Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
As promised, a while back. The female bassist mentioned in this story was of course, my learned colleague, Lee Cave Berry now better known as Mrs Kimberley Rew.
To an engagement in Southend. We go the pretty way,
passing through the village of Woodham Ferrers. Nearby, I see a sign
for nearby South Woodham Ferrers and it unleashes a tale never set
down in print before.
It was the summer of 1980. At the end of a recording
session in Octopus Studios a rural 8-track in Stowupland, the house
musicians were reflecting upon our lack of beer money. A day or so
earlier, my late mum, a great one for cutting snippets from
newspapers, presented me with an item about the South Woodham Ferrers
Song Competition. As a skinny-jeaned, rebellious young would-be, I
was contemptuous. I'd never dream of entering, I told her, loftily.
In the spikey post-punk era, it might completely compromise my
credibility. She pointed out to me in due course, that the First
Prize in the contest, was £300 and a colour TV. Luckily, since
I've always had fewer principles than the average backstreet cat, I
immediately sat down at the piano and bashed out a song. I told the
lads this sorry story. Far from barracking me, they offered to help
me demo it. Dave, the kindly studio owner, even threw in a bit of
'dead' studio time. Half an hour later, we'd whacked the song
sloppily down on tape, made a cassette of it, borrowed some beer
vouchers and adjourned to the pub.
We needed a name. We borrowed “Marshall Davenport”
an all-purpose moniker cooked up by the bass player because it
sounded respectable and vaguely famous. I posted the cassette off
next day and forgot about it.
Weeks later, a letter arrived. It informed me that my
song had come in the top six of the South Woodham Ferrers Song
Contest. They wanted Marshall Davenport to perform our piece at their
showground. There'd be a beauty contest and a fashion parade on the
same stage. Tony Blackburn would be there. Wow, as they say. As I
regarded my team, Max, Stix and Tony, I was reminded of what
Wellington had said, upon reviewing his troops before Waterloo: “I
don't know what these men will do to the enemy but but by God, they
A bit of background may be necessary here. In summer of
1980, after much new housing development, South Woodham Ferrers, near
Maldon, was relaunching itself as a new town. It was a Milton Keynes
in miniature I suppose, although nobody at that time was anxious to
make the comparison. S.W. Ferrers was thirty-odd miles from London
and the planners were encouraging people to come and live there; the
incentive being that it was a family-friendly riverside environment
with a big supermarket nearby.
Disaster nearly struck when it was revealed that Tony,
our bass player couldn't do the date. He assured us, however, that
his then-girlfriend would not only dep for him, but she'd also drive
us there. “Oh, yeah?” asked the young men, warily. “And who's
she played for? ” It turned out that Lee, a willowy pretty girl in
her early twenties had played bass for Fats Domino at the Hammersmith
Odeon. She'd also toured with veteran rock'n'rollers the Wild
Angels. The young men all went quiet at this point. None of us had
so far done anything remotely that impressive.
Thus it was that on a blazing headachey July day, our
heroes duly turned up and played their song. Nobody was more
surprised than us when one of the organisers rushed up as we left the
stage, telling us, “Now, don't wander off too far please, because
when we announce the winner, we'll need you back up here fairly
sharpish. “ Does this mean we've ...won?” I asked, incredulously.
He said nothing.
Lee, our bass player went back to check the car, while
the guitarist and drummer disappeared to a nearby supermarket.
They soon returned with a cardboard box full of warm
canned lager and several flagons of cider. Shortly afterwards, a
grinning Tony Blackburn arrrived to judge the beauty contest. I'd
dutifully done as I was told by the organiser and hung around nearby.
Just to the side of me, I could hear a TV cameraman fussing and
complaining to his director. Was there a problem? I asked helpfully
Yes, he hissed angrily, there were two scruffy yobs lurching around
with bottles right in front of the stage and they kept getting into
his shot. I peered over his shoulder. There were Max and Stix
throwing drink down their necks and making a correspondingly merry
racket near the beauty contest. “Disgraceful.” I said.
We didn't win the competition. In the car on the way
home, it was speculated that it may not have helped our case when I'd
bounded up onto stage yelling “Good afternoon, Milton Keynes!”
The band who won the competition were very 'pro' and possibly, London
session musicians. You can still find their tune on the internet.
Naturally, it was ghastly. We had a puncture on the way home. For
three fuddled blokes who didn't drive, we did a pretty good job of
helping Lee to change the wheel. It only took us over an hour. We
dropped Max off in Braintree. We now believe he may have lived there.
Weeks later, a wooden shield arrived by post. Emblazoned on it were
the words. “ Marshall Davenport – South Woodham Ferrers Song
Competition Finalists.” It lived on my piano for many years and
rarely ever cropped up in conversation.
The names of the people who made the soundtrack to the
1960s, keep appearing on the Reaper's dance-card. Last week it was
Lynn Annette Ripley, better known to some as Twinkle. Those papers
who managed to mention her untimely death at 66, usually refer to her
in the next breath as a one-hit-wonder. Twinkle was rather more than
At a casual glance you might say that she was an
archetypal mid-Sixties pop star.
A pretty statuesque blonde, with a sulky veneer, she
sang in winningly adenoidal estuarine fashion. As a stuttering,
ink-smudged thirteen year-old, I confess, I thought that she was
perfect, with all the distantly-attainable qualities of a
school-mate's big sister.
Twinkle came from a privileged background. Her father,
Sidney Ripley, a wealthy businessman was also leader of the
Conservative Group of the Greater London Council. The talented Miss
Ripley attended the private Queens Gate School in Kensington with one
Milla Shand – later to become Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The two
girls did not get on. Twinkle wore 'way-out' clothes and wanted to be
a performer. Camilla wore twinsets and pearls and was a sword fencer
who liked hunting and shooting.
The young popstrel didn't like her school much either,
and reportedly smacked her headmistress in the face after being
reprimanded about her clothing. Her father then had to work very hard
to make her complete the term, before leaving so that she didn't bear
the stigma of expulsion on her cv.
At this point, another father with similar experience,
feels compelled to interject: “But teenage daughters, hey readers?
Can't live with 'em – not allowed to put them into some sort of
cryogenic pod until they morph back into reasonable human beings
again. My name's Martin Newell. Look, you've been great.”
with such an attitude, Twinkle was destined for nowhere but pop
stardom. Her elder sister, Dawn, a journalist, had connections in
that world and by 16, Twinkle had her first single released. Terry
a doomed teenager anthem, in the mould of Tell
Laura I Love Her. The
synopsis of Terry
runs thus: Girl goes out with motorcycle bad boy. Girl has row with
bad boy. Bad boy roars angrily off into the night, crashes bike.
Dies. Amazingly, the record, which preceded the arguably more-famous
Shangrilas' hit Leader
of the Pack , catapulted
our bolshy teen queen into the charts in late 1964. This success was
aided substantially by the dependable old BBC, who immediately
banned it, thereby guaranteeing its immortality. Death, it seems,
even in the Swinging Sixties was still a big taboo. The row spread
further when there was a complaint in Parliament about the banned
disc. A few months later after the fuss subsided, it transpired that
the demon blonde was actually a lovely well-brought up girl from
leafy Surbiton. Despite her one-hit-wonder tag, Twinkle did have
one other minor chart success with the exquisite Golden
decades later The Smiths covered the song after Morrissey declared
himself to be a fan. There was reportedly some acrimony within the
band itself about the matter. Thus did Golden
to some diehard fans, become “The Disc Which Split the Smiths.”
Twinkle was thought of in certain quarters as the poor
little rich girl who crashed the pop charts. By the mid 1960s,
though, archaic British class barriers were breaking down, allowing
lupine urchins such as The Rolling Stones to hob-nob with
aristocrats. Equally, however, some traffic went the other way as a
few scions of the wealthy and well-bred ventured into the pop biz.
Pop music today retains this open-door policy, as the continued
presence of James Blunt, Florence Welch and one or two others
The one really extraordinary thing about Lynn Annette
Ripley, however – the talent which set her far apart from
contemporaries such as Lulu, Dusty, Cilla and Sandie – was that
she wrote her own songs, which she had been doing since she was very
the 1960s, if you were a British female pop singer, you generally
sang only what the chaps in charge ordered you to. In the more
egalitarian US they had Carole King, Carole Bayer Sager, Jackie de
Shannon and others. Here we only had Twinkle flying her lonely flag
for the girls. On the surface, she was a tough little cookie,
underneath though, she was less sure of herself. Fame being the
toxic substance it is, she retired from the pop business in 1967, a
veteran at all of 19 years of age. She made sporadic assaults on the
pop charts in years to come but with no major successes. A casual
listener might well receive the impression that Twinkle burnt out
early. Yet, there existed a mysterious “lost” album made in 1973.
Hannah – the Lost Years was
a tribute to the beautiful male model with whom she fell hoplessly in
love but heartbreakingly, lost. She had a breakdown over the affair.
Shortly afterwards, in a tragic coda to the tale, Michael Hannah
perished in a plane crash in France. The tribute album she made to
him, produced by Mike D'Abo, is imperfect but its highlights are
moving, sometimes wonderfully so. The album lay in the vaults for
three decades before being released in limited amount in 2003. I have
a copy. You can't borrow it. RIP Twinkle. Never forgotten.
I wish that there was another
word to do the job which the word 'psychogeography' currently does.
Pyschogeography is a clunky and pretentious-sounding term for
something which is actually very interesting. It is a way of
re-mapping an area, not just by its history or geography, but by
studying the nature of that area: what it has played host to and what
its prevailing ambience is. For instance, if I were to mention Soho
in London, most people would conjure an almost monochrome vision of
strip-clubs, cafes, alleyways, dodgy doorways and nefarious
characters. Soho has been sanitised somewhat during my own lifetime.
It's certainly a different place to the one which I first wandered
around when I was still a schoolboy. It's different again to the one
in which I worked for eighteen months during the mid-1980s. Soho,
nonetheless, retains its own distinct and probably ineradicable
psychgeography, as do the areas of Kings Cross and Whitechapel.
The particular psychogeography
of a place is dictated by the trades which have gone on there, the
ethnicities of its residents, its battles, its celebrations, its
villainy and its culture. Don't bother looking up the word
'psychogeography' however. There are some confusingly highbrow
definitions of it in existence – a sure sign that no-one's quite
pinned it down yet. Believe me if I could simply it Darren or Suzie
and have done with it, I would.
The psychogeographers are all
over London like a rash, of course, with their theories, podcasts,
pamphlets and books. Well, they would be, wouldn't they? Anyone would
think that London was the only place in the country worth exploring.
It isn't. Colchester with an equally rich psychogeography has been
comparatively unmapped so far.
Let me run this past you,
therefore. If an angry horde of several thousand people were to
descend upon the town, massacre all of its occupants and burn the
place so comprehensively that two millennia later, the archaeologist
were still fishing forensic evidence of the conflagration out of the
soil, would that not be quite a big deal? It is a big deal. Winston
Churchill called the Boudiccan revolt the most horrible episode in
our island's history. Philip Crummy, our senior archaeologist has
compared the event to ethnic cleansing. An incident such as this,
will necessarily leave its own deeply embedded atmosphere – a folk
Within a scant quarter-mile
radius of Colchester's Firstsite building, are layers and layers of
conflict, poverty, power-struggles, religion, revelry, decadence and
general venality. Underneath Firstsite itself, is the Beryfield
whose, gentle slopes the cattle and geese for the nearby St Denis
Fair were kept each autumn through medieval times. A few yards to the
south are the magnificent, if slightly creepy ruins of St Botolph's,
England's first Augustinian Priory. St Botolph's was ruined not so
much by Henry VIII's hissy-fit in the 1530s but by a much later
cannonading during the 1640s by Parliamentary troops laying siege
from the south.
Behind the ruined priory is its
namesake, the church. Tucked away in a dark close, leading off Queen
Street, St Botolphs Church, designed by a young Ipswich architect,
William Mason was built in 1838. Much lighter and more cheerful
inside than its exterior, it looms proprietorially over Colchester
Town station where in 1914, 2,000 horses from the Cavalry Barracks
were entrained in cattle trucks, despatched to the coast, and shipped
to Flanders from which most would never return.
Barely 30 years later, in
February 1944, during an air-raid, 1400 incendiary bombs were dropped
on the St Botolphs area, destroying a number of buildings, including
most Paxman's Britannia works. Near here, in medieval times, just
outside the town walls was an infamous human dungheap. Here too were
to be found prostitutes and occasionally, bear-baiting. In an echo
of its sordid ancient past, today the area is still well-known for
its 'night economy'. For here are the late-night bars, the fast-food
joints, exotic dancers and the type of rash offences often described
in the spanking new magistrates court, as being “out-of-character.”
In daytime, commuters, students and shoppers share these scruffy
pavements with street-drinkers, shifty-looking underwolves and
sundry others who've fallen through the net. With its strange mix of
bars, cheap eateries and dark old religious houses, along with its
chequered history, the St Botolphs, area so far as its
psychogeography is concerned, is an almost perfect storm.
That's the thing about
psycho-geography, though, it does tend to repeat itself, like a
spectral historical belch. Just up the road from here, outside
Colchester Castle, on the same ground which Boudicca's tribesmen
massacred or immolated the Romano-Celtic townspeople, Colchester's
own Poll Tax riot took place in March of 1990. The riot was not of
the same propensity of course. But it was unpleasant and shocking
enough if you happened to be caught up in it, as I was. I remember
witnessing four huge police horses as they rode through the crowd
outside Greyfriars and went cantering on past toward East Hill.
It was an uncharacteristically
warm Saturday in early March. I watched it all in a semi-psychic
haze, realising:“This has happened here before.” A force of
horsemen trying to keep order. Romans, Normans, Roundheads? Who knew?
What did it matter? The ground had been imprinted very long time ago.
Coincidentally, a few yards walk from here, in 1973 was the East
Hill headquarters of the band I joined which changed my young life
forever. And that's psychogeography.