Autumn is well on its way here in the east midlands, the temperature has dropped, the nights have drawn in and there’s a weekend of rain ahead.
Change is gonna come. I have just finished a job that’s kept me happy and entertained since May last year. Best of all it’s allowed me enough time to finish blog posts while at work, probably the nearest I will ever come to being a professional writer.
For many years September/October was like the start of a new year to me, that’s because for a lot of my life it was, either starting a new term or a new school or a new university. Even after that came to an end it always felt quite exciting when the weather cooled and the city began to fill up with a new bunch of fresh faced students.
And so 40 years ago I should have been starting on another chapter of my life. For some reason I had decided to apply for an Environmental Studies course at Plymouth Polytechnic. As with a lot of my life decisions in retrospect I have to think what the fuck was I doing? I had a passing interest in the environment but far less than I do now. Also why did I think it was a good idea to go to Plymouth, it’s about as far as you can get from Norwich without leaving England. I think I was living out some Springsteen fantasy about breaking away from the small town but why Plymouth I really don’t know.
So having spent a whole day travelling there, staying overnight and attending an interview and spending all day travelling back I was offered a place conditional on me getting 3 grade Ds at A level.
I can’t remember much about results day, I think I just got a letter informing me, it wasn’t a huge deal, there was no social media, my family had only just bought their first ever telephone (which is still there by the way) so there was not the level of frenzy about the results there is today.
I had gained 3 grade E’s, In the space of a few years I had slipped from being in the top 10% in the school to the bottom 10% in my 6th form, the result was so bad that even I was disappointed with it.
I contacted Plymouth Polytechnic to inform them that I had failed to achieve the grades they wanted. Much to my surprise they wrote (yes wrote!) back to tell me they would accept me anyway.
This posed something of a dilemma. I sat down and made a list of pros and cons of the course. I then listed my core values and made a projection of where I saw myself in 5, 10 and 20 years’ time.
No I didn’t.
I bought a bottle of wine and cycled about the Norfolk countryside drinking as I went. By the time the bottle was empty I had made a decision.
I wrote (yes wrote!) to Plymouth and said thanks but I would not be going.
And there ended my environmental career.
The real deal breaker for me was that all that writing took up several days and there was a real possibility I would now struggle to get accommodation, It was not unusual for students to actually have to sleep on floors initially if they had had a late acceptance before they were placed in some terrible B&B miles away. In the pre social media days this was social suicide.
Little did I know but I was an early adopter of the ‘gap year’, virtually all my school friends would be leaving for further education, some of my older friends would be going back to university. The only person left behind would be my bass playing friend Robbo and me, at least we had a rhythm section!
In retrospect what amazes me is how people just disappeared out of my life at this point, there was no easy way to keep in touch. My friend Chris who had been quite influential in my life over the last few years, who had been in my first ever folk group with me and had introduced me to other people who also played, went to Liverpool to study medicine I think. I never saw him again. There were plenty of people like that, my oldest friend Phil was off to Warwick, Dunc was off to Birmingham, by the time the weather changed it was just me and Robbo left.
Change is one of the few certainties of our lives. The other is death of course and this week we have lost a couple more from my youth. The first was Walter Becker from Steely Dan. They really were the 70’s Beatles without the hits. The musos liked them, Sucho the guitarist in my first rock band lent me The Royal Scam which I listened to fervidly, just seconds of the intro to Kid Charlemagne takes me back to lying on the settee on our front room with the ‘cans’ on, my parents had invested in a new music centre which offered better hi fi possibilities then my basic record player. I still maintain that some of the best rock guitar playing of all time can be heard on the Dan albums.
Anyway a far more eloquent tribute is located here.
The other loss is Holger Czukay of Can, a man who resembled a college lecturer rather than the bass player in an innovative German band. Can were a hip name to drop in the 70’s Johnny Rotten was a big fan but there were many many more. I was slightly ambivalent having owned a compilation CD with material such as ‘Spoon’ and ‘Future Days’ which was great but everything else I have heard by them sounds a bit too much like a hippie jam to me.
One thought I have had is, could Can be the first 70’s band to die first? We have lost the guitarist, bass player and drummer there’s only a couple left (matters are slightly complicated by the fact that they had two vocalists at different times). It’s a macabre but interesting thought, there’s always speculation about what bands still have the personnel to reform should they wish to do so but so far I can’t think of any significant bands from the 70’s at least were all the members are no longer with us.
Think on, and let’s hope my new employers allow me a bit of leeway.