In 1975 I left school. I’d been to a place where if you didn’t work they beat the shit out of you. That, combined with a bit of ability, meant that, having spent hours smoking in a local cafe, playing pinball and listening to Slade, I still left school with some average to good qualifications. Just about enough to enable me to apply for Cambridge University, one of the best colleges in the world where it was generally considered that graduates were made for life.
So I left the council house in Canterbury I’d grown up in with my mum, to move to London to live with my Dad in the embarrassingly named and therefore to be lied about on all occasions: Ponsonby Terrace. The idea was that I would go to a college which specialised in getting oddballs into Cambridge. But I was sick to the back teeth with school and did no work whatsoever. They didn’t beat the crap out of you there and I duly failed the entrance exam.
Needing some money, I joined old school mate, Jack Black, working in a T shirt printing factory where the boss was a Rod Stewart look a like northerner called John Splain. The day generally started with a cup of tea and a joint and carried on with more joints while listening to the rare decent music on offer in 1975 (mainly the Faces who our leader had modelled himself on).
Our trustworthy boss spent most of the day bunking off, hiding upstairs on a mezzanine floor where he could throw things down onto mine and Jack’s heads, thinking we didn’t know what he was up to even though he was giggling uncontrollably at the hilarity of his actions.
One day, on hearing that Jack played drums and I played bass, the to be renamed Honest (on account of his oft used phrase “I did, -Honest!” while telling porkies) John Plain invited us over to “jam” with his mates Casino Steel and Matt Dangerfield. They were forming a band to be called “The Boys” who were going to be the next Beatles, if not bigger. An antidote of short, catchy songs to blow away all the rubbish infecting the airwaves and concert halls at the time.
And so I arrived, 18 years old, at 47a Warrington Crescent. There should be a blue plaque there. Inside this damp basement, mould growing on the kitchen wall, was a tiny, four track studio. The electricity was hooked up to a lamp post outside, bypassing the meter. Various intimidating (for this youngster) “adults” (none older than about 26) were taking turns to play the intro bars to Slow Death by the Flamin’ Groovies for about four hours at a time. One of them was a curly haired, confident local called Mick Jones. A good looking fella called Billy Idol had made the long way over from Bromley, a quiet Brian James lurked along with various others who would coalesce over the coming months into various bands.
1976 was a hot summer. I remember it being the USA’s bicentennial and a bunch of Americans held a large party in the communal garden to the back of 47a. All the nascent punks gatecrashed this feast of free booze and burgers and I ended up passed out on the grass dressed from head to toe in white which by 4 am, when I woke, was various shades of green.
But the summer ended and a deadline I had been pushing to the back of my mind approached. In September I had a place to study Chemical Engineering at University College London. Not Cambridge, but a very good university all the same.
So I left the job printing T shirts and went to register for my course. At the end of the first day I went back home and told my father I had made a decision. With all of my 18 years of worldly experience I had given University a look and didn’t like it. I wasn’t going back because The Boys were going to be a big band and being a punk was what I was going to do.
My Dad was delighted (Ummmm – no he wasn’t).
So, off I trotted to the dole office to see if I could get any money to live on. They decided that, as I had left my job voluntarily and was living at home, they would give me the princely sum of £5.50 per week. Not unreasonably, and as an incentive to get a job or go back to college, my father decided to charge me £5 per week rent. So I had 50p per week to myself and had to get to Warrington Crescent every day to rehearse with The Boys in that little studio, as well as play cards, drink tea, and see if anyone was generous enough to buy me the odd pint in the pub.
So, no choice, I had to walk there and back every day, a round trip of almost three hours as the following Google Maps screen shot shows (it appears that 47 Warrington Crescent is called Venetian House now that all the old Italians, squatters and church property renters have been moved out to make way for the rich of London).
Through sun, wind and rain, in the morning and in the dead of night, a young man, head full of dreams of fame, fortune and women, looking like a star but still on the dole (to paraphrase Ian Hunter) would make his trek to eventual, hoped for success, past some of London’s most famous landmarks and richest neighbourhoods, with not a penny in his pocket.
Sometimes I tried hitching but had to ask to be set down immediately as most of the rides were given by old men who wanted something in return I wasn’t inclined to give. Boy I was innocent.
One day on my trek up the Edgware Road Mick Jones came running up behind me, ruffled my hair and shouted “Hello Dunc, Alright?” as he ran on and jumped on the number 6 bus which would pass near Warrington Crescent, the place I was headed to. The Clash had just signed to CBS and so he was on a weekly wage. “You rich bastard”, I thought, “Being able to afford a bus” as I trudged on.
But good comes from everything, and forty years later, thinking back to those days of penury a song emerged. A song of hope and dreams.
You can hear it here:
If you don’t have Spotify listen here on Bandcamp: Click here
I hope you like it. I’m particularly proud of the last chorus with its answer vocals. And with the guitar riff, if Led Zeppelin played power pop this is how I imagine it would sound!