Out of the Camp Ch. 8 – Listen
By the time I auditioned for the group, ‘Listen’, I was living in a bedsit with Mary, close to Ealing Common, West London. She was still a student Nurse at Hammersmith Hospital and I was still installing TV aerials. In those days there was no freeway surrounding the capital and the M25 was still a pipedream for many – little did they know! As the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for!” No one could have imagined traffic building up to today’s stultifying levels, resulting in the clogging of the motorway which was only completed in 1986 supposedly to alleviate the congestion that had previously plagued the North and South Circular Roads, the prior ‘loop’ that avoided central London.
Since the North Circular passed through Ealing Common, this was the route that became an hour-plus long daily slog for me, as Paul Abrahams the founder and leader of Listen, held rehearsals at his parents’ home in Gants Hill, Ilford, East London. My audition, when it took place, turned out not to be a ‘slam-dunk’ as I wasn’t their first choice and so had been disappointed when Paul called to tell me that they’d liked my voice but had decided on another singer. Mercifully, it wasn’t very long before he called back to tell me the other guy hadn’t worked out and asked if I was still interested. I was indeed still interested, and very excited. So initially, a grueling schedule of near daily rehearsals ensued. This seemed to go on interminably with not much else happening but ultimately, we did start gigging. The group’s line-up at this point was Paul Abrahams, Hammond B3; Ed Durbrow, guitar; Dave Worth, bass; Mike Anscombe, drums; Linda Sukenik, vocals and me, also on vocals.
There were trips out of town to obscure little clubs and pubs in places like Braintree, Essex where we had a great night with a really receptive audience in an awful dump of a club, then topped off the evening by running out of bloody fuel on the way back and arriving home after 4am. And don’t ask me about the money! Another obscure gig was the Wickford Social Club in Essex where we received £1.00 each! The Growling Budgie in Ilford was a decent sort of place with appreciative audiences which is really what it’s all about. We played in ‘The Mess’ at Mid-Essex Tech in Chelmsford and were supported by Mick Jagger and Rory Gallagher…, in movies! One time we travelled to Manchester for a performance at a club in Deansgate where about 6 people showed up. From what I remember we packed up and went home after a few numbers and I don’t recall if we were paid or not. Probably not! The University of Wales, Cardiff was a great venue where the audience loved us and where I recall we got a respectable recompence. Also, Aberdeen University was good which is just as well after traipsing all the way up to the north of Scotland. On the way back south, my parents, who were still living in Hyvots, Edinburgh, put us up for the night before we continued on south next morning. All of this high life I’m describing was only possible thanks to an old blue diesel, former bread delivery van. When we were on the motorway and the roadie’s ankle started to ache, he’d jam a brick on top of the gas pedal so he could relax. Back then, cruise control was an expensive option and only on high-end automobiles. I didn’t ever see one on an old bread delivery van.
Back in Essex the following week we were support band at Harlow Tech for the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Other support gigs were with Fairport Convention at Leeds Poly which didn’t happen owing to our van breaking and our arriving 1¼ hours late, and Chicken Shack, but don’t ask me where that was; it’s all a vague, distant fog now. There was another one at Harlow Tech which was really a blast and where there was a great audience for which we received £1.50 each. We did a gig in Birmingham at St. Peter’s College that I also have absolutely no recollection of, other than navigating that awful concrete Bullring one-way system which I believe has since been demolished and the area redeveloped. Three or four times around it we went, getting ourselves into a right old ‘two-and-eight’ (“state”, Cockney rhyming slang for those unfamiliar), before we extricated ourselves from the damn maze. At around that time the Wolverhampton Poly Students Union showcased us at their ‘Refectory Stage 6’. The Universities and Colleges by far were better payers than the clubs, and audiences generally much more appreciative so the travel from that perspective was usually worthwhile.
The London clubs were our favourite venues only because we didn’t have to endure long trips in the old van and also this is where it was most likely that A&R (artiste and repertoire) people aka ‘talent scouts’ from the record companies would show up to check out new bands. We one time, had to travel to a pub in Wood Green, North London to audition for work at the Speakeasy night club in the West End, one of the ‘hippest’ establishments at the time. Some of the other regular clubs I recall we played were the ‘Bag o’ Nails’ near Carnaby Street; the Revolution, just off Berkely Square; Scotch of St. James near Jermyn Street; Bumpers at Piccadilly Circus, where we had a residency for a time; and also, since the audition went well, the Speakeasy, which was just off of Oxford Circus and where access to the stage door was down an outdoor, concrete staircase, and getting a split Hammond B3 organ up and down those stairs before and after gigs was an absolute nightmare.
It was around about this time that the Melody Maker music paper started announcing its plans to launch a nationwide competition in partnership with College Entertainments to find the best college and university rock and folk artists in the UK. Soon afterwards they began announcing dates of the first of a series of nationwide heats. Dennis Detheridge, a columnist with the Melody Maker was to head up a team of judges in the rock section of the contest who’d visit 40 regions and ultimately hear more than 400 groups. From an original combined entry – both rock and folk sections – of more than 5,000 musicians and singers from all over Britain, some 26 rock groups and 17 folk soloists turned up the Roundhouse, Campden Town, London on Sunday, June 4th, 1972 for the semi-finals and the Contest Grande Finale.
Compere for the evening was disc jockey, John Peel, and the all-star panel of judges comprised Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention, Kenny Jones of the Faces, Hugh Nicholson of Marmalade, the record producer, Hurricane Smith, Jon Anderson of Yes and Ray Coleman, Melody Maker editor.
The atmosphere was electric, the hall was packed, our fans crowded around the stage and we counted our blessings that the final was being held in our backyard so to speak, which meant that as representatives of London, we had a substantial crowd there to support us.
We had to pull this off…!
(1) Announcements and pictures of the semi-finalists in the 1972 MM Rock/Folk Contest. (2) ‘Listen’ – Clockwise from the top; Ed Durbrow, guitar; me, vocals; Dave Worth, bass; Linda Sukenik, vocals; Mike Anscombe, drums; Paul Abrahams, keyboards & leader. (3) & (4) Gig Posters.