As promised, I have started going through the extra stuff of Chris’s memoirs that I discovered and this, the first takes us into from the end of 1972 into 1973. As you will read, this was a very difficult time for Chris…..
HEARTFEEDER PLUS ONE
1972 came to an end with Charisma’s German launch in Hamburg, sharing the bill with Lindisfarne, who were still the biggest act on the label. Genesis should have been there too but sadly Adrian, the roadie who was bringing their super expensive mic’s to Hamburg, fell asleep on a night train from Switzerland and the coach containing the flight case got detrained and left in an Alpine siding! But even without Genesis, the launch gig was another big success, with a lavish after show party thrown by Phonogram in a villa on the shores of a light streamed lake. Then, coming back on the overnight ferry to Newcastle, we drank the bar dry of cider and champagne. All in all, it had been a very good year. And so to 1973…
It’s January 8th, the other side of our Christmas break and I’m onstage at London’s famous Marquee Club, whose owner, Jack Barry, was a friend of Strat’s, so appearing there was de rigueur for Charisma bands. In fact, we would play it so often that in my memory, most of the gigs have merged into one. I know Gail brought Shel to the first, being at pains to tell me what an honour this was, as he rarely, if ever, went to see live bands. That said, he sat through our set then told her he preferred the way he’d made us sound! On another memorable night, two fabled ex-Nicers got up to jam with us, with Blinky Davidson battering away on the congas and Lee Jackson on Colin’s Epiphone Rivoli bass. Now what a rhythm section that would have made!
We were flying high. Newly signed to the uber hip Charisma label, we recently opened for stablemates Genesis on their New York debut and we’re scheduled to support them on their upcoming UK ‘Foxtrot’ tour. So tonight, we’re playing one of Rock’s premiere venues, the habitat of various members of the Music Press who, if it takes their fancy, can kill your career at the stroke of a pen; but with a virtuoso violinist memorably described as ‘Paganini on acid’, we’re operating at the high end of the energy spectrum and audiences are responding in kind. There’s just one problem. We work with no drummer, so my rhythm guitar is basically the spine of the band and just as we start climbing towards our incendiary climax, my low E string snaps, bringing the whole dynamic show juddering to a sudden halt and, after the gig fell apart, hubris caught up with me. As I recall it, forty odd years later, the blood still rushes to my face, but at the time, the Charisma brass were more concerned about the possibility of the same thing happening on a much larger stage, so next day they sent me off to buy myself a suitable backup guitar. In those days, Shaftesbury Avenue was known as ‘Guitar Alley’, its shop windows full of gleaming axes, but choosing to ignore the first few displays, our Roadie Arnie Toshner led me on down the street to a lower profile outlet at the corner of Gerrard Place. This was Ivor Arbiter’s Sound City, the store frequented by the Rock Cognoscenti, in other words, where the pros went. There I started trying versions of my current model, an Epiphone Casino made by Gibson, essentially a slimmed down version of the guitars used in the Big Band Era, perfect for playing rhythm. But for some reason, my eyes kept being drawn to a white Fender Telecaster with a black scratchplate hanging unobtrusively in the side window. Now common sense should have told me this wasn’t a good backup for the Epiphone, for Fender and Gibson are the chalk and cheese of the guitar world, but selection is all about trial and error, and as soon as I picked it up, I felt immediately there was something special about it. Maybe it was the grungy spitting tone of the back pickup or the way the dark rosewood fretboard seemed to caress my fingertips, but either way, this old ‘Tele’ felt just right and when it comes to buying an instrument, that’s the ultimate acid test.
You can read more about this part of the story in Chris’s book “The Grail Guitar – The Search for Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” Telecaster” which can be purchased on the band’s web site. The last few copies were signed by Chris before his passing and these are available at the bargain price of £10 including p&p within UK.
Anyway, still stinging from the humiliation at the Marquee, I got pissed one night in Soho and, staggering out of the taxi, decided to gain entry to our small terraced house in Tottenham by punching the glass panel out of our front door. The Doctor in A&E sewed up the gash on my plectrum thumb with no need for anaesthetic but told me that the self-inflicted injury would rule out playing for at least a week. I lay in bed for said period, with the proverbial sore digit throbbing merrily away, in a small bedroom heated by blown air from an electric convector heater, and who knows, maybe I dried out the atmosphere in there so much that the next stage of my descent into hell was guaranteed.
Of course, it could also have had something to do with the deep breath that I took when I accidentally slunged my privates with ice cold water on the morning that I finally emerged from the desiccated bedroom. Either way, the pain that now began to creep slowly up my lower back suggested that I had definitely done myself a mischief. Coincidentally, I had had these same symptoms described to me over the Christmas period by John’s brother, Norman, who had suffered what he termed a ‘spontaneous pneumothorax’[collapsed lung], which had gone undiagnosed for quite some time. Forearmed, as they say, I set out for the same hospital where my thumb had lately been sown up, only to sit around for almost an hour in what we then called Casualty, but is now known as A & E. Finally, fearing for my immediate future, I grabbed a passing nurse and uttered the magic phrase ‘spontaneous pneumothorax.’ This medical Abracadabra had me in front of a young doctor within two minutes. He percussed my chest and declared my prognosis correct.
‘Are you a medical man?’ he asked.
I replied in the negative and explained the strange coincidence, whereupon he set out the alternative remedies. Basically I could convalesce and let the lung reflate by itself, a process that would take about a month, or they could bore a hole through my chest and let the air trapped therein escape through a tube into a bottle of fluid. Either way, the lung tissue would repair itself, but the latter process might take a week or so less. The choice was mine. I told him that we were opening for Genesis at The Rainbow in three weeks, so really there was no contest. He smiled, and immediately arranged for me to have the procedure done on the ward. A few minutes later I walked unaided into the Men’s Ward, got into a bed, whereupon a team arrived, pulled the curtains shut and took out what appeared to be a common or garden wood drill with a quarter inch bit. They would need my cooperation, they said, so it would only be a local anaesthetic. Fine, I said, and two doctors, one male, one female, then took it in turns to bore a hole through my chest.
Fifteen minutes went by and they were still at it. I tried to keep the mood light by cracking jokes, like how Errol Flynn had never had this trouble. One thrust of his trusty blade was all he needed. The team, and the medical onlookers, who now numbered about ten, all laughed, as did I, as the female doctor bore down through the flesh, her knee up on the mattress to give her more purchase. Then suddenly she was through, to a gasp of relief from the onlookers, and withdrawing the drill-bit, she began inserting a rubber tube into the newly formed hole, at which point it suddenly stopped being funny. I screamed in agony as the end of the tube rubbed against the wall of my ruptured lung and to quell the wailing, they decided that I would benefit from a shot of morphine.
A few minutes later they opened the curtains and perhaps not surprisingly I now found the other patients on the ward staring wide eyed at the sight that greeted them. Remember, I had walked in seemingly healthy, only twenty minutes ago, the curtains had then closed and there had been a good deal of laughter, then a piercing scream, and now here I was, a delicate shade of grey, covered in sweat, with an orange tube running from a hole in my chest into a large bottle on the floor.
‘Oh,’ said the Doctor to a nurse, as he turned to leave. ‘Make sure the cleaners don’t lift the bottle up or the patient could well drown!’
I remember thinking that this little off the cuff remark should have totally freaked me out, but strangely it didn’t seem to impact in the way it should have… perhaps I was now past caring, and it was at this precise moment, as I tried to weigh these two disconnects, that I became aware of the morphine kicking in, and, as I sank oh so slowly into the most wonderfully warm inviting sleep, suddenly I realised why Dempse had got himself registered.
Primal fear is like a black chasm. Believe me, I know. You’re on the brink, desperately clinging onto the edge of what once laughingly passed for reality, praying for the dawn’s early light to arrive so that the darkness does not swallow you, smother you, terrified that you might nod off, for the blackness will surely consume you…
After the morphine wore off, I lay all night in the Men’s Ward in the hospital in Tottenham, unable to sleep lest some nightshift cleaner glide in unheard, lift the bubbling bottle above the level of the bed and drown me. Somehow, I got through the endless hours, then they gave me fishcakes for my breakfast at seven, which did nothing for my metabolism. I felt better about sleeping after the mid-morning cleaners had done their thing then, after a two-hour nap, Pauline came to visit, bright and fresh from a lunch in Soho. Her expression held up a mirror to my own. Both of us were, in that evocative phrase of the times… totally freaked out. The doctors were puzzled by my obvious panic. Was I on drugs? Apart from the odd joint, the answer was no. Truth was, I was simply no longer in control, and if, like me, you have ever been driven to achieve some great goal, then you will know that a sudden loss of control is a very difficult thing to handle.
So, during the days that followed, I spent hours doing something that gave me the illusion of control, writing lyrics for the songs on our next album. The title track would be called “Heartfeeder” and it opens with the word ‘Pain.’ Then after one of the longest weeks of my life, despite surgical emphysema [look it up], I signed myself out of the hospital and went back to the room with the convector heater, only this time I used it very sparingly. At first the world seemed to be going at a million miles an hour but gradually it slowed down, and I began to recover, physically if not psychologically. Two weeks later as planned, we made that first night at the Rainbow, but not without a last-minute visit to a Harley Street doctor to have my chest x rayed. He glanced at the negs and nodded.
‘Well, the lung’s fully reflated. No sign of any new damage…’
‘Maybe so, Doctor, but I have a lot of high notes to hit.’
He smiled. ‘What’s your tipple?’
I told him that it was Guinness.
‘Well have two or three pints before you go on. That should relax you.’
I took his advice and somehow we got through the gig, albeit rarely getting out of third gear, but by the fourth or fifth leg of the tour we had hit our stride and now each night I was using the Telecaster as my preferred first choice guitar. I found it grittier than the Epiphone, with a really hard edge that sat nicely above our bassist Colin Wilson’s picked strings. So, after the tour, when we finally got into the studio to start making “Heartfeeder”, the album I had part written in hospital, it was the Tele that I reached for.
We have a few copies of a great live album from this tour which are available at the bargain price of £10 including p&p to UK. The explosive set was recorded at Manchester Free Trade Hall on 24th February 1973If you want a copy, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get you sorted.