Friday, 2 April 2021

When I Was A Young Boy...

I just realised, as I do at this time every year, that today (well yesterday technically) is the anniversary of my first ever record release. April 1st 1977 - it’s forty-four years today since Whole Wide World came out on the Bunch Of Stiffs compilation. Happy anniversary April Fool…

I sometimes wonder if my debut on such a day blighted my career. It’s a thought that I quickly put out of my mind because it’s not going to do much good - you can’t change the past. I'd prefer focus on the more positive aspects and learn to enjoy them. Whole Wide World or Go The Whole Wide World as it was originally titled was incredibly well received - it took everyone by surprise. It was John Peel’s favourite track on the album, it was singled out in all the reviews and plastered all over the airwaves. I went from being some div cluttering up the Stiff office in the hope of being noticed to being an overnight sensation.

They actually took time to talk to me:

‘We need to put this out as a forty-five - have you got a B side?’

‘Yes’ I said, suddenly inspired with confidence. ‘It’s called Semaphore Signals’. 

Arrangements were made and two days after my birthday on May 20th 1977 we went into Alvic, a four track studio in Wimbledon, and recorded Semaphore Signals. Denise Roudette on the bass, Ian Dury on the drums and me on my Top Twenty guitar through the Hohner Orgaphon amp with its jukebox speakers. Ian was the producer because he was the oldest and he’d been in a few recording studios before with his now defunct group, Kilburn & The High Roads. He also knew his way around Alvic because for the past year he’d been recording demos there for what would become the huge selling New Boots & Panties

Ian was very focused, not lost, but riding an edge of desperation.The record companies weren’t interested - a typical reaction came from Dick James - ‘Ian Drury [sic] - talented boy - spastic isn’t he?’

He wound up being my drummer and later producer because Nick Lowe introduced us and Ian thought I was as weird as he was so we quickly became friends and started hanging out together. He took me under his wing - he was probably hedging his bets in case he had to make a sideways move into artist management and production. He was my mentor. He could be a complete pain in the arse - a difficult man born of a difficult past, a polio victim since the age of seven, twisted, bitter and occasionally downright evil. He was also one of the kindest, caring and most loving people I’d ever met, and great fun to be with. Even though it seemed at times that everything was some sort of test designed to make you fall over so he’d have the perverse pleasure of watching you struggle to get up again.

Because that’s what he’d learned at Chailey Heritage.

Chailey Heritage was in East Sussex close to where I grew up and went to school. It was renowned locally as a dumping place for the mentally and physically unfortunate. We had no idea what went on there, who the inmates were, or what had caused them to be incarcerated there. We were totally ignorant of all that but Chailey Heritage was woven into our folklore and vernacular:

Lewes County Grammar School For Boys.
The place was fucking ludicrous. They didn’t play football, they played rugby. I say they because I didn’t – not if I could help it anyway. It was always mid-November. Standing around on a field of torn-up turf and mud, with a big white H at either end. H for Hellbound, He-man, Homo, Hypocritical, unHappy, Hard-Hearted, Hurtful and Humiliating…
The wind whipped across the field. It was getting dark and the lights were on in the classrooms. The silly oval ball came lolloping over and I got out of the way so that some other, keener boy could dive on it, face first in the mud.
‘You’re useless. Why don’t you go and play tiddlywinks with the spastics at Chailey Heritage.’
I started to walk away. I felt like crying. Not because I was useless – but because I just wanted to be somewhere else – anywhere but here. The games master sprinted across the pitch in his tracksuit. (Oh yes, he got to wear a tracksuit while we froze our bollocks off in silly black shorts and blue and black striped Bukta rugby shirts.) He came to a halt in a flurry of shrill whistles:
‘GOULDEN! WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?’
‘I’m off to play tiddlywinks with the spastics at Chailey Heritage. Sir.’
Ten laps of the rugby pitch while everyone else had a shower, but at least I missed the wanking. The games master used to stand at the entrance to the shower making sure that every naked boy went through. He didn’t mind how long you stayed in there, in amongst the steam and naked pubescent flesh. He must have seen the wanking. He was probably quite pleased about it, because that’s what we were aspiring to – Public School Traditions. And if boys couldn’t warm up toilet seats for older boys, the least they could do was wank each other off. 

extract from A Dysfunctional Success, Eric Goulden 2002 

At some point towards the end of my time at school I met a jazz fan, a man called Stan. Stan was short, burly, walked with the aid of two forearm crutches, and was incredibly jolly. He travelled all over South East England in a blue invalid carriage (which he reckoned he could get forty-five miles an hour out of with luck and a following wind) in search of live jazz and good times. Stan had been in Chailey Heritage. I never knew why - it wasn’t the sort of thing you could ask about. We’d been well brought up - you didn’t stare at a metal and brown leather leg brace or ask searching questions. I still tend not to ask searching questions but I’d be much more likely to stare at a leg brace, principally because you just don’t see them anymore - the metal and brown leather leg brace has gone the way of white dog shit and that clipped British accent peculiar to BBC radio announcers of yore. 

Ian didn’t wait to not be asked, he talked quite openly about deformity, disability and the horrors of Chailey Heritage. If someone fell over the house rule was that you didn’t help them get back up again, they had to do it for themselves, even if it took them all day, which it often did. They had fighting too, just like at our school, but there the kids fought each other sitting side by side though they were no less brutal for that. He told me that some of his Chailey Heritage peers were so badly afflicted that they couldn’t pleasure themselves so you sometimes had to give them a helping hand. I’d never in my life heard anyone talk of these things. Chailey Heritage made Ian tough and maybe a little cruel. Stan the jazz fan was tough in a different way but they were both resiliant. 

Ian died twenty-one years ago - March 27th 2000. It was the anniversary of his death just the other day. I didn’t do anything to mark it other than quietly think about him in my own head. I’d prefer to remember him alive and driving us all slightly fucking mad. Scary and lovely, with the best advice anyone ever gave me:
look after your talent and your talent will look after you. I’m trying Ian, I’m trying, though sometimes I think the talent’s run off and found a better billet elsewhere. 

I don’t know whatever happened to Stan but those blue invalid carriages have gone the way of the metal and brown leather leg brace, white dog shit, and the clipped BBC accent. 


I wish I could have got beyond my ingrained tendancy to not ask searching questions in everyday life - I worry that people might think I’m not interested in who they are - it’s not the case, I am but I don’t want to be rude. Professionally it would have helped me immeasurably if I’d learned over the years to ask 
Mr Nice and Mr Smiley-Goodvibe just what they did before they started Shyster Records: We were fraud specialists working for an organised crime syndicate. I mean, they were bound to have owned up to that, weren’t they? But I at least wish I'd been forward enough to ask the question.

I feel proud and happy to still be making records all these years later but these feelings are tempered by ever present self-doubt -
perhaps my detractors were right, I’m an also-ran, a desperate and deluded no-talent who should have long since given up. I don’t know how the fuck I’ve got away with this for all these years but somehow I've kept going. I'm glad I did. 

It's Casual Friday over at Bandcamp today (Friday April 2nd). They don't take any commission for an entire day which means people like me get all the proceeds from the mega-tons of product that are bound to shift on such a day. I'm trying my best here - you won't, to paraphrase an A&R man, find another Whole Wide World in there, but you could augment or enhance your collection and help me make some room in the basement for the next unsung and unsold album, the one I'm working on right now. The postage and packing for everywhere that isn't the United States is obscenely, prohibitively expensive so if you don't live in the USA please accept my apology and ignore this entire paragraph and sales pitch. Unless of course you're made of money, in which case flop out yer wallet. Here's the linkage: https://wrecklesseric.bandcamp.com/merch 

Also The Good Lyre, a compilation of songs by Wes Stace / Jon Wesley Harding and featuring The Minus 5, Graham Parker, Josh Ritter and a host of other luminaries. I do a version of Sick Organism. All proceeds to Sweet Relief, a fund that helps cover musicians medical bills.  https://johnwesleyharding.bandcamp.com/track/wreckless-eric-sick-organism



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