After the band folded I went on to royally screw up what was left of my education. I sat my A Levels more because I didn’t have a sufficient enough excuse not to than any expectation of doing well. Predictably I didn’t do well.
I got a summer job working in a plastics moulding factory in Otley to earn enough money to head off to France to meet the girl I had met the previous summer. We ended up in London and stayed with my good mate Steve who had a flat there. What I didn’t know until I arrived was that the aforementioned Pigs Trotters were also in residency there.
The whole place was like a scene from the cult film Withnail & I. If you haven’t seen that film then I strongly recommend it to you, it’s a classic. If you have seen it then you’ll know what I mean. Pigs Trotters were in London to do something. I never found out what that something was and I suspect they never found out either, but it was interesting to spend the days around a band whilst they turned Steve’s flat into a slum.
By the end of the summer I’d landed a job at Barclays International in the City of London. I packed a few belongings and took them and my guitar to London. I lived in various bedsits and flats and played my guitar a lot but never had an audience because I didn’t have the confidence to go out and find some gigs.
In the couple of years I lived in London I played just two gigs, both solo, that just sort of landed in my lap. The first was at some evening thing that if I remember correctly was organised by the bank. I played some of my songs and no-one walked out which I took as very positive.
The second gig was in Horsham. One of the guys I worked alongside was in a band that played heavy metal. Not the thrash metal that is around these days, more the sort of metal that bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple played. They had a gig in their hometown and I wangled my way in to do a spot during their break. What sealed the deal as far as I was concerned was the chance to borrow the guitarist’s Gibson SG guitar and have a full PA to blast out of.
I can still vividly remember the sheer joy of playing the SG. Compared with playing my 12 string with only 6 strings acoustic it was a breeze. I’d never played a full blown solid body electric guitar before and I was immediately hooked. Little did I know that it would be some 30 years before I owned an electric guitar.
The PA was a different animal though. Hearing my voice and guitar coming out of full on PA was something else. Apart from anything else it was just so loud, which was fine by me but I have no real idea what the audience thought.
Looking back I should have taken more of the opportunities that a city as big as London offers. I got out and saw some bands, gigs that have stuck in my head include 10cc, Sparks and Rick Wakeman but I missed out on the arrival of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Marley. Before I left London punk had started to raise it’s safety pin and stud crusted head. Punk followed on from the plethora of pub rock bands that gigged all around the city. Loads of pubs had bands on but very few seemed to be making it. I devoured my weekly copy of Sounds magazine but the whole music world seemed to be sinking into a morass of big name bands from yesteryear and the embers of glam rock and disco.
Punk was going to change that in a big way and have a lasting impact on popular music but at the time I really didn’t want to be associated with a music scene where the audience paid to see you and then gobbed all over you to show how pleased they were to see you. I saw some of the pub rock bands like Kilburn And The High Roads and they were about as wild I was wanted to get.
In fact I was still something of a hippy, at least in appearance, with long hair and range of kipper ties that I believed showed my originality. Thankfully there are few photos that remain to show just how naff my originality really was.
London was expensive and the people I worked with came from a huge catchment area throughout the south east so there was virtually no chance to socialise with them. Getting to know people was difficult, I reckon you could pass someone every day for twenty years in London and never say hello. If you did that in Yorkshire they would stop you just to ask you why you were ignoring them.
I met my future wife in London, she lived in the far western suburbs and I lived in the East End at the time so just going to see her took well over an hour on the tube and buses.
Hence, I found I had a lot of time on my hands and I used a lot of that time playing my guitar. In the couple of years I lived in London my guitar playing improved enormously. I have a cassette tape of me playing in my East End flat and I couldn’t begin to play that well today. But there was no outlet for my music so I didn’t really write any new songs. The whirlwind of being in the band seemed a long way away and although I was playing better than ever it was only to myself.
London is a seductive city though. You can easily convince yourself that you’re living in the centre of the universe. The world seems to be on your doorstep. Everything happens in London. The trouble is that it invariably happens to everyone else but you, especially if you’re only earning just about enough to afford a bedsit and to travel to and from work.
I had a friend from work called Martin who lived in Romford which wasn’t too far away from where I was living in Leyton. On occasions Martin would pick me up in in his car and we’d go down to the West End late at night just to wander around. We couldn’t afford to go into the million and one ‘hotspots’ but we could take in the sights. And what sights we saw. Eventually though we saw beneath the surface and began to see the seedy desperation that scuttled around us. We also began to realise that there was an undercurrent, a threatening undercurrent that wasn’t West End glamorous, more West End dangerous and so we stopped going.
I ended up living with Steve in a student flat in the Isle of Dogs. This was before the builders moved in and turned the whole place into the steel, glass and concrete Shangri-La that is Canary Wharf. The flat was one step away from being condemned. The local pubs were serious drinking dens. Violence awaited you on every corner. The huge ships docked at the end of the street. Steve loved it and settled into the area like he’d lived there all his life. I was terrified of the place.
To ensure our safety Steve befriended the local kids, they told their older brothers we were OK people and the older brothers told their dads we were OK. Once that hierarchy was onboard we could move about the place reasonably safely, we were the silly sods who lived in the soon to be demolished flats and they spared our flat from being torched. It didn’t stop them from setting fire to the one directly above us though. I’d reached the end of my time in London, it had been fun in parts and lonely in parts but I wasn’t going to miss the place. When I go back there these days the twenty storey building I worked in in Fenchurch Street has gone, the East End is now desirable and expensive and Canary Wharf has submerged the old Isle of Dogs.
For reasons I still don’t understand I decided to continue my education and after two years in London I headed back north, this time to Liverpool, to study Building Management at the Polytechnic there. It was a big mistake. All the old feelings about being educated resurfaced because the Polytechnic was more like school than the bohemian offering Chris seemed to be enjoying at the nearby Liverpool University. I bombed out after just one year, ignored the end of year exams and set out to prove my theory that I could land just as good a job now as I could after another two years of education.
Surprisingly I did just that. I got a job as a buyer for a major building company with a head office just outside Bristol. Life then intervened. I got married, had a family of two beautiful little girls, separated and then divorced. One of the very few things that survived all that was my guitar. I’d all but stopped playing it but it but I dragged it with me into the next phase of my life where my view of my music changed for ever.