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Arthur Brown, Rockfield Studios and Me

Musicians Dirty Ray and Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010

Dirty Ray with the legendary Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010

In the early summer of 1970 or maybe 71, when I was fifteen (or sixteen) years old, my parents suggested I take up my uncle Harry’s offer of some summer employment at his petrol station and cafe in the village of Redbrook in the Wye valley outside Monmouth. My Uncle had two daughters who I had always got on with and nothing much was happening in Peterborough so I agreed. It was a good move. Alison the younger of my cousins was at Monmouth Girls School and therefore gave me access to a whole bevy of beautiful – if somewhat posh,  teenage schoolgirls.  The family had a nice house, a record player and a stack of Bob Dylan records and a more relaxed attitude to parental supervision than my parents.  There was a buzz about Monmouth too.  It had an old cinema which was now being managed by a ‘head’ in his mid-twenties and showed things like Easy Rider.  My cousins knew the manager so we usually had the’ royal’ box complete with curtains – handy  for those times when snogging with one of the Monmouth school girls needed to be a bit private. Even more intriguing was the recording studio apparently just up the road in a village with the wonderfully appropriate but genuine and ancient name of Rockfield. We knew that Dave Edmonds had recorded ‘I hear you knocking there’ and still lived in the area.  Andy Fairweather Low was also rumoured to be a local.

The evening hang out for me and my cousin was the Beaufort Arms. A faded but still respectable hotel in Monmouth town centre which tolerated us under aged drinkers of Forest Nut Brown ale in its back bar. Mr Edmonds was to be occasionally spotted there, suave in tight snakeskin trousers, propping up the bar.

One night Alison and I and a few others were in this establishment, perched on bar stools and feeling very grown up when a strange presence  was felt behind us.  I could discern, in the mirror behind the bar, a very tall man, seemingly dancing on the spot. When it didn’t seem too un-cool  I turned round to get a look at him.  He was a vision of strangeness.  Well over six feet tall, he had long lank brown hair but only on one side of his head.  He sported a beard and moustache but only on the opposite side of his face to the hair.  His trousers appeared to have been fashioned from an old Turkish carpet. I nodded to him, as you did in those days and he offered me an apple.  When I declined he dropped it into his beer. A buzz spread round the bar.  This was the legendary Arthur Brown.

After closing time I was in the car park waiting for my cousin before walking home when I was grabbed from behind, lifted off my feet and propelled across the tarmac to the open doors of a  transit van.  I was dumped in the van and the doors were closed. Over the next few minutes the doors opened again several times and half a dozen or so other abductees joined me in the back of the van – all of them female and young. This was intriguing and exciting but I don’t remember any of us being particularly scared by our apparent kidnapping.  Eventually Arthur and his manager got in the front of the van started the motor and declared we were invited to a party – at Rockfield studios.

We drove off into the Monmouthshire night and arrived some time later at the farm.  It was a farm.  There were cows and tractors and the studio was a converted barn with improvised sound insulation, mattresses and the like.

The party began.  There was live music including glorious mellotrons and a fabulous light show.  Exotic substances were being smoked.  I don’t think any of us youngsters were seriously compromised but at one point Arthur grabbed me, drew close me to his half shaved face and tried to kiss me, passionately.  It should be explained that at this time I was very slight and willowy and had shoulder length blond hair and was probably wearing velvet loons. I protested loudly, despite being somewhat flattered, that I was a guy. Arthur, somewhat shocked apologised and stumbled off to find someone of the other gender.  His manager, who had witnessed the encounter thought this was hilarious and promptly re-christened me Sarah. A name which stuck for the rest of my stay in Monmouth. Much later we were driven home by my older cousin, Christine who was dating one of the studio engineers – Ralph, who was also Keith Emerson’s  keyboard tech.

We hung out with Arthur and Kingdom Come for their stay at Rockfield.  Apart from the weekend when they all went off to play at a new festival in Glastonbury. An event which, to my eternal regret I was forbidden to attend by my Aunty Audrey. My older cousin did go though.

The album they were making was Galactic Zoo Dossier and we even took part in the recording – joining in on the chorus of a song which I recall featured the lyric ‘We want your brains for further education’ and holding down the keys on a Hammond organ to produce a throbbing swell that introduced  another track.   Strangely I never owned a copy of the album – probably peeved that I didn’t get a credit or royalties.

I did however acquire a copy of the legendary and rare Neon album by Spring – a local band who also recorded at Rockfield – a copy of which recently sold on E-bay for over seven hundred pounds.  I still have that album.

As a coda to this story a good friend of mine, one time lead singer of the Immaculate Fools and now recording as Dirty Ray did a few gigs in France a few years back with Mr Brown.  Ray recounted my story to Arthur and he swore he remembered the occasion – though not the failed embrace.   Even stranger, another friend of mine last year found himself driving Arthur for several hours to a gig somewhere in England and unprompted Arthur told his version of the story himself.

PS Since writing this I met Arthur again at Glastonbury  and had a chat. He did remember the party and we had a good laugh and reminisced about long distant days.

PPS A copy of the Spring album sold last month for over £1200.

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Camels, camels and more camels

Last leg of the journey now and we are staying outside Dese before beginning the final 400Km to Addis. There is an internet connection here but no way of getting photos uploaded. I will do that tonight from Addis. Since leaving Gondor we have been to Lalibela to see the rock hewn churches which are pretty amazing.
We have done lots of shoulder dancing to traditional Ethiopian music but with contemporary lyrics mainly about funny ferenji dancing badly – I believe. Great food and again fantastic people everywhere. The begging does get a bit wearing but I will write more about that when there is time.
Yesterday we drove up to nearly 4000m and then down to just abouve 2000m. Went through cloud and rain with locals clad in hides and woolly hats down to the hot steamy forests where there are camels galore and monkeys and …mosquitos again! Our drivers have been fantastic not only in their driving skills but also for putting up with us lot.

Group dynamics now getting a bit challenging as we are all tired but I think we shuld make it back to the UK without getting physical. That is if the UK isn’t burnt to a cinder. Honestly I turn my back for a few days and the whole country goes up in flames….

Into the mountains

Too tired to write much but… drove up into the Simian Mountains today searching for baboons, didn’t see any but heard them and foudn fresh poo. Walking in the mist with local guides and children. Cold and misty and no Enough. Off to Lalibela tomorrow. A long trip on rough roads. Here are some pictures:

Photos

 

 

 

Untweaked – will try to do more but such a slow connection

Horse drawn carriagein Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Horse drawn carriage in Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Bajaj (tuk-tuk), Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Bajaj, Debre Marcos, Ethiopia

Blue Nile, Ethiopia

Blue Nile, Ethiopia

Ethiopian children offering woven baskets to tourists

Marianne getting the hard sell and handing out pens

Woman carrying firewood down into Addis Ababa from the Eucalyptus forests

Woman carrying firewood down into Addis Ababa from the Eucalyptus forests

Two hippopotamuses in Lake Tana, Ethiopia

What you looking at?

Debre Markos – perhaps

Monday

Lunchtime start on the road to Debre Marcos . Hilton staff helpful and joshing as we pack the 4x4s. Then off through the suburbs of Addis . Teeming with activity and humanity and every type of vehicle imaginable – nearly all of them totally dilapidated.  Once out of Addis we pick up speed and pretty much maintain it at all times. This seems to be the norm. It is scary but again not really aggressive driving. The concept of slowing down when you enter a village does not exist. Horn used constantly just to say we are coming but everything carries on with donkeys, goats, horses, bajajs (Ethiopian name for tuk-tuks) and people somehow managing to narrowly avoid collision. The roads are lined with tin shack shops selling fruit, pots and pans, welding shops making gates and fencing, kids gathered round table football sets and table tennis tables.  Approaching and leaving towns and villages, hundreds of people walk by the side of the road or drive two wheel carts drawn by donkeys or horses. They carry huge amounts on their backs wrapped in khaki cloth. Outside Addis we see a constant stream of women of all ages carrying an unbelievable amount of firewood on their backs down from the forest to the city.  Not sure what distance they carry this but we were still seeing them about 10 miles out of the city.

The road doesn’t really change much and every town has the same incredible range of goods and humanity. Everywhere we go men and children wave and shout  or smile. Even in the distance working in the fields, the people can spot a ferenje vehicle and shout and wave or ululate or crack their whips. Once well out of the city we are in medieval agricultural territory. With thousands of acres being ploughed by oxen with long wooden ploughs, the men walking behind constantly laying the whip across the hind quarters of the oxen.  In the evening we see the men carrying the huge ploughs back home on their shoulders. Cattle here are not sacred but the way they wander into the road they possibly think they are.

Eventually the terrain changes as we enter the more mountainous areas and climb up to the ridge of the Blue Nile gorge. We stop at a vantage point to look at the view. There is no-one in sight but within about one minute of getting out of the vehicle people begin to appear running up the hillside clutching woven baskets and carved stone crosses. The pressure to buy becomes a little uncomfortable with these young adults and children trying every technique from cute to pleading to mildly aggressive ‘You mister, you buy this now. 30 birr. You give me now’ Accompanied by menacing stares!  But as he is only about 12 and stick thin ………

Then we are winding down the gorge to the bridge over the Blue Nile.  We are allowed to walk over the old bridge but not the new one which is guarded by soldiers with rifles.  The Blue Nile is decidedly brown. As we climb up the other side of the gorge we pass a tree clattering with bird noise and when we look it is decorated with dozens of woven nests suspended from the branches and twice that number of bright yellow birds.

Soon we are driving in the dark which the guide books say is really not a good idea. I  agree entirely. If driving during the day was scary this is terrifying and the lights on the truck are not too impressive either. People and animals loom out of the dark every few minutes and it is really hard to see the regular holes in the road.

After an hour or so we reach town and the hotel.  The drivers tell us ‘no more night driving’. The hotel has rooms but no electricity. Then they do and then they don’t then they do again but it waxes and wanes. Anyway there are beds and it is secure and we eat there and the food is good. We sleep OK but are woken several times by the dogs howling in an amazing cacophony which doesn’t last long and finishes so abruptly it is as if someone flicked a switch. Rebecca says it is because they hear the hyenas coming and they will pick out a dog to separate off and kill.

Morning comes and we have tea and French toast and get back on the road.

The road becomes even more crowded with agricultural vehicles and workers and we pass through many towns all buzzing with activity – country people,  people in modern dress, priests with matching umbrellas.

Soon we head off the main road and stop to ask for a waterfall that Rebecca wants us to see. It is called Fang but no-one seems to have heard of it, even when we get really close they do no t know the name. Then we are off down a very rough mud track lined with mud houses, lots of kettles smoking outside and very thin horses and cattle. The people  obviously  do not see many ferenje go by their front doors. Almost everyone waves and shouts and the kids run after us for miles. This is a very muddy track and at times even our 4×4 vehicles struggle. The track ends in a newly planted field and we now have about 15 of the most determined kids with us. Many of them speak a little English and they are obviously going to guide us down to the waterfall – whether we like it or not.

The path is steep and slippery and the kids are at times a hindrance rather than a help – vying to grab at your every limb and place your foot in the safest place in their opinion or trying to stop you touching poisonous plants. To my horror my guide decides to call me granddad and congratulates me on every step for making it as if I am in my eighties. The climb down is short and definitely worth it. The waterfall is not high but the power of the water cascading over the ridge is awe inspiring with the spray reaching us hundreds of yard away.  I take time to get out the gorilla pod and put an ND filter on the camera  so I can blur the water – and later discover a huge blob in the middle of the filter ruining all my efforts. It is all a bit rushed – especially for a granddad. When we reach the top I tell my guide I will wait for my wife. He asks which one is my wife with a look of incredulity. When I point out Marianne he punches me good naturedly and congratulates me for getting myself a young wife.

Then things go a bit wrong. Fion is crying and says his money – only 10 birr or so –has been stolen by the village kids. Johnny gets upset and starts shouting at the kids. The drivers get wind of this and somehow think a mobile has been stolen and go running off into the village pursuing two young boys. The atmosphere turns dark. Rebecca arrives and gets very angry with Johnny for kicking off at the kids. Just when we think it can’t get any worse the whole adult population starts to arrive and surround the vehicles. Rebecca looks worried that this could turn very unpleasant. There are maybe 200 hundred villagers and the drivers are missing and the vans are locked. But things seem to calm down and the drivers re-appear though they are still threatening some of the kids. We go back to the vans and give our guides some money and sweets but the frenzy starts again with many children shouting for money and stopping us getting into the vehicles. It is not menacing but hard to control. An older boy is trying to stop the children begging with not much success but eventually we are all on board and manage to set off again with dozens of villagers running alongside us and people waving from all the houses.

We learn just how easily wars start! And perhaps to be a bit more sensitive. Still don’t know what really happened – maybe Fion dropped the money. Most villagers seemed horrified to think that someone would steal from their guests. Then again kids are kids the world over.

Back to the main road and off towards Bahir Dar – our next stop on the shore of Lake Tana. Travel is exactly as before – frenetic with lots of swerving and braking hard. Swimming  through a throng of people and animals.

When we reach our chosen hotel the Guion on the lake I admit to being initially  disappointed as I thought it was going to be an idyllic spot on the shores of a lake with gently lapping water and chalets opening on to the shore. But the town is actually on the lake and the hotel is on a busy road though in a compound. The hotel is extremely run down. To call it one star would be extremely generous. In Europe it would be condemned in an instant. Our room is very damp and the furniture is ancient and filthy and the bathroom wet and black with mold. The electrics are fragile and intermittent. But it is secure and safe and we are tired so we check in. It is also very cheap.  Maybe £10 per night. The lake is hidden behind corrugated iron sheets but there are beautiful if dilapidated gardens andthe birds are spectacular and very tame, eating off the tables and sitting in trees all around us. We get settled in after we have had room changes because of non-working locks and dodgy electrics.

We eat on a veranda built round a huge tree. The food is good and again very cheap and the staff very friendly. There are many nationalities here -English, German, Catalan, Belgian. The lake is huge – like a sea really with no sign of the far shore. There is a monastery near buy with amplified chanting of the monks until midnight. The shore path is busy with an air of ne’er do well about it. But we eat good food and go to bed with lots of mosquitos trying to find a way into our net. Tired but feeling secure and healthy if a little damp.

Before dark we go for a short walk and visit the luxury hotel next door which is five star and currently houses the friend s of Rebecca we met in Addis. It is low season and we could stay there for a very reasonable rate but still ten times what we are paying at the Guion.

The next day is sunny and the gardens are beautiful and the birds are back in cups. Breakfast is fine then we head off for the market. Nothing like Mercato but still a shock to all the senses with open sewers criss-crossing it and again we are the subject of much attention from both stall holders and children. All friendly and many with a few words of English.

I am going to try and post this and add fotos later – whilst we have a connection

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Mercato

Mercato is apparently Africa’s biggest outdoor market. But if that gives the impression of acres of canvas covered stalls it is not like that all. It is more a vast area dedicated to trading. Yes there are pitches on the streets but there are also wooden shacks, corrugated iron shacks, mud wall buildings and indoor arcades. And you can buy just about anything – including apparently camels though we did not see any. A few words to sum up my thoughts about Mercato would include chaotic, muddy, noisy, confusing, and bewildering. The guide books all issue dire warnings about crime in this market and I guess they have some justification but I wish I had risked bringing my camera. We picked up a ‘guide’ as soon as we arrived – this time a middle aged guy. Actually I will go back a bit and talk about the taxi ride first.

Taxis in Addis are all blue painted Ladas. Old Ladas and the odd Datsun. Those Datsuns from the 70s that are shaped a bit like Ford Capris. Sara Mac used to call them greaseball cars. The paint jobs are hand done – I mean painted by hand rather than sprayed. These cars are small and decidedly tatty and smoky and many don’t have lights. They all have a piece of material – like chenille or sometimes fake fur – draped over the space between the dashboard and the screen. You get a cab by finding one and negotiating a price. We are a big group so we always need two. Rebecca does the bargaining as we don’t speak Amharic. This can take some time and it is tempting to not argue over another 50p but that is just not the way it is done. Anyway eventually we are all aboard and we cast off into the river of traffic like flotsam bobbing about in a stream. Driving in Addis is completely bonkers but it is not at all aggressive – very little horn blowing – but then they probably don’t work.  Somehow every vehicle plus a few donkeys, goats, camels (tho we are yet to see one) and pedestrians just about manage to avoid collisions. The fumes are horrendous and add that to the lack of oxygen and it can be very unpleasant. There are buses too – big ones and mini-buses but we haven’t braved them yet. They are seriously overcrowded though everyone is inside – they don’t seem to allow hanging off the outside or climbing on the roof. They don’t have any indication of where they are going and I wonder how you get off if you are at the back and your stop comes up.

Anyway we get to the market and the first thing you notice is that everyone is staring at you – with nothing more than fascination for the most part – I am sure most of these people, except  perhaps some of the children have seen white people before but maybe not often. The market does attract traders from miles around though so I suppose there will be some who might not have seen many white people. Many, many people want to practice however much English they have and smile away at us –some just say Lampard or Beckham or Manchester and grin. But there are also the children with little trays of bubblegum or fruit or strange twiggy things that I have not got a clue about and you are a definite target for them. The approach ranges from plaintive pleas to buy something to what they call ferenje fever – foreigner fever – where half a dozen or more of these children surround you chanting  ‘You You YOU!’  thrusting their wares in your face. Somewhat unnerving but our self-appointed guide shouts at them and they go way.  There are a couple of moments when you feel people are deliberately blocking your path and you are getting sort of bundled but with a little determination we rapidly extricate ourselves. Obviously you do not have bags open and stick in a little group.

Thing is, it is so easy to get distracted. I feel like I am in one of those documentaries they used to show at tea-time on a Sunday afternoon – the World About Us or something. It is all very colourful – huge sacks of spices and incense and bundles of charcoal, and coffee roasters and twig burners fashioned from old tin cans. And huge drums of cooking oil pierced by hand pumps for dispensing into anything from cups to 5 litre cartons. The people are almost as varied as the goods on offer with dozens of different tribal garments, ancient women squatting on sacks of turmeric, younger women with babies slung on their backs, pitiful beggars with leprosy, other who just crawl along the roads with twisted or missing limbs. The smells change every few yards too – one minute it is roasting coffee, then chilli spices (don’t sniff them we are warned), then incense, then something disgusting, then goats. The whole place assaults your every sense. Many stalls seem to sell just one thing but maybe in different sizes – so it might be baskets , or aluminium pans or incense. It is incredibly colourful and fascinating to look at. Another thing I did not expect are the roads – the main ones are tarmac but many of the twisty side streets and alleys are just huge chunks of stone and mud. You have to watch your step all the time – you could easily fall and that would not be much fun on those rocks. There is constant activity here – lorries reversing, donkeys – some of them seemingly on their own running down the streets, a man with a pile of green and yellow mattresses twice as tall as he is on his head, people cooking and roasting over charcoal.

Soon it is starting to get dark and we decide it is time to find taxis again. I did grab a few shots on my phone but I would love to go back with the big camera – and maybe a couple of minders.

Having dificulty with uploading at the moment. Also we are both poorly and under the doctor… should survive . But maybe no update for a while

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Time to stop tinkering

Chicken shed on wheels, Barham

Chicken shed on wheels, Barham

 

OK I have got to stop tinkering with this website.

For the moment anyway.

I feel strangely nervous about going public though most of my good friends already know my stuff. But there are those that only know the IT side of me. I should have been a gemini – if I believed in all that stuff. Anyway one of the reasons for updating my website was because I want to be able to blog from Ethiopia. A difficult time to be going to that country as a relatively affluent western tourist – feeling a bit nervous about that too but cancelling now is not going to help anyone.

In the future I want to add archive stuff from my time as a photographer in the 80s but that will have to wait a while. Then maybe a glasto archive and the dance stuff I did with Extemporary Dance in the late seventies.

I welcome your comments and suggestions. Or commissions. And everything is for sale of course.

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Post Glastonbury 2011

Leftfield tent beyond a sea of mudSeems like an age since we got back from Glastonbury. It was fun as ever but I confess it gets more exhausting as I get older – especially when there is mud and there was plenty this year. The car parks seem to get further away each year – must have been two miles with a double trolley load to get Marianne’s extensive wardrobe to the tent. Who thought it was fair to let all the chattering classes with their single decker bus sized Winnebagos and all mod con caravans park nearer the entrance than the poor punters carrying everything on their backs?

Anyway it was good to meet up with old mates, eat lots of good food and shelter from the rain in the excellent Tadpole Stage tent. Heard some damn fine music too despite – or maybe because – I rarely ventured near the Pyramid or Other stage. I am putting together some of the photos which you can find under the Galleries menu at the top of the page.

I am looking forward to a year off in 2012 though….

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Progress

At long last technical problems with my webpages seem to be over. Very soon everything should be back up and running with additional content too.