REFLECTIONS ON A CAREER IN MUSIC...
REFLECTIONS ON A CAREER IN MUSIC...
THE SIXTIES and SEVENTIES...
A good memory, possibly aided by sundry memorabilia would make a fine place to begin. I cannot vouch for my memory; others may remember aspects (or indeed all) of these reflections very differently. As for the memorabilia, I have some, but not nearly enough, a direct result of my own carelessness & 'laissez faire' attitude. Hindsight illumines my successes & failures. I regret not having kept a better record of the times. I would love to hear from anyone who can add to these reflections. It was a very special time, but all too brief.
The Sixties & Seventies mean to me: my friendships with Geoff Harris & Nic Jones (we went to the same school), leaving school (my sigh of relief registered on the Richter Scale), evolving The Halliard with Dave Moran; friend & mentor, the late Ronnie Bridges (composer & publisher), time spent with Paul Simon & developing my solo career.
Paul Simon came to the UK in the mid 60s to pursue a solo career following the poor sales of Simon & Garfunkel's début album 'Wednesday Morning 3am'. The agent, Sandy Glennon, who, at the time, represented The Halliard, took him under his wing. Because' The Halliard', ran a large, successful folk club in Chelmsford (The White Hart, Tindal St.), Sandy asked us to book Paul for one appearance, as much as anything to see how a British audience would respond. Before I go any further, it should be said that there has always been some rivalry between Chelmsford & Brentwood Folk Clubs regarding Paul's introduction to the UK. The Brentwood club & it's then organiser, Dave McCausland get a generous mention in Peter Ames Carlin's biography of Paul Simon, whereas the Chelmsford club does not. Kathy Chitty, who became Paul's girlfriend & for whom he wrote 'Kathy's Song', worked 'on the door' at both clubs, taking the entrance money. We like to think that Paul met Kathy at Chelmsford first. Either way, both clubs provided Paul with much needed work & exposure. (Realistically, there must be many other clubs who could equally claim to have done their bit, putting Paul Simon 'on the map').
Getting Paul to Chelmsford for his gigs was where I came in.
At this time, Paul lived in Cable Street in London's East End. Getting around central London was reasonably straightforward. Travelling to the wilds of deepest Essex was a more daunting prospect. I lived roughly half way between Chelmsford & Liverpool St. & offered to meet Paul at Liverpool St. My offer was readily accepted. We met on the appointed day & began our journey. In the 60s, trains did not always run direct to Chelmsford; were infrequent & much slower than today. We used the time to get to know each other & found we had much in common, not just our tastes in music, but growing up; our experiences at school & dare I say it, how we'd coped with being 'a little on the short side!' Leaving the train, we had a fair walk to Chelmsford Folk Club along poorly lit streets. Paul's travel concerns were more than justified.
I met Paul & took the train with him for every appearance he made in Chelmsford. On one occasion, returning home on the last train, we were so engrossed in conversation I missed my stop & ended up at Liverpool St., where I had to wait until 5am for the 'milk train'.
Whilst I was at school & a year or two away from meeting Paul Simon, Geoff Harris & I started a school folk club. The club went from strength to strength & continued to run after we had left. Some time later, The Halliard, now professional, supported Paul Simon at a club in Romford. One of the current organisers of the school folk club approached me & asked if I thought Paul would play for the school club. I choose my moment & Paul responded: “Yes, for my full fee (about £30.00) or if that’s too much, I’ll come for free”. £30.00 was a huge amount for a school folk club to raise, so, not surprisingly, they went for the free option. An afternoon date was arranged; as ever I met Paul at Liverpool St. & we travelled to Brentwood. The school folk club organisers did a great job publicising the gig…students from two, nearby schools were also invited. As a result, the hall was crammed to the rafters. On reflection, the club could’ve covered Paul’s fee easily with money to spare. I sang for twenty minutes or so, a nervous ‘warm up’ & then introduced Paul to his adoring audience. He sang for over ninety minutes, finishing to a standing ovation & several encores. On the journey home he made no mention of the fact that his fee could have been met. The huge crowd of young people who had come to listen & the ovation he received touched him deeply…payment of a different kind.
Paul’s gigs at Chelmsford were incredibly well received. I think most of us realised, pretty quickly, that something different & special was happening. No belting choruses; no ‘come all ye’; here was a self-effacing, quietly spoken New Yorker, singing his own, beautifully crafted songs with guitar accompaniments to die for. We listened effortlessly & we learned quickly, so for his second & subsequent appearances, we sang along where possible, but with the gentle respect Paul’s songs engendered.
Slightly 'off piste', but worthy of recalling, on one occasion, Paul was indisposed & sent a ‘dep’, but no ordinary ‘dep’, none other than Art Garfunkel, accompanied by Jackson C. Frank. Garfunkel’s mellifluous voice plus Frank’s sensitive guitar accompaniments made for a different evening from the one we were expecting, but no less memorable. Art’s solo repertoire was not as extensive as Paul’s, so Jackson filled out the evening with some of his own songs, including the enigmatic, beautiful: ‘Blues Run the Game’. (Jackson C. Frank maybe an unfamiliar name to some, but I urge you to acquaint yourself with his songs. You Tube is a good place to start. Interestingly, Frank's only album was produced by Paul Simon. I heard recently [May, 2018] that a documentary film about Jackson C. Frank was in production).
I can’t claim that Paul Simon taught me his guitar playing style, but I did my darnedest to learn it, watching, listening & memorising. He played with a beautifully balanced, ‘clawhammer’ style (guitarists of a certain age will be getting misty eyed at this point!). Train ride to London over, I would get back to my flat in the wee small hours, liberate my guitar from it’s case & much to the annoyance of my flatmates, attempt to recreate Paul’s playing with varying degrees of success. I don’t remember Paul using ‘altered tunings’; maybe a ‘dropped D’ on occasion & standard chord shapes moved out of position, allowing open strings to add extra colour. The mists of time swirl endlessly around these musings, much like the cigarette smoke used to swirl around us in the clubs.
Memory alone is too unreliable as I draw these distant recollections to a close. My train journeys & ‘dangling conversations’ with Paul Simon almost certainly took place between October/November 1964 & August/September 1965, based on dates gleaned from Wikipedia. The release of the overdubbed version of ‘The Sound of Silence’ in September 1965 & it’s subsequent rise to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 necessitated Paul’s return to America. I never saw him again.
Our friendship was predicated on several train journeys from Liverpool St. to Chelmsford (& return), a few ‘phone calls & some shared gigs with 'The Halliard'. We never met socially. I will always be grateful to the L.N.E.R. for facilitating a unique opportunity denied to many.
Over the intervening years, I’ve attempted to contact Paul in the spirit of ‘auld lang syne’, but to no avail. A bridge over those ‘troubled waters’ remains a continuing dream.
(Richard Madeley’s article in the Sunday Telegraph, offers a personal view of teaching Richard to play guitar, passing on the fingerpicking I'd learned from Paul http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeduc...)
RONNIE BRIDGES, FRIEND & MENTOR...
I was introduced to Ronnie Bridges by my late Father. They joined the same Army regiment at the outbreak of WW Ⅱ. A shared love of music lead to the formation of a dance band trio (with Eric Venner), cheekily named: ‘The RASCals’. Sadly, the trio enjoyed a relatively short ‘career’. Ronnie, invalided out, joined ENSA✷ (they were short of pianists) & my Father was posted to East Africa. They were reunited after the war & remained close friends until my Father’s death in 2001.
If memory serves, I first met Ronnie in the early 70’s. Along with my Father, we had lunch at a Hungarian restaurant, close to Denmark Street. Ronnie & my Father had much to talk about including my burgeoning career.
I knew Ronnie worked for Liber-Southern Music as a composer & publisher. The prospect of him taking an active interest in my career was exciting & suddenly the future appeared full of promise. Can you imagine how I felt when I found out that Liber-Southern Music were the UK publishers for most of Buddy Holly’s catalogue? The ‘icing on the cake’ doesn’t come close!
Ronnie & I met several times, usually taking lunch at the same Hungarian restaurant before returning to his office in Denmark Street where the conversation continued over coffee. He inducted me into the mysteries of PRS, MCPS, music copyright, the Musician’s Union & his approach to song-writing. Ronnie must have been one of the last remaining publishers who, in true Tin Pan Alley style, retained a piano close by his office; not a piano gathering dust, a piano that was regularly played.
Unbeknown to me, Ronnie Bridges had honed his song-writing skills long before he joined Liber-Southern. After the war he played for an initial trial period of three weeks at the Windmill Theatre & ended up staying nineteen years. He remained at the Windmill until it’s closure in 1964. Ronnie played the organ at Harry Secombe’s wedding in 1948; he played piano for Bruce Forsyth & Bob Monkhouse’s auditions at the Windmill. Over the years he accompanied a host of variety artistes & comedians, most of whom went on to become household names. Ronnie wrote or co-wrote more than two hundred songs, many of which have been recorded.
Two incidents in particular I shall never forget. The first was Ronnie asking me to write the Liber-Southern entry for the current Eurovision Song Contest. I teamed up with the late Ian Hughes & we co-wrote a song entitled: ‘Love is’ on Ronnie’s piano. A tape recorder magically appeared enabling Ian & I to record a rough demo. The song was submitted, but regrettably, not chosen as the UK entry.
The second, unforgettable moment brings us forward to the late 70s. I was, by then, sufficiently established as a singer/guitarist to venture into the realms of the ‘One Man Show’. After discussing the pros & cons with Ronnie, I went ahead & booked the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford. At one of our meetings Ronnie turned to me & said: “Would you consider singing one of my songs at your next concert?” Ronnie Bridges was asking me if I would consider singing one of his songs? I couldn’t have been more surprised & honoured. Without a moment’s hesitation I accepted. Ronnie passed me the sheet music & it was immediately obvious that ‘Long, Long Ladder’ suited my programme perfectly. He attended the concert & sent me a note the following day. I quote:
Thank you for a terrific evening last last night. So very entertaining that the time went too quickly. The contrasting content evinced a lot of thought on your part & fosters my respectful admiration…your show was the best I’ve seen in a long time. Best Wishes,
PS I’ll run off a broadcast copy of ‘Ladder’ for you.
Ronnie Bridges was a kind, self-effacing, gentle man. Not your stereotypical, music business mogul, the like of which I had encountered all too frequently. I valued his friendship; respected his knowledge & experience & heeded his advice. Ronnie died on 8th December, 2005.
In writing this blog, I have gleaned some details from Keith Skues’ sensitively written obituary for Ronnie, published on 16th December, 2005 in ‘The Independent’. I’m grateful to ESI Media & in particular, Duncan Crawley, for granting permission to refer to Skues’ obituary.
The full text of Keith Skues’ obituary can be read here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/ronn...
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