Out of the Camp Ch. 30 – Fish, Chips & The Infirmary
All this bouncing around was unsettling enough except that all the while I was trying to devise a story that would get me the hell out of an unhappy home situation and off to London…, and my fortune! Really! I was daft enough to believe this; I was going to be a famous pop star. It’s odd to realize now, that in more recent years when I heard some of the late 50s/early 60s hits from the likes of Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Del Shannon, Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Adam Faith, Johnny Tillotson, etc. I would be looking back with feelings of nostalgia. It didn’t make any sense that the memory of those tunes would bring me such pleasure when I was so unhappy at the time. It wasn’t so many years ago when I finally figured it out. All those years ago I had my dreams, and the sounds of those songs now, would take me right back, not so much to happier times, but to days when I still had my dreams and my future ahead of me, and I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life, or so I thought. If all this apparent self-pity is making you nauseous, I sympathize, because I’m not explaining myself too clearly here. I’ve heard all my life about how lucky I was in post WWII Britain to have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my belly, just saying! I’ll be expanding on this later when I move on from this flashback to continue on from Out of the Camp 24 and, in the last paragraph of that episode, you’ll get a snapshot of what I’m talking about.
One Sunday night I got sent up to the Gracemount Fish & Chip Shop for our supper; we were living in Gilmerton Dykes Crescent at the time. I think my Dad had left the Army by this time and was working security at the National Gallery by The Mound. Anyway, when I got home, I started unwrapping the fish ‘n’ chips and noticed that they were wrapped in a newspaper I hadn’t seen before. When I opened it up, I saw that it was a copy of the London Weekly Advertiser which I had never heard of and so I started scanning it. At that time, I was drawn to anything related to London because of my plan to leave home and somehow get into the London music scene. The big problem was breaking this news to my mother who, I knew, was not going to make it easy and so I had to come up with a plausible plan that I had some chance of selling to her. I mean, I couldn’t just tell her I’m going to London to be a singer, that wasn’t going to fly. As I flipped through the paper, I came across an ad for male models, or rather applicants for training at the London Academy of Modelling, with the added assurance that applicants accepted for training who completed the course would be assisted in getting work. Of course, there was a charge for this, but I must have felt it was affordable – I had some savings in a Post Office Savings Account (remember them?) – and so I was sold on the idea. I would have to make a special trip for the audition and, if accepted, start making preparations for the move. I know, I know! It’s a scam, right? Or whatever we called that back then. A racket? A con? Whatever! I was a naïve, star struck 20-year old with the ultimate impossible dream, but no one on God’s Earth was going to change my mind about doing this. For a few days I considered differing approaches of how best to broach the subject with her and quickly realized that I was procrastinating. I’d just have to bite the bullet and tell her.
When I did, I took the approach that this was a serious career move that could lead very quickly to long-term success. I didn’t believe this for a minute but thought that there might be an angle by which I could use the experience to move sideways, as it were, into music. Right!! I didn’t mention music to my mother, of course, recalling an earlier exchange when she’d expressed in no uncertain terms her dubious views on this idea. So, it came as a complete surprise, that she acquiesced and accepted the inevitable on the strict understanding that I would agree to wait until after my 21st birthday because she wanted to rent a hall and have a 21st party for me with all the family and my friends present. “Anyway, she added, you won’t last long down there when you realize you have to do your own washing (laundry) and cooking. You’ll be back!” Frankly, after her quasi-positive, albeit cool, response, I let her sound off without any argument. My birthday was only four months away and, whilst I’d have agreed to anything, the party was no sacrifice, I ultimately found myself looking forward to it. If this sounds like the mutterings of an ungrateful, brat, I’d say in my defense that all my life my mother had seemed to be obsessed with proving to her family i,e., her mother and sisters, that she was a good mother, and her determination to host the party was more to with showing her family that even though I was adopted, I didn’t want for anything. And, as I’ve already implied, more later!
This must have been towards the end of 1966, when I was 20, still singing with the Dollyrocker Band and working at Tynecastle Radio. On the weekends when I wasn’t singing I’d hang out with my pals, John Nicol, Tam Renwick, Al Stewart (now sadly passed), Rab Crerar (also now gone) and Roger Jevons. One of our favorite Friday night rituals was hanging out at Deacon Brody’s Tavern, laughing ourselves silly, usually courtesy of Tam and then retiring to the Chinese Restaurant next door. We became such Friday night regulars that, as soon as we walked in the door, the poor, long-suffering proprietor or one of the waiters, would clear our table of everything; salt, pepper, soy sauce, whatever. They just vacated it! They were never happy to see us, but the funny thing is that they never chucked us out. I have no idea what we did with the condiments that would lead them to clear the decks, as it were. We were obviously very well-oiled and having fun, and far-enough ‘gone’ that I don’t remember what the hell we got up to!
One weekend we met up with two upper-crust characters that I hadn’t encountered before, one, a Londoner called John Fielding and a guy that had gone to John Watsons School called Jonathon Roger. They were a very slick pair; the kind where you checked that you were still in possession of your fingers after a handshake. I don’t remember how we met them, but they took us to a party in the New Town, Murray Place, I think, or somewhere around there. A year or so later I remember they were featured in the press when they claimed to have started a talent agency to provide representation in Edinburgh for an A&R company set up by Mick Jagger called Jaffra Music which, in turn, was being managed by Apple Music, the Beatles publishing company. They were inviting local bands who wrote their own music to submit tapes for consideration. It just so happened that around the same time, I was working for Victoria Wine, and among other places, used to deliver to Apple in Baker Street and had gotten to know the office manager, Terry Doran. One day I asked him about Jaffra Music and whether he’d heard of them. It came as no surprise to me when he said that he hadn’t and when I explained why I was asking, he picked up his phone and called Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ publicist, and explained the situation. Apparently, Taylor was furious and confirmed what Terry had told me, that no one at Apple had heard of Jaffra Music. Anyway, the evening for me, is an alcohol-induced blur, but I do remember feeling decidedly uncomfortable or out-of-my-depth around this crowd and couldn’t get out of there fast enough and somehow, I guess, we figured out a way.
At around the same time and not too far from there, Mason Webb was playing at a cricket club in Stockbridge. I’m getting my pal Tam Renwick to pick-up this story because I’m suffering from pre-senile dementia although I’m not so sure about the “pre”part!
Tam: “Me and Al came into the changing room waiting for you all to pack up, and I swiped a cricket umpire’s white coat. We went to Roger’s flat opposite Donaldson’s School at Haymarket to help shift some drums and amps into his hallway. There was a mirror propped up on a small table there and, just as Roger was passing it, the mirror got bumped and fell right into his leg spewing blood everywhere. I grabbed the white coat, put it on and became a doctor! We shoved Roger into the band van and shot up to the Infirmary.”
We got to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and went straight to the A&E (Emergency) entrance. There were no ambulances or people around, but plenty of gurneys (trolleys) sitting outside the entrance. So, without a moment’s hesitation and as a couple of porters emerged from the building, Tam went into action. Wearing the white coat, he started yelling at the porters to get this man into the hospital before he bleeds to death, and the response he received from the hospital staff was priceless. They were puzzled, didn’t want to question him – the power of the blood-soaked white coat! – and were hesitant but began complying with his instructions until a senior nurse came storming out of the hospital saying, “What’s going on here?” Then, to Tam, “Where did you get that white coat?” By this time, the rest of us were helpless, already being well-oiled, the insanity of the situation was just too crazy.
Back to Tam:
“I was covered in his blood, and it just went on from there. While he was getting taken care of, I said to Al you run out the door and pretend that you’re a patient. Al duly headed outside and made for Forest Road with me shouting after him, Stop! Stop! I grabbed him just as a cop car came along. They were going to help me when I said, quick as a flash, that we’re students having a prank. F@#* knows how we got away with that one; can’t remember if Mr. Jevons ever thanked me for saving his leg, and that’s all true, readers, can’t remember the date though.”
(1) Our fish ‘n’ chips wrapper. Gracemount Chip Shop,1966. (2) The Dollyrocker Band at The Place, Edinburgh. 1966. (3) The Dollyrocker Band at drummer, Colin Paterson’s parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. Leith Town Hall, 1966. (4) 1960s Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, where Roger Jevons had his gashed leg treated and “Dr” Tam Renwick treated us to a performance of Dr. Not! (5) The Mason Webb Group. L-R: John McLean, Cameron Mitchell (dec), Roger Jevons, Roger Cairns, John Nicol. (6) The Dollyrocker Band at The Place, Edinburgh. 1966. (7) Me and Tam by Loch Tummel, Pitlochry. 2018. (8) Linda and Nina Crerar, me and Colin Paterson at a gig we did for ABC Cinema staff at an outing to Galashiels, 1966. Don’t know who the guy on the left is. (9) Tam on the left, John on the right and Gerard my (now, sadly departed) brother-in-law at my wedding to Mary in Manchester, March 20, 1971. (10) Tam, John & me @ Portobello Pool, Edinburgh, 1966.