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Have you ever been to a gig? Have you ever been obsessed with music? This is Oliver Gray’s memoir of 30 years spent dabbling on the periphery of the music business. It involves 300 pages of disasters, near misses, humiliations, and the (very) occasional triumph.

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For a brief taste of what it’s all about, read on:

I first became aware of the existence of BBC Radio Solent in a roundabout way. On the first day at Henry Beaufort School, I was handed my timetable and straight away spotted a mistake: I appeared to be teaching two classes of English.  “Therese, there’s a mistake here.”

“No mistake. You’ve been teaching English, so we thought you wouldn’t mind.”

”But that was English as a Foreign Language. I’ve no idea how to teach English to English people!”

“Never mind. I’m sure you’ll manage.”

I didn’t. Despite the well-meaning efforts of the Head of English, I was cast adrift in a sea of mutual incomprehension, in which I didn’t understand what I was doing and the children didn’t understand what I was doing either. I would have been happy to teach grammar, but that was forbidden. It had to be Greek Myths and Legends, about which I knew nothing and wanted to know less.  So I requested some help, and soon was booked onto a course for new English teachers at a hotel in the New Forest. Like every other course I have ever attended, it was worse than useless. Far from practical help, we were subjected to ego-trips by grey-haired, grey-suited, grey-minded ex-teachers who had been promoted to the status of “advisers”. I sulked the whole weekend.  Guest star billing on the Saturday night was reserved for a young man called Nick Girdler, who forced us to play embarrassing and pointless games. Apparently, he was a local personality who had his own radio show. What he was doing helping to run an English course remains a mystery. Probably he was getting paid.  His programme, which he plugged a lot, was called Albert’s Gang and went out on Saturday afternoons. I noticed that he was very handsome and that he attracted the attention of several of the young female teachers on the course, who gathered round him admiringly.  I decided to tune in to the programme the following weekend.  It was great, a kind of radio Tiswas, an anarchic comedy extravaganza for children. But it was surrounded by lots of stuff which didn’t interest me at all. No matter when I tuned on to Radio Solent, there didn’t seem to be any music other than bland, middle of the road pop.

Knowing that BBC local radio was supposed to have the brief of catering for a wide range of minority tastes (folk and jazz both had their slots), I penned a “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” letter to the BBC in Southampton, enquiring why there was no “rock” music on Radio Solent.

Within a few days, I received an encouraging reply from someone called Gethyn Jones. Not at all as Welsh as he sounds, Gethyn protested that not only was there a rock programme, but that he was the presenter. The programme was called Beat ’n’ Track (soon mercifully changed to Solent Rock) and it went out at 6.30 pm on a Saturday. Would I like to meet him and discuss a possible collaboration?

When we met, it didn’t take long to establish what I would do. As live music was my passion, I would compile a gig guide, to be called the Solent Rock Roundup, and to generally cover any live rock music in the Solent area.

Great! But how was I to get my information? I knew about the venues in the immediate vicinity of Winchester (not many, to be sure), but Solent’s slogan was “From Chichester to Weymouth, from Basingstoke to the Isle of Wight”. This was quite an area to cover.  My trusty NME  was a great help, because it had an “advance notice” section with details about forthcoming tours. This told me all I needed to know about concerts by established and semi-established acts. The big venues in the area were Poole Arts Centre, Southampton Gaumont and Portsmouth Guildhall, all of which were very active in promoting big shows. Almost any tour would stop off at one or other of these venues, and occasionally at all three. The respective publicity managers, when I contacted them, were friendly and interested (well, they would be). So that bit was easy.  Colleges were more of a problem. King Alfred’s College, the teacher training college in Winchester, were surly and uncooperative (they had a hang-up about non-students invading their territory), the Art School was completely loopy, and the further outposts such as Basingstoke Tech and Bishop Otter College in Chichester held so few events that they were hardly worth contacting. Portsmouth Poly had such a rapid turnover of Social Secretaries that I soon gave up trying to keep track of them. Paul Crockford at Southampton University was wonderfully efficient and easy to work with, so it came as no surprise that he went on to manage Level 42 and become a major league music business manager.

The bread and butter of the Rock Roundup, however, was the surprisingly big maze of little pub and club venues scattered all over the South. Gethyn got me off to a good start because he was friends with a Portsmouth band called Smiling Hard, who in turn knew other local outfits such as Jumbo Route, Edward Bear and Arms and Legs (both the latter featuring Joe Jackson). A series of phone calls led me to a place called (appropriately) the John Peel in Gosport. There, the landlord John, who sounded a nice sort of chap, invited me over to visit his venue.

The John Peel turned out to be the most unlikely of places for live music. It was a characterless modern seventies pub situated slap bang in the middle of a housing estate. John turned out to be a huge but extremely affable ex-boxer with cauliflower ears, who permanently wore the same black leather waistcoat. He was passionate about music and seemed to relish the never-ending run-ins he had with neighbours, councils and licensing authorities about noise, misbehaviour, late-night van-loading and all the other problems so well-known to live music promoters.  Because he ruled the roost in that particular area, John had no problems about giving me the phone numbers of a whole series of other similar venues in the South, as long as they weren’t too near Gosport. He also gave me contact numbers for a number of bands and agencies.

So began a regular Wednesday afternoon ritual which lasted, without a break, for three years. If I was off on a school trip or on holiday, I simply recorded three weeks’ worth of  “Roundups” before I left. The timing of the show moved about a lot but it was mainly broadcast on Friday or Saturday evenings, which wasn’t too bad. But, because it was the only day I had a free period in the afternoon, the recording always had to be done on a Wednesday.  Although Radio Solent is based in Southampton, it has little satellite studios in each of the main towns it covers. The Winchester studio, from where I was to work, was (is, actually) tucked away, absolutely unbeknown to anybody, in a tiny cellar half way up the High Street, right in the middle of town. It took me ages even to find it. The only sign of its existence was a tiny brass plate beside the door.  Getting in was a bit of a rigmarole. As it was unmanned, I first had to go to the Castle, which is Hampshire County Council’s administrative centre, further up the High Street. There, I had to engage in conversation with a uniformed jobsworth, who initially was very sceptical about handing over the key. Because the jobsworth would vary from week to week, I arranged for Gethyn to write me a note, explaining that I was allowed to use the studio.  After a few weeks, things settled down with the appointment of a regular jobsworth called Ron, who wasn’t really a jobsworth at all. Whereas his predecessors had all had the attitude, “Who’s this disreputable-looking sod? Let’s obstruct him”, Ron’s attitude was, “This is a top media personality, maybe he’s famous”, so he was friendly almost to the point of obsequiousness. If anyone else on duty looked doubtful about my right to pick up the key, Ron would set their minds at rest:

“What? Don’t you know Oliver? He works for Radio Solent. Oh yes, he’s all right, old Oliver is.”

Ron would quiz me about the presenters on the station, about whom I knew little. Gethyn, having worked his way up from being an assistant in the record library, had a steady if unsensational profile, but the star of the station was a lounge lizard type called Richard Cartridge. With his sexy tones and suggestive banter, he set the housewives’ hearts a-flutter every day. Everyone knew Richard Cartridge, except me, of course, but I couldn’t disappoint Ron.  “How’s old Richard, then?” he would ask each Wednesday.

“Oh, he’s fine,” I would reply. “Great bloke, Richard.”

“My wife loves him, she does.”

“No wonder. What a guy!”

After a few months, I got fed up with this and nipped into Mr Minit and got my own key made, very much against the rules. Some time after that, I bumped into Ron in town.

“Haven’t seen you for a while, Oliver. Don’t you work for Solent any more?”

“Er … no … no, I’m doing something else now.” The following Wednesday, I was caught red-handed. As I turned the key in the lock, the door opened and there stood Ron, having obviously just carried out some job in the studio.  “Oh, er … hi, Ron … Guess what, Solent have given me my own key,” I lied.

“Good on you, Oliver,” he replied, with a wink which said, “I’ve got you sussed, matey.”

Once in the cellar, I was in a little world of my own. There were two rooms, a desk with a telephone plus, of course, the studio itself. If times get really hard, I thought, I could move in here and nobody would notice. I also thought about ringing up all my friends in Germany for hours on end, but decided against it in case calls were monitored.

I did all the calling round of venues from the cellar, because I sure as heck wasn’t going to incur any expenses. Yes, as the Solent Rock programme had no budget (Gethyn did it as a labour of love), presenting the Rock Roundup was an unpaid occupation, done, I guess, solely in order for me to be able to tell people casually that I was a part-time broadcaster. Stupid, stupid, stupid … but sometimes fun as well.

The first thing to do was ring round the venues and find out what was on. This was a job with varying degrees of reward. Someone like John from the John Peel would be delighted to be rung up. We would natter about the latest gossip among the bands, plus, having an idea of public relations, he realised that the more mentions his pub got, the better. Other landlords could sometimes be unhelpful or unfriendly (it was obvious that I was disturbing their afternoon naps). I felt like telling them, “For crying out loud, you stupid bastards, all I’m doing is offering to publicise your shitty pub for free!” But I didn’t, of course.

There were some good and interesting venues in the Solent area. The Pinecliff was a big pub in Boscombe, a suburb of Bournemouth. It had a proper stage with live bands most nights and it was run by a middle-aged couple called Mr and Mrs Shipway (Christian names not offered). They were committed to music despite not seeming to be at all interested in it. The Chequers was a little pub in a village near Sturminster Newton called Lytchett Matravers. Unlikely as it certainly sounds, this was a very active venue, whose landlord managed Joe Jackson’s early bands, who would play there regularly.  Another surprising band to play there came all the way from Wales.

They were called Seventeen, and later became The Alarm.  The Brewers Arms in Poole was more problematic, in that it worked on a “self-promotion” basis, whereby bands would hire the room and take the door money. Thus, when you rang up, nobody could tell you who was on. This was particularly frustrating during the period when Poole bands briefly looked as if they would be the Next Big Thing. Luckily, I gleaned the phone number of Ronnie Mayor from Tours, the leading “Poole Sound” band, and he kept me up to date.

The Elm Tree in Ringwood was an extraordinary place in that the stage was a hay loft. You got a really sore neck from trying to watch the band. The DOCs would have gone down a storm there, having only ever played in a hay loft. The barman of the Elm Tree kindly insisted on giving me endless free drinks when he discovered that I was a media superstar.

The Old Mill in Holbury was the best venue, if also the strangest.  Here, it was the sound engineer who was in the loft, while the band actually had a stage. Holbury is a hamlet near Fawley, which is where a large Esso refinery is situated. It was well-nigh impossible to find the Old Mill, and I got lost at every attempt, on the way home as well. Yet there was always a good crowd there, as it was also a restaurant. The landlord, Chris, was an obvious alcoholic but a loyal music fan. He suddenly disappeared in mysterious circumstances (bankruptcy was rumoured) and the Old Mill immediately closed its doors to music.

None of these places has bands any more. Indeed, apart from the famous Joiners Arms in Southampton, only one music venue survives from those days, the Royal Oak, near Petersfield. I never went there because the landlord seemed very pedantic in his tastes and most of his bands were pretty poor. The Larry Miller Band played there regularly for over twenty years.  One problem of Rock Roundup  compilation was the huge range of bands which played at each of these places. Most of them seemed quite at home putting on heavy metal, hard rock, punk, covers bands, blues bands and middle-of-the-road duos. Presumably, confusion could occur if a chapter of Hells Angels were to turn up for Glenda ’n’ Dave’s Singalong Nite, while Glenda ’n’ Dave’s followers would doubtless not gain much from an evening with the Vomiting Rodents.

To maintain the purity of the Rock Roundup, I tried hard to weed out anything which might not be rockin’. Any duos were instantly banned, and names were shamelessly scrutinised for tell-tale clues about possible blandness, which would exclude them. Two bands which I included for years, but never saw, were called Mustard Pot and Mead. Both played three or four times a week and I was suspicious about their rock credentials but included them out of goodwill. A band called Mission Impossible seemed never to go home, playing virtually every day in the Poole area. They had a Sunday lunchtime residency at the Jolly Sailor on Poole Quay which ran for the entire three years that I did the Rock Roundup. Eventually we went there for a Sunday roast. They turned out to be doing rock and roll covers, and thus were quite kosher.  You couldn’t always make correct assumptions on the basis of names, however. A gentleman called Squire William came highly recommended, but I omitted him on the basis that he was more of a comedian than a musician. On the other hand, Surfin’ Dave was a new-wave poet and songwriter who gained much credibility and featured regularly in the indie charts. Jim and Dave, far from being a “resident duo”, actually featured ex-Joe Jackson drummer Dave Houghton, who was damn good.

Gethyn Jones prided himself on his catholic tastes, as did I, but he tended more towards the older guard while I had become completely swept up in the punk/new wave ethic. It became apparent that there were some really good bands in the area and I was determined that Solent Rock should be their outlet. There was nowhere else they would get radio exposure, unless they had a single and could get John Peel to play it.

Examples of excellent Solent area groups were legion. The Martian Schoolgirls, for example, despite hailing from Sturminster Marshall, had a guitarist who had played with Joe Strummer in the 101ers.  Eyes, from Portsmouth, had a great glam-rock image with oodles of make-up. Last Orders were a good new-wave group with a shaven-headed singer called Keith Wymark, while The Skavengers were a sub-Police ska trio but great at what they did. Two Portsmouth bands which both got record deals with major labels and put out good albums were The Planets and the Keys. The Planets held a big record company showcase gig at the John Peel, while The Keys’ singer was Drew Barfield, who has spent his subsequent career collaborating with Paul Young.

Before I could invite any bands into the Winchester studio, I had to master the technology. First, I had to dial up the studio in Southampton and ask to be put through to the “Duty Op”. Normally, the Duty Op had not been forewarned that I would ring, or had forgotten.

“Hi, this is Oliver Gray in the Winchester studio.”

“Sorry, who?”

“Oliver Gray.”

“Oh … er, what do you want?”

“I’m ready to record.”

“Record what?”

“The Solent Rock Roundup.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the Gig Guide for Solent Rock.”

“What’s Solent Rock?”

“It’s a rock music programme. It goes out on Saturdays.”

“Oh, does it? Hang on a minute.”

(Click, whirr, buzz, frequently complete silence.)

“Okay, test for level and go.”

It’s a miracle that anything ever got recorded, but there I was, completely alone, intoning the listings into the beautiful old plinth-mounted Alvar Lidell-style BBC microphone. “Hi, and welcome to the Solent Rock Roundup. It’s a busy old week, so let’s start in Basingstoke …”

One alleged qualification I had stressed to Gethyn was my skill with language labs. This meant that I was supposedly adept at spooling and splicing reel-to-reel tapes. This was important, in that Solent had no facility for playing cassettes and CDs hadn’t been invented. If a band wanted its demo played, it had to entrust to me its treasured studio master tape. This was a risky thing to do, because the tape facility in the Winchester studio was so antiquated (the sort of thing Lord Haw Haw would have used), that it made the school language lab seem like the cutting edge of technology. On more than one occasion, priceless (to the bands) master tapes were turned to spaghetti and mercilessly chewed up by the tape deck.  Sometimes, too, tracks were faded out early if the recording quality or the quality of the performance was deemed to be too poor. This was because I was so determined to encourage young bands that I would interview virtually anyone who had a demo tape. A stream of scruffy young oiks passed through the portals of the cellar, causing much curiosity among the passers-by in the High Street, who did not suspect the rock and roll secret beneath the paving slabs.  Early bands which visited the cellar included The Ba, whose “Bus Garage Café” was faded out (boo) and Thieves Like Us, whose visit is documented elsewhere. The Time popped in, as did The Britz.  This latter was a Salisbury band, notable for the fact that their front man, Andrew Golden, was a journalist who later came to specialise in tabloid exposés and whose by-line was to be found in the Mirror and the News of the World. Andy Golden, what a great name for a rock singer. Or a tabloid journalist, come to that.  We certainly were the first to give exposure to a number of bands which did well. Tours, from Poole, were briefly signed to Virgin and made some immortal singles. Titles like “Language School” and “Tourist Information” rang a few Bournemouth bells, and they were classic two-minute pop songs. Tours later expanded into Biz Internationale, a very swinging seven-piece with a funky brass section. They got a deal with Warner Brothers and put out a beautifully sentimental single called “Stay True”. With the right production and, above all, the right promotion, it could easily have been a chart hit.

In order to interview The Warm Jets, I took a tape recorder up to the Bridge House pub in Canning Town, where they were particularly popular. This was odd, in that the Bridge House was a centre for skinhead music, constantly plugged by the odious Sounds  journalist Garry Bushell. The Warm Jets, by contrast, were a very musical unit, fronted by a classically-trained musician called Milton Reame-James, who had previously been in Cockney Rebel. The connection with Solent was the drummer, Dave Cairns, who had been in a band with Joe Jackson. Terrible to relate, the Warm Jets’ bassist Paul Jeffreys was killed in the Lockerbie air disaster.

Interfearance was a Mod band who played a great deal round the area. They mutated into The Jagz and had a big, and deserved, hit with “I’ve Got Your Number (Written On The Back Of My Hand)”, before disappearing. My favourites, however, were a delightful bunch of yokel punks from Salisbury called The QTs. They arrived in the cellar having spent two hours in the pub and were so paralytic that the results were unbroadcastable. We remained on good terms, though, and their leader Colin Holton still puts on occasional hardcore shows at Salisbury Arts Centre. The only change is that he’s now about ten stone heavier.

A final example of the kind of band we attracted was The Piranhas.  A hard-working punk / comedy act from Brighton, their sound was very much in the “Portsmouth” mould, stripped-down guitars and upfront bass with reggae tendencies. They were plugging an indie single called “I Don’t Want My Body (’Cos It’s So Bloody Shoddy)”, but their gimmick was that their singer, Boring Bob Grover, was purposely just that: Boring. So it didn’t make for a gripping radio interview. Also, they were going through an identity crisis, because they no longer liked being seen as a comedy band. Just as they metamorphosed into a serious-minded, heavy dub-reggae bunch of musos, they finally got themselves signed to a major label (Sire, very appropriate), and found themselves in the Top Ten with the gimmicky instrumental “Tom Hark”. Under these circumstances, what else could they be but one-hit wonders?  One day, after I had had a few weeks to get used to the tranquillity of my little subterranean kingdom, I was startled to hear a clattering sound by the front door. Cautiously, I peeped out of the studio into the gloom, to be confronted by a man who appeared to be armed – at least, he had a stick in his hand. Having briefly panicked, thinking I was about to be attacked, I realised that the man was, in fact, blind, which presumably was the reason he hadn’t needed to switch the light on.

He pottered around, apparently unaware of my presence, and I wondered what to do. Not wanting to startle him too much, I quietly cleared my throat:

“Er … hello, can I help you?”

“No thanks, I’m fine,” he replied, unperturbed. “I’m just going to send something down the line to Southampton.” “I hope I didn’t startle you?”

“Not at all, I realised you were there.”

This cheerful fellow, it turned out, was Peter White, a blind broadcaster from Winchester who often used this studio rather than having to travel down to Southampton. It was obvious even then that this was an unusually gifted individual, and it is no surprise at all that Peter, now the BBC’s Chief Disability Correspondent, is one of the UK’s most respected and loved radio personalities. From then on, we would frequently bump into each other (sometimes literally) in the cellar.

The sudden chart success of Joe Jackson briefly put South Coast music on the map, and Gethyn Jones, keen to capitalise on the new-found interest, hatched a plot for a series of programmes tracing the history of rock in the area. We met to divide up the tasks of tracing and interviewing the chief players.

Gethyn had already achieved the big scoop by interviewing Joe Jackson before his first record came out and playing the demos of songs like “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. This was fascinating, because they differed in hardly any way from the actual released versions. The follow-up interview for “Baked On The Premises” (the eventual title of the series) was a phone chat with Mark Andrews. Mark had been in Arms and Legs with Joe, in fact had been the lead singer, and now he, too, had just been signed by A & M. A charismatic character, Mark was exploding with optimism in his interview with Gethyn. To me, Mark was a true star and still is one, even though he has long since returned to playing in bread and butter covers bands on the cabaret circuit. His album “Big Boy” was notable for a crazy reggae version of “Born To Be Wild”, but his career was ruined by brutal management difficulties.  Our search for further interviewees wasn’t promising. Brian Eno had studied at the Art School, but his management let it be known that Brian had absolutely no wish to recall those days. The only other famous person ever to have come out of Winchester was Mike Batt, who had attended the local grammar school. We didn’t really want to plug the Wombles, but there wasn’t much choice.  The only interesting thing that Gethyn extracted from him was that he occasionally returned to Winchester because there he could go out and get drunk without the fear of some journalist exposing the dissolute behaviour of the chief Womble.  For my part, I got the glamorous job of talking to Bob Young, road manager of Status Quo, who had grown up in Basingstoke. It was initially a tense meeting, because Bob had been under the false impression that the interview was intended to publicise his newly-published slim volume of poetry. Added to this was my snobby sniggering about Quo and my scornful slagging of Whitesnake.  This was a poor tactic because I had forgotten that Bob Young had actually made an album with Micky Moody from Whitesnake, entitled “Young and Moody”. Oh dear.

He soon warmed to the topic, however, and before long came up with a useful collection of anecdotes. Chief among these was how he had seen John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton backing Sonny Boy Williamson in an upstairs room at Basingstoke Town Hall. Oh, to have been there.

Then Gethyn got an unexpected boost. Having tentatively enquired as to whether Robert Fripp would be prepared to be interviewed, he received an enthusiastic phone call from the man himself. In stark contrast to his reported “difficult” persona, he was delighted to talk at length about his roots in the Bournemouth area. The result was by far the most candid and entertaining interview of the entire series, a veritable onslaught of sustained name-dropping. Music archaeologists might be interested in the following nuggets:

Giles, Giles and Fripp, he revealed, had originally gone to London in order to back The Flowerpot Men (of “Let’s Go To San Francisco” infamy), but instead ended up backing a cabaret singer in an Italian restaurant. When looking for a singer for King Crimson, they had an unsuspected encounter:

“I turned Ferry down, you know. Brian Ferry auditioned for Crimson in December 1970. I’m probably one of the few people who’ve heard Bryan Ferry sing “In The Court Of The Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man”. And I also met Hendrix. He was one of the most luminous men I’ve ever met. Crimson were playing at the Revolution Club in Mayfair. He came up to me after the first set, dressed completely in white and with his right arm in a sling.  Remarkable smile! He said, ‘Shake my left hand man, it’s nearer to my heart.’ A quite remarkable man.”

That sort of thing was hard to beat, but I was determined to try.  The two victims I was delegated to track down were Reg Presley and Andy Summers. Reg, as was well known, came from Andover (his priceless tones familiar to everyone from the infamous Troggs Tapes) and Andy was a native of Bournemouth, having worked with various local groups before teaming up with Zoot Money in Dantalion’s Chariot and eventually straddling the world (in his mid-thirties, but looking like a fifteen year old) in the Police.  Locating Reg Presley was surprisingly easy. I simply got the number of Page One Records from Directory Enquiries, rang them up and they gave me Reg’s home phone number. Just like that! And so I rang him and asked him if he’d be willing to talk to me about his “roots”.  Of course he was more than happy to do so, and invited me and Birgit over to Andover the following week. I borrowed the reel-to-reel tape recorder from my classroom, since to get hold of a portable BBC Uher would have entailed a round trip to Southampton, a complicated signing-out procedure and the necessity to drop it back the same evening.

Having heard the Troggs Tapes and knowing Reg’s Sexy Wild Man Of Rock image, I was ill-prepared for the sweet domestic scene which awaited us. I kind of expected a Rock Star Mansion (which I believe Reg, post “Love Is All Around”, now possesses). Instead, it was an unostentatious modern estate residence, but warm and welcoming.  As we entered, it was clear that some kind of family disagreement was just coming to a close. Reg and his wife had clearly been having words with their teenage daughter about her plan to go out to the Country Bumpkin, the dodgy night club in Andover. Obviously, they had just relented.

“Thanks, Mum, thanks, Dad.”

“Yaas, well, don’t be late now, and don’t you go talking to no strangers.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. See you later.”

While Mrs Presley (well, actually, Mrs Ball, I suppose) made tea, I set up the Tandberg on the coffee table and recorded the story which Reg must have told a thousand times, but which to me was pure historical magic:

“I was working on a job in Andover, on a building site, and I was finishing

a gable, and on the other scaffolding was a painter from some other town,

who didn’t know me or anything, and we’d recorded “Wild Thing”, and he

had a little transistor radio on the scaffold while he was painting the eaves,

you know, the top part of a house, and all of a sudden “Wild Thing” came

on. Now I knew the week before it was Number 43 or something in the

chart, you know, and I carried on bricklaying and all of a sudden this guy

shouted over, and he said to me, he said, ‘Cor’, he said, ‘have you heard

this record?’ he said, ‘it’s great, I’m sure it’s gonna be Number One.’ And

after the guy had finished playing it, he said, ‘And that’s Number Eleven

in the charts this week, The Troggs.’ And I thought, ‘What am I doing

here?’, you know. I threw down my trowel, I walked down and they’d just

stopped for lunch, and I just said, ‘Share me tools out, I’m not working

any more!’”

And not a single “fuck” or “cunt” to edit. What a triumph! And when, twenty years later, Reg came to the Tower Arts Centre to lecture fascinatingly on crop circles and UFOs, he claimed to remember our encounter. Wild Man Of Rock And Roll, tish!  Andy Summers was a completely different proposition, however.  Admittedly, we were aiming high, because the Police at that time were the biggest act in the world. So, Poirot-like, I set out to track him down. After a while, a possible contact appeared. Jim, of Jimz Music in Bournemouth, knew someone whose wife knew Zoot Money’s wife. Zoot Money’s wife, in turn, knew Andy Summers’ wife. A lengthy series of phone calls to all these people eventually produced the response that Andy would, indeed, be prepared to be interviewed backstage at the Southampton Gaumont, where the Police were to play the following week. On this basis, I secured a backstage pass from the concert promoters and, Uher in hand, nervously ventured past the security at the end of the show.  Backstage was a scene of complete bedlam, akin, I guess, to what Beatlemania must have been like. The theatre was besieged by screaming teenagers, some shinning up the wastepipe, others attempting to batter down the stage door. I moved towards a window to get a better look at the minor riot going on in the side alley, and a massive scream went up. I stepped back and it stopped.  I tried again, and up went the scream again. Bloody hell, they were screaming at me! Except that they weren’t, they were screaming at who they thought I possibly might be and who they thought I might be associated with. So that’s how ugly roadies get to sleep with groupies.

The interview was just awful, a humbling, humiliating experience.  Even though the Tour Manager was well informed, Andy Summers claimed not to know that it was due to take place, but reluctantly agreed to give me five minutes. Just enough time to put me in my place.

I suppose the unsmiling posters should have given me the clue.  Summers was supremely condescending, quite uninterested in delving into his past, and of course I helped him by nervously asking stupid, naive, ill-phrased questions. Here is the grisly encounter in full:

Summers: I did actually grow up in Bouremouth, but I left there early on and went to London. I played around Bournemouth for a short while. I used to know Robert Fripp and Mike Giles. I went to London and played with a guy called Zoot Money, who first came to prominence with the Big Roll Band. We did play in Bournemouth and Southampton a couple of times but in those days we played every night of the week, year in, year out.  Gray: Were you in any local bands before moving to London?  Summers: No, I wasn’t, I went to London fairly early on. The band was pretty popular, we were on TV a lot and we made quite a lot of money out of it, actually. So I’ve always felt I was destined for great things, frankly.  Gray: And then you worked with Kevin Ayers?  Summers: Well actually, Zoot and I were in the Animals for a while. I stayed in America for about five years. Eventually Zoot and I ended up in the same band again, playing with Kevin Coyne, and then we also both went on to play with Kevin Ayers. So we’ve had quite a lot of karma.  Gray: Looking at the scenes here tonight, you’re obviously at the very top of the tree, aren’t you?

Summers: Well, I’m afraid I am.

Gray: Do you have any regrets?

Summers: Absolutely none. I mean, it would be dishonest to say one goes entirely through life with no regrets at all. I certainly regret buying a pair of Y-fronts from Woolworths the other day. I’m feeling the pinch a bit right now. No, I’ve always enjoyed my life in music, and it’s very gratifying to be at this point. Of course, really, when you take everything into consideration, it was inevitable.

Gray: Any hankerings for returning to your home town?  Summers: No. I do go down to Bournemouth once in a while and feel fairly nauseous, and then I return to London and feel better.

Actually, now I re-listen to it, it’s quite funny. Anyway, the interview safely in the can, Birgit and I escaped by walking out of the front door of the Gaumont (since the mayhem was concentrated on the stage door). The next evening, I dropped the tape off at Radio Solent headquarters in Southampton. I knew where Gethyn’s desk was, so I left the tape on it, clearly labelled. It wasn’t much of an interview, but Andy Summers was the trump card in the Baked On The Premises pack and I certainly wanted it to be broadcast.

A couple of days later, I got a call from Gethyn:

“Hi, Oliver. Did you manage to get the Andy Summers interview?”

“Of course I did! You’ve got it!”

“I haven’t. You never gave it to me.”

“But I left it on your desk on Friday night.” “What? Don’t you know that they come round every Saturday morning and pick up all the tapes? Anything left out on a desk is wiped ready for re-use!”

“How the hell was I supposed to know that?”

“Sorry, I thought you realised.”

I don’t know if I’d had a premonition, but I’d made a cassette copy, through a microphone, before delivering the tape. In the end, we decided to use it, even though it sounded more like a couple of Daleks than a conversation. To complete the humiliation, Gethyn had to make a public apology for the poor quality of the recording.  There was another unwelcome postscript to the Andy Summers encounter. A week or two afterwards, Blondie played a warm-up date at the Village Bowl in Bournemouth and I wangled Birgit and me on to the guest list. As we queued, I realised that the diminutive peroxide figure in front of us was none other than Andy Summers himself. Eager to impress my girlfriend, I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hi, Andy, how are you?”

“I’m sorry,” he replied, witheringly, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

For the last few months of Rock Roundups, I found things increasingly difficult. Maybe there was stress at school, but the cellar seemed to be becoming more and more claustrophobic. Panic-like symptoms, quite similar to the driving phobia, began to appear. The basis was the same: nowhere to run. Although it wasn’t going out live, it effectively was live, since I knew that it was going straight to tape and likely to be broadcast in full. I started to think about things too much. Instead of just getting on with it, I worried about making mistakes, which in turn made mistakes more likely. I suffered from nausea and breathlessness, which, although people assured me it wasn’t obvious, I thought everyone could hear.  The final straw came when I at last got to interview my old hero from Camel, Peter Bardens. In a scenario which was really depressing, in view of what I considered to have been an illustrious career with Them, Camel and Van Morrison, Bardens was without a record deal and was trying to plug a misconceived single on his own label. The interview took place on a grotty industrial estate, in the “office” (warehouse) of a small-time manager. We rambled for over fifteen minutes and parts of the interview were quite interesting, such as an illuminating insight into the volatile character of Van Morrison.  But we were frequently interrupted by loud bangs and crashes from the industrial activity around us, plus I made a number of fluffs.  “Don’t worry, that’ll be edited out,” I reassured Peter, on tape, on several occasions, but sure enough, the entire tape was broadcast, complete with the “Don’t worrys”. When he died in 2002, I had a little weep, because now I will never be able to apologise.  Nobody complained because, quite obviously, hardly anyone was listening. It was rare to get any feedback, apart from one girl in Bournemouth, who tried to seduce me by claiming she loved the way I said “White Buck” in the gig guide. I doubt if she appreciated the Cockney Rhyming Slang implications of this, but I resisted on the grounds that I was spoken for. It was time to quit.

It was good to be broadcasting during the only musical “purple patch” the area has ever had. But the BBC never paid me a single penny, and apart from the blessed weekly credit in the Radio Times (not everyone can claim that, I suppose), never acknowledged my existence, or, indeed, my absence. The  Rock Roundup, and, not long afterwards, Solent Rock itself, just stopped and have never been replaced.

There is, however, a strange but quite pleasing postscript to my fumbling non-career in radio presenting and that is the number of my ex-pupils who have, in stark contrast to their teacher, gone on to have successful careers in entertainment.  John Roder was a quiet boy who was overshadowed at school by his younger brother David, who was the most outrageous punk the school ever had: blue spiky hair and the cheekiest grin you ever saw.  David’s speciality was spooking the tourists by leering at them from the Butter Cross in Winchester High Street. Both he and John would talk to me for hours between lessons, either about music (John wrote several reviews for my Hampshire Chronicle column) or, more often, about the traumatic marriage break-up which their parents were going through. John, also, would set out to me his unshakeable ambition to be a radio presenter.

Unshakeable ambition normally pays dividends, and, sure enough, John Roder is now a successful sports presenter, often appearing on BBC Radio Five Live.

A cherubic little boy called Simon Vigar, who also used to quiz me about getting into radio, did rather well too. Working his way up through commercial radio, he became a newsreader for Independent Radio News before breaking into TV, where he expertly presented the Nightly News on Channel 5. His predecessor Kirsty Young transferred to another channel for over a million pounds, so the boy can be said to have done good, considering that he is now on BBC News 24.

One boy with whom I got on quite well was unpopular among other teachers because he was a bit of a naughty “cheeky chappie”. This qualified Christian O’Connell ideally to be a breakfast radio DJ and talk show host. He claims he mentions me occasionally when the subject of German comes up, but actually I’ve never heard any of his shows.

A charming boy was Rashan Stone, who genuinely was the only black child I ever taught, thanks to the demographic of suburban Winchester.  He is a fine actor who can be found on many TV shows, including the fantastic “Episodes”.

Someone who disliked me was Jon Boden. Being, even in school days, a committed “folkie”, and rather serious-minded, he seemed to disapprove of my general ribaldry and interest in rock music. I’m therefore in two minds about the massive success of his band Bellowhead.

My classroom was next to the gymnasium, and there could be found a diminutive PE teacher called Helen Grindley. In quiet moments, we would chat in the corridor and one day, she asked if I knew anyone at Solent, since she fancied the idea of doing some sports reporting. I gave her the name of one of the sports presenters and they immediately took a liking to her, commissioning her to phone in reports on local hockey matches.

At the end of the year, Helen applied for and got a job as a sports presenter for BBC radio in Wales, from where it was a meteoric rise until, as Helen Rollason, she captured the nation’s imagination with her personality, and then its heart with her warmth and courage as she publicly moved towards death from cancer. So, what with Helen, Reg Presley and Peter White, my radio “career” allowed me to meet a number of people I was proud to know.

I first became aware of the existence of BBC Radio Solent in a

roundabout way. On the first day at Henry Beaufort School, I was handed my timetable and straight away spotted a mistake: I appeared to be teaching two classes of English.  “Therese, there’s a mistake here.”

“No mistake. You’ve been teaching English, so we thought you wouldn’t mind.”

”But that was English as a Foreign Language. I’ve no idea how to teach English to English people!”

“Never mind. I’m sure you’ll manage.”

I didn’t. Despite the well-meaning efforts of the Head of English, I was cast adrift in a sea of mutual incomprehension, in which I didn’t understand what I was doing and the children didn’t understand what I was doing either. I would have been happy to teach grammar, but that was forbidden. It had to be Greek Myths and Legends, about which I knew nothing and wanted to know less.  So I requested some help, and soon was booked onto a course for new English teachers at a hotel in the New Forest. Like every other course I have ever attended, it was worse than useless. Far from practical help, we were subjected to ego-trips by grey-haired, grey-suited, grey-minded ex-teachers who had been promoted to the status of “advisers”. I sulked the whole weekend.  Guest star billing on the Saturday night was reserved for a young man called Nick Girdler, who forced us to play embarrassing and pointless games. Apparently, he was a local personality who had his own radio show. What he was doing helping to run an English course remains a mystery. Probably he was getting paid.  His programme, which he plugged a lot, was called Albert’s Gang and went out on Saturday afternoons. I noticed that he was very handsome and that he attracted the attention of several of the young female teachers on the course, who gathered round him admiringly.  I decided to tune in to the programme the following weekend.  It was great, a kind of radio Tiswas, an anarchic comedy extravaganza for children. But it was surrounded by lots of stuff which didn’t interest me at all. No matter when I tuned on to Radio Solent, there didn’t seem to be any music other than bland, middle of the road pop.

Knowing that BBC local radio was supposed to have the brief of catering for a wide range of minority tastes (folk and jazz both had their slots), I penned a “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” letter to the BBC in Southampton, enquiring why there was no “rock” music on Radio Solent.

Within a few days, I received an encouraging reply from someone called Gethyn Jones. Not at all as Welsh as he sounds, Gethyn protested that not only was there a rock programme, but that he was the presenter. The programme was called Beat ’n’ Track (soon mercifully changed to Solent Rock) and it went out at 6.30 pm on a Saturday. Would I like to meet him and discuss a possible collaboration?

When we met, it didn’t take long to establish what I would do. As live music was my passion, I would compile a gig guide, to be called the Solent Rock Roundup, and to generally cover any live rock music in the Solent area.

Great! But how was I to get my information? I knew about the venues in the immediate vicinity of Winchester (not many, to be sure), but Solent’s slogan was “From Chichester to Weymouth, from Basingstoke to the Isle of Wight”. This was quite an area to cover.  My trusty NME  was a great help, because it had an “advance notice” section with details about forthcoming tours. This told me all I needed to know about concerts by established and semi-established acts. The big venues in the area were Poole Arts Centre, Southampton Gaumont and Portsmouth Guildhall, all of which were very active in promoting big shows. Almost any tour would stop off at one or other of these venues, and occasionally at all three. The respective publicity managers, when I contacted them, were friendly and interested (well, they would be). So that bit was easy.  Colleges were more of a problem. King Alfred’s College, the teacher training college in Winchester, were surly and uncooperative (they had a hang-up about non-students invading their territory), the Art School was completely loopy, and the further outposts such as Basingstoke Tech and Bishop Otter College in Chichester held so few events that they were hardly worth contacting. Portsmouth Poly had such a rapid turnover of Social Secretaries that I soon gave up trying to keep track of them. Paul Crockford at Southampton University was wonderfully efficient and easy to work with, so it came as no surprise that he went on to manage Level 42 and become a major league music business manager.

The bread and butter of the Rock Roundup, however, was the surprisingly big maze of little pub and club venues scattered all over the South. Gethyn got me off to a good start because he was friends with a Portsmouth band called Smiling Hard, who in turn knew other local outfits such as Jumbo Route, Edward Bear and Arms and Legs (both the latter featuring Joe Jackson). A series of phone calls led me to a place called (appropriately) the John Peel in Gosport. There, the landlord John, who sounded a nice sort of chap, invited me over to visit his venue.

The John Peel turned out to be the most unlikely of places for live music. It was a characterless modern seventies pub situated slap bang in the middle of a housing estate. John turned out to be a huge but extremely affable ex-boxer with cauliflower ears, who permanently wore the same black leather waistcoat. He was passionate about music and seemed to relish the never-ending run-ins he had with neighbours, councils and licensing authorities about noise, misbehaviour, late-night van-loading and all the other problems so well-known to live music promoters.  Because he ruled the roost in that particular area, John had no problems about giving me the phone numbers of a whole series of other similar venues in the South, as long as they weren’t too near Gosport. He also gave me contact numbers for a number of bands and agencies.

So began a regular Wednesday afternoon ritual which lasted, without a break, for three years. If I was off on a school trip or on holiday, I simply recorded three weeks’ worth of  “Roundups” before I left. The timing of the show moved about a lot but it was mainly broadcast on Friday or Saturday evenings, which wasn’t too bad. But, because it was the only day I had a free period in the afternoon, the recording always had to be done on a Wednesday.  Although Radio Solent is based in Southampton, it has little satellite studios in each of the main towns it covers. The Winchester studio, from where I was to work, was (is, actually) tucked away, absolutely unbeknown to anybody, in a tiny cellar half way up the High Street, right in the middle of town. It took me ages even to find it. The only sign of its existence was a tiny brass plate beside the door.  Getting in was a bit of a rigmarole. As it was unmanned, I first had to go to the Castle, which is Hampshire County Council’s administrative centre, further up the High Street. There, I had to engage in conversation with a uniformed jobsworth, who initially was very sceptical about handing over the key. Because the jobsworth would vary from week to week, I arranged for Gethyn to write me a note, explaining that I was allowed to use the studio.  After a few weeks, things settled down with the appointment of a regular jobsworth called Ron, who wasn’t really a jobsworth at all. Whereas his predecessors had all had the attitude, “Who’s this disreputable-looking sod? Let’s obstruct him”, Ron’s attitude was, “This is a top media personality, maybe he’s famous”, so he was friendly almost to the point of obsequiousness. If anyone else on duty looked doubtful about my right to pick up the key, Ron would set their minds at rest:

“What? Don’t you know Oliver? He works for Radio Solent. Oh yes, he’s all right, old Oliver is.”

Ron would quiz me about the presenters on the station, about whom I knew little. Gethyn, having worked his way up from being an assistant in the record library, had a steady if unsensational profile, but the star of the station was a lounge lizard type called Richard Cartridge. With his sexy tones and suggestive banter, he set the housewives’ hearts a-flutter every day. Everyone knew Richard Cartridge, except me, of course, but I couldn’t disappoint Ron.  “How’s old Richard, then?” he would ask each Wednesday.

“Oh, he’s fine,” I would reply. “Great bloke, Richard.”

“My wife loves him, she does.”

“No wonder. What a guy!”

After a few months, I got fed up with this and nipped into Mr Minit and got my own key made, very much against the rules. Some time after that, I bumped into Ron in town.

“Haven’t seen you for a while, Oliver. Don’t you work for Solent any more?”

“Er … no … no, I’m doing something else now.” The following Wednesday, I was caught red-handed. As I turned the key in the lock, the door opened and there stood Ron, having obviously just carried out some job in the studio.  “Oh, er … hi, Ron … Guess what, Solent have given me my own key,” I lied.

“Good on you, Oliver,” he replied, with a wink which said, “I’ve got you sussed, matey.”

Once in the cellar, I was in a little world of my own. There were two rooms, a desk with a telephone plus, of course, the studio itself. If times get really hard, I thought, I could move in here and nobody would notice. I also thought about ringing up all my friends in Germany for hours on end, but decided against it in case calls were monitored.

I did all the calling round of venues from the cellar, because I sure as heck wasn’t going to incur any expenses. Yes, as the Solent Rock programme had no budget (Gethyn did it as a labour of love), presenting the Rock Roundup was an unpaid occupation, done, I guess, solely in order for me to be able to tell people casually that I was a part-time broadcaster. Stupid, stupid, stupid … but sometimes fun as well.

The first thing to do was ring round the venues and find out what was on. This was a job with varying degrees of reward. Someone like John from the John Peel would be delighted to be rung up. We would natter about the latest gossip among the bands, plus, having an idea of public relations, he realised that the more mentions his pub got, the better. Other landlords could sometimes be unhelpful or unfriendly (it was obvious that I was disturbing their afternoon naps). I felt like telling them, “For crying out loud, you stupid bastards, all I’m doing is offering to publicise your shitty pub for free!” But I didn’t, of course.

There were some good and interesting venues in the Solent area. The Pinecliff was a big pub in Boscombe, a suburb of Bournemouth. It had a proper stage with live bands most nights and it was run by a middle-aged couple called Mr and Mrs Shipway (Christian names not offered). They were committed to music despite not seeming to be at all interested in it. The Chequers was a little pub in a village near Sturminster Newton called Lytchett Matravers. Unlikely as it certainly sounds, this was a very active venue, whose landlord managed Joe Jackson’s early bands, who would play there regularly.  Another surprising band to play there came all the way from Wales.

They were called Seventeen, and later became The Alarm.  The Brewers Arms in Poole was more problematic, in that it worked on a “self-promotion” basis, whereby bands would hire the room and take the door money. Thus, when you rang up, nobody could tell you who was on. This was particularly frustrating during the period when Poole bands briefly looked as if they would be the Next Big Thing. Luckily, I gleaned the phone number of Ronnie Mayor from Tours, the leading “Poole Sound” band, and he kept me up to date.

The Elm Tree in Ringwood was an extraordinary place in that the stage was a hay loft. You got a really sore neck from trying to watch the band. The DOCs would have gone down a storm there, having only ever played in a hay loft. The barman of the Elm Tree kindly insisted on giving me endless free drinks when he discovered that I was a media superstar.

The Old Mill in Holbury was the best venue, if also the strangest.  Here, it was the sound engineer who was in the loft, while the band actually had a stage. Holbury is a hamlet near Fawley, which is where a large Esso refinery is situated. It was well-nigh impossible to find the Old Mill, and I got lost at every attempt, on the way home as well. Yet there was always a good crowd there, as it was also a restaurant. The landlord, Chris, was an obvious alcoholic but a loyal music fan. He suddenly disappeared in mysterious circumstances (bankruptcy was rumoured) and the Old Mill immediately closed its doors to music.

None of these places has bands any more. Indeed, apart from the famous Joiners Arms in Southampton, only one music venue survives from those days, the Royal Oak, near Petersfield. I never went there because the landlord seemed very pedantic in his tastes and most of his bands were pretty poor. The Larry Miller Band played there regularly for over twenty years.  One problem of Rock Roundup  compilation was the huge range of bands which played at each of these places. Most of them seemed quite at home putting on heavy metal, hard rock, punk, covers bands, blues bands and middle-of-the-road duos. Presumably, confusion could occur if a chapter of Hells Angels were to turn up for Glenda ’n’ Dave’s Singalong Nite, while Glenda ’n’ Dave’s followers would doubtless not gain much from an evening with the Vomiting Rodents.

To maintain the purity of the Rock Roundup, I tried hard to weed out anything which might not be rockin’. Any duos were instantly banned, and names were shamelessly scrutinised for tell-tale clues about possible blandness, which would exclude them. Two bands which I included for years, but never saw, were called Mustard Pot and Mead. Both played three or four times a week and I was suspicious about their rock credentials but included them out of goodwill. A band called Mission Impossible seemed never to go home, playing virtually every day in the Poole area. They had a Sunday lunchtime residency at the Jolly Sailor on Poole Quay which ran for the entire three years that I did the Rock Roundup. Eventually we went there for a Sunday roast. They turned out to be doing rock and roll covers, and thus were quite kosher.  You couldn’t always make correct assumptions on the basis of names, however. A gentleman called Squire William came highly recommended, but I omitted him on the basis that he was more of a comedian than a musician. On the other hand, Surfin’ Dave was a new-wave poet and songwriter who gained much credibility and featured regularly in the indie charts. Jim and Dave, far from being a “resident duo”, actually featured ex-Joe Jackson drummer Dave Houghton, who was damn good.

Gethyn Jones prided himself on his catholic tastes, as did I, but he tended more towards the older guard while I had become completely swept up in the punk/new wave ethic. It became apparent that there were some really good bands in the area and I was determined that Solent Rock should be their outlet. There was nowhere else they would get radio exposure, unless they had a single and could get John Peel to play it.

Examples of excellent Solent area groups were legion. The Martian Schoolgirls, for example, despite hailing from Sturminster Marshall, had a guitarist who had played with Joe Strummer in the 101ers.  Eyes, from Portsmouth, had a great glam-rock image with oodles of make-up. Last Orders were a good new-wave group with a shaven-headed singer called Keith Wymark, while The Skavengers were a sub-Police ska trio but great at what they did. Two Portsmouth bands which both got record deals with major labels and put out good albums were The Planets and the Keys. The Planets held a big record company showcase gig at the John Peel, while The Keys’ singer was Drew Barfield, who has spent his subsequent career collaborating with Paul Young.

Before I could invite any bands into the Winchester studio, I had to master the technology. First, I had to dial up the studio in Southampton and ask to be put through to the “Duty Op”. Normally, the Duty Op had not been forewarned that I would ring, or had forgotten.

“Hi, this is Oliver Gray in the Winchester studio.”

“Sorry, who?”

“Oliver Gray.”

“Oh … er, what do you want?”

“I’m ready to record.”

“Record what?”

“The Solent Rock Roundup.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the Gig Guide for Solent Rock.”

“What’s Solent Rock?”

“It’s a rock music programme. It goes out on Saturdays.”

“Oh, does it? Hang on a minute.”

(Click, whirr, buzz, frequently complete silence.)

“Okay, test for level and go.”

It’s a miracle that anything ever got recorded, but there I was, completely alone, intoning the listings into the beautiful old plinth-mounted Alvar Lidell-style BBC microphone. “Hi, and welcome to the Solent Rock Roundup. It’s a busy old week, so let’s start in Basingstoke …”

One alleged qualification I had stressed to Gethyn was my skill with language labs. This meant that I was supposedly adept at spooling and splicing reel-to-reel tapes. This was important, in that Solent had no facility for playing cassettes and CDs hadn’t been invented. If a band wanted its demo played, it had to entrust to me its treasured studio master tape. This was a risky thing to do, because the tape facility in the Winchester studio was so antiquated (the sort of thing Lord Haw Haw would have used), that it made the school language lab seem like the cutting edge of technology. On more than one occasion, priceless (to the bands) master tapes were turned to spaghetti and mercilessly chewed up by the tape deck.  Sometimes, too, tracks were faded out early if the recording quality or the quality of the performance was deemed to be too poor. This was because I was so determined to encourage young bands that I would interview virtually anyone who had a demo tape. A stream of scruffy young oiks passed through the portals of the cellar, causing much curiosity among the passers-by in the High Street, who did not suspect the rock and roll secret beneath the paving slabs.  Early bands which visited the cellar included The Ba, whose “Bus Garage Café” was faded out (boo) and Thieves Like Us, whose visit is documented elsewhere. The Time popped in, as did The Britz.  This latter was a Salisbury band, notable for the fact that their front man, Andrew Golden, was a journalist who later came to specialise in tabloid exposés and whose by-line was to be found in the Mirror and the News of the World. Andy Golden, what a great name for a rock singer. Or a tabloid journalist, come to that.  We certainly were the first to give exposure to a number of bands which did well. Tours, from Poole, were briefly signed to Virgin and made some immortal singles. Titles like “Language School” and “Tourist Information” rang a few Bournemouth bells, and they were classic two-minute pop songs. Tours later expanded into Biz Internationale, a very swinging seven-piece with a funky brass section. They got a deal with Warner Brothers and put out a beautifully sentimental single called “Stay True”. With the right production and, above all, the right promotion, it could easily have been a chart hit.

In order to interview The Warm Jets, I took a tape recorder up to the Bridge House pub in Canning Town, where they were particularly popular. This was odd, in that the Bridge House was a centre for skinhead music, constantly plugged by the odious Sounds  journalist Garry Bushell. The Warm Jets, by contrast, were a very musical unit, fronted by a classically-trained musician called Milton Reame-James, who had previously been in Cockney Rebel. The connection with Solent was the drummer, Dave Cairns, who had been in a band with Joe Jackson. Terrible to relate, the Warm Jets’ bassist Paul Jeffreys was killed in the Lockerbie air disaster.

Interfearance was a Mod band who played a great deal round the area. They mutated into The Jagz and had a big, and deserved, hit with “I’ve Got Your Number (Written On The Back Of My Hand)”, before disappearing. My favourites, however, were a delightful bunch of yokel punks from Salisbury called The QTs. They arrived in the cellar having spent two hours in the pub and were so paralytic that the results were unbroadcastable. We remained on good terms, though, and their leader Colin Holton still puts on occasional hardcore shows at Salisbury Arts Centre. The only change is that he’s now about ten stone heavier.

A final example of the kind of band we attracted was The Piranhas.  A hard-working punk / comedy act from Brighton, their sound was very much in the “Portsmouth” mould, stripped-down guitars and upfront bass with reggae tendencies. They were plugging an indie single called “I Don’t Want My Body (’Cos It’s So Bloody Shoddy)”, but their gimmick was that their singer, Boring Bob Grover, was purposely just that: Boring. So it didn’t make for a gripping radio interview. Also, they were going through an identity crisis, because they no longer liked being seen as a comedy band. Just as they metamorphosed into a serious-minded, heavy dub-reggae bunch of musos, they finally got themselves signed to a major label (Sire, very appropriate), and found themselves in the Top Ten with the gimmicky instrumental “Tom Hark”. Under these circumstances, what else could they be but one-hit wonders?  One day, after I had had a few weeks to get used to the tranquillity of my little subterranean kingdom, I was startled to hear a clattering sound by the front door. Cautiously, I peeped out of the studio into the gloom, to be confronted by a man who appeared to be armed – at least, he had a stick in his hand. Having briefly panicked, thinking I was about to be attacked, I realised that the man was, in fact, blind, which presumably was the reason he hadn’t needed to switch the light on.

He pottered around, apparently unaware of my presence, and I wondered what to do. Not wanting to startle him too much, I quietly cleared my throat:

“Er … hello, can I help you?”

“No thanks, I’m fine,” he replied, unperturbed. “I’m just going to send something down the line to Southampton.” “I hope I didn’t startle you?”

“Not at all, I realised you were there.”

This cheerful fellow, it turned out, was Peter White, a blind broadcaster from Winchester who often used this studio rather than having to travel down to Southampton. It was obvious even then that this was an unusually gifted individual, and it is no surprise at all that Peter, now the BBC’s Chief Disability Correspondent, is one of the UK’s most respected and loved radio personalities. From then on, we would frequently bump into each other (sometimes literally) in the cellar.

The sudden chart success of Joe Jackson briefly put South Coast music on the map, and Gethyn Jones, keen to capitalise on the new-found interest, hatched a plot for a series of programmes tracing the history of rock in the area. We met to divide up the tasks of tracing and interviewing the chief players.

Gethyn had already achieved the big scoop by interviewing Joe Jackson before his first record came out and playing the demos of songs like “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. This was fascinating, because they differed in hardly any way from the actual released versions. The follow-up interview for “Baked On The Premises” (the eventual title of the series) was a phone chat with Mark Andrews. Mark had been in Arms and Legs with Joe, in fact had been the lead singer, and now he, too, had just been signed by A & M. A charismatic character, Mark was exploding with optimism in his interview with Gethyn. To me, Mark was a true star and still is one, even though he has long since returned to playing in bread and butter covers bands on the cabaret circuit. His album “Big Boy” was notable for a crazy reggae version of “Born To Be Wild”, but his career was ruined by brutal management difficulties.  Our search for further interviewees wasn’t promising. Brian Eno had studied at the Art School, but his management let it be known that Brian had absolutely no wish to recall those days. The only other famous person ever to have come out of Winchester was Mike Batt, who had attended the local grammar school. We didn’t really want to plug the Wombles, but there wasn’t much choice.  The only interesting thing that Gethyn extracted from him was that he occasionally returned to Winchester because there he could go out and get drunk without the fear of some journalist exposing the dissolute behaviour of the chief Womble.  For my part, I got the glamorous job of talking to Bob Young, road manager of Status Quo, who had grown up in Basingstoke. It was initially a tense meeting, because Bob had been under the false impression that the interview was intended to publicise his newly-published slim volume of poetry. Added to this was my snobby sniggering about Quo and my scornful slagging of Whitesnake.  This was a poor tactic because I had forgotten that Bob Young had actually made an album with Micky Moody from Whitesnake, entitled “Young and Moody”. Oh dear.

He soon warmed to the topic, however, and before long came up with a useful collection of anecdotes. Chief among these was how he had seen John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton backing Sonny Boy Williamson in an upstairs room at Basingstoke Town Hall. Oh, to have been there.

Then Gethyn got an unexpected boost. Having tentatively enquired as to whether Robert Fripp would be prepared to be interviewed, he received an enthusiastic phone call from the man himself. In stark contrast to his reported “difficult” persona, he was delighted to talk at length about his roots in the Bournemouth area. The result was by far the most candid and entertaining interview of the entire series, a veritable onslaught of sustained name-dropping. Music archaeologists might be interested in the following nuggets:

Giles, Giles and Fripp, he revealed, had originally gone to London in order to back The Flowerpot Men (of “Let’s Go To San Francisco” infamy), but instead ended up backing a cabaret singer in an Italian restaurant. When looking for a singer for King Crimson, they had an unsuspected encounter:

“I turned Ferry down, you know. Brian Ferry auditioned for Crimson in December 1970. I’m probably one of the few people who’ve heard Bryan Ferry sing “In The Court Of The Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man”. And I also met Hendrix. He was one of the most luminous men I’ve ever met. Crimson were playing at the Revolution Club in Mayfair. He came up to me after the first set, dressed completely in white and with his right arm in a sling.  Remarkable smile! He said, ‘Shake my left hand man, it’s nearer to my heart.’ A quite remarkable man.”

That sort of thing was hard to beat, but I was determined to try.  The two victims I was delegated to track down were Reg Presley and Andy Summers. Reg, as was well known, came from Andover (his priceless tones familiar to everyone from the infamous Troggs Tapes) and Andy was a native of Bournemouth, having worked with various local groups before teaming up with Zoot Money in Dantalion’s Chariot and eventually straddling the world (in his mid-thirties, but looking like a fifteen year old) in the Police.  Locating Reg Presley was surprisingly easy. I simply got the number of Page One Records from Directory Enquiries, rang them up and they gave me Reg’s home phone number. Just like that! And so I rang him and asked him if he’d be willing to talk to me about his “roots”.  Of course he was more than happy to do so, and invited me and Birgit over to Andover the following week. I borrowed the reel-to-reel tape recorder from my classroom, since to get hold of a portable BBC Uher would have entailed a round trip to Southampton, a complicated signing-out procedure and the necessity to drop it back the same evening.

Having heard the Troggs Tapes and knowing Reg’s Sexy Wild Man Of Rock image, I was ill-prepared for the sweet domestic scene which awaited us. I kind of expected a Rock Star Mansion (which I believe Reg, post “Love Is All Around”, now possesses). Instead, it was an unostentatious modern estate residence, but warm and welcoming.  As we entered, it was clear that some kind of family disagreement was just coming to a close. Reg and his wife had clearly been having words with their teenage daughter about her plan to go out to the Country Bumpkin, the dodgy night club in Andover. Obviously, they had just relented.

“Thanks, Mum, thanks, Dad.”

“Yaas, well, don’t be late now, and don’t you go talking to no strangers.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. See you later.”

While Mrs Presley (well, actually, Mrs Ball, I suppose) made tea, I set up the Tandberg on the coffee table and recorded the story which Reg must have told a thousand times, but which to me was pure historical magic:

“I was working on a job in Andover, on a building site, and I was finishing

a gable, and on the other scaffolding was a painter from some other town,

who didn’t know me or anything, and we’d recorded “Wild Thing”, and he

had a little transistor radio on the scaffold while he was painting the eaves,

you know, the top part of a house, and all of a sudden “Wild Thing” came

on. Now I knew the week before it was Number 43 or something in the

chart, you know, and I carried on bricklaying and all of a sudden this guy

shouted over, and he said to me, he said, ‘Cor’, he said, ‘have you heard

this record?’ he said, ‘it’s great, I’m sure it’s gonna be Number One.’ And

after the guy had finished playing it, he said, ‘And that’s Number Eleven

in the charts this week, The Troggs.’ And I thought, ‘What am I doing

here?’, you know. I threw down my trowel, I walked down and they’d just

stopped for lunch, and I just said, ‘Share me tools out, I’m not working

any more!’”

And not a single “fuck” or “cunt” to edit. What a triumph! And when, twenty years later, Reg came to the Tower Arts Centre to lecture fascinatingly on crop circles and UFOs, he claimed to remember our encounter. Wild Man Of Rock And Roll, tish!  Andy Summers was a completely different proposition, however.  Admittedly, we were aiming high, because the Police at that time were the biggest act in the world. So, Poirot-like, I set out to track him down. After a while, a possible contact appeared. Jim, of Jimz Music in Bournemouth, knew someone whose wife knew Zoot Money’s wife. Zoot Money’s wife, in turn, knew Andy Summers’ wife. A lengthy series of phone calls to all these people eventually produced the response that Andy would, indeed, be prepared to be interviewed backstage at the Southampton Gaumont, where the Police were to play the following week. On this basis, I secured a backstage pass from the concert promoters and, Uher in hand, nervously ventured past the security at the end of the show.  Backstage was a scene of complete bedlam, akin, I guess, to what Beatlemania must have been like. The theatre was besieged by screaming teenagers, some shinning up the wastepipe, others attempting to batter down the stage door. I moved towards a window to get a better look at the minor riot going on in the side alley, and a massive scream went up. I stepped back and it stopped.  I tried again, and up went the scream again. Bloody hell, they were screaming at me! Except that they weren’t, they were screaming at who they thought I possibly might be and who they thought I might be associated with. So that’s how ugly roadies get to sleep with groupies.

The interview was just awful, a humbling, humiliating experience.  Even though the Tour Manager was well informed, Andy Summers claimed not to know that it was due to take place, but reluctantly agreed to give me five minutes. Just enough time to put me in my place.

I suppose the unsmiling posters should have given me the clue.  Summers was supremely condescending, quite uninterested in delving into his past, and of course I helped him by nervously asking stupid, naive, ill-phrased questions. Here is the grisly encounter in full:

Summers: I did actually grow up in Bouremouth, but I left there early on and went to London. I played around Bournemouth for a short while. I used to know Robert Fripp and Mike Giles. I went to London and played with a guy called Zoot Money, who first came to prominence with the Big Roll Band. We did play in Bournemouth and Southampton a couple of times but in those days we played every night of the week, year in, year out.  Gray: Were you in any local bands before moving to London?  Summers: No, I wasn’t, I went to London fairly early on. The band was pretty popular, we were on TV a lot and we made quite a lot of money out of it, actually. So I’ve always felt I was destined for great things, frankly.  Gray: And then you worked with Kevin Ayers?  Summers: Well actually, Zoot and I were in the Animals for a while. I stayed in America for about five years. Eventually Zoot and I ended up in the same band again, playing with Kevin Coyne, and then we also both went on to play with Kevin Ayers. So we’ve had quite a lot of karma.  Gray: Looking at the scenes here tonight, you’re obviously at the very top of the tree, aren’t you?

Summers: Well, I’m afraid I am.

Gray: Do you have any regrets?

Summers: Absolutely none. I mean, it would be dishonest to say one goes entirely through life with no regrets at all. I certainly regret buying a pair of Y-fronts from Woolworths the other day. I’m feeling the pinch a bit right now. No, I’ve always enjoyed my life in music, and it’s very gratifying to be at this point. Of course, really, when you take everything into consideration, it was inevitable.

Gray: Any hankerings for returning to your home town?  Summers: No. I do go down to Bournemouth once in a while and feel fairly nauseous, and then I return to London and feel better.

Actually, now I re-listen to it, it’s quite funny. Anyway, the interview safely in the can, Birgit and I escaped by walking out of the front door of the Gaumont (since the mayhem was concentrated on the stage door). The next evening, I dropped the tape off at Radio Solent headquarters in Southampton. I knew where Gethyn’s desk was, so I left the tape on it, clearly labelled. It wasn’t much of an interview, but Andy Summers was the trump card in the Baked On The Premises pack and I certainly wanted it to be broadcast.

A couple of days later, I got a call from Gethyn:

“Hi, Oliver. Did you manage to get the Andy Summers interview?”

“Of course I did! You’ve got it!”

“I haven’t. You never gave it to me.”

“But I left it on your desk on Friday night.” “What? Don’t you know that they come round every Saturday morning and pick up all the tapes? Anything left out on a desk is wiped ready for re-use!”

“How the hell was I supposed to know that?”

“Sorry, I thought you realised.”

I don’t know if I’d had a premonition, but I’d made a cassette copy, through a microphone, before delivering the tape. In the end, we decided to use it, even though it sounded more like a couple of Daleks than a conversation. To complete the humiliation, Gethyn had to make a public apology for the poor quality of the recording.  There was another unwelcome postscript to the Andy Summers encounter. A week or two afterwards, Blondie played a warm-up date at the Village Bowl in Bournemouth and I wangled Birgit and me on to the guest list. As we queued, I realised that the diminutive peroxide figure in front of us was none other than Andy Summers himself. Eager to impress my girlfriend, I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hi, Andy, how are you?”

“I’m sorry,” he replied, witheringly, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

For the last few months of Rock Roundups, I found things increasingly difficult. Maybe there was stress at school, but the cellar seemed to be becoming more and more claustrophobic. Panic-like symptoms, quite similar to the driving phobia, began to appear. The basis was the same: nowhere to run. Although it wasn’t going out live, it effectively was live, since I knew that it was going straight to tape and likely to be broadcast in full. I started to think about things too much. Instead of just getting on with it, I worried about making mistakes, which in turn made mistakes more likely. I suffered from nausea and breathlessness, which, although people assured me it wasn’t obvious, I thought everyone could hear.  The final straw came when I at last got to interview my old hero from Camel, Peter Bardens. In a scenario which was really depressing, in view of what I considered to have been an illustrious career with Them, Camel and Van Morrison, Bardens was without a record deal and was trying to plug a misconceived single on his own label. The interview took place on a grotty industrial estate, in the “office” (warehouse) of a small-time manager. We rambled for over fifteen minutes and parts of the interview were quite interesting, such as an illuminating insight into the volatile character of Van Morrison.  But we were frequently interrupted by loud bangs and crashes from the industrial activity around us, plus I made a number of fluffs.  “Don’t worry, that’ll be edited out,” I reassured Peter, on tape, on several occasions, but sure enough, the entire tape was broadcast, complete with the “Don’t worrys”. When he died in 2002, I had a little weep, because now I will never be able to apologise.  Nobody complained because, quite obviously, hardly anyone was listening. It was rare to get any feedback, apart from one girl in Bournemouth, who tried to seduce me by claiming she loved the way I said “White Buck” in the gig guide. I doubt if she appreciated the Cockney Rhyming Slang implications of this, but I resisted on the grounds that I was spoken for. It was time to quit.

It was good to be broadcasting during the only musical “purple patch” the area has ever had. But the BBC never paid me a single penny, and apart from the blessed weekly credit in the Radio Times (not everyone can claim that, I suppose), never acknowledged my existence, or, indeed, my absence. The  Rock Roundup, and, not long afterwards, Solent Rock itself, just stopped and have never been replaced.

There is, however, a strange but quite pleasing postscript to my fumbling non-career in radio presenting and that is the number of my ex-pupils who have, in stark contrast to their teacher, gone on to have successful careers in entertainment.  John Roder was a quiet boy who was overshadowed at school by his younger brother David, who was the most outrageous punk the school ever had: blue spiky hair and the cheekiest grin you ever saw.  David’s speciality was spooking the tourists by leering at them from the Butter Cross in Winchester High Street. Both he and John would talk to me for hours between lessons, either about music (John wrote several reviews for my Hampshire Chronicle column) or, more often, about the traumatic marriage break-up which their parents were going through. John, also, would set out to me his unshakeable ambition to be a radio presenter.

Unshakeable ambition normally pays dividends, and, sure enough, John Roder is now a successful sports presenter, often appearing on BBC Radio Five Live.

A cherubic little boy called Simon Vigar, who also used to quiz me about getting into radio, did rather well too. Working his way up through commercial radio, he became a newsreader for Independent Radio News before breaking into TV, where he expertly presented the Nightly News on Channel 5. His predecessor Kirsty Young transferred to another channel for over a million pounds, so the boy can be said to have done good, considering that he is now on BBC News 24.

One boy with whom I got on quite well was unpopular among other teachers because he was a bit of a naughty “cheeky chappie”. This qualified Christian O’Connell ideally to be a breakfast radio DJ and talk show host. He claims he mentions me occasionally when the subject of German comes up, but actually I’ve never heard any of his shows.

A charming boy was Rashan Stone, who genuinely was the only black child I ever taught, thanks to the demographic of suburban Winchester.  He is a fine actor who can be found on many TV shows, including the fantastic “Episodes”.

Someone who disliked me was Jon Boden. Being, even in school days, a committed “folkie”, and rather serious-minded, he seemed to disapprove of my general ribaldry and interest in rock music. I’m therefore in two minds about the massive success of his band Bellowhead.

My classroom was next to the gymnasium, and there could be found a diminutive PE teacher called Helen Grindley. In quiet moments, we would chat in the corridor and one day, she asked if I knew anyone at Solent, since she fancied the idea of doing some sports reporting. I gave her the name of one of the sports presenters and they immediately took a liking to her, commissioning her to phone in reports on local hockey matches.

At the end of the year, Helen applied for and got a job as a sports presenter for BBC radio in Wales, from where it was a meteoric rise until, as Helen Rollason, she captured the nation’s imagination with her personality, and then its heart with her warmth and courage as she publicly moved towards death from cancer. So, what with Helen, Reg Presley and Peter White, my radio “career” allowed me to meet a number of people I was proud to know.