John Close - life / autobio 1971-1982
This is part two of 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.


In spring I dropped out of college again. Moonlighted from the house in Enfield, stayed a week or so at Susie M*****s house, also in Enfield, then moved in with Graham H***** and his girlfriend Val, both from Newcastle, Durham. Their ground-floor flat was at 51, Bulwer Road. Or 38, maybe. I lived in the front room of the house. They occupied the back room and we shared the kitchen, a very small lounge, bathroom and toilet. It was cheerfully shabby. Graham helped me to build up my drinking habit into something substantial. Having always had a weakness for drugs but a fear of being caught doing something illegal it was easier in Barnet to drink rather than look for cannabis. Dealers are always very dull people, anyway.


Pete moved into the front room at Bulwer Road. We wrote a few songs together, but mostly worked separately. Offhand the only one I can remember we wrote together is "Love Me For Today", which is pleasantly innocuous;

"Whispered words of love have all been said before,
All I have to say is love me for today.

Don't treat me like faded clothes that you once wore
Don't throw it all away, just love me for today.

There's no other time, soon enough you'll find
Time seems to be slipping away-ay-ay
Love me for today.

I can give you all the time you need and more
Should you want to stay, Love Me For Today."

I don't like that second verse. I think the tune for the verse was his and I wrote the middle eight. The words fell into place generally, they aren't the kind of writing that involves great brain strain.

I wrote some of my best early songs at this time, and even managed to get a recording session out of Ivan C***** to record a couple of tracks. One side was a rather naive rock song called "If you wanna try Truckin'", which you could listen to from the point of view of celebrating cars, or not if you want to. The middle eight talks about "too many motorways, too many cars, too much noise and confusion" but it sounds as though I liked it.

Still a juvenile at 25, I was growing up slowly, and then puis lentement.

But the other side was better. It was called "Early Days" and I didn't realize at the time how early they were.


There I was sitting on a tube train on a Sunday, going back to Barnet from the city, with Pete and possibly Diane sitting opposite, when I said "I've been thinking about going to Paris" because, in a vague way, I had, and then I thought or said "That's a good title for a song" and so it was. When we got back to Bulwer Road I went to work on it, went to work on Monday for the council, working in the parks with lots of other semi-lunatics, came back home and finished it off with Pete doing the guitar breaks. On Tuesday I was riding on the back of one of the council wagons, feeling the wind in my face as Stan drove us to some job or other, a fine spring day and I thought "I've cracked it! I really am a songwriter now!" And I was. It's a touch naive, a bit suburban, lots of things are wrong with it, the humour is heavy-handed, but as a song it stands up, jolly, inconsequential and original. Admittedly it has many influences running through it but fundamentally it owes no outstanding debt to anyone else, and that is what made me feel good about it, then and, even if the feeling is diminished, now.


I've been thinking 'bout going to Paris
I've been thinking 'bout going to France
Because my mother feels sure that I should go abroad
At least it would give her a chance
To get that bad boy off her hands
While he's in some foreign land
I've been thinking 'bout going to Paris
When she gets it planned

It's not because I'm bored with England
Oh no, that's not the case
It's just I'd like to give those French girls
A chance to see my face
I'll be walking down beside the Seine
Laughing in the Paris rain
I've been thinking 'bout going to Paris
Time and again.

April in Paris
Or maybe June or July
I might make it by August
Or maybe just by and by

I've been dreaming 'bout the Latin Quarter
And the smoky all-night cafes
And some millionaire banker's daughter
With her head in a wine-soaked haze
She might buy me a bike, call me Frere Jacques
And drape a bunch of onions over my back
I've been thinking 'bout going to Paris
Just for the crack.

I'll look really cute in my latest Paris style
Carrying a copy of Paris Match,
a roll of bread and a smile

I'll send you a postcard from Paris
When I'm busking down on the left bank
And a crowd of American tourists
Are throwing me nickels and francs
And the gendarme's got nothing better to say
Than "Excuse-moi, monseiur, mais qu'est on fait?"
I've been thinking 'bout going to Paris
To get locked away.


It's very silly, it even has elements that I detest now, like "Foreigners are funny" as its basic premise. But now I am heading towards silence it is worth looking back at what I am moving away from, what I am leaving behind. Noise, a disturbance of the ears, what Bob Dylan called exercises in breath control.


In the summer Pete and I moved back to Buckingham and stayed with his father in the house on Overn Avenue. The house was fairly crowded with his sisters there as well and eventually I moved back home for a while.

We were both working at Hartridge's in the Tingewick Road. Dave S***** worked there as well. Dave owned a Hammond organ, bought for him by his well-to-do parents with whom he lived in Tingewick. Dave had his own group, whose name I've forgotten, but they were rivals to Bernie Marsden's group, whose name I've also forgotten (Cracker? Splinter? Oh no, that was one I was in).

In the late summer, early autumn, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time. I was simply going to play bass guitar, using Oliver C*****-J*****'s home-made job with the psychedelic colours. Mike Hodd was taking all the gear up, we just had to take our own baggage in Olly's delightful little Morgan. It all seems like an awful 50's black and white with Kenneth More now. Most of the way we had the roof down and it was pigging cold, but in keeping with the car, the image and the film Olly had a hip-flask of brandy to keep out the chill. I didn't like brandy then, so it was wasted on me.

We didn't use the motorway and I remember the journey, apart from the cold, as feeling almost adventurous. I think it was still almost possible then to believe in the myth of the open road and the freedom of the car. Not that I knew much about cars then, and now I'd rather not.

We were earlier than the others getting to Edinburgh so we went and sat in a cafe in Princes Street. The sound system was so awful all you could hear was the bass line, so we played Spot The Record By Its Bass Line. Eventually Mike turned up and off we went to our quarters, which gave us a wonderful view of the city. They were up a short hill from Princes Street and overlooked the gardens and the railway station.

I'm sure I shared a room with others but it was of no consequence. I may have shared with Geoff McD*****, but more of him in a moment.


After the opening night of the show Mike said there would be a meeting of everyone in the show at The Fringe Bar, EVERYONE. I was there and there was great huffing and puffing until Mike called the meeting to order.

In the autumn I went back up to London. This was the beginning of The Squatting Days. But not at first. You don't fall down to the bottom of a hole straight off. First I stayed with Graham F***** and his girlfriend in the Golders Green area. I slept on a mattress on the floor of the lounge and his girlfriend hated me, I think she wished that they were much better off than they were, and that I was a rather grubby person Graham had got involved with by mistake. She may have been right on all counts.

Somehow or other I got a job with Unwin's the booze people, working in their branch in Formosa Road, Maida Vale. Maida Vale is generally posh. This was down the other end of the Vale. Even if the shop was very near the right end, my bedsit wasn't. I paid 4 pounds for an oversized matchbox in Chippenham Road. The money was collected for the landlord by a very unhappy Jewish girl who lived upstairs from me called Nina. She was a real curtain twitcher and worried about Everything.

The off-licence was wonderful, I got into drinking in a big way. The other lads (Noel, Mick) were nearly all Irish, and drank the profits like fish. I followed their example to the letter, consuming Bulmer's No. 7 in the cellar every time I had to go and put the empties away. The proprietor, Bill, was as Irish as could be and drank as well as any man, on half-bottles of Guinness, which he called "bottleens". He may have drunk halves only, but he drank plenty of them, and he would often open one with a burst of singing "I'll Take You Home Again, Bottleen"!

There were two shifts for work, 10 until 4 and 4 until 10. We would sometimes retire after closing to the boozer across the way.


Early in the year my friend Susan Bailey died while climbing in the Scottish Highlands. She was unroped because the terrain was fairly easy going, but in an unguarded moment she slipped on some scree and fell 100 feet to her death. It was John Archdeacon who called at my bedsit in Chippenham Road and told me.

It was about this time that I went "jogging" for the first time. I was putting on flesh from drinking too many carry-outs and secret sips in the cellar, and to combat this ran round the block from time to time in the mornings. I must have worn plimsolls, t-shirts, and seem to have vague memories of some sort of track suit bottoms or shorts. I can't have worn jeans, jeans were always worn tight in those days.


This was the year I moved into squatting properly. My old friend Rodney came round from time to time to disapprove of my drinking and give me the hard word about the guru Maharaja Ji, spiritual leader of the Divine Light Mission which was now spreading its bullshit through London as swiftly as it could. Rodney, failed Catholic that he was and always will be, was hanging onto the creed of this watered-down Buddhism with his usual naivety. I was thoroughly sceptical. But he also talked about his friends in squats who lived nearby, and eventually I met Paddy C*****. Paddy was from Galway and was working as a plasterer in every sense of the word. The daytime job, when he bothered, brought in good money which he spent on his true vocation, Irish Alcoholic Abroad. He sang songs of longing for his homeland when he was drunk enough.

John in Elgin Avenue I can't recall where I was living on January 1st, but I suspect it was Elgin Avenue or not very far away.

I think I was living in a squat in a street near Elgin Avenue, not Chippenham, but very near that as well. I'll look it up in the A-Z sometime. It was a pretty horrible place, I was burgled twice while I was there. My housemates were a truly grotesque bunch. One was called Nicolette, she was the child of a broken relationship which had foundered before it got started. At one stage I met her mother, who was completely

scatty, and her sister, who was disabled and made overt suggestions about sex to me in front of her sister. I smiled a lot, sat as quietly as possible, and left early. It had nothing to do with her disability, I just don't like being ordered about...

I moved from this house after the second burglary. The house was now a brothel and I came home once to hear a drunken brawl in the basement, followed later by finding a man lying on the front steps blind drunk and looked a bit scratched about the face. A guy called Roger who lived in the next street (I will look these names up, honest - NOTE: LOOK THESE STREET NAMES UP) was moving to a new squat in Hampstead. I met the others who were going, and we sort of shook hands on the deal. I think the nearest you got to anything like a formal contract in the whacky world of squatting in those days was "Yeah, man, move in, that's cool" - hardly legally binding, eh what? I didn't like one guy, called S*****, but I did like the transport we moved in, one night in spring. A hearse. A real old-fashioned hearse, it was the property of the 101'ers, who later became The Sex Pistols.

The house we moved to was very near the common, and bang opposite Bill Oddie, who parked his smoked-glass Mini outside. I don't know if he owned the whole house or rented the basement or what. The Common was good, I could ramble over that any old time, though I soon ran out of possibilities. But if the outside world had its limitations, life in the house was awful. S***** was, frankly, a liability. He had found out that I played guitar and insisted on me being in a band he was putting together. He didn't play anything himself, but he thought he knew what was good, sorry "cool". I can't remember who else was in this band or what music we played, I suppose we must have rehearsed. I know we played one gig and everything went completely sour after that. It wasn't far away in Hampstead and it was a very crowded party full of party frocks and smart casuals, I had serious doubts about being there.

There was no room to set up the gear, as far as I was concerned the thing to do was to get drunk on someone else's booze, hee hee, and leave early. As far as S***** was concerned the thing to do was to get drunk and set the band up on a corner of the balcony even if there wasn't room to do it and even if no-one wanted to know, to hell with anyone else. S***** turned off the muzak and we played, and S***** turned up the volume on our amps, and people complained, and we turned it down, and S***** turned it up again, and harangued people to shut up and listen to this "hic faberlus band, you baserds!" and we got done as soon as possible, the party-goers phee-ewed with relief and turned the muzak back on, and S***** went into a post-mortem about how we'd let him down. I was pretty drunk and told him it would have been better not to play. "Hey, man, what d'you know about what's right? What d'you know about music anyway?" This was a bit strange coming from a non-musician to someone who had just been playing music. The argument went on, he told me I'd never play in another band of his (I sighed with relief) and he'd get me (I foresaw trouble ahead). I remember the last bit of the argument was held on the stairs of the flat as I retreated into the Hampstead night. I looked up into S*****'s eyes and knew he was off the wall.

After that life in the house became impossible. S***** and I couldn't communicate in any way. He lived on the ground floor, I lived on the top. Most times when I came or went I would meet him, pale, unshaven, dirty, grubby T-shirt, jeans and plimsolls (for years afterwards I had a phobia about wearing jeans with plimsolls), high on something and always aggressive. I would ignore him as much as possible. He was as full of bullshit as he was of drugs but the feeling of antagonism gradually got to me. I knew he was in the habit of coming up the stairs to listen to me fooling around with the guitar. One day I wrote I a rather feeble sort of religious song called "Come In to The House Of The Lord" - the hook was OK melodically, and it's easy to make up those sort of titles. Next time I was downstairs he was there, carping on about me writing the song. I wasn't sure what he found wrong. I had the feeling at the time that he either thought that a non-religious person shouldn't write a genre song, or that I thought I was the Lord inviting people into a scruffy bedsit house in Hampstead. Maybe he just didn't like me writing anything. After all, he was as creative as a rubbish tip. At this time, or some other, he threatened again to "get" me, he tried to get his dog to attack me. Poor bloody thing, it was too small and feeble to even walk properly, the guy wasn't looking after it properly. His girlfriend, very much a fake hippy, who was fat and going bald, screamed from inside their room "S*****, don't!" You had to feel sorry for her. I was busy feeling sorry for me, the aggression was wearing me down.

The summer may not have helped, it was very hot. Front and back windows open in my flat I would sit and drink in my scruffy front room (calling it a lounge would be pretentious) most days. I wasn't working, I wasn't signing on, I was surviving somehow, I don't remember. I was in that house for four or five months at the most. One day S***** threatened to get "a gang of heavies" to beat me up. I knew it wasn't likely, but I'd had enough.

John with Lesley's Mini van So one autumnal Saturday while S***** was out, I fled to Lucy and Roger's house in Brixton. Fleeing was done in Lesley's Mini van. Everyone thought I was suffering paranoia, and maybe I was. Anyway, they were all very kind, Lesley, Michael, Lucy, Roger. This move was a radical change of setting. South of the river for one. Did I get a special feeling from being south of the mighty waters of the Thames, did I sense a new kind of ambience, a spirit that informed the streets in an altogether different - leave it out, John. I was just glad
to be away from the enemy, amongst friends. The change of season had brought cooler days and I began to relax again.

The house was in an L-shaped terrace, all the houses had been bought up by the council and taken up by the squatters.


In summer, mid-June or July, I moved to Milton Keynes.

I got a job within 24 hours of arriving in Fullers Slade, working in British Rail Engineering Limited in Wolverton.


Left BREL in the spring.

It was a lovely sunny day when I walked out of the yard at Wolverton for the last time. I never looked back, literally as I crossed the bridge and dived down the steps to walk home along the old canal, nor figuratively as I spent a year alone in Milton Keynes on the dole. I can't remember what my entitlement was but I spun it out by working at the health food shop Acorn in Wolverton, and later with a group that included Dick Parker. It was at Acorn that I first heard of the Open University. The shop was a cooperative and various worthies had put money up to get it started, including a genre of person known as "OU trendies". They were usually scruffy and slightly odd; for men, beards were not optional, they were de rigeur. But the dole. I'd never been on the dole before; every time I'd been out of work in London I'd simply survived on what I'd earned until I got another job. How I did it I don't know, but I could no longer do it in Milton Keynes in the late 1970s. Well, I had my own house now, my own gas bill, electricity bill, rent to pay. But I survived, and didn't suffer from boredom until well into the next year. In fact I have no memory of serious boredom, and if I hadn't met Jane Bailey at that party in Stantonbury and through her met Barbara whose surname I've forgotten, who put me in touch eventually with Alan Woodley of IET. But I am once again getting ahead of myself.


Started work at the OU in April. Probably April 1st.

Went to Edinburgh in August with the show about Joe Orton, "Joe". Met L**** through her then-boyfriend Bill Billings, [ed. John wrote this song about the MK poet and sculptor] when she was living in a house in Stantonbury. There were drunken ends to PHAB (Physically Handicapped Able Bodied) meetings where I probably played guitar.


After having put up with L**** constantly moaning about her periods on the pill (too heavy, too early, too late, too painful) for two years I decided to have a vasectomy. Why not? I was quite happy with our two children, didn't want any more. So we went to the doctor. Our regular doctor wasn't there, but the guy we did see made an appointment for me with Bedford General.

So I went to the South Wing of Bedford Hospital one day. Must have gone on the train from Bow Brickhill, this was back in the days before everybody drove everywhere (though things were getting that way, and we had a car, a Vauxhall Viva) and walked. I was out of condition for cycling it, that's what I'd do now. I turned up at the right time and was told that I'd have to provide a sample. A lady with cold eyes and steel hair told me it would have to be fresh, five minutes old at worst... I remembered the doctor had said that the sample would have to be "masturbatory". I don't belong to that school of men that say they never do that kind of thing, nor to the Clive James school that say they like nothing better than a swift one off the wrist. It's just that talking to that woman I felt definitely… uninspired, you know? But I went to a pub up the Ampthill Road called The South End and after a pint of Guinness did the decent thing. They found I had a low sperm count but I ought to have the snip done to be truly safe.

So I booked a slot at The John Nuffield in Oxford. The doctor was younger than me, had a pleasant gallows humour. I had problems walking afterwards, limped to the car and L**** drove me home. I spent the following week, which was early summer, sitting somewhat painfully on my bum in bed and reading Wallace Stevens. I love Wallace Stevens, and the loss of my power to procreate troubled me as much then as it does now - not one whit. When you think of the multitude of things they are to do in life, having children is only one way of having fun. And when you look at the multitude of people there are in the world, who wants to help the overpopulation problem? At the moment the population growth rate in England is going up again.

In November L*** left me. November 28th. The date burned in my mind for years, and now won't leave me ever. That's alright, some things you never forget. I remember many things, why not that?

Things started to go downhill more for L*** and me during the summer. I think the move from No. 8 to Green Cottage didn't help. To me it was the answer to a long uttered prayer, I finally lived in a house which did not have party walls. The noisy bastards who had made my life miserable for years with their drums, their rows, their Led Zeppelin, I was free of them. I didn't care whether I lived in Green Cottage for two years or twenty, I was On Holiday from the moment I moved in. But L*** saw it differently.