Bronze frogs and dreamy fish in lily pond, Blow bubbles in silver moonlit splendor. Humans sleep, wrapped in viral misery, Dreams of normalcy fill their cluttered minds. What though is normal? Myriad thoughts abound, No two experiences quite the same, Each second of existence different, Past times impossible to recreate, At best we may sometimes approximate. Memories fail in tandem with clapped out Computer hard drives, piled high, awaiting The rigours of the recycling plant. I recall the time when I too set off, As normal, to blow bubbles at the moon.
Harry Rogers, In The Red Bedroom, 29th April 2021.
Like mockingbirds come out to play On sandy beach after midday Young lads kick footballs on the strand Like boys in any other land Pass and shoot each one a mocker Of their favourite stars from soccer All day long they run and they shout Slender bodies leaping about
When ere the moon does beam so bright Like mockingbirds they play all night High above a drone flew spying Four soon lay dead, four more crying Two missiles launched in clear sunshine One more sad day in Palestine Into abyss Earth on the slide Young mockingbirds forced now to hide Distraught parents filled with anguish Truth lies masked whilst journos languish Remote pilots have all saved face Israeli judges closed the case
Justice seems so far out of reach For young mockingbirds on the beach.
The embodiment of global Britain, Thirty billion pounds worth, obselete Before it sails single nautical mile, Soon to plough through waves off coast of China, Loaded to gunwales with US hardware. Ancient sabre rattle cacophony Echoes around corridors of power. Health service finances wrecked across the land, Cancer waiting lists grow ever longer, Meanwhile Admirals play stupid war games With toys commissioned by corrupt MPs, Paid for by ripped off hard working classes. We must stop rampant militarism, The question is “How much do we want to?”.
Cross of Saint George flies high in beer garden. This flag, besmirched by racist history, Beloved by English Defence League thugees, Now adopted in sheer desperation, By those who believe they still mean something, To those communities so long ignored, Whose votes, taken for granted, in Blair years, Now needed again to bolster careers. Mandelsonian scoundrels in their last, London based, refuges, venture Northwards, In a futile attempt to emulate, A distorted vision of Englishness. Unlike Welsh, Scottish and Irish neighbours, There’s no English culture behind the cross. Artificial football loyalty schemes, Incorporated into Britannia, Cannot be subsumed by socialism, Without recognition of history. Labour on the cross? Self crucifixion. Desperation leads not to born again, Only to irrelevant derision. Hardie spins ever faster in his grave.
Harry Rogers, In The Red Bedroom, 26th April 2021.
The ghost of the spud headed spad Stalks the ramparts of Number Ten. Something rotten in Albion Stinks like dead mice down the sofa. Populist tactics drafted in, From those chums across the pond. Skeletons queue up for release, From inside Downing Street closet. More than a whiff of change in the air, Feels like, could be, final hurrah For last of the Bullingdon boys. No-one quite sure who to believe, The how nor the why nor the what. We wince as our cash is trousered, By fly by night crooks via phone, Still haystack bonce rides high with those, Who couldn’t wait to get it done. They made our bed with hidden tacks, Now all of us insomniacs.
Harry Rogers, In the Yellow Room, 24th April 2021.
The Hot Club de France on Radio Three, Listen to Cou-Cou from nineteen forty. Whistful memory, my dad in fifties, Plays Django classics on accordion, I miss the news through sunshine afternoon, Catch a quick glimpse as BJ denigrates Climate activists as bunny huggers. This serial adulterous liar, Who ignores all rules, decries probity, Claims to support football fans against greed, Agrees special deals for tax avoiders, Comes across on zoom more coked than his spads, His stats based on policy not yet writ, Spreads public funds with casual largesse. Put aside crazy pandemic capers, Who, despite all these shortcomings, commands A fourteen point lead in the latest polls, Treats future citizens with crude contempt. Bunny Hugger? Silly bugger, Pension mugger, Tory fucker.
Harry Rogers, In the Yellow Room, 23rd April 2021.
Send Tony Blair to Point Nemo, Forsaken spot in Pacific, As far away as one can be, From broadcasting technology. Ensure no microphone access, No platform to pontificate, Nonsensical, his mass debate. Mass murderers have not the right, To pollute airways, day or night. He feels need to spout on vaccine, This jaded ghoul bobs up, obscene, On my digital radio, Gives support to equal pultroon. I press off switch in red bedroom. Each time he speaks to slimy hack, More tears well up for dead Iraq.
By Poppit Sands, hawthorne and gorse Bloom spectacularly in April sun. Above our garden watch a magpie Harry, and torment, a large red kite, From village, on, down the valley. Tulips overtake daffodils, Trees, well budded, ready to burst, We tend our vegetable plot, Spring brings new possibilities. Far away, in palace of dreams, Veneers peel to reveal more lies, Spads rehearse corrupt alibis, First lord of the treasuary, Teflon coated in new playpen, Rises still higher in the polls, Super league crumbles into dust, Working class heroes, shit or bust, Cry out “It’s Boris wot dunnit.” Meanwhile, in second division, Lord labour gets barred from a pub. I watch robin in the birdbath, Wait for news of my second jab, Get tools ready to build a gate, The sun shines, blossom starts to fall.
You Are Still Here, words etched on glass mirror. I stand at Fundació Joan Miró In Barcelona, for one more birthday, Four months before pandemic disaster. I like his idea, reflect on being, Whilst I look at reflection of myself. How long ago that trip now seems to be. I’ll go there again, when the way is clear, When latest pale rider trots out of here. Meanwhile, the thing that fills my heart with cheer, More than a glass of golden foamy beer, More than desire for gigs later this year, Cuts through all the media induced fear, Is the very fact that YOU are still here.
Harry Rogers, In the Yellow Room, 19th April 2021.
Exploit me, I’m young, unemployed, and scared, No furlough, hours zero, I’m unprepared. My parents have split up, I’m on bleak street, My sleeping bag’s damp, no socks for my feet. How did I get here, outside Debenhams, With other unwashed, without any mums. Grandparents gone, Covid took them away, Can’t carry on, I am hungry again. In my head I’m alone, don’t have a friend, Nobody trusts me, it feels like the end, Soup kitchen came here, a few days ago, Gave me a sandwich, cheese and tomato. In Cardiff the police made me move on, Now I can’t stop coughing, I’ll soon be gone.
“Don’t shoot.” They shot. The truth? They lied. His mum? She cried. Her son? He died. The hurt? Inside. The gun? Thrown down. His hands? Both up. What for? Who knows? The world? Fucked up. Police? Gone mad. Result? More stress. I feel, Distress.
Dreaming of live music as I sit in my writing hut I decide to go to a gig in 1968 at The Filmore East and The Filmore West with Jefferson Airplane and this is a little taste of their iconic song Somebody To Love on their live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head, released in 1969. Halcyon days. Live music is what it’s all about.
Take flamethrowers to Chinese walls, Burn them down, break old school rules. Barbarian civil servants Take people for bloody fools. Walk away from competition, Grease paths to slide treasures out, Blue sky thinking ramped up, insane. Sped up Randian looters, Carve prime cuts from service buffet, Inner sanctum eruption, Bullingdon brown stuff hits blue fan, Eton mess seeds corruption, Slowly BBC drags its heels, Gradually revealing, Radio and smellyvision, News presenters rise from knees, Manipulate podcast hubbub, Paper over Tory sleaze.
Harry Rogers, In the Red Bedroom, 15th April 2021.
I sit out on the deck Watching your children play Chasing bright red fireflies In last rays of the day Old knees worn out now Else I too would chase Pleasure comes from sunset Lighting up your face
Spent a long long time Chasing fireflies Spent a real long time Chasing fireflies Now there is no time for Chasing fireflies
There are things I would Like to do on the day I die Just for the briefest moment Hold a bright red firefly Listen to the nightingale Singing as it flies up high Know that you are smiling As we say goodbye
Spent a long long time Chasing fireflies Spent a real long time Chasing fireflies Now there is no time for Chasing fireflies
Pssst, wanna buy a service, It’s all up for grabs today, Don’t even have to tender, We’re giving it all away. Everything is on the list, Meet us in committee room, Or down the boozer, capiche? Can’t make it? See you on Zoom. Knock down prices, going cheap, Now’s the time to flog it off, Whilst it’s reeling on the rocks, As it deals with virus cough. Nobody will protest it, Pass new laws to mask the stink, Even let you keep the name, National Health Service Inc.
How scary is that moment, when fiction Becomes reality in front of you, Ninety nine year old anachronism Dies and the full blown ministry of truth Springs to action across all media. Terrestrial tv and radio, Drenched in long prepared film tributes, Interviews and orchestrated faux news. Journalism sinks to its lowest ebb, In what can only, truly, be described, As naked state control propaganda, Where Patrick McGoohan meets George Orwell, Via smart digital media platform screens. Insidious portrayal of normal, History of elite a straight jacket, Tightened as anti leftism is ramped, As black clad “news” presenters spoon feed guff, To bolster prisoner style fallacies That maintain the necessity to keep The Haute Bourgeoisie in existence. Flashy mirages of democracy Float ghastly before the electorate. How can such anti democratic lies Continue? How can aristocracy Survive? Hereditary royalty Is ludicrous, Our Constitution is a total sham. The combined Royal power, Church power, Legal power and commercial power, Link together to keep us in our place Through the artifice of parliament. Gerard Winstanleys thoughts still register, Some recognise the nature of the state, See through games and slick modern charades, See validity in a republic, A land owned in common, where wealth is shared, Knowledge is for the benefit of all, And all our children are treated equal. Since sixteen forty nine, the truth be known, Only now is it so blatently shown. Arrogance, bombast or paranoia? Perhaps a combination of all three. Whatever, we see your glib advisors, Your royal correspondents on the news. We won’t shut up, we’ll never be quiet, We have waited long enough for justice, It really is time for you all to go.
The ship of state lies Crashed upon the rocks The rich and the famous Are checking their locks One hundred starlings Fall from the sky Some precious darlings say “We’re all gonna die!”
The world is getting dopier We’ve emptied cornucopia We never reached Utopia And it’s Boom-time in Dystopia!
Whilst we lie Sleeping in our beds Drones are flying Above our heads The CCTV is Watching me and you None of us are quite Sure what to do No-one stops to think About the honey bee Only the cult of Celebrity Airheads all scream, And shout “Hooray!” “someone’s got a new Pair of tits today!”
The world is getting dopier We’ve emptied cornucopia We never reached Utopia And it’s Boom-time in Dystopia!
We lie around drinking Pomegranate smoothies Watching brand new Counterfeited movies Nobody pays for their Music anymore Nobody believes that They’re breaking the law And what does it matter Any fucking way There aren’t enough cops To nick everyone today And now the Assembly’s Gone extra craven They’re gonna pour boiling water Into Milford Haven
The world is getting dopier We’ve emptied cornucopia We never reached Utopia And it’s Boom-time in Dystopia!
Copyright: Harry Rogers, 11th March 2010, Recorded with Critter and Sean in LTS Studio Llanon, October 2019.
Fountains of creativity Spring higher from the Grateful Dead Their legacy will keep us young, That’s what my good friend Critter said. On the road to Fenario, Drive in a syncopated dream, Ripple across the universe, Mountain fire never gonna die, All the time people play guitars, Songs echo from hotel on Mars, Get on by down by the river, Live elixir under willow, Gonna stay young forever more, Truckin’ on through with dead head lore.
Drink coffee number one flat white, From a paper cup, Outside the Cardigan Guild Hall, Christmas tree’s still up, All of last years flowered face masks, Look rather tardy, I swig a nip from Easter flask, I’m feeling mardy. Plastic snowflakes fly forlornly, Midst the bunting flags, Shoppers queueing uniformly Cling on to their bags. Yet still some children smile gaily, Skip along grey street, Parents get more glum news daily, Warily they meet, Weary of the constant babble, Spewed from media, Pumped by inconsistent rabble, Jab vaccinia.
I sat in The William Malcolm Hardee buying drinks Arlene was behind the bar Running fingers Through her hair The Four Tops on the jukebox The Same Old Song Was playing I asked Arlene out with me Said there was a film to see She said “I’ll meet you there” but I don’t know Where there is. There could be anywhere It might be with The Faeries I never found there And then she was gone.
Who Knows Where There is? Who Knows Where There is? Arlene? She was gone.
Open up the camp sites, Clean up your glamping gear, Forget those foreign flights, Perhaps until next year. Repeat twenties Zugzwang, We’re stuck here on board ship, Here comes second big bang, End of Premiership, Mindful of the danger, End games are hard to play, Not over till over, The finish? Hard to say. I am getting weaker, My night is drawing in. Watch the high street open, Drink up another gin, Party through the summer, The gigs, the games, the beers, Go dance on moonlit beach, Forget long covid fears. Next winter get ready, Pale rider is still here. Test kits, trace apps, vaccines, All of the patching up, Not enough to stop it, Whilst experts on TV, Mass of contradictions, Scare the shit out of me. Glad I’ve got a garden, Somewhere to escape to, Mend the rabbit fences, Plant beans, courgettes and fruit. Boris launches moonshot, We’re pulling up ivy.
The first Oscar is the person That people think he is. The smart arse homosexual, Ready with quickest quip. Mixing with the glitterati Of the fin de siecle, A dandified lecherous queen, Sporting carnation green.
Next we spy another Oscar, The one he really is. Hardworking diligent artist, Birthing art for arts sake. Believing aesthetic beauty, Valuable above all, Searching so hard, trying to find A saviour for mankind.
The final picture of Oscar, One he wanted to be, Forever young, in his heyday, Living riotously, No care about morality. Indulging all pleasure Plucked ripe from a nihilistic tree, Always being set free.
Desire seldom is reality, Poor Oscar, rarely free, To fulfil all his fantasy, Is two, not one, nor three.
Harry Rogers, Frog House, Deptford, 25th May 2017.
They say our institutions aren’t racist, Special report says it’s no longer there. It’s like Black Lives Matter does not matter. MSM headlines gaslight all of us, Whole country sees script writ large in whitewash, On giant white boards, neath white fluffy clouds, White people focus in on being black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups. White, skew whiff, feelgood, statistics rain down, Spaffed from Whitehall windows by white PM, Whose biased screeds, scrawled not unconsciously, Point us to the essence of the matter. In mirrors, clarity identified, We can see our problem is being white.
Harry Rogers, in the Red Bedroom, Good Friday 2021.
The sun shines in Newcastle Emlyn. I set up Bill’s wheelchair on the pavement outside the Plaid Cymru office in the disused shop at the top end of town. This is the weekly meeting of the anti war group Bro Emlyn For Peace and Justice. I don’t know how I started taking Bill to the meetings. As his independent living personal assistant I must have told him about the group during one of our frequent political discussions as I drove him around the countryside of Dyfed. He is opposed to Tony Blair’s decision to support George W Bush in the invasion of Iraq, as am I. When he asked to come along to meetings I said I’d take him.
” There is a BEPJ meeting this Friday at 7.30pm!” I’d said.
“Great, pick me up at 7 then.” and here we are.
As Bill manoeuvres himself into his chair the Plaid full timer turns up with the key and opens the front door for us. I move Bill to a spot with his back to the shop windows because, even though he still has some vision left, his diabetes makes direct daylight uncomfortable for him. I set out fifteen stacking chairs in a circle and sit down waiting for other group members to arrive. The office had once been a confectionery shop but it has been stripped back to bare walls and floorboards and is in need of a lick of paint and a good sweep out. The local Plaid Cymru MP holds his monthly constituency meetings here and during election times it’s a campaign office but most of the time nothing happens there aside from our meetings. The Americans and British are well into Shock and Awe and cluster bombs fall all over Iraq. A significant percentage of these are not exploding as they hit the ground. Children and adults get maimed and killed when they move these mini bombs. The situation is, in my view, obscene. Bill and I had discussed this situation the day before as we sat on the beach at Llansteffan and I had decided that I would suggest that BEPJ might carry out some direct action in Carmarthen to highlight the plight of everyday people in Baghdad. At seven thirty 18 of us sit in a circle reporting back on what had happened the previous week. Robert, Graham, Louis, David, Hippo, Gilly, and Celia ran the weekly stall in Newcastle Emlyn handing out leaflets and getting signatures on the Campaign Against The Arms Trade petition against the manufacture of cluster bombs. Jeremy had set up the new website. Maggie is rehearsing a show about the whole situation in the middle east to be performed in St Dogmaels. David is building the new free peace and justice library with books donated by many of the 120 members on our mailing list. I have set up a new course on Peace Studies with Carmarthenshire Adult Education services. We are a busy group of activists with many successful meetings and events under our belt.
After reports we move on to talk about future actions. Fiona suggests we should have a social event with a local band at the Emlyn Arms to raise funds for medical aid for families in Fallujah and this is agreed. I then make my pitch for my idea for some non-violent direct action.
“I’ve been thinking that we might raise the profile of the issue of the growing use of cluster bombs when we have our next stall in Carmarthen. Supposing we all made some replica cluster bombs, say a dozen each, and spread them all over the streets of central Carmarthen. This might make people understand what the plight of people in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq is really like.”
Vanessa is keen, as she always is when new ideas are introduced, “How big are they?”
“About the same size as a can of Coca Cola.” I say.
People are enthused, we’re in total agreement that this is a brilliant idea and that everybody will make their imitation bombs in time for the next Friday’s meeting when we will finalise arrangements for the action on the Saturday.
Celia raises an important issue, “Might it be a good idea to let the police know what we intend to do? You know how they are, better safe than sorry.”
It’s agreed that she will telephone the local station and let them know our plan. They’re always civil to us whenever we decide to do something and always thank us for letting them know. I take on the task of contacting the local media. The meeting finishes at 9.00 pm and I drive Bill home. He’s very animated and says that he will get his wife to help him make his bomb-lets. I’m happy that we’re going to get this issue cemented into the minds of local people in a different way to the usual leafleting strategy.
On Monday morning I get a phone call from Celia, “Hello Harry, I’ve just come off the phone with the Dyfed police and we can’t do our action on Saturday.”
“They say that whilst they understand our concerns about the use of cluster bombs in Iraq they would rather we didn’t carpet the streets of Carmarthen with imitation bombs because there was the slim chance that someone might put a real bomb in amongst the replicas and this could be both dangerous and extremely difficult to deal with.”
“I see. Hmmm they do have a point. I guess we will have to think of a different way of using the artificial bombs.”
“Maggie suggested that we might do some agitprop theatre instead, give her a ring and see what you think.”
“OK I’ll call her later, shame we can’t do it though, still it can’t be helped I suppose. See you on Friday, Celia.”
“OK, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, byeee.”
I ring Maggie straight away and she outlines an idea for me and her to do some improvised street theatre based on the Arms Fair in London. I’ll be Flash Harry, a cockney arms trader down from the big smoke trying to drum up trade for the latest in cluster technology and Maggie will play an American dealer looking to make a few dollars. I am up for this.
On Friday everyone turns up to the meeting with their bags of cluster bombs. They vary in sophistication. Some are very crudely done, others have been designed very well. Everyone is disappointed when I tell them that our plans have been thwarted by the rozzers. However we come up with an idea for running a lucky dip as part of the Agitprop. We decide to use a tea chest filled with wood shavings, the imitation cluster bombs and a few real prizes of cheap trinkets from Woolworths. Enthusiasm rises high and we adjourn to the Ivy Bush pub.
Next morning we set up our stall in Guildhall Square at ten o’clock and start collecting signatures for the Campaign Against Arms Trade petition against the International Arms Fair in London. All goes well and we get a good response. At eleven thirty Hippo and Gilly arrive at our stall. They look very pleased with themselves and Hippo says, “We’ve put our bombs out.”
It is at that point that I realise they hadn’t attended the meeting last night and so didn’t know that we we weren’t spreading bombs all over Carmarthen.
I explain the situation and then ask, “How many did you make?”
Hippo says “ Twelve.”
“Well you’d better retrace your footsteps and bloody well collect them up and bring them here.”
They set off and we continue petitioning. Half an hour later Hippo and Gilly return with a carrier bag full of bomblets.
“Did you get them all?” I ask
“We could only find ten of them, We can’t remember where the other two are.” says Gilly.
“Oh well, I don’t suppose that will make much difference, after all, we have told the police about it, so if anyone finds one they will know what it is. Don’t worry, it will be fine.”
The afternoon is a stonking success. We collect almost 400 signatures and the street theatre is a hoot. Maggie and I draw large crowds.
We call out to people, “Roll up, Roll up. Free lucky dip, Win a prize,…… chance your arm,….. Find out what it’s like to take pot luck just like the people of Baghdad.”.
We do an improvised sketch about the way in which Arms Companies and Governments keep the profits rolling into all kinds of nefarious pockets. We hand out masses of leaflets against the war and at five O’clock we pack up our stuff after a wonderful day of nonviolent direct action. We all hug each other and head home, a happy bunch of anti war protesters.
On sunday morning I get a telephone call. It’s Celia.
“We’re in big trouble. The police just called me. Hippo and Gilly’s two bombs have been found.”
“So, what’s the problem? They know the bombs aren’t real, they know they’re ours.” I say
“Apparently the staff on the switchboard changed shifts this morning. Those on duty until six o’clock this morning knew about it. The new shift didn’t.”
“So what happened?”
“At half past five an early morning street cleaner found one of Hippo’s bombs and phoned the police. They told him they knew about it and to put it in with the rest of the rubbish, which he did.”
“Yeah, then what?” I say
“At seven a.m. an office cleaner found the other one in a doorway as she was about to go to work. She phones the police and the new telephonist knows nothing about it. This has triggered a full blown crisis in Carmarthen. The police have evacuated the area, closed all the shops and are awaiting the arrival of the bomb squad to get there from Wiltshire. When they arrive they are going to carry out a controlled explosion. The police are livid. I am very worried about this.”
I reflect for a few moments and then I say “It’s not our fault, they have made a procedural cock-up. We informed them of our plans. It is a shame that Hippo and Gilly couldn’t remember where they put the two missing bombs but they are getting on a bit. It’s just one of those things. Sit tight. All will be well. If they call again give them my number, I’ll talk to them.”
“Thanks Harry, I am very scared of having anything to do with the police.”
I tell her I’m not scared and we hang up.
It’s important at this point to point out that Hippo had been online and downloaded info which showed the words printed on actual cluster bomb ordnance and his replicas looked very real indeed. He used tin cans and had printed very convincing cardboard sleeves with proper serial numbers etc in the manufacturers font style.
So it was that the Bomb squad carried out a controlled explosion on a tin of Heinz Spaghetti Hoops in the centre of Carmarthen. At our meeting on the following Friday we talked about the implications of what had happened. The police said that they accepted that they had made a faux pas.
I say to the meeting, “We could not have planned this any better if we had tried. All week long we have been contacted by the local and regional press about the story. On Thursday Bill and I and a handful of us met a journalist and photographer from the Western Mail and had our picture taken with armfuls of bombs, Bill’s wheelchair looked stunning. They have given the story massive coverage and we have a full page centre spread in Red Pepper magazine. It is my belief that we have raised people’s consciousness about carpet bombing civilian areas with these disgusting weapons.”
I also believed that the local police got some valuable experience out of the whole event as it enabled them to test out their counter terrorism procedures.
All in all a win win situation, nobody got hurt and we raised awareness. Peace and Justice for all.
Harry Rogers, posted in the Red Bedroom, 2nd April 2021
It was one of those typical warm September days when the memories of a washed out summer are erased from the brain by the sheer beauty of the light shining through the window of the classroom and your whole being becomes totally mesmerised as you squint your eyes and watch the myriad particles of chalk dust dancing about in the sunbeams near the blackboard. It was the first day of a new year for me at Addey and Stanhope grammar school in New Cross Road, Deptford, SE8. Not just any year, this was 1962, the start of the 5th year, I was almost 15, when everything is geared towards getting you ready for choosing a path for life. I was engaged in my reverie watching the dust in the golden rays of the sun and thinking about why is it that it is always sunny when you go back to school after the soggy holidays when I became aware of my name being mentioned by our form teacher. I turned to look at her and she said that there was a new addition to our class, his name was John Stewart and he was re-sitting the fifth year, and he would be sitting next to Howard Rogers (me). John was a squat boy with a thick head of black curly hair, a wide face and thick black rimmed glasses. He wore winkle picker shoes and his uniform was a bit scruffy (much like me really). I didn’t realise it but this was the most significant event of my whole time at school, a life changing moment that set the tone for the rest of my life. I had seen John before at break times etc but, as he was a year above me, I had never spoken with him, nor paid much attention to him. It was John that started calling me Harry, on that first day, he said he would never remember Howard, and Harry was easier for him. I didn’t say no to this, in fact I adopted it readily as I had always hated my name mainly because the only word that rhymes with Howard is Coward and this had caused me to have many fights as a child trying to prove I wasn’t one. On this day things started changing, at break time I introduced John to my friends, John Radford and Paul Delroy (now sadly dead) and we became THE group of oddballs in our year. John R and Paul were both into music by the Hollies and The Beatles, John Stewart was into Jazz and Blues, and I was into early Phil Spector and Buddy Holly stuff. We used to go to the Café in Friendly Street at lunchtimes where we listened to pop music on the radio, drank black coffee and smoked old Holborn rollups, and talked about how shit it was at school, girls, rock and roll, films, and books. We hit it off fantastically well and were friends for the rest of my time at school. John and I became very good mates and I used to go back to his house after school where he showed me his drawings and paintings. He was a great artist and had lots of nudes that he had sketched over the previous few months. He was a beatnik really and he introduced me to Jack Kerouac through his books “On The Road” and “The Dharma Bums”. Also he had a collection of modern jazz records that were very cool including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk, also some folk albums including one by Odetta with “The House Of The Rising Sun” on it. I was impressed and he was always turning me on to new things. One November lunchtime in the Friendly Cafe he asked whether I fancied going to Catford Library that evening to attend a blues appreciation society evening meeting. I said yes and that night we arrived on the first floor of Catford Library where we found a circle of seven or eight chairs in the centre of a cold and draughty room with a Dansette record player on the lino covered floor in the middle of the circle with a few Long Playing records piled up beside it. Sat on the chairs were John and I, a couple of men in their thirties, and a younger man who was the tutor for the group. We spent the next two hours listening to tracks from LPs by artists such as Sleepy John Estes (Milk Cow Blues – recorded in Memphis by Victor in 1929), Robert Johnson (Crossroads), Son House (I’m Leaving You), Muddy Waters (I Can’t Be Satisfied), John Lee Hooker (Boogie Chillen), Howlin’ Wolf (Moanin’ at Midnight), Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Memphis Slim, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Victoria Spivey, and a host of others over the next couple of months. I was knocked sideways by this introduction to the blues, music like I’d never heard before1. We went to these for 6 weeks.I was born on October 6th 1947 in the Bridge Hotel, Wellesley Road, West Croydon, where my father (Ken Rogers) was a musician playing piano and piano accordion and all my life I had listened to him playing popular songs from the shows and also Jazz standards by the swing bands of the thirties and forties (he could play a mean boogie woogie piano which he claimed he got from listening to his favourite piano player, Fats Waller.). He was keen on jazz pianists such as Errol Garner, George Shearing, Oscar Petersen, Count Basie and Duke Ellington and could play in all their styles at will (no mean feat!) . My mother (Pauline) was a singer who loved Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and my father would accompany her while she sang in the bar of the Bridge Hotel, and later at The Bricklayers Arms, Trafalgar Road, Greenwich2. People loved them and the pub was packed out by early evening every time they played, and it was OK, many of the songs they played and sang came from the second world war, it was a right old sing along South East London pub where anyone could get up and sing, or play an instrument. My dad seemed to know all the standards of the day and more, and if he didn’t know a song he would buy the sheet music, sit in the upstairs toilet, otherwise known as the music room, sometimes for hours at a time, and learn it in time for the next session in the saloon bar. He was amazing really and practiced on the piano and the organ for at least two hours a day for his whole life. Music was absolutely everything to him. Also there were a lot of musicians who used to turn up and jam with Ken and this often led to late night lock-in sessions with a lot of torchy Jazz (Moonlight in Vermont, Autumn Leaves, On a Clear Day, which I find quite nostalgic when I hear them now) being played. My brother Bruce and I used to serve drinks to the chosen few, (mostly local villains and their girl friends, and ageing musos) who would sit around chatting with Pauline, and joining in the music, sometimes until dawn. Looking back at this nocturnal activity it is no wonder I flunked it at school, however I did learn a lot about people in these sessions and this served me well when I started my forays up West. However, I didn’t dig it very much, serving booze and fags to these old timers, because I was a young boy with other things on my mind I guess, and also it all seemed a bit square to me at the time, but not so much in hindsight, age is a strange lens in the way it can change perceptions. Once I had started listening to the Blues though I was well and truly hooked on a different form of music (and still am) and I guess I always will be. Eventually I discovered the whole West End club culture and the vibrant music scene that was roaring along there but it was those few draughty evenings in Catford library that set me on my way and ultimately gave me the grounding that my Mod taste in music would be built on, and for that I owe a great debt to John Stewart (or Angel John as his Beatnik mates called him), I wonder where he is now, last time I saw him was in the early 1970’s he was living in Clapham and seriously strung out on smack (heroin), I hope he managed to kick his habit and is out there even now living a happy life.
1 – I heard someone on the radio say that his introduction to music written and performed by black people in the 1950’s was a shock to the system and had changed his whole life, from that moment on music really meant something and made him feel “cool” for the rest of his life and that is exactly how I feel about this experience. As a fifteen year old know nothing kid this was mind blowing and paved the way to my life long love of Blues, Jazz, R & B and Soul.
2 – Later to become known in the 1970’s as the site of Harry’s Bar where many musicians from the Punk Rock era were to be seen and heard, most notably Jools Holland and Squeeze).