I only seriously started getting into music at the age of 49.
There were signs of interest before, of course.
In 1963, we finally got a black and white TV. We were the last family in the road to get one.
I remember the Kennedy assassination very well. I was seven and judging by my parents’ reaction, it seemed like the end of the world.
But we also got a record player – one of those new-fangled things where the record dropped on to the turntable and the needle lifted and set itself down automatically.
The first album we bought was “Please Please Me” by the Beatles. Very exciting.
I really did grow up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Although the Stones were considered rather decadent in our resolutely middle-class environment….
* * * * *
I was lucky enough up to grow up in a house with a good-sized garden, so I could sing in the bathroom a lot.
At one point, I drove my parents crazy singing, “Onward Christian Soldier,” over and over again.
In retrospect, it was fair revenge for making us go to church as kids.
An esthetically pleasing church, but the services were so boring for a child.
I was convinced I couldn’t sing.
We always seemed to be singing the hymns at the upper level of my range, near the break, and my voice got tired very quickly.
No fun. I already preferred singing on my own.
* * * * *
On some of my school reports, I got an A for music.
There’s even a jazz project marked in one that I remember nothing about.
After getting hooked by Aka Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore,” I badgered my parents to let me start clarinet lessons, which I took from the age of 12 until I was 16.
The strange thing is, it never felt like a jazz instrument to me and I eventually stopped taking the lessons, citing the sixth form work load as the reason.
The clarinet was rented, never bought.
At some point in my adolescence, some neighbours gave us a double album of Louis Armstrong.
Not liking the musician in question, my parents asked my brother and myself if it would matter if they changed it.
Already out-voted by three to one, I said, “Ok,” but I remember this incident because I already actually rather appreciated Louis Armstrong.
I can’t remember what the replacement LP was.
* * * * *
While at university in Bristol, I discovered Mahler and played quite a lot of guitar. A typical student activity and I had no pretensions about it.
I bought a cheap classical which I then sold off to get a pleasing acoustic guitar and dabbled a good deal. Never took lessons though and rapidly hit a plateau.
And the guitar ended up at a friend’s house in Exeter where it remains to this day.
I already enjoyed singing in the bath.
A group of girls passing on the staircase on their way to breakfast applauded once when I was having a bath in the floor facilities at my hall of residence Clifton Hill House.
I was into writing at that point, the first of my creative careers. Mainly poetry.
Eventually, I got quite a few published in magazines and had some success in poetry competitions.
My finest hour was when I won the same national competition (the Mary Wilkins) for the second year in succession.
You had to use a pseudonym for the entries with your real name in a sealed envelope so that the judges wouldn’t be influenced by your reputation.
I was told that the judges were all convinced that my poem was written by a woman, which seemed like a pretty good compliment to me. They were flabbergasted when it turned out to be the same person as the winner the previous year.
But poetry, like music, tends to be a young man’s sport. I wrote my last poem in 1986 when I was 30.
The last, that is, until I wrote one in 2016.
But when I finally got around to writing songs, that apprenticeship of poetry writing was priceless.