My first album had sold well enough to warrant making a second
and once again Gus Dudgeon was called into produce. My “summer
seasons” in Cornwall, where I was a resident at the
Folk Cottage in Mitchell, had sent my writing in
its usual two directions, on the one hand ragtime or goodtime
jug-band music and on the other a reflective nostalgia for
the positive aspects of my childhood. Songs like Mrs
Adlam’s Angels emerged alongside Last
Train and Ride and reflective and personal songs
Here next to the up-tempo title track Spiral
My jug band had several gigs around the Newquay area. Looking
back, I am amazed how we got away with performing with no
amplification whatsoever, playing mostly to bemused holiday
makers on camp sites, caravan parks, the odd pub and one or
two clubs. We were playing the sort of music that almost no
one would have been familiar with, but we were able to communicate
a great sense of fun. Our Jug player Henry “VIII”
Bartlett was a great extrovert whilst our alleged rhythm washboard
player “Whispering” Mick Bennett thrashed and
whistled infectiously. We managed fairly close harmony vocalising
on songs like Ukelele Lady and Boodle Am Shake.
Our itinerant personnel was stabilised eventually with Pete
Berryman on guitar but we had quite a bundle of instrumental
players at this time. I thought it would be a good idea to
try to write material for the band and I had a riff which
became Spiral staircase and it was very popular. Last
Train and Ride emerged from my putting random chords
together i.e. C followed by B7th and, in my naïvité,
I imagined that such a musical combination could never have
been done before. It became the hook for the song.
Mick Bennett was always very supportive of my early efforts
at song writing and to be truthful I think I too was quite
full of wonder when a new song was completed, especially what
I found in probing into my childhood memories. My contemporaries
were still falling in and out of love and writing those kind
of songs. I was married and had a child so I tended to cast
about for alternative themes to address.
Gus Dudgeon handled the eclectic mixture of material with
his usual aplomb. We commenced work at Regent Sound Studios
in Tottenham Ct. Road. This time Gus felt that some numbers
would benefit from properly orchestrated string parts and
we engaged Mike Vickers of the Manfred Mann band to write
them. At the time I was suspicious of the idea of mixing violins
with my own music, but such a "radical concept"
had recently earned some credibility through tracks like How
Can You Hang On To A Dream? and Eleanor Rigby.
When I heard the result I was knocked out at the way the tone
of a string section could enrich my songs.
By this time, I had made my first radio broadcasts and was
a regular performer on a program called Country meets
Folk. It was produced for the BBC by the late Ian Grant
and it was there that I met their resident double bass player,
a great character called Brian Brocklehurst. We booked Brian
for the early sessions and, apart from him asking me to marry
him several times, which was a bit disconcerting, his general
merry demeanor and almost overpowering aftershave added enormously
to the atmosphere in the studio. On the album he is credited
only as "Brock". On Country Meets Folk,
Brian was called upon to accompany all the guitarists, to
give a bit of low end resonance to the transmissions. This
meant that he might regularly have to memorise six or seven
songs that he had never heard before. Usually, he managed
to make a good fist of this. Occasionally the odd ricket might
slip through but I still cannot think of a more energised
radio program. It all went out live at around midday on Saturdays.
It was on this show that I first aired “Streets
I had written this song over a long period beginning with
the tune in Paris in 1966 where I played it as an almost sedate
ragtime pace. It slowly metamorphosed into its current form
and I wrote three of the verses. During the previous summer
I had offered it to anther singer at the Folk Cottage
known by everyone as John “the Fish” (he had worked
as a fisherman). I was a littlle hurt when he declined the
number on the grounds that it was “a bit sad”.
Later I wrote the words out on the traditional fag packet
or napkin for another singer called Derek Brimstone who loved
it. At this time it still only had three verses. Some time
later I met up with him again. He told me that he had never
had a reaction to any song like he was getting for this one.
He told me that I had to start playing it myself. I guess
I was still smarting from the “sad” description
but I did begin to use it and the reaction was incredible.
The first time I sang the song it was greeted by a silence
at the end that seemed to last for minutes and then a thunderous
applause. I thought that the song still felt too short and
so I added the “Seamans’ Mission” verse.
What I didn’t know until many years later was that,
on its first broadcast, the switchboard at the BBC was jammed
with enquiries about the song. The reason I didn't know at
the time was that the show was broadcast from the old Playhouse
Theatre in Northumberland St. off Trafalgar Square. The
calls all went to Langham Place. Apparently nobody at the
time thought we would be interested in this positive reaction.
I don’t think it would have influenced our decision
to release it, but it may have made me a bit more positive
about the song.
Actually, at this time I still did not want the song to appear
on Spiral Staircase but Gus pleaded with me to do
just one take of it at the very end of the recording sessions.
Whilst the jug band, (Henry, Mick and Pete) repaired to the
pub around the corner, I reluctantly agreed.
The incredible sleeve design was done by Peter Thaine, my
old friend from Croydon Art College days. I was really excited
by his concept and attention to the smallest detail. I clearly
remember being shown how the pattern around the corners of
the sleeve was derived from an old Imperial Russian banknote.
I recently met up with Pete again. He has promised to let
me have the artwork so I can get it framed.
When the final L.P. came out, Streets
opened side one. I had wanted Spiral
Staircase to be the opening track, as this felt closer
to the musical direction I thought I should be heading toward.
My dilemma as to musical direction has always been with me.
My love of guitar-based work has managed to coexist alongside
my more poetic leanings right up to the present.
Four days after release Nat Joseph (Owner of Transatlantic
Records) rang me up at home to tell me we had already
got our first cover version. A few days later someone reported
hearing it sung in Australia. Cover after cover appeared (to
date there are 212 known recorded versions of the song). Thankfully
none of these were initially released as a single, as most
people considered that, being nearly five minutes long, it
was not a song that could succeed commercially. My life was
changed forever. I was 24.