Hi Guitaraholic pal of mine, thanks for visiting my blog.
When I got my first guitar (a second-hand sunburst Hohner) at the age of 14, I had no idea about the hundreds of skill-sets I would eventually learn – and which I am still learning at the age of nearly 70. Reading notation is just one of them, believe me.
First it was chords. (Well … and learning to tune up.) C, F and G majors came first and soon after, A minor. I suppose someone showed me them, I can’t remember. There was no Internet in those days, populated by generous individuals only too willing to give you a helping hand. (Thank you, you wonderful human beings!) But I learned the chords anyway and the songs started flowing.
Then G and D majors and E minor. It was enough to catapult me to stardom and it nearly did…
I was sixteen. My sister was seventeen and a fan of Heinz Burt, the bass guitarist in the 60s band The Tornadoes.
The Tornadoes were touring Britain on the crest of a wave. The name of that wave was Telstar, written by their manager and sound engineer, the legendary Joe Meek. It was in the UK Singles Chart for 25 weeks, five of them at number one, and in the American charts for 16 weeks. Telstar was the first U.S. number one by a British group.
But Joe, it seems, was a little on the reluctant side to spend big bucks on his stars. Hotels, meals, transport? Not really. They had to get to the gigs under their own steam and feed and overnight where they could.
Heinz and Roger Laverne, the keyboard player, travelled together in Heinz’s American-looking jalopy. And when they came to play the DeMontfort Hall in Leicester they stayed with us, at 78 Ashleigh Road.
A 30s semi-detached 3-bedroom suburban home, indistinguishable from a million others, doesn’t seem a fitting stop-over for members of a band who had conquered the world of pop music, but I didn’t hear them complain.
My mum fixed them giant fry-ups, plied them with Bell’s Whisky and made up beds for them. They must have liked our hospitality because they stayed with us several times.
In fact, word must have got round because we also put up two members of Peter Jay’s Jaywalkers (though I cannot now recall their names) and also the legendary Screaming Lord Such. I have a distinct memory of waking him up with a cup of tea and noticing that he was still wearing his top hat.
One way or another – probably through the plying of whisky and brute persistence – my mum managed to get Joe Meek’s phone number off one of them.
Why? Because my mum was the greatest fan of a new undiscovered duo called Jerry and Jules and she needed to let Joe Meek know all about them.
Jerry and Jules. Jeremy Fitchet and Julian Wright. My best mate at school and me. With my four chords we had written a clutch of pop-songs – This Is Love, How many Times, Time Means Money… – now all no more than memories.
But the very next day my mum rang up Joe Meek and wouldn’t let him go until he finally said “Okay, Mrs Wright, you win. Send them down next Sunday.”
So we went down to London. On the train. Wearing matching grey button-down-collar denim shirts, tailored Yorkers without turn-ups and black leather ties. When Joe opened the door and saw us he said something like “Oh my god” and led us upstairs.
I remember a chaotic room with wires everywhere, no sound-proofing and no attempt at corporate image. It was just a chaotic front room with wires everywhere and a big big barrel mike on a stand.
Joe told us to sing into it and retired, troubled, molested, intruded upon, to the next room where his recording machines were stationed.
“Play”, came the voice over the speaker. So we played. We played all of them and at the end Joe Meek came storming into the studio clutching some papers and seeming to be extremely excited.
“See that?” he asked us, pointing at what at first and yes, second glance, was a platinum album of Telstar, “You’ll get one of them!”
The papers were a contract. We had been offered a contract by the most successful record producer in the world, Joe Meek!
Jerry and I danced down Holloway Road and all the way back to King’s Cross railway station. We fell asleep, exhausted, on the train, luckily waking up just minutes before reaching our stop back in Leicester.
Then the contract got checked by a solicitor. Well, both Jerry and I were middle-class chaps and the middle-class take such precautions, don’t they.
The contract was shark-infested. It bound us for five years with no guarantee of any income. We were minors. Our parents said no. And that was an end to it. We didn’t sign.
If we had signed, then five years later we would both have been famous. Penniless but famous.
I would have settled for that.