On our first album, Little Big Head, there is a track, Rolling On, which contains my most autobiographical lyric to date. In three minutes odd it goes from childhood, through moving to London, falling into the punk scene, settling down, family and now.
For me, the most evocative part is the early verse dealing with my upbringing in Canterbury, a sleepy, provincial town in Kent. Sixty miles from London but part of a different universe altogether.
I grew up at the edge of town on the London Road Council estate. Uniform red brick houses, three small but adequate bedrooms, sporadic traffic, apple orchards out the back and the famous Canterbury Cathedral, founding place of Christianity in Britain, visible from everywhere.
Solidly working class but safe. No one was rich but no one was really poor. And from the rose-tinted perspective of many decades later, the sun, of course, always shone.
The best aspect of growing up there was that, by and large, we were free. A motley gang of 7,8,9, and 10 year olds always playing football in the street. If traffic came by, the ball would be picked up and, once the car passed, the endless game would carry on.
I say “always playing football” but that’s not quite true. There was always time for other escapades.
As July and August approached the apples in the orchards would ripen and it was time for the farmers to be on maximum guard as the “scrumping” season approached. Packs of German Shepherd dogs were bought in to patrol the crops and save them from the gangs of urchins who saw it as a badge of honour to strip the trees of their bounty of ripe red fruit. The farmers themselves would patrol with shot guns ready to fire at any tree infested with monkey like boys who were busy helping themselves to everything they could grab.
The operation was military in its precision. Small boys were sent ahead to reconnoitre for dogs and guns. If the coast was clear a Game of Thrones like charge of older, bigger, better climbers descended and the harvest began. Sometimes the dogs would hear us without the small boys seeing them, and a mad dash ensued with hounds after their quarry and shotgun blasts going off behind.
Usually though, all passed peacefully and a procession of scamps would be seen wending their way back through the estate, jumpers bulging bulbously with their illicit bounty. Mothers would wait at the door to give each and everyone a clip round the ear for being “naughty”, but apple pie was always on for “pudding” at “tea time”. Nothing was wasted.
Or there were the bike trips. “Where are you going?” our mother would ask as bikes were wheeled past the back door. “Just down the road” was the reply. But in fact an expedition was planned to Whitstable, 10 miles away and the nearest coast. The route would involve 20 or so imps often cycling down a dual carriageway to get to the sea. Swimming would follow, then drying off on the way back. No food was packed so we’d knock on the door of complete strangers and ask for a sandwich. An ordinary day dodging high-speed traffic, risking not just drowning but, from the viewpoint of this modern, paranoid age, abduction also.
“Where have you been?”, was the question on our return. “Nowhere”, was the reply.
I could go on with tales of organised shoplifting in the toy shops of Canterbury high street. The aim was to get one over on the security guards who knew exactly what we were there for, but never caught us. Often the booty was thrown away as it wasn’t really the point. Or playing chicken on the electrified main rail line from Dover to London. Raids to let the bicycle tyres down of kids from other streets. “Knock out ginger”, easy pickings fishing in local fish farms, fake dog turds left on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral to shock the tourists, breaking my little finger the one and only time I hit a boy who had just hit my little brother………. you get the picture: a childhood of adventure and “We were all in clover”.
But “time rolled on”, I turned eleven, and for complicated, domestic reasons I was torn from the family home and sent to a middle class world where I needed to mend my ways and hide my roots, else people would think less of me if they knew where I came from. But that’s a story for another song.
So what has bought on this orgy of nostalgic reminiscing?
Well on 23 July we play in Deal, a hop and a skip from Canterbury, in that delightful seaside town, remote enough to be saved from the weekend home buying Londoners that Whitstable has been prey to, but lively enough to enjoy a thriving live music scene. It’s also now my brother’s home and we appear at The Lighthouse, his local and a boozer I wanted to play the minute I walked in.
All sorts of family will be there and, if you want to join us at this free gig, the details are here.
Thank you for your indulgence and company on this fond meander down memory lane.