Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
The thing about the place where I was living during the most of my time playing in Gypp, was that it was actually home. As the eldest child of an army family, i'd moved around a lot. By the time I was seventeen, having been out at work for almost 18 months, I must have lived in as many different houses as I was years old. The houses went by like station stops on a long return railway journey for no purpose: Harpenden, Ash Vale, Watford, Lambeth, Ash Vale again, Cyprus, Harpenden again, Dundee, Scotland (these all before my 9th birthday), Chester, Singapore, Harpenden, Malaya, Putney and Balham. In the middle of it all, were long plane flights, railway trips, buses, transit camps and hotels. We never took holidays. Why on earth would we? One brother was born in Aldershot, another on the island of Penang and I was born in Hertfordshire. The only place which had been a constant in my life was Harpenden, where my maternal grandparents lived -- They had a little two down / three up house in a terrace of four, which they'd rented since the early 1930s. I was sent there in the summer holidays sometimes, if we happened to be in England at the time.
In summer of 1970, when I was just past 17, my parents moved up to Colchester, another army town, where my aunt, who was also married to a soldier, owned a little house. I, though, had decided to stay in London and moved into a bedsit in Clapham South. From then on, I lived in a series of shared houses, once or twice coming home for a month or so, only if all my other options had run out. I also became known among friends as someone who could look after a place if they were away, clean it up and generally make sure that the bills were paid. After joining bands, I mostly slept on people's floors after gigs -- these might belong to other band members, roadies etc etc. I looked after our roadie Nik's place for over a year, whilst he was working on cruise boats on the Rhine in Germany. But I never really had a proper home of my own I could live pretty much out of a guitar case and a couple of plastic bags. For about six years, this is what I did until I was almost 24 years old, And then this place came up...
It was a real stroke of luck. A work colleague's mother was renting out the bottom half of a nice house in Ireton Road, just off the Maldon Road in Colchester. My girlfriend and I went round and looked at the place in early January of 1977. There was still snow on the ground. It was a 1920s suburban house, with high ceilings, pebble dash exterior and little touches such as coloured Art Nouveau-style fanlights in the windows. It even had a Terry and June doorbell that went "Bing bong" Best of all, it had a garden and french windows leading out onto it. There was a nice big kitchen,a sunny living room and a long corridor to the bedroom, which had once been a front room, we supposed-- and where I hung my most colourful stage clothes on the picture rails. It smelled homely and nice. It didn't have that whiff of cats and old linoleum about it. It smelled like a home. We could just about afford the rent on it, between us. I was a Kitchen porter / rock singer. She was a cook /waitress and artist. So we moved into this place. There was a little repair garage on the corner of the street at the bottom of our garden. The neighbours were all middle-classs, middle-aged people and were rather welcoming and kindly. After a lifetime of dossing, house-sitting and travelling, for me, the place was perfect.
I lived there from January 1977 until mid May of 1979. When I left it, which was not through any fault of my own, it was a genuine wrench. The landlady, who was another army wife, rather like my own mum, an incredibly nice woman called Mrs Buckingham, told us one day, that she was selling the place. In my time there, I taught myself to brew beer, began for the fist time in ten years to tinker with poetry again and also started to teach myself how to play a piano. That my relationship with my girlfriend, was intermittently tumultuous, over the almost four years in which we were together, was fairly typical and to be expected. We were, after all, two people in our early twenties, with hardly any money and a fondness for all the things that you might expect young egotistical, artistic kids of that age tohave.
Of the two of us I was probably the one who took most readily to the general domesticity of it all. Hence, the beer brewing, the gardening and all the other stuff that I'd never been able to do, throughout my previously itinerant life. I was happy with most of it. She, I think, thought there might be something rather more exciting to life. Occasionally, and I never blame her for it, she went out and found it. I, after all, was going out three nights a week playing gigs.I knew what I wanted. She, like many people who'd just finished university did not then know what it was that she wanted --except that she liked to travel a lot.. She also liked to party, a thing which I sometimes didn't. Perfection, for me, was a rare weekend off in the autumn, fiddling around in the kitchen with my brewing gear, or having a bit of a bonfire in the garden. I certainly didn't always want to be dragged off to a party, or to the nearby University to see a rock band. There was already quite enough excitement and chaos in my life at that time. I think another thing which I didn't realise at the time, was that one of us could hear the inexorable ticking of a body clock, which was growing slightly louder with each passing season. It wasn't me, however. For me to have gone in for parenthood at this stage, would have meant the end of everything. The end of rock bands, the end of freedom, perhaps the end of this, the first home I'd ever had. Anyway, where would money come from? I was qualified for nothing but labouring jobs or rock stardom. I wasn't like her and all her friends. They would, at the turn of the 80s, whip out their B.A. degrees and become teachers, which many of them did.. It was what many of their parents had done. They were middle class. Whereas I was the boy from nowhere. I was going nowhere. I couldn't follow them where they were going. Not unless I had a hit record or something. It would have been downright irresponsible becoming a parent at this stage. .
These differences between us and the arguments ensuing from them, were probably much more common among couples of our time and our age than I realised at the time. But when the split-ups and inevitable rows came, it didn't stop me taking them personally. I was a rock'n'roller and it didn't matter how many knock-backs came, I was staying on that bucking bronco. Naturally, towards the end of my time at that house, a man appeared. A mature, sensible, patient and all-providing man. And off she went with him. I could hardly complain. I was never there. And when I was, I just wanted to stay in and play house. And eventually, they had children. Over thirty years on, they're still together. But dumb young Peter Pan here, still had several more adventures to get through, so he did nothing and just watched bewildered as he saw Wendy going off on the grown-up's arm.
The house, though, was great. I learned something there. I learned that, if you took all the music and all the other arts'n'ents stuff away from me, that I could probably just be happy caretaking a house, brewing a bit of beer, reading the odd book, fiddling around with a lawnmower, pruning apple trees and figuring out how many units of gas or electricity we were using at any one point in time. Because, ladies and gentlemen, I may be a card-carrying bohemian on the surface, but underneath it all, there's a fair bit of me that will forever be Hyacinth Bucket's long-suffering husband. A bit of peace and quiet and something trivial to do is all that I really required. Just no kids yet, that was all.
Once, one September night, I sat in the doorway of the french windows, looking out at the misty garden. There was a faint smell of woodsmoke on damp air. The leaves on the trees were just beginning to turn . Because I'd been making some kind of cider that day, the whole house smelled of apples. I poured myself a beer, lit a roll-up and played Brian Eno's Before and After Science. It was simple stuff. It was a free weekend. There were no gigs.. And there was no kitchen portering for about three days. There wasn't much money, but at least the rent was paid. The next day, maybe I would bottle another batch of beer. These were the days that I remember. I sort of liked living there.