As I dismantled my drum kit at the end of a Dance in my home town of
Middlesbrough, Davey the guitarist came over.
He played the bass properly and had the ragged voice of a seasoned bluesman. Whatever twelve bar jag we set out on, he managed to steer it towards a proper song. Tom was more Davey’s age than mine. He was eighteen. I was fourteen. But I noticed he took me completely seriously. Davey might as well not have been there. In fact, after a while we both noticed he wasn’t.
Then Tom padded to the piano and sang a song I didn’t know.
I dropped in on Tom at Mrs. Mac’s, where he lodged,
and sang him The Creed and Felicity, epics wrought from poverty and hunger
in the Mediterranean sun.
“I’ll call you,” McCoy declared, crinkly eyes inscrutable
behind incredibly fashionable glasses. The smile was fireside.
||In London, we rehearsed in earnest. We performed guest spots
– three numbers usually – at folk clubs like Bunjies. Our harmonies
were as close as we could get ‘em.
We got a weekly residency downstairs at the Troubadour, as ‘Hereward & Friends’. We didn’t have a name. Then McCoy came up with ‘Café Society’ and assured us that the whole Café concept was the next big thing. McCoy was king of the next big thing so we believed him.
Ray Davies of The Kinks checked us out there. He’d formed England’s first independent record label and he was shopping for talent. It was the night Alexis Korner played for a bottle of Scotch. Alexis was a Finchden Old Boy. As well as being father of the British Blues, he was also father figure to Raphael and Tom. He arrived late, sneaking through the crowd to our cubbyhole behind the arch, where we were tuning up our acoustic guitars. Alexis produced a huge spliff.
“Red Leb,” he rasped. “It’s extremely strong!”
It had a devastating effect. Our tiny cell became a cocoon and started to revolve. Now it was a pulsing womb. Outside, the final Ledbelly track of Side two crackled and died away. Coughs and shuffles settled to silence. Our audience was waiting. We three stared at one another in open panic. We were totally incapable of performing, we couldn’t move!
|“Take off your shoes and socks,” Alexis croaked
benevolently, “Get your bare feet on the cold floor. Always works!”
The audience cocked a collective ear. Alexis stepped out into the spotlight, while we cooled our heels…
He played until we’d straightened up enough to follow him on.
We were mid-song, underneath the arch and just suitably stoned when a fashionable stir occurred at the back. Raymond Douglas Davies was amongst us, old melon grin.
So moved was he by our songs, that he got up and joined us. Or we joined him….
Us: ‘La la laa!’
Him: ‘Chilly chilly in the evening sun, Waterloo sunset’s mine…’
After that he was ‘Uncle’ Ray. The deal was as good as signed.
|Smash Hits declared ‘Café Society’ their
album of the month, but it didn’t do much for the sales figures, which
finally settled on the six hundred mark after my mother went out and bought
eight copies. To promote it, we supported Barclay James Harvest over thirty
British dates for no money at all, in fact I think we paid. Quite difficult
when you’re on a retainer of £25 a week. We squeezed into the
postage stamp of stage they had left us with our acoustic guitars and soundchecked
in the two moments left available.
We were terribly green. At Malvern Winter Gardens the local promoter asked us if we would like any girls after the show. We all stared at our feet. Nobody said anything. The promoter was startled. He’d never had this reaction before. Usually, bands crowed like cocks and played air guitar.
“I’m married,” Raphael mumbled.
Pat and I had only just tied the knot so I was reluctantly forced to mumble ‘me too’. Tom brightened and looked up. He’d just thought of something.
“Have you got any boys?”
|It was at that moment that I began to suspect he might be
It was a greater song than anything he’d written by far and we both knew it. In fact, it made me cry. Once introduced into our set, it blew away every other song as far as audience reaction was concerned. I still sang original songs about me and Raphael still sang original songs about himself, but it was just no contest. Tom was more interesting.
Then every review seemed to begin: ‘Darlings of Earl’s Court’, or ‘Gay band Café Society…’
Raphael and I were trapped. Sympathetic to Tom’s cause was one thing. Tarred by the same brush was another! After a while, when we got to the chorus, Tom sang: ‘Sing if you’re glad to be gay’; Raphael sang: ‘Sing if you’re glad to be Ray’; I sang ‘Sing if you’re glad to be Kaye’!
Tom’s world had changed. He was a political animal now. Life divided neatly into Them and Us. He started writing angry, sloganistic songs: ‘You’d Better Decide Which Side Your On’, ‘Up Against The Wall’, etcetera. We were still listening to ‘Tea For The Tillerman’!
Tom’s new songs didn’t square with Raphael’s and mine and he was dancing with frustration on the spot where loyalty tethered him to us.
Against this backdrop we went into the recording of our second album. On day two Producer Jon Miller sacked our keyboard player and drummer.
Manager Colin Bell convened a hostile meeting between Ray Davies and us. Colin was good. He put Uncle Ray under enormous pressure, to the point where, halfway through the meeting he excused himself and disappeared.
Well we sat and we waited. Then his secretary Claire appeared.
“What have you done to Ray?” she said. “He’s just left in an ambulance.”
It was a fabulous exit, in retrospect.
I won’t forget the daze….
Tom departed in disgust to form his own band, leaving the two of us on the kindergarten floor, trying to fit together the pieces that were left. We carried on recording but suddenly it was as if we had a Beatles album with only Paul and George’s songs left on it. It made even ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ sound like the work of some rabid fundamentalist….
The first time I saw T.R.B. was at The Stapleton, a pub round the corner from Konk where Raphael and I slaved over a not so hot record. You could hear them down the road. When I walked in, Tom was playing bass lying down on the stage, his head inside the drummer’s bass drum! A desultory few watched over the top of their pints with amusement, but six or seven young lads went mad at the end of the number, pulling each other about by the fronts of their T- shirts and pouring beer over their heads.
When he came over to hug me, the same six or seven followed and stood round him, beaming, wearing him like a badge. He knew all their names.
There were more disciples the next time, and they knew all the words. Tom was more than just a performer in a pub: he was a Leader. Third time, the pub was The Brecknock, and it was packed, jammed, heaving. Illegally full. Don Arden was on the prowl. Steve O’Rourke, manager of Pink Floyd. Eager teams of A&R men. They were all fighting for his signature. Imminent success was so tangible it smelt of hot metal. Tom was surfing his own powersurge, grinning, winning.
After the umpteenth slagging off from Tom in the N.M.E. Uncle Ray finally picked up the phone. Tom was free from his contract. With one bound we all were unbound. Like two caged birds whose door has been accidentally left ajar, Raphael and I waddled to the edge and waddled back. We were in the middle of Café’s second album. It was all our own material. We didn’t want to be free.
Tom signed to EMI and Motorway went to Number Four.
His first British tour (via TOTP) wound up at the Lyceum. Raphael and I entered the arena together. A clenched fist stood thirty foot high, a towering backdrop to a vast stage. A jostling circus thronged, ready to cavort at the first powerchord. It smelt like the Christians and the lions. And we were the only two Christians there….
A phalanx of press photographers amassed at the front, barriered off from the rabble. When the houselights died for the mighty advent of T.R.B. the air seemed to fry. The mosh pit contracted, sucking in a hundred more, and to the screaming of seagulls, in a battery of flashlight, the band appeared. They were wearing school uniform. So was the audience. Tom’s jacket was covered in the same badges as theirs. His guitar had the Ford logo on it. Except it said ‘Fraud’.
Danny Kustow hit the opening chords of Motorway.
Chank Chank Chank Chaggang!
It was the death knell of Café.
Days I’ll remember all my life…
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