As promised, we are releasing the incomplete memoirs of Chris Adams on a chapter by chapter basis. We start 2018 with the prologue.
If you enjoy what you are reading, why not buy a copy of Chris’s book about the guitar in the picture – The Grail Guitar, The Search for Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” Telecaster. Just head to our on-site store. Signed copies are still available at a bargain price. In the meantime, enjoy the opening to Chris’s memoirs.
THE MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN FOLK ROCKER
If you head west out of Glasgow on the old Dumbarton Road, you’ll pass through Clydebank and reach the little town of Dalmuir. Nothing about it is distinctive. In all senses of the word, it’s just a continuation of what went before; endless rows of sandstone tenements interspersed with Post War council housing. Yet incongruously, in this shrine to the bland and ordinary is a street named after the commander of the Greek Army that outwitted the inhabitants of Troy by building them a huge wooden horse.
The Ancient Greeks were so good at storytelling that even now, thirty odd centuries later, we all know how Helen of Troy was stolen from her husband Menelaus by Paris, and how his arrow pierced the heel of the Greek champion Achilles. But within this mythical cast list, how many could name the man who oversaw the construction of the Trojan Horse? Not wishing to appear a smartass, I can tell you he was Helen’s brother in law, Agamemnon, and the reason I possess this arcane knowledge is because, bizarrely. the street named after him in Dalmuir has played a part in my life on no less than three separate occasions.
The first came in 1965. At this point I was newly married and waiting anxiously for a teacher’s training grant and hearing that I was impecunious, a friend offered me a summer job in a factory which turned out lengths of piping coated in some form of insulation. As the skills required were rudimentary and the wages excellent, I gladly accepted and turned up promptly at seven thirty at the entrance gate on a street of tenements which led down to the banks of the River Clyde. As it happened, it was the hottest day of the year and like the haze that envelopes the far landscape in brilliant sunlight, my memories of the plant are now blurry visions of an industrial Hades, an inferno of noise and heat in which huge six inch pipes came trundling down a central channel towards my outstretched fingers, sweat blinding me as I tried valiantly to guide them into vats of what looked to me like Lucifer’s pitch.
I was still in a state of shock when the lunchtime break arrived. Taking my flask of tea and the box of sandwiches which my wife Pauline had lovingly prepared down to the river’s edge, I consumed it, amidst huge piles of white powder. Every last fibre in my being cried out to get away from this hellhole for I knew that if I stayed, it was just a matter of time before I lost a finger and with it my musical dreams, for unlike Django Reinhardt, a missing digit would certainly put paid to my guitar playing ambitions. But, somehow I made it through the day and back home, I announced to my wife that notwithstanding our urgent need for money, all the tea in China could not tempt me back to Agamemnon Street, and the horrors of Turner’s Asbestos Factory; for such it was. And yes, those were piles of the stuff down on the river bank where I took my lunch, so I like to think that my survival instincts must have picked up some inkling of what it would take the world several decades to learn: namely, that asbestos kills.
Fast forward thirty odd years and as the Millenium approaches, I’m now a private hire taxi driver. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of this situation, but suffice it to say that my musical dreams had a lot to do with it. That day was like any other, neither hot nor cold, but the reason it stands out in my memory is because at one stage of my stultifyingly boring nine hour shift, I happened to glance down at my Private Hire Driver’s Badge, which I kept hanging just below the dashboard, and to my horror, discovered it was six weeks out of date. Whether the failure to renew it had some deep psychological mainspring, I know not, but what this meant was that I was carrying passengers illegally, and as it would take two months to get the license renewed, I would have no money coming in for that extended period, a situation which my bank balance would not happily tolerate.
But this is where serendipity kicks in, for that very night I received a phone call from an old friend, who explained that he was working for a marketing company which had a contract with the US energy giant, Enron. It seemed that following the deregulation of electricity, the Texas outfit was intent on penetrating the UK market and, as a means to help them achieve that goal, my buddy Joe had been asked to start a call centre to sell discounted electricity to small businesses. Would I like to run it for him? Now though I had zero experience in running call centres, I had been a partner in a taxi company for the best part of a decade and was used to hiring staff and managing an office. So naturally I said yes, and when he asked me if I knew where Agamemnon Street was, I replied in the affirmative.
That said, it didn’t look the way I remembered it, for most of the tenements were gone and on the site of the asbestos factory was now a state of the art private hospital. In the one tenement block that remained, I found Joe sitting in a shop with some desks, half a dozen phones and a huge pile of Yellow Pages. He explained that he already had sales reps out on the road, all of whom needed leads, and as it would take at least a week to recruit staff, for now, I was the telesales force. He then produced a printout of a basic sales spiel and left me, as the saying goes, to my own devices. Having always had a low squirm count, I decided to put off the dreaded moment when I’d have to start pitching to complete strangers by initiating the process of finding a sales team. First I contacted the local paper and placed an ad looking for staff to work from nine thirty till two thirty, hours which would be perfect for young Mums with school age kids, just the kind of people who should be mature enough to take the job seriously. Then I repeated the procedure with the local Labour Exchange and checked my watch. It was half past ten, and saleswise, it was time to bite the bullet.
The next few hours were amongst the longest of my life, for as a virgin to the world of telesales, I found each successive rejection even more crushing. When lunchtime arrived, I wandered down to the river, and just like three decades before, reflected on where I was at. This time there was no industrial Hades, no stifling heat nor trundling pipes threatening to amputate my fingertips. Now the ordeal was purely psychological, though no less traumatic. But as back then, I desperately needed the money, and the thought of returning for a second time to admit to Pauline that I couldn’t cut a job in Agamemenon Street was more than I could face. So, I went back to the empty office and sometime in mid-afternoon I got a lead for a pub, and realising that I might have found a seam, I continued calling bars and restaurants till five o’clock, by which time, I had booked the grand total of three appointments.
Within a few days, my ad had garnered a response from a collection of mature young Mums and in no time at all, business was so brisk that we took over the adjacent shop. As the new Millenium came and went, the place was going great guns, and my late change of career looked to have been heaven sent. Then I discovered that one of the stars of the sales team was profiting from being on friendly terms with a petite blonde on the telesales staff. Believing in fair play, I sought to to redress this situation, at which point an internicene struggle broke out, which soon turned Agamemnon Street into Armageddon Street. Within months, Joe and I had been fired by the MD of the marketing company, a brusque ex-military man in his mid-sixties who was by now driving a brand new Roller. The lesson was not lost on me, for it seemed that while good telesales staff were regarded as ten a penny, top salesmen had to be wrapped in cotton wool and drip-fed leads, corrupt or not.
Putting all this down to a late course in the University of Life, I went back to taxiing, rueing the day I had opted for my High Noon act rather than applying Admiral Nelson’s glass eye to proceedings. Months went by, then from nowhere came a phonecall from the brusque MD. It seemed things had gone downhill since I’d ‘left’ and he wanted me back forthwith, to steady what was now in danger of becoming a sinking ship. There are few things sweeter in life than an unsaid ‘told you so’ and, bristling with vindication, I gracefully accepted his plea for help. Next morning, I discovered that the petite blonde was now in charge of the telesales ship, and what had been a disciplined workspace was now mayhem with constant shouting and joking, accompanied by the blaring of transistor radios. Being in my ‘no more mister nice guy’ mode, I demanded that these be switched off so that a good day’s work could be done and so it was that I became one of the few people in the Western World not to be aware of what was happening in New York and Washington on that fateful September day. Indeed, I only discovered what had gone down when I dropped in for a pint at my local on the way home to find the place packed with punters all staring open mouthed at tv screens playing a loop of the initial impacts and that sudden dreadful double fall. A few weeks later, with the telesales ship holed below the water line, the brusque MD had the cheek to dispatch me for a second time, but thanks to him I can say for certain where I was on 9/11.
So what, I hear you ask, was the third occasion on which the forgotten Greek King’s hands reached out to pull me into Agamemnonia? Well, if you remember rightly, I mentioned a state of the art private hospital. That’s what you call a clue, though I should explain that by the time I passed through its automatic doors in October 2014, it had already been taken over by the National Health Service. The reason I was there was to get a triple bypass, a procedure which stemmed from the banal fact that I’d experienced slight chest pains while climbing a steep hill near my house. Believe me, no-one could have been more surprised when they told me that I had angina, for at this juncture I was still gigging regularly, sailing happily through two high energy one-hour sets. However, angiograms don’t lie, and the evidence showed that decades of intermittent social smoking had finally caught up with me.
I’ll spare you all the gory details, but once I was out of Intensive Care, I found myself hooked up to a pacemaker, which looked very like one of those huge mobile phones that first appeared in the hands of financial traders sometime in the late 80’s. When I say hooked up, I mean that two of the four wires protruding from my chest were connected to its terminals, to stop my heart from returning to its pre-op rate of about 45 bpm, which the consultant deemed to be undesirable. For reasons that will become clear to those of you who persevere with these memoirs, I decided that this object must be my “Heartfeeder”, a term I had coined for no apparent reason in another hospital setting four decades previously and had then used as the title of a very Gothic sounding piece of music which has a pivotal place in the story of my musical adventures. Which brings me neatly to my starting point…