After having the guys learn my song I felt I was in the band on some sort of merit. There was no formal initiation ceremony just an acceptance that I was expected to turn up for rehearsals and when we had a gig I was on stage with them. What I didn’t understand were the existing dynamics between the five of them, and I wouldn’t find out until nearly 50 years later.
Until I rocked up there was an ad-hoc relationship between them. Chris and Liz were an item at the time and the girls were a part of the band. If I remember correctly they’d done some stuff at the local folk club which was in a youth club in Ilkley.
The folk club was in a side room of the youth club and held about 10 people, so quite naturally up to 50 people crammed in there. Half the people smoked and no-one had heard of things like health and safety and risk assessments let alone practised them. I’d not been to the club until I joined the band and until then I was completely oblivious of it’s existence.
Although it was called a folk club it, thankfully for me, wasn’t a folk club in the traditional sense. Yes, people got up and sang shanties and ye olde songs but it was an eclectic mix of styles and genres as I would find out. Also, right from the start the band wasn’t going to be limited to any particular genre or style, we were going to play what we liked and what our skills limited us to.
For reasons that escape me I’d assumed from the start that Chris and Vaughan were the band and that the three girls were just there. It never occurred to me that they saw themselves as part of the band. Now before you go off thinking I’m either sexist or worse then honestly it wasn’t like that. No-one told me the dynamics and from the start it was always me and the boys sorting out the songs and the gigs. In fact as it turned out it was rare for the girls to be onstage with us.
None of the girls were exactly shrinking violets and so quite why they acquiesced to this new arrangement is, in retrospect, totally baffling to me. Chris and Vaughan had gained a dubious guitar player and a fledgling songwriter and jettisoned by far the three most attractive members of their band. If I’d known this at the time I would have been mortified, to find out so many years later when Theresa told me her side of the story was a big shock to me and something that slightly tarnishes my memories of the time we all had together.
But, as they say, the show must go on and so I got to work writing new songs to present to the lads. I’ve never been a prolific writer and so in order to get the number of songs up I was devoting more and more time to playing the guitar and wailing away in my bedroom. Pretty soon this clashed with my school work, especially homework, and so began a conflict with my parents that would continue until I left home.
They, with some justification, reasoned that school work was more important than playing the guitar. I didn’t agree. Not at all. Me being the eldest of six children didn’t help my parent’s cause either because they had another five to deal with all of whom could be just a bolshie as me in their own unique way. The confrontation with my parents escalated. Rather than find some way to mitigate what they saw as the problem my parents took to the offensive and that was never going to sit well with me.
By nature I’m not the sort of person who tends to walk away from a problem, it’s much more likely I’ll confront it, usually head on. The problem is that I inherited that from my parents, neither of whom was going to back down. The battleground was set and we fought relentlessly about my new found addiction to the guitar and the band. It wasn’t that my parents were against music per-se it was that they were against it taking up what they perceived to be my every waking hour, especially when it impacted on my school work.
By this time to say that school wasn’t going well would be a huge understatement. I’d all but given up learning anything and the structure of the school wasn’t designed to cope at all well with a pupil who simply didn’t understand why he was there, what he was there for and as a result didn’t even want to be there.
In later years I found out that many of the boys who attended St Michael’s felt the same way. The world outside the school was changing rapidly and my time at the school from 1966 to 1973 saw some of the most rapid societal change ever. The response from the school was to come down hard on any meaningful change. In fact they seemed to revel in not changing. Many of the teachers had gone to St Michael’s themselves, then on to university and then straight back to St Michael’s to impose their own version of learning, one which allowed for no dissention and no acknowledgement of the rapidly changing world outside the school.
Outside the draconian walls of the school society was undergoing an extraordinary upheaval. Instead of being a beacon of forward thinking enlightenment the school became a bastion of old fashioned and outdated learning.
To quote an extreme example, we had one teacher, a Jesuit priest, who ‘taught’ us O Level Scripture. Instead of allowing any engagement of the subject he simply filled every lesson with dictation that we had to copy down word for word into our notebooks. For a whole school year we simply wrote down what he dictated, filling book after school book with his words. It was mind numbing, it was stupid and it was frankly disgusting.
Far from being alone he just summed up the learning by rote method most teachers used in one form or another. At a time when the outside world was bursting with new ideas, colourful clothes and the whole Swinging 60s we were imprisoned in the most bleak of buildings being taught in a way that ensured confrontation and dissention.
The school was filled with some of the brightest minds in it’s catchment area. Instead of celebrating that or indeed unleashing that talent it sought to supress it, to make it uniform, to make it conform to standards that were tumbling everywhere around it. It was a stupid and tragic waste that I believe affected a significant number of pupils for the rest of their lives.
They would simply not get away with it these days. Back then instead of rioting we took part in individual and tiny rebellions. One of my peers disappeared every lunchtime and came back every day covered in dust. It turned out he had taken to demolishing the internal walls of a long row of condemned houses near the school rendering them totally unstable and liable to collapse en-masse at any moment.
Another lad became an expert thief who could get you anything you wanted. For example, any item of clothing from any store could be obtained, you only had to agree the price and he would deliver. He was finally caught stealing a 6d rubber from Woollies and when they checked his bedroom at home it was crammed full of hundreds of pounds worth of stuff, none of which he actually wanted or needed. Stealing was, in my opinion, as much a cry for help as a lucrative pastime.
The levels of violence both real and threatened escalated exponentially within the school. Many of the teaching staff seemed frustrated that corporal punishment was no longer allowed and so engaged in petty vindictiveness like tweaking ears and pulling hair or handing out detentions by the bucket load. Outside classrooms you constantly walked a tightrope where a wrong word or look could result in vicious beatings before the cavalry arrived to break things up.
To the boy from sleepy old Burley-in-Wharfedale Leeds was a hard industrial city. St Michael’s was the largely the product of immigrant Catholic Irish men and women. They had endured savage racism and incredible victimisation. Just being a Catholic in the 1960s could single you out for ridicule and worse. Walking around Leeds in a bright blue blazer with a flaming sword of Christ badge as we did hardly hid the fact you went to the Catholic grammar school. No wonder my classmates who lived in the city seemed to be generally quick witted, fleet footed and not averse to defending themselves robustly or handing it out inside and outside the school.
The saying goes that if you remember the 60s you weren’t really there. I remember the 60s all too well and so did most if not all of my peers, thank you very much St Michael’s. The place seemed to me to be designed to suck the fun out of any and every aspect of life.
By the time I joined the band I’d also discovered the delights of alcohol, a delight that was eagerly shared by most of my peers. My pub of choice was the Stoney Lea in Ilkley where the attitude of the owners was ‘if you can be bothered to come in we’ll serve you’, an attitude I and dozens of other under-age drinkers found very amenable.
The ‘Stoney’ had everything I needed in a pub, I could get served, there were loads of people about my age, they had a great juke box and they didn’t seem to mind one iota just how pissed you were.
I rapidly became able to consume a huge amount of beer and so I had to find a Saturday job to fund this. I ended up serving behind the tea and coffee counter at Betty’s in Ilkley and the money I earnt just about covered Friday and Saturday nights at the Stoney Lea.
These days Betty’s is a rather posh establishment, back then it wasn’t quite as posh and was living with some vague notion of faded glory that had long passed it by. In short it was rather tatty, mutton dressed as lamb as the saying goes. The good folk of Ilkley would be guided by my convincing patter to purchase all sorts of gizmos and gadgets guaranteed to make their toes curl with delight at the teas and coffees they were able to make and imbibe. I found it really easy to sell just about any appliance or flavour of tea or coffee to just about anybody who walked through the door. Given that I hated the taste of coffee and I would only drink breakfast tea I didn’t do too badly. Saturday sales went through the roof but my pay lagged behind until I threatened to leave.
So here I was, I was in a band, we had a regular gig at the local folk club and I was very much a regular at the young people’s pub. The world, or certainly my corner of it, was opening up in ways I couldn’t have imagined just a few short months before. It was like going from black and white to technicolour.
With both my parents and my school on my back music became my refuge and I plunged into it in my own fashion as if I was trying to block out everything else.
I’d changed the dynamics and personnel in the band, all but stopped learning at school, developed a serious liking for beer and was at loggerheads with my parents. Not a bad few months if you like that sort of thing – and I certainly did.
(Picture: The Stoney Lea, Ilkley. Now demolished there’s a block of flats in it’s place)