Jumpin’ in the Fire – Extract 2

I knew this long, thin, skinny guy with the mod haircut and oversize ears but I couldn’t remember from where. This long, thin, skinny guy with the mod haircut and oversize ears was sitting on a chintzy sofa in the main living room at the Brinsley Schwarz band residence in Northwood, an affluent Middlesex suburb. I had been invited along on an excursion from Headley to visit Help Yourself’s Downhome Productions stablemates for the day. I didn’t know anyone from the Northwood mob and had found my way into the lounge where the long, thin, skinny guy with the mod haircut and oversize ears was sat quietly reading a book.

He looked up briefly and smiled when I had entered the room but went straight back to the book. I sat down and picked up a copy of the New Musical Express and started to flick through the pages. It was as if we were both waiting to be interviewed for a job. Moments passed, and the long, thin, skinny guy with the mod haircut and oversize ears hadn’t looked up again. I was now positive I knew him.

‘I don’t want to appear rude but haven’t we met?’ I asked, rather nervously for fear I may be intruding.

‘I thought that when you walked in but I can’t think where.’

‘Neither can I. I’m Sean Tyla, by the way, I’m with the Helps,’ I said getting up and offering my hand.

‘Oh, okay, I’m Nick Lowe,’ said the mystery man, offering a hand, ‘I’m a Brinsley.’

‘Nick Lowe?’ I said, the penny beginning to drop. The memory cells were now in overdrive. ‘Let me try one out of left field here.’

‘Okay,’ Nick replied, a curious smile breaking across his face.

‘Rob Tarsnane?’

‘Good God!’ my companion exclaimed. ‘Rob Tarsnane! The Four Just Men! You and your brother – what’s his name?’

‘Garry.’

‘Yes, Garry! That’s it – bloody Rheindahlen – we were the Four Just Men! Well, blow me!’

At eleven years old, Nick was three years younger than me. My brother Garry was not quite thirteen and Rob Tarsnane was a year older than me. The Four Just Men consisted of me, on a NAAFI-grade nylon-strung guitar and vocals, Rob with a stunning Framus 12-string beauty, Garry on harmonica and a dodgy Prussian military snare drum from the Great War and Nick had a banjo which unfortunately only possessed three strings. We all lived close together at Rheindahlen, near Mönchengladbach in Germany, the joint headquarters of NATO’s 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force, the British Army on the Rhine and the Royal Air Force in Germany.

In those days, this gigantic base, the size of a large English town, was populated by British, American, German, Dutch, Belgian, Australian and Canadian military personnel and their families. My father was a British Army officer as was Rob’s, and Nick’s dad was an officer in the Royal Air Force. In fact, we would not have been allowed to socialise had our fathers not been officers. It was taboo in 1960 for officer’s children and other ranks’ offspring to mix. It was ingrained into us from an early age. At the huge United Services Officer’s Club on the base we even had our own ridiculously titled ‘Officers’ Teenagers Club’ which met daily in the club cellar and housed a two-lane bowling alley built by the Americans in 1954 when the club had opened. We also had our own dance night every Thursday during school holidays.

I was the social secretary of the club, so I booked our new band in for their inaugural gig, having had little or no rehearsal. Strictly speaking, Nick was technically barred from accessing the club because he was too young but he was tall and looked older; he donned a pair of his father’s sunglasses and we managed to sneak him in completely unnoticed. From the little memory I have of it, the band’s debut and indeed, only public performance was dire. I believe we played Michael Row The Boat Ashore at least four times, but only once in tune! I distinctly remember some booing during our piece de resistance, Tom Dooley; this was from a fat American kid in a large checked jacket who my brother savagely attacked in the men’s lavatories immediately the set had finished. The guy was older than, and ten times the size of, Garry but ‘our kid’ floored him nonetheless.

Garry was summarily banned from the club for the rest of the summer. My father, having received notification of the ban by letter, stopped Garry’s allowance too. Of course my father had no idea we had actually played on the night in question, otherwise he may have become apoplectic! Nick, Rob and I had a whip-round to keep Garry in Cokes and gum for a while. With our short career coming to such an abrupt end, the Four Just Men disappeared into Rheindahlen folklore. I would eventually discover that Rob Tarsnane went on to make a career as an art director for the BBC but here at Brinsleyville I had by chance, to my great glee, unearthed the infamous outfit’s erstwhile banjo player.