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FIFTY YEARS AGO...about now.

It was late November 1972 when I arrived back at the family home in Goldhanger, a tiny Essex village on the Blackwater estuary. I was 19 years old, underweight, a little scrambled mentally and ill with bronchitis. I’d been fending for myself since I was 15. A working lad since leaving school, things had originally started off okay. I’d had some reasonable jobs, rented a tiny flat in London and had learned to manage for myself. Relationships with my family having become strained, I was often out of contact for many months at a time. I frequented all-night rock clubs in Soho, ate pep pills like Smarties, wore eye make-up and idolised bands like the Faces, the Pink Fairies and Stray. Too late to be a hippie I was one of those new ‘young dudes’ that Bowie sang about. By age 19, there’d been a couple of arrests, a bust and a hospitalisation. The court psychiatric report described me as ‘ intelligent if rather mixed up’. They put me on probation. But then, I did this one really sensible, life-changing thing.

One morning, I phoned my mother, cleared my tabs, quit my factory job, packed up my few possessions, notified my probation officer and took a train home home to Essex. I think my mum was shocked to see me: skinny, coughing and hollow-eyed. But, with all the usual parental conditions, she took me in: no ‘funny stuff’, no staying out all night and as soon as I was well enough, get a job. My health took some weeks to recover. Over that time I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a couple of small aberrations and stop-outs. But I did get a job and I did hold it down. I was a paint-sprayer and general factory hand in nearby Maldon. My dad, an old army man, watched me like a hawk and occasionally berated me for my non-achieving, and general aimlessness. In late February of 1973, having stabilised somewhat, something extraordinary happened. My mum, always a great one for biro-circling articles of interest in the local newspapers, entered the living room, brandishing the Colchester Evening Gazette, She said, “You might be interested in this.” There was a picture of The Mighty Plod, a local glam-rock band. The item stated that their singer had just left them, leaving them with weeks of upcoming engagements. They needed a singer, fast.

My mother pointed out that they wore make-up and looked, “A bit peculiar -- like you.” The implication here was, that since pop music seemed to be my sole interest, I should immediately seek out this band and offer them my services. My dad, upon hearing this, was doubtful. “He’ll never do it.” he said. Then, addressing me directly, he asked, “When did you last perform in public? When did you last write one of those ‘songs’ of yours? You claim it’s all you care about, but what have you actually done?” The taunt was too much. I slammed out and went for a walk on the marshes. This wasn’t some fairy-tale Cliff Richard film, I’d protested to my mum, later. I couldn’t just go out to Colchester, thirteen miles away, track this band down and offer to be their singer, could I? And yet, the next morning, I didn’t go in to work. I got on the first bus from Goldhanger to Colchester. I had to start somewhere. I marched into Harpers, then a High Street music shop. Hanging around in the almost-empty emporium was a group of young long-haired lads. I asked them, “Do you know where I can find a band called the Mighty Plod?” One of the boys laughed, “What would you want with a rubbish band like that?” Another lad said, “Don’t listen to him, we are the band.” I looked at him and I said, “They call me Zap. I’m a singer.You should try me out. I don’t mind dressing up and that -- or putting on make-up.” Even as the words came stutttering out, I couldn’t believe that I’d said them.

A few minutes later, we were walking together to their ‘office’, their road-manager’s flat on nearby East Hill. After a conversation, phone numbers were exchanged and I left. In a complete daze, I took a bus home to Goldhanger. I walked into the kitchen. “Well?” asked my mum. “I’ve got an audition.” I said. A few days later, on a breezy, blossom-strewn March morning I caught the Colchester bus. I was picked up by the lads and we headed to Little Horkesley village hall. I’d never done an audition before. I sang Bowie’s Jean Genie, and Slade’s Gudbuy T’Jane. The band members went into a huddle, while I went out for a smoke. Minutes later, the drummer joined me outside. “You’re in.” he said. My heart leapt. I was given a list of two dozen songs and a pile of lyrics to learn. Fifty years ago exactly. It would completely change my life.


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