Three years had passed, it was 1960. I had almost become a country kid but then fate had decided I’d be a townie street kid. I’d failed my eleven plus exams big time and remained second bottom of the B form – the boy who was bottom of the class was definitely a sandwich short of a picnic and too dim to even try cheating; I forget his name but he would sit there during every class, nose running down his upper lip into his mouth and staring into space. Thinking back now it was clear that I could not apply myself because I had never learned how to learn, due to this I was lazy and unmotivated or maybe just disinterested.

Our teachers at Todd’s Nook secondary modern school didn’t really show much interest in pushing any students that fell behind and my auntie Peggy and Uncle Bob never pushed me on my educational front either. They probably thought that I’d eventually leave school and get a trade serving my time in an apprenticeship, if it turned out that I ever had any aspirations past such a future then I was definitely looking past my station in my working class lifestyle and should forget such nonsense.

However, I did shine to some extent in one subject which was art. I could draw a circle and a straight line and possessed an eye for most visuals. Due to this unusual occurrence the art teacher, Mr Hind (Hindy) did pay me a modicum of attention in his class which I found the most refreshing half hour of my school week. Also most kids in my year wanted me to help them with their technical drawing and art, but they never seemed to reciprocate when it came to maths and english where I’d sit there helpless and unable to comprehend the simplest equation. In general the kids of Todd’s Nook just wanted their school day to be filled with the possibilities of amusement rather than focusing on anything a school teacher had to offer.

I remember a couple of the more brazen kids in my class would often threaten the class softy – His name was Russell Farnfield, a nice bespectacled boy who always washed behind his ears, whose hair was always neatly parted and would not say ‘boo’ to a goose – The deal was, if Russell didn’t attach a pen nib dipped in ink to the end of a milk bottle straw, throw it successfully at Hindy’s tweed jacket when he was chalking away on the black board, they would spit into his mouth at playtime.

Playtime often came around and again Russell Farnfield would be found tied to the school yard railings whilst several bullies would spit into his mouth – Mr Hind was also to be seen obliviously wandering around the school yard, sporting several milk bottle straws dangling from the back of his jacket, held there by pen nibs stolen from the art room cupboard.  Funny that!

To most of us growing up in them, the 1960’s were extraordinary. Prime Minister Harold McMillan had coined the phrase, ‘We never had it so good’ – which wasn’t totally correct but the idea endured.

It was certainly possible as the sixties began, for the young to look forward with confidence to a life which would offer work and exciting times. Everything seemed possible and everything was on the change. The remnants of the Empire were fading fast, yet it was probably the last decade that Britain had an identity all of its own. Europe still began on the other side of the Channel and North Sea. We made and drove British made cars – We watched British made television programmes on British made televisions, wore British made clothes. We knew who we were!! It was definitely the decade of the young. We were children on the Welfare State. We had been kept healthy by it and above all were educated by it.

It was a decade that created ‘teenagers’. They had certainly existed in the fifties, but nobody acknowledged them apart from blaming them for the excesses of the early Rock and Roll years. In the sixties they came into their own and would be targeted by the world of commerce which provided the clothes and entertainment which still further defined them. The contraceptive pill, when it appeared, offered the young a sexual freedom, that earlier generations had been denied. Germaine Greer made young women aware that they need not be second class citizens in a male dominated world, or in our case a Geordie male dominated world.

Women’s self perception was about to undergo the most dramatic shift – the new attitude was summed up by every 19 year old girl with a Kathy McGowan hairstyle (shoulder length with a fringe) – Women felt that the Pill had put them in charge and they now proclaimed their sexual independence so emphatically leading them on a path which soon led to the term ‘permissive society’ which was not a pejorative description way back then.

The Beatles and Rolling Stones and a host of other pop groups at that time gave the young a voice. American artists like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and other such folk singers gave them a vision. Political awareness grew with the knowledge that the young could, perhaps influence events. Involvement in protest groups, most notably CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) grew by the moment. It was the decade of the demonstration. Students were a minority but they were the peer group leaders whose actions were admired by those not prepared to act themselves.

I had stopped going to the physiotherapist in 1960 and ended up in and out of Sanderson’s Orthopedic hospital (for kids with polio). They spent two years enthusiastically encasing my limbs in plaster of paris, which I enthusiastically smashed in a vain attempt at playing doors (back lane football). So I’d go back to Sanderson’s Orthopedic for wobbly hobblers. The day I was admitted, Auntie Peggy was ill with shingles, so Auntie Hannah took me. She told me I was going to have a check-up for a couple of hours. I remember the nurse taking me into a bathroom, whilst Auntie Hannah waited in the waiting room.

After the bath, I was escorted into a room down a corridor, which was full of plaster casts. I was plonked onto a bench and told I was going to have my ligaments stretched by bending and stretching my legs and ankles into an uncomfortable position (rather like one of those rubber bendy toys) and then gypsum plaster would be slapped on to hold me in that position till they stretched. I was wheeled on a trolley, legs burning hot in their thick, white encasements, into a ward of kids. Some of them had plasters from head to toe, propped up on boards, with heads, arms and colostomy bags protruding. Some just had plaster from the waist down. I freaked out, burst into tears and wondered where Auntie Hannah was. After all, this was only supposed to be a check-up – that’s what she said. The nurse explained that she’d left a couple of hours ago and would be coming to visit me in a few days time. How could she do this to me?! I cried all night long.

After the initial shock of being lied to and dumped into this foreign world of plastered sickies I eventually became acclimatised to the hospital gig; we had school in the ward, we made cane baskets, I went to the toilet on a bed-pan and had a thermometer stuck under my tongue several times a day. I also endlessly gazed at pictures of Hayley Mills and Kathy Kirby. The attraction of Hayley was her portrait of the blond haired and freckled twin of the 1961 Disney movie ‘The Parent Trap’ as opposed to Kathy’s lip gloss and boobs! Every twelve and thirteen year old boy at that time was totally besotted for life by Hayley Mills who was to become a friend of mine some twenty five years later.

I was awarded a bed right next to Leslie – Leslie was a little chap who was in fact eighteen years old but had been bestowed with the mental intellect of a five year old kid. Every now and then Leslie would dissappear down into the cage on his bed (we all had them, they were like large wire fireguards that kept the blankets off our plasters) eventually immerging with hands full of hard poo which he then proceeded to fling around the ward at the other patients, nurses and whoever else was in his firing line. Of course he always left me out of his shit flinging onslaught because as soon as auntie Hannah had left me at visiting times I would bung Leslie my grapes and half of my cheap boiled sweets, which probably added to the problem of Leslie’s regular bowel movements anyway!

An American kid called Tom Riley had the bed straight opposite me. He could bend his arms from the elbows outwards at a right angle which was freaky to say the least – he could also bend them in the natural direction, inwards to the body; He would often swing them around like pieces of soft rubber and shout obscenities over to my small backward friend in the bed next to me. Tom was in a mess with polio as were a lot of kids in the 40s and 50s.

To relieve the bordom of the ward we would sometimes try to escape at night – after lights out all eyes would be on matron who would sit at the end of the ward at a small desk with a little light glowing down onto various papers, themometers and assorted hospitally stuff. Eventually someone close to her would give the signal that she had dropped off to sleep.

This was the time where we’d lower our plastered bodies down onto the ancient parquet flooring and slither along on our bellies under our beds, trying to avoid but mostly bumping into the odd pisspot en route and make for the double door exit of the ward. Some in full body plasters with metal cross bars between their legs were always left behind, unable to lower themselves down off their beds, sniggering and holding back their muffled laughter in order not to wake up the fuhrer.

The plan was to slither ourselves down the corridor, down two flights of stairs and outside onto Sandyford Road in Gosforth to see if we could get ourselves arrested by the police. Our plot was eventually scuppered when a deaf, blind and most probably drunk orderly on night shift drove his trolley over some of us in a dark corridor on route to the stairs. The following morning light revealed a parquet flooring that resembled a plaster of paris skating rink. Of couse we would never give a second thought to how we would actually hoist ourselves back up off the floor into our hospital beds. We were soon threatened with being gagged and tied to our beds at night with barbed wire and being shot at dawn by a firing squad – all we had to do was just think about venturing out of our blanket covered cages and we would all be plastered from crown to toe-tip with only a straw to breath through. Of course some of this isnt true!

Two years later after making enough cane baskets to supply every garden centre in the known universe and force feeding little Leslie several tons of grapes and boiled sweets, I eventually had my plasters removed for the last time. Tom Riley who had given me dozens of copies of his coloured American newspapers and had been transformed from a human jelly into one of the callipered wobbly hobblers on crutches.

Newcastle’s Sanderson’s Orthopaedic Hospital was very active in helping thousands of polio victims get on their feet and live comparitively normal lives; just as the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury was founded by neurologist Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann in 1944. Gutterman treated servicemen who had sustained spinal cord injuries in World War II – he got them up off their backs and onto their feet and moving where they would otherwise have been left to die.

I remember as I was leaving Tom was doing his Douglas Bader impersonation on the hospital lawn. I was too weak to even stand on my pins. My wrists were fatter than my legs. Once home to Hamilton Street it took a while before I could even walk over the back yard to the loo without being carried there and back by my Uncle Bob.

I could never make head nor tail of anything spinning in the literary orbit – but give me a pencil and I’d never be short of visuals. Sketching and basket weaving were the two things that kept me sane whilst  doing time in Sanderson’s Orthopedic polio hospital.

1963 arrived, a couple of blocks down the back lane lived a school mate named Jimmy Lea – Jimmy had a guitar and played ‘Rock Island Line’ by Lonnie Donegan and ‘Oh Carol’ by Chuck Berry. This, it seemed, really attracted the girls, especially Susan Richies, the girl with the Bobby socks and the biggest boobs in Todd’s Nook. Every boy in the school who had reached puberty had fantasies about Susan Richies, and all the girls seemed to giggle and swoon over the sight of Jimmy’s ice-blue jeans, brothel creepers and congealed Brylcreamed locks.

Four years previous every corner shop door had displayed a photo of singer ‘Cliff Richard,’ advertising a film called ‘Serious Charge,’ and his pop group ‘The Shadows’ with their red guitars playing ‘Apache.’ This outshined my previous favourites, ‘Little White Bull’ by Tommy Steele and ‘Toy Balloons’ by Russ Conway.

The Shadows had originally been Bruce Cripps (Bruce Welch) from Elswick and Brian Rankin (Hank Marvin) from Stanhope Street the next street over from Hamilton Street. They had left Newcastle a few years before to make it in London – I had previously hung out with Colin Prior and Brian’s (Hank Marvin) younger brother Joe Rankin at their house – I remember the time we’d put notes under his mother’s front room door suggesting that they turn down the volume of their guitars as they rehearsed their “Railroaders” skiffle group in 140 Stanhope Street – Funny! they never took any notice of us. They were, of course, a little older than Jimmy Lee and me.

Meanwhile, Hayley Mills had been replaced in my affections by Jane Fonda. Visions of ‘Barbarella’ being sexually turned on by an orgasmatron space machine had rendered my Hayley pin-ups redundant.

The 1960’s was a decade of when British pop music came of age and went on to conquer the world. The 1950’s Rock and Roll had produced its own youth culture but it did not embrace a whole generation.

One phenomenon which would sweep the nation arrived in Newcastle a year later on January 28th 1963 in the messy haired form of The Beatles – they were to perform at the Majestic ballroom and teenagers queued up all weekend for tickets until they sold out. Tyneside like most other British cities had not seen anything like it before – all the head shaking, frenzied shrieking and madness that greeted the smartly dressed ‘Fab four’ as soon as they set foot on stage.

They returned to the Majestic in June 1963 and then in December performed at The City Hall allowing Newcastle to find its place in Beatle mythology.

Class of ’64 behind Hindy’s motorbike – Over a period of one term instead of taking our regular woodwork class, we were instructed to clean, polish and re-assemble the art teachers broken motorcycle – just so he had cheap transport to school each day. I am the tall one in the middle of back row almost level with the chimney pot in the background!

I just had to get myself a guitar and some drainpipes. Eventually, I was equipped – a £2.00 second hand battered ‘Rosetti,’ side-burns stuck down to my pink cheeks with saliva and hours spent in front of the bedroom mirror. At that point, fully armed as I was, I formed my first skiffle group, ‘The Leopards’ – two guitars, a tea chest bass, a snare drum and wash board and a set of leopard skin waist coats. The first gig was Tuesday night at the church hall for a fee of ten shillings, playing one set of five tunes.

  1. Cumberland Gap. By Lonnie Donegan.
  2. Dance On. An instrumental by The Shadows.
  3. Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour on the Bedpost?
  4. Overnight by Lonnie Donegan.
  5. Apache by The Shadows
  6. Rock Around The Clock. By Bill Hayley.
  7. It was rather amazing how we managed to get through such a huge repertoire when we only knew two chords between us – C Maj. and A Min.

My next guitar was advertised in the newsagent’s window for £8.00. Uncle Bob helped me out, along with my paper round. I arrived at the given address to find another ‘Rosetti,’ but this time with only four strings on it. Did this mean that I had just become a bass player? Yes indeed, the only bass player in Fenham. I preferred this instrument to the six string because it was red with a black sunburst trim around the edge, a tone control and volume switch with a real strap. Apart from the cosmetic value, I could actually do my bit by actually playing two notes instead of two chords.

My new second hand Rosetti Lucky 7 bass with ‘The Leopards’

Spending my life in front of my bedroom mirror, Rosetti around my neck, I posed this way and that way, legs bent a little at the knees, slightly bandy, side-burns now stuck to my cheeks with cow gum nicked from the school art class. I must be able to pull the girls now! But, had I the courage to stand in the back lane like Jimmy Lee and serenade them? After all, he could play several different riffs and knew lots of songs from start to finish. Maybe I wasn’t up to the competition yet! Maybe I’d learn more than two notes before presenting my debut solo performance to the world.

After a great deal of practice next to my ‘Fidelity’ record player, I could at last play something that resembled a twelve bar blues. This meant that I was not only the only bass player in Fenham, I was also the only blues bass player in Fenham! A local band, ‘The Waysiders,’ were so impressed with my growing reputation that they offered me a job playing with them at St. Phillips Church youth club; then on to a social club and eventually after a year of gigging around Saturday night hops, we were offered a gig as support to the ‘Alan Price Combo’ at the notorious Club Ago-go; This meant serious business so we arrived in a Commer Van instead of pushing our gear to the venue in an old pram or humping it onto the bus.

Things were changing. I was in my last year at Todd’s Nook. The council covered our cobble stone streets in tarmac, people flushed their front doors with hardboard and painted them cream. The Brighton Cinema was transformed into a new Ten Pin Bowling Alley and the Saturday Matinee had become a thing of the past. The Waysiders changed their name to ‘The Howlin Blues’ playing Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker songs; Cliff and The Shadows were almost over night no longer hip!

By this time, I was not only playing second fiddle to Alan Price and Eric Burdon at the Downbeat Club and Percy Street Club Ago-Go, but also blistering my fingers playing ‘Dark Town Strutters Ball’ on the Double Bass. The ‘New Orleans Jazz Club’ every Thursday night was full of Trad and Dixieland freaks, the Downbeat on a Friday night was full of Beatniks and the Club Ago-go was to become the place to be seen if you fancied yourself as a Mod! 1964 was upon us, I was due to leave school and join the big grown up world.

“You must have a trade! Serve your time and get your indentures” said my Uncle Bob like a broken record. Get my indentures? I thought he was talking about false teeth!
“You can’t play music for a living. Anyway, you can’t call that racket you make music!” said my Auntie Peggy, an avid Harry Secombe fancier.

“By the way, we’ve been meaning to have a little talk with you Charles.” My Uncle Bob began to blush and cough a little to clear his throat, then he left the room. Later that day, when Uncle Bob had gone off to St. James Park to have a good shout and a bawl, while twenty-two men kicked a lump of leather around a field, my Auntie Peggy took me aside, sat me down in front of her, and asked me if I knew that women wore Braziers! – No, this was not a lecture about the impossibility of following a career in music in the real world. Nor was it a request for groceries from the corner shop. It was, ‘did I know women wore Braziers?’ Had she only just made this discovery? Weird, I thought. I felt myself blush a little as I gazed down towards the vicinity of her, of her, well, her front lower neck which lived buried behind blouses, vests, jumpers and a pinafore apron – always a flowery pinny like her mother (Granny Frame) and probably Granny Frame’s mother before her. I replied sheepishly, “Yes.”

She quickly opened her purse and handed me a ten-shilling note and told me to go to the corner shop and get a large loaf and 2lbs of sugar. On returning there was never another word spoken about women’s braziers. A while later it dawned on me that the brazier question was my sex education from Auntie Peggy – yes that was it, end of story! Nothing more – No mention of, “Did I know women don’t have willies?” or “Did I know that the birds and the bees did something to reproduce themselves.” No! As long as I knew women wore braziers, I would be safe and everything in that area of life would work out fine.

I eventually left good old Todd’s Nook – the old being the operative word. It was prehistoric in its big black heavy stone. Huge doors and old cast iron railings matched the cast iron desks inside, it really would have made the perfect backdrop for a Lowry painting. I had been set free with a very good reference. “Charles is very well-mannered, polite and pleasant. He has made a very good head boy and excels himself artistically.” They might have added; “Unfortunately, in every other subject he is worse than terrible. If he did not spend all his time day-dreaming out of the window, he would have learned that 2+2 did not equal 7, that Columbus didn’t discover Australia and that a ‘dovetail joint’ wasn’t a place where pigeons hung out.”

My school reference didn’t seem to matter all that much to the silk screen printers who employed me to arse-wipe and be collector of lunchtime cod and chips. Looking on the positive side, I began bringing home a salary of £4.00 per week. This could come in awfully handy when taking the girls out. The only problem was that other than spending nine months plucking up the courage to hold hands for an evening with the local vicar’s daughter, I had not yet had a real date. And certainly I had never experienced the dirty weekends often boasted about by the silk screen printers, my fellow employees.

Perhaps, I thought, I should grow a beard or a moustache? Maybe that would do the trick? On second thoughts, my bum fluff was not yet the stuff beards were made of. Even the hours spent in the dark room, meticulously dabbing printers ink onto the few hairs that did exist on my chin, didn’t seem to help! It was alright for Ernie Bell, the Howlin blues’ lead singer. All he had to do was snap his fingers and the girls would come running to him. Perhaps, this is a slight exaggeration, but on several occasions I did catch sight of the group Commer Van rocking back and forth in the car park, outside the stage door of the Club Ago-Go. He was also into producing girls’ knickers from the inside of his pocket, as proof of his conquests. Oh, if only I had taken up the harmonica and developed the same hip and groovy patter! “Hey! Baby, let’s groove on down.” What’s more, he rolled his own cigarettes. My attempts at cigarette rolling resembled miniature wind socks. Maybe I would buy a pair of hipsters and wear slip on sandals, and shades, like the guitarist in ‘The Byrds.’

“The Alan Price Combo” had become “The Animals” and were in the charts with “The House of the Rising Sun.” “The Rolling Stones,” “Chris Farlow and The Thunderbirds” and “John Mayall’s Blues Breakers” were gigging at the Club Ago-Go. The Junco Partners, The Howlin’ Blues, The Vikings, Greg Burman’s Soul Band and the Chosen Few would play supports. Percy Street arcade opened up and was taken over by dozens of hippie boutiques, selling everything from Kaftans, hookers and records to Ban the Bomb T-shirt’s, military gear and incense. Saturday afternoons saw hundreds of pot smoking kids, just hanging out within its psychedelic walls.

Percy Street Arcade which was nick named ‘Arcadia’ – where it all happened in true Tyneside 1960’s style.