John Close - life / middle eight

Progress - Yes or No?

February 1972. A cold room but a warmth inside from the knowledge of another year spent happily, but with more concrete evidence of what I am about. If I believed in progress I would say I have progressed. I have certainly worked out some good ideas, I have little modesty about the best of my stuff - I believe in it thoroughly. Sometimes bordering on an insane arrogance unworthy of me. But arrogance is to be avoided, so I have adopted a David Variavaish title for this essay.

Before Christmas 1971 I had made up very few songs. They are scattered about, some of minor interest to me now, some I still like. There's one I haven't found a tape or lyrics of, but Lesley remembers it as being a song she liked, called "Buckingham Jam". All I remember is that it was like Dylan's "Million Dollar Bash" with two lines like:
Give it a little push, then slam
Close the door on the Buckingham Jam.

My first song ever was "Talking Daffodils" which was just a joke. It led later on to a ragtime version of "My heart leaps up when I behold", another Wordsworth poem. I wrote next to nothing before I went to college in October 1967. While at college I wrote a few things some of which got onto tape, but mostly I just played with the Sasoon Band (or Ensemble) in which I played trumpet or cornet depending on what was available. There's a couple of photos I've got of that well-loved group. Personnel at the outset was Julian Dawes (French horn), Paul Adams (washboard), Jeremy Danks (bass), Ivan Chandler (piano), Pete Smith, Graham Tooke (rhythm guitars) and myself. Later on a trombone player, whose name I can't remember, joined for a while before I left college in October 1968. We used to play "The Saints", "Rugged Cross", "The Bucket's Got a Hole In It", "Sweet Georgia Brown", "Easter Bonnet", "Jump Into a Dustbin and Dance", "Jingle Bells", "Everybody Works At My House (Except My Old Man)"

Gap left here, possibly to add to the list later

I used to go to the folk clubs and play all sorts of stuff, John Mayall's "Burn Out Your Blind Eyes"

Another gap left here, possibly to add to the list later

When I came back to London to live in West Kensington I met up with Irving Bastin. He decided I was the best thing since sliced bread after I played Robin Williamson's "Maya" all through. The time I was with Irv I wrote lots of poems, saying nothing and "Nothing At All" and made up an instrumental Tony and I played together. When I was going out with Jenny I wrote a couple of ideas "Songs Your Father Sung Before You", "The Prophet". When Darryl and I played together we played some Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks" and "Madam George", Traffic's "Mr Fantasy", Darryl's "S.S" and one of Curved Air's songs "Undertakers" (which they later dropped, though I think, still, that it was a very good song for them), Spirit's "I Got a Line on You" and other things I was keen on, no doubt, though I can't remember.

When I left London and went home I began to write more songs, not particularly involved in them, not trying hard, but doing it, getting moving. I also set about buying some gear. The tape which began with "Long Lost Love Song" is what I was up to at the time.

Then Splinter came along and I wrote two songs for that in the first term of college, as well as a lot of other ideas, "Down No 107" and "Older But Not Wiser". We also used to play Deep Purple's "Into The Fire", Carl Perkin's "Matchbox", Taste's "If I can't Sing I'll Cry", Johnny Winter's "Good Love", Steve Still's "For What It's Worth", Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally"

Yet another gap left here, possibly to add to the list later

Meanwhile, at college, Big End was coming together. We played a total of two gigs. We used to play Blind Faith's "Had To Cry Today", Traffic's "Mr Fantasy", Mick Taylor's "Snowy Wood", Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood", Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour", Skip James and the Cream's "I'm So Glad": some of my songs came later - "Be My Friend", "Gone Gone", "Summer's Child", "I Have Been Waiting", "My Little Rosie" and one of Laurie's which had the lines in it -
And still you echo in my mind
I still remember our last time.

One of the best songs Laurie played to me, of his own devise, was as follows.

I'd like a cigarette
To help me to forget
The things that I meant to do
And I stand here watching out to see
the sun come breaking through
And my mind is turning with the tide to
thoughts of you.

Jonty wrote a few songs after we went our separate ways, he may be still doing so, with greater success I hope. He wrote one about an "Electric Sun" which went round bothering people. He and Wally and bass-player extraordinhairy "Yummy" Richard Hodges formed "The Sound of J.P. Leary". Yummy made up one heavy riff and a few words - "Evil Womans Way" and Jonty made up a freaky instrumental called "J.P. Leary" part of a projected opera of his. It was the Dream all over again - J.P. Leary, little man, living in a little land; that scene once more.

I got choked off with Big End after the demo session. I was getting fed up with the Laurie Tuwber [?] 30-minute solos and the crash boom bang approach of Lester Bennett. We were doing Jeff Beck's "Let Me Love You" and my very own "Pay The Price" before I left, which was not long after my leaving college encore.

So I wrote more and more and went to see Ivan with a tape. Apart from playing bass at the Gresham Ballroom in Archway with the palais band there for a few nights (dropped because I couldn't read properly) I did little else. It was all chart stuff "Hot Love", "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", "Banner Man", "I'm Gonna Run Away From You", "Co-Co", "Hava Nagila", "Parade" (well Hit Paraders of Yesteryear, as well), "Me and You and A Dog Named Pooh"

and here the writing ends.

note from lesley

This text was written February 1972 in one of a series of notebooks which have, quite miraculously, survived all the moves and dislocations of John's life. He was meticulous about numbering and dating and annotating them, luckily for me!
Some notes to help the cast of characters come to life:
David Variava worked with Rodney Halstead (deceased), a friend of John's since school with whom John almost certainly shared a flat at some point, when he had a job at a swimming pool, somewhere in London I suspect. His writings, or rantings in writing, were unintentionally very funny and all had titles such as this one: in fact his essay "Woman - yes or no?" simply must have been John's inspiration!
Jonty Ward, Wally Rothe and John formed "Splinter" and the band played the Buckingham and district circuit at the same time as Bernie Marsden's "Chopper".
I don't know what happened to Jonty: in the mid-70s Wally was the drummer for "Liquid Gold" and he is currently playing with "The Searchers". Bernie, of course, joined David Coverdale's "Whitesnake".
Darryl Way formed "Curved Air" but John didn't join…
Where is Irving Bastin today? I know he made a video of The Incredible String Band in the early 2000s and there is a virtual clock he designed on the web. I found an email address for him but it was out of date, sadly.
I remember Ivan Chandler arriving at our parent's home in a large old car. He was wearing a fur coat and a hat: I was about twelve and thought he was terribly exotic!
Whatever happened to the other members of The Sasoon Band: Julian Dawes, Paul Adams, Jeremy Danks, Pete Smith and Graham Tooke? Did they qualify as teachers? Does Paul still play the washboard?
I have no idea who Laurie is and I cannot read his surname clearly: Tuwber seems unlikely…

Answers on a (virtual) postcard please!