and respect for the young men and women who acted as the leaders of a group of unruly teenagers. Britain was changing, financially, socially and culturally, and teenagers were enjoying freedoms that their parents couldn’t have imagined. The establishment of the time was seeing their control diminish. Television, pirate radio stations, youth culture, the pill, female liberation and fun, were all challenges for the generation who had experienced the deprivations of war. Unions were shaking the status quo and working people were starting to enjoy a higher standard of living.
As school students we were lucky to be given educational opportunities that our parents had never had. University, Polytechnics, Colleges and training were usually free of cost and grants were provided. Education was seen as broadening the mind rather than a means to a job, but we didn’t know. It was just what we experienced. I can’t say that I appreciated these opportunities, but I certainly enjoyed myself as much as possible. Youth clubs were the churches’ response to try and keep the youth on track. In the case of me and my friends they achieved only limited success. That being said, I was not all bad. I do remember taking part in two walks to raise money for some good cause and sponsored walks and other similar events were only just getting going. Prior to this had been the flag days. Poppy Day and other charity fund raising days relied on the selling of flags with sharp pins. People with tins would stand around and get donations from passersby and pin a small flag on their chests to show they had donated. These tended to be on Saturdays and they weren’t that common then, so most people obliged. I remember giving up a Saturday morning when at Harehills County Primary to raise money.
Whilst at Lidgett Methodist Youth Club we were asked if we would take part in a 24 mile midnight hike. It was a whole of Leeds event and started off and finished near the Town Hall. There were hundreds of young people and in a similar way to the orienteering, it was well organised with first aid, mainly blister repair, check points and drink stations. Quite a few of us from the club took part and it seemed a great idea. I think we headed out of Leeds towards Guiseley, past Menston, the Silver Cross factory and Harry Ramsden’s fish restaurant and then back into Leeds. I believe it took place on a Saturday and the police were involved to control traffic etc. It would have been much the same as the organisation of the fun runs, half-marathons and Marathon events that came later in the decade. We all started out with great excitement and little idea of what 24 miles meant. We strode out in a mass of kids stretching for miles and we chatted and laughed. God knows what the local residents thought as the throng passed their houses in the early hours of the morning. After a while the chatter became less, the feet more sore, the temperature fell and tiredness kicked in. I can’t remember what time of the year it was, but it still was very cold at four in the morning. Reaching the half way point was something, but it brought home the realisation that we had the same to do again. I seem to remember that Fire Brigade by The Move was a big hit at the time, so it would have been 1968. I recall being in some sort of exhausted trance with the song going around and around in my head. A lifetime later the dawn began to cast a grey light over the pavement as we trudged along. The lines of hikers had thinned out over the miles and now there were only scattered groups who kept going, marking the time with step following step. It was necessary to keep a check on the other groups ahead to ensure we didn’t get lost. I suppose some children must have given in due to exhaustion or injury, and been taken back in cars, but the majority persevered. I think I arrived at the Town Hall early Sunday morning at about 8.30am. Tea and cake was provided for hikers and youth groups met back up with others from their clubs. Conversations were few and eyes looked downcast and in need of sleep and when all the group were accounted for, the leaders drove us home and dropped us off at our respective houses. I can’t say it was a great experience, but it can’t have been too bad as I went back for another go a year later. The week after the hike we had to collect our sponsors’ money, the hardest part, and then deliver it back at the club for send off to the charity.
I think I said that the band did not play covers as we didn’t have the skill. Well, that wasn’t quite the truth. It has jumped back into my memory that one of the tracks we played early on was a song called ‘What’s Going On?’ by an Irish band, Taste. It had the guitarist Rory Gallagher. It was a rather adventurous choice as Taste were quite a musically accomplished band. I am not sure our version did it justice, but we gave it a go. We were extending our repertoire a little and playing better. We still didn’t have a great song list, but it was growing. There were the rock numbers, I’m Leaving, Going, Last Bus etc, slower numbers like I Think and Atlantis, and then the odd parody such as Get It Up (Based on T-Rex’s Get It On). We were asked to play at Lidgett Methodist Youth Club for a Saturday concert/disco. I think we did this for free as payment for being allowed to practice there every week. We were to play on the stage in the old hall and on the day we set up in the afternoon and did a sound check. A boy called Paul had created a lighting rig with the help of another boy, Danny. It was very basic and had highly questionable wiring, but there was a row of coloured bulbs and he could turn the lights off and on individually by playing what looked like a little keyboard. We weren’t going to complain as it was the only lighting we had and better than any other local band had at the time. I think Paul and Danny regularly got electric shocks from it, but they were fit, young and expendable so we didn’t care. I must add that we weren’t immune to electric shocks. Because we played as loud as we could, we often blew the fuses in the amps. The method of fixing this, at the time, was to wrap silver paper from cigarette packets around the fuse and push it back in, ‘Do not try this at home folks!’, but it worked.
A cover of a C.S.N. song recorded in 1983 at my house with Michael and John.
We were set up for our first gig after the Busmen’s Club talent evening and nerves were jangling. (I believe this was before the guitar breaking do, so Bryan would still have been the drummer.) Pete and John were a couple of years older than me, but I would have been fourteen, and we had all been drinking alcohol for a while. In the late 1960s underage drinking was a problem and few pubs checked your age if you didn’t obviously look too young. I had the advantage of looking older than my years, which was only valuable when I was under eighteen. Sadly not a great asset at my current age. We had been to the off licence and had a small bottle of whiskey hidden. There was a trap door on the stage and this led to the storage room below. The band and lighting crew disappeared down in the hole for a half an hour before we were to start. The whiskey was passed around and we had to keep it secret. Alcoholic drinks were definitely banned from the youth club.
The set was to start with John playing, ‘Let the Children into Your Hearts’, on his own on the stage above us. He climbed up and the curtains opened. We listened below, continuing to pass drink around. We didn’t have much, but sufficient to take away nerves and sense. We heard John finish the number and there was a reasonable round of applause. Someone suggested it would be funny not to appear at the appropriate time, and much to John’s horror, we left him standing and waiting. It was mean. Eventually we climbed out, took our instruments and launched into our first number. We went through our set and it was not great. The drumming was wild, the guitar playing loose and we learnt a very great lesson: alcohol and playing are not a great combo! The audience were not totally thrilled, but we managed. I think there was a general sigh when the DJ returned. Certainly I think the youth leaders were greatly relieved.