Thursday, 19 September 2013


Between 1978 and 1980 I  changed career five times.

Okay, they all involved music, but they were all very different. With two of them I had to constantly sell myself and that particular skill wasn’t in my repertoire. It used to be. Up until the age of twelve I was awash with confidence, but it was the perishable confidence of an only child accustomed to being the centre of attention and eager to please.

I became a member of a local drama group and acted in productions at Finsbury Town Hall and wrote and starred in plays that were acted out at my junior school. I was an oik from Oiksville but I knew how to turn a card.

So in my first year at Owen’s, an all-boys’ secondary school in Islington, I thought nothing of raiding my mum’s wardrobe and dressing up as Megan Davies – the girl bassist in the Applejacks – and performing ‘Tell Me When’ in a miming competition (we were beaten by the Four Pennies with ‘Juliet’).

I was very competitive.

That was quickly followed by a magic show I presented in front of the whole school at that first Christmas concert. I even had the temerity to sing solo in the choir at the carol service the following day.

Grave mistakes, all.

I got away with it that year – eleven and twelve-year-olds back then were still standing in the shadows of tooth fairies – but after we were streamed I found myself in a form surrounded by some B- movie bastards. Life was no longer about classrooms lined with splodgy self-portraits, pine cones and home-grown plants all swaying gently to the sound of a hamster on a wheel.  Now it was shit and piss and impromptu hard-ons and ignominy.

The Megan incident was recalled one dark day about four weeks into the new school year. And so began eight consecutive terms of warp-factor-six intimidation.

First they dubbed me Sheila after someone mistakenly thought that was the name of the Applejacks girl. That was replaced by ‘Worms’ because my hair was excessively straight and greasy. Kids would stick used pieces of chewing gum onto my scalp because they were ‘Wrigleys’ (quite witty actually − well, it was a grammar school). I could only get them out by slicing off chunks of hair with a penknife I carried purely for that purpose.

This was something I couldn’t beat − there were just too many persecutors. It was my school nightmare and it didn’t help that 90 per cent of them were more intelligent than me. Outside the classroom with the guys on my estate it was different. There, you knew where you were, you knew what you were.  None of them had a glimpse of my nightmare and they were my best friends. 

At primary school nobody really got into major fights, apart from the odd bully boy, one of whom pulled a knife on me during morning break when I was six. I had a few street fights − it was unavoidable. As an eight year-old I once had to defend myself from serious injury with a dustbin lid when a mad Greek Cypriot kid, who later went on to gain notoriety as a mercenary in Angola (where he was executed) under the name of Colonel Callan,  tried to stab me with a sharpened broom handle.

A year or so later three members of a rival gang − two heavies and one lunatic – dragged me into an alley and cut off the soles of my shoes with carving knives. Did ever you see such a thing in your life?

Those were the days.

But I’d never before experienced the violence I endured at grammar school because it wasn’t physical. The thirteen and fourteen year-old boys who surrounded me in class tortured with their words. Forget that sticks-and-stones shit. Names hurled relentlessly for nearly three years hurt more.

I tried to compensate by acting a bit spivvy – bunking off, working on a pet stall in Chapel Market in the Angel, Islington, shouting, ‘Two quid the dog, thirty bob the bitch,’ as I walked up and down with a puppy under each arm. But it was all to no avail.

But, thanks to the Beatles, a trendy haircut and a handmade three-piece suit, this worm eventually turned.

Just before my thirteenth birthday we moved from a one bedroom council flat in Kings Cross to a two-bedroom council flat in King’s Cross, and the first thing I got for my bedroom was a record player. I bought it at Headquarters & General Supplies in Oxford Street and it cost a tenner. At the same time I bought my first single – ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’ by the Animals, followed a week later by my first album – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

It had to be the Beatles. They were like gods to me and I’ve never felt like that about anyone before or since. Each album was an introduction to another phase of my life and the deeper the albums became, the less they needed to release.

From ‘63 to the middle of ‘65, The Beatles brought out five albums full of six-month songs. During those years I was down at the end of lonely street with a barnet full of Wrigleys and I needed those quick fixes. Then they released the one sided album Help and the fixes were cut with talc leaving me gasping for more. The lyrics were the problem. With a couple of exceptions, they were nothing more than flash Bobby Vee.

I started to panic.

With the Beatles I could just about cope. But what if they were just another Gerry & the Pacemakers? What if their juice had coagulated in my veins and didn’t flow anymore?     

My soul was leaking. I needed a rubber one, quick.

They delivered, being the gods they were, with a bunch of songs that took the ribbon from my hair and helped me make it through the night. For the very first time, I could actually identify with the words. They made me feel more grown up, able to embrace the jibes and join the tribes.

Rubber Soul made things cool. It was December 1965. But there was still a long way to go for them, and for me.

Revolver, released in the summer of ’66, was the last of the ‘six monthers’. Sgt Pepper came out almost a year later and the extra wait coupled with the album’s madcap songs kinda tripped me into adolescent maturity. To celebrate, I got a haircut to suit the times – smart skinhead. It freed the worms and freed my mind. People stopped taking the piss and even girls started to notice me, well, the ones with glasses and a slight limp.

I was fifteen when my dad took me to Alfie Myer’s tailoring shop in Old Street to be fitted with my first suit – dark blue three-ply mohair, single ten-inch vent, fifteen inch bottoms with turn-ups, narrow lapels, waistcoat for those more ostentatious moments in life. Four fittings and one month later, I collected the thirty quid golden fleece and wore it for the first time at the Boathouse Club by Kew Bridge with the white button-down tapered Ben Sherman, college tie, white silk handkerchief peeking out the top pocket, fob watch gleaming from the waistcoat and shimmering classical black brogues. I danced to the Equals and Marvin Gaye and felt like a million dollars.

Incidentally, that night I was attacked by about ten mohair-suited skinheads, the worst kind, as I walked over the bridge to catch a bus. I escaped a beating − I had the gift of the gab back then − but the-ten-inch vent turned into an eighteen-inch vent during the initial chase when someone grabbed hold of my jacket.

I grew up overnight. It happens.

The limbs of my confidence had been blown off on a D-Day beach. But, thanks to the Beatles, Stanley Kaye’s barbershop off Liverpool Road and Alfie Myers, I still had my knob. Just.

I don’t remember meeting Stanley Kaye, or Alfie Myers. But I did meet Paul McCartney once, probably the most Megan-tragic meeting of my life...

It was like this...


© Barry Cain 2013

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