I was raised in S.W. London at a time when that area was a cradle for the young British music scene. Pioneering night clubs such as Eel Pie Island and the Ealing Jazz club, and later, the Crawdaddy club, provided a nurturing environment for the likes of Alexis Korner, Cyril Davis (the godfathers of the early British scene), and legendary bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. The National Jazz and Blues festival at Richmond (just a couple of miles away from where I lived), founded in 1961, morphed from jazz into rock, and featured the who’s-who of the UK music scene by the mid-60s.
My mom reported on the event for the local newspaper. The festival relocated in 1966 and eventually found a permanent home and a new name: the Reading Music Festival. It’s still one of the most important events on the UK modern day music calendar. Back in those early years, the electric energy of rock’n’roll made the local atmosphere crackle with excitement. Beatniks with long hair, and colourful clothes could be seen wandering around Richmond and drinking coffee at the famous L’Auberge café, where, it was rumoured, patrons purchased more than cappuccinos. In Twickenham, young people made the national “Look at Life” cinema news reels as they congregated in the famous Eel Pie Island club.
Legend has it that Long John Baldry discovered Rod Stewart busking on the platform of Twickenham train station after a gig at the storied venue. Even in my own sleepy suburb of Hampton we had a local band, The Others, who, in the mid 60s, were one of the up and comers to watch. They would not achieve national fame, but they inspired the likes of Queen’s Brian May, a pupil at Hampton Grammar school at the time. The music of the day, playing on the radio or record players, filled the large Victorian house that I grew up in. By the mid-60s my older brothers returned home on their Vespas with new records tucked in their parkas, or stories of parties they had attended, or wearing cool new gear like handmade fluorescent orange wide bell bottom pants. I took notice. As rock’n’roll grew older so did I. By the time the 1970s came around the music industry was a profitable and influential business. It had affected change and become a dominant force in young people’s lives. It was all grown up, and I was fully immersed in its culture, and, to some degree, under its influence. In true rock’n’roll style, I was at odds with a structured and rigid society that expected me to know my place. I had no idea what or where that place was. But social order was changing. So was the rhythm of the times.
What was I to do? A job in pop culture was not an option. They did not have “a man from the music industry” in an office-friendly gray suit and tie available for cozy chats on school careers day. In times past there was a mechanism for such wayward youth as me. During the Empire years, rebellious and restless British sons could find work abroad in the companies, plantations, and factories run by ex-pat Brits in such places as: India, South Africa, Jamaica, Rhodesia, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. But that globe with one quarter of the countries coloured red was long gone (although my school lessons, and some of my hand-me-down books, continually referenced it). It should be noted that my school in Hammersmith, Latymer Upper, had been around since before the golden years of the British Empire, having been founded in 1624. Some of the text books, and the teachers, may not have been that old, but they did hark back to another era. For example, during my junior years, my Latin teacher, Mr. “Milky” Parish, actually taught my father back in the 1930s! Honouring tradition and history was a subliminal part of my education. In the large hall where we gathered every school morning to sing hymns, with its stained glass windows depicting St. George slaying the dragon at one end above the headmaster’s stage, the names of former Latymer school boys who were Oxford and Cambridge graduates were gilded in gold lettering on stylish large black plaques and peered down impressively from high on the wall above the marble memorials that recorded the names of old Latymerians who had died in the First and Second World Wars. The plaques, in chronological order, some of them dating back to at least 1900, circled the great assembly area. My name was not going to be on those University lists I was certain. I wanted adventure. But, there was no where left to find such an intangible thing. Well, almost nowhere.
One of the last great frontiers at the time was the Canadian north. Today you can receive cell phone reception above the 60th parallel, satellite TV, and internet connections; you can Google Earth to see if there are any igloos still there. Amazon even delivers to Nunavut. Not so in the early 1970s. It was isolated. No connections to the outside world except by short wave radio or by plane. But I had no knowledge of this place. What English teenager would? However, a single accidental and lucky decision led me to the Canadian sub-arctic before it changed forever. I’m so glad it did. I ended up in a world far away from the razzamatazz of London, as a clerk in a trading post, a store from another time, stocking shelves, mopping floors, and purchasing fox and seal furs from the Inuit. The experience, and the people, taught me a lot. It changed me forever and set me on a new path.
Destiny then played another role in my life, this time in helping me make use of my passion for music. It guided me to become involved in the disco revolution of the mid-1970s. I know, hard to believe, one year I’m with some of the most isolated people on the planet, and two years later, I’m a successful DJ at the centre of one of the most crowded places you could imagine in any city – a well-dressed discotheque at the peak of the 1970s.
I have a book due in September: www.dundurn.com/books/Skinheads-Fur-Traders-and-DJs
It’s a wild story. It also happens to be mine. I hope you enjoy it.