Life On The Rock And Roll Road – Part 2

On another occasion, also on the Traffic tour, but down in the south of Italy we ran into another curious phenomena of those days for the first time, the Rioting Maoists of Italy

In general Italy is a country that I am rather fond of, but as place for us to work it was really scary at that time. The Mafia controlled all pop concerts in Italy back then – and perhaps still do for all I know, and there were a large number of young people, who described themselves as Maoists (Not sure why), who felt that all such concerts should be free.. Certain lack of understanding of economics there I felt, but that is what they felt strongly about.

Anyway, this manifested itself in a sort of pre-arranged and orchestrated riot at all pop concerts in Italy at that time. So we would turn up at the venue, and the Italian Riot Police would already be there with their riot gear, armoured cars, water cannon and so on, and would be busy setting up huge fences around the venue. In due time the “Maoists” would start to gather, with their face masks, helmets and banners….

Mostly the riots took place outside the venue, as the cops managed to keep the kids away more or less. But in Naples it really got out of hand, and as the concert was moving nicely along, suddenly tear gas grenades started bursting in the hall, and as one, the entire audience whipped out gas masks, put them on and sat back to enjoy the rest of the concert. We on the other hand were not so well prepared, and had to carry on with streaming eyes and noses as the place filled up with tear gas.

Not easy.

After a bit there were a couple of huge explosions outside, shortly followed by a number of rioters rushing onto the stage, closely followed by riot cops armed with short rifles, who proceeded to beat the hell out of the kids with their rifle butts, right beside poor Stevie Winwood who was attempting to sing….

The unconscious kids were dragged off by the cops and we simply carried on….. Had no choice really.

We later discovered that the explosions were two car bombs the rioters let off outside….

Life on the road for a roadie was never dull.

Share with us:

Do you have any such road stories you would like to share with us here?  Do write about them and send it to me,and I shall post it.

Life On The Rock and Roll Road – Part 1

For some years I was a lighting rock and roll roadie – which meant that I worked with the stage lights used on rock and roll tours, and during the concerts, I was one of the follow spot operators.

Touring itself had its pleasant side to it, the chief being the cohesion of the roadies, we tended to become something like a small army unit, a very tight group of people, we knew we could depend on each other absolutely in all circumstances. This was pleasing to experience. The tours themselves tended to become something of a foggy experience, after being on the road for a couple of weeks with gigs almost every night tended to make us confused as to which city we were in, let alone which country. So in motorway cafes we generally ordered our food, and then simply held out a handful of mixed European currency and told the guy to take what he needed in his country’s money.

This was obviously before the advent of the Euro….  Must make life on the road so much easier!

Going across borders tended to be tedious too. We traveled in relatively large convoys of huge trucks and various crew buses and cars (Almost never with the group themselves, they generally flew from gig to gig). At every border we were of course stopped and taken apart by the Customs who were determined to find drugs on us, which they never did, for three reasons:

  • We all knew we would be searched thoroughly at the borders,
  • We actually hardly used drugs on the road, we were working to hard for that,
  • Any drugs there were with us ( mostly for the group’s use) were always in the TIR sealed trucks, so the border Customs couldn’t open them…

Idiocy of borders.

On a Traffic tour we experienced something totally Kafkaesque on the border between France and Spain. For once the band were traveling with us in cars. The bongo drummer with Traffic, a really nice, friendly and fine musician from Ghana had a visa for one visit to France, but when he got to the Spanish border control it turned out that his visa for Spain wasn’t valid for some reason or other, so he was not allowed into Spain.

Continue reading “Life On The Rock and Roll Road – Part 1”

Motor Bikes And I – A Calm Marriage By And Large

For some reason, I always wanted to ride on motor bikes when I was a kid. No idea why this was so, as to be honest, they are in so many ways vastly inferior to cars, but they do have something about them.

My First Bike

For me it started when I was 16 – which in those days was the earliest age you could ride a motorbike in the UK. So with the reluctant agreement of my parents, shortly after my 16th birthday I found myself the proud owner of about the smallest motorbike you could buy in those days, a BSA Bantam.

It cost all of £50, by the way.

Me on my Bantam ( No idea why the fancy costume), and David on his Tiger Cub…..

This thing with its 2 stroke 150cc engine could just about manage to achieve 70 mph downhill with a following wind.

It had a headlight that would have shamed a firefly, so at night I had to try and keep up with cars going in the same direction as I was, in order to be able to see where I was going…. Otherwise the feeble glimmer from that headlight just about allowed me to see my front mudguard. And given that she could could only just keep up with very slow cars, night-time driving was awful.

At about the same time, a good friend of mine David acquired a “real” bike, a 200 cc Triumph Tiger Cub…. Ahh.. the name alone… Tiger Cub versus Bantam…. Not happy about that.


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John Cage – HPSCHD – Roundhouse Theatre

While I was Production Manager at the Roundhouse in the last few years of the 60’s and the first few years of the 70’s, we had an amazing range of events of one sort or another, many of which made one hell of an impression on me.   One of these was a most extraordinary concert of a piece by John Cage, called HPSCHD (Pronounced “Harpsichord”).

Here is a description from Wikipedia of what it was supposed to be:-

HPSCHD is composed of 7 solo pieces for harpsichord and 51 computer-generated tapes. The harpsichord solos were created from randomly processed pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Gottschalk, Busoni, Schoenberg, Cage and Hiller, rewritten using a FORTRAN computer program designed by Ed Kobrin based on the I Ching hexagrams. Cage had initially turned down the commission (stating that he hated harpsichords because they reminded him of sewing machines) but Hiller’s proposal reignited his interest in the piece, which provided an interesting challenge for both Cage’s chance experiments and Hiller’s use of computer algorithms in musical composition.

Twenty-minute solos for one to seven amplified harpsichords and tapes for one to fifty-two amplified monaural machines to be used in whole or in part in any combination with or without interruptions, etc., to make an indeterminate concert of any agreed-upon length having two to fifty-nine channels with loud-speakers around the audience. […] In addition to playing his own solo, each harpsichordist is free to play any of the others.

Following the debut at Urbana, Cage acknowledged the chaotic nature of the piece and the performance, explaining: “When I produce a happening, I try my best to remove intention in order that what is done will not oblige the listener in any one way. I don’t think we’re really interested in the validity of compositions any more. We’re interested in the experiences of things.”

So now you know.

The version above is not really much like what I saw and heard in the probably better environment for such a “concert” of the Roundhouse, where there was ample room for the various stages and the public to wander from player to player at will.


But it gives at least a bit of an idea of what we experienced, even though ours went on for about 3 hours, rather than the 30 odd minutes of the one above.

Continue reading “John Cage – HPSCHD – Roundhouse Theatre”

Life In The Roundhouse Theatre – 60’s Style

Life at the Roundhouse was never dull back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as we experienced at first hand the hassles of Rock and Roll concerts and  how to cope with the rather strange world of British Royalty.

As I have written, at the Roundhouse we had rock concerts each Sunday.  These were quite large events, which ran from about midday to midnight, and typically had audiences of around 2000 people (we removed all the seats from the auditorium for these concerts) and of course attracted not only the main audience, but all the peripheral hangers on of the world of Rock and Roll – drug dealers, groupies, fans, fast food sellers, ticket touts and so on.  Some of these were a problem for us, others not.  So I thought you might be amused to read about how we dealt with some of the other groups of people who such concerts attracted.


As is well known, Rock and Roll attracts groupies, what might be less well known is that by and large these girls tended to be very young indeed, many were between 13 and 16 year old.   Whilst my security guys on the concerts had very strict instructions not to let any of these little girls back-stage or into the dressing rooms, nonetheless, the groups themselves mostly managed to find ways of getting these girls back-stage, and other girls knew exactly how to sweet talk the security guys into letting them back-stage.

Basically what all these girls were looking for was to have sex with as many Rock musicians as they could manage, and most of the musicians were very happy to help them in this ambition.  A sort of symbiotic relationship thus.   By and large the actual sex happened after the concert was over, and the bands had taken their chosen girls off to their hotels with them – Back-stage at the Roundhouse was not really conducive to good sex to be honest.  So one part of our post-concert work was chasing away the girls who had been rejected for one reason or another by the groups, and who were left sadly littering up the dressing rooms after everyone had gone away.

I always found this a depressing business, trying to persuade stoned and very young and unhappy (they had been left behind by the bands after all) little girls that they had to go home and try again the following week.   Frequently they sort of hung on grimly in the hope that one or other musician would return to claim them, which of course never happened, so it could take a long time and a lot of hassle to get them to leave.

And as I said, they tended to be well below the age of consent, which appeared to worry no-one back then, but which I suppose is giving many an elderly Rock musicians sleepless nights now given the changed attitudes to such goings on.

Hot dog wars:

From the depressing to the ridiculous.   Outside the Roundhouse during these concerts there were a group of guys selling hotdogs from carts, most of whom we knew and liked well enough, and who cheerfully gave us free hotdogs as a sort of “license” fee for setting up their carts on our property.

However, after these concerts had been running for some time, a sort of mini-mafia in the hotdog world realised that good money was to be earned at the Roundhouse each Sunday, and decided to chase off the original sellers and set up their own guys there each weekend.


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Almost Shipwrecked On Mjojo

Back in the 60’s of the last century Lotty (my wife) and I lived on a superb African built wooden Gaff Rig Cutter called Mjojo (the Swahili diminutive of Josephine, the builder’s daughter) of about 42 foot length.

A superbly sea worthy boat which had already sailed almost all the way around the world when we bought her from her builder – an amazing sailor called Rod Pickering.


One day, on what was intended to be a pleasant day’s sail out of Newhaven, with Lotty, myself and a friend from the Roundhouse, Mike Waterman, we found ourselves in serious danger of being thrown onto the rocks and drowning.

Before setting out, we had (of course) listened to the shipping weather forecast, which promised us reasonably strong winds and clear visibility.  So, we cast off from the inner harbour of Newhaven (which for you non-Brits, is a fishing port on the south coast of England) and set out for a pleasant day on the English Channel.

After about an hour’s enjoyable sailing straight out to sea, the weather began to change, the wind getting stronger and stronger.  I listened to the shipping forecast again, and it was now telling me that we were about to be enveloped in a Force 12 to 14 storm.


Force 14?   What was that in God’s name?   I had never heard that there was anything stronger than force 12, but apparently it did go up to 14, which effectively was a hurricane…

We thought we probably had time to turn around and get back to the shelter of Newhaven harbour, so we duly turned about and headed for shore and we hoped, safety.

But luck was not with us, and the wind got stronger by the minute, and wasn’t in a good quarter for us to sail our remarkably heavy (24 tons) Gaff Rig cutter.   On top of which, the wind, which was blowing away from the shore, and thus more or less coming from where we were trying to sail to, the tide was also coming in, so we found ourselves in the unpleasant situation of wind over tide, which apart from any other effect, causes the waves to get higher and higher, as the wind tries to push the sea in the opposite direction to the tide.

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Travelling With Charlie Watts

Many years ago, around 1966 I was a student at St Martin’s School of Art (as it was called in those days) which is in Charing Cross Road, London.   Immediately opposite is Denmark Street, a small street where loads of music companies used to have their offices.

OK, so why the guided tour of London you ask?   Well simply enough, it is because among others, the Rolling Stones who were beginning to be very famous had an office there as well, so we saw a lot of the band as they went about their affairs there.

At the time I lived in a suburb of London called Brixton, which I travelled to and from via the London Underground every day, and it so happened that Charlie Watts also lived down that way, thus he frequently used the underground to get to and from home, and he and I used to chat about life and such things as we went home of an evening.   Very nice guy, by the way.


Anyhow, the point of this farrago is the way other travellers reacted to seeing Charlie Watts sitting there.   People sort of gazed at him, did double takes, but simply couldn’t believe it was really him, as of course, Rock Stars do not travel around in the underground – They travel in huge limos with body guards and so on……

For his part, Charlie Watts simply ignored everyone and behaved as if it was a perfectly normal thing for him to be on the underground, reasonably enough, and didn’t react to their stares.

In due time most people simply assumed it was a young man who looked remarkably like Charlie Watts and left it at that – But it was Charlie Watts.

Water Music – Whores, Thieves, Sex, Clarinets

I have just finished reading a very strange book, Water Music by T.C. Boyle, an author I had never heard of, but found to be an immensely enjoyable read.

In the publisher’s blurb, they give an idea of what it is about:-

A funny, bawdy, extremely entertaining novel of imaginative and stylistic fancy that announced to the world Boyle’s tremendous gifts as a storyteller. Set in the late eighteenth century, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, through London’s seamy gutters and Scotland’s scenic highlands—to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger.


Whilst to a degree, this is a realistic description of this book, it falls far short of the complex reality of the book.  This book starts of as a humerous look at the mixed up world of 18th Century Britain, drawing contrasts between urban and rural life in those days, and we are treated to a no holds barred look at the god awful life that most people led in those unsavoury days.

We are also introduced to the world of exploration, as the Great Powers of the time – France, Britain, Germany struggle to take over the rest of the world, and in this case, Africa. Specifically trying to find the fabled river, the Niger. This river is used as a sort of symbol for all that the white people hoped to extract from Africa – wealth, power and slaves.

Continue reading “Water Music – Whores, Thieves, Sex, Clarinets”