Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
THIS LITTLE ZIGGY 2 / Chapter 2
Strictures at an Exhibition (1975)
I study the photo gallery in a battered and much travelled scrapbook – my oldest one. Firstly, there is the unsatisfactory passport pic. We realised that I still had the previous night's make-up on and that the good fellows of H.M. Customs wouldn't look fondly upon such a thing. We'd have to try again. The photo which we eventually did use, still managed to get me stopped and searched at every British customs post, from 1975 until it expired, however, so I may has well have used the original pic. Second pic down is the reason I got a passport again. The pretty girl in the picture next to the moron on the sofa, was Mlle. Roche, half-French, half-Corsican and also, my girlfriend at the time.
With it being early 1975, and Colchester's Finest, The Mighty Plod, having just been signed to a record company, I was off to southern France for some well-deserved debauchery. Below the picture of the happy couple is a picture of three-quarters of the now post-glam Mighty Plod. That's Martin Newell (21) in the hippy hat and starry teeshirt, Bachelor Johnny (23) with the ever-present bottle of neck-oil and next to him, is 18 year-old Stix Natkanski, his arms folded like a Polish goalie. It's mid morning, sometime in January 1975. This was round about the time we thought that stardom was only a single's release away. These are our civilian clothes by the way– which we generally slept in. We are standing outside St Guinness 's, the former orphanage which was Johnny's home. Little did we know that there'd only be a couple more gigs, a very long wait by the telephone ( This was a bit pointless, since we didn't have a telephone) and a fair amount of drinking. Five or six months down the line it would all be over and Colchester's finest would be no more, “Cancelled” so our drummer said, “due to lack of interest.”
The final photograph, is your correspondent, a few months later. It was taken by an unknown female photographer in her bathroom after a successful day's drinking. Following my first trip to France which had been in late winter, I saved up all my pennies and managed to get myself back out there again in June, just in time to get horrendously sunburnt, poisoned by shellfish and finally, jettisoned by the lovely Mlle. Roche, in favour of an American airman. I also think that my keen interest in drinking France dry, from the time I got dressed in the morning, until the time I fell onto the bed at night was a deciding factor. She also said that her parents, suspected that I was on drugs. I did rather take umbrage at this, because I actually wasn't. This matter, however, led to a series of animated discussions, which in turn led to me taking the lonely train back from Montpellier to Calais one day in late June. I came back to blazing sunny England with a heavy heart, no band and no money. I'd like to thank the makers of MIR washing powder for preserving my modesty and allowing me to share these lovely memories with you.
A funny old time 1975 was. The best of times and the worst of times in a way. But first, a story. I now moved into a flat on Hangover Hill, with Big Nik, Plod's former roadie. I'd been dumped, Nik's girlfriend had left and it seemed logical that two young born again bachelors should now join forces. One day, I got invited by a nice young woman called Floss to go to a party in a rather large house in the country. Nik elected to drive me there and attend too. On the way travelling in Nik's trusty Commer van, we realised we'd run out of cigarettes. You always need extra fags for a party, don't you?
So Nik, coming to a small country pub, said that we'd better go and buy some in there. He warned me that the landlord, being a former policeman, was not well-disposed to lads with long hair, fancy shirts, tight trousers and all that malarkey.
We walked into the tap-room. The landlord, with a face like a Staffordshire bull terrier, confronted with two exceptionally effeminate cats, growled: “Yes?” “Forty Players No. 6. please.” Nik said, firmly. “ I'm not running a bloody off-licence.” snarled the publican. “This is a pub. You come in here to drink.”
There was a pause. Nik said: “Two Britvic orange juices, please.” The landlord, his face a rictus of annoyance, turned to get the orange juices. With beautiful timing, Nik repeated: “...and forty Number 6, please.” The landlord banged the orange juices down on the counter, and went to get the cigarettes, which he also slapped on the counter. Nik counted out the exact amount of money to pay for the cigarettes, putting both packets in his pocket. The landlord looked accusingly at him: “ Well? " he asked. "What about the orange juices?”
Nik said. “Drink 'em yourself, you big fat cunt.” For a while, I didn't quite believe what I'd just heard. I looked at Nik. Nik looked at me. Time was suddenly frozen. It went deathly quiet. Then Nik looked at me seriously and said: “Run!”
We pelted out of the door like a couple of whippets and ran for the van, which was parked over the road on a small triangle of grass. We slammed the doors, Nik put the keys in the ignition and the van made a sort of RRRRRRR-RRR-RRR noise, followed by a dismaying KERLUNK as the engine stalled. I looked back towards the pub. The landlord was already at the door flanked by four burly locals, one of whom was rolling his sleeves up. Nik tried the engine again. The men were advancing upon us.
Suddenly the Commer gave a cough and sputtered into action, Nik put it into gear and we roared off up the narrow country lane, with the shouts of our pursuers fading behind us. I was swearing, out of sheer relief. Nik was roaring with laughter. It was a great party. Can't exactly remember how we got home. It set the tone for the summer. One summer in a decade. It would be almost another year before I got myself back in a proper band.
Note Some decades on, Nik became a publican himself and finally ended up as the mayor of a small Suffolk town.
He stands gawping straight at the camera, mouth open, his eyes fathomless pits. It's somewhere in Paris in late April, 1990 and it's nearly time to come home to England and face the music. He's 37 years old and the game is up. His last band broke up when his musical partner joined New Model Army. A couple of weeks earlier, there'd been a traumatic row at home with his partner and her two teenage kids. There'd been a lot of shouting, during which time his own dog had bitten him. In his despair he'd thrown some stuff into a pannier, got onto his bike and then taken a train down to Brighton to see his good friend Captain Sensible.
A few beers, a bit of walking around and a nice chat with his friend and he'd calmed down a bit. The next Saturday morning, he was thinking about heading back to Essex. But it was the Captain's birthday. "I don't suppose," the Captain said, "That you fancy coming out to France with us?" The record company was doing a bit of a promotion, you see. TV Smith and his band, Captain Sensible and the label manager, Andy McQueen were going to Paris. There would be photos, the odd press interview and a week's live residency in a club just off the Pigalle. Oh, and he'd really love Montmartre, where they would all be staying. Since Martin's band, the Brotherhood of Lizards, even though, it had just broken up, had a new album on the record label, did he feel that he could come out and do a few live spots? They could borrow or hire some gear. There wouldn't be much money but there'd be lots of beer, a really reasonable hotel and, the Captain warranted, it would probably be a frightfully good wheeze. We wouldn't have to go by plane or anything. As a matter of fact, there was a nice little ferry from nearby Newhaven, to Dieppe, followed by a spring breeze of a train journey across Normandy, right to the heart of Paris itself.
In those pre-terrorism days, Martin Newell would easily get himself a week's temporary passport from the Seven Dials post office up the road. His two pieces of ID consisted of his Network Railcard and one of his early album covers. That was all he had. It was all it took.
Half an hour later, on a bright Saturday morning in April, he was standing by Sensible's bed, on which he'd thrown the new passport, saying," Happy birthday, Capt. Against my better judgement, I've decided to come!" Much jollity followed by a read of the paper, a long wait for Sensible to get out of the bath and the inevitable trip down the shops ending in a visit to the pub. No contest really, was there? Go home to patch up the row, followed by a wobbly future which would alternate between making yet more demos for people who probably wouldn't listen to them, whilst doing a gardening round, in order to pay the rent. Or: one last blaze of glory in a foreign city, with some thoroughly personable punk rock oiks?
Now there was all this. Look again at the photo. There were no drugs involved. He'd packed all that malarkey in years and years ago. No. This is a picture of a man who's probably drunk rather too much cheap French beer, and has simply had rather too much of an exhilarating time. He has also been completely hypnotised by Paris in April. Everything that everyone had ever said about it was true. He has played his little heart out, every night and sometimes during the day too. He's been in brilliant company. He's been absolutely spoiled by the French people, who've made a great big fuss of him, when he most needed it. He was feeling less than worthless when he left Essex, nearly two weeks ago. Now he feels valued – liked, even. And having done an afternoon gig in a fabulous Fifties-style rock cafe, the world is his friend. He is high, if this doesn't sound to trite, on life itself. He's also completely exhausted, lost in his own world and probably, if he only knew it, on the edge of a mental breakdown.
"You were definitely unbalanced for a while, there." his friend Sensible would later admit to him. Rock life, though, for now anyway, is coming to an end. There's no road there. Nor, however, is there any road back.
When he finally does get home, he will sit at the front room table talking candidly with his partner. She will ask him, rather penetratingly," How much longer, do you think you can keep doing this?" (She means, trying to kick down the door of music biz success) . He will reply. "Christ, I dunno. But I've got some ideas..." She is quietly outraged at this and says: "It's been years, now. It's almost destroyed you. They keep knocking you down. And yet, you just keep getting back up again!" She is incredulous. He explains that he has some contacts. Good friends, who might help to manage him. And anyway, he'd been on telly a lot the last few months, hadn't he? That had to be worth something. He could start again. He still had £150 left. He was going to spend it on phoning people, and seeing people and if, in a couple of weeks, he hadn't made any headway, he was just going to give it all up, put his instruments away– except for maybe one acoustic guitar and be a gardener again. He would be happy being a gardener. He would be sane. What did Confucius say? "If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. But if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, become a gardener."
Quite right too. Three weeks later, with the money gone and everyone who'd promised to help, now having let him down, blocked his calls or simply vapourised, he was finished. No royalties were due. The tour was not going to happen. Every positive lead had dried up. There was nothing. He came back from his last futile trip to London late one sunny afternoon in May. He went purposefully upstairs to dismantle his studio and store all the effects units and instruments. He put everything away, as he had promised himself that we would do. In an hour or two, he'd turned the tiny former sail-loft into a room for reading and writing in. It no longer looked like his recording studio. Now he went downstairs and put the lid down on his piano. He placed books on it. It was symbolic. He'd done with the music biz. He'd bloody well had enough. What a mug! Twenty years of rock'n'roll and what had it come to? Well, he was going to be a good gardener. They couldn't hurt him there, drive him mad, tell him that there was money when there was none. They couldn't tell him that they'd do this or do that for him, when they'd actually done nothing. No-one would be the guv now, apart from him. At least he'd be happy now.
In the ensuing few months of being a lawn dog and hedge-cutter, however, how little he really knew. Within a year, he'd have done his first gigs as a performance poet. He'd have had his own first little collection of poems I Hank Marvinned issued. Captain Sensible, John Cooper Clarke and another old friend, Howlin' Wilf– now better known as R&B star, James Hunter – would all be at the launch. He'd have had his pop poems published in a national broadsheet. He would have been on national radio and appeared on TV. It was all only was just only around the corner. But – and you must first go back to that spaced-out photograph taken by a French rock photographer – Martin Newell, the man in that picture, has no idea that any of this this will happen to him. For it is the yet-to-be-revealed denouement in a story which goes right back to May of 1975, when quite another earlier pop life came to an end. Now read on.
Triple brandies all round. You know I don't often do this sort of thing. But yesterday, two months after following my commissioning editor's suggestion to submit for the EDF/ East of England Media Awards, held in a large hotel on the Essex/ Hertfordshire border, I found myself being presented with the gong for Columnist of the Year. It was a triple whammy because our photographer, Alex Fairfull got the photographer gong and our editor in chief Terry Hunt then collected the Best Daily Paper award for our own East Anglian Daily Times..
This was not some self-created awards ceremony. The people there were mostly hardened TV working news journalists, editors, producers and photgraphers, all of whom had been judged by a gimlet eyed panel in our capital city. To get an award is great. I think. Though, I don't know because to date I haven't had that many. To get one from your fellow professionals is just the best. The competition was stiff too. There were some really impressive entries. Our photographer commented on this.
For me to go to into this large conference hall in an international hotel had initially been like trying to get a dog into a bath. Several people needed to gently persuade me that it might be a good idea. I'm glad I did it. And you don't know how you're going to react when this sort of thing happens. You think.you'll be cool, witty, diffident. When my name was called out, I was actually like a rabbit caught in headlights. No amount of previous stage experience can prepare you for such a thing. Good job there wasn't a microphone near me, because I;d definitely have done a Gwyneth. I went up onstage in a kind of daze, had my snap taken and went back to my table mouthing the words: "F***** Hell!" followed by "Wow!" Then I sat there, completely numb for twenty minutes..
A weird twist of fate: While rooting around in a cupboard, before Christmas, I found a 25 year -old forgotten diary there from 1985. In it at the time are entries about my life as a broke 31 year old musician. A record deal cancelled and a part time washing-up job.All of this against a domestic backdrop of a large run down house during very cold winter. I was physically run-down too. I see from another entry that I'd made an appointment with a doctor. Things have to be bad for me to go that far. Having been published for the first time in The Guardian six months earlier, I was desperately entering writing competitions, and writing letters to various people, asking for work. On Saturday 9th of March, I see I'd written letters to The Guardian, Channel 4 the BBC and The East Anglian Daily Times suggesting ideas, and with the latter, asking if they'd be interested in a small regular column about my region. Ten days later on March 19th, I received a rejection letter from them. Times weren't good. About 23 years later on, they changed their minds and took me on as columnist. That's the thing about us country folk, we can take a while to think about things. Funny old game, innit? Yaaay!
An emotional Ms. Paltrow accepts her award