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50 YEARS AGO: Part 2


Following my ‘troubled’ late teenage years, having returned to Essex in November 1972 under something of a cloud, I’d emerged like a butterfly, in spring 1973 as the singer in a Colchester glam-rock band. I was also still on probation, for, as my father curtly described it, being stupid enough to get caught. My new probation officer was in Clacton. I think she was a first-timer. After an initial meeting she told me that she’d need to visit me at home. “How will I know your house?” she asked. I replied, “There’ll be loads of chicks outside, trying to climb the drainpipes.” Her eyes widened, “Really?” I shook my head. “Nah. It’ll probably just be my mum hoovering one of the Jack Russells or something. They moult at this time of year.” I got on well with my probation officer. I also recall that after a rocky start to 1973, landing a role as frontman for the Mighty Plod had been very good for me, both as a confidence builder and as an outlet for my hyperactivity. The first gigs were a rollercoaster. Our drummer’s diary recalled. “Wed. April 4th, first gig with Martin. Fairlop Girls School, Chigwell: Screams. Mobbed. Autographs etc. Sat. 7th April. New Penny Disco, Stevenage. Booed offstage and nearly beaten up.” After that first hysterical gig, which was packed with teenage girls, the second one was populated by glowering suede-heads and their flinty-looking girlfriends. It had been dangerous. There had followed another dozen gigs between then and April’s end. Our engagements ranged from Derby in the north, to Margate in the south, taking in Southend, London and several other places. It was a baptism of fire. I can’t however, offhand, think of a more exciting way of beginning my 20th year.

We were all so young. The drummer and the guitarist were teenagers and Carl our bass-player was still only 22. We quickly became veterans. Not everyone in our locality approved, of course. The older blues and prog-based ‘musos’ didn’t think much of us. They didn’t like our prancing around, the make-up or the tarty clothes. They said we couldn’t play. But we were very visual, and crucially, we were working -- while they weren’t. No, we didn’t make that much money but we seemed to survive. We acquired stage clothes from various sources and we ‘borrowed’ our girlfriends’ make up. Looking at our old pictures I notice that we were skinny boys. You tended not to see well-padded pop musicians back then; possibly because, before the hospitality industry was invented, most pubs and venues simply didn’t serve food. Returning late from gigs we’d stop at food vans parked in A12 lay-bys which sold unappetising burgers and hot dogs. Such gastronomic delights were usually wrapped in nasty white buns, devoid of any nutritional content. Unusually for that time, my new companions in the band, unlike my previous teenage associates, were drug-free. We also (at first) didn’t drink much alcohol. Apart, therefore, from our frequent lack of sleep and food, we were improbably fit and mainly fuelled on youthful nervous energy. My parents, I think, were heartily relieved that, I’d found this new occupation and, despite my increasingly outlandish appearance, that I seemed happy and ‘back in the world’ with them again. That summer, our guitarist Paul moved over to another band. We came off the road to train up a new axeman, an economics graduate nicknamed Bachelor Johnny Kool. By late summer we were back in business again and had begun writing our own material, rather than just playing covers. That December we got a longish residency in an Ipswich nightclub, The Bandbox. In addition to our other gigs, twice a month we’d do three nights in a row there, often playing four sets a night. The management worked us like huskies. The Bandbox clientele was rufty-tufty and the dancefloor could become gladiatorial at times. But we loved playing there. The effect of the hard work soon transformed us into a rocking little unit. Looking back upon it now it was probably our cut-price version of the Beatles’ Hamburg period. In spring of 1974 we got into the national semi finals of the Melody Maker rock competition, crashing out again, only weeks later.

The Mighty Plod also had several adventures playing the many air bases in East Anglia. One particular incident involved a woman twice my age, no better than she ought, who, as I walked offstage, strode across the dancefloor and in front of the entire audience committed an absolutely unprintable assault upon me. This, she cackled, was caused by the tight yellow stage trousers that I was wearing. Certain of our rural gigs could be a bit ‘frontier’ like that. To conclude, all I’ll say, is that joining an Essex glam-rock band when I did, actually made a man of me. On balance, however, the British Army might have been safer and rather better paid, than I was back in those carefree days

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