By Tony May
Ever since I first wrote about Alan Esdaile’s (Johnny Mason) ‘SMART’ (Seventies music & retro talk) online group here in September last year I have been meaning to attend one of their monthly social gatherings held at The White Rock Hotel. As is often the case, however, when you really want to be able to keep a certain day of a certain month free for some reason, SOMETHING always comes up to make that impossible.
Well, on Sept 26th I finally managed to break that hoodoo and spent an enjoyable 2 or 3 hours in the company of surely some of Hastings most interesting people. Alan Esdaile and I go back a long way and so as soon as I arrived I was welcomed by Alan, given some club newsletters and introduced by him to Andre Palfrey- Martin. Remember the Martin-Casson Agency, which, used to promote events in and about town and on Hastings Pier? Well, Andre was the ‘Martin’ half of that partnership so you can imagine how interesting it was to meet him for a real music buff like me! Ironically, with all of the famous people I could have chosen to ask Andre about, we ended up talking primarily about a friend of mine, Simon Griffiths, who worked as a bouncer for the Martin-Casson Agency on the pier back in the 70’s and early 80’s. I have for some time now been trying desperately to find a copy of a 70’s photograph of the duo, ‘Medicine Head’ which appeared in one of the local newspapers and was thus hoping Andre might be able to help. The photograph is important to me becausemy friend Simon (sometimes known to people as ‘Carl’) is also in the picture. Sadly, Simon committed suicide in 2001 and as I do not have a photo of him I would dearly love a copy of the picture to remember him by. Unfortunately, Andre said that he was unable to help as far as his own extensive cuttings collection was concerned. He told me that a guy called Alan Markwick would have been the ‘hiring & firing’ person involved with that side of the Martin-Casson business back then but that Alan had passed away some years ago (as has Paul Casson – Andre’s partner in the agency). We discussed a search of the Hastings library archives but having taken that option already (and found the pages required missing in all of their local papers!) I told him that line of enquiry was dead. Andre, who has connections to Hastings Museum and many other local history related groups, seemed touched by my plight and following further discussion gave me his card, asked me to e mail him the details of the papers I’m interested in and said he would ‘see if there was anything he turn up’.
After speaking with Andre, I then was offered a seat next to one of Hastings best loved (and longest rockin’!) musicians, Mick Mepham. Along with Lol Cooksey (also present but I didn’t get to speak to him) and Terry Corder. Mick is perhaps best known for his role as the guitarist in Hastings legendary rock group – ‘Die Laughing’. Mick is another regular poster to the ‘SMART’ Facebook page and has tried to help regarding Simon (though he knew him as ‘Carl’) before. We chatted primarily though about the ‘Die Laughing’ reunion gig I attended at ‘The Carslile’ many moons ago (13th June 1988!) and about writing songs and recording. Mick was particularly chuffed when I (just a Singer/lyricist) said that I considered him to be a ‘real musician’. “I’m a good copyist – but I can’t come up with really original stuff of my own. Give me a great riff or a song and I will come up with one that sounds a bit like it!” said Mick with a laugh while nicking some of Tony Quinta’s plate of cheesy chips.
Following Mick, I got to meet Yvonne Cleland (finally! – We have been ‘Facebook friends’ for a couple of years) who used to attend a lot of gigs on Hastings Pier during its heyday as a music venue and who always has something interesting to add to the ‘SMART’ online discussions. I then found myself in the company of Hastings Rock & Pierlessmusic.com’s, Andy Gunton and Phil John, whom I was previously unaware of.
Now I did not made a great first impression on Andy Gunton when on first arriving I mistook him for Expandis lead singer, Jon Wilde! Andy was wearing some small circular glasses at that point and in my nervousness I got him and John mixed up! Amazingly, in spite of touching many similar bases, I had not met Andy in the flesh before and so it was good to break that duck and be able to sit and talk all things Hastings music scene with him. Andy is every bit as easy to get on with and enthusiastic about music & Hastings as he comes across on the radio and so we got on like a house on fire from the off. Phil meanwhile had some interesting tales to tell of life as a roadie for some of the biggest stars of the 70’s and 80’s. As well as sinking a lot of money into ‘doing his own thing’, Phil has led a quite extraordinary life and told me about how tours in the 1970’s used to be scheduled to allow ‘mileage time’ only when transporting tour equipment from one venue to another. While David Bowie himself might get to fly – the stage equipment itself would be driven from place to place non-stop! Sleep, home cooked or even hotel food, a good wash or any of the other ‘comforts’ would be a thing of dreams! The Rock’ N’ Roll lifestyle is so much more than just getting up on a stage once an evening and singing a bunch of popular songs and every time I listen to people like Phil speak I realise that, while I love writing songs, recording and performing, I’d be a real ‘lightweight’ when it comes to coping with the harsh realities of that kind of lifestyle!
Others present at the meeting included Hastings Rock’s, Sarah Harvey, Mick O’ Dowd, Malcolm Hutchinson & Chris Meachen (‘Essence’). All kinds of subjects were discussed according to Alan’s online notes including the current Bottle Alley situation, the Cobweb and Witchdoctor clubs, the beach concert, record players, Pink Floyd’s new album, Essence, Cilla Black, The Pullbacks, The Weeping Crocodiles, Fokker Triplane, The 6T’s, Krautrock, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Dave Lee Travis, greatest guitar riffs, David Bowie & Queen on BBC4 the Robert Tressell gig and when the next meeting is likely to take place.
I have to say that I had a great time at The White Rock Hotel. Alan Esdaile is a very good host, who, aside from ‘popping into conversations’ also does a fabulous job of making sure everyone present is made welcome, feels valued and gets involved. If you have ever thought of attending one of the SMART group meetings but worry about doing so on your own – don’t – just go – Johnny Mason and the SMART bunch are an easy lot to get on with and you will soon feel like you’ve known them all for ages…
With a NEW Hastings Pier not far off there will remain plenty of things for members to talk about for some time yet. Scrapbook collections, old posters, vintage vinyl, photo collections, (past or present) are always eagerly received, devoured and discussed in detail so if you have anything tucked away from the days of your youth why not search the attic for it and get involved?
You can find more information on ‘SMART’ on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/smart70s/ Or by visiting Johnny Mason’s excellent website: http://ninebattles.com/
Rye’s Own” November 2014
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