After returning to Holland Park from Nepal in the autumn of 1984 it had taken me a couple of weeks to re-adjust to even drinking tap water straight from the tap without boiling it and dissolving water purifying tablets in it first – The double glazing, the television, telephones, reliable electrical mains boxes and a million other domestic appliances at our instant disposal – All westerners should be made to go and live in a third world country for at least six months to appreciate their own lot!
Madam X and I decided to throw in the towel on our relationship – ‘The grand ‘We’ was over – it had been for quite some time – we just went along with it to see what transpired I guess, and that was pretty much nothing for sure. Too many times had I found my musical instruments, amplifiers and clothes, soaking wet and scattered like rags over the footpath of Portland Road – it was a sheer miracle that nothing was ever stolen – apart from that I had found my clothes, books, albums and other belongings strewn all over the basement floor like some mad person had just ram sacked and burgled the place, it was just madness.
I had spent three years taking on all of Madam X’s ghosts and demons and living with them as though they were my own, which was a foolish move on anyone’s part – how is one expected to retain the strength of mind and emotionally support the other when you are becoming just as mad as they are.
I moved out of 123 Portland Road to a friend’s house in Strand on the Green until I found my own place where I could spend a little time getting my head and heart together.
After a couple of months of flat searching I settled on a basement flat in a housing association property in Sutton Court Road, Chiswick. It was a large Victorian town house on the corner of Sutton Court Road and Barrowgate Road, literally just a few doors away from the home of comedian Tommy Cooper, who had sadly died earlier in the year.
The couple who ran the household for the housing association were Wally and Greta and they lived in the attic – Wally who was a tattooed brute of an ex convict who had done multiple prison sentences for GBH, originated from The Gorbals and preached that anything to do with the IRA was a good lifestyle choice – the inside hallway walls were covered in homemade posters with titles that read ‘Provos Rule’. My initial meeting with Wally was in the back garden as I unloaded my clothes, books, hifi system and music gear down the back steps into the entrance to my basement flat. ‘Hey yee, ya nort gonna start playin tha shit loud now ah ya? Av gorta gun upstairs n am no frightened ti cum doon in use it Jimmy’ exclaimed the Glaswegian thug – Greta on the other hand was a little insignificant weedy Irish woman who stunk of urine and cigarettes and whinged none stop about hers and Wally’s lot.
On the third floor was Sean the agoraphobic artist who would hardly ever leave his room and painted in oils in a kind of primitive fashion, actually Sean’s work wasn’t primitive art at all, it was just pretty awful like the discarded efforts you can find on a rubbish shelf in Oxfam and not even the scrappiest of punters without any kind of artistic eye would want to purchase.
In the next room was Dave the carpet fitter, close suck-up friend to Wally and total piss head, always smelling of booze and laughing nervously at all the jokes that Wally never made. It was Dave and Greta who quickly made it their business to enlighten me that the basement flat had been empty and locked up for a while – this was due to three heroin addict in-mates that had overdosed down there one night and lay there amidst all their discarded needles for a couple of weeks, eventually the smell of their decomposing bodies (on my new-to-be living room floor) had started to drift upstairs to the ground floor and mix with the stale unclean air of the rest of the household.
Whilst sitting at my little antique pine table writing lyrics, rolling a spliff and awaiting British Telecom materialising to hook me up with the outside world, dirty water kept intermittently flowing down the outside of my windows into the stairwell outside the back entrance to my basement flat, the smell was putrid – this sometimes was followed by shouts and screams from the room above which was inhabited by some mad invalid woman called Stella – it often coincided with the Glaswegian thug, fag in mouth and ancient tattoos to the fore, pacing around the overgrown jungle of a back garden – he occasionally disappeared into a dilapidated old garage for hours at a time and re-appeared looking extremely shifty and guilty as hell – when Wally wasn’t prowling around the undergrowth he’d take to sleeping in a rotten old sleeping bag in a cavity under the basement stairs, snoring away like some old stray dog.
Life outside Sutton Court Road was looking up – a couple of friends, Andy Dascalopalous and John Selby (from the London photographic library, Rex Features) had asked me if I was interested to start up a commercial recording studio producing music for adverts and whatever else came in through the door – I accepted immediately and before too long we had a studio space in Hammersmith Studios in Yeldham Road just off the Fulham Palace Road.
Offbeat Music was launched and we had our first gig to write and record a jingle for Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion. Andy’s role in the new venture was mainly looking after business getting clients in and getting great deals on new recording equipment where John’s role was very much the sleeping partner and investor.
I threw myself whole heartedly into this new venture and pretty much lived at the studio and only returning back to my Chiswick flat in the early hours to catch a little shut eye in my own bed.
Our studio was right next door to Thomas Dolby’s studio and across the yard was a studio owned by the rock band ‘Yes’ – along with a bunch of rehearsal rooms that had seen action from every 70’s rock band, punk and new wave outfit that existed, it was an established hive of musical activity and we were the new boys on the block – a little wet behind the ears maybe but eager to prove ourselves, network and grow quickly.
I first and foremost wanted to get involved with record labels and produce their artists where my two partners Andy and John wanted me to mainly focus on writing music for radio jingles – everything from selling babies milk, car insurance, beer to women’s underwear (there could be a joke there!!??).
I understood that the bread and butter income was important but after three months had passed by and dozens of radio jingles later I missed the rock and roll element of music and the excitement it held – if we were to expand into cutting records for artists we couldn’t really sell ourselves to a major record label as record producers with our best shot being the Guinness advert!
I had learned that Madam X’s son Tom had become addicted to heroin; he had been secretly smoking it in someone’s flat in Notting Hill – When Madam brought Tom around to Offbeat music to try and get him stimulated with something other than smack, I could not believe my eyes, he looked like a ghost, he was torpid and on the verge of falling asleep all the time. I was shocked but had a feeling that this could have been ‘on the cards’ for young Tom; he hadn’t had a great upbringing and my three years in his immediate home life had not been as a father figure but mostly as a spare part I guess – I was empathetic but felt helpless to their needs.
Around this time I had been introduced to another smack addict called Dave who made a living and paid for his addiction by house painting for friends around the Hammersmith area – Dave was also a straight talking cockney poet of whom I respected. I learned a lot about the addiction to heroin from many discussions with Dave who had been clean for a couple of years.
He shared all his first hand experiences of ‘cold turkey’ with me; how he had actually paid a friend to lock him in a room for a week with just water and a bed pan for company, how, on many occasions he had started using again and slipped back on ‘the horse’ and let himself and all his friends down but this time it was looking good. I decided to introduce Madam X and Tom to Dave and see if there was a way of helping Tom through listening to Dave’s near to overdose experiences.
At this same time I had received a song demo from a great song writing friend in Folkestone called Reg Laws – It was entitled ‘Smack’. The hook of the song was great and the lyric was exceptional, telling the story of a heroin addict and his trials and tribulations through the eyes of his loving partner, forever watching them return to the drug. I simply had to produce this song with the right artist – it was the first meaningful commercial song I had heard in a long time.
One evening I returned home to my hole in the ground in Chiswick and instead of taking the front door on the corner of Barrowgate Road and Sutton Court Road I decided to climb through the back garden jungle for some reason; just as I approached the house the upstairs window opened on the first floor and Stella (looking like a Morlock from the H.G. Wells movie ‘The Time Machine’) emptied a full to the brim piss pot down the outside wall over my clean and polished windows and into the stair well below. I almost threw up there and then and quickly changed my approach around to the front entrance.
Once inside the hallway the smell of boiled entrails and chip fat coming from the communal kitchen on the ground floor filled my nostrils – the television blasted away in the grubby communal living room with no-one in there to watch it – I wretched as it dawned on me that I was living in the real life ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
I somehow had to raise my game quickly and get myself out of there and into some better accommodation.