The weather was delivering the archetypal image of the North East in excelsis – the sky, steel grey, a gale shot-blasting rain and sleet horizontally up the Tyne Valley. The lorry driver had dropped me along the road from Newcastle Central Station. I carried my bass wrapped in a canvas bag and a suitcase full of clothes all in need of washing and ironing. My amplification would follow me up a week later by car kindly delivered to me by a friend of Finsbury Park Peter.
I walked the two miles to Hamilton Street and Uncle Bob’s terraced flat – I still had a key and it would always be home if I’d want it to be. The problem was that home was in my dreams of grandeur, not in a real life backdrop of a Lowry painting. The number 39 bus made its way up Stanhope Street, heading towards Denton Burn, splashing through rain water running down the gutters towards Barrack Road and Leazes Park.
My Uncle Bob was out with a new lady friend called Winnie; it was about time he started to live again. The house smelled musty and unlived in. I put my things down in the hall, went straight through to the kitchen, and filled the kettle from the one and only brass cold water tap. I had deliberately avoided looking into the front bedroom for fear of painful memories, yet they all came flooding back and I found myself wandering into my old bedroom and looking out over the back yard; over the same old sagging washing lines, looking at the opposite terrace just as I had done years before when I had first come to live with Uncle Bob and Auntie Peggy. As a wet tabby cat stopped on route down the backyard wall and stared back at me, I really felt as though I had regressed to 1957.
A shiver ran down my spine as the gas meter in the cupboard under the stairs clicked like it always did. I turned and looked in the direction of the noise and remembered thinking that the Bogey Man lived in there. I always insisted that the door be shut at night, just in case he ventured out and crawled under my bed and lay there silently awaiting my hand to fall over the side whilst I was asleep, then perish the thought of what evils could happen next…AAAH!
Then I remembered building my tea- chest bass, trying to turn the back bedroom into a silk screen printing factory with one squeegee, one silk screen, two tins of ink and one order from the greengrocer for six posters advertising ‘potatoes @ 1’2d a stone. For a while I felt choked as I remembered carrying my Auntie Peggy from her bed to sit on her commode chair which was placed in the gas cupboard to give her a little privacy whilst she prayed for nature to take it’s course.
At that point I had to go and look in the front bedroom – looking on the bed with only one sheet on it I realised that Uncle Bob wasn’t actually spending much time here at all and that passing thought made me happy for him. His wounds were obviously healing. It turned out he was living at Winnie’s home and just coming back to Hamilton Street once a week to pay the one shilling and nine pence rent and keep the place up for me should I return home.
I took over the rent and set about redecorating 274 in a less forties/fifties fashion. He was more than glad that the prodigal son had returned and therefore not to be bothered about my ideas of bastardised interior design. In one week, I’d earned enough money to buy three miles of sawn 2” by 1” pine and constructed a false ceiling that resembled a chess board with zodiac signs. The airing cupboard, which was once home to a pile of blankets concealing a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, a box of gas mantles and a collection of old shoes became an exotic tropical fish aquarium. A light over two large tanks displayed guppies, angel fish, plecostomus and all the latest bits and bobs that the aquarium shop had on special offer!
I painted a mural of a sunset over the chimney breast and assorted pre-historic cave type designs around the other walls. I hammered hundreds of nails into my bedroom wall, carefully leaving a gap of one inch between each one and then suspending miles of string from each nail in a kind of spider’s web effect which hung about a foot from the ceiling. The remainder of the walls I covered with sail cloth and sprayed them with ‘Holts’ Cellulose spray paint. It looked like a T. V. set from Doctor Who. It wasn’t hard to imagine Daleks appearing from the gas meter cupboard under the stairs. All the pre-war oil cloth had to come up and of course the floor boards had to be stripped and varnished in the obligatory modern and groovy style.
I was proud of my new creation; never before had I the opportunity to experiment and design the interior of a flat. All the other rented bedsits and flats were ‘fully furnished’ with the crappiest second hand plastic three piece suites and other rickety furniture, with the wood grained fablon peeling off or usually painted with one watery coat of white gloss paint. You could never make them home. Those pocket-cock landlords with their brief authority always stipulated; ‘No decorating’ – the furniture had to stay. The best you could do was to drape covers over it and try to disguise the glum and pathetic aura it gave off, and burn incense to hide the smell of damp.
Jimmy Lee still lived a couple of blocks down Hamilton Street but no longer stood in the back lane in ice blue jeans serenading the girls with his guitar. Instead, he had a wife and two children, and an eternally broken down Austin 1100.
Jimmy had grown up in a hurry. He had had to become a father and a provider and fork lift truck driver at the local brewery. We seemed worlds apart, yet he frequently popped up to number 274 to check out my ever expanding bizarre interior designs and growing collection of casual girlfriends. There was Janine – a tall middle class boutique manageress with a huge mane of red, wavy hair and jewellery for all occasions. I’m not sure what she saw in me, at that time her heart throb was actor Paul Newman.
There was also Lillian Black, an art student and part time bar person at the ‘Mayfair Ballroom.’ Lillian lived in Garth Heads, a student’s block of flats just up from City Road in Newcastle town centre. She was slightly Latin looking with enormous bosoms, and preferred her men over six feet with slightly bohemian tendencies. I suppose I fitted the bill – I also fitted her bed. The first night I escorted Lillian home, we sat with coffees and the poetry of Dylan Thomas in front of a gas fire till the small hours. She then asked me to stay and showed me to her bedroom which she shared with another college friend, who’s name escapes me now, but who’s nude silhouette hovering in the back lit bedroom and eagerness to join in with a threesome, stayed with me for years after. I lost count of the nights spent at Garth Heads redesigning the Karma Sutra with Lillian and her roommate.
Then along came Anne Savage from Heddon-on-the-Wall, another tall, thin but well-endowed girl, with the longest legs, slightly knock-kneed. She wore the tiniest miniskirts that rode up that last inch or two when sitting to reveal what had to be the Promised Land. It was as if she wore a sign saying “Nirvana this way – come and experience.” Of course, Anne didn’t wear any kind of sign at all, in fact she was very cute but quite dumb. She didn’t seem to know much about anything except how to look right for the guys.
I wanted Anne and Anne wanted to be wanted. Unfortunately, anyone in trousers would do. I wanted Anne and then after having Anne, I always wanted to be somewhere else. There didn’t seem to be anything else about her which turned me on except for that incredible porcelain white body, shaped like an hour-glass and supple from head to toe. I remember walking along Northumberland Street on a Saturday afternoon with her, and watching the reaction of oncoming shoppers at the sight of Anne’s heaving breasts, bra-less under see-through nylon, bobbing up and down to match her strides.
Women would notice her and then notice that their husbands already had their eyes glued to her. A slap would ensue, followed by an argument based around some kind of real or imagined infidelity. Guys leaving the pub would heckle and stumble towards us for a closer look. ‘Hey, pet! Get yer tits oot! Look at the jugs on that! Hey mate, you’re a lucky fucker!’ just the kind of patter to attract the young ladies. Yet these outstanding features (and the reaction they attracted) seemed to be Anne’s only link to the rest of mankind and the Universe.
Linda and Helen were two close friends who hung out in the ‘Pineapple,’ one of Newcastle’s in-scene bars for young groovers. Linda had a striking face, angular with deep set piercing blue eyes and thin dark hair, from which her ears protruded very slightly, giving her an elfin look. Helen was a little podgy with long marmalade blonde hair. She giggled a lot, playfully pinched all the boys’ bottoms, and had in tow a motor mechanic fiancé called, ‘Brian, the motor mechanic.’
Before too long I found myself dating Linda on an off-peak basis and really enjoyed her company – I didn’t want to get too close to her, I didn’t want to get too close to any girl at that time, but the more I saw of Linda the more I found myself wanting love in my life again and from my perspective at that moment Linda was indeed lovely in every way.
Almost each day of the week belonged to a different girlfriend whilst my nights belonged to a new club just opened in Bath Lane called ‘Change Is’. Bob Monkhouse was the owner; and it was decided that each night had a different theme; such as a 1930s night, then a mods night, followed by a magic night, where a member of the audience was hypnotised by a nut in a blue lame suit called Jake Thackeray. The novelty soon wore off and ‘Change Is’ became much less changeable, booking rock bands two or three nights a week, and for the rest of the week it was a folk club and disco.
It was one of these smoky, drunken folk club nights that I was informed by the local eight-track studio owner, Dave Wood, that local hot-shot drummer turned guitarist/songwriter, ‘Frantic’ Fred Wheatley, was looking for me to join his folk group, ‘Sandgate.’