When my ancestors came to England from France in the middle of the 18th Century they brought with them their artistic skills. "Many thousands of Huguenot
silk manufacturers had recently settled in Spitalfields, and other skilled trades previously conducted in France were now practised in Long Acre and Soho
by refugees who were rapidly becoming Englishmen."`English Social History` G.M.Trevelyan 1944. My ancestors were skilled fan makers, producing fans from bone and ivory.
They were founder members of the Fan Makers Association.
Two hundred years later I was born in Bow in the East End of London within the sound of Bow bells: a cockney. (Incidentally, Rog is on the family tree,
but I haven`t seen him since 1785.) The war had ended the previous year. My parents had been bombed out of their home. When my father returned from the Middle East they were
`temporarily` rehoused in a prefab. A small, single story construction of prefabricated asbestos panels, the four-room prefab was intended as a short-stay home
while proper housing was being built. But the prefabs stayed up for many years and some families were happy to live out the post-war years in these tiny dwellings.
Our home was in Beachy Road. (Just a mile and a half to the west, in Bethnal Green one of the toughest areas of the city, at 178 Vallance Road, the teenage Kray twins,
Ronnie and Reggie, were beginning to make there powerful presence felt by all who came close to the cold flame of their personality.)
My memory can`t be trusted but I have impressions of memories that may or may not be accurate. Across the road was a factory producing glue from boiled horses.
A distinctive odour. I can see a dark, brick wall stretching the length of the street. I`m in the middle of the street on my tricycle. My father takes my picture
with his box Brownie. Prince, the black spaniel is sitting, panting on the curb. When he dies his place will be taken by Bruce the boxer. Turn your back and he`s gone,
hotfoot to Victoria Park. Later a photographer will come to the prefab to take a memorable posed shot of the family on the sofa. None of us have ever looked so young again.
The proud parents, the three growing children; everything is getting better.
When I was three we made an incredible social leap: we moved to Rayners Lane just a mile or two from Harrow in north west London. My dad still enjoys telling
people that we come from `Bow an` `Arrow.` He borrowed a few hundred pounds from his employer to put a deposit on the semi-detatched house. A fortune. What a commitment.
It was a different world. The house was big, lots of room; a garden back and front -- and dad tacked on a garage; and later fell through the asbestos roof in an unguarded moment.
Across the road allotments and big sky and fresh air. And Longfield primary school. Just a walk away. I can remember rope ladders in the gym; morning milk break; scuffed knees;
the lanky head-master; the smell of the hall.
The coronation of the young, fledgling queen. And then it was the mid-Fifties and my older brother was wearing drape coats and brothel-creepers and was soon talking about someone
called Elvis. Family rows; cowering in the kitchen: raised voices and tears. There was skiffle and `Rock Island Line` and Lonnie Donegan and then my brother was a beatnik:
cords and berets and cool MJQ and beautiful girlfriends with dyed blonde hair.
My parents bought me an `orange-box` guitar. Brown body, red rope strap. I tried playing `Tom Dooley.` "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley; hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your
head , Tom Dooley: poor boy you`re gonna die -- well now, boy..." I was useless. It came a bit hard to realise I couldn`t play. But I took the guitar to the
youth club and plucked out a few notes, red-faced but proud. A few kids were impressed.
Lascelles secondary modern school. David Jordan -- the only name I can remember. His sister: I can still see her face. Why? Cycling to school in my yellow,
plastic cape in the rain. Leather satchel. Cycle clips. Fights in the `play`ground. Art class; the teacher calling me `professor.` After tea out on our bikes.
Climbing the drainpipes up to the garage in the car park behind the Rayners Hotel. Summer evenings with a special light, a liquid feel to the air, the sounds of
cars speeding along Imperial Avenue, and then the stars. Into De La Mura`s for lemon ices and liqourice pipes and bootlaces. I can see the interior of that shop
so clearly it scares me. Could I blink and find myself back there, 1958? Perhaps -- perhaps not...If only...
Vanda Gibbs lived next door and then she moved away. The Fridkins came; he owned some hairdressing shops. Mr.Notley, few doors away, came home drunk from the bank
everynight then he threw his family out in the garden. They had to wait for him to sober up before he`d let them in. Mr.Notley taught me how to ride a bike.
Very smart man, crimson in the face, careful step along Farm Avenue, always polite. The Battershells owned a ladies clothes shop, all corsets and elasticated contraptions.
Dickie had a nervous cough; they both liked a drink. Mr.Truen would tell rude jokes when they came in on Christmas morning. She was Dutch and would ask for water in a wine glass.
Philip, their son, looked bemused. My dad always had a cigar on Christmas morning. If I smell the scent of a cigar now it instantly transports me back to those
Christmases so long ago.
When we were sixteen Les Philips and I got motorbikes. I got a Triumph trials that I`d seen in a Cliff Richard`s film, `The Young Ones.` Owed my dad the money.
We`d ganged up with Mad John, Whitey and Evans. They`d found an old bike on the dump and Evans had got it going. Mad John would rev it up so hard I expected it to explode.
Whitey`s grandmother was blind. He liked to creep up behind her in her house and blow in her ear to startle her. Whitey got on the bike and revved it up and roared off down the hill.
Did he die flying through Woolies window? Perhaps...
Radio Luxembourg and all the songs were written just for us, from Dion`s `Runaround Sue` to Frank Ifield`s `I remember You.`
But it was Buddy Holly who was my hero. He could do no wrong. He was perfection. I`ve only to hear `Rave On` or `Maybe Baby` and I`m back there, walking to
Pinner in the dark, on my way to see Pamela, singing out loud, celebrating Holly. Perfect lost soul. If only...
Les and I used to go to the popshows that toured the country, appearing at cinemas. Promoters used to get six or seven acts that were current and send them off round the provinces.
One of the most memorable events of my life was at the Odean in Harrow. Top of the bill time. The audience was expectant, on their feet , the girls screaming.
The lights went off, there was a hush -- we heard a strange scraping noise -- and then: "Weeeelll...." that crystal voice of pain, "Be bop a lula..."
A single spotlight: Gene Vincent curled over a glistening microphone stand, his hair slicked back, his face as white as death, his leather garb liquorice-black and holy.
The music hit in,
the girls screamed like demented angels -- and Vincent launched into his classic song. Literally electrifying. The scraping sound? His metal leg brace being dragged
across the stage under the cover of darkness so we couldn`t see his precious flaws. He performed anchored to the spot by his disability: a true rock legend.
And the night we saw Billy Fury, at that time probably the most handsome man in the world; so cool he could have been Jesus.
The red drapes drew back and there he was perched on a high stool, his silk Italian suit like liquid flesh, his act so suggestive that the management
pulled the curtains on him before the end of the first song. The girls were distraught, dangling in some orgasmic limbo, waiting for his return.
He came back on and didn`t touch himself, but still they screamed, still we stood in awe of such a vivid, sexual being: Fury at the height of his brief career,
more than halfway to paradise. Shy, we later heard; horse-loving man, destined to die too young of a life-long heart defect. Billy Fury, once seen -- never forgotten.
And Bobby Vee and Dell Shannon and Chuck Berry and countless others passing through our little towns, leaving behind teenage dreams and torn blouses damp with sweat.
The Sixties had begun.
We`re going to have to move this along, otherwise we`ll be here all bloody night. On the day I left school we were marched into the headmaster`s office in groups of six.
"What`s your name, boy?" "Daltrey, sir." "Got a job, Daltrey?" "No, sir." "Jolly good, boy. Good luck. Next." That was it: career guidance, circa 1961.
Mr.Fridkin offered to take me on as a hairdresser`s apprentice, but when he told me the wages I went off the idea. I got a job at Dunn`s, men`s outfitters in Harrow.
Famous for their hats. Problem was, men had stopped wearing hats. Thing of the past. I swept up, made tea, took trousers to the Jewish tailors in Wealdstone.
Victor Sylvester on the radio; what a smoothy. Dunn`s is where I met Mad John.
Chronology will not be one of my strong points in this verbose narrative. Then a position came up at Dunn`s Regent Street branch. My dad was keen for me to take it.
Step up, son. The shop was the first up from Piccadilly Circus, one of the busiest areas in the world. In at the deep end. Starling, the manager detested me,
treated me like a lower class urchin. Swept up, made tea, took trousers to the tailors in Greek Street. Postcard pinned to doorway leading up the stairs.
`French model with large chest for sale.` Huge negro tailor befriended me. Man of few words, dark peace, gold-rimmed glasses, gleaming teeth and wise words.
Can`t remember his name. I can see him. Yes, I can see him. Stopped daily by the police to check what was in my suitcase. Past the sweet factory-shop; sickening smell.
The Windmill theatre. Followed by queers through the underground. Back to Dunn`s, ripped my only suit on a jagged nail; no compensation, rows, spilt tea and crushed digestives.
The following year I got a job in the post-room at ABC Television in Hanover Square. There were half a dozen of us running letters and small packets all over London,
in and out of taxis and buses -- taxis rarely; used to go by bus and claim taxi fare.
Then along comes this slender, fair-haired chap wearing a brown suede coat with a fake fur collar -- used to call them driving coats.
He joins us in the post room: Eddie Pumer. Lithuanian roots, had TB as a kid, great sense of humour: we hit it off immediately.
We have to get on or we`ll be here all bloody night. The facts, that`s all that matters. They don`t want to wander down Memory Lane and find
themselves lost in the back-alleys of Minute Detail City. Tell them what happened, how it felt, colour it where necessary, but let them see it.
Suddenly the Beatles were everywhere. A national rash of energy and life, so potent it felt good to know they were somewhere in the same country.
We woke up thinking about them, ate them until
we could eat no more, took them with us inside our heads and watched for them in the endless stars.
Ed and I used to have lunch in Carnaby Street, only because that was where the cheapest cafe was: spaghetti, treacle pudding 5/6d.
Then they shut the cafe and it became a boutique. What`s that?
Then the whole street was lined with boutiques and suddenly we all wanted new clothes. Our parents were outraged. We all looked like bloody fairies.
Ed and I ducked into Woolies and got our photos done in one of them booths. We also recorded `From me to you` in a booth. Put your money in, red light,
warble and laff, wait, disc comes sliding out. Anyone could do it. Then, bugger me, a few months later Ed says, right out of the blue:"D`ya want to be in my band?"
I didn`t even know he had a band. Kept it quiet. Like everyone else I`d swung my hips in front of a mirror a few times, crooning into a hairbrush.
But join a band? That wasn`t messing about.
By this time I was a mod. Some guys went for chubby Vespas, but I always preferred the sleek Italian lines of the Lambretta.
Fashions changed monthly, weekly: one minute everyone had chrome bars and carriers front and back, then just on the front, then the back, then no bars,
but with chromed side panels. I had my panels sprayed racing green with a big white number on. We wore USA Army parkas and Pork Pie hats, loafers and short, dyed slacks.
Then Fred Perry shirts with close-cropped hair. It was a nightmare.
So off I trot to the school hall in Acton Town where Ed`s band practises. (24-3-64) I was worried about meeting these guys: musicians!.
Danny Bridgman turned out to be a bundle of barely contained energy, a compact Bull Terrier with flashing drum sticks and greasy hair.
My god, he could make a racket!. In the terrible acoustics of the empty school hall it was deafening. Try talking and he`d practise a few rolls;
Discuss chords and he`d feel it was time to murder a few tom toms. Ed had warned me that Steve Clark was a real nutter. I was nervous; sweating inside my ridiculous bear-size parka.
I needn`t have worried: yes, Steve was a nutter, but the happy kind, not the dangerous type. With his leg trembling he said hello and then went back to doing something
odd with his beefy bass. `Dumpf, dumpf, kadumpf,` went the muddy thump of his guitar.
By tacit agreement I took up my position behind the microphone stand. I didn`t have the faintest idea what I was doing. They told me they liked R & B stuff.
They launched into a number and I was expected to join in. Jesus, was I embarrassed! I hid behind the music stand that held the lyrics and moaned into the mic.
The guys were very patient with me and although I thought I`d blown it, they took me on as their singer. I couldn`t believe it: I was a singer in a band!
Although we all liked the Beatles, it was easier to play Stones material. We also found that we all liked blues and were soon learning songs by Muddy Waters,
Howling Wolf and Mose Allison. The caretaker would stand in the doorway and listen, shaking his head disparagingly. He`d killed a man some years before;
we didn`t ask him about it. He let us stash our few speaker cabinets and small amps in the boiler room. Then it was off to the pub opposite for huge halfs of cheap shandy.
After a few months we wanted to go out and play. We had played our first gig at a nurses` party at Fulham hospital on the 26th June, but the next day we had our first
public booking playing for kids at the cinema: Saturday morning pictures; a British institution. I remembered it fondly myself: off to the cinema via
De La Mura`s to watch cartoons and space serials and the Lone Ranger, yelling and chewing and punching. We got a gig playing in the interval.
We set up in front of the stage at the ABC cinema in Edgware, north of London. The kids didn`t shut up for a minute. But
we got a taste of what it was like playing in front of an audience.
By August we had gained enough confidence to book ourselves into Central Sound Studios, 6 Denmark Street in London.
We recorded `House of the rising sun,` `Mona,` `Hi Heel Sneakers,` and our very first self-penned composition, `Drivin` around.`
We wanted some songs of our own; we wanted to rise above being just a covers band. Ed and I just fell into writing without anyone ever discussing it:
Ed wrote the music and I wrote the words. Terrible bloody songs to begin with! But we had all gradually become ambitious, driven on by the encouragement of friends and family.
Slowly we got better at performing and writing. Throughout 1964 and 1965 we gigged regularly. On the 19th February 1965 we supported Van Morrison`s band, Them,
at the Starlite Ballroom, Greenford. One of our most memorable gigs was on the 5th April of that year when we supported The Who at the Lakesider Club, Hendon.
Needless to say, they blew us off stage. They`d just had their first hit after changing their name from the High Numbers, `Can`t Explain`, a slice of raw
Mod in-yer-face pop. We had a friend whose name was Janet Payne; she was convinced it was her song. Daltrey borrowed my tambourine before going on stage.
Bastard smashed it to bits and then walked off with it. Townsend was just becoming notorious for stabbing his Rickenbackers into his speaker stacks.
It was a violent, riveting act; you couldn`t take your eyes off them.
Later, in the dressing room we stood open-mouthed as Townsend packed away his many Rickenbacker skeletons. Keith Moon, who was a dervish on stage,
destroying his kit whilst still managing to play, wandered off wearing what would become his characteristic Cheshire-cat grin.
Later that year we supported, though not so memorably, Fluer de Lys, The Ivy League and Dave Dee.
Earlier, we`d acquired a manager: young, thrusting, ambitious Barry Ashpole, with an equally enthusiastic missus. Barry was a couple of years older than us
so we looked up to him and trusted him. He worked damn hard to get us into all the local rags and fixed us up with plenty of gigs. We were really going somewhere.
Well, actually, Barry and his missus really did go somewhere, trouble was it was called Canada. I think Barry thought it was going to be easier to break the band
than it turned out. Epstein had paved the way for young hopefuls like our Barry; made it look too easy. We were close to the Ashpoles so it came as a bit of a shock
to get a letter from him explaining why he hadn`t been answering the blower. He was 4,000 bloody miles away. No hard feelings Baz. Hope you had a good life, mate; we did.
Then a prize prat called James East enters the saga: lanky, music-biz sucker fish. Smooth as Grade 4 sandpaper. `Thousands of contacts in the business, boys.`
Actually, I think he got us the audition for Larry Page on the 5th May 1965. Could have been a break, but not to be. Mr.East obviously thought he was on to a winner.
For the early part of 65 we`d been touted as the group most likely to win a big beat contest held at Wimbledon Palais. We bought some stage clothes: light slacks and sports shirts;
well, we thought we looked good.
But it was a scam. At the end of each evening the audience placed their entrance tickets in a box for the group they liked best. But the management let it be known that
if you bought extra entrance tickets you`d get more votes. They were conning us. Our poor parents all fell for it and emptied their sad wallets to
purchase as many tickets as possible.
Nice little earner. We got through to the finals, had a laugh, got excellent experience at playing in front of a big audience in a large venue and got a
few good live photos of the band performing.
We also picked up a few fans who stayed with us who stayed with us throughout our crazy
journey, and even played their own part in our travels. There was Dave Stimpson and his girlfriend Lynn, big Ian Udall and his laid back mate Ray Moon;
nothing could faze Ray. Ed`s many sisters, particularly June and Sonia, became fanatics. Later, George and Annie would join the faithful who stayed with
us through it all; part of our history -- part of our lives.
All this time Dan`s dad had been driving us to and from gigs in his van, working like the proverbial Trojan to make sure we got everywhere on time.
They all formed part of our support team and all those times when we were low -- after lousy gigs or failed auditions -- they picked us up with a
well-chosen compliment or another pint of steaming shandy. We would probably have thrown in the towel sometime in 65 or 66 if it hadn`t been for their faith in us.
Over the preceding nineteen months we`d recognised in ourselves a resilience and determination to succeed that surprised even us.
We were easily brought down by failures big and small, but always came back with a renewed vigour. In an attempt to turn the tide, we decided to change our name.
On the 9th November 1965 we became The Key
Copyright © 2008 Chelsea Records.Co.Uk
All rights reserved all terratories all text and images.