This old pic of me playing organ with Phase 4 in Southampton when I was 15 brought back memories of discovering music around the same time as discovering that girls weren’t all cissies. Here’s a short chunk of my currently-incomplete autobiography, dishing the dirt about what went on. The answer, in my case to the question “How to get girls?” turned out to be “learn to play the piano”
Our house in Winchester only had three bedrooms and there were four of us kids, plus Mum and Dad. I was therefore allocated the front sitting room as my bedroom, and this coincided with my noticing an ad in the paper asking for someone to take away a Broadwood grand piano, – for free. We collected our free grand piano and it lived in my downstairs bedroom. Dominated it, in fact. You couldn’t get into the bedroom by walking in, – you had to crawl under the piano, which was quite good for privacy. It was huge. The pointed end was rammed right up against the door and the keyboard end was so close to the fireplace at the other end of the room that I had to put the piano stool on the hearth in order to be able to squeeze myself in to play it. It was a full-length concert grand in a tiny suburban front room. The only other thing in the room was my small bed. As I progressed into adolescence, I would sit at my grand piano with all the windows open just as the girls all came out of the nearby County High School and I’d play my dodgy versions of the classics, as loudly as possible in the hope that some gorgeous girl – or even an ugly one – would hear the music and fall in love with me. If any of them ever did, they kept it to themselves.
These were the exciting years during which I learned about my talent and about what was driving me. I loved all records. I played Frank Ifield’s “I Remember You” till it wore out, bought the Springfields’ “Island Of Dreams”, – delved into classics, Flamenco and pop. Rock didn’t really exist yet, but it was ultra cool to be into Leadbelly, Howlin’ Wolf and Josh White, whose album “Empty Bed Blues” was a favourite of mine. The Beatles had just started and were putting singles out regularly all throughout my adolescence. The Stones were laying down a regular barrage of great white R&B, – in other words, black music sung by white boys. I copied them. I wanted to be Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and probably John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful as well. And then suddenly rock did exist, and it was all Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, the Yardbirds and The Move. There were other great bands, lesser-known ones like the Downliners’ Sect and Geno Washington’s Ram Jam Band.
I played piano in a pub in town when I was fourteen. It was the only way to get into the pub, under-age. I would always have a row of free pints on top of the piano and some drunk hanging off me, trying to sing “Slow Boat To China”. It taught me that the piano was a good way to be welcomed socially, - and it was indeed a good way of making friends, even if the County High girls hadn’t taken the hint yet. I answered an advertisement in the paper and joined a Southampton rhythm and blues band called Phase Four (pictured). The other guys were printers during the day, and all of them were nineteen. I was fifteen. We’d get the odd gig, but not much. Most of our gigs were in youth clubs, but we played the Park Ballroom a couple of times. When I joined, I knew next to nothing about blues, not even how to play a twelve bar blues, – but I soon picked it up. We played a lot of Chuck Berry songs. His songs showed me the power of lyrics. The tunes were all pretty much the same, but the lyrics were chunks of urban poetry, completely original and totally unique.
I always thought music was there for one main reason, to impress girls. It became a sort of lifetime habit, trying to impress women. When I first crossed that line from thinking girls were nuisances to trying to take their shirts off, I was about fourteen.I started going to ballroom dancing classes to meet girls.
The girl I connected with at Ballroom Dancing was Kathy Stocks. She was slim, pretty, smelled GREAT and had a way of looking through half closed eyes at you that was mysterious and totally sexy. I plucked up courage to ask her out, and we spent some time thinking we were an item, though at the age of fifteen I didn’t have the courage to lead her astray, even if she’d wanted me to, which I’ll never know. We would sit in a corner of the dark little coffee bar listening to “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, and snogging without taking a breath. “The House of the Rising Sun” was the most popular song on the jukebox because it was the longest for the money. I think it was about five minutes long, and still only cost sixpence to hear. One day, Kathy started acting funny and not returning my calls. She even stood me up at the pictures. I waited an hour before I realised, and trudged home miserably. The moment it became clear to me that it was over coincided with my buying “It’s Over” by Roy Orbison. I played it endlessly in my bedroom. The memory of Kathy’s perfume hung in the air and each line of lyrics cut me like a knife “Golden days before they end/ whisper secrets to the wind/your baby doesn’t love you any more”. I thought life itself, not just my relationship with Kathy was over. And I suppose I was, all the time, subconsciously learning about the power of lyrics and the importance of love in our lives.