My first electric guitar cost £4. It was home made. I bought it in a junk shop. I took it home and painted black and white swirly patterns all over its body. For eight quid I bought a knackered Watkins Dominator combo. After less than five minutes on full whack the Dominator made a noise like a demented donkey that you could only kill with feedback. Best feedback resulted from sticking the head of the guitar against the speaker, the guitar’s arse into my groin and basically humping the amp to vary the pitch of the scream. Psychedelically enhanced, this felt fierce and mighty.
I wanted to be original, so I resolutely refused to learn anything. That’s how smart I was. I twiddled and diddled. I bought a Marshall Fuzz Face and a Vox Wah Wah pedal. I fuzzed and wahed my twiddly diddlings.
After a year or so I met another guy called Dirk. We jammed. He would play A and E minor and I would twiddle and diddle.
Obviously the next step was a gig. I knew a chap called Ambrose who was putting on a benefit at Guildford Youth Centre. I blagged a slot. This was 1970. These were Acid Days. I may not have been able to play the guitar but I was more than able to talk. I knew a drummer called The Black Shadow. He looked like King Charles the Second. He knew a white South African who claimed to play the bass. We called him The Immigrant. They were both up for it. None of us had any gear. No matter. We would borrow. I called us ‘Scorched Earth’.
I invited Stephen Stills to come and jam with us at the gig. I’d never met him, but I knew where he lived. He’d bought the house that Peter Sellers had sold to Ringo Starr. It was three miles from
I wrote him a very trippy illustrated invitation, which not only explained several of his own song lyrics to him, but also suggested he bring his friend Eric Clapton to our gig. I delivered it by hand. This was 1970. Security hadn’t been invented yet. I walked into Stephen Stills’ kitchen and handed the invite to a very beautiful young American woman. She assured me she’d pass it on to Stephen. I told the promoter. We got a mention in ‘The Raver’ column in Melody Maker.
At the last minute the other Dirk pulled out. His girlfriend went into labour. This was a serious setback. His A and E minor had been intrinsic. He did however lend me his claret coloured velvet doublet. It had puff sleeves and old-gold frog fasteners. He’d bought it in
so it had to be
cool. It went perfectly with skin-tight white needle-cord wranglers tucked into
knee-length, ox-blood, Cuban-heeled Anello and Davide boots. Shoulder-length
John Peel haircut complete with wispy teenage beard. No set, no rehearsal, but
I looked great. Amsterdam
We arrived punctually, but Black Shadow and The Immigrant were not getting on. They were snarling at each other like a pair of rottweilers with too-tight nut-sacks. It was a struggle to keep them apart whilst attempting to explain to Ambrose, the promoter, my vision for the gig.
My plan was to be actually playing before anyone even arrived. It was going to be a hypersensitive organic psychedelic jam session. The vibe of the arriving audience would totally govern the music. In fact I told Ambrose it was an experiment in Anti-Music. With hindsight this may have been a mistake.
Ambrose did not share my enthusiasm. If anything there was a definite flicker of panic in his eyes. He told us he’d prefer to start off with a few records. I was a little bit disappointed. But he was adamant. So much for my cunning plan. First no rhythm guitar, and now, not only the bass and drums at each others throats, but my artistic improvisational brainchild aborted by the promoter’s short-sighted lack of faith.
‘Well be back later,’ I murmured through clenched teeth. I turned on my Cuban heels and strode off, Black Shadow to the left of me Immigrant to the right of me.
We went round to visit Christopher Robin. He was a vegetarian butcher: a troubled soul with a heart of gold. He lived just a few streets away. He had a big bag of weed. It helped calm down The Black Shadow and The Immigrant. It took the edge off. They stopped snarling at each other. After an hour or so we staggered back to the Youth Centre to see what was happening. We were well wasted.
The Youth Centre was now half full. Between fifty and a hundred people sat around looking bored and mildly pissed off. Ambrose rushed up. He now seemed even more panic-stricken than when we’d left.
‘Quick. You’re on. Now.’
Too stoned to argue, we stumbled onstage. I had a great deal of trouble plugging in my fuzz box and wah-wah pedal. Some kindly hippie assisted me but I was still too out of it to stand up. It was a big stage. We were surrounded by equipment belonging to the several other bands on the bill. Someone got me a stool. I sat down and we started.
I diddled and twiddled. The Black Shadow triple-flammed and paradiddled. The Immigrant pumped out some deep mumbling bass lines. I fuzzed and I wahed. It didn’t take long for me to get through my entire repertoire of three or four riffs by which time I managed to hoist myself upright and line myself up with a microphone. We seemed to have somehow slipped into a twelve bar blues which was a surprise. I’d never played one before. Hell, I couldn’t even play a scale. I sang some kind of ‘Just a Country Boy’ lyrics.
I noticed a pretty girl smiling. ‘Hey, this is fantastic,’ I thought. Then I spotted a bloke yawning. ‘Oh no it must be shit,’ I thought. I then turned my improvised lyrics into ‘hey lets all have a jam, everyone.’ A couple of guys got up on stage at my invitation, but they were halted by representatives of all the other bands. No Way was anyone going to play any of their gear, Jose. That was final, non-negotiable and totally immune to all my ‘Aw c’mon, mans’.
None of these supposed hip musos seemed to understand the hippie ethic. ‘I’ll bloody show them,’ I snarled to myself. I handed my guitar to the nearest of the two onstage volunteers, exited stage left and left them to it.
It would be two years before my next gig. It would also be two hundred miles from