John Close - life / autobio 1947-1970
This is a file called "bio", written between 13.3.92 and 20.3.92. That's the wrong abbreviation, of course, it should be called "autobio", short for autobiography, which is what this file is trying to be. My autobiography.

I think there's more of a case for the obscure to write their autobiography than the famous. After all, if you're famous, all the facts are known already. "Then I tried to get the country to accept a poll tax", that sort of thing. Babes in arms are aware of what a balls-up that was, we don't need Thatcher or her ghost writer to tell us.

So why not, the autobiography of a nobody? After all, I've now been keeping a diary for over three years, no-one's likely to read that, but I tap it into one of my pocket computers day after day.

An autobiography could be more worthwhile.


Born in Willesden, London, September 24th. When I saw the film "Ten, Rillington Place" a few years ago I was truly horrified. This was /home/. Where I started, with people wearing the sort of clothes they wore when I was a baby. The films of that time with Montgomery Clift or Laurence Olivier don't seem to have ever hit me in the same way. Everybody talks in that animated way, everywhere is too clean, too nice.

John and Margaret in 1948 Born a second child. My sister Margaret was three when I arrived. My parents had met when my father was in hospital and my mother was a nurse. The same relationship has dogged them all their lives, the sick man and the patient Christian woman looking after him, forgiving him every stupidity on the grounds that he is not a whole person. They were both good-looking people and both on the lookout for someone who could provide the necessary. My mother's case was more obvious, she was looking for a man to provide her with a
comfortable life. That was par for the course in those days, thankfully nowadays things have changed a lot. My father had come down from Sunderland with the usual idea that people from outside London had, that the streets were paved with gold, and having met my mother and got a hazy impression of her family he undoubtedly thought that this was the point at which Ted Close's feet disappeared beneath the kitchen table never to emerge again. I don't suppose for one moment he listened to the truth about the Lamb's family finances, he has never listened to anyone. Not that the family had a cash problem, but they weren't the goldmine that he thought.

I don't have much time for my father, you're probably thinking. No. The truth is that after all this time I am angrier than ever about the way he treated all of us. I have to say that I probably got off the lightest, but it is only now, through writing this, that I realize how much I have missed. The times in the music business when I've lacked confidence because my father had told me often enough I was no good, that it was pointless. Or my mother told me I was just dreaming, that I'd do better if I became an accountant. No encouragement means little success, unless you break away and do it all by yourself. So at the age of 44 you find yourself in the same position as men of 20 who have been told by their parents to go out and win!

Ach, I've been over this a thousand times in my diaries, a million times in my thoughts, why go over it again? You are waiting, wound up to fever-pitch with anticipation, to hear the saga of How The Close Came To Be. And who would blame your naive enthusiasm? And who would blame your disappointment at finding that in the very first chapter the demented writer was falling into the trap of a diatribe against his poor, beleaguered father, (get on with it).

My parents. No, best to introduce people as they come in to the story, tell you about them, then you have some idea of who I'm talking about later.

c. 1950

Parents desperate to move out of London, went to live in an old forces camp in Dorchester near Oxford, lived in a Nissen hut for a year or two.

The local school was on the army site as well. There was an air of dereliction about the area generally, lots of strange buildings meant to simulate the kind of on-the-ground situations that soldiers could maybe expect to find in warfare. There was one huge wall with a kind of platform in front of it, we used to climb up and jump down off it quite merrily. The disused buildings were full of rubbish, nothing too unwholesome, maybe the odd beer bottle, this was before the Age of Disposability, now you wouldn't be able to see the buildings for Coke cans and sweet wrappers. I got involved in a couple of fracases along the way, one where I burnt an Indian headdress that I been bought. God knows why I did it, I remember looking at this charred object and thinking "I've burnt my headdress". I wanted another, but I didn't get it. Toys were scarce in those days and children didn't go round burning Indian headdresses just for the hell of it. Perhaps it was an early outbreak of personal nihilism.

Another silly incident involved a candle. I started eating it at school dinner one day. The teacher on duty went completely gaga and sent me to the headmaster. Needless to say I went equally apeshit and went home. Later on the whole thing was patched up between my mother and the school. I promised never to eat candles at school meal time again. The rest of the time I could answer my dietary cravings as I wished. It was too late, the moment for candles had passed, I was to never eat a single candle in my entire life ever again.
c. 1952

Parents moved into a caravan in Garsington near Oxford. The caravan site had become a red-brick housing area last time I was there.
Ted and Isobel with John and Margaret The caravan was much too small. Lesley hadn't arrived yet, but it was crowded anyway. My father was away on the road a lot of the time, thank God. To reach the main road up to the village one had to walk up a dirt track, to go down to the rest of the village you had to pick your way down an overgrown muddy alley that ran with water in the spring. Almost opposite the end of this alley was a wood where you could pick hazelnuts. At the age of five I'd have maybe been a bit young for this activity, but gangs of us used to stuff ourselves with nuts in the right season in later years.

c. 1955

Parents moved into "Briarlea", a semi-detached on the road to Oxford in Garsington. This house had a huge garden, at least half a mile long, attached to it. At one stage we had both my maternal grandparents living in separate caravans in the garden. My maternal grandmother was a strict Victorian type, very straight-laced, while my grandfather was an eccentric who had worked in a large hospital in Liverpool for years raising money.

Potato picking. I must have done a few days potato-picking on a farm on the way into Oxford. Us children got ten shillings a day. We nabbed a few for ourselves at the end of picking, or were sold them cheap, I can't remember. It was hard work for any amount of money.

Sometimes I have the horrors that I will end my life as a drudge for the farms in Lincolnshire, doing potato-picking. Even in these so-called enlightened times people still work long hours for gangers doing vegetable picking for damn small amounts of money. What I hate about those who enjoy the hard work of others is the way they go on about the necessity and the sanctity of labour, so long as they don't have to do any. I don't believe in hard work, I believe in ingenuity. Hard work is making light bulbs that wear out. Ingenuity is making everlasting light bulbs. But that spoils profits, kills off jobs - jobs in which people can work hard making obsolescence-based light bulbs. And so on, round and round.


Sunnyside, Twyford
Parents moved to Twyford, Buckinghamshire, because the mortgage on the house in Garsington was too high. "Sunnyside" in Twyford had no indoor loo. I used to dig holes in the garden to bury our shit.

Started going to the Latin School in Buckingham, but was on good terms with the village lads, Edward (Eddud) Beckett, Mervin "Rolls" Hodges, others.


Ostracized by the village gang because, simply, I was at the snobby Latin School and they were at the Secondary Modern. It was an act of inverted snobbery on their part to throw me out, and it was done very nastily.

c. 1963

Started attending the Latin School as a boarder. The boarding school, a new venture for the school, started, and I joined.

c. 1965

Left the boarding school because of a row with the headmaster over whether I should be seeing Catherine B***** or not. Catherine was a pale redhead and I didn't like being told by the headmaster that I couldn't go and see her at the weekends, or whenever. Mr B***** felt that Catherine would concentrate better on her studies if she didn't have Close around her all the time. As so often in my life, it was the woman who was doing all the chasing, all the arrangements, but Close was allowed or made to feel that it was his doing!

I left the boarding house, packed up seeing Catherine B*****, she didn't do well in her exams anyway.

Some years afterwards I read in a copy of the Buckingham Advertiser that she was going to be on the Eurovision Song Contest, as a judge. Must have been about mid-70s or so. Anyway, I watched it for once. She kept acting as though she was really offended to be asked her opinion on anything. The account in the paper of how she got the job was interesting. She'd been working as a hotel help in Stratford-upon-Avon when "a man" told her she could be in the ESC. Hur hur, they're so helpful, these men, aren't they?


Left school. I had spent the best part of three years in the sixth form and I had no A Levels to show for it. I was going to training college in the autumn, but god alone knew why. I was simply drifting with the tide. It may have been the summer of love for some people, I was lost. Maybe that was what hippiedom was all about, and I was right in tune, man.

Worked at a gas plant in Bicester for a couple of months.

Worked at the Taylor Institute in Oxford for a couple of months. Slightly more pleasant atmosphere than the gas plant.

In the autumn went to Trent Park Training College in Cockfosters, it is now called the North London Polytechnic. Lodged with a Mrs Widgery in Potters Bar, who fed me enormous breakfasts, usually fried and consisting of at least four elements chosen from sausage, bacon, egg, fried bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, bubble and squeak, what have you.


Late in the year I left the college and wound up living at home and working for Richardson's Paints, who were merging with Cementone. Cementone were going to be housed in the old dairy at the top of Chandos Road (by the now-derelict railway station) and we were kept busy knocking down an old fridge (lots of cork filling, lots of dust) and painting walls and windows. It was generally reckoned that I got more paint on my overalls than anywhere else, and that sometimes when I'd done a window you could still see out of it.


Living in Avonmore Road in Hammersmith. Worked at Ministry of Social Security in Hammersmith, not far from the Palais. The place was full of bigotry, snobbery, people cracking up, and that was just our side of the counter. The other side there were always fights, sometimes claimants hitting staff, sometimes claimants fighting each other, always loads of rows, it was awful. After three months of chasing folders in cabinets or on people's desks and stuffing them with incoming letters I thought I was going mad. I had to go round all day long with a list of case numbers relating to the sheaf of letters that had come in, if I found a folder I put the letter in it. At night I would see numbers marching in front of me as I tried to sleep. I went to see the boss and told him I couldn't do the job anymore, and I left.

Met Irving B***** in a folk club near my house, moved into the flat he shared with Tony D***** and Grant L*****. This was in Castletown Road in West Kensington, number 51. The house was shared by someone we never saw on the ground floor, then a friend of the lads, Clive, a letting agent who had an office further down the road and wore suits. Then a taxi-driver and then us on the top floor. We must have given the taxi-driver's ulcer a real pounding at times, we were /not/ Trappist monks.

I lived in the hallway. It wasn't a corridor hallway, more an open space, a large vestibule. My area was a bed, nothing more or less. I didn't mind the comings and goings, I would carry on with my book or my strumming. I had a rather tacky continental guitar then, made in Holland or somewhere, it was pretty cheap in every way, I believe Lesley still has it, she plays it from time to time.

I think the idea was that I was there on sufferance because Irving's songs were so obviously brilliant that he would be famous soon and then we would have separate flats dotted all over Kensington proper. That didn't quite work out, but don't think I got on anyone's nerves that badly. Grant didn't like it that much to begin with but then he went into a hippy phase (lasted all of one weekend and consisted of wearing a knitted bolero to the shops) and that was, well, cool, man, dig it. Tony was pretty laidback about it, but then he was about everything, and it was Irving's idea so he couldn't complain. But he did.

Apart from the hall there were five other rooms, three bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom.

Left the Ministry, worked in a second-hand shop run by a Malayan called Tony. Got ten shillings a day, plus all I could fiddle. Tony employed a driver called Terry who lived in Fulham, and Tel and I used to work loads of fiddles. The nicest one was when we were clearing out a basement that Tony had filled with goodies some time past, and I found a large oval framed print of a shepherdess and her flock, it was wonderfully sentimental and Victorian. I put it up above my bed, and wish I still had it, but I left it behind when I moved. The pictures of yesteryear, where do they hang today? It was probably worth a bit as well, know what I mean?

I bought an alto sax from another junk shop, not Tony's, further up the North End Road.

We used to get through a fair amount of dope of one sort or another. Most of it was very good stuff. At one stage we were getting Lebanese Red that was cut with opium, you could get the most wonderful ideas on that. Delusions of grandeur for the poor man who can't normally think himself into the emperor's clothes, or something. Of course the shits of thought came too fast and were too uncoordinated to be truly creative, but it seemed nice at the time. Together we would share our dope and roll joints. I wasn't into joints that much because of the nicotine, it always got me excited, my spirit has always needed calming. The nicest way to smoke it was in a hookah. Tony brought one back from a holiday in Italy and also brought a bottle of Martini to cool the smoke. That was, and I use the term suitably for once, far out. We sat round on cushions one night in the summer and Tony told us about his holiday and we played some records, Love, Steppenwolf, Spooky Tooth and so on, and smoked hashish through that hubble-bubble and life was a gas. But usually I preferred to eat the stuff. I've always been a solitary drug addict as my father was and his father before I expect.

At one stage I had bought five quid's worth of the best I knew about, Red Leb with opium, and by dint of careful management I stayed stoned day and night on that stash for a month. I was working in the junk shop then and some days it was hard to get things done. Everyone else was so animated and I was so relaxed… I kept waking up and finding myself talking to a customer about their furniture, or I'd find myself riding in the van with Terry.

One day a group of New York Jewish girls came into the shop. I didn't work that out at once, they were just hippies. I must have thrown in the right phrase at the right time because they invited me to take acid (LSD) with them. That sounded OK to me. I was probably ripped at the time. So I wound up one night at a flat in the street at ninety degrees to Avonmore Road. It was pretty grubby, I say that even though most of the places I've lived have been pretty grubby, if not when I arrived than certainly later. It was a commune, meaning everyone tried not to care about who did the washing up and the garbage, but they all cared, though not enough to do anything about it. The Jewish girls were all on the run from their upbringing, but they worried like crazy over money and the possibility of being ripped off. I can't blame them for being worried about money, they didn't work and they liked it that way, I'd have liked it that way. As for being on the run, all my life I've dreamt of going to Mexico. I'd like to have lived in the Mexico City that Malcolm Lowry knew, not for the vast amounts of tequila he drank but because the feel of the place was generally lazy and slightly criminal.

There were a couple of men around too, on this Saturday night. I don't think they lived there, it would have driven them nuts. I remember their names, Bob and Enrico. Bob was an English hippy, like me, he wore glasses and loads of black fuzzy hair, was a bit pale. Enrico was Mediterranean, don't ask me to be any more specific than that. They had taken acid before.


In the winter I enjoyed a period of spiritual enlightenment, partly through strict vegetarianism and partly through a wonderful book called "Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics" by Prof. R. Blyth.

Through the good offices of a tutor called Holmes I wangled my way back into the same college again. God, they must have been desperate for teachers in those days, aren't they always?

This meant that during the summer I was back in Twyford again. I have vague memories of working on some job at the Secondary school.

Wally Rothe, John Close and Jonty Ward, aka Splinter One day when I was outside, it must have been a painting job, Jonathan (Jonty) Ward and Wally Rothe came to see me. They constituted two-thirds of a rock group called Splinter. The other guy, the bass player, had recently drowned whilst swimming in the sea. Would I like to join or would I prefer to enjoy the same fate? I joined. We did several gigs including a couple of lively nights at Brackley Town Hall. In honour of Curved Air
we did one of their songs, "Hide and Seek"; "Running through the town I call your name But no-one hea-e-a-e-ars…"

We also did Rory Gallagher's "If I Can't Sing I'll Cry" and a couple of my own songs, written for the sort of approach we were taking (i.e. rock music)

Lodged with a couple in Enfield whose kitchen always smelled of bleach. The smell seemed to get into everything, most of all the food, which was bloody awful. I tried convincing them I was vegetarian but no joy.

Around about Christmas I began the usual project in order to blot out the awfulness of the festivities. In previous years it had been poetry or making collages, this time it was the culmination of years of trying to write songs and I wrote about twenty songs in the Christmas vacation.

At this time I also met Pete Grove and John Redshaw. They both lived in Buckingham and had been friends for some time. Lately they had taken up songwriting, working separately but bouncing ideas off each other.

So all three of us began swopping ideas and rehearsing songs together. John Redshaw was the first to give up, sometime in the following year his other commitments took him away from any real interest in doing gigs, taking music "seriously" (always a fatal step). He showed touches of lyricism, of poetry in his songs. Here's one of his;


"Softly the darkness falls,
dipping the evening sky.

Will we welcome Mister Sunshine
When the clouds roll by?
Will you be here with me
Feeling you hold me tight,
Will you still be here to thrill me
or gone and on your way?
Something tells me you will still be
Here at break of day
My emotions become devotions
And everything's alright."

(This quotation is incorrect)

The opening is lovely, and the tune is strong.

[John's autobiography continues in middle eight]