GUITAR IN MY HANDS – by John Mohan

John Moham got in touch a week or so ago, saying lovely things about my blog and sharing some of his flyers and photos with me – he ended up playing guitar for Felt and The Servants among others. I asked John if he fancied having a go at capturing his own ‘through the looking glass’ memories with me.

I’m delighted to say, he took me up on my offer…..

‘A personal recollection of a musical journey from 1978 – 1989

Chapter 1 1964 – 1980

1964 Hayes : I was born and raised in Hayes, Middlesex, a place only known to folk who had read the address on the back of Heinz Baked Bean cans or the back of EMI Beatles albums as both companies had Hayes headquarters.

That same year Marshall amplifiers opened their first factory to power guitar based rock and pop – that factory was in Hayes too.

Beans, Beatles and amps aside, Hayes was anonymously poised on the west edge of London but redeemed by its proximity to the cultural suburb of Ealing (home to early R&B clubs and bands) and further afield to the exciting West End.

1971 You Could Hear The Hoof Beats Pound As They Raced Across The Ground:

The first record I ever bought was ‘Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West’ by Benny Hill which topped the UK singles chart in December. It had the intellectual depth that was just perfect for a 7 year old boy. Later that month my record collection doubled with a Christmas present that turned out to be another copy of the same single. This record collecting business was getting complicated already.

1972-75 Well He Says He’s Into His Music, But I Don’t Believe It :

Our house had albums from Johnny Cash, The Chieftains and Irish Ceilidh bands. Dad had played the Accordion for many years and, as both mum and dad were from the west of Ireland, all the tunes were Irish too.
Probably due to older brother Tom, the odd compilation LP of pop hits started to appear in our house and some songs made an impression such as ‘Radar Love’ by Golden Earring and ‘Hot Love’ by T. Rex but I didn’t purchase until ’74’s blockbusting ‘Tiger Feet’ by Mud, and ’75’s ‘Can’t Give You Anything But My Love’ by The Stylistics.

Other songs that I loved were ‘Gonna Make You A Star’ by David Essex and ‘Rock Your Baby’ by George McCrae which had good guitar. Also good were ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen and ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart with its stunning guitar and organ intro.
Music was interesting but had to compete with football, dinosaurs and PG Tips tea cards.
Gordon Quinlan lived a few doors down the road, we’d been best pals for years and football daft too, him Arsenal and me Everton.

The summer of ’75 was long and hot, it baked the London clay hard. The heat, holidays and impending move to Secondary School messed with us. Evenings were spent out in the cool.
A new school beckoned in September. For me it wasn’t Grammar school with Gordon as my 11 Plus exam failure meant a Comprehensive school was the destination.

1976 There Was Something In The Air That Night, The Stars Were Bright :

Gordon and I decided to start going to football matches in London with his dad whenever either of our teams played, so there were plenty of matches to go to and a bus and tube network to navigate. Travelling across London was exciting, I memorised the tube lines and the stops that served football grounds and where to interchange lines.
For an aspiring teen, going to Arsenal, Chelsea, QPR etc and experiencing the crowds, tribalism and often combustible atmosphere was something that burned into the memory. It also displaced time spent thinking about music and the only single I remember buying was ‘Fernando’ by Abba!
One day a cheap classical guitar appeared for Tom, I often tried to pick out single string melodies with it laying flat across my knees like a pedal steel. Eventually I mastered a tune and played the national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ to dad, a tune he’d never have wanted to be in earshot of. The guitar playing went on the back burner just as the music scene was
beginning to change.

1977 Something’s Happening And It’s Happening Right Now :

Our match days continued apace, now without dad accompaniment. The hairstyles in the crowd, especially at Arsenal, increasingly becoming shorter and sometimes dyed – what was this? Punk had burst into the news but there wasn’t much sign of it yet on the radio or the streets of Hayes.
The Beatles Red and Blue double LPs appeared one day for my brother, a lot of the songs were familiar from the radio and I started to like them even more. Then increasingly we saw punk bands on ‘Top of The Pops‘. The energy and volatility of these bands was like the excitement of going to a match and I started to get a notion for The Stranglers alongside the hits.
The Jam also sounded good and of course the Pistols.
Disco and Soul were very popular too and there was enough variety of interest in the general pop charts to avoid having to commit to any one style.

1978 You Know There’s Those Who Make It And There’s Those Who Never May:

Until now buying records was rare due to lack of money, so the best way to capture songs was from the radio charts with a tape recorder against the speaker.
In mid-year a TV show called ‘Revolver’ with live exciting new bands hit the screen, it was a revelation for us. Gordon announced he liked The Jam and our conversations now revolved as much around bands and this new music as it did football. We gradually replaced buying ‘Shoot‘ football magazine with ‘Sounds‘ or ‘NME‘ or ‘Record Mirror’ weekly music papers. The reviews, photos, style, letters were captivating, an exciting new world called. Gordon had now bought the first two Jam albums and ‘Rattus Norvegicus‘ by the Stranglers and we’d listen to them in his house or mine and talk about all the songs and how everything was changing. His mum worked at EMI and started to bring promo records home, this included The Rich Kids, The Police, X-Ray Spex etc, also my cousin Michael in Southall knew where defective record pressings got dumped so we now had a growing if sometimes warped new wave collection. I took a shine to the Rich Kids.

Gordon cut his hair short, my ears were still hidden. Around this time the novelty act Jilted John had a hit with a song about a lad called John whose girlfriend Julie left him for a lad called Gordon, it had a devilishly catchy chorus of “Gordon is a moron’’ which was always enjoyable to sing, for me anyway.
Later that year, I got a ticket for Everton at home to Liverpool on 28th October and, age 14, went solo to meet up with the Supporters Club and go by train to the game. It was a 6am dark, foggy start in 8 hole black DM’s, sand coloured straight leg cords, Puma T-shirt and a black leather bomber style jacket bought cheap from Southall Market. The day was to be a big adventure as long as the match ticket and cash remained in my pocket. After arriving at Lime Street, Liverpool at midday, some fans from the train said to come and join them in a pre-match bevvy. Three unwise pints later I needed to go walkabout in the city centre before both match ticket and brain went totally astray. The city of Liverpool held a magical place in my mind with its accent, humour and of course the Beatles. It was alive with fans and I walked for a good hour to clear the head before joining the streaming mass toward the game, Blue and Red together without combustion. The match was magnificent with Everton winning 1-0 leaving the home support hoarse and intoxicated, it was the best day of my life so far and promised well for future independence. Football singing is a total joy when you’re in the crowd.
Now it was time to get that hair short and dive into this new music, we were starting to listen to John Peel on the radio and the world was opening up. The Ruts were a Hayes band and there was lots of graffiti on the local buses saying ‘Ruts for 78’ in a triangle logo.
Then ‘All Mod Cons‘ was released and the change was cast, we were Jam fans!

1979 I’ve Got Blisters On My Feet, Trying To Find A Friend In Oxford Street :

The new year started with plans to see our first live gig, London offered a wide choice but meant reducing football matches to afford gigs and records.
After buying the Ruts fantastic debut single in the local record shop, it inspired me to graffiti bus seat backs with ‘Ruts for 79’ in a triangle logo.

We drew up lists of favourite songs, which rotated around The Jam, Pistols, X-Ray Spex, Clash, Stranglers, Blondie, Rich Kids, Buzzcocks, The Ruts, Banshees, UK Subs and Stiff Little fingers. It really helps to have a friend on the same wavelength. The Members had ‘Sound of the Suburbs‘ in the charts and were playing at the famous Marquee Club, Wardour Street, Soho on 3rd March (I later wished we’d gone the next night instead to see The Cure + Joy Division).

Gordon and I, both 14 and tall, fancied the odds of getting past the bouncer but were dressed as if going to a football match rather than gig, so studied the older lads in the gig queue who were better dressed, held our 10 Embassy packets in one hand and puffed with nervous intent using the other while holding the cigarette just like those older lads. We weren’t cocky chancers rather just lads finding our way (in later years I loved the lyrics to Geno by Dexy’s as it summed up beautifully the joy of finding your way). Once inside, the venue looked small, dark, dank and uninviting – was this really one of the legendary venues of British live music? It had a bar and after drinking a couple of pints served in plastic containers, The Members hit the stage and we moved near to the front to join the pogoing primal frenzy, people pushed and elbowed, spittle flew at the band (I aimed a cracker that swung from the bass players strings) and our eardrums were blasted, it was total madness, it was so great. Leaving The Marquee drenched in sweat and half-deaf to get the tube back home, it was clear that life had now changed. School on Monday was diminished and peripheral, ears still rung, thoughts still caught in the glare of that teenage supernova. My school pals were a great bunch but it was difficult to explain.
The next step was trips up to the Kings Road, Chelsea to see the punks and markets there, I bought a pair of cheap black PVC trousers, wore them out the shop and within minutes was laughed at by older punkettes for having a bad look – proper deserved it too.
The Jam released ‘Strange Town‘ and the mod revival started to gather attention in the music press.

There was time to squeeze in one more punk show at the Lyceum on 22nd April where the Hayes heroes The Ruts were supporting the headlining Adam and the Ants. The Ruts were great although Adam and the Ants seemed pretentious, their crowd was much older than us and more into posing than anything.
I turned 15 and from this point, even though still buying punk/new wave records, it was time to join the mod scene, the bands were younger, audiences our age and fashions smarter.

3-3-79 Marquee – The Members, The Dials
22-4-79 Lyceum – Adam and the Ants, Essential Logic, The Ruts
15-6-79 Marquee – The Chords, The Mods, Squire
13-7-79 Marquee – Purple Hearts, Back to Zero
22-7-79 Marquee – Secret Affair, Little Roosters
30-7-79 Marquee – The Chords, Donkeys
27-8-79 Lyceum – Secret Affair, Purple Hearts, Madness, Back to Zero, Selecter
20-10-79 Marquee – Back to Zero, Long Tall Shorty
27-10-79 Marquee – Squire, The Numbers
4-12-79 Rainbow – The Jam, The Vapors

Some mod bands were almost punky and wore Fred Perrys and Levi 501’s, The Chords were the best of them. Other bands were poppier, wore 3 or 4 button suits, with shirt, tie, Loafers and parkas.
That summer I got a few weeks work with a friend of dad’s, £5 a day for 15 days – perfect as it was around £1.50 to get into the Marquee and travel, beer and cigarettes wouldn’t take that over £5. The money went on records and gigs so clothes were done to a cheap basic standard, bought from 2nd hand shops and west London markets. No Ace Faces here and thankfully no PVC trousers either.
Any mod related single or album was bought regardless, The Chords and Purple Hearts were great live bands, Secret Affair too. Gordon got a US Army Parka, and with white, red and blue Airfix paint I scribed it with the Jam logo from All Mod Cons plus direction arrows – it looked great.
We started going uptown early to gigs to hang around Carnaby Street and see what was happening and what clothes shops were about. Shelley’s shoe shop was just off Carnaby Street, it was just the best place and not too expensive.

There were Wimpy’s or cafes you could get a burger and coffee before going to a gig and good record shops, even better when the Virgin Megastore opened.
After dark, Soho at this time had more than its fair share of grotty, sleaziness. Peep shows, exotic revues and men in macs were common, there were tiny streets and cul-de-sacs to avoid and odd parking lots from cleared but not rebuilt sites of buildings damaged in WW2.
It was an exciting and unworldly place compared to Hayes.

A local independent record shop handed over a large promotional poster for The Jam single ‘When You’re Young‘ that came out in August, it included a moody looking Weller in Paisley shirt and 501’s that were probably washed once so that they were darkest indigo with a slight fuzz on the cotton . He was our style icon and reluctant spokesman. The poster took centre stage in the bedroom I shared with my brother amidst pictures and interviews cut from the music press.

One downside of the disparate musical youth tribes in London (punks, mods, skins, rockabilly’s etc) was that being in one could mean hassle from another, especially on the late night buses and tubes. We normally used the Central line from Northolt to Oxford Circus, or the District/Piccadilly lines from Ealing Common to venues nearer the Thames. Skins sometimes appeared in the tube carriage, often via the interconnecting carriage door between stops. They might ask for a fag to check you’d give it, normally though it was just to exude a bit of unspoken intimidation, so you learned pretty quick to keep your eyes open
and read the situation.

At the gig on 13th July, Gordon’s school pal Ed Moran met us at Northolt Station. Ed was really into music and we got on famously. Ed started to join us now for many gigs.
The Jam released the ‘Setting Sons‘ album in November, we skipped school to go uptown where they were doing a promo signing at a record store. Gordon brought along the previous 3 Jam albums whereas I brought just the ‘Strange Town‘ single. When it was our turn they happily signed my single sleeve then Weller looked at Gordon presenting his 3 albums and smiling said “Ahh, a proper fan!”. Guess who had the biggest grin that day.

The year ended with our first Jam gig on 4th December at the Rainbow, it was extraordinary to see the band live, they played with a skill, energy, confidence and style that made it the latest in a seemingly endless upward trajectory of defining moments – how can this night get any better? Of course the skins were causing trouble outside and after a few mass stampedes we got to Finsbury Park tube and a nervy journey back across town losing nothing more valuable than cigarettes. The nights gig ended up being released in 2002 as a bonus disc in ‘The Jam at the BBC‘ compilation.

Read Chapter 2 – 1980 – 1983


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