As I have said before, there were certain advantages of me having an older brother, one of which was his being at university.
My brother was at Durham University at the time and from what I gather had a pretty good time. I know that one of his highlights was helping with the light show of an up-and-coming band called Pink Floyd. This was at the time when their first album was being released and they had a couple of hits: the first, Arnold Lane, was only a minor one, but the second, See Emily Play, was a massive one. Neither was really typical of much of their astral-travelling psychedelic improvisations that made up their shows at the time, but I loved See Emily Play. Anyway, my brother bought the album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and for some reason left it at home whilst he returned to Uni. This was wonderful for me and I gained great kudos by taking it to the youth clubs and parties that I attended at the time. Needless to say, it became very scratched and unplayable, but luckily for me I suppose my brother became interested in other music and things at University and I still have the album now.
The other thing he left behind was his student union card and that was my passport to a range of venues that required student I.D. At this point our band was still in its infancy and we used to practise every moment we could, electronically amplified at the Lidgett Lane youth club as they allowed us to blast out our raw numbers, or else at someone’s house. The usual house venue was Pete’s cellar. I have previously told the tale of how we decorated it and added the proverbial, at the time, road signs and flashing street repair warning signs, but I hadn’t mentioned that Pete had a fairly loud stereo system in place and he had a great taste in new music. The end of the 1960s and early seventies saw an explosion of youth culture and music. At Roundhay School there were those keenly into Blues albums and it was through a classmate, Duggie, that I heard Led Zeppelin I. He said it was like the Who, whom he knew I liked. I can’t say that I saw much of a similarity, but I loved it anyway. The first two albums that I ever bought were The Who Sell Out, which was great and Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, which was a bit of a disappointment.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the University circuit for rock bands was just opening up. Prior to this, bands played at venues such as pubs, and the Mecca ballrooms, but the new experimental music was more warmly received by university and polytechnic students and their unions used to book rising acts to fill their halls at the weekends. Leeds University became quite a famous venue and Leeds Poly was not far behind.
My latest album release, Black Dog Days if you would like a listen on the player below.
To gain entry to such hallowed halls, when tickets weren’t just on public sale, you required a student union card. Peter, John and other friends had access as they were older and attending one of the Leeds colleges, but as a school boy I couldn’t get one. Hence the joy I felt by my brother leaving his Student Union Card at home. I seem to remember it did have a photograph on it, but I don’t think anyone ever really checked and we did look fairly similar. They were students manning the doors and, as long as you looked the part, you were in.
Most nights there was the bar, the snooker tables and the common room where loud music blared away and the room was almost dark. A number of years later the band was allowed to practise in the common room on Sunday afternoons and it was a fairly shabby room in the full light of day. The place used to hum most nights with large numbers of students, clearly not studying. The air was smoke filled and the beer was cheap and, at the time, quite drinkable. Some weekends there were discos on the lower level and, occasionally less popular bands. I once saw ‘Jail Bait’, an American band, on the lower level. At this point I was a student in London, but the thing that stuck with me was their asking mid act if there were any girls who fancied a good time after the show. I had never seen anything as blatant before.
The bigger concerts were in the main hall and I saw some great performances and great acts. I have mentioned before that the first was John Hiseman’s Colosseum, and then Fleetwood Mac when Christine Perfect joined, but others were Cat Stevens, Yes, just before they really took off. The Yes concert was completely packed out and they were impressive in both their sartorial style and their musical ability. Bill Bruford was still on drums and Pete Banks was the guitarist. They played Paul Simon’s America in a way that completely took me over. Twenty minutes of bliss. I loved Chris Squire’s bass playing in particular and, despite my wife’s horror, I have enjoyed every version of the band ever since and I have seen most of the lineups.
I didn’t realise at the time just how lucky I was to be immersed in what I believe was the most important period of popular music. There was a coming together of musical ability, creativity and technology that produced some of the greatest music in the rock era. New albums were coming out seemingly daily and every time we went to Pete’s or another friend’s place, someone who have something new: ‘Days of Future Passed’, the Moody Blues, ‘The Court of the Crimson King’, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin II, ‘Atom Heart Mother’, ‘Meddle’, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, Pink Floyd, ‘The Land of Grey and Pink’, Caravan, Free, Deep Purple, David Bowie, Family, the list of music and bands just went on and on. We used to gather as a crowd at Pete’s, John’s, John L’s or Paul’s, maybe sixteen or so of us. We would buy a bottle of whatever we wanted to drink. For me it was cheap white wine, Chablis, from the off licence on the corner (six shillings I believe), for some of the lads a few bottles of beer, maybe Newcastle Brown and, for some, Strongbow or Woodpecker cider or Martini and lemonade for the girls. We would sit in a thick haze of smoke and chat and drink, but mainly become lost in the music.
In these difficult times something maybe to cheer you up. The beauty of Perth and Fremantle, Western Australia.
Wild Nights? Well not really. We didn’t do much harm. We certainly didn’t go out looking for trouble. We were more interested in our band, music and girls. What we did do though, was stand out from the crowd. We tended to dress flamboyantly, often from Boodle Am when it was in the arcade or near the uni, or from jumble sales. Tie-dye shirts, Loon pants, Budgie Jacket, Oxford Bags, clogs, Afghan Coats, Levi jeans with patches and flair inserts, trench coats, rucksacks, white brogues, Ben Sherman shirts, Levi shirts and jackets, I’ve had them all. I did buy a lovely felt trilby from a St Edmund’s jumble sale and it did look very dapper. The problem was that some thug at The Roundhay Rugby Club took a shine to my hat and threatened to beat me up if I didn’t give him it. Luckily Pete just walked up and explained the error of his ways and my hat was saved. We did do some stupid things at times that must have caused alarm to the older generation. I do remember well that we would pretend to be fighting at the traffic lights at Moortown Corner, whilst the cars were stopped and occasionally roll over someone’s bonnet to make it look impressive, but we never did any real harm. Well, we didn’t think we were. It was just a lark at the time. We used to drink and underage drinking was common at the time. Roles were different to the way they are today. It was the boys who tended to get drunk and the girls looked after them. Nowadays the roles seem reversed.
Long haired, wild and reckless, I would imagine I was any parent of a daughter’s worse nightmare, but for some reason the mothers I knew seemed to like me. I can’t see why, maybe they could just see through me!
For those interested you can listen to my audiobook, The Moonchild. It is the first in the series. It is free to listen to in thirty minute parts on the Soundcloud player below.