Wednesday 17 August 1977 started off much like any other day. As was often the case, while walking the dog I’d swing by the newsagents and grab a paper for my parents. More often than not the headlines didn’t catch my eye. However, on this occasion the same story was splashed across all the newspapers – Elvis Presley had died. My parents were shocked, especially my father, who to this day is devoted to music from the 50s era. Radio and TV stations devoted much of their airtime to Elvis’s musical legacy, which was difficult to avoid – not that I minded though. Until then, aged ten, I didn’t really have a stylistic route I was following – but having absorbed copious amounts of ‘Elvis’ I soon became hooked.
Unlike kids today, who appear to be facsimiles of one another, my era of secondary school was an opportunity of self-expression via a broad spectrum of music- and fashion-led subcultures. Mods, skinheads, punks and rockers were instantly recognisable by way of their garb. It was how, upon starting secondary school, you quickly formed friendships. It worked for me. Spotting a kid across the assembly hall wearing an identical denim jacket, complete with confederate flag, seemed like a logical place to start. I was right; we quickly bonded over our appreciation of 1950s British music, which soon (thanks to his brother’s extensive record collection) expanded to American rockabilly and early blues.
It wasn’t until 1979 that my school’s policy towards uniform was tightened. But even then, with some choice accessories, it was still possible to put light and shade between groups, my preferences being a box jacket, pink socks, creepers or winklepickers – topped off with a flattop haircut.
I didn’t dislike my school years – I had some good times – but from an early age I was of the mindset that I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. He was a practical chap who’d been a toolmaker and then helped run a successful burglar alarm company, but his passion was classic cars and motorcycles - which was where I picked up my love of engines. Therefore, aged fifteen I enrolled at Harlow College to study engineering and mechanics and at sixteen struck lucky with an apprenticeship.
My father’s mastery of the combustion engine was invaluable when I was of an age to purchase a Yamaha ‘Fizzy’. After spending some quality garage time with my father, my moped’s modest 49cc output was, let’s just say, ‘enhanced’. Then, seeing as it was technically a moped, I’d legally buzz across town on the cycle lanes. With this new-found freedom, it wasn’t long before me and my mates ventured beyond The Square in Harlow to get our fix of live music. The Hound Dogs, a small rock’n’roll club above the Railway Hotel in Bishop’s Stortford, became a regular haunt – despite us being under age we’d almost always be granted entry. Soon after I met Glenn Daeche, frontman from the Phantom Pharaohs – a notable rockabilly/psychobilly band from Harlow. Glenn, knowing I was keen to absorb as much live music as possible, took me along in his Ford Zephyr to the Burnell Arms pub in East Ham, London. Not only was everyone notably older than myself, but the music was on a whole different level – from that day forth my social life revolved around music.
Most weeknights, having finished work, I’d meet up with mates and after a swift pint we’d all pile into my Triumph Herald (my once-beloved Fizzy now banished to the shed) and head into London to frequent various clubs.
I got married young – aged twenty-two to be precise. I met my wife through a somewhat convoluted blind date – the upshot being that I preferred the friend of my date. Like myself, she enjoyed 50s music and before long I was wooing her at various clubs in London. Things quickly progressed and we soon settled into married life and our new home in Staple Tye. Then three years into our marriage our first child was born, with a further two offspring in subsequent years.
As relatively young parents we pondered moving to Spain – it was a popular choice at the time. However, when push came to shove neither of us (with family commitments) were truly in a position to leave Harlow. Besides, as daft as it sounds, I think we’d have grown tired of the limited vista – sea, land, mountains and sun would become a bit monotonous after a while.
No matter where I go, even after I fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Graceland, Memphis and Nashville, I always enjoy and savour that ‘comfortable’ feeling as I approach Harlow. This in no small part is down to the memories I’ve amassed over the years. However, maybe said feelings of nostalgia are amplified because I’ve always tended to look back in time for inspiration – who knows. But like my father, who still has the same car as when I was a kid, I also assign sentimental feelings to tangible items. I’ve still got my first Ford Consul – bought at the age of eighteen, plus various motorcycles, which hold hours of treasured memories of me and my father working on their restoration. Even if I could bring myself to sell them, what would I get to replace them? The money would just be absorbed into everyday life.
My views seem to be in the minority these days. In my opinion too few people settle for what they have; they attach little or no sentimental value to their possessions. ‘Stuff’ is replaced by newer, bigger, more indistinguishable versions – where’s the individuality gone? I think this is why some people become disillusioned in life – they expect everything handed to them on a plate. And their voices seem to be heard over those of us who are quite contented living in Harlow.
I don’t fight change – some improvements are good – but I do like to keep a handle on the past.