In the beginning was Lennox Avenue, a blues band with my school friend Colin Goddard as guitarist, a drummer called Charlie Irani, and I forget who else, I think another former classmate was on bass. I remember how Colin decorated his cheap guitar to make it look superficially like a Gibson Les Paul. I'm not sure how I got involved with the band, maybe because Colin dated my sister, maybe because I could solder cables, fix amplifiers etc, maybe just because I liked the kudos of being around a band.
Anyway, one way and another I wound up helping out and going with the band when they performed. I was 17, a sixth-former and my pocket money couldn't often stretch to going to see bands, so just getting in free was a thrill for me.
Somewhere along the line I got to the Magic Village, probably the event on the poster shown on Greasy Bear's page. I think the idea of my going to a late night club in the city centre raised my parents' eyebrows, even more the idea of my younger sister doing the same, but amazingly they let us go. Perhaps they were mollified by the fact that the club did not serve alcohol, so they saw it more as a youth club. It was an eye opener, people who played the sort of music I liked, and people who were, not to put too fine a point on it, eccentric.
So of course I had to go back, whether it meant paying (when I could), helping bands, or just sneaking in when no-one was looking. Sometimes they had a free-entry art workshop in the afternoons and from there one might arrive at the evening gig as a sort of stowaway.
Another beginning was a couple of classmates, Iain and Roger, who had a mobile disco. Second-hand and home-made equipment carted around to youth clubs etc. in Iain's dad's Morris Minor van. Iain had been my best friend at school for ages.
In early 1969 at the Village I got chatting to a Salford engineering student called Phil. I was about to start studying engineering as Manchester University that year, and we found a mutual interest in lighting effects. He however planned to abandon engineering and switch to printing. He'd discovered he could draw and had his eyes on a career in commercial art. He was especially good at drawing with mapping pens in the style of Aubrey Beardsley. Over Magic Village coffee we discussed our plans for the future.
We got around to talking about accommodation, and remarked that there were some incredibly cheap houses for sale in Salford due to slum clearances and the associated 'planning blight'. At that time if a house was demolished and the owner had not been there over three years, no compensation was paid, so around 3 years before the scheduled demolition prices fell to almost zero. We had the crazy idea we should get together and buy one rather than paying rent for student accommodation. It had been a rule at Manchester that all 'freshers' must live their first year in halls of residence, but that rule had been dropped the previous year, I suppose due top shortage of space. There was also the minor problem the 'children' were not allowed to own houses, we would not be 'adults' until we reached 21. But that very year the age of majority was reduced to 18.
There was one more problem, the usual one, money. While the houses were cheap, they weren't free, and even if we pooled our term's student grant, we wouldn't have enough cash. Eventually we accepted that we couldn't do it on our own, the only possibility was to involve someone else. Well Iain was also planning to study at Manchester, and so he got roped in, not only into the house deal but also into the band scene. He found a ready market for his equipment, not so much as a mobile disco, but for PA hire. His dad had bought a new car, and he was now the proud owner of the old Morris Minor van.
So a new term and our own house, which soon became home to a motley collection of intermittently functional cars and motorbikes. Iain found business thriving, and Phil discovered a market for his drawings, as advertising posters for gigs at Salford Union, selling further copies at the events. I helped out here and there humping speakers, manning the poster stall etc, in return for free admission and maybe a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale if I was lucky. As the only competent cook in the house, one night I made up a big bowl of flour-and-water paste for fly-posting because no-one could afford glue. Those posters were reputed to have stayed up twice as long as any others, I'm surprised they didn't go mouldy or get chewed by rats. For some reason that now escapes me we bought a scrap Gestetner duplicator from a firm of accountants in Manchester and began printing stuff on that.
One way and another we were involved in a lot of the student social life of the city, and I got the idea to put together a What's On news-sheet. Got little advertising to pay for the cost of materials, and went around every week or two to find out what events the universities and major venues had planned. Begged or borrowed use of an IBM typewriter to lay out the text, then rushed to the Gestener sales office just before it closed on a Friday afternoon to get an 'electro-stencil' cut from my artwork. We called it "Please Take One" and handed them out to student unions, on the poster stall, gave some to Mike Don to put on his news stand. I think he sold some of our posters too.
One night there was a Greasy Bear gig at the Cavern in Liverpool. I'd heard that sweat dripped from the walls, I didn't realise it also pooled on the floor. The floors were all on different levels, and at one point carrying a large speaker I put my feet together and skated on the sweat down one of the sloping flagstones that connect the level. The changing room extractor fan had broken down; the muggy atmosphere and cigarette smoke combined to produce such a smog you couldn't see one end of the room from the other. It was a cold November night, but I had the van window down and my shirt off most of the way home, trying to cool off.
Somewhere around here I should mention the Eccles Squat, a large house which now features as a foundation of the M602 motorway. John Gibson and Chris Lee from Greasy Bear were living there along with various others, including Sue Lear (later Sue Curry) who did a lot of my typing for me, and Ian 'Damson' Adamson, who welcomed visitors to the house with the greeting "Got any Dope? Got any drugs?" It became a second home to us.
One day on my way there on my motorbike I spotted a tightly folded 5 pound note in the gutter. On arriving at the squat, one of the girls accosted me "Have you got any money, we haven't eaten all day?". Oh well, easy come, easy go. One morning I arrived just in time for coffee. Most of the housemates were in the kitchen, John Gibson was still sleeping off the night before. Someone decided to check out how together he was, and put green dye in his coffee. Bleary: "Does this coffee look OK to you?" "Yes John." "What colour is it?" "Brown John." "Not green?" "No John."
Moving up in the world, Iain got himself a Transit van, and added van hire to his rental services, which meant more work for me, carrying more equipment, and sometimes driving. He became the regular transport for Greasy Bear, John Gibson had a mini-van but it was in the final stages of terminal decay. Our registration plate began OTW, so didn't need much addition to read "On Tow", a common situation.
One memorable occasion another band's Transit broke down somewhere near Coventry, and we went out to rescue them. I ended up driving the crippled van back to Manchester on the end of about 10 feet of rope. I had two girl hitch-hikers on board, and I never even got to see what they looked like, my eyes had to be glued to the back of Iain's van the whole time, because the only way to be sure to avoid bumping was for me to be his brakes, responding instantly to his brake lights.
Another night I hired his van myself for a little freelance work somewhere in Cheshire. On the way home it blew a piston, laying down a smokescreen that soon attracted the attentions of the police. Iain made me strip and repair the engine at my own expense. I should have gone to Hertz.
One regular student haunt outside of the band scene was the 'Poly Disco', at the Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University). Two or three hundred students in a large bare hall dancing to records played by a DJ in a side room, and drinking bottled beer. One night I met an Californian girl, here doing a 'grand tour'. I was trying to chat her up but I don't think she was very impressed. Suddenly everything went quiet. We duly stood around chatting, waiting for the next record, but obviously something had broken down. After about 10 minutes someone I didn't know made their way through the crowd and approached me. "Aren't you the electronics guy." "Uh huh" "Could you have a look at the amplifier, its broken down". "Well, I'll look, but I'm not equipped to do much else". I looked. It was the old valve workhorse, a Mullard 510, very crude and simple, and they usual thing had happened to it, it was being over-driven and had flashed over, burning the valve base and melting some minor components.. I had a penknife in my pocket, and I scrounged a cigarette lighter, that was all the tools I could muster. Scraped away the burnt Bakelite to restore insulation. Cut away the damaged hum-suppressor circuit and joined the wires, melting the solder with the lighter, and lo and behold, it worked! A bit noisy, but no-one would notice that, with rock music going through it. Back to the American, who was looking at me a bit differently now. I did get to go out with her, even got a visit to meet her folks in San Diego the next summer.
One of our last engagements as a team was PA hire for a supporting band at the Black Sabbath performance in Blackpool. As we were setting up, Black Sabbath discovered their lighting engineer had not turned up. "Can anyone work this lighting rig?" Iain and I looked at each other.
The Winter Gardens stage lighting system was identical to the 1940's set-up we had known in the school theatre. OK we never actually did lights there, we had been the sound crew, but what the heck, how hard can it be? So while Iain looked after his precious PA, I mapped out the filter colours and set up the stage lights for Black Sabbath.
No-one complained, so I guess I got away with it.