“TO TRAVEL IS TO LIVE”
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
I believe preliminary rehearsals with the band were in my bedroom, but that’s a very vague memory. It’s close to the truth because there was nowhere else to get together. No one had a garage for instance. My parents were super supportive and they wouldn’t have minded the noise levels, even though our row house in Marcilly Road was very small. With the thick brick walls of the house the neighbors probably didn’t mind either!
I then recall John O’Leary telling me about the upper room at the Nags Head pub being empty and we arranged with the landlord to rent it on a weekly basis as a real rehearsal room with a goal to it being a venue to play to the public.
The next question was how do we get the guitar amplifier, drums and other instruments the few miles to the pub. Enter the London black taxi cab. A cab was called and somewhat sheepishly we brought the equipment out from my house. The cab driver was non plussed and even helped to load the taxi up with us! He showed us how and where to put it and we piled the equipment in. That solved that transportation problem quite easily.
With the equipment safely on the small stage upstairs above the pub it could be left there without a problem and we’d show up as a band and rehearse whenever possible.
After playing at the Nags Head for many months Harry got the band an out of town gig and he bought a cheap used postal van so we could get there. We all piled in with the equipment with Harry driving in the only seat and we marveled at the country side darkness as we drove up the M1 motorway. It wasn’t quite the way to go about touring but it got the job done.
Eventually by 1967 we travelled in a bigger all around utility van with no rear seats or side windows. I thought nothing of it. Band members would sleep roughly on the floor in the back on long night rides home after gigs. Otherwise we’d simply sit on the floor with our backs to the sides and chat as we drove to gigs around London or to a show out of the city.
Many of those interactions with band mates I have no recollection of but some I still remember and occasionally they come to mind.
Guitarist Martin Stone talking about early John Cleese, pre Monty Python, sketches on television still stays in my mind. He thought them hilarious and would explain a sketch as if telling a joke. Martin had an impish grin and manner about him. He moved quickly and nervously. His long sideburns, that were fashionable at that time, were quite impressive and manly. He had wispy, thinning long hair and small ferret like eyes. He had a furtive way of looking and carried an air of cool. He wore exotic clothes, often a colorful Mexican style outer vest and his thin frame never seemed to fill out his slacks or his collar less shirts. We never became close and he was really quite the opposite in character to me. I was certainly “straight”and not interested in drugs, the latter of which Martin liked to experiment with. His stage presence was imposing and it taught me a lot about how to carry myself in front of an audience.
There were many other talks I had with band members. There’d be a couple of us squeezed up front with the roadie driving (I don’t remember sleeping on those late night drives). Often I’d be chatting with Hughie Flint or Bob Hall. Both were older than me; Hughie by seven years. The road manager would be driving I’d be in the middle and Hughie or Bob on the other window side; the three of us tight together on a bench seat as we drove home from gigs.
I loved those talks and with Hughie and Bob it was always lots of fun. Hughie was quite a happy person. At that time he still had his goatee beard that made him look like a jazz player straight out of New York City. He was slim built, of average height and had a worldly charm to him. His manner radiated a mischievousness that was endearing. He was one of the original modern jazz drummers in Britain and then he morphed into blues with John Mayall during the Eric Clapton period finally progressing to rock music where he had great success with his own band McQuiness Flint in the 1970’s.
What we both talked about on those road trips who knows now? It would certainly have included anecdotes about who we knew in the music business and Hughie had more experience of that so I generally listened and laughed. It’s a favorite pastime of musicians to gossip about the adventures and funny stories involving fellow musicians. The characters you meet are sometimes unbelievable, unpredictable and plain crazy.
I was traveling and playing blissfully unaware of the business side of things that my brother Harry took care of. I must have drove every inch around London and across most of the country. We never or rarely ever stayed in hotels. We simply drove back to London through the night from most anywhere. After all I was a young twenty year old and even the more experienced band members around me weren’t much older. Traveling make shift in an old van was fine for everyone. Most bands did it exactly that same way.
Then, one day, out of nowhere arrived a big white Ford Transit van. Harry had made an investment. The black wheels contrasted well and made the sheer white exterior even more stunning. Compared to what I had been traveling in, this van looked huge. It was a professional looking vehicle. It had rows of passenger seats in the back that could seat twelve to fourteen people. That being said, in 1965 a record was set when forty eight students crammed into one!
It was spankingly brand new and because of its boxy shape, it looked like a classy Range Rover to me. I had never owned a car and didn’t even have a driving license at the time so I was mightily impressed. It was such a useful vehicle all the way around and so popular that it was said they were used in ninety five percent of bank raids in the UK! Perfect band transportation and getaway vehicle…
The van was huge and so roomy I had a seat row to myself. Looking out at the London streets as we made our way though congested streets I felt totally removed from the world outside. It was especially the case when we’d arrive back in London, early in the morning after driving all night and see everyone going to work.
It was an odd feeling watching the world wake up while I was still thinking about the show I had played the previous night.
Often, those shows were all night affairs that were happening in the 1960’s that featured upwards of a dozen bands. Coming from that wild atmosphere made the morning feeling even more bizarre.
This van model we had first appeared in 1965 and was a favorite of successful bands in the music industry. It was reliable as well as comfortable. There were long windows either side and the back window could be slid open to let air in for the passengers in the rear. This really was luxury. The squared off body shape was stylish and you rode quite high off the road making it easy to look out and see what was around you. Traveling in it made touring a new experience. It made me feel like a musician with a career that was going somewhere.