I was not the only clever kid at our school. Our whole form was force fed facts so that we could pass our exams a year earlier than others our age. It was some bullshit exercise in school pride but if it reduced the time spent under the archaic, cruel (the cane was still used by the headmaster) & unusual (an English teacher made transgressors write out chapters of Genesis) punitive system then we would go along with it. This meant that I entered the sixth form when I was 15 going on 16. The 17 year old girls in my classes were a lot further on down life’s road & 68/69 was Peak Mini Skirt as I remember. I was amazed that they would even acknowledge my presence, it was months before I was able to say anything that made any sense back to them. The guys were already drinking at the weekend (only a year underage so…y’know) & that seemed better than the Youth Club. On their 17th birthdays some of them got cars. That was certainly an upgrade on taking the bus !
Butch had a Morris 1000, a classic car now, cheap & cheerful in 1969. His name was Keith but his Dad had a butcher’s shop on the High St so…His girlfriend, Natalie, worked in the local record shop Rushton’s, a place that sold instruments & sheet music before awkwardly adjusting to the demand for small discs of vinyl. After college Butch & I would drive into town to keep her company for the last hour of her working day. To keep us out of further mischief she gave us free range in one of the soundproof booths to listen to any of the latest records that took our fancy. They didn’t always hit the spot. That second Blood Sweat & Tears album, David Clayton Thomas singing, no Al Kooper, may have sold by the lorry load but it was no “Child is the Father to the Man”. One non-album single with a red Atlantic label, “Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton, had us opening up the booth for the other customers to hear & irritating our favourite shop assistant.
Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett had done musical time before they were married, D as a member of the house band of the “Shindig” TV show, B as a fake-tanned Ikette. Their first LP was recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis with Booker T & the MGs. By the time of the follow up they had assembled a smoking band, people who would go on to make a pile of good music. Their brand of Southern Soul, Gospel & Rock attracted an influential friend in Eric Clapton, happy to play the sideman after all the attention attracted by Cream & Blind Faith. Eric brought along the newly ex-Beatle George & his stinging, ringing contribution to “Coming Home” made it more than notable. Delaney’s mate Leon Russell needed to assemble some Mad Dogs to back Joe Cocker on a hastily arranged tour & he borrowed the whole band except keyboard player Bobby Whitlock who left for England to write with Clapton. When these two needed a rhythm section for “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” they were joined by Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) to form Derek & the Dominoes. Now that is a good record !
Butch lived above the shop, just a walk away from mine & I would go round in midweek to listen to his records. At night the front was closed up & you entered the house through the back of the shop past simmering pots of pig’s heads. Brawn is some kind of peasant jellied terrine (my Mum loved it). It’s apparently called “potted heid” in Scotland & in France “pate de tete” & that sounds no better. Now I’m a Big Meat Eater (yes I am…now there’s a movie you have to see) but I don’t always choose to get that close to its production. I would hurry through that steamy, funky room. Butch had some good records. I particularly remember 3 double LPs, Cream’s “Wheels of Fire”, Jimi’s “Electric Ladyland” & “Streetnoise” by Julie Driscoll, all good long listens as the music got & was taken more seriously. We had a couple of bottles of cider & a coloured light bulb for atmosphere…that’s all. We didn’t know where to buy any hash back then. Our town had not yet done with Modernism. The cool kids were robbing chemists of their good stuff, waking up in the park with blood leaking from their ears. That sounded like not much fun at all.
There were no women like Julie Driscoll in our town either. Julie, with organist Brian Auger, Long John Baldry & Rod Stewart had been part of Steampacket, a Mod Soul-Blues revue who, despite their popular live act, never recorded. In 1968 her & Auger’s take on Dylan’s “This Wheels on Fire”, an urgent psychedelic classic, shifted the ground for British female singers. Her expressive, distinctive vocals put Cilla, Lulu, Sandie, even Dusty in the shade. She became a beautiful, instant icon of cool, replacing Emma Peel as the object of my affections. “Streetnoise” reflects the times, musical boundaries were to be ignored. There are old songs, new songs, Jazz & Blues songs, all given the individual stamp of Driscoll & Auger that still sounds fresh today. “Indian Rope Man”, one of the band’s best, written by Richie Havens, is promoted here on German TV but was only released as a b-side in the UK. Julie married jazz pianist Keith Tippett & stepped away from Rock & Roll to make more experimental music. Whatever she chose to do was just fine by me.
Ah Family…Leicester’s finest. Butch had their 3rd LP “A Song For Me”, released in January 1970 & a Top 5 record. At the end of 1969 the single “No Mule’s Fool”, a gentle daydream of a song had totally hit my spot but only grazed the Top 30. Their debut “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) was a more than interesting slice of post-Sgt Pepper’s British psychedelia & “Family Entertainment” (1969) consolidated a reputation as a band on the rise. The loss of 2 founding members, multi-instrumentalist Jim King & bassist Rick Grech (he joined the aforementioned Blind Faith) was a setback just as they were ready for prime time. The idiosyncratic, forceful presence of vocalist Roger Chapman made Family’s live show memorable.They were one of the first big concerts I attended & Hull City Hall rocked that night. The new-ish group were possibly less textured, a little more full tilt, than previously. There were 3 Top 20 UK singles, an LP a year until 1973 before diminishing returns & a failure to make an impression in the US called a halt. Family don’t really get the credit they deserve. If you have an interest in psych-prog they merit further investigation.
We hung out a lot over the next year. The 4 of us (rather surprisingly I had a girlfriend too) tore around in the Morris looking for pubs, parties & places of interest. We both studied Geography & a week’s “field study” in North Yorkshire became an alcohol-fuelled exercise in besmirching our college’s good name. Butch was a good guy to have around, a dry sense of fun & humour, a little more grown-up than the other happy idiots I called friends back then. He was the perfect companion for an adventure to the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June 1970. Over 2 days we joined 200,000 others to see a musical line-up that can only be described as awesome. We saw a lot of things that you didn’t see in our small town that weekend. The Hell’s Angels were cool & the casualties of the purple acid were not. It was a great time, we could see the attractions of this Hippie thing but we were Northern lads, this stuff wouldn’t really fly back at home. I’ll repeat myself, he was the right guy to share the experience with. He drove me there, he got me home & we had approached things correctly.
Butch left college that year. I had to hang around to make up for that year I had jumped. The next year I left town & only returned for flying visits to see my family. Keith is actually on Facebook & we live in the same town though we would probably pass each other in the street these days. I’ll send him this & hope that he has the same good memories about the short time that our paths intertwined all those years ago.