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Where does time go? I don’t really want an answer to that, as I think there maybe a plug hole at the other end of the universe. To get straight back on track, with no more ado, already half a century has slipped by since the Beatles released the ground-breaking Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fifty years to the very day. Right at the beginning of the Summer of Love, June 1st 1967, it came out. So where’s my very tenuous connection to this tumultuous event?
Well, there is one, however much it may seem like clutching at the coattails of transferred fame. So I’ll blurt it out. I once managed to introduce a budding artist to the album’s designer:1960s pop artist, Peter Blake. Or Sir Peter Blake, as he was by then. It was at a cocktail party held in New York’s exclusive Norwood Club, back in December 2008. And I didn’t have to sneak into the swish watering hole Wikipedia lists as the club for “New York City’s arts and creative community”, like I usually do. I was actually invited. Now, how did that come about? Well, I’ll tell if you give me half a chance
It was the climax of a week packed with arty-farty treats. We’d been staying with my old friend Lee Tribe, the sculptor, and his painter wife, Steffi Franks, at their loft apartment in arty-farty Greenwich Village. And we’d been visiting art galleries.
Having been invited to New York to attend the wedding of LA-based record producer and composer, Will Bates and Sarah Bereza – another artist – I thought I’d drag my partner Angelica Westerhoff along to the prenuptial cocktail party being held for friends of the families in New York’s most exclusive haunt for people like we want to be. An artist herself, Anji likes meeting famous artists. She doesn′t really get much of a chance, as there aren’t too many about in our little pueblo.
Will is the son of actor Ralph Bates, who some might remember from Hammer horror films, the John Sullivan comedy series Dear John and the original 1970s version of the classic TV series Poldark, in which Ralph played nasty, old George Warleggan.
I’d known Will for ages, cradling him in my arms for the first time at St Mary’s Hospital on London’s Goldhawk Road, a couple of days after he was born. Not that I cradle him in my arms now he’s grown up. He lives in Los Angeles, so I can’t. Ralph and his wife, Virginia Wetherell – also an actor who appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s cult film Clockwork Orange – were two of my dearest friends in London. Along with a small group of others, we spent many happy weekends and Christmases together. Unfortunately, Ralph died of pancreatic cancer in 1991.
To get back to the point, which is? … Peter Blake, that’s right. Though readers may have forgotten, Peter Blake is the driving force here. Sort of. And the Beatles, of course. It is their day, after all. But The Beatles weren’t friends with Ralph and Virginia, whereas Peter Blake was. All I can say is: that was their loss. The Beatles’ loss, I mean.
Though Peter had great difficulty recalling the occasions of our meetings, when I introduced him to Anji – bless the old dear’s cotton socks – Peter’s cotton socks, not Anji’s. Where was I? Ah, yes, Peter and I had bumped into each other quite a few times at the Bates’ family home in Chiswick. Not surprising, given the circumstances. That he’d forgotten who I was. I do it myself sometimes. Forget who I am. We’re both at that time of life. Hang on, I’m coming to the real reason why, next. A couple of years after Ralph passed away, a group of his old mates – including Sir Peter and myself – would gather in his memory on the Sunday before Christmas. We’d down more than a couple of glasses of mulled wine and chomp our way through a few plates of mince pies, which may have been fortified with strong spirit, before setting out to sing in the pubs on Chiswick High Road, and its adjoining streets. It may not sound like the Peter Blake you know, if you know him at all, but it’s the Peter Blake I knew back then. Anyhow, that’s why I might have become a bit of a blur in Peter’s memory. And, though I can’t speak for Peter, I may have had a teeny-weeny puff or two on some herbal cigarettes. Unless you’ve done it, you don’t know what it’s like. Not weed, singing in public. But weed too, if I think about it. We needed the courage required for Yuletide wassailing in pubs and outside peoples’ homes. They can get nasty. Not to forget, of course, that it was in aid of a very good cause. We sacrificed our dignity in order to raise money for a charity Virginia set up in Ralph’s name: The Ralph Bates Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. We deserved a few drinks. We got a few. Very few. And a few rounds of applause. Ralph would have wanted it that way. He’d have been amazed how much people will pay to make you go away. And laughed about it all the way home. Just like we did.
So, that’s how I got to introduce Angelica to the designer of one of the most iconic LP covers in history. Hence my tenuous connection Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and to this day. I did say it was very tenuous right at the beginning.
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