`M1-40 Night Touch Notting Hill Gate, December 1980. The day started out like any other. I got up around 7am, and folded the nattily-constructed wooden bed up into the wall, thus converting my bedsit into a studio. Quick shower and a cup of Japanese green tea, then off for my usual 2-mile morning walk. Down Linden Gardens, along Bayswater Road, crossing it at the first entrance to Hyde Park, then a 600-yard stroll due south in an almost empty park, the traffic noise receding gradually, until I reached the Round Pond. There I sat for maybe 15 minutes, enjoying watching the ducks ducking. “Ducks. They just Duck. They don’t try to be anything else. Why can’t people be more like that?” – was the thought that usually passed through my mind at this point.
Unfortunately geese are equally pure in thought and deed. Geese like to goose. More often than not, after I had been sitting there for a few minutes, a goose would waddle out of the pond and come up and goose me viciously in the shin – presumably demanding food. Ouch! My reverie interrupted, I started the return walk back to my fifth-floor flat. No lift, only stairs. Arriving a touch out of breath at the top, I would head for the comfort of my sofa and a twenty-minute meditation. Then a simple breakfast of cereal with bran, soya milk and dry fruit (keeps you regular) and plenty more tea, after which I’d start work by answering some letters (remember those?). That done, I’d get on with whatever recording project I had on the go.
Today was a bit different – I had to prepare for a party I was giving tonight. As usual I had invited anyone and everyone I thought would like to come – old school friends, rock stars, record company people and journalists, and since around 1976, a goodly number of punk rockers. Ever since it got started, punk had delighted me. And if they were honest and not spouting the “any rock musician more than 5 years older than us is an OLD FART” routine, quite a number of punks were fans of my previous band Mott the Hoople. So I got to know quite a lot of this new breed of fiercely independent, edgily creative folk. During its short existence (a little over a year) I went to the punk Mecca, the Roxy Club in Covent Garden, at least once a week. I would stand there relaxed, drinking in the mayhem around me, along with the flat warm beer they served, glimpsing the occasional visiting Zep or Floyd. In between manic sets by bands like ATV, Chelsea, Wayne County & The Electric Chairs (with whom I would play and record later), and The Damned, DJ Don Letts would spin the deepest dub music I had ever heard. A stunning combination of two different cultures, reminiscent of my Mod days ten years earlier when sets by The Who and other white mod bands would be interspersed with the finest black soul/funk hits from Stax and Motown.
I’d known The Damned almost since they started up in 1976. The link was a staunch Mott fan, Laurie, who Dave started going out with not long after the band formed; they would marry in 1977. Laurie is a chatty, utterly likeable New Jersey girl who sported what seemed to me to be a stylish, slightly vampiric version of the 70’s L.A. look – black leather’n’lace, thick black make-up and black nail polish, superhigh heels, fingerless gloves, etc… No wonder Dave (whose stage name he extracted from Transylvanian) fell for her.
For their marriage they were resplendent in full vampiric black outfits, particularly striking as it was held in one of the most boring, dreary city halls imaginable, located in Acton, West London, complete with boring, dreary councillor officiating. Richard Strange (singer of Doctors of Madness) was best man – at the last minute he was instructed that a tie was required, so he improvised with a page from a copy of Womens’ Own magazine found in the waiting room, stuck on with chewing gum:
Silver skull rings à la Keith Richards were exchanged. At the back of the hall stood a small bunch of skinny, surly looking lads who didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure why they were there. “Who’s the interesting-looking one with the big glasses?” I asked someone. “Some new singer – calls himself Elvis.”
It was perhaps not a brilliant idea to ask Dave’s bandmates Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible to decorate their car for the honeymoon drive. Newly dubbed the Fang Mobile, it is said that the liberal coating of chili sauce applied to the roof peeled off a good amount of paint:
Still, domestic bliss ensued:
They stayed together almost 20 years – pretty good compared to most musicians’ marriages I know. Laurie expanded her clothes sense into a fashion business which she still runs, converting vintage clothing into elegant 21st-century outfits.
The Damned impressed me with their early Nick Lowe-produced records on Stiff, definitely a cut above the yobbish thrash of most punk bands (which I also enjoyed – not a criticism). They were the first punk band to release an album, and the first to tour in the USA, where their high-speed rock had a big influence on West Coast hardcore punk bands. In spite of their music having an effect somewhat like being machine-gunned directly in the eyeballs, Dave was always a charmer and very gentlemanly and easy to get along with. Perhaps he got that way by getting all his aggressive tendencies out onstage. I was delighted that he decided go more towards door-creaking horror for his miniature. Listening to all the miniatures when they came through my letter box was always a pleasure, but particularly so in this case as it was so surprisingly different to his work with The Damned. The band, of course, as we now know, went through various lineup changes and reunions, always with Dave at the helm, and are now, almost 40 years since they started, playing in such places as Argentina and Brazil, and receiving various awards and having documentaries made about them. Punk acquires respect. A good thing? Your answers on a postcard please…
That party of mine? It was, as expected, packed with a brilliant mix of characters – dare I say a Mott-ly crew? So much so that it spilled over into the flat next door, to which my kindly Korean lady neighbour generously agreed. Dave wasn’t there this time – although he and Laurie had graced in grisly fashion my fancy dress party on New Year’s Eve 1978:
However, the guitarist from the original lineup of The Damned, Brian James, did show up. I’d always liked Brian, too – another gentleman punk. By this time he’d left The Damned and played with Iggy Pop, Tanz Der Youth, formed Brian James Brains, and would soon play with The Saints and create a kind of punk supergroup, Lords of the New Church.
By about 2am, the party was building to a typically manic peak, and the constant barrage of loud music was finally starting to put paid to my trusty Wharfedale studio speakers. They were distorting horribly, so in order to enjoy the music at its undistorted best – and still at brain-frying volume, Brian and I both donned headphones and were dancing round each other like dervishes. Finally the speakers cracked up completely – and I suddenly had a bit of a crackup myself. I felt an irresistible need to escape the madness of what would be my last London party ever, and go somewhere quiet and be alone and have a calm think. Some new, or perhaps old, long-neglected desire was stirring in me. It seemed that this was An Important Moment and I needed to go somewhere luxurious and comfortable. So I changed into my one and only suit, walked quietly away from my own party, headed for Bayswater Road again, hailed a taxi and drove to the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly. The next morning, on waking to a sumptuous breakfast of porridge and kippers served under silver domes, I knew with certainty that it was time to go to India, possibly forever. I called my close friend Iain McNay, boss of (still prolific) Cherry Red Records, and invited him to the Ritz Cafe so I could share my news with him. But that’s another story…
*** Special thanks and hugs to Laurie Glendon Vanian and Amanda Austin for the priceless photographs!
Next up: Racing poodles…