In The Very Beginning

THE WHO! - what a name! First time us Mods in the Goldhawk Social Club heard it, nobody liked it. But after a few weeks, nobody could think of anything better. Some guy called Barney from Ealing Art College was supposed to have thought it up and half the geezers in the Goldhawk were on the lookout for him to find out what it meant. We never did!

Jack, Pete & Richard Barnes
Photo by Michael Cerveris

What am I now? 53, 54? - and The Who are just as much a part of my life today as they promised to be, the first time I wandered into a rundown dance hall in Shepherd's Bush and saw them playing not as The Who - but as the toe-tapping, ten-watt Detours back in 1962.

1962. Yuri Gargarin at the Olympia. Chubby Checker does the twist and The Shadows' 'Wonderful Land' sweeps Britain. Nineteen year old dreamers like me discover Style and check in for part-time acting lessons. But let's begin at the real beginning...

His first musical influences was listening to his father practice saxophone sat on the side of the bed and later, downstairs, under instruction he (Jack) would gently press the 'record' button on the old wide-spool 'Bush' tape recorder as father-played 'Meditation' on a seventy-year old violin. Despite firm coaxing from the pater - "God, who in their right mind would want to rip the flesh from their fingertips learning 'Meditation' or develop a swollen lip trying to master the reed for 'Melody In Blue?' - Jack would always find something else to do. Friday and Saturday nights after Irish dancing lessons, he hung by a superb Wurlitzer jukebox, in the company of other dreamers, in Jackie Lennox's chip shop in Cork Citys Bandon Road. That fantastic four-legged creature with spinning discs for a pumping heart sent Jack into black vinyl ecstasy with Lonnie Donegan's 'Battle of New Orleans' and Connie Francis's 'My Happiness.' When Donegan dug deep in battle to the wild scent of hot peas and rancid vinegar it was like the very root of rock and roll. And on a rainy night, when Connie Francis hit the high note in 'My Happiness' angels flew across the skies. That good.

I (Jack) arrived at Paddington Station in August 1960, having travelled overnight on the mailboat from Cork in Southern Ireland. I was seventeen. An emigrant. I had journeyed with my aunt Carrie and uncle John (Sears) along with cousin Janice. My aunt & uncle had done my mother a big favour in taking me back to London with them at the end of their annual summer holiday in Cork. I'd just left school and was a virgin in every respect of the word. I wasn't exactly new to London though because I had lived in Hampstead as a child with my mother during the war. So if there's a chink of madness in me I have it from my old lady 'cos - she actually elected to leave neutral Ireland and move to bomb-torn London - in the middle of a bleeding world war!

So, it's 1960 and I'm back. After about two weeks of settling in and in danger of being permanently brain damaged by television's 'Bill & Ben Flower Pot Men' and 'Trill makes budgies bounce with health...' - my uncle, because he felt responsible for me and didn't want me hanging around with some of the Irish wide boys who loitered the tea stalls of Shepherd's Bush Market, marched me straight out of our council flat in Kelmscott Gardens in Shepherd's Bush, West London, down to the Youth Employment Centre. I had a short interview, a thorough medical and was employed as a junior clerk/post boy in the Post Room of the London Electricity Board on Shepherd's Bush Green.

I soon found it very frustrating working in the office of the L.E.B. 'cos every time I opened my mouth to spout some profound comment, people looked back at me with puzzled expressions on their faces 'cos they couldn't understand my broad Irish accent and I'd have to repeat myself two and three times over. I mean, I was seventeen and here I was desperate to be understood verbally, never mind mentally. After a few weeks of tramping around the six floors of the building filling 'in' trays with correspondence designated for each head of department and relieving their out trays, the personnel officer called me in one day and said that because of my age I would have to attend day college once a week. So they sent me to a place called Hammersmith Day College in Brook Green, Hammersmith.... and that was the beginning of the real me!

So, every Tuesday I had to attend this college. College? It was a fucking joke. I didn't really mind it except for the silly prats in the classroom who kept making my life misery because of the way I spoke. They all thought I was from Wales because my accent 'sang' and I must've told then a hundred times that I was from Cork but they still called me 'Taffy.' I just dug my heels in deep and put up with it every week. Some of the girls in the classroom sort of adopted me 'cos they felt sorry for me and that just made me feel worse. I didn't want anyone's sympathy, I just wanted to be treated like everyone else.

Then one day, while we had a cancelled class 'cos some teacher never turned up, we were all in the canteen having a, bit of a laugh. What am I saying? They were all in the canteen having a bit of a laugh. They all sat around this long dining table and as usual some of the guys were showing off trying to see who could tell the dirtiest joke just to embarrass the girls. It wasn't very inspiring stuff but for some unknown reason I found myself listening in and really taking notice of the way these guys spoke, the way they pronounced words and some of the great expressions they used. And suddenly... a little angel opened a window on my grey world and I began to see a way out of everything.

The following Tuesday I decided to wait for the right moment. I had practiced all night in bed the night before and when the opportunity came I pronounced a word just like the way the guys in the class would. I think the word was 'like,' (by some measure of irony, a particular word constantly over-used in most Irish conversations!). Fucking explosive it was. The way I said it had some of the guys in the class laughing and clapping me on the back. I couldn't believe it. They were actually pleased. Then later on that same day, I threw in another word and suddenly the whole class wanted to 'learn me how to speak proper.' And it grew and grew every Tuesday - but only at the college in the very beginning. At first I had been afraid that the guys in the classroom might think I was taking the piss trying to speak like them, but it turned out they were actually relieved because it meant they didn't have to go 'Pardon?' and 'Do what?' forty times a day.

One week while in class one of the sociological teachers (who was a bit of a weirdo himself) remarked on how the London air was having an unnatural effect on my accent. I was dead embarrassed about this but said nothing. Then suddenly, one of the class wits shouted from the back that I was presently undergoing an international languages course! The whole class was cracking up, even the teacher couldn't keep from laughing. The funny thing about it was that the geezer who had made the remark was the very one who had been the arch villain in making my life misery over the way I spoke. And now, just a couple of months later here he was actually sticking up for me. I wanted to walk to the back of the classroom and shake his hand, I felt so good. The only problem I had now of course was when college was over for the day and I had to go home - my aunt & uncle would've been appalled if they knew I was a practitioner of Cockney vowels at the Hammersmith Day College. It was hell on earth having to revert back to my normal Irish accent and work the next day was no better - I still had to return to a vocabulary of misheard and misunderstood words.

A loner, I certainly was. It was the final breath of the Teddy Boy style in 1962 and all over London nineteen-year old dreamers like me were dressing up in dog-tooth drainpipe trousers and grey collarless 3-button cardigan, anyone's shirt, Italian winkle picker shoes, a white knee-length shortie mac' and a green Robin Hood hat with mandatory little feather. The ongoing style at the time demanded that the costume wasn't complete until you added a pair of black, framed spectacles like the ones Hank B. Marvin of The Shadows wore. Hank was number one dude at the time. In fact, he was bloody God at the time and had a cult following. Much more popular than Cliff ever was - with tuned in geezers, of course.

So there I was dressed in the manner just described as I nervously ventured into this old dance hall called Boseleys in Milson Road, a backstreet in Shepherd's Bush, where my cousin Joey had told me I would find a live band. Up to that point I'd never been to a dance with a live band. Back home in Cork, I'd attended what we called 'record hops' where some committee member stood on a temperance hall stage in an overcoat next to a beaten up old Dansette record player resting on a chair borrowed from the confraternity room. He would play a pile of scratched 45's and thick black 78's in glorious state-of-the-art mono. His farcical dee-jay presence made all the more suspect by his placing too many discs on the turntable, thus causing the rotator to drag a little and the recording artist to sound like they had made the record under the influence of chloroform. But tonight, I would behold a live band and there would be none of that...

I approached the door and paid about four shillings to get in. I walked in and discovered that Boseleys was a huge ballroom-type hall. It was "packed" with what couldn't have been more than thirty people - 35, if you counted the band.

The stage itself was so big it could have held its own dance. And because of this, the band had elected to play in the middle of the dance floor in an attempt to be closer to the dancers. I watched them, the dancers, in varying degrees of the twist and the jive and I noticed how most of them appeared to be completely stiffened up, physically holding back on their dance steps. After a while it occurred to me that the reason for this was because the floor was like an ice rink, treated no doubt by some cleaning lady who, probably out of misguided loyalty to the grace of British ballrooms, had that afternoon covered the entire area with a high powered floor wax!

I was afraid to ask anyone out to dance because I didn't want to end up on the seat of my pants - but more so because I knew nobody would have understood a word I was saying, with my see-saw Irish accent. I mean, this man (me!) who had just walked in here was a walking mountain of paranoia, sticks of dynamite in my pockets, a loner on the loose, an embarrassment waiting to happen. I had every inferiority complex imaginable. But four main ones which preoccupied most of my time... My hair, curly and I hated it. My height, short and I detested it. My name ('Jackie' - foisted upon me by my parents and unfortunately used to the letter in London by my uncle & aunt); a girl's name common in Ireland for men but strictly female south of the Thames - it drove me crazy. And of course my broad Irish accent - of which there was absolutely nothing wrong with, but which I had persuaded myself was the root of my communication problems. So this man, masquerading on the outside as a regular Londoner but inside, an oddity tormented by quadfold complexes, had ventured into Boseleys not knowing a soul, stood alone on one side of the hall while everyone else stood on the other and stared across wondering who the weirdo was. I never felt so alone and now discovered that it required as much courage to leave as it had to come in. A typical situation for a nineteen-year old at his first dance.

The band were called The Detours - but I didn't find that out 'till later. A quintet, as my classically trained father would refer to such a numerical set up. The drummer, who looked about ten years older than the others, had the letters 'D.S.' printed on the skin of his single bass drum. The band were dressed in dark sombre-suits like they had been hired from a local undertaker's. They wore white shirts with ties and three-pointed cardboard handkerchiefs sticking out of their breast packets - they never used them, of course. They played 'Telstar' by The Tornados and then the singer who looked a dead ringer for Cliff Richard, announced that the next song was going to be 'They Tried To Tell Us We're Too Young' - at least I think that's what he called it, and I remember thinking that this had to be the high point of the evening. I felt really embarrassed standing alone while over at the other side of the dance floor everybody obviously knew each other. Now and then I caught their curious glances.

This was worse than anything and I wanted to leave. I waited for the slow song to finish and prepared to make the first step towards the cloakroom and out. But while I waited, I found myself focusing on this tall skinny guy in the band 'cos he had a nose like I'd never seen before. It looked symbolic - like Rembrandt's beret. Not as big of course, but a real trowel of a thing nonetheless. Some people might have viewed it as an unfortunate disposition of the face but to me there was a strange dominance about it. It fitted my impression of the classic nose. I waited on and the band did a couple more Shadows numbers with improvised steps which they'd probably practised in a bedroom - but I still couldn't take my eyes off the geezer with the nose.

When the dance was over and everyone else had filed out of the hall, I sauntered across to the middle of the floor where the band were packing away their instruments. I stood looking at the little amps and a couple of small speakers balanced on chairs and pretended to be very impressed but all I really wanted to do was talk to the guy with the incredible nose. He was standing close by and then, upon further study, I realised that I was looking at one of my all-time fantasy faces, something I'd always wanted. Because this guy had everything I wanted. He had the answers to all my tormented complexes. He had height. Straight hair. I heard him hoot Cockney and I bet he didn't have a girl's name. He even had a guitar, which was a big bonus. So he must have a girlfriend which would be the ultimate bonus! Everything about me stood out, but for all the wrong reasons. And I remember thinking at the time that if I had a nose like that, it wouldn't be an embarrassment, it would be a fucking weapon. 'Cos then, people wouldn't 'ave given a damn about the way I spoke - they'd be too busy looking at that incredible nose.

So there I was standing less than six feet from these Detours with a big grin on my face, and even though they hadn't been paid more than a few pounds for their night's work, I could feel the ripple of hero worship running through my veins. I mumbled something about my name being Jack (it certainly wasn't 'Jackie') - stuck out my hand and then the geezer with the trowel squeezed it mean and hooted back that his name was 'Pete.' I wasn't introduced to the others. They stood grouped looking at me a bit suspicious. I looked back at them and registered a smile. They nodded. And then, for the first time that evening, it occurred to me that none of them were wearing the thick black Hank B. Marvin spectacle frames!

© Irish Jack Lyons

Capturado por MemoWeb a partir de  el 16/08/2001