An Extract from The Singers tale
CHAPTER 4 Deptford – Hastings – Deptford. 2005-1963-2005
Below, the market next to the Albany Empire.
The Race on the way to The Marquee after a drink in The Ship in Wardour Street Soho
A very early gig…1965 @ The Marquee Club Wardour Street, Soho, London.
There we were, a bunch of close friends, making our early steps in music, a London group, & up the road, at Euston Station, a Whites only Hiring policy was in place and being Gay was illegal .. we were never signed although our gigs were packed? Says a lot about the Swinging 1960s?
A West Indian refused a job at Euston Station will now be employed thereafter managers overturned a ban on black workers.
In his 1965 Sexual Offences Bill, Lord Arran drew heavily upon the findings of the Wolfenden Report (1957) which recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual offences.
No mention of Lesbians, but as Queen Victoria said, ‘they do not exist?’
My Tale tells of the life of a Girl, a Woman, a Singer her travels and the Cities of London and Westminster.
Before 1999 she tells the story and after 2000 I take over.
Together we tell the tale with The Boss. A very good idea.
Nasty Nellie Beware of the Bitch.
Frank The Pale Mouse. A coward.
Wicked Will – O – Mina. She is a liability – stay well clear of her.
Guilty Gertie. OH DEAR!
Clara The Clown. She tries to please.
Betty Blues Belter. The singer who is sometimes brave.
Tillie Tea Leaf and Lying Lizzie. Oh Shit.
Junk-Etta. The Addict.
Misery Ivy. A moaning pain in the arse.
Piss Pot Polly. Oh well. Large dry white wine, please.
Below is an introduction.
‘Who the f☝☞♪ am I?’ (Just to let you know!)
I put this Singer’s Tale alongside my music because as I write it all down, it feels like a song, my song, with many verses. Each written Chapter has music at its heart. I sing in my head as I write.
The Photos above and blow Sheila Burnette
In the early 80’s I did a show called ‘Lipstick and Lights’ at the Drill Hall, Chenies Street in London. It was a collection of sketches, poems, and songs around my life as a singer, performed with my Band, ‘Eyes Wide Open’ and the wonderful Didi Hopkins above.
‘The Singers Tale’ takes place in London, with various travels around and about. To Europe, America, Japan, Scandinavia, Poland and Estonia, and always back to London like a Homing Pigeon. Told from early days in the 1940’s and ’50’s as a child in South East London to bed-sit rooms and Squats in Earls Court, Chelsea and ‘The Grove’ in West London during the 1960’s and ’70’s, the early days of the Hippy invasion of the Balearic Islands, long before the rave, club scene it has since become.
A caravan in the Welsh Countryside, a little shack on stilts on the banks of the Sacramento River in the Bay Area of Northern California, to Texas and Tennesee and an Island in the Winter, north of Stockholm, touring Poland before the wall came down in East Germany and the old USSR was dismantled and the Big Boot removed from its occupied Eastern European countries.
As a performer I am always on the move, singing and selling my wares. C.D.s The C.D’s are on sale through my own website and the internet and I have an extensive archive of photographs, reviews, articles, and interviews. I would love to work on a stage show, using excerpts from the book and singing the songs, with an actor and musicians, using film, images, and animation.
I became Carol Grimes, the name under which I have sung since the late sixties. My name: I chose it. I chose ‘The Singers Tale’ because of Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote his Tales on his way to Canterbury from Southwark. I am staying in Southwark at the moment, within the sound and sight of St Paul’s bells, and spend time on the coast in Kent near Canterbury. There were tales of Cooks and Friars, Lawyers, Nuns, and Millers but not of Singers, so here is my Tale. Perhaps in my head, I am telling Chaucer my tale in my own way, 600 or so years later.
AN EXTRACT from The Singers Tale
Deptford – Hastings – Deptford. 2005-1963-2005.
It tells of the first time I ever opened my mouth and sang in front of anyone. Up until then, was all in my head.
‘Hello there, Carol Grimes?’ A telephone interview with a Hastings local paper promoting a gig at a Jazz Club later in the month. He sounded young and in a hurry.
‘So, when did you first sing? Where was your first gig?’
It all began more by accident than some longed-for plan. I learned my trade out on the road, up and down the motorways and highways, in and out of a battered Transit Van with a cargo of Marshall amps, guitars, drum kit and musicians traveling south back to London from Birmingham or Newcastle, staggering, legs stiff and blurry-eyed into the Blue Boar on the M1 at three or four in the just before dawn light, eating greasy egg, beans and chips and drinking mugs of stewed brown tea, or nights, what was left of them, in bad B & B’s or cheap Hotels, in rooms smelling of stale tobacco, Old Spice and other people’s sweat and sex, beds slippery with cheap nylon sheets and dusty with musty blankets, my washed in the tiny hand basin, bra and knickers draped and dripping over the radiator to dry overnight.
Off and on the ferries bound for the clubs of Hamburg or Berlin, Amsterdam, and Stockholm, singing two, or even three sets a night, hours on foreign freeways eating strange food in strange café stops on the wrong side of the road. Drummer wanted must own a van. Aiming for the magic moments of success, the recording contract, and the major tours, the end of pinching pennies and dreading bills.
‘Well. I …’
Now there’s a question. When? How? What do I say? Of course, I remembered.
‘It was in Hastings. August, nineteen sixty-three.’
‘Really?’ He said. I imagined his thoughts. I could almost hear his brain ticking, as he toted up the years. Was I spinning him a yarn? Spinning him? But no, it had been, and I imagined it to be more than his lifetime ago. My young voice swam eerily and half-forgotten into my head and I caught a glimpse of the girl I had left behind standing there in that long-gone moment in a pub by the sea. I am looking back on the stranger that she is, looking through a half-light at the only half familiar.
Her first performance, the first song she sang out to anyone within earshot and eye distance was in a narrow alley in front of fifteen or so folk, and a couple of hungry and excited dogs; the inebriated overspill from a pub in Hastings Old Town on the English Sussex coast. On that day, just before noon, she felt anxious. She always did when walking into crowded places alone, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people, not able to take the hubbub all into her head.
I know that feeling. Pushing my hands deeper into my pockets, walking up and down the platform at Deptford Station trying to keep warm, the sun had set, leaving a cosmic red afterglow, the night had fallen and the air was even colder. Oh skittish mind, back to the girl in Hastings. The day I remembered was hot with little white clouds in a blue sky, a sunshine and seaside day.
She had turned nineteen in April that year, although she didn’t look it. She There was the pub. Where were her friends? They were prone to changing plans on a whim or a change in the wind. Eyeing the crowd by the bar, she fought the urge to turn and leave. Art students, folk singers, beatniks, bright-eyed bold young women and young men with bohemian beards sitting incongruously on young chins.
In the darkest corners of the public bar, rheumy-eyed old fishermen sat nursing pints of bitter, gathered around a table as if they were cast in old stone, ancient sculptures saturated in sea salt, old sweat, and tobacco, their faces lined and rusty from the ravages of wind, sun, and sea, eyes were hidden behind a network of folds and creases constructed over years of watching in all weathers.
Where to sit? Where to wait?
The bar, thick with smoke, seemed dark at first, in stark contrast to the sparkle sea sun brightness outside. She hovered for a moment, just inside the door, whilst her eyes adjusted to the sudden lack of light, wearing Levi 501 blue denim jeans, a blue and white striped T-shirt, and scuffed brown boots, a black beret over her long pale reddish hair which partially obscured her pale face with its scattering of freckles and delicate yet unremarkable features; apart from her eyes. They were the colour of icicles, an unerringly pale blue. Almost five foot two, and because of her habit of wearing clothes several sizes too big, she often resembled a dishevelled Elf.
Some of the people she ran into called her Tiny or Imp. Or worse. Shrimp. A Shrimp? Pale pink and invisible? One swallow and gone. In the winter she wore big black jumpers over her jeans and a dark navy blue duffel coat, ex-servicemen’s issue, from Lawrence Corner, the Army surplus shop on the Hampstead Road in London and on special days, when she was brave enough to show her legs; to show more of herself, the nineteen thirties and twenty’s dresses that she found in junk shops or street markets. Hats and old jingly, dangly jewellery, glittering remnants of another generation, and the boots; she loved her boots. They made her feel strong and firmly planted on the ground. She felt that she could muster a confident swagger wearing her funky boots.
She carried a duffel bag with her everywhere; it was a home from home for all that she owned, her everything, the place that she dropped the shells and stones that became her treasures. Inside she kept a toothbrush, a spare pair of knickers, a bra, another striped T-Shirt, a cotton spotted bandana or two, a piece of old black velvet that could be a skirt, a scarf, a hat or a cover all for wherever she found herself at night. There was always a book, a notepad, a black Biro pen, a pair of socks and a half-eaten bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate and sometimes a packet of Roundtree’s Fruit Pastels or Gums.
Inside a little blue plastic make up bag, a safety pin or two, some hair grips, a handful of crumpled tissues, a small round blue tin of Nivea face cream, her indispensable Woolworth’s solid Sooty Black cake mascara, applied using copious amounts of spit on a little black brush, a pink ‘Outdoor Girl’ lipstick, blue eyeshadow and a black liquid eyeliner which she used to outline her eyes giving her a smudged, not enough sleep look. People would often assume that she was no more than fourteen or fifteen, perhaps a schoolgirl playing hooky, and all she wanted was to be seen as an intriguing and mysterious woman.
She imagined no one noticed her or took her seriously. She felt like a mouse, a very familiar mouse. As she stood in a pool of apprehension near the door, a young woman appeared, they had met a couple of times, earlier in the year in a pub in Earls Court.
‘See you around.’
She had said, and here she was in Hastings with two young men in her wake. The taller of the two held a guitar in his hand. His black hair was long and uncombed, a fringed black leather jacket on his back, black biker boots on his feet. The second man was red-haired, short and brawny, wearing jeans walking barefoot as if he had come from the beach to the pub, leaving his shoes behind on the shingle shore.
She noticed that his feet were quite dirty, his toenails like horns curling downwards at the edges. He was wearing a navy blue fisherman’s cap with a red and white spotty kerchief around his neck. The woman was tall and broad-shouldered with long dark brown hair and a great big-toothed smile, her green eyes brimming over with bravado and bonhomie.
‘Hey, how you doin’? ‘Wanna a drink? We’re getting them in.’
Gathering the girl into the pub through the crowd, saying,
‘Hi man. Hey, cool. What’s happening?’
A question, not needing an answer, to everyone, she seemed to know everyone, up towards the bar. The dark-haired man ordered the drinks.
He said, grinning widely and passing a glass of Cider.
‘Get that down you.’
He had two crooked front teeth, and a silver skull earring hung from his left ear giving him the air of a jaunty pirate. In a pint glass that felt almost too large for her small hands, the nervous one began to relax. She was not alone. She was warm in the circle of light near the girl with the green eyes.
There was going to be a session, her belly lurched with anticipation, music, sweet music and she wanted it, wanted to be a part of it, but how? In the summer of nineteen fifty-nine, when she was nearly fifteen, still a schoolgirl hanging around a jukebox on the Claremont Pier in a town called Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast, she, who looked like a Shrimp or an Imp, had heard Ray Charles for the first time,
‘Night Time Is the Right Time.’
Margie Hendricks wailing out the Chorus.
‘Baby. Baby. You know the night-time is the right time to be with the one you love…’
The raw passion in that voice had hit her with all the force of a Northern Sea, the same sea that was rolling under the wooden boards of the old Pier itself. On that jukebox, more Ray Charles, Connie Francis and the sweet harmonies of The Everly Brothers, Marvin Rainwater, and Elvis, All Shook Up. Buddy Holly. That’ll Be The Day. And it was the day, the day she heard the music. Somewhere, who knows where? Probably Radio Luxemburg or The American Forces Network, she had heard Ella Fitzgerald.
‘Every time we say Good-bye.’
The girl had wanted that heart full velvet voice to sing into her ear, to sing her to sleep when she lay down at night. She wanted to love and be loved so that saying ‘Good-bye’ could be like that. Feel like that. Make you sing like that. She kept the voices that seemed to sing of what she felt coiled up next to her heart. In her mind, she sang alongside them and the singing behind her lips was good.
An hour or so later, as the afternoon slipped away in a smoky blue haze, glasses piling high in the sink behind the beer-stained mahogany bar, the wooden floors sticky with spilt booze, cigarette butts overflowing in tin ashtrays, crisp packets and peanut shells spilling over the tables and onto the floor, the guitar players and harmonica blowers drifted out to play in the alley beside the Pub, in that voice that didn’t always seem to be her own, it was a bold voice.
‘Go on, sing. You want to. I dare you. You can, you know you can. Sing. Sing. Go on.’
A wild red woman rose with her hair aflame, her mouth wide and her and her desire enormous. It was Betty Blues Belter emerging from who knows where.
‘I’d like to sing’
She said, feeling brave and a little bit drunk.
‘What do you know?’
The taller of the guitar players grinned at her as he took a long swig of the dark beer in his glass,
‘Oh, The House of The Rising Sun?’
Almost a question, the words rushed and breathless, perhaps they will say no, ignores her. ‘In E? The guitarist asked. Did she have a choice? Did she even know what in E’ meant? Well no, she didn’t. Out of the blue sky nowhere, she sang. Opened her mouth and let rip. She sang the first song that had come into her head. She had heard it on the Bob Dylan album that everyone was playing that summer. The bittersweet song of gamblers and lovers had touched her. She knew the words and liked the bluesy feel of it. Closing her eyes, clenching her fists into two tight little balls, dragging a long gulp of air down into her lungs, the sound emerged, gurgling at first, then up out her chest, spinning free like the hollering of a deranged banshee.
‘There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun, and it’s been the ruin of many a poor girl and me, oh God, I’m one.’
The words danced into her head up out into the air.
Musician? No. Singer? Hardly. She couldn’t tell you what notes she was singing.
Somewhere, deep down in her innards, she found a sense of rhythm, her ears tuned to the pitch, and the gut quaking leg shaking energy needed to make that sound, resonated throughout her whole body. It found her heart, her head and the marrow in her bones. A big yelp of a voice spewed up and out of her throat, wrapped itself around the song and that was that.
‘With one foot on the platform and the other foot on the train, I’m going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain.’
The song was at an end; the last verse was sung.‘Hell’s bloody bells.’
She said to herself.
‘Hells bloody bells. I did it.’