I was born & raised in Liverpool, England - born, in fact, on the day The Beatles released "Love Me Do". I was lucky to be part of a good family with fantastic parents. I have fond memories of my childhood. Growing up, the summers always seemed hot and felt like they lasted around eighteen months, frothing over with great adventures, endless games and excellent friends. Where I lived seemed ideal to me - there was a grand, sprawling park nearby that had ponds, cafes, tennis courts, an aviary and a bandstand amongst its greenery. It's not quite like that anymore..... School was close by and there was a myriad of roads and back streets in the neighbourhood waiting to be explored. I had a bike.
I went happily, by and large, to Florence Melly County Primary School in Bushey Road. It had separate Infants & Juniors buildings, both ornate quadrangles whose inner squares were framed by a wooden verandah. Every few yards, there was a patchwork-glass doorway to each classroom, through which you could look out on to neatly kept grass, criss-crossed by paths and ornamental stonework. Nobody could tread on those centrepiece verges, not even the teachers, except on special occasions (as when the trophy-laden 4th year football team I played for was having its photo taken for the Liverpool Echo). Sadly, the original premises - named after George Melly's grandmother - has since been demolished and rebuilt as a kind of modern, arching, brick-glass construction, with the playground now circled by a high, pointy metal fence that’s replaced the privet hedges. Progress, I suppose.
My strongest memories of the place involve playing football (that's English "soccer") practically every day, being bullied by some little blonde a***hole in 2nd year and getting lots of encouragement to write stories. One of these turned into four exercise books worth of gripping, spine-chilled fear entitled....... "The Castle Of Fear". It became regular listening for Mr Edwards’ 3rd year English class. He was a shouty but likeable Welsh teacher with thin black hair, thatchy black moustache and painful looking bulbous lips, often seen at break time dragging on a Benson & Hedges filter tipped. Recognising my literary savvy, he’d sit me at the front to regale everyone with my ground-breaking tales of broken ground, dark forests, sinister butlers, unusual monsters, trap doors, unnecessary imprisonment and a creaking portcullis - it was all in there. I've still got those books somewhere in my loft. Most of my sentences were devoid of full stops, forever linked by the words "and then.....".
And then, despite this academic prowess and my mother's best efforts trying to get the local education authority to help us, I failed to get into any of Liverpool's prestigious grammar schools - couldn't even get into a bad one. I think they gave me the "11-Plus" near the end of my time at junior school. Whatever this exam was, I didn't pass it. That left me to settle for a daily bus trip into town to attend St Nicholas' Secondary Modern in Brownlow Hill, a seat of learning that, with hindsight, delivered an education hovering somewhere around the level of below par……or shite, if you will. I did moderately well I suppose, but never really took in much that would adequately prepare me for the outside world. The overall boredom that set in from 2nd year onwards never totally loosened its grip, but.... the one wonderful outcome of going there was my introduction to the guitar, and for that I have to thank James Bogle, a classmate of mine with kidney problems from Scotland Road (or "Scottie Road" to anyone from Liverpool tuning in). Anyway, James was frequently off sick from school and, as such, had become the beneficiary of a cheap electric guitar and something like a ten watt amp, to help get him through his day. Upon hearing it, I sped home to badger my poor parents into buying a brown, acoustic THING from Argos (the well-known UK retailer). It came complete with strings sat about a yard away from the actual fretboard and a white scratchplate that sheared off shards of skin from the sides of your fingers, whenever you tried to strum. The first tune I figured out was "Play Me Like You Play That Old Guitar", a sort of comeback hit in the mid-70's for Duane Eddy. I vaguely remember him performing this on "Top Of The Pops", looking not unlike Acker Bilk but sadly without the bowler hat and clarinet. I went from that high-fallutin' start to a lilting version of "Albatross" that, in later years, would become a favourite of my Dad's. He liked the vibrato setting on my cheapo 15-watt amp, that watery, sub-Peter Green effect that leaked out while I plonked away, sat in our front room with the sound turned down on "Tomorrow's World".
As I already knew and loved The Beatles, I figured the next best step to take in my guitar apprenticeship would be to learn some chords, so that I could play along to their songs (not "Revolution 9" perhaps, but the easier ones). I nipped on the 19 bus at the top of our road and found my way to Philip, Son & Nephew in Whitechapel, a long-gone bookshop that was a Liverpool version of Foyle's, just around the corner from Mathew Street and a few doors along from the Kardomah Café. There, I bought "The Beatles Complete" songbook containing, funnily enough, their entire repertoire, with all the chords dotted down in easy-to-read, little pictures. I managed to master the basics and, eventually, could play along without sounding too at odds with the general proceedings. This was progress from wielding a pretend-Fender tennis racquet and miming erratically in front of the flock wallpaper.
I can't put a precise date on it, but before I left 6th form, I had an electric Les Paul copy, from Frank Hessy's on Stanley Street, the favoured haunt of every budding guitarist in Liverpool since the year dot (another place that’s bitten the dust). Even at this stage, I was somewhat "green" about guitars and their maintenance - I had continued applying heavy gauge ACOUSTIC strings to the Les Paul and was wondering why I couldn't bend and wobble them like BB King. I was saved by my mate Colin Simpson, who introduced me to light gauge electric strings and the possibilities for wallowing in vibrato. I was yet to be exposed to tremolo arms.
Colin, myself and Peter Walsh formed several, drummer-light bands during our late teens, most notably as The Head Injuries, The Lepers (or The Leopards as we were once introduced) and Len Fangio & The Luxury Coaches. You'd think we might have been punks but, oh no - we liked Beatle-ish tunes and guitar solos and spent many Saturdays rehearsing gamely at the Knights of St. Columbus parish hut in Croxteth.
We never sorted out our lack of percussion and I ended up playing drums now and then, once for a recording session at a studio in Davies Street (I think) when we squeezed in 9 songs in 8 hours - my bone marrow was leaking out at the end of that. I drummed on the same, borrowed kit at a 1982 Bootle Festival gig which was hugely enjoyable, despite the fact I had to wedge the loose snare drum between my knees, in the middle of negotiating the Simpson/Walsh song "Big Little Girls". The snare actually fell off and rolled along the stage during another song until it was retrieved by one of "The Tempest", a band also on the bill, led by another schoolmate of ours, Mike Sheerin. Mike was a gifted, Ray Davies-like songwriter signed to Magnet Records in the mid-80's, with a single played on Radio 1 called "Didn't We Have A Nice Time", produced by Squeeze's Difford & Tilbrook. I think the label dropped them after a relatively short while, which was disgraceful - I hope Mike is still making music somewhere.
Colin & Peter soon ventured off into Echo & The Bunnymen territory, so I left and went to college where I began to play in a few groups, culminating in the first showbusiness incarnation of James Henry, fronting a band called The Frustrations. We didn't play any original material - I had very little confidence in my writing then - so instead turned out covers like Elmore James' "Knocking At Your Door" and Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood". Gwyn Jones (sadly no longer with us) was The Frustrations' exceptional drummer, Mike Galvin played sax, Siobain Barnes & Louise Martindale sang backing vocals, Howard Gay played bass and Dave Rogers played keyboards. Dave also played on my first demos in Kirkby's Amazon studios in August 1985, when our session was interrupted briefly by someone coming in saying "Do you mind if I use this piano for a minute?". It was XTC's Andy Partridge.
Those three collegiate years spawned many wonderful friends and times but, all too soon, I found myself back on civvy street, thinking I should give music some focus. Despite my degree, I could only get a pretty lousy, dead-end day job, so I began touting myself around the nether reaches of Liverpool's music scene, making lots of wannabe-Adrian Belew-like noises, playing for the likes of Candy Opera and Blue Boy Fix. I had unsuccessful auditions for Come In Tokio (led by Pete Wylie's brother Phil) and Thomas Lang – it was Lang who I, coincidentally, supported much later at The Revolution in Liverpool, 2004, for his "comeback" gig. Despite these bids for hometown fame and notoriety, opportunities dwindled and I began to lose motivation, quickly realising a major change would have to follow. My ultimate, make-or-break chance to move to London came near the end of the 80's, although I intended to merely "give it a go" for a few months and see where it took me. I'm still there......................
Well, I've spent many years in London trying to establish a life. Professionally, it’s been hard, although my time there has produced some music-related successes which I will now try to summarise, before you go.
Being on the verge of a publishing deal in the early 90's with Morrison Leahy in London, only for the A&R girl I'd been dealing with for two months to suddenly disappear off the face of the earth, just after she'd asked me to send in my six best songs, so that "we can sort something out for you". Still waiting for your reply, madam...........
Getting PRS membership - after writing a jazz soundtrack to a short, silent film called "The House", produced by a company called Project Pictures, I did some work for a library outfit known as "Kick", based in Soho. They'd had a commission from an Australian TV company to write for a series of childrens programmes called "Hot Science" and, on hearing some of my stuff, gave me a couple of shows to write for. I produced three instrumental pieces which directly led to my PRS induction in 1995. I wonder if they ever used any of it......?
Putting a three-piece band together in 1997 called Detergent and recording a couple of our rehearsals……something from that might get heard one day…..
Performing solo, acoustic concerts at various venues in London (and beyond), notably The Rock Garden, Kashmir Klub, Bush Hall and City Showcase 2005. The "beyond" localities include New York, at The Sidewalk Cafe, Belfast at The Duke Of York (Johnny Hero played "I've Always Wanted You" straight afterwards in the upstairs club - brilliant!) and Austin, Texas, where I supported the excellent Marlee Macleod from Minneapolis at The Acoustic Cafe on 6th Street
Writing, performing and producing my first album "Sweetener". Of the few copies I initially pressed up, it has gone on to sell reasonably well with absolutely minimal exposure. I’ve seen one or two being sold on eBay as a rarity!
Recording and releasing my 2nd album, “Overspill”
Having the video to “The Sun Is Cracking The Flags” played on Emirates in-flight programming for about 6 months in 2011
Watching my video “Don’t Let It Happen” being played on terrestrial television in 2016 on the evocatively named Nub TV, with the show’s host Steve Blacknell giving it one hell of an introduction
And finally......having the song "Saturday Morning" played on a regular basis over about 12 years by the legendary Liverpool DJ Billy Butler on – ironically - my hometown radio station, BBC Radio Merseyside
And then.....................we are where we are now! I hope this brief excursion around my story hasn't put you off. Thank you for your kind attention to this point. I hope to attract it again in the near future, but for that I will, once again, require your charitable co-operation, so please give generously.