After some months of working all hours to accumulate some dosh in our coffers, Maggie and I packed the band van with everything that we owned and set off south to base ourselves in Croydon. On route we picked up Andy’s things who was to follow on a few weeks later. Maggie had arranged with an actor friend called Glen that we stay with him and some friends in their flat in Bramley Hill, South Croydon whilst we searched for our own place. The house at the top of Bramley Hill was an old three floored Victorian mansion with its own tree lined driveway. It belonged to an elderly chap called Tony Durkan, a very likeable Irishman who lived in an apartment on the ground floor – Tony had come into some money along the way and he had invested it into the purchase of this old place. Originally a family home and then used as a stopover guest house for airmen landing in the nearby Croydon Aerodrome after its opening in 1920 and also throughout world war two.
We religiously scrutinised the local newspapers and did the rounds of London accommodation agencies for our own place to live, it was like searching for a needle in a haystack to find what we had in mind. The inner London prices for rented accommodation were sky high and what we were offered for our money wasn’t a lot – we wanted something bigger than a shoe box as a band house to house other musicians.
After a week or so, Jane who rented a room in Glen’s flat suggested we talk to the landlord about flat 3 across the hallway – It had stood empty for as long as they had lived there which was over three years and they could never understand why it hadn’t been rented out. As I took a little peek through the letterbox of flat 3 what lay before me took me by surprise – I looked down a sun drenched entrance hallway approximately ten feet wide and some twenty five to thirty foot long – I could see at least three doorways off this room with a south facing window at the far end that looked out in the direction of what was once Croydon Aerodrome. The place was empty, covered in dust and there were various floorboards taken up and one or two old gas pipes lying around the floor. It looked like it hadn’t been lived in for years. I became instantly excited and wanted to go and approach this Tony Durkan fellow and offer ourselves as potential new tenants for his empty flat.
Jane suggested we go straight down stairs and ask him, so that is what we did. Five minutes later he had opened up flat 3 and we were standing in the entrance hallway listening to Tony’s Irish lilt. ‘Well I was going to do some renovation work in here but got a little held up with one thing and another – it does need a little bit of a facelift in places and these floorboards need to go back down’, he muttered pointing to the gaps in the floor. ‘Oh that’s ok – we could do all of that for you and we’d be more than happy to decorate the whole apartment too’, said I very enthusiastically. ‘I was going to paint that this colour and that that colour and do this and that to the kitchen’ said Tony without actually moving from the spot and showing us the kitchen or in point of fact showing us any of the other rooms either. ‘So do you think you’d like to rent the flat to us’, I asked directly. ‘I’d have to be asking you for twenty two pounds per week and also there would be an extra charge for this and an extra charge for that which would bring it up to erm? Erm? – I watched his face thinking ‘Oh yes – wait for it’, he is now going to stack that number up sky high with the cost of extras. ‘Twenty three pounds per week’ said Tony. Maggie and I looked at each other in pure disbelief at this price – We had been showed reams and reams of properties by London accommodation bureaus and nothing had come anywhere close to this kind of deal – we had been offered disgusting holes in walls for this price. What was the catch? ‘Twenty three pounds per week?’ I questioned as if I’d not heard him properly. ‘Yes, twenty three pounds per week – will that be ok now for you now?’ asked Tony. ‘Yes of course that is a good price’ I replied. ‘Get yourselves moved in and when you have cleaned up a little we’ll start from next week then’ said Tony as he disappeared downstairs.
Maggie and I stood there in sheer disbelief – ‘We’ve got a flat! One huge six roomed flat’ she said and proceeded to jump all over me. Jane knocked on the open door and wandered into this beautiful sun lit room – ‘What did he say? – did he say you could have it? – ‘Yes’ – ‘Ok great – how much?’ – ‘Guess’ – ‘Forty quid a week?’ – ‘No guess again’ – ‘Forty five quid a week?’, Jane offered – ‘Twenty three pounds per week’ – ‘No, what’s the catch?’ asked Jane. We shrugged in unison! – Just at that moment we all became aware of a disgusting smell permeating throughout our beautiful sunny hallway.
38 Bramley Hill as it is today
Oh what the hell is that smell’, said Maggie – ‘Probably one of the three old biddies in the flat below boiling up one of their dead husbands’, exclaimed Jane – ‘Who are they?’ – ‘Ah just three old ladies who share flat 1 on the first floor – you pass their door every time you come up here’- ‘Yuk that is rank – its putrid’ said Maggie beginning to retch. ‘It’s obviously coming up through the holes in those floor boards’, I said, trying to make sense of it. ‘Anyway shall we alleviate you of our cases and boxes of stuff next door and we can bung them all in one of the rooms here till we get ourselves organised?’ I suggested to Jane.
A couple of hours later Maggie and I were out in Croydon market buying emulsion and gloss paint, wallpaper, paint rollers and everything that we needed to decorate at least a couple of the rooms. We also needed to source some decent second hand furniture for the bedroom. On our return I stopped halfway up the communal stairs and looked at the door of flat 1 – ‘Foskett, don’t you dare’ exclaimed Maggie – She had read my mind as I was just about to take a sniff at the old ladies letter box. ‘Shall I knock? We can introduce ourselves’ – A point blank ‘No’ came back at me – ‘Just get everything out of the van and into the flat and we can make a start by cleaning everything’ said Maggie.
By the end of that week we had our chosen bedroom painted and wallpapered – I had stripped and varnished the floorboards and not only had we found a great double mattress and some beautiful bed coverings we had also found a beautiful sofa covered in a vintage Sanderson ‘High Summer’ floral fabric – A ratten wicker bedroom chair stood in the corner that we had picked up for £2.0 and given it a coat of paint. It all looked pretty hippy and cool.
We had even got halfway through painting our hallway when it was time to pay our first week of rent. It had also dawned on us that it was kind of weird that Tony Durkan had not asked us for more than one week’s rent to get the ball rolling – After all what landlord does not ask for at least a month’s rent in advance? We decided to go and purchase a rent book and get him to sign it on a weekly basis just to keep things above board – he didn’t have a problem with that and seemed genuinely lovely. I explained that we would be having a couple more friends sharing the flat with us and they would show up in a few weeks – he didn’t have a problem with that either, he just give me a big smile and a wave and said that he was there if we ever needed him for anything. We just couldn’t believe our luck, we had fallen right on our feet with this place and a genuine good bloke for a landlord too.
By the time Andy arrived two weeks later we had the place looking rather smart to say the least – we hadn’t touched the other two bedrooms but had given the bathroom a once over, painted the back hallway leading to the kitchen and also purchased an old pine table and two smoker’s bow chairs for the kitchen dining area. Andy was only with us for a week before he had decorated his bedroom (the back room) with wall to wall pages from superman comics – it actually looked great! He was the first one to get a day job too stacking boxes at some print factory along the road in Mitcham – he wasn’t going to let the grass grow under his feet and neither were we. As soon as the flat was completely decorated, a drummer friend called Steve from Gateshead arrived to live and work with us on putting a new band together.
I arranged a demo session in a studio in Elephant and Castle and invited a keyboard player called Steve Parr to play keyboards and also arranged for Darryl Way the violinist from ‘Curved Air’ to come and play on the songs too. Darryl had been a big fan of Sandgate and his band ‘Wolf’ had shared the bill together with us at lots of university gigs during our time signed to Terry King.
Darryl had even got me the job as bass player with ‘Curved Air Mk2’ featuring Stuart Copeland on drums – We would rehearse in the house that Stuart shared with his older brother Miles in St John’s Wood – Miles then managed Wishbone Ash – Curved Air – Renaissance and one or two other high profile artists of the time. Stuart was mad keen on putting a band together and calling it ‘Clark Kent’ and having a comic book hero kind of guy fronting it – I agreed that it could be a cool marketing plot.
At that time I was still signed to Sandgate’s manager Terry King and also signed to Pye Records too so it did look like a legal headache to Miles in order to get me freed up and legally available to take the Curved Air gig – Everyone in Sandgate at that time told me that I must go for it and join up with Darryl and Stuart, if I didn’t they would just get another bass player to replace me. With this said, I did feel that I would be letting the Sandgate side down in doing so. In hindsight I should have jumped at the opportunity – what an idiot!
Shortly after the demise of Sandgate, Stuart and Darryl had come to Newcastle to play the City Hall with Curved Air, now fronted again by Sonia Kristina. They wanted me to show them around town and find a good restaurant before the gig – I suggested Mather’s in Eldon Square – I also suggested that they pay a visit to the University Theatre Bar the following morning to see Sting’s local band ‘Last Exit’ – Darryl was always gung ho and keen to explore anything but Stuart wanted to get back to London first thing the following morning – I pressed the point that Stuart should see this bass player guy who fronted a local jazz rock outfit – he would definitely like him and he possessed a unique high chest voice. The next thing was ‘Police’ hitting the map with their pseudo punk styling. The rest is history!!
But I digress – The Elephant and Castle studio was a real shabby place used by every punk band on the make. We ran through a couple of songs which weren’t great but at least they were new songs and we made a new noise with Darryl playing on them – Steve’s drum fills didn’t really fall on the beat or in time with the rest of the band and it stuck out like a sore thumb. Never the less it was the first step into our Croydon based music life and we were moving forward.
The October evenings of 1978 were closing in and the days were a trifle damp and nippy (cold) to say the least – Chestnuts were falling off the two huge trees in the driveway, so I collected them as a daily routine either to roast or peel and boil and then eat them with a little soya sauce. Maggie had got a day job in a shop selling oil paints, pencils, sketch pads and canvasses and everything that was labelled ‘artist’s materials’ – I had managed to sign on the social security and also pulled in various sign writing jobs as well, not all of which I owned up too when signing for my weekly dole cheque. I always had this to fall back upon when gigs were scarce and money was tight.
Maggie and me with dog – 1979 – living room – Bramley Hill
One afternoon the very nice drumming Steve informed us that his older brother Michael would be dropping in on us to stay the night and hoped that it was ok – We enjoyed having visitors stay over in our new abode just as long as they didn’t stay too long. Maggie and I returned from taking our then dog ‘Jack’ for an evening walk to find the very nice Steve helping his brother unload a hired car in our communal car park. Three or four holdalls were carried up stairs to our flat and dumped behind the front door. Michael seemed a pleasant guy and thanked us for letting him stay over before his drive back up north to Gateshead – he explained he had driven all the way from the south of France so this was a good halfway stopover for him and he could also catch up with Steve whilst staying the night.
After dinner Michael asked us if we would like to smoke a joint and proceeded to open one of his holdalls on the kitchen table. We simply could not believe our eyes at its contents and stood there quite shocked as he removed a cling film covered slab of hashish the size of a large desk diary and an inch and a half in thickness. Each of his bags contained at least half a dozen slabs of this stuff. To say we were gobsmacked was an understatement. ‘So how much of this do you have and where did you get it from’, I asked – ‘I’m just carrying it from A to B for someone in the northeast – I get paid when I deliver it up there’ said Michael quite calmly. Steve, looking bemused butted in with ‘The best thing is not to ask too many questions’. This made us feel even more uncomfortable – ‘Is it not a bit dangerous doing what you are doing?’ asked Maggie who was nonchalantly washing the dishes with a contemptuous smile on her face – her question went unanswered and just at that moment there was a heavy knocking on our front door.
‘Oh shit!’ exclaimed Steve as he and Michael crammed the massive slab of hashish back into the holdall. ‘Where can I put the bags quickly? – They may have followed me up from Dover’ – ‘Who may have followed you from Dover?’ I asked but received no reply. ‘Put them on the fire escape outside – go through the window in Andy’s room – in fact take them down into the back garden’, I said hoping that Michael would really just disappear and head for the M1 north.
Just as I got Steve and Michael out onto the fire escape at the back of the house Maggie opened the front door. It was Andy returning from working overtime at the printers and had forgotten his key. ‘Sorry have I interrupted something?’ he said with a smirk on his face completely getting the wrong end of the stick! – ‘No no no’, said Maggie ‘We were just getting erm’ – she hesitated – ‘What? What is going on then’ he said with a mischievous smile on his face. ‘Well Steve’s brother showed up with four huge bags full of hashish and they have just climbed out the window in your room onto the fire escape’ – ‘What? Why did they go out the window?’ – ‘Oh man you’ve never seen so much dope in all your life – it must be worth a hundred thousand pounds on the street – I think they thought when you knocked on the door it was someone that had been following Michael up from Dover’ – ‘Why Dover? – Who is following him?’ asked Andy. ‘Oh man let’s just get them back in here and see if we can persuade Michael to take off tonight’, I suggested.
Maggie and I didn’t sleep all night thinking that some anti drugs squad from Dover may break our door down with one of those battering ram things and arrest us all – certainly the amount of hashish Michael was carrying was enough to land him in jail and they throw away the keys for a very long time – When we dropped off to sleep it was light outside and when we eventually awoke all bleary eyed around mid day, Steve’s brother Michael had disappeared into the sunrise thank goodness. We thought under the circumstances that we should have a serious talk with Steve about not inviting his ultra dodgy brother back to the flat again, ever! We’d wait till Andy got home from work that evening and have it out with Steve as we just couldn’t have Michael using us and our place as a stop off point on his drug trafficking exploits. If that was the life he’d chosen then we didn’t want to be within a thousand miles of it.
Sooner than later the very nice drumming Steve had packed his drums and few personal belongings into his girlfriend’s car and took off back to the north east. Pretty soon we had another very nice Geordie drumming person by the name of Ian Hamilton join us – Ian lived not too far away in West Hampstead, North London – Ian was then followed into the fray by Les Dodd a guitarist from Sunderland in county Durham and then we drafted in Marty Craggs the saxophone player from Sandgate.
The few weeks before Marty and Les Dodd came to stay we were troubled once more by that disgusting smell permeating throughout the whole flat with the exception of only one room which had been Steve’s bedroom. My first reaction was to go down stairs and see if I could talk to the three old biddies who lived underneath us and ask them what they were cooking – when I knocked on their door there was no answer so I opened their letterbox expecting to smell the same diabolical aroma coming through but there wasn’t a hint of anything in the air, it smelt as fresh as a daisy.
When I got back up stairs I could hear Maggie screaming out my name and a knocking sound on the floorboards coming from our bedroom – just as I rushed into the room the noise stopped in an instant – she was sitting in the wicker chair, paperback in hand and looking as white as a sheet, she was in total shock. ‘Did you see that?’ she said as she jumped up and turned around to stare at the chair. ‘See what I?’ I exclaimed – ‘I heard the banging noise as I came through the front door and you screaming half way down stairs’ – ‘That chair’ she said, standing there shaking and trying to light up a cigarette. ‘That chair was literally shaking me around as I sat in it – did you not see it as you came in through the door?’ – ‘I saw a split second of movement as it stopped but I couldn’t understand what you were doing’ I said feeling really confused with what had just happened. ‘I wasn’t doing anything but sit in it’ Maggie said sounding and looking totally freaked out. ‘The smell has gone’ I said. I wandered around the rest of the flat sniffing every nook and crevice for anything in the way of an untoward odour.
‘This is weird, very weird’ said Maggie following me into the kitchen to put the kettle on. ‘Are you telling me, hand on heart that you weren’t doing that yourself to freak me out’ I asked. ‘Of course I wasn’t – why would I do such a thing’ – I took my tea into the bedroom and stared at the wicker chair, I moved it around a little and lifted it off the floor at one corner and then dropped it onto the floorboards a couple of times – that was definitely the noise I had heard when I came through the front door. I gently sat down in the same place in the room waiting for something to happen but nothing happened. Maggie wandered back in – ‘Do you believe me now?’ she asked. I did believe her and was equally flummoxed as to what we should make of this whole episode. ‘Do you think it is connected to that smell for some reason’ she asked. ‘It is strange how it is so disgustingly pungent and sick making and fills the whole place within seconds and then seems to disappear equally as fast’.
‘I don’t like it – something was shaking me around in that chair and I’ve never experienced anything like that before in my life – there is something here isn’t there’, she said getting more upset by the moment – ‘Maybe I can suggest we go out for a walk – let’s get some air and clear our heads – there has to be a logical explanation for what just happened’.We got into the van and drove down to Box Hill in Surrey where we could walk over the beautiful north downs – even though it was crappy weather it was good just to wrap ourselves up, put our wellington boots on and get away from Bramley Hill and Croydon for a couple of hours.
When we got back into Croydon it was late afternoon so I took Maggie to Mimmi’s, a local wine bar and creperie, to chill out – over a crepe suzette we discussed the morning’s phenomena with Peter the wine bar owner, he told us we must have a ghost and asked if we had heard of the Thornton Heath poltergeist case.
‘About five years previous in Thornton Heath just along the road from Croydon, a family were tormented by a poltergeist that started when they were woken in the middle of the night by a bedside radio that had turned itself on full blast – This was the beginning of a string of events that lasted almost four years and it drove the family living there mad’ said Peter. ‘I kept the newspaper article but don’t know where it is at the moment – also one night whilst entertaining their friends, there was a loud knocking at their front door, the living room door was then apparently flung open and all the house’s lights came on but nobody was there’ continued Peter scaring the daylights out of us. ‘Oh and large bits of furniture like chairs banged on the floor of their own volition – eventually the family had the house blessed by the local vicar but it didn’t do any good – I think they eventually moved out because they were being driven insane by it’.
This freaked us out big time – we didn’t want to go back home – our goose bumps were the size of mountains. ‘I wouldn’t mind coming up there to see if anything happens when I’m there’ said Peter – ‘Ok you have a deal – a breakfast on the house at Mimmi’s tomorrow morning and you can come up to the flat and stay all night if you want’ I offered. Peter agreed.
Later that evening Peter arrived after cashing up at Mimmi’s and we had a couple of night cap drinks with him around our kitchen table with the gas oven on to heat the room – After relaying the day’s events onto Andy none of us really wanted to go to bed in case one of us got picked off in our sleep. Andy didn’t quite know what to make of it except he did say he had smelt something not very nice in his room a couple of times but put it down to dampness or some other rational explanation.
This was the problem – when something outside of our five basic senses happens it throws us right off kilter, so we immediately start to rationalise to get it into some kind of understandable order – we are not so well aware of our sixth sense of other worldliness, of a connection to something more and greater than our physical senses are able to perceive. Maybe the smell and the shaking chair was a real unseen encounter, an unheard communication, an unfelt touch of someone from the spiritual world trying to make a connection with Maggie as she sat in the wicker chair.
‘I’ll tell you what’ said Maggie – ‘I’m going to bed now – if you want to stay over Peter there is a nice spare bedroom with clean bed sheets so be our guest – good night guys’ – five minutes later I followed. Maggie took the side of the bed close to the wall and I climbed in on the outside next to the bedside table. She handed me her three silver wrist bands to put on the bedside table along with various paperbacks and glasses of water etc – We didn’t say much as we were both pretty exhausted so I put the light out – for some reason it took ages to get warm and drop off to sleep.
Maggie woke me up, climbing over me to go and visit the bathroom – it was barely light outside so I turned over to go back to sleep – no sooner had I closed my eyes and she was there sounding really pissed off and complaining about something – ‘Foskett – why did you do that’ – ‘Do what’ I said slurring my words, half asleep. She said that I had deliberately flattened her silver bracelets and showed me the three totally squashed wrist bands on the bedside table. ‘I didn’t do that, honestly, why would I do that’ I said. We looked at each other not knowing who was telling the truth and she got back into bed trying to bend the bracelets out into a circular shape again. ‘They weren’t like that when you gave them to me’ I said. We looked at each other again and almost in unison exclaimed ‘Oh no!’
The following morning Andy had went off to work on an early shift so we joined Peter for breakfast at Mimmi’s – the conversation of our haunted flat continued – Maggie told Peter that her silver bracelets had been bent flat on the bedside table during the night and of course we realised that neither of us were responsible for doing this. Peter said he had slept like a log and noticed nothing untoward in the spare bedroom – he suggested that we go and speak to the local vicar who lived further down Bramley Hill and see if he’d had any previous experience of dealing with supernatural events in the past. Even listening to Peter suggest such a thing seemed somehow ludicrous as we had always thought of ghost stories and haunted houses in the same light as Santa Claus.
Nevertheless I went down the road in search of the local vicar’s residence – father (can’t remember his name) a nice gentle man, explained that he could not visit number 38 to checkout our haunting as he was not qualified in that area. He suggested we get in touch with the top exorcist in his diocese who was based in Canterbury – even the word exorcist and exorcism gave me the willies – He gave me the guy’s number, wished me luck and quickly closed his door. I stood there looking at the wet road surface thinking that this wasn’t make believe, it was real, it wasn’t a Vincent Price movie script and it wasn’t Santa Claus landing on our roof on Christmas Eve.
The Canterbury exorcist was also a regular vicar who arrived on our doorstep a couple of days later – he proceeded to open every door and window in the flat and asked Maggie and I to either go outside or sit in the spare bedroom, the room that was never infected with the smell. We could hear him wandering from room to room reading passages from the bible and sprinkling his holy water around, at one point shouting at the top of his voice ‘Out demons out’. Maggie and I just sat there motionless in the spare bedroom listening to him and thinking that this whole exorcism scenario was just incredibly surreal.
The whole deal took Mr. Exorcist about five minutes and we were asked to come out of the spare bedroom as he had now rid us and all of Croydon and its surrounding areas of any supernatural spirit activity for ever and a day. ‘You’ll find that this has now done the trick’ said the Canterbury vicar and fixed his gaze upon some of our musical instruments and equipment standing behind the front door. The whole flat was stinking, the smell from hell was worse than ever, we were gagging. ‘What about the smell – can’t you not smell this?’ I asked father Exorcist. Completely ignoring my question he wanted to know if we would be interested in selling him one of our microphone stands as he had just put together a folk group in Canterbury. ‘Would you take two pounds for that old microphone stand’ he said pointing to our music kit behind the front door – ‘what about the smell though’ I asked again. ‘Oh that will go in time – in fact don’t you think it is subsiding a little now’ he replied.
I had a feeling Mr. Exorcist wasn’t really an exorcist at all but a folk singing vicar that just wanted a good deal on any old second hand music gear he could pick up for his church folk group. ‘I don’t suppose you have any spare microphones that you might like to part with either – do you?’ – I sold him an old tatty microphone stand for three quid just to get rid of him and thought the whole exorcism experience was probably a waste of time. The stench eventually dispersed as usual and we closed all the windows to keep the weather out and warm the place up a little.
An old friend called Mike Eccles who managed Angie Bowie called me out the blue and asked what was new. Our conversation ended up on the haunting of 38 Bramley Hill – Mike strongly suggested I meet up with a friend of his who was an occultist also by the name of Mike – he had recently been hired to rid a house in Clapham Junction of ‘A Shadow’ as he described it – apparently every time an old lady walked into her sitting room she could see a man hanging from her ceiling, noose around his broken neck and feet still juddering at the end of his body.
Mike Eccles’ friend Mike (whom I shall call Mike the Cloak) had gone into the Clapham room armed with his occultist experience and had pretty much instantly twanked the hanging spooky, no more to be seen dangling from the old lady’s sitting room ceiling. The old biddy was over the moon and Mike the Cloak was chuffed to be of service!
Mike Eccles’ story sounded mad in the cold light of day but seeing we were indeed experiencing our own true to life resident spook, I had to follow through and get Mike to invite his friend Mike the Cloak over for dinner and see what his suggestions were on flat 3.
The following evening Mike the Cloak dressed in a black cloak (of course), floppy hat and full of gusto arrived with his girlfriend followed by Eccles. His attire made me snigger a little and stopped me taking this serious. I showed Mike the Cloak around the whole flat and explained the story so far. Mike the Cloak told us we were the proud owners of an ‘Undine’. He asked us if we were on top of a well or some kind of water – being on top of a hill I found that very unlikely but kept an open mind to all suggestions just to get rid of our unseen stinking friend.
Mike the Cloak, still garbed in his black cloak opened a black matching case and produced a pair of black gloves followed by a kind of dagger, various little potion pots and several incense sticks, he then lit incense and burned it in a beautiful ornate thurible cup on a chain, much like the ones used in a catholic mass. Shaking this around the flat in his black occultist attire and various embroidered symbolic bits dangling from his person reminded me of some kind of weird theatrical turn – in fact this is probably what he was doing but I kept out of the way and couldn’t take it too seriously until I saw little Undines crawling up and dancing out of our bath plug hole. After five minutes of us all ignoring Mike the Cloak and his black magic theatrics we were being far too busy drinking wine and talking music with Eccles in the kitchen. Mike the Cloak seemed to get bored with shaking his thurible around and making the back of our apartment smell like a catholic gig at the Vatican. He quickly showed up in the kitchen awaiting a glass of plonk and told us that he had done it! ‘I’ve cleared it, it took a bit of work but you shouldn’t have any more Undine problems again’ said Mike the cloak, who was now more interested in getting pissed than suffocating the said poltergeist with more incense smoke than a puja around a Nepalese stupa.
The more vino Eccles drank the more he boasted about his exploits with the insane Angie Bowie – they were travelling the length and breadth of the UK so she could recite some of her poetry backed up by the eyebrow shaved Mick Karn playing an endless fretless bass solo. Not really the type of rocking noise that would turn me on too quickly.
After they had floated out into the darkness of the night I decided to do a little research and read up on Undines and found that they were mythical creatures seen often in European mythology, particularly that of some ancient German Teutonic tribes who were all daggers, spears and shield yielding. Undines were said to be water nymphs that become human when they fell in love with mortal men – unfortunately they were fated to die if the men they loved were unfaithful to them. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t mind having a conversation with one of them but striking up a love interest with a watery nymph lady from two thousand years ago may prove to be just too wet a deal for me.
A couple of weeks later Marty Craggs and Les Dodd had temporarily moved into our spare bedroom and along with the lovely drumming Ian Hamilton, we proceeded to rehearse our new band line up – It sounded much more together than it had done in the past and our funky-rock new wave styling seemed to gel pretty quickly. It was sounding like a kind of cross between The Blockheads and Blondie which wasn’t a bad mix for the music market of that time.
One miserably wet morning whilst wandering past the local American burger restaurant called ‘The Crazy H’ in South Croydon, I saw a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud standing outside – I had noticed this car a few times and it was always covered in parking tickets which brought me to thinking, maybe the owner didn’t give a damn about where he parked as he could afford to park anywhere. I wandered in and ordered a coffee and wondered if the Roller owner was also the owner of the restaurant – behind the counter stood a guy with a scared face and a missing right hand – he was counting the previous night’s take onto the counter.
The in house decor was cream and bottle green Americana, the walls covered in old Yankee car plates with the odd framed poster of Marlon Brando and the wonderful Norman Rockwell – the stereo system played ‘Night Moves’ by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band. Always on the lookout for a potential sponsor, I had a strong feeling that I should talk to this man about our music and our band. I sat at a table staring at the gingham cloth for a few minutes not wanting to come over as ‘cap in hand’ to this guy but wasn’t quite sure how to offer him a business deal – I thought what the hell, he would either be interested or tell me to go and sling my hook.
‘Hi I’m Charley Foskett, are you the owner of the establishment?’ I asked. ‘Yes mate – what can I do for you?’ was the reply from the man behind the counter meticulously counting the previous night’s take. ‘Erm, I see you have an affinity with America’, I offered as I pointed in the direction of his Yankee car number plates. ‘Yes mate – Picked them up when I was over there last – it all adds to the theme – You like them?’ he asked looking up at me for the first time. I became a little transfixed on the scar which covered half his face – it looked like he had been badly burned.
‘You seem to play a loop of great music in here – are you a keen music fan yourself?’ I probed. ‘I am I like the American stuff mainly and of course it’s an American themed diner so we play more of that anyway, suits me’. He replied, taking an interest in the conversation above the pile of loot on his bar counter. ‘What do you do then’ – ‘I’m a musician and songwriter in a band we are putting together’ – ‘You local? That’s not a south London accent – Let me guess? – Newcastle’ – ‘yep you got it in one’ I answered. ‘So what brings you to Croydon then? I’m Dave Robinson’ – Well we managed to get ourselves a cool base here which is perfect for the band too’.
‘We are looking for sponsors and management to help get it all off the ground – get into a studio and record some demos to present to the major record labels and so forth’ – I fished further asking if he would be the kind of person that might like to get involved. He took the bait and we arranged a meeting to discuss how we would see his involvement.
The following morning I looked out of our second floor kitchen window to see that same Rolls Royce Silver Cloud pulling to a halt in our driveway – the driver’s door opened and out climbed Dave Robinson bang on time as arranged. With an orthopaedic built up boot on one foot, one missing hand and scar burned face, Dave looked like a cross between a gangster and an early 70’s Vietnam war veteran – someone who had lived life on the edge at one time or another, and although someone you’d like to know better maybe the type you wouldn’t want to mess with.
Dave’s knock came to the door and in he rolled. ‘Hello mate – nice place you’ve got here – very artistic’ he said looking around. We assembled in the kitchen to tell Dave more of our ideas – ‘If I pay to put you in a studio to record a couple of the songs how much will that cost – what if we go to that one in Tooting Beck owned by Bernard – What’s his name’ said Dave getting very enthusiastic about his involvement. ‘Ok lets ring him up and see what he’ll charge for recording two songs and we’ll go over there this afternoon and check the place out’.
An hour later Maggie, Marty Craggs and myself were sitting in the back of Dave’s Silver Cloud being personally chauffeured over Mitcham common in the direction of Tooting. Tooting Beck studios was above a parade of grimy old shops a spit from Tooting Broadway. The studio room was gloomy, dank and lit by a single flickering overhead tube light – the control room was the worse for wear and looked like the store room in a crappy Oxfam shop – the old mixing board was said to contain more cocaine spilt beneath it’s faders than icing sugar in a wedding cake factory.
Keith Richards had apparently been in there the night before and ended up so out of his head he started blaming his son for stealing a sleeve from his jacket – attempting to put the said jacket on upside down not being able to find his right sleeve he apparently went completely nuts picking a fight with the in house engineer, who thought the whole scene was hilarious. I always loved Keith’s quote ‘It’s great to be here! It’s great to be anywhere’ – I now know the feeling only too well.
Marty had written a new song with a great hooky chorus called ‘Headline News’ and I had written a bit of a tune that was slightly like a Fleetwood Mac thing but lacked the instantly catchy chorus. We decided to demo record both these tunes and got to work – the in house plate echo helped us achieve a bigger sound than a home demo and Dave was suitably impressed once Maggie got her vocal on there. We saw ‘Headline News’ as a possible single and so did Dave Robinson.
Another meeting was put together after we obtained our mixes from Tooting Beck studios – we would have dinner at The Crazy H diner and then go off to Dave’s beautiful home in Purley to discuss our proposed future together with Dave as our manager.
Dave’s house was a beautiful place up a private road, big driveways covered in posh cars and gardeners trimming the topiary. We were made to feel very much at home as Dave played a couple of tracks by Kim Karnes before listening to the Tooting demos. Brandy and scotch in his living room and our tunes sounded pretty good to all. ‘Ok here is what I propose – we need to get you guys a photo shoot in London – I have a friend in Kensington Church street who will do your styling and Maggie’s makeup and we can go to Chelsea for the shoot – another friend of mine has the studios just behind Tiger Tiger on the Kings Road – do you know it?’ asked Dave ‘We know Kings Road’ I replied – ‘Good! After that we need to go and sweet talk Carl at Rock Bottom the local music store to get some gear and we’ll put a local gig on to showcase you off here before we go into town’.
We sat there listening to Dave and not quite believing our luck, his enthusiasm and drive for getting involved was really impressive. ‘Let’s meet at the Diner tomorrow morning about 10.am and we can look at drawing up some paperwork and contractual ideas between us and then we’ll need to sort out possible retainers for you lot’ exclaimed Dave – We felt that all our birthdays had arrived at the same time.
One month later we had rehearsed our set night and day in a spare room above The Crazy H diner, we had signed a management deal with Dave who provided very generously for us by paying all five musicians a weekly retainer of £25 each. This was money that seemed to forever flow out of his restaurant till. Dave not only helped us raise our game by enabling us to focus on our creativity full time but also made us aware of the business side of the business and virtually overnight had the interest of a couple of major record labels – Virgin and MAM records.
We took on the name ‘The Breakers’ after a Floridian hotel in Palm Beach and signed with MAM records. The label managing director Geoffrey Everitt really took a liking to us and heard ‘Headline News’ as a definite radio single.
MAM Records was a British record label launched in 1970 by the management company Management Agency & Music Ltd. (MAM). Founded by Gordon Mills and Tom Jones and distributed through Decca Records. Our artist stable mates on the label included Gilbert O’Sullivan, Lynsey de Paul, Dave Edmunds and Engelbert Humperdinck and were major recording artists with MAM. Gordon Mills was also Engelbert Humperdinck’s manager. Distribution switched to EMI in the mid 1970s.
The company was one of the most successful record companies in the United Kingdom throughout the early 1970s. It diversified into slot machines and airlines but by the end of the 1970s it was losing ground to American companies like RCA Victor.
Record producer Greg Walsh was brought in to produce our debut single and arrived with a song from his own catalogue called ‘Out on the Street Again’ – we were persuaded that this should be the first single and apart from the fact that Greg was fresh from working as chief sound engineer with Pink Floyd on ‘The Wall’, we didn’t argue with this choice of song anyway.
We decamped from our rehearsal room in Croydon for a couple of recording sessions in Trident studios in St Anne’s Court in London’s Soho area – Lots of big names had recorded at Trident including The Beatles (The White Album), The Bee Gees, Carley Simon, Genesis, David Bowie (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust – Life on Mars – Changes), Elton John, The Stones, Queen and the list goes on and on.
We had ‘Out on the Street Again’ recorded, mixed and deemed complete in no time with Greg at the helm – MAM seemed genuinely excited about it and said it sounded like a big hit to them. They were going to throw everything they had into the marketing of it and we were booked onto a nine week tour of the UK supporting the band ‘Darts’ who had a couple of big hits including a song called ‘Duke of Earl’. We were to play over fifty top venues – each one not less than two thousand seating capacity and some up to three thousand plus – that was well over one hundred thousand punters who were going to hear our single in nine weeks – Wow, were we excited at the prospect of big record sales from this. If only twenty five percent purchased the record the day after any of those concerts we would sail into the top twenty and get ‘Top of the Pops’ and no doubt radio one too.
The tour started at Fairfield Halls in Croydon and as a warm-up act for Darts we stormed the place – there was the initial friction between Dave and Darts’ sound engineer who was not doing as good a job for us as the headlining band – Dave sussed quickly that giving them a backhander each night would help enormously in improving our sound balance – £5 for reverb and compression on the vocals – £2 for taking extra care and attention where to ride the volume up on guitar solos. When we found out about this we just wanted to strangle their sound man but Dave knew the way to get the best results out of people and it always came down to him opening his wallet.
One week into the tour and more dates were added – it was looking like we were only going to get around ten days off over the whole nine weeks. This was even more exciting as more people would get to hear ‘Out on the Street Again’ which potentially meant more record sales. Dave had been trying to liaise with Geoffrey Everett at MAM to find out how the promotional campaign was progressing and what the sales figures were looking like. Everett was definitely backwards in coming forward on this, he was either out of the office or away at a music business conference – either way he would be no doubt a happy bunny with The Breakers gigging progress when he returned.
Around the end of our second week on the road, Dave showed up in Doncaster to report to us that he had eventually captured Geoffrey Everett in the MAM offices – he found out that ‘Out on The Street Again’ had not only not been released but hadn’t even been manufactured. Everett guaranteed that the single would be released and in the stores within the next two weeks. This angered, saddened, and almost drove us mad with frustration, knowing that we had just been promoting ‘Out on the Street Again’ to over thirty thousand record buying punters in the last two weeks, and the damned thing not only wasn’t in the record stores but hadn’t even been released yet. We wanted to drive back to London the following day and personally strangle Everett – but we had a gigging commitment to take care of and headed north to Leeds university. It looked like we were going to perform a whole month’s worth of live concerts promoting a record that didn’t exist yet. This wasn’t just bad news, it was the biggest record company cock-up I’d ever heard of – what was behind their thinking and planning for this – something shady was going down, we were certain of it.
By the end of the tour we were at each other’s throats most of the time – the lack of a single release and promotion to coincide with this national tour had not happened and we just took it out on each other instead of pulling together and supporting each other – We ended up travelling to gigs in three separate vehicles so we didn’t murder one and another en route.
Near the end of the tour we played Newcastle City Hall to a packed house – most of everyone we knew on Tyneside was there to support us – backstage before we went on we were continually asked ‘Hey, where is the record’ – this pissed us off enormously – getting to play the biggest premier league venue on Tyneside (the dream of all local Geordie musicians) and not having our record on sale in the local HMV record stores – The following morning, two thousand punters could have gone in there and placed their orders.
A nine week long tour with only five days off equals fifty eight concerts – each concert hall and theatre had on average a seating capacity of between two to three thousand seats – most dates were sold out. Do the maths!
Let’s say if everyone who saw our gig purchased our single at £1 per copy we would have made M.A.M. records, approximately a cool £145,000 – but let’s say only 25% of the audience had purchased ‘Out on the Street Again’ for only £1 GBP per copy – that would amount to over thirty six thousand sales – this would have helped any record in 1980 to be well on its way to charting and the band getting themselves on television’s premier music show, Top of the Pops.
Why were MAM records about to dump the Breakers along with most of it’s remaining roster of recording artists – the answer was staring us in the face – they were going bust. The company was quickly sold to Chrysalis Records the following year – Following the sale of Chrysalis to EMI in 1991 many recordings previously owned by MAM were then reissued by EMI Records.
A couple of months had gone by – Dave Robinson had explained to us that he could no longer financially support the band on a weekly retainer, apart from that, he had also exhausted any of his contacts remotely connected to the music business – he wanted out and so did the rest of the band.
Maggie didn’t seem too concerned about this and was just as happy to take on a full time waitress job at Dave’s Crazy H restaurant – I, on the other hand decided I’d had enough of having to depend upon other musicians and bought myself a multi track tape recorder, a drum machine and various other bits of recording equipment. Whilst Maggie spent most of her time serving up cocktails and schmoozing drunken customers in ‘The Crazy H’, I became much more introverted and spent 24/7 recording a whole plethora of new musical ideas – It was a huge self indulgent episode, but I managed to write and record one little love song called ‘Within These Walls’ which I gave (on cassette tape) to Mike Eccles one evening as I ventured, headphone free, outside of myself.