I – Beginnings
Dad bought the family guitar one Sunday from a swap shop in Lee Green; my brothers and I rejoiced! It came with a training book. I believe its author was The Bishop of Woolwich – really! Until now I had been learning on a cardboard guitar I built myself – previously the closest I had got to the real thing! I knew it was going to be no pushover learning this instrument.
I struggle to hold the strings down – how do we tune the damn thing?! I give up for a while. Chris Pye (a friend at Charlton Secondary) is given a guitar for helping out at a school jamboree. We are great mates and I often go to his house. We take our guitars to school and Mr James the music teacher tunes us up. A string breaks and lashes me just above the right eye – “take care of this boy,” he said.
″ we dangle the machine heads over his mothers’ gas stove, melting them into ‘modern’ funkadelic shapes ″
Chris plays the first live guitar chord I have ever heard – A minor! Wow! What a sound! I play the James Bond theme – then the tune to Harry Lime on just one string. We swap ideas and I soon pick up D major + E major… and then it’s back home to keep practicing on what was to become my first love – the guitar.
The Beatles have been caressing my ears for years, I love their harmonic singing. The Small Faces; The Kinks; The Move; Jim Hendrix; most bands – we listen to them all. My brothers and I write our first song; ‘She’s My Girl’. It has a great chorus and I can still remember it to this day.
Sunday mornings I join Chris at Johnny Morrison’s house in Highgrove, Plumstead. He often shows us the latest sheet music from top bands in the charts. One time we knock and Johnny appears at the door bleeding profusely at the mouth, making incoherent sounds. Chris and I are dumbstruck – and then Johnny bursts out laughing. It turns out he had just bitten a blood capsule that are often used in the ring, Johnny being a part-time Wrestler!
Chris had a ridiculous collection of odd speakers from every radiogram going – all wired up and somehow ready to go at a moments notice. During a flash of madness – or genius – Chris takes to a string of speakers with a razorblade, slicing away. We’ve discovered distortion! YEAH! Now it’s Jeff Beck blasting out of his bedroom windows!
We now have slashed guitars and radio speakers. Electric guitars become our canvas; we experiment on them – we dangle the machine heads over his mothers’ gas stove, melting them into ‘modern’ funkadelic shapes (which hurt to turn!). Surgeons Bath and Pye eventually turn a harmless Vox Stroller into a psychedelic painted, five-pick-up non-controllable beast!
Plenty to do. It’s not long before Chris is lead guitarist in new band, Cobwebs & Strange, named after a John Entwistle song. They let me play and sing along with them – what a sensation. It’s not long before I join them too – my first band.
I perform my first gig at Saint Peters Youth Club in Woolwich. Ska and Reggae music is usually played here and lots of skinheads are present. Objects are thrown at us, usually it’s peanuts, which Chris comically bats away with his guitar, and then more worryingly a lump of metal flies past my left ear – but all is safe, just! Next day in town kids recognize us – first brush with fame I guess!
″We eat packets of raw jelly to strengthen the nails″
Rehearsals move to the Ascension Halls at Plumstead Common. I tell Del Palmer (my other best mate) to buy a Bass guitar – I teach him for a week and he’s in! He suffers the finger pain we all go through and sits at home with them dangled in warm bowls of salt water to harden them up. We eat packets of raw jelly to strengthen the nails. Our drummer Grf (Gary Robert Fuller) is the loudest Ginger Baker around. Barry O’Hare (the former bass player) moves on as does Dougie Doy (rhythm guitar). I wonder where they are now? The Cobwebs and Strange band splits.
During the middle of this period I had somehow managed to get hold of my older brother’s Vespa Sportique scooter (mine if I could fix it up properly!). I now miraculously rode this to school everyday – I must have looked a right toff! While working on it I occasionally spot Johnny Coathen walking up the road with his electric guitar in hand. I eventually pluck up the courage to talk to him. It’s OK; he’s is on his way to ‘The Benches’ – the most important spot this side of the equator – up in Samuel Street, where the most amazing player, Melvyn Hyland, sits on special nights performing to a substantial crowd of onlookers. HE WAS THE MAESTRO.
We get to talk. Melv plays country guitar in the style of Chet Atkins, classical guitar and pop – but he’s a rock and roller at heart. And still is. Johnny plays the best blues in the world along with another budding musician, Alan Maclean, who lives on the same street (but rarely makes an appearance) and boy is it worth waiting for! Alan plays bass and sings just like Stevie Winwood on ‘Keep on Runnin’ and ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ (The Spencer Davis Group)! Melv and John play Hendrix / Clapton licks with ease as if they’re going out of style, but to us they sure weren’t because the rest of us were just chord merchants!
It’s not long before I pick up my first riffs from these masters.