A VIEW THROUGH HORNRIMS
by Andy Davis
When I was four years old my parents to took me on a day trip to Bristol. At Temple Meads Station my mother, trying to keep me occupied, pointed excitedly to King Geoge V, impressively belching steam from every orifice, standing a few feet away.
"Look darling," she said, in her best mummy voice, "there's a TRAAAIINN."
"Where?" I replied.
Next day she took me to the opticians.
Life is not easy when you're a teenager if you have an enormous pair of horn-rims glasses clamped to your face all the time. You quickly get used to all the astoundingly witty and original comments which come your way.
Four eyes, Hank and headlights etc. You have to seize any opportunity you get with the opposite sex with both hands.
The first girl I had a serious crush on was called Marjory. She came from the Rhonda Valley and she knew what she wanted and how to get it. She wanted to listen to records. Bobby Vee mainly, and a bit of Elvis.
I had one of the only record players in our village, Marjory had no record player and she lived at the opposite end of the village.
Marjory wouldn't come to my house for some reason. So I had to go to hers.
I would often protest. "Bloody 'ell Andrew your fuckin' useless." Marjory would say in her refined Rhonda accent.
And so, twice a week, sometimes more, I would balance the Dansette Major on the handlebars of my bike and pedal gingerly down to her house for a couple of hours of ritual humiliation.
We worked out some fairly complicated dance moves, and though we were no Travolta and Newton – John, we got to be quite good. I can say with all modesty we were probably one of the best dance couples in Yatton at the time. To be honest, I was happy just to be in the same room as her but I would be waiting for my treat which was always saved for the last record of the evening, the moment when "Take good care of my Baby" flopped onto the turntable. Marjory would allow me to hold her close for a smooch. If I pushed my luck and asked her for a kiss she would scream "Piss off!" seductively.
Perhaps she would come to my house because it was full of fiesty women, forever arguing and fighting over everything from bras to boyfriends. Sometimes they stopped arguing long enough to murder a tune on the piano.
I first realised the power of music on a school trip to Switzerland when I was about 14. There was a piano in the hallway of our hostel and I absent-mindedly started playing the riff from "Can I get a Witness".
There was a near riot and I was swamped by admirers who wanted to know where I learned to play. Up till then I thought everyone could hear a tune and work out the chords.
Someone who definitely wasn't impressed was my music teacher at school. His music lessons would consist of some one playing "The Trout" on the recorder very badly, or the class singing a major scale in unison. He didn't consider The Beatles "proper" music. My reports said things like, "I see no point in Andrew wasting any more of his time in my class", and "Andrew shows no aptitude for music." At the time I was playing in a band with our PE teacher, and teaching him some new chords on the guitar.
That just about sums up my education – I was never in the right place at the right time.
A place I was often at was "Pill's Poolhall" in Yatton.
It was not a real poolhall, but it had a full-sized snooker table.
It was in a barn owned by Robert Hill's dad, and the youth of the village used it as a youth club. We would meet there most evenings to play cards. When we tired of that we would invent games like "Noseball", where players would crouch at opposite ends of a snooker table and strike a ball with the side of their nose. The aim was to hit the cush at the other end of the table and thus score a goal. Your opponents had to try to stop the ball with their noses. It could be quite painfull.
The Noseball World Championships were held in Pill's Poolhall. I don't remember who won.
Really serious cases of boredom would call for strong measures and involved about 10 boys squeezing into a phone box for a spot of amusement a the expense of a complete stranger, usually picked at random out of the phone book. Earnie Prescott was the inventor of our favourite game. was He would impersonate a GPO engineer who told the unfortunate dupe that there was a fault on the line. "Could you help us detect a fault by taking part in a brief telephonic communications test?" he would say.
The participant rarely refused. "What do you want me to do?"
"It's very simple," Earnie would say. "Can you place the phone on an appropriate surface, yes a side board would be perfect, and stand 6 feet away from the receiver, and shout Llewelyn as loudly as you can?"
Everyone would fight to get near to the ear-piece, and we would hear the unfortunate gullible victim take a few paces from the phone and then..........."LLEWELYN!"..... whereupon we would collapse in uncontrollable hysterics.
This never failed to amuse us.
I was launched quite suddenly into show business. I don't remember how I found out that "The Blue Crew" needed a guitarist, but I passed the audition and was soon playing two residences. On Saturdays we were the resident band in the Pagoda Room at Weston Super Mare Winter Gardens and one night a week we played at Pontin's Holiday Camp in Sand Bay. We had a remarkably tasteful repertoire which included, Mose Allison, Cyril Davis, Marvin Gaye and Booker T.
About a year later I joined "The Strange Fruit", a soul band with a brass section and lots of gigs in the midlands. And thence on to "The Kynd", a mildly trippy trio who had flared trousers and their own light show.
Then in 1968 a fried called Dave Fortune suggested we form a blues band. As Dave was always surrounded by pretty girls I didn't need much persuasion. He new a car salesman called Martin who played bass, and thus the legendary "Griptight Thynn" was born. We played at The Mandrake Club in Bristol where all the girls swarmed around Dave and I got all the spotty blokes who wanted to talk about the solo on "Crossroads."
We were looking to add another guitar player to the group and someone at work recommended a bloke from Bath. A date was fixed up and that's how I met Crun. He joined us onstage at The Granary the same night and we hit it off straight away. We instantly doubled in volume and attitude. Unfortunately we were getting a bit too hardcore for Martin and after a while he left the band, to be replaced by Duncan Graham on a blue Fender Precision bass.
Duncan had one jaw-dropping claim to fame. A couple of years previously he had fallen off the Clifton Suspension Bridge (height 350ft) and lived. I met Dunc again in Toronto last year (2001) where he's lived since 1973.
Griptight played three Bristol clubs on a regular basis. The Granary, The Mandrake and the Dugout, where we went on to have a residency at the Friday night blues club. It was here one auspicious night that I met Pete Donavan, who became our road manager. Pete's dedication was total and his attention to detail was unmatched. I remember one Monday afternoon opening my guitar case and finding a total absence of anything guitarish inside. My Gibson 330 was missing.
"We must have left it at the Dugout last Friday," Pete concluded. We went straight round to the Dugout and, astonishingly, there was my guitar, leaning against the wall in the middle of the club where I had left it 3 days before. The club had been open all weekend and nobody had touched it. We must have been so out of it when we left that we forgot the guitar and Pete carried an empty case home.
Life seemed to go into overdrive around 1969. I made many lifelong friends in an incredibly short time.
I had moved into a flat in Clifton with Ed Newsome and Terry Brace, who seemed to paint everything orange. There seemed to be an endless summer when we partied every night. Our flat was a meeting point and when a few of us gathered there, things just seemed to happen. I met my future wife there. The Mothers Of Invention slept on the living room floor one night. I bumped into Adrian Henry in the cellar.
If nothing happened then we made it happen.
One day someone said, "Let's dress up as Vikings, hire a bus and drive around the Mendips."
Of course, what could be more natural?
A theatrical costumers was contacted and a bus was hired and lo, one night we clambered aboard. About 20 of us in full regalia - winged-helmets, shields and metal skirts, and we did what we set out to do – we drove around the Mendip Hills........ until we got bored........ and then we went home.
And people said we lacked ambition. Well – we showed 'em.
Crun and I had got bored with the blues and it became accepted between the two of us that we were going to form a new band and turn pro. We would write some songs and come up with a completely new sound. Dave and Duncan were cruelly discarded ( sorry guys) and we began looking for new blood.
We had long admired Bob Thompson's piano playing and when he revealed that he had bought himself a Hammond M100 we thought our new line up had hit the jackpot straight away. I don't know why it didn't work out with Bob, he really was a talented bloke. He once told me the only two people he really wanted to play for were Paul McCartney and Elton John. History reveals that Bob was one of those very talented people who don't fancy the life of a musician, choose a respectable career and keep music in the background. Bob is now an insurance salesman. I bet he still plays the arse off a piano though.
Somewhere around this time we repaired to my parents house in Yatton. It's strange how some of the details have been forgotten. I don't remember travelling to Yatton, I don't remember ordinary things like eating, drinking or sleeping. Nothing. I don't remember the countless times we must have journeyed back to Bristol and Bath. I just remember a reel to reel tape recorder and the two of us cooking up the most ludicrous tunes.
I remember my Dad complaining about the noise we were making.
We were constantly on the lookout for other musicians who shared our vision. Then one day there was an advert in the Melody Maker: Drummer, Ludwig Kit, Marshall Pa system, Transit Van, seeks creative employment. IN PORTISHEAD!
This was like finding a swimming pool in the Sahara Desert.
We called Bill and he arranged to come down next day.
While we were waiting I said to Crun, "what happens if he's shite?"
'Who gives a toss – he's got a van and a PA!"
Bill turned out to be a decent drummer and one of the nicest blokes I've ever met.
I knew James from the Dugout Club. He played there with a group called "Dawn" and his bass playing was admired by lots of people. We sometimes jammed on old Cream or Hendrix classics in the club.
He revealed in conversation that he too wrote songs and was interested in the new band Crun and I were hatching.
He came round to No 9 one day, with his Antoria guitar, and began to play. It was impressive stuff, very wordy songs, lots of key and tempo changes, a typical song would last 10 mins and go through about 5 or 6 movements.
I mention that because, at the time, Crun and I were into very simple repetitive, mantra like riffs played endlessly on guitar. The idea being to bore the listener into some sort of cosmic state of submission.
After a while James got up and left.
"He's a bit weird," said I.
"Yes, but he's definitely got something." Crun replied.
"But is it something we want?"
Mike Tobin introduced Mutter to the fold. Up until then we had not considered a flute as part of the Stackridge sound. Actually we had no idea what the end result of our experimentation was going to be. It was all gloriously chaotic and organic. Apart from Bob Thompson on Hammond, other people came and went. Davy Morrell, a fantastic finger style guitarist, stayed in the band a whole weekend – long enough to change his name to Davy Kowalski for some reason. Later on there was Murray Smith on Guinness and lead guitar – he actually played a gig with us in the Revolution cub in London before departing.
Mutter fitted in completely naturally, almost with us noticing. His flute gave the band a focus which we needed as both Crun and I had turned our backs on the "pin back your ears – I'm a lead guitarist" stance. We both kind of switched instruments at this time. Crun to bass and, although it was a while before we could afford them, I was leaning towards keyboards as there were so many exciting developments in that field. Also, Mutter was a west country lad - we were all very proud of our west country roots, but I got the distinct impression that Mutter considered Bristol to be virtually part of the west-midlands compared to the street cred of East Chinnock, where he came from.
We forged ahead with this line-up throughout the early part of 1970.
There were free concerts on the Downs in Bristol and raids into Wales and Sussex and even a performance of a "visual poem" at the prestigious Aldebrough Poetry festival in Suffolk. ( An occasion which seems to have escaped even the most fervent Stackridge chroniclers )
There were two reasons for the "visual poem", one was our developing relationship with a bunch of guys from Christchurch Road in Clifton who had started a light-show - "First Light" - they were Dave Borthwick, and brothers Rod and Nick Bell. The other reason was Jane Gillam nee Bell who provided a floor for us to sleep on whenever we played in London.
Jane, a life-long friend, has, since 1971 run Druidstone Hotel in Pembrokeshire, it was she who had pointed us towards the Aldebrough Poetry Festival and pulled some important strings.
In these formative months the names Stackridge and First Light were linked together like Monica Lewinski and dry cleaning. We did scores of shows together. The dreamy hypnotic sounds we were making on stage melded beautifully with First Light's startling images.
In some ways these were the most enjoyable times in Stackridge. We would play in near darkness on stage but out front were the towering images and stunning polaroid effects were mesmerising. I will always remember peering through the smoke and dry ice on stage and watching the three mad alchemists on the overhead gantry weaving their magic. (Well it was 1970)
The band had now moved into the communal flat which became the subject of a song on our first album – 32 West Mall.
As well as Mutter, Me, James and Peter D, there was Steve Jocelyn, the best joke teller in Bristol, a mean blues piano player and all round fanny magnet. Mutter and I shared the front bedroom, Pete and Steve the back, and James had a mattress in the living room. Sadly the irrepressible, irreplaceable Steve died in 1980 and is still missed.
It seems as if it was impossible to avoid colourful characters in those days. Enter Tony Shakespeare. He was running the Observatory up on Clifton Downs. The Obby had a camera obscura and, beneath the building a network of caves which led towards a dramatic outcrop hundreds of feet above the river in the Avon Gorge.
Tony provided two valuable services. He employed Pete as a cave sweeper!, and he was also, allegedly, a "fence".
He could often be seen carting wardrobes and other household items across the Downs under cover of darkness. One unforgettable night he turned up with a solid silver tray of sandwiches which had, allegedly, been nicked from a wedding reception. Tony only wanted the tray – he wanted us to dispose of the sandwiches – an offer we could not refuse.
August 10th 1970 was my 21st birthday. We found ourselves in the Royal Oak pub in Princess Victoria Street in Clifton – a regular watering hole. In walks a hairy bloke with a violin case. We engage him in conversation. We invite him back to the flat and he stays the night on the mattress in the front room. He spends the whole of the next day in bed, seemingly oblivious to what is going on around him. Eventually, late the following evening, he gets dressed and leaves.
"Let's have him in the band," says Crun.
Not for the first time I say, " He's a bit weird".
"Yeah, but we'll have electric violin".
This, you may have realised, was Mike Evans.