The first time that I didn’t go to see the Stranglers was when I was a very young, naïve and innocent fifteen year old.
Punk had just been dragged spitting and cursing into the world and suddenly my peer group was transformed from a bunch of high-waisted-flare-bottomed-trouser wearing, wedgie shoe’d, do-good schoolboys with sensible haircuts into a snarling, rebellious pack of plastic bin-liner clad, safety pin and razor blade adorned, Mohican’ed, violent anti-socialites with no jobs, no hope and no future. Apparently. The music was loud, raucous, disliked by parents everywhere and just plain fucking awesome, but I wasn’t so sure about this sub-culture that seemed to have sprung up around it… it was just a tad too far out of my comfort zone.
And so, when it became known that they, The Stranglers, would be playing in their home town of Guildford, which just so happened to be my hometown at the time, some of the more adventurous and outgoing of the aforementioned peer group announced it would be great for us to go to the gig. I suddenly became very aware of reality. After a brief struggle with my inner psyche, against which I didn’t stand a chance and was soon hopelessly overpowered, I came up with a plausible excuse as to why I would be unable to go to the gig, as much as I actually wanted to..
I don’t remember the actual excuse, but it must have been quite convincing and I’m sure it saved me from such atrocities as acute bodily violence, spittle-drenching and character perversion. And I regret that I didn’t go to this day still.
I didn’t go to see The Stranglers lots of times after that. Until I was 35 in fact.
Apart from that very first time, it’s not as though I deliberately avoided going to see them. The opportunity just never arose again like it did then. Once the punk paranoia had petered out, The Stranglers kind of faded into the background and I was overtaken by the need for metal and rock. There were far too many other exciting bands to be seen and the works of Mr. Cornwell and his crew were consigned to the dimly lit recesses of the record collection, only to shown the light of day on very random occasions. But I never lost my affection for them.. they were, after all, part of the package that plucked me from my pubescent pop purgatory and I would always remain faithful.
By the time I was in my mid thirties I found myself. Literally.
Cast out from a marriage and the family environment, I unexpectedly became a bachelor and, in the true spirit of bachelordhood, I began overcoming my sorrows by living life to the full, starting with reliving my youth. This of course meant beer, music and parties, in no particular order but preferably all at once.
Part of my healing process involved the friendship of long time buddy, Ian.
Like me, he was also a stalwart Stranglers fan, even though I once heard him proclaim that the Stranglers were the only band that actually devolved.
He rang me one day. Come and visit next week, he said. Stay over, we’ve got Stranglers tickets, he said. Got you one too, he said. See you next week! I said.
And that’s how I came to be in the Derngate Theatre, Northampton, aged 35 and seeing the Stranglers for the first time, some twenty or so years since I had turned down the opportunity to see them in their prime.
Perhaps it was the guilt, or deep-rooted embarrassment that had subconsciously kept me away from seeing them over the years, but by the time they appeared on stage in 1997 I finally put all that behind me and got on with enjoying the show.
The only downside of the night was being in the upper tiers of a seated venue. Stand up or sit down was the full extent of our mobility and crowd participation, which did somewhat detract from the full gig experience.
Fast forward another fifteen years and I’m now in possession of tickets to see them again toward the end of March.
This time I am completely absolved of any past misgivings. This time I saw the opportunity myself and seized it gladly. I bought the tickets and I’ll get myself there. With a bit of luck I’ll pogo my way to the front row where I can get full benefit from the spittle showers and maybe come away with a bruise or two because there’s nothing more rebellious or anarchic than a middle-aged punk rocker.
I wonder if I can grow my Mohican back in time for it?
Just lately, it seems that every time I switch t’internet on, another rock star has died. Some of them have been knockin’ on heaven’s door for a while and news of their demise came as no real surprise. Others have trod the stairway to heaven far too early, their deaths being bitter pills to swallow. Some were victims of their own careless addictions, others fallen to fatal afflictions. But all sadly missed, by many. All with their own stories to tell and all leaving memories, and connections, behind them.
And so it came to pass, what seems like a lifetime ago, I met Mike.
He and his wife, Betsy, moved in next door. They were actual real ‘Merkins, from L.A. no less. He was a ground crew sergeant in the USAF based at Mildenhall, about 10 miles from here. They moved in, to what they termed as ‘off-base housing’, sometime in the early summer of 1987.
In true American style, and as a foretaste of what was to come, his introduction to me was to offer me a Budweiser while I was working in the front garden. And our friendship was forged.
Before long the friendship of our households became the epitome of all that is good and drunken in the greater schism of Anglo-American relations. We introduced them to different aspects of our culture such as proper beer, yorkshire puddings, Marmite, Sunday Trading laws, driving on the left and just four channels of TV. They brought to the table such previously unheard of delights as unlimited Buds/Millers/Coors, BHX, 24 hour 10 pin bowling, Superbowl, M&M’s, DIY pizza, Dorito’s, CheezeWhizz, amazing geographic ignorance, and a totally indifferent view to anything except their own concern. Hell, we loved ‘em! And, have to say… I think they loved us!
But we did enjoy a most awesome friendship, man. Mike really was a fish out of water. Think LA surfer dude. Beach bum by day, parrr-tay animal by night, think Mike. If I was American, I could have been him. Or, I would have liked to have been him. Saying that, he wasn’t the most handsome of guys, having been cursed with a cleft palate at birth. The resultant scar gave him what seemed a permanent snarl and maybe explained much of his general demeanour. Not that it bothered me and not that it stopped him from enjoying life and anything parrr-tay orientated. Much Budweiser was supped. Many nickels were tossed and against foreheads, cans were crushed.
He was a breath of fresh air. A month or two after their arrival he asked for a favour. Would I mind driving him to Ipswich, some 40 miles away, to the import compound, to pick up his motor that had finally arrived from Stateside. No problem I said.
They had to jump start the car, the battery having jumped overboard on the voyage but once that was done Mike was back in his comfort zone, ready to cruise.
It was a bright red Cadillac Camaro. It was goddam fucking awesome and I followed them home all the way up the A45 in the outside lane at 50mph… They loved the car and so did I. We had several trips out in it although I never got to actually drive it. The whole idea of a ‘column shift’ held a few horrors for me and I politely passed on proffered opportunities. Sadly the Camaro didn’t last long. Mike and Betsy started feeling the pinch of whatever financial demons they were carrying and got rid of it in partial exchange for a less thirsty and more suitable Ford Capri.
And so you ask, what has the death of a rockstar got to do with a long past friendship with an American beach bum? And more importantly, which rockstar?
It was a hot summers day. I remember being in shorts and the windows of the front room being wide open. It can’t have been too long after Mike and Betsy had arrived from the States because he had just finished setting up his beloved stereo, which was the reason I had gone round. He was dying to show it off.
Their front room was minimalist to the extreme. Couple of sofas, tv, two huge speakers and the stacking stereo system. Kenwood. Lights and dials everywhere. Deck, cassette, cd, tuner, amp and equaliser. And with a huge volume knob that went up to at lest 11.
His hallmark track will always be ‘Hotel California’ by Eagles (Apparently, something I heard just recently, Don Henly gets might pissed off by people saying The Eagles, instead of just, Eagles.)
Mike took great pleasure in demonstrating the power of his stereo by playing this most bodacious track. It would be pretty cool right now to claim that was the first time I ever heard it, but I somehow think it wasn’t as it was released about eleven years earlier and I hadn’t exactly been living under a rock since, but the reverence with which he played it was uplifting and as short a time ago as just a couple of months I distinctly remember claiming that there wasn’t a day go by that I didn’t hear the song played at some point on the radio. I think Mike played it at around mark 5 on his Kenwood. And I have loved the song ever since.
But the most defining point of Mikes existence for me, and a moment that shall ever be synonymous with everything he was and ever wanted to be, was the next track he played for me.
It was of course, not that my build up gave any inkling, Fight For Your Right by The Beastie Boys. And here was a song, and a band, I had never heard of before. They were total ‘Merkins.. young, loud and brash… and sporting stolen VW emblems as jewellery.
As a confirmed metalhead I really didn’t know what to make of this rock-rap. But it was new and different and I was drinking his beer, so I sat and listened. And loved it. I don’t really know how far Mike turned his volume up. If someone fired a pistol behind me, I doubt I would have heard it but it was the sort of loud that once there was a lull between tracks, the silence was more painful than the music. It was the sort of loud that riveted you to your chair and you clutch your chest to stop your heart from bouncing around as it’s buffeted by the booming bass.
Halfway through the next track, where I really am awake all the way to Brooklyn, there is a sudden, deafening silence, where I think I have finally gone deaf.. my years of gigging have culminated in a coup de grace courtesy of Kenwood and The Beastie Boys until I was aware of someone talking though the open window whom Mike had caught a glimpse of out of the corner of his eye, ‘cos he sure as hell didn’t hear him.
The someone had come to complain about the noise. Mike was like yeah whatever but the neighbour was like, quite insistent. Mike asked him where he lived and the when the neighbour said ‘the next street…’ Mike was like… ‘oh.. okay dude..’ And we listened to the rest of the album, License To Ill at a very boring 3 or maybe 4 once the party pooper had retreated.
And that, dear reader, is that. I do not own, nor ever have or will own a Beastie Boys album in any shape or form. But from that day to this and way beyond I will always think of Mike when I hear them on the radio or tv.
There’s your connection. Adam Yauch, or to give him his stage name of MCA, was a founding member of the Beastie Boys and died at the tender age of 47 on May 4th 2012 after a battle with cancer. Up until the point of his death, if you had said his name I wouldn’t have known who you were talking about.
Mike and Betsy went back to LA in ’89. They left their dog, a manic little Yorkie terrier called Snoopy with us, promising to send money for shipping it out when they could afford it. Snoopy eventually went to live with our other next door neighbours. We kept in touch with Mike and Betsy for a while until Betsy rang one day to say that Mike had been in an argument with a bouncer at a night club, fighting for his right to party, and had ended up being thrown down the stairs. He spent two days in a coma before his life support was deemed pointless.
Mike was no beastie boy, but he was my connection to them and far more significant because of it. I miss him.
1980 was probably the most defining year of my youth.
If my 18th birthday, in the June of that year, was to be my passing from adolescent to adult, then the previous two years had been, as well as formative, my Rites of Passage. I had sat my exams again, fallen in and out of love several times, left school, started work, popped my cherry, seen Monty Python, attended a proper party, watched porn, been a DJ, publicly confirmed my metal head status, got totally legless, gone to two major gigs and participated in a search party for a missing six year old girl, amongst other things.
It was certainly an eventful couple of years. I had indeed passed my exams this time round, albeit with the barest minimum grades, C’s throughout in Maths, German and Art. I actually left school on my 17th birthday, the one and only day I ever got drunk at school. I sneaked in a bottle of Apfelschnapps and sipped it all day. In hindsight, I think I am actually still at school because I don’t really recall coming home that day. Although it was my birthday, getting drunk wasn’t really the most sensible of things to do considering that I started work the next day.
Discounting my first job, a Saturday job at a Christian bookshop in Guildford, work was a wonderful new experience for me. I was graded as a C3 civilian and worked for the Army on the base in Dülmen. I was the Rations Storeman, keeping stock of all the foodstuffs required by the various Messes and the nursery school according to what was ordered. I would travel three times a week in a Bedford TK truck, with a German driver, to Münster to collect the rations, distributing the fresh stuff on the way back and putting the dry goods into stock in MY storeroom.
By day, my storeroom was a great place to be. No stress, unlike the jobs of modern day life…well, except when Captain Westbrook, the Quartermaster, did his weekly stock check, but even that usually went off without a hitch. Free food was also in abundance, courtesy of the jolly and rotund cooks of the Catering Corps. I earned money for counting food and life was good. I got to spend the wages whenever I wanted, and on what ever I wanted. Usually I spent around half of it on drink, food, girlfriends and general good times and then just wasted the rest. But at the age of seventeen, no transport and in a foreign country, there are limits to what is actually achievable in the pursuit of hedonism. Mostly we found ourselves in the local bar for drink and the ‘schnellie’* for food.
*Schnell Imbiss – Fast service snack bar. Sort of an early German forerunner to McDonalds but much nicer. What I wouldn’t give right now for a Bratty or a Fricky!
During my time in Germany, although I do not recall exactly when it was, I had my first experience of meeting someone from my past. I never knew his name the first time round, because when you are ten you just don’t ask guitar playing demigods what their name is. I’ve been racking my brains to remember his name from then and also from this time in Germany but to no avail, so I shall just refer to him as Chris.
This time around, Chris was no longer a gangly guitar-playing teenager but a fully fledged soldier, complete with German wife and a very cute six year old daughter. I did not have much to do with him but vividly recall the moment that the memory of him surfaced, whenI asked him if he had ever been to Belgium and his resultant questions as to how I knew that. When I indicated his deformed finger and how I remembered his guitar playing in a Belgian forest, our acquaintance was acknowledged.
One night, sometime in early 1980, a bunch of us decided to go to the schnellie for a some quick food and a few beers. When we came out, we came out to general uproar in the English speaking quarters. Heidi, the adorable six year old daughter of Chris and his German wife, had gone missing earlier in the evening and simply everyone was getting ready to search for her. Needless to say we all made ourselves available and soon there were groups heading out in all directions with torches and whistles to search the surrounding areas. The local nursery school in Am Osthoff Strasse was seconded as the central coordination point and my CB radio was set up to keep in contact with those in cars equipped with CB too. The search went on long into the night with probably around two to three hundred people involved. But there was no sign or trace. The decision was made by the local authority late on in the night to drain the lake. With search all but called off, many involved had nothing more to do but await the result of the lake draining
It was probably around 2am when the level dropped low enough for them to see her body. No foul play was suspected but a huge pall of sadness descended. Heidi was a well known little individual, happy and bi-lingual, she had made an impression on many people, not least some of my group of friends who had been her baby-sitter on occasion. And now she was gone… her last moments a horrific mystery.
There was no music that night, nor for a few nights after. There was much self recrimination for we had encountered Heidi, playing alone in the street, on our way to the schnellie. And if I had a time machine, that single moment would be uppermost on my list of destinations. I didn’t have much more interaction with Chris after that. The community was in shock for several weeks and time just sort of whittled away until our departure from Germany in the June,
If you were asked to name something memorable from your youth, an activity or occurrence as opposed to a specific object, person or event, I wonder how many would eventually come up with going to the cinema? The weekly Saturday morning matinee when you were real young, when you would burst out of the exit after the show and be blinded by the bright daylight and then re-enact the roles of the heroes and villains you’d just been cheering or booing, all the way home.
Or maybe when you were a bit older and you got to go to the Saturday or Sunday afternoon showings of movies more suited to your age than the kiddies matinees. And then, older still, you would maybe go out on a Friday or Saturday evening to see the latest blockbuster. If you were really lucky you might take a girl and even get to sit in the extra wide double seats in the back row. Such was life before VCR’s, DVD’s, SKY Box Office, LED TV’s and PC’s with their streaming videos and bit torrents off the interweb. The cinema was about as technological as it got and gave great entertainment. Unless of course you were an army kid, living in Dülmen, in Germany.
We had three choices. Well, four if you count ‘do nothing.’
One, visit the ‘cinema’ room on base. This was a room with rows of chairs, not seating mind but plastic stackable chairs, and a projector screen. They would occasionally play a movie on one of those big reel to reel movie projector things that flickered a lot and made a flapping noise as though it was about to take off. They had the audacity to refuse me entry to watch Saturday Night Fever once, because I wasn’t 18. Apparently it didn’t make any difference when I pointed out that they weren’t a cinema, although with hindsight it probably made it worse. But that was the first and only time I was ever refused entry because of my age.Two, visit the German cinema in town. Which, unless you spoke fluent German, was a waste of time because they dubbed every film with German voiceovers. The only time we ever went there was when Grease first came out. A whole bunch of us were very keen to see it and decided that the songs were the most important part so we would go and watch it anyway because it would likely be ages before we got the chance to see the proper English version. It was kind of strange seeing John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John speaking badly synched German but singing in perfect English. But we were happy. We had seen the movie.
And three…visit the English run cinema, showing English speaking films and full of English audiences. The only drawback was that it was, like most other stuff, in Münster, and therefore not a viable option. I only ever went once.
And that ‘once’ was courtesy of none other than dear old Bill Johnson who, a few months earlier, took a load of us to see the mighty Quo. I’m sure I’m not the only one that holds Bills memory in such high esteem. He truly was a likeable and affable guy with a wickedly dry sense of humour. He had one of those faces too, that could just pull an expression at which you could not fail to laugh. We used to laugh a lot when he was around, which made his choice of film all the more understandable.
Some time in either late 1979 or early 1980, Bill organized an outing for a small group of reprobates to the cinema in Münster to see ‘The Life Of Brian’ and my love affair with Monty Python was both instigated and consummated in one irreverent thrust.
Laugh? I almost wet myself. Up until that point in my life it was the funniest thing I had ever seen or heard and I have spent the last thirty odd years reliving it through countless re-runs of first, the VHS recordings, and then the DVD. I have yet to get the Blu-ray version. I have also adopted the end-scene song ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ as my signature tune and indeed, a very recent clothing purchase was a t-shirt showing a line of crosses underneath those very words.
But from that day, I was a confirmed Python fan and I went on to truly appreciate their very special and unique brand of humour and, not least of all, their brilliant musical offerings. I hate buying compilation albums with a passion but ‘Monty Python Sings’ is an excellent accompaniment to any true aficionados’ collection, featuring many of their best known numbers from their catalogue of films such as The Meaning of Life and The Holy Grail, and also previous albums.
A few years later, when I sold off my vast vinyl collection, the only records I didn’t get rid of, apartfrom my 12” picture disc single of Freebird and the Diamond Head white label EP featuring Shoot Out The Lights and Am I Evil bought at their gig, was my Monty Python collection. And I still have them 27 years later.
Bill Johnson, RIP…thank you for releasing my humour.
But Bill’s influence on my awakening was not quite over. Just over a year after the magnificent and mighty Quo, we were once more in his company and on our way to the Hälle Münsterland again to see what would be the third gig of my life. This time it was to see a band featuring the guitarist from Deep Purple that had captured my imagination in Brussels when I bought their Stormbringer album. Richie Blackmore, one of THE ultimate guitar playing demigods that ever lived, actually left Deep Purple not long after that much maligned album and formed the much marveled Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, or just Rainbow. In February 1980 the line up consisted of Blackmore on guitar, Cozy Powell on drums, Roger Glover as bassist, Don Airey on keyboards and the awesome Graham Bonnet as frontman with the mic. Although Ronnie James Dio, whom Bonnet replaced, would go on to greater things as a soloist I regret never having witnessed his participation in Rainbow.
We caught Rainbow during their Down To Earth promo tour. It’s a known fact that no two Rainbow albums featured the same lineup. The only constant being Richie Blackmore himself. A bit like the modern day Guns ‘n’ Roses and Axl Rose really. But like their modern day counterparts, their disjointed origins still managed to produce music of awesome proportions.
The only three songs of any note that spring to mind from the album are Since You’ve Been Gone, Lost In Hollywood and All Night Long. All these were played at the gig as was, I’m sure, Love’s No Friend and Makin’ Love. But as with most all Rainbow gigs, it opened with the immortal lines from the Wizard of Oz movie…oh come on.. you know the line, don’t make me say it.. let me just say Mr Bonnet let rip with Somewhere Over The Rainbow, after which we were treated to renditions of the likes of Kill The King, Man On The Silver Mountain, Stargazer, Catch The Rainbow and long Live Rock N Roll. Graham Bonnet was powerfully awesome to the extreme and Richie Blackmore was just a demigod. I recall standing spellbound as he played a solo, in darkness except for a single spotlight shining down on him. He used his highly polished Stratocaster to reflect the light around the audience while he was still playing. Someone in the crowd got impatient and threw a bottle at him which actually bounced off the guitar. The demigod didn’t even flinch, although if looks could kill he would have been still languishing in a German prison, but he sure as hell reflected those beams right at the bottle throwing perp, like he was Luke Skywalker having a barney with his dad.The Rainbow gig was not as energetic as the Quo spectacular, but it was far more immersive and went an awful long way toward my appreciation of epic rock tunes. I can still, almost word perfect, sing Stargazer at full blast and literally enjoy doing it. Next step is to sing it while playing it on my guitar.
Rainbow. I loved you then, and love you still.
The end of the Seventies signified much more than just the end of a decade. For me it was a turning point, not only of my adulthood, for I turned 18 in 1980, but also of my musical bias and my humour threshold. And much of this, well the music and the humour at least, was down to one man, dear old Bill Johnson.
Bill was one of a kind. He was a soldier, with a family, and lived in somewhere Dülmen along side the rest of us. He was also one of a special group of people that gave up their spare time, for free, to help out with the various activities laid on by the Youth Club. Although with Bill, and I may be wrong but it’s just the impression I got, he went one step further with these particular occasions and actually organized everything.
February 6th 1979 is/was an auspicious date in my life. You, the avid reader, will have already learnt of my growing appreciation of all things Quoesque.. well this date would prove to be the zenith of my awakening, from which I would emerge as a full blown, head-banging, mind-numbing, foot-stomping, 12 bar boogie boy, no nonsense, denim-clad, Quo fan for life.It was just another of those occasions that you take for granted when you’re young. It didn’t matter who organized it, who the bus driver was, who had to give up spare time, what the actual cost was (apart from our tickets) and so forth,,, it just didn’t matter.. we were going to the Hälle Münsterland, to see the mighty Quo!
T-shirts, Doc Martens and denim were in abundance, as was long hair. There was a lot of English youth there that had traveled in from all over the area like we had, but I think there was probably more Germans there, but strangely enough, it was hard to tell the difference. At my first gig, the wonderful ELO at Wembley Arena the previous year, we had been guided towards row upon row of plastic seating, where audience participation had been limited to stand up or sit down. Hälle Münsterland was a whole new wonderful ballgame. And the whole idea of the game was to get as upfront and personal as you could because the closer you were to the front, the more pleasurable the experience would be. By the time the gig blasted off I was closer to a Fräulein than I would ever be. I never did get to see her face but she had the softest arse I’ve ever been crammed up against. Her boyfriend however had terrible BO, and I can’t say I was sorry when the natural swell of the crowd separated us forever. But I was still up near the front, hemmed in by a faceless denim mob, baying for their heroes
An easy cliché to use would be to say that I caught Status Quo at their peak but, over thirty years later, I don’t think they’ve yet reached it, although those halcyon years would be a close runner for the title. I was lucky enough to see the ‘original’ line up, long hair and all, of Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan. A bit if research has shown that the gig kicked off with Caroline swiftly followed by Rollover Lay Down and then Backwater. To say I was mesmerized would be an understatement.. this truly was what I was born to do. It wasn’t adulation, idolatry or even unctuous worship.. it was just goddam awesome and I lost myself to the noise of the atmosphere, the beat and the rhythm, the adrenalin of the applause, the proximity of heat and the gasp of cool air as you stretched your neck upwards, the luxury of a split second of space to move as the crowd surged, the cocktail of mingling odours and the fantastic visions of the light displays. And. The. Music.This was also about the time that Rick Parfitt possibly recognized me from a previous existence. As is the norm with rock gigs then, and these days, the band usually explode into action with a blistering entrance of noise and light and let rip for two or three songs. Then they catch their breath and say hello to the crowd and engage in a little banter etc. Francis Rossi of the Quo was a master of this and would usually start this session off with a loud ‘Ello! This would result in numerous responses from the crowd to which he and the band would reply with various gestures or spoken words of greeting or recognition. This night was no exception. After the third or fourth song they had a breather and Francis did his thing and the crowd did theirs. Just as everything was settling back down in readiness for the next song that Francis was introducing, I leapt upwards as high as I could and shouted at the top of my voice Hello! just as Rick Parfitt happened to be looking in my general direction as he surveyed the crowd of expectant faces. He acknowledged my upward appearance and exclaimed ‘Ello! And I haven’t washed since.The thing about Quo, ‘though is their unerring commitment to touring and putting on shows for their fans, Admittedly their tours always seem to coincide with yet another album release, such is the way of the music hype market these days, but back in those days things weren’t much different. The show in Münster was but just one date on their European “If You Can’t Stand The Heat’ tour to promote the 1978 album of the same name. This was a pretty lackluster album, let down in the first instance by its unimaginative cover and then more so by the songs on it. Perhaps they felt this way about the album too, deep down, for they only played three songs from it at various points in the play list. Namely, Gonna Teach You To Love Me, Like a Good Girl, and Oh! What A Night. The rest of the list was comprised of the old skool favourites that still set the house alight today… Rain, Roadhouse Blues, Big Fat Mama, 4500 Times, Down Down and the inevitable ultimate encore farewell, Bye Bye Johnny. This was the Quo that I would love from that day forth
Needless to say, it was around this time that my record collection was swelled with the additions of such albums as Blue For You, Hello, Live!, Piledriver and Quo to name a few, although I could not, and still can’t bring myself to buy every album in their extensive back catalogue, but give me a ticket and I’ll go to see them Again and Again, ‘cos The Party Ain’t Over Yet.
Of course, whilst all this boogieing went on every Friday, we still had a week of school to get through beforehand, and at school I was able to make more friends that I would only ever see at school. Due to the nature of the British Army On the Rhine (BAOR), their military presence was spread throughout Germany so the schools had quite large catchment areas with the pupils being bussed in from miles around. Our particular journey was around thirty miles and easily added a couple of hours onto each day. It was therefore possible to live anywhere from five or ten miles up to anything like eighty to a hundred miles away from some of your mates and school really was the only place you ever got to see them, unless there was the occasional Youth Club exchange visit. One exception to this rule was my friend Kev. Actual name Kevan, not Kevin, but preferred Kev.
Kev lived in Münster itself and he is responsible for three quite significant things in the year I was at school with him.
First and foremost, and most heinous, it is he who shall be ever cursed for bringing Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds into the common room. I think he possibly owned the record player too, which is probably why changing the record was a bit taboo, but for some reason whoever was in the room would always put that record on. Over and over. I can hear it now, in my mind. It drove me insane then and still does now. I mean, the chances of memories coming from then are a million to one, but still they come! Although, deep down, I grudgingly accept the musical genius of the album, I just refuse to own it.
Kev’s second contribution to my musical enlightenment was to let me co-DJ with him. He had some actual disco equipment, decks, lights, mics, speakers etc, plus an admirable collection of records. It wasn’t a huge set up but there was enough to put on a presentable show. We even cultivated an image to go with it. Based very loosely around the characters from A Clockwork Orange we would dress in white jeans, black shirts, braces, Dr. Martens and a red bowler hat. We named this exciting new trendy style, Tryndale. Sadly, we seemed to be the only two dedicated followers of this fashion.
At one particular event, a wedding reception for one of the junior ranks, things were going well. One of the guests was extremely inebriated and was staggering all over the dance floor. Sensing it was time for a breather, Kev spoke the immortal line, We’ll buy a drink for anyone that dances to this. As the track faded in, the dance area cleared in seconds, except for the drunk who stumbled around the deserted floor, dancing with his pint and spilling it everywhere. It was the first time I heard this song and it will always remain synonymous with that precise moment. The song was Easy Livin’ by Uriah Heep and unless you know it, you need to listen to it to appreciate how fast it is. Needless to say, Kev dutifully bought the guy a pint who quietly passed out a short while later, and the disco boogied on.
The Toc-H van used to come to am Osthoff every Sunday afternoon. Toc-H is a charitable organisation with soldiers recreation and welfare at heart. One of the services they used to provide was a mobile shop that sold all things imaginable from inside the back of a large van. It used to do its rounds every weekend, visiting all the military housing estates in a large area. As it happened, Kev was the assistant on the van that came our way. Too young to actually drive, this was his weekend job, the wages a handy supplement to fulfil his DJ aspirations
One Sunday the van turned up as usual. In no rush and in no need of anything from it I just sauntered toward it to chat with Kev as he stepped from the cab. But he rushed past me into the back of the van and quickly back out of it again before the driver/shopkeeper had even got to the back from the other side. Here, have this. You should listen to it. He thrust a shiny silver square thing at me and disappeared back into the van to carry out his duties, leaving me perplexed in the middle of the street, clutching ill gotten gains.
Kev had just introduced me to the hottest band in the world. I was holding Double Platinum, the first Greatest Hits compilation by a strange looking group called KISS. And like the junkie after getting his first fix for free, I was hooked. The following week when the van came again, perhaps with a modicum of guilt, I legally bought Alive II (much better than Alive! apparently). And in the following months I added more KISS to my collection whenever funds could cover it. Albums such as Destroyer, Hotter Than Hell, Love Gun, Dressed To Kill, Alive! (eventually!), Kiss, and even Dynasty all became much treasured pieces of my ever growing collection.
I became a confirmed KISS freak. My most cherished purchase, from a record store in Dülmen town, were the solo albums that each of the band members produced in 1978. What made these extra special was that I had managed to acquire the picture disc version of each one. Gene, Ace, Peter and Paul in all their makeup and glorious technicolour etched into black vinyl. That set of four albums were one of the most prized possessions I ever owned. My utter appreciation of Kiss was fairly short lived in the greater schism of things. 1979 until sometime around ‘81/82. I had just discovered (been introduced to) them too late in their career. In 1980 they released Unmasked and it was all over from there on in but that period of three or four years contained an incredible amount of likeability for their music. My adulatory fandom culminated in a fancy dress competition at Hamm Youth Club (one of the aforementioned YC exchange visits). Four of us went dressed as members of KISS, me as Peter Criss. The reactions we received were incredible and the whole night was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately there were not enough prizes to go around and it had been decided to have a best Boy and best Girl prize. Whilst our costumes were without a doubt the best we were not allowed to walk away with it. Luckily, with a very artistic piece of chest makeup (make your own mind up from the photo), my sister Jo, dressed as Paul Stanley, won the best Girl costume but it was on behalf of the whole group. There is a picture of her somewhere, proudly displaying her (our) prize, of a ladies wristwatch. Strangely, we never did take it in turns to wear it. Best Boy went to some mummy dude wrapped in bandages for chrissakes! But what a night it was. We were superstars for the night.
And all thanks to my mate Kev.