Book. The Singers Tale.
My generation, 1944 – ?
Below – a soundscape …
‘I hold a mouses wit not worth a leke, that hath but no hole for to sterten to.’
Canterbury Tales ‘The Wif of Bathe,’ Prologue, Line 6154
‘He coude songes make, and wel endite’ Canterbury Tales, Prologue, Line 95
I have written a book! Blimey. I left a Secondary Modern School, with no GCE’s, 2 weeks before my 15th Birthday in 1959. One of the kids known as, ‘a waste of space.’ or words to that effect. Someone for whom there were very low expectations, if any at all?
I chose to call my book ‘The Singers Tale’ because of Geoffrey Chaucer. A London born Man, he spent time near The Thames, and in Blackfriars and Kent and places in between, as I have done. I felt compelled to tell my story, and in the telling of it, of others, bad and bold, gentle and wise, and of London, place of my birth and where I lived for most of my life. Chaucer wrote Tales of Cooks and Friars, Lawyers, Nuns and Millers but not of Singers. He didn’t write a Singer’s Tale, so I have done it; how presumptuous of me!
This is the BBC Home Service ‘Wakey, wakey!’
As I write, the words seem to tumble from my mind as if it was the longest Song I have ever written or sung, consequently, I have Chapters as Verses broken down into Choruses and Bridges; the first Verse has five choruses and five bridges, and so on. Songs are what I know, they have given me life, a voice and structure amongst the chaos. Better not piss all the words against the wind. The wind may piss them right back at me. I want to dig and delve but remembering’s can be tricky, they can turn around and bite you on the bum. My Tale tells of early days in the late 1940s into the 1950s in Post War South East London, then always moving, from London to Weymouth and back again, to Lowestoft, Norwich and Cambridge, Tunbridge Wells and then returning to London. That was the first 16 years.
I became Carol Grimes in 1968. My name: I chose it. Why Grimes?
In later life this unofficial name change was to cause me many problems. When you are 22 years old, future consequences barely feature. I was living in a long ago demolished Road in Westbourne Grove, St. Stevens Gardens W11, a Slum that had been managed by Peter Rachman, the notorious slum landlord, four families with one shared Bathroom on the first landing. Money was tight, my husband Larry Smart, an Artist, was on the Dole. Our son was eighteen months old, I answered an advert in The Melody Maker….
‘Girl Singer wanted for a Band.’ The Band was called Babylon, and the audition was above a Pub in The Tottenham Court Road. I was given the job. ‘What about your name, Smart? What were you before? Freeman? Ha, ha, ha Freeman Hardy and Willis, not a good name for you, cheap shoes, not a good name for the singing star we are attempting to market you as….’
Said the Robert Stigwood the Manager of the band. Babylon opened For Blind Faith on a Tour, Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood, Ginger the ‘Dangerous’ Baker, Blimey, that was an eye opener. Songs are what I know, Songs have given me life, a voice and structure amongst the chaos. I must not piss all the words against the wind. The wind may piss them right back at me. I want to dig and delve but remembering’s can be tricky, they can turn around and bite you on the bum.
Here is an introduction to the cast of characters. An overview of the Tale and some of the adventures along the way, in other words -‘Why not?’ I find it difficult to see me in the long ago past. In my memories I see myself as an almost unknown girl. I write in the way it forms inside my head, both as images and words. Looking back it is she who tells the tale. Before 2000 she, the ‘Girl’ tells the story and after 2000 I take over.
Together we look backwards in time with the help of Auntie BBC and a host of others all secreted away under my skin and beneath my bones like a Band of nattering others, led by Betty Blues Belter, Nasty Nellie, Misery Ivy, Piss Pot Polly, Procrastinating Patsy, Cuthbert the Clown, Guilty Gerty, Frank The Pale Mouse, Wicked Will ‘O Mina and the dreadful Junk-Etta, like a gaggle of unruly Backing Singers and a chaotic Horn Section, thank goodness for The Boss and Sensible Ma Sadie.
They all nestled in my innermost, secret marrow, chiding and arguing the toss, giving advice, being a pain in the arse, and often leading me into situations that were hare – brained at best. Musical differences? What if the Band split up? Very messy, it could be confusing, and on occasions fierce battles were waged, but often-times, they were extremely useful, these others.
She would disappear to a place where nobody could find her.
Out of her head and away with the fairies, searching for that illusive, safe out of this world place underneath an old but friendly Moon. Off she flew, to where the Dish ran away with the Spoon, and the stars were the light and the way and were twinkling and winking with the promise of wishes and dreams. Far and wide she wandered the world on the edges of fantasy and truth in search of a clue as to who she may be this girl who nobody seemed to know.
The years passed and in 1959 she fell in love with music, Ray Charles with Margie Hendricks roaring out the chorus of ‘Night Time is the Right Time ’ on a Juke Box on a Pier in a small seaside town on the Suffolk Coast. It made her wanna holler, made her wanna sing. But she was far too afraid to open her mouth, so she sang in her head.
My generation of Musicians and Artists are leaving, one by one by a hundred and more. The War Babies and the post war baby boomers are cutting loose to God knows where? Gil Scott Heron, David Bowie, Phoebe Snow, some died a long time ago, before they got old, and will remain forever young.
When I was living in ‘The Grove’ in the late 1960s into the 1970s, in Swinbrook Road and the end that is all gone of St. Stevens Gardens, demolished and the rag pop-sickle bag of people who had been crowded into those tenements are all scattered or dead. Mark Bolan was around, Paul Kossof and Nick Drake, tousled hair, young faces blown away as if on the cold winds from the Russian Ural’s. Looking at my old photos, I was young and they are still young. Now I am getting old and they never will be. Sammy Mitchell, Sandy Denny, Steve Miller, Jo Anne Kelly, Joe Strummer, all gone and in more recent times, Elton Dean, Pip Pyle and Poly Styrene, Donald Duck Dunn and Lol Coxhill, all people with whom I had had sung, recorded or shared stages with. Ronnie Scott and Pete King no longer preside over Ronnie Scotts in Soho.
Meandering around the Portobello Road in the 160s in my mind are those faces here, Lemmy lurking, always looking on the wild side, and Heathcote Williams, Hoppy and Susie Cream-cheese, John Peel and Simon Stable, Jeff Dexter, Exploding Galaxy and Quintessence, Pink Fairies, Deviants and Hawkwind.
The folk who became friends, Frank Critchlow and Dee who cooked in his cafe, The Mangrove on All Saints Road, When Larry and I partied ways, I moved in next door, 8a All Saints Road. Frank and Dee both now gone, dispatched in Carriages drawn by Black Horses through the streets they knew so well, hopefully they are somewhere, in my dreams still drinking the White Jamaican Rum.
That was when Portobello Road was called ‘The Lane’ left over from the days when there was a Farm at the end of the Lane. The smell of those times still lingers occasionally, a door momentarily ajar, Joss Sticks and Patchouli Oil, Weed and Hashish, Mick’s Cafe and The Apollo Pub on the All Saints Road.
I always felt that the Hippy life was not for me. I had intended to be a Beatnik, a Daughter of the Fifties artistic revolution, wearing 501 Levis and black sweaters with a cigarette (preferably French), in a black and silver holder, the obligatory book of Poetry, Miles Davis on the Dansette Record Player, living in my own pad somewhere in Central London, Paris or New York.
Those who didn’t care for me when I was growing up, told me that I would end up slapping Butter and slicing Cheese on a marble slab in a back street Grocer Shop, or sorting Peas in a Pea factory. The Grocers shops and marble slabs have vanished, the Peas sorted electronically. We exist in a different world now, Internet and High Speed Train, Mobile Phone and out of Town Shopping Centres. Twitter and Facebook, Tinder and Skype and a brand new face on a new neck above new breasts if you can afford or want the Surgeon’s Knife.
My story is one of the struggle to find a way through a business famous for its lack of compassion, its fixation on youth and beauty and its obsession with celebrity. The Control of the Men running the industry, the networking-who do you know?
When she was growing up, alongside her others, she had listened to the voices on the outside. They never appeared before her; she did not see their faces. They were called the BBC and they lived in the Wireless. They had narrated the War; sung songs of hope and glory, raised a laugh and sometimes spoke in very important tones. Looking backwards and forwards, sometimes in Monochrome and sometimes in colour; my Tale.
Above: single rooms in a Nissan Hut Hostel, a row of 4 lavatories in the corridors and 2 bathrooms for many residents. aged 17.
Above early singing days. The Race at The Marquee Club Wardour Street Soho.