I was trying to think back to the late 1960s and early 1970s and what I used to do with my time. The truth is that it was probably the only period in my life when I had the time to enjoy doing nothing. Now that might appear to be a silly thing to say, now that I am retired. I should have, in theory, time on my hands, but with having a family of four boys, their wives and partners and currently two grandchildren, writing for at least four hours a day, writing and recording music, filming and drone flying, decorating, gardening, shopping and the myriad things that impinge on our lives, I never seem to have a moment to do nothing. When you add to that the inability to sleep as I did as a teenager and the realisation that if you don’t do things now, then you might run out of time, then the teenage years were heaven. Not that I’m complaining, as I love my life and I am never bored. Creativity is the greatest pleasure in life, after having a family that care about each other.
The reality is that when I was a teenager I didn’t have a thought for anyone other than myself, and I don’t think I was any different from anyone else. At this period, parents didn’t count for anything other than providing everything I needed, and siblings, even less. Maybe this is a gender issue and I can’t judge that, as my family were males and Mum. I remember working with a teacher here in Perth and she felt that the teenage years were part of nature’s way of pushing the next generation out of the family. Teenagers behaved so badly that parents were only too glad to see them leave. In fact, the education system was set up to accommodate this, with teenagers being encouraged to go to university as far away from home as possible. At least parents could hope that apart from a few holidays at home, most of the time they were saved from the angst of what we got up to. Ignorance is bliss, and our parents were spared knowing what college and university life was like. People got married much younger in those days and so if you didn’t go to uni, then the life of work set you up for getting married and getting your own home. I believe the average age for marriage was about nineteen in the sixties, but now it is about 29, and in fact most don’t get married until they have lived together for many years and often have a child first. I remember clearly, attending a wedding as part of the choir at St Wilfrid’s church near Harehills, where the bride was sixteen and the groom seventeen. They looked so young to me, even then, but now they would seem like babies. I wonder if they are still together? It would have been around 1966-7. I was twenty-three when I got married and I had started to worry that I was getting past it. I guess I was just waiting for the right person, and here we are, so many years later, still together. In fact, all my close friends are still with their original partners, which suggest we couldn’t have all been so terrible!
Prior to going anywhere, there was a period when life centred totally around us and it was glorious! School had become routine and once in the Sixth Form we were given greater freedom, I think greater responsibility, but I am not sure we displayed much. I was reading a discussion on the Roundhay School facebook group and there were some slightly heated feelings about some of the teachers and their physical punishments, cruelty, and impact on some lives. I guess I was lucky and was never caned, but I was slippered and once thumped by a maths teacher. I can’t say that it harmed my life, but I guess I was savvy enough to read teachers’ moods and know when to stop. Some boys never developed that empathy or understanding and suffered quite badly. The only time I ever felt aggrieved was when I believed the punishment was unjust. Fairness was very important to me as a teenager, but now I am older I realise that it is just a human construct and that life is not fair. We would like it to be, but it is not. For those who have a religious faith then they can explain this, but I can’t. The truth, for me, is that I have been incredibly lucky and I am grateful every day.
As teenagers, we had to go to school and probably had a weekend job, but on the whole that was it. Every night, every weekend and every holiday day were ours to do as much or as little as we wanted. College was even better, as we got paid to go there and grants were quite generous. The time that was ours, was ours to manage as we pleased and it was not wasted. I used to hang out with my group of friends. This was quite a circle and people came and went, but there was a central core that is still friends today, despite splintering to the ends of the earth. It started out with meeting at St Edmund’s or Lidgett Lane Methodist Youth Club and I suppose that my initial ambition was to meet girls and I did, but I also met other lads that I didn’t know from school. Pete was one of those, and he was quite charismatic and always seemed to have a circle of lads that hung around with him. He was a couple of years older than me, and that gave him a more grown up status. It is funny how one or two years’ difference in age as a teenager meant major differences, whereas a couple of years are just a blink on an eye nowadays. To make him and some of his friends more interesting, they had left school, some worked, some were at college and some I wasn’t sure what they did.
To cut a long story short, we hit it off and we started to hang around together. The main players were Pete, John, John, Nick, Stuart S, Chris, Roger, Brian, Danny, Dave B, Dave G and Paul. There were others, but it was Pete, John and me who were the main part of our musical band. Music was tremendously important to us and we would go to Peter’s parents’ cellar and listen to albums for hours. It was the start of the prog-rock movement and Yes, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, David Bowie, Emmerson Lake and Palmer, Family, Donovan and many others were the dominant bands. Stereo was just coming in and albums were heavy and you owned the music, unlike nowadays. We would sit smoking, drinking and reading the sleeves as we listened and digested all the nuances of the music and compared new albums we bought and spent hours doing little else.
We were not always welcome at Pete’s, as his dad could get sick of the music from below, quite understandable really, and so there were other venues. Probably the safest bet was John’s house. He lived at the far end of Gledhow Valley Road, fairly near the parade of shops where it joined King Lane and Harrogate Road. His mother was often out working or she was at the bridge club and his father had passed away. As a result, we had the house to ourselves and we would make ourselves at home, play our music, put the world to rights and generally just hang out. Sometimes, we would go to other people’s houses, but wherever we went, we would just hang around. Sometimes we would write songs, play games, cards, Risk, have a séance, or host a party, but in reality, the parties were just the usual hangouts but with more people and probably more alcohol.
As we got a bit older we had access to cars and we would drive out to places in the country and there we would sit around, chat, laugh and sometimes take the guitars to play. We once called into a café near Ilkley and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was there and they were sitting at a couple of small tables, eating toasted teacakes and drinking tea. We followed suit, but I was impressed when they left a pile of fifty pence pieces as a tip. This was something that we didn’t follow, due to lack of resources. They were certainly a weirdly impressive group, in strange clothing, long hair, and Vivian Stanshall had his very upper-crust accent and a loud voice. Neil Innes, who wrote most of the music for Monty Python, was also there.
The crux of it all was that we just hung out and enjoyed ourselves. We would spend hours discussing philosophy, religion, relationships, clothes, girls and music, and then spend hours discussing where we were going to go. For most of the rest of our lives, this was a luxury we never enjoyed again. How I used to fit all the demands of work and family into a day, is beyond me now, but then Lazy Sunday, Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon by the Small Faces and Kinks respectively, just about summed up my, and my friends’ lives.
The other regular venue for us was Roundhay Park, whether it was night or day. Often we would wander in after having been in the Fox, the Deer Park or the Chained Bull and sit in one of the bandstands and just talk. We weren’t destructive and we never caused vandalism, but we never found a second that we couldn’t fill, doing nothing but chat and hang out. In summer, it was often glorious and then the odd football match might happen, but most times we would just sit, a largish group of boys and girls and enjoy life. There was a time when the peace was shattered by people carrying radios, but that seemed to not really be something we did. There was always some drama, often to do with the band, or due to relationships. Couples formed and fell apart, and some people struggled to overcome their broken hearts. There was initial sympathy, but eventually people would get sick of a permanent moaner and tell them so. It was interesting that when people paired up they tended to fall away from the crowd and want to be on their own, which was understandable, but eventually they either returned as a pair or as singles. For those of us in the band there was an understanding that the band took priority to girlfriends, but eventually, like the Beatles, but without the talent, the girls led to rifts forming. Looking back now, I wonder why we never considered any of the girls being in the band. The girls just hung around, waiting for us. What a dreadful bunch of chauvinists we must have been! They never complained and just sat together and had their own conversations. I wonder now, how they saw it all.
I am not sure that we change much over time. When we get back together, every so many years, we discuss the past as if it were yesterday, but there are often disagreements about our differing recollections. The same unresolved issues are still hot topics and for the time that we are together, we are still hanging out, still trying to make sense of it all, and still enjoying each other’s company.