Jumpin’ in the Fire – Extract 1

Ever since I heard the valve-warmed strains of the Kingston Trio and the Big Bopper crackling from father’s prize possession – a 1953 mahogany Grundig radiogram – I had desperately wanted to play the guitar. On my tenth birthday my father bought me a three-quarter size classical model. It changed my life and though it would take me another fourteen years to achieve my dream I had taken my first step. Before I ventured to London, I had made a ‘demo’ tape. Basic recordings of six songs on a single seven-inch tape that I could hawk around Tin Pan Alley, hoping that someone, somewhere would say, ‘Wow! – we have to sign this boy’ or words to that effect.

I had five copies, all I could afford. It was a nerveracking experience to say the least and, after five straight days of rejection, I was exhausted, tired, hungry and broke. The choice was simple. I could either, at the age of 24, return home with my tail firmly between my legs or draw down on the ‘rugger bugger’ mentality that had been thrashed into me at boarding school and stay the course. I chose the latter.

The next week was decidedly ‘jungle’. I was searching through bins for food, sleeping rough in St James’s Park and taking my morning ablutions in the British Museum gentleman’s lavatories while all at once trying to keep the clothes I had on my back in a reasonably kempt and ordered state. The rest of my meagre wardrobe was in a suitcase at Paddington Station Left Luggage, but I no longer had the funds to retrieve it. So, resignedly, I tramped on and on, crisscrossing Soho and the West End until I had visited every record company and music publisher I could find. It was hopeless – I couldn’t get a sniff of interest until…the day my shoe broke!

I was passing the 20th Century Fox offices in Soho Square, looking at the huge movie posters in its windows rather than at where I was going, when the heel of my right shoe caught the edge of an uneven paving stone. Detaching itself, it skidded into the road, finally disappearing down the sluice of an adjacent gutter drain. After staring at the drain in utter shock for a moment, I rounded the corner into Carlisle Street where there was an unattended office foyer I could sit in for a while. It had become something of a haven in my gruelling trudge through the West End. I had always thought it to be some sort of accountant’s office or the like but, for the first time, screwed to a letter box on the inside of the large oak entrance door, I noticed the shiny brass plaque that read ‘Apollo Music’. I regained my composure and took the lift to the fourth floor.

I would soon learn that Apollo Music was a management and publishing vehicle for star songwriter Lionel Bart, but at this moment it was my last hope! When I arrived on the Fourth Floor it was as if I had been expected. I was greeted cordially by the staff and offered a cup of coffee while my tape was taken away and played by Lionel Bart’s business manager of the time, Stephen Komlosy. This was in sharp contrast to the treatment I had been used to in recent times. It was obviously a slow day! 

Nevertheless, it turned out to be my day. No-one commented on my dishevelled appearance, they simply told me how great my songs were. I was hired on the spot, given a small advance to find accommodation and told to report for work the following morning. I was IN – by the skin of my teeth and the heel of my shoe! The gamble to die like a tramp or live like a king seemed to have paid off. For now, anyway.