Before we start I have a shocking confession to make – I am a secret John Denver fan.
There, its said and I realise that most of you will by now even before you have reached this second sentence will have clicked onto something more palatable on the interwebby thing for no-one likes to read of John Denver, but I have some minor mitigation …
In the early summer of 1977 the company that I was working as a bonus surveyor for had opened a branch office in Newcastle-u-Tyne and quickly amassed several building projects without also amassing enough staff to operate them, so it came to pass that on one pleasant May afternoon my boss in Leeds came into the office and explained in his corny pirate Bristol accent that as our office was quiet for the time of year (it was actually in its death throes) and Newcastle was extremely busy, would I like to go there and work for just two weeks during which time they would be interviewing candidates to do the job permanently, I was going there to fill a gap for two weeks, I remember that specifically, oh yes, that was definitely the deal, two weeks was mentioned.
Halfway through the second week the office manager in Newcastle asked to have a word with me and broke the news that on that very morning the company directors had flown up to Leeds from Bristol and in their corny pirate Bristol accents had closed the Leeds office forthwith, there and then, just sacked 70 people and sent them home, they could do that, this was the 1970s, no notice required, pay you to the end of the week, now fook off home you’re no longer required.
“Oh” is all I could think of to say to him, then “So what do I do then?”
“Well they never mentioned you” said the Newcastle manager.
And so it came to pass that they stopped interviewing for local people to do the job I was covering for and instead I drove up to Newcastle every Monday morning, early every Monday morning, and stayed in terrible digs until Friday evening when I drove home again, they gave me a company van (the one I’d snaffled from Leeds which also seemed to have been forgotten in the conflict) and they paid the bill for my terrible digs, I must have been cheap or off their balance sheet for they, and I, did that for six years before they suggested that it seemed to be a permanent position now and maybe I’d like to look around for somewhere more local to live ?
But in the meantime, for six years, I drove the 100 miles from my home up the A1 to Newcastle every Monday morning and every Friday night and sometimes in mid week too and I got to know every inch of the A1 intimately, every roundabout, every turn, every junction, I knew for instance that if I left home at 6am then with a fair wind I should be at RAF Dishforth by 6.30 and at Catterick twenty minutes after that, each section of the road was punctuated by a roundabout and at every roundabout I knew what time it should be, I had that 100 miles mapped out in my mind like a F1 racing driver knows every inch of every circuit, down to every single second of the journey.
And it was during these tedious journeys that I sought music for the inside of a Mk1 Ford Escort van can be a noisy place, its lack of any sound insulation at all meaning that you completely embrace the driving experience and your arse and ears are numb when you step out of the vehicle at the other end – but there was a problem with the music.
You see, in 1977 the prediction made by Don McLean five years earlier had come to pass, the music had died, or at least the music that I liked had died and instead had been replaced by something that was loosely described the the DJs on the radio as “punk rock”.
There is a lot of discussion these days over what was and what wasn’t “punk rock” but ultimately it was all shite to my ears and the concept of playing a musical instrument with any element of skill seemed to have been forgotten in favour of just making a loud noise and gobbing on people in the front row who in turn thought this to be wonderful entertainment.
I was 21 years old and already thinking that this so called music was not for me, fighting amongst yourself in a concert venue while “the turn” gobs on you and plays the guitar worse than you can play the guitar, and given that you cannot play the guitar at all in any way that anyone would recognise as “playing” this is saying something, just did not impress and so I turned to…
I blame Whitley Bay for in Whitley Bay at that time there was a country music theme, for most of a couple of years the coastal town so beloved of Glasgow holidaymakers resounded to the twang and clang of banjos and tunes of forlorne cowboys sat around camp fires, it seemed that every pub in the area had a Country Night at least once a week and they even had a shop near the station where you could buy your cowboy boots, checkered shirts and spotted ‘kerchiefs and look like Woody from Toy Story when down at the pub, it was a lot of fun, I enjoyed it, I was living on my own in terrible digs but I could be Woody from Toy Story every night at a pub and the turn never gobbed at me, not even once.
There was a double album that I bought on cassette tape, “An Evening With John Denver” and it got played to death at full volume in the cavernous echoing van every Monday early morning and every Friday late night, to counteract the road noise and associated sound of a tin box charging down a dual carriageway at 80mph for two hours I had installed an expensive Sharp cassette player and a couple of huge dome speakers connected through a booster amp and equalizer and the music blasted at a deafening volume so that the amp sometimes overheated and cut out and the music was the music of John Denver, yes folks I’ve said it again, in those heady days of punk rock I got my rocks off by blasting out John Denver in my old van whilst hurtling through the night at an incredible speed for a vehicle which should by all rights have been consigned to a scrap heap years ago , we flew on through the night and John Denver and I sang about a Boy From The Country who could speak to the birds and the trees and the fish in the creek and just because they never spoke to us didn’t make it any less true.
John Denver and I sang so loud and so passionately through the night that by the time I arrived home I’d often have no voice left and my mother would often note “Ooh you’ve still got that sore throat haven’t you” and I’d have to admit that yes I had no voice left to speak of and she’d look worried and say something like “You’ve had that bad throat for nearly two years now shall I make an appointment at the doctors for you ?” and I’d refuse because the truth was of course that I only got a sore throat on a Friday night from singing “Boy From The Country” too loud in an incredibly noisy environment and “the turn” never gobbed on me, not even once…