One Saturday evening, The Howlin’ Blues were booked to play at the Gateshead Y. M. C. A. dance, a monthly event which included as many Y. W’s as Y. M’s. As for how many C’s were present – your guess is as good as mine. I distinctly remember being on stage playing “Smokestack Lightening,” when a vision appeared before my eyes; a thing of beauty gliding towards me. At least for a moment while she stood smiling at me, I found it impossible to focus on anything else.
Greta the Gateshead Goddess was totally ignoring the frantic pelvic thrusts of Ernie Bell and she was staring straight at me. Her beautiful auburn hair fell like waves from heaven over her tatty leather coat and came to rest in an explosion of split ends around her slim waist. Her legs were shapely and short to suit her 5’2” frame. It was love at first sight. Three songs later I was still playing the bass line to “Smokestack Lightning.” After the gig had finished, I managed to find the courage to ask if I could see her home. She accepted. Oh God! Should I try to be really hip like Ernie and say “Wow Man, that’s really far out baby.” After packing my amplifier and leads into the group van, I disappeared into the Y. M. C. A. W. C. to inspect my hip and groovy image – make sure my sideburns were in the right place, check my kaftan and beads were hanging right (Scott McKenzie eat your heart out) and then, minutes later, I made my grand appearance.
At the open door, I spied Ernie Bell, lead singer and patter merchant, trying desperately to seduce some girl. The lips were on, and he’d got one hand up her skirt. Through the door and down a bunch of worn out steps on a dreary wet pavement I can see Greta the Gateshead Goddess awaiting me. I had butterflies in my stomach as I strutted past Ernie’s moans and grunts. ‘Maybe he’s just constipated?’ I thought…
Will I hold her hand straight away or will she think I’m a bit forward? Will I put my arm around her? Will she think I’m a bit funny if I just walk her home and don’t do anything? Oh God! My knees were wobbling right down to my pride and joy Chelsea Boots!
We walked along Prince Consort Road without saying much. I remarked, “These new Ford Zephyrs are much more far out than the Popular!” Greta replied, “Are they?” Oh God! What a bum thing to say, ‘these new Ford Zephyrs are more much more far out’ Oh God, Yuk! She thinks I’m a right prick already. Maybe I should ask her what she does for a living? “What do you work as?” she replied, “A kid’s nanny.” We walked another hundred yards in silence. I was panicking for the want of some clever prolific and funny line with which to impress her.
Nothing came out, and she seemed to be making no attempt at conversation either. Is she being really cool or is she shy too? Oh God, what can I say? I know I’ve got it! I mumbled, “It’s a wet night isn’t it?” She replied “Yes.” Oh, shit this is awful. I wanted her to be so impressed with my cleverness, my sexiness, and my trainee pop-starness.
I bet Ernie Bell didn’t have this trouble with his first conquest. I bet whoever it was just took one look at him and ripped his pants straight off. I bet he was born with a master’s degree in the seduction of the opposite sex. Mind you, I bet most of them didn’t know about his false front teeth and the ever advancing dog breath. (sorry Ernie – I know that is just not true!)
We arrived at Greta’s front door at the same time as her brother, a gorilla of a fellow by the name of David. He was wearing overalls covered in blood and a thick leather pouch holding an assortment of deadly looking knives which he proudly showed me.“I killed five cows with these tonight!” David exclaimed. (This really freaked me out, and losing my virginity was now the last thing on my mind.) He went on to brag about working at the slaughterhouse at night for extra money. This he needed to obtain the full monty back tattoo to match the eagle and snake covering his chest. Of course it goes without saying that the fingers on his left hand read “LOVE” to contrast artistically and philosophically with the fingers of his right hand which read… you guessed it… “HATE”. A truly elegant and stylishly sophisticated gentleman with a passing resemblance to Quasimodo on acid!
David opened the door and ran upstairs and I was invited to stand in the hallway with Greta. She closed a stained glass door at the bottom of a gloomy looking flight of stairs and pushed the front door shut behind us, locking out a wet miserable street. Suddenly there I was in a dim light between closed doors; Greta clothed in a wet leather coat standing before me, and I, very eager to explore regions, which lay beneath the bedraggled leather, to open the buttons and maybe slide my hand into her blouse. She was standing with her back propped against the passage wall, looking straight at me, smiling cheekily.
“Have you lived here long?” I asked, “Yes all my life.” She replied. I wondered if she was wearing suspenders – surely yes, most girls wore suspenders. At this point I could think of nothing but SEX with Greta, (I think!) – I felt a desperate need to bring the moment closer, which meant moving closer to Greta. As I made my way towards her I could hear the voices of the silk screen printers saying, “You have to make an application at headquarters for a position at base lad.” I bent forward to kiss her and was met by her lips, followed by her tongue. She could certainly waggle that tongue around. She was obviously making up for its limited use in the art of conversation. I pulled back, remembering the importance of breathing. “Do you want to take your coat off, it’s soaking?” I asked. She replied, “Yes,” and I eagerly volunteered to help unbutton it.
The coat fell to the passage floor in a heap as Greta put her arms around my neck, hands shaking I fiddled a lot with the buttons on her blouse; we kissed again, her mouth stretched open like a giant carp. She concentrated on licking my epiglottis whilst I set about undoing that bloody button! Then all of a sudden the world took on a new meaning. I had my hand in there – Oh God! – Auntie Peggy was right, women do wear braziers! And this one was really tight around two wonderfully soft bosoms. The bosoms of Greta the Gateshead Goddess.
The blouse was now fully open, and I was trying to figure out how this brazier thing opened. I couldn’t seem to slip it up or down and I couldn’t mention this problem to her, because then she’d realise how inexperienced I was in these matters and she might go off the idea. “Oong hoop uhk! Oongoop uhk!” What? She was talking into my mouth. I straightened up to get some air and to find out what she was trying to say. “Unclips at the back,” said Greta as she unclipped the white bra releasing those wonderful bosoms, which were now visible to me in all their splendour. There they were before my very eyes. Staring in disbelief I stretched out my hands and caressed gently, it felt incredible, softer than I’d expected yet firm and warm. I wanted to kiss them.
Then all of a sudden the spell was broken by a voice from upstairs shouting, “Greta! What are you doing down there? It’s time you were in for the night!” Greta’s mother was stomping down the creaking Victorian stairs – the light went on – “Holy Shit!” Greta was trying to fasten her blouse but half the buttons had somehow popped off. I was trying to cover her in her limp, soggy leather coat and open the front door at the same time in order for a quick exit.
The glass door opened and a fat lady in a pinny appeared. I was standing to attention and looking guilty as hell. She was carrying a couple of milk bottles in her hand which she gave to Greta. “Put them on the step and say your goodnights now, it’s high time you were in for the night.” I muttered hello and goodnight in one breath and she was gone. I arranged to meet Greta the Gateshead Goddess the following day and set off for the walk home.
Through a quiet and late night Gateshead to the High Level Bridge over the River Tyne – the Swing Bridge was closed but lit up awaiting the early morning traders to cross with their wares and set up their stalls on the cobbled quay side. It looked small and insignificant next to the gigantic, menacing silhouette of the Tyne Bridge against the moon. As I gazed up through it’s girders I thought of my Grandfather with his bagpipe band marching over it with George V to cut the ribbon and declare it open. I thought of all the old sepia photographs of the occasion – lots of kilts, sporrans, plumes and pipes and hundreds of men with hats on. Then the whole image was suddenly banished by thoughts of Greta’s white brazier sliding up over those zeppelin bosoms! I skipped and leaped into the air and sprinted the rest of the way home across the river, past the old Keep and Black Gate to the big market. The only thing on my mind now was the conquest of Greta.
Weeks later we were all invited to Mickey Bennison’s parents house after a Howlin Blues gig at Durham University (Mickey played guitar with the group). He decided it was a good opportunity to have an all night party as his folks were away for the weekend. The house was a rather grand old place in Low Fell, very middle class. All the houses in the area had big gardens, two cars to each family and more fur coats than knickers! We arrived back there after the gig to find the party in full swing. Mickey’s brother had organized the guests; the gatecrashers, the drop-ins, dropouts, and what seemed like the contents of the local pub cellar.
I recognised dozens of people from the Club Ago-Go and the Downbeat. The air was filled with the aroma of marijuana, petuli oil and Newcastle Brown Ale!
To my great excitement, Greta had told her parents that she was staying out at a girlfriend’s for the night. This meant we could spend the whole night together instead of making do with feely-feelys at the bottom of her parent’s stairs. Around 3.am we fought our way through a smoky haze and clambered upstairs together to find a little spare bedroom awaiting us. Unfortunately, we were not alone – a body lay on the floor beside the single bed. I tried to wake him by coughing loudly – not a murmur. Nudge, nudge – not a stir. After dragging him out feet first onto the landing he grunted, turned over, farted and was once again lost in oblivion. I slipped back into the little bedroom with Greta and closed the door behind me, jamming it shut by wedging a chair under the doorknob (an old boy scout trick!).
We sat on the bed next to each other, both shy of the situation. There we were two virgins, both innocent, both very excited, both very afraid. It was different at the bottom of Greta’s stairs. Her mother would always appear and our little game would be up, never having to go all the way. But I always wanted to go all the way. Except what if she didn’t like it? What if I didn’t like it? What if it wasn’t like the ‘Heaven on High’ as discussed so fervently by the silk screen printers every other working minute of the day. What if I did it wrong? How would either of us know? All we had to go on was other people’s stories. “Maybe we should take our clothes off then?” said Greta as she pulled her polo neck sweater up over her head. I immediately put my arms around her to unclip her bra (even before her sweater was off).
I’d now become an expert at the loosening of the old brazier trick, my auntie Peggy would be proud! With one arm out of my jacket and one shoe half kicked off, I was trying to help her pull her skirt down and whilst picking at her suspenders I was trying to unfasten my belt buckle with one hand! I twisted my ankle attempting to lever off my right shoe with the toe of my left. We fell into a heap of knotted clothing on the little single bed.
We unravelled ourselves; Greta into her 5’2” of porcelain white nudity and me into my 6’3” gangly bare frame, anchored into my socks to hide my lifelong hang-up “claw toes” – I was hesitant at Greta’s free invitation, but at that moment in time there was no aphrodisiac like our innocence, and soon we were wrapped in each other’s arms under a bundle of musty blankets, touching, feeling, exploring…I put the tip of my index finger into the mouth of Greta’s hole and was surprised to discover what an inadequate word was ‘hole’ for what I encountered. For Greta’s hole had lips and protuberances and, so it seemed to me, false and genuine entrances. Oh! As I found the true entrance it revealed the power of changing its configuration and texture at my touch. The dark curled hairs were just new to that region, and as I turned on a little bedside lamp, Greta’s thighs took on a coppery sheen.
I dipped one finger up to the second knuckle into Greta’s hole, then a second finger alongside it. This was possible, in fact necessary, because Greta’s hole began to reveal a further power to suck me in – was this a wet human vortex? It made me hold back. Yet the most wondrous power of Greta’s hole was its capacity to send waves of sensation not just all over Greta’s body, but mine too; a kind of electric current which flowed up my arm, flushed my face and gathered in the part of me to which Greta was simultaneously applying her hands. As I explored Greta’s hole, Greta explored my willy. Indeed, she was the bolder of the two of us.
“You’re supposed to lie on top of me, you know,” said Greta. “I know that!” I said trying to work myself up to the moment. I knelt between Greta’s open legs and let nature take its course. “You’re just supposed to bang very fast as soon as it goes in and the girl gets very excited,” exclaimed the Gateshead Goddess. I followed her instructions, awkwardly, clumsily.
Afterwards we lay there, greeted by a sunny dawn in Low Fell, curiosity and innocence holding hands. It was that very dawn we first exchanged those magical words, which help make an empty life seem full – just as surely as a willy fits a hole – ‘I love you’ ‘I love you’ ‘I love you!’
That dawn in our presence seemed to find a new purpose. But this was when Greta was sixteen and I was only seventeen.