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Hold on Tight to your Dreams: From Revolver to Roctober and beyond 1981-1990

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roctober-One-30th-Anniversary/dp/B00NCRTVJ4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412664813&sr=8-1&keywords=Roctober+One 

 The time between my return from Shetland in January and November 1981 was for me a lost period. 1979 and 1980, my first school-free years since 1966, had been all about the excitement of making music and dreaming of rock ‘n’ roll stardom with Mike. It’s difficult now, at the age of fifty one, to look back on our often repeated Famous Soon! catchphrase without a hefty dose of retrospective irony. But at the time I think we really did mean it. Then, at the beginning of October there had been the big, and for the naive eighteen year me, rather radical move to Shetland, with all of the new people, places and experiences that that had brought.

And now, a mere three and a half months later, I found myself back in Grimsby, with no job, few prospects, and minus the songwriting and music making friend and partner who had helped to sustain and re-enforce my hopes and dreams for the previous past two years. It was like all the new year hangover blues you’ve ever had combined and magnified.

There is little point in my speculating now about my reason(s) for leaving Shetland so prematurely, nor in attempting to recollect my attitude upon my return to having done so. The fact is that my younger self is a psychological far-off land, much more distant even than the Shetland Isles themselves are from my Grimsby home town. The best that I can do is to look at the things I did, as far as they can be reliably recollected; or demonstrated by surviving artefacts such as tapes, letters, diary entries and so on. My actual thoughts and emotions, the working-0processes of my mind,  shall forever be inaccessible.

Having said all of this, I will still nonetheless allow myself one single piece of speculation as regards the reason for my departure. And that is that it was almost certainly a simple snap decision, perhaps spurred by a bad day, a hangover, a spot of homesickness or loneliness, or a combination of some or all of these; a decision that once made was simply lived with and followed through to a conclusion. As I’ve got older, I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to make decisions like that when you’re young.

In fact, the decision was so badly thought out that I did not even check that I had enough money for the fare beforehand, and after stepping off the St Claire ferry following a horrendous, puking, seasick journey from Lerwick to Aberdeen, I found myself not having enough cash left to cover the two-legged train journey to Grimsby. Actually and ludicrously, I didn’t even have enough to make the first leg to Doncaster, and thus I found myself stranded and penniless in Darlington, the nearest point in the direction of Grimsby that my meagre finances would stretch to and a place that few have cause to visit, picking up dog-ends to smoke whilst working out how the hell to get to the motorway in order to start hitchhiking.

In the end, now desperate and afraid, with not even the slightest idea of in what direction to begin journeying, I asked the advice of a passing policeman who had been eying me suspiciously as I loitered in the darkness in a closed shop doorway. As it turned out there was a procedure in place for such situations: I was directed to the nearest police station where I was able to contact my parents in Grimsby via their bemused neighbour’s phone (they never did get to own a phone of their own) with the instructions that they were to deposit the necessary monies at the main (only?) Grimsby police station, the equivalent amount to then be handed to me in desolate Darlington. I’ve no idea if this kind of procedure is still in place today for the stranded. If it isn’t, then it ought to be.

So, after a long, fag-less night spent in a cold police station waiting room, I was finally handed enough money to make my way home, plus sufficient cash remaining to treat myself to ten Rothman’s and a Full English before boarding the train. Both were more than welcome.

Back on the Yarborough estate my post-Shetland life soon settled into a dull normality. Since 1976 I, along with my older brother Steve had been members of Immingham (a small town about ten miles outside of Grimsby) chess club, and I soon picked up where I had left off with this, taking part in regular internal club competitions, Lincolnshire league matches against the likes of Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Appleby Froddingham, Goole and Caistor, and less regularly competing in individual ‘ weekend Congress’ tournements at Cleethorpes, Scunthorpe, Hull, and probably other more far-flung venues. I shared first prize in the ‘Minor’ at Cleethorpes one year, and also once claimed the ginger scalp of Norman Lazonby, at the time the reigning champion of Lincolnshire. I continued as a sort of semi-serious chess player until the summer of 1983.

Apart from the chess, and also drinking home-brew with my dad in the evenings, one of the two main activities I remember during the ten months until November of 1981 was walking to the library close to the town centre in order to take out books. I read a lot that year. Chess books, certainly. Biography’s of the Beatles and other musical heroes, definitely. But also for the first time more seriously and widely. This was the year that I read all of Orwell’s novels, as well as some of his none fiction works such as The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London. I also believe that it was at this time that I read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, part of my motivation for doing so no doubt being that it was the book that inspired, if that’s the correct word, Mark Chapman to assassinate John Lennon.

My other main activity during those first few months after my return seems to have been in maintaining contact with Mike in Shetland. We picked up more or less where we had left off whilst he had been in up there for the first time in the spring of 1980, exchanging long, long, funny letters sent out in bulging envelopes. Really, this was an isolated time for me. My other two best friends from school, Alun Ecklund and Neil Jenkinson had both left Grimsby in 1978, soon after leaving school, as I have mentioned in my earlier ‘From Far Away to Shetland…’ memoir.  My last contact with Neil had been in the summer of 1980 when he’d returned briefly to Grimsby from Oxford following the death of his father. Me and Mike had gone out and got very drunk with him, an evening which culminated in Neil vomiting profusely in Mike’s room. We’d told Neil that night about our forthcoming move to Shetland, with the strong proviso that he was not to tell my parents whom I had yet to break the news to. Needless to say, the following morning, after I had gone into work with an extreme, head-exploding hangover, he told them. Despite us having been friends from the age of seven, I never really forgave him for this act of betrayal, and ignored an attempt of his to re-establish contact at some point during 1981. I have never seen or heard from him since.

With Al, once he had joined the army, Mike and I continued to see him occasionally during his leave periods. He even put in a guest appearance on our Revolver Six cassette, as noted in my earlier memoir. He’d become a Teddy Boy when not in uniform, and I definitely went with him to a couple of Rock ‘n’ Roll nights at the Submarine in Cleethorpes, feeling out of place with my lack of a draped jacket, drainpipe trousers, and winkle pickers, though I did for a time own a bootlace tie. I don’t remember Mike attending any of these nights, though he may have done. I’m also not sure if Al was present at any of our brief guest spots with the house rock ‘n’ roll revival band upstairs in the P and M pub either, though he may have been. At any rate, despite our shared affection for the music of the fifties, a certain distance developed between me and Al as I became more political (see below), and he adopted some of the, shall we say, traditionally anti-progressive attitudes that you would expect from a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. The last time that I went drinking with him was shortly after my return from Shetland, though we did have some sporadic contact two or three years later through us both occasionally frequenting the same dealer in a bedsit cannabis-retail establishment on Welholme Road.

These friendships had not been replaced, and so outside of my family, I had little social contact in those first months after returning from Shetland. Fortunately though, my isolation was broken for a brief time in May when Mike returned temporarily to Grimsby after first visiting Manchester and Blackpool with his then girlfriend, Lorraine. After a short stay in Grimsby, the two of us headed off to London together for a few days. This was the first visit to the capital for the both of us, and it proved something of an experience. We found our way to Soho where we went to an ‘adult’ cinema where extremely graphic ‘movies’ played constantly on a loop. Before this I think the most explicit film I’d ever seen had been The Stud starring Joan Collins, or maybe Caligula starring a horse. We also went to a topless bar which turned out to be a bit of a clip-joint where you were expected to pay an exorbitant price for drinks, with no option to remain drink-less. This was the night before the then annual England versus Scotland Home International match which that year was taking place at Wembley. In the bar, as an attractive blonde and an even more attractive West Indian girl looked on impassively with their impressive breasts on show, Mike and I were witness to a tense stand-off between an almost stereo-typically hard-man Glaswegian and his table of admirers, and an equally hard and intransigent cockney doorman. Eventually, without a punch being thrown, the latter backed down and allowed the Scots to leave without buying a drink. Of course, Mike and I did all the usual touristy stuff too, visiting Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square and so on. We have the photographs to prove it. But it’s the topless bar and the cinema that stick in my mind.  

 A recently unearthed letter from Mike to me suggests that, back in Grimsby, we recorded an ‘awful’ Rock ‘n’ Roll cassette before his return to Shetland. I have no memory of this, and the tape has yet to be re-discovered. At any rate, this enjoyable visit was the last I would see of Mike for around sixteen months. During this time, our relationship continued to be conducted at a distance, the long letters perhaps becoming even longer and more elaborate in reaction to the knowledge that our separation was now open ended. We also traded cassette ‘solo albums’, proof that we both did continue to work on music during this time, though I personally have very few memories of doing so. One solo cassette of mine survives from 1981. This is titled The Man Who Said Dogs (and for all you purists out there, it was actually credited to ‘Tony Green and his Four Legged Friends’)  after one of our often repeated catchphrases, and contains, as well as some excruciatingly bad vocals, only one song, the opener ‘Rose Tinted Glasses’, that may have been worthy of further exploration. A recently re-discovered letter from Mike features an overly kind review of this cassette, and has references to an earlier cassette called ‘Canine Capers’ which I don’t remember, and to one track from it ‘I Don’t Wanna be no Slave, which I do. This cassette has yet to be unearthed. This same long, funny letter also contains a rundown of Mike’s latest solo effort, Domestic Gripes, which featured at least three songs that I remember, All the Screwing, The End, and Takes a Thief. His songwriting and musicianship were clearly continuing to develop, though as I am sure he himself would admit, his recordings perhaps lacked the raw excitement of the later Revolver material.

It was my mam who gave me the push to break out of my isolation that November. ‘Here’s something that might suit you’ she said, peering at an advert in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph through her spectacles, perched on the edge of a chair that had been especially raised in order to assist her with her severe, and still sadly worsening, arthritis. ‘The inaugural meeting of Grimsby Labour Party Young Socialists…’

1981 was a very political year. There had been the election of Arthur Scargill as President of the National Union of Mineworkers, an event which foreshadowed the bitter dispute of 1984-85; the hunger strike by the IRA prisoners at the Maze prison, an action which I was vaguely in support of; and then there was the inner-city riots that shook the nation during the summer of ’81, events that whilst they undoubtedly included a large amount of opportunistic, sheer-criminality, were also most definitely a reaction to heavy-handed and often racist police actions and attitudes, as well as to spiralling youth unemployment under the harsh monetarist economic policies of Thatcherism. On a personal level, as Toxteth, Brixton, and Moss Side burned, one weekend rumours swept Grimsby that the town was going to have to have its very own riot, beginning at Riby Square , at the junction of Freeman St and Cleethorpes Rd. According to the ‘word on the street’ in these pre-social networking days, the riot was to begin on Saturday night at pub ‘chucking-out’ time. I duly turned up at around the appointed hour, ready for action. Apart from the usual drunks and prostitutes, there was nobody else there; certainly no one who looked up for a riot.  Disappointed, I returned to the Yarborough estate and bed.

The news that autumn was dominated by Tony Benn’s campaign to become Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party. Although this ultimately defeated campaign was in reality for something of a none-job, it did have the effect of helping to galvanise support for Left Wing ideas amongst certain sections of society, particularly young people, including myself. My family were solid labour voters, and my late Uncle Ted had been a party member and sometime local election candidate. I’d been vaguely interested in politics since school. This interest was developed further during my time in Shetland through contact with Magda, a work colleague who also provided a short-lived musical collaboration, and by some interesting discussions up at Mike’s then girlfriend’ Maggie’s house in Gulberwick. Magda owned a copy of Leon Trotsky’s A History of the Revolution. I would come to know this book well, but at the time  I was only dimly aware of whom Trotsky was.

Anyway, what with Shetland, and the events of ’81 that I have described, plus my already vague political interest, plus my reading of Orwell, plus loneliness and social isolation, I was perhaps ripe to throw myself wholesale into political activity. And thus, one night in November I found myself turning up at the headquarters of Grimsby Labour Party to attend the inaugural meeting of the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) that had been signposted for me by my mam. On arrival, I was greeted by an old school colleague (not a friend, but not an enemy) and fellow Yarborough estate resident by the name of Pat Howard. His presence undoubtedly aided my integration into the group.

 The LPYS in those days, nationally and locally, was controlled by the Militant Tendency, a semi-clandestine Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist, Democratic Centralist, Entryist organisation which at that time claimed around 2500 members and was well on the way to becoming both a household name and a national bogeyman (or bogey-group if there is such a thing.) Like many others, I quickly made the transition from being mere LPYS member to full-on Militant ‘Comrade’.

And that new identity became, in large part, with the exception of the ‘Year of Roctober’ 1984 as detailed below, the main focus of my life until I left Grimsby to attend Manchester Metropolitan University in the autumn of 1990.

 Militant membership never quite approached the cult-like total immersion experience demanded by some ultra-leftist groups, notably by the mad Maoist sects, an example of which has recently been all over the newspapers in the London ‘Slavery’ case. Militant comrades, in Grimsby at least, were generally far too cynical and good humoured for all of that.

But we were kept busy. There was the weekly branch meeting upstairs in the Duke of Wellington pub on Pasture St, before which one was expected to read the relevant articles, pamphlets and book chapters in readiness for a political discussion on the Russian Revolution, the Middle East, Ireland, Marxist Economics, Dialectical Materialism and the like. It wasn’t long before I was ‘leading off’ some of these discussions myself, talking confidently about developments in the World Economy or ‘Perspectives for Africa’, subjects I knew nothing about other than from what I’d been given to read beforehand. In addition to the branch meeting, there was the LPYS meeting, which usually took place in Grimsby central library and happened, I think, generally on a Monday. There were frequent public meetings on whatever subject was topical at the time, and which were proceeded by ‘mass leafleting’ campaigns designed to attract new recruits. In addition, there would often be national demonstrations, or rally’s or other events, which we needed to prepare and fundraise for, as well as small group meetings of the different ‘sections of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes organisation: the Youth Bureau; the Women’s Bureau; the Industrial Bureau; the Unemployed Bureau, all of which met weekly, and most of which seemed to consist of the same few people.

 On top of all of this was the Paper Sales, the sales of our newspaper Militant, which was the main public activity of the organisation. At least two took place on any given week: the Saturday sale in Grimsby town shopping centre, or ‘precinct’ as we called it on those pre-‘mal’ days, and an ‘estate sale’ which consisted of us going door to door on the Yarborough, or the Willows, or the Nunsthorpe, or the Grange, or the West Marsh estate. These sales took place whatever the weather. I well remember us once trailing around the Grange in thick snow and sub-zero temperatures, our hard as nails Full Timer Ian McEwen, who according to his own anecdotes seemed to have single-handedly built the Humber Bridge, denouncing as a ‘Petty Bourgeois’ anybody with the fool-hardy courage to suggest that an early dart to the nearest pub might be in order.

I don’t want to sound negative about my time in Militant. Being a ‘comrade’ gave me a purpose in life when I needed it. The reading and discussions I did and was a part of through Militant, gave me an education which, whilst ideologically narrow, paradoxically also introduced me to the wider-world of ideas. This really was the foundation that later allowed me, someone who had left school with just a handful of CSE’s, to later complete ‘A’ levels as a mature student, and ultimately to leave Grimsby for Manchester en route to a decent Degree. This was a level of educational attainment which  would have been unthinkable to my pre-Militant self.

My time in the Tendency really forms a different subject to which I will probably return another time, another place. The last I will say here about it concerns its effect on my social life. Joining a highly-motivated, ultra-active political organisation of this type gives you access to a ready-made set of friends. The same is true also of fringe religious groups, though with generally far fewer pub visits involved. I met some great people in Militant: witty, cultured, eloquent, cynical, committed people whom it was great fun to work and to drink with. I won’t name any of them, unless they crop up in the text for some reason later. But one thing I liked about Militant was that you got to interact on a more or less equal basis with people from very different backgrounds and occupations. Thus at a meeting or during a night out in the pub  you might have gathered together a couple of students; a couple of unemployed people; a benefits office worker; a housewife or two; a trade union official; a factory worker; a Militant Full Timer; a social worker; a chef, and a nurse. Mostly, in the real world, people stick with their own kind.

Mixing with such a diverse group undoubtedly aided my confidence, though I was soon to learn that friendship in a disciplined political organisation, as in an exclusivist religious group, depends almost totally on subservience to group norms: none of these ‘friendships’ survived beyond my time as a comrade, and were even put into abeyance at times when my level of activity dropped below the level that was expected of a member, for instance during much of 1984.

Almost every Militant activity ended with a visit to the pub, and in the case of the weekly branch meeting actually took place in a pub, thus providing the opportunity to drink whilst the activity was actually taking place. Even when not engaged on ‘active duty’, I would end up drinking with the comrades. Almost every Saturday night, at least during those early days, involved a pub crawl around Grimsby town centre, or around Cleethorpes, taking in places like the Barge, the Haven, Troski’s (later Swigs), Lloyds bar, the Excel, the Notts, the Smuggler’s Inn, Willy’s Wine bar, winding up until the early hours in Gulliver’s, or Grinder’s or Clouds night clubs. I loved it, loved the banter, loved the sense of comradeship, loved the singing of revolutionary songs and loved the booze. My drinking had not yet reached the dangerously destructive heights of later years, but what with caning it with the comrades and sampling my dad’s often potent home-brew in between, it was certainly heading in that direction.

As far as music is concerned, I can remember very little about 1982. The recent cassette excavations that Mike and I have been engaged in have failed to unearth any evidence of musical activity from myself that year. I do suspect that I produced at least one ‘solo album’ at this time though, as I remember two songs, ‘Far and Distant Land’, which was about a girl called Lizzie in Shetland, and ‘Hone, Honey, Honey’, which was about not very much at all. I seem to remember also that this ‘lost’ album also contained a sing-along contribution from my young niece and nephew, a fact that elicited from Mike the barbed written review of ‘Give the kids their own album Tone!’, although this could actually have been on the afore-mentioned ‘lost’ ‘Canine Capers’ tape. The absence of both of these cassettes is incidentally no great loss to world-culture, but it would be nice to fill in the blanks.

Mike visited in Grimsby in September of that year, on the way to a short and not very successful trip to France, our first meeting since shortly after the London trip of spring ’81. I can actually remember nothing at all about this visit. In fact, until being reminded of it by Mike recently, I was not even aware that it had taken place.

I must have continued to work on my guitar playing after joining Militant, although I have little memory of doing so, as by the time that Mike returned to Grimsby full time in the spring of ’83 I was a far more proficient player than I had been during our last proper sessions together, those that took place around the time of Revolver Ten in the summer of 1980. These things are of course always relative: I was always a dabbler when it comes to music. I was never going to put in the hours of focussed practice necessary to become really good. I was never going to be approached to play sessions for Steely Dan, but that’s fine. Being good enough to gain enjoyment from playing, and having sufficient knowledge and ability to be able to write the odd half-decent song, has always been enough for me.     

     The first recorded evidence of Mike and I recording together following his return from Shetland in the Spring of ’83 is on the last two tracks of my ‘solo’ cassette ‘Back to the Bathroom.’ There is no date on this tape, and I can only surmise that I began it whilst Mike was still in Shetland, but had not completed it by the time of his move back to Grimsby. A clue to its approximate date of origin comes from the absence of drums on these two tracks. My Soundmaster Drum Machine was purchased with money given to me by my parents, after much prompting and whining from myself, at the beginning of July 1983. These two proto-Roctober songs therefore must have been recorded prior to my Twenty First, which occurred on July 1st 1983.

The two songs in question were Same Song, a song of mine which also appears in solo acoustic only form earlier on side one, and a song of Mike’s called Burning Out. Both of these songs re-appear on the only proper, ‘official’ Roctober tape, Roctober One, a year later; so I will talk about them when I go through the contents of this cassette in detail later. All I will note here is that as they feature both me and Mike, me on acoustic and vocals and Mike on electric on Same Song, with the positions being reversed on Burning Out, they seem to be the earliest surviving Roctober recordings.

It is perhaps necessary here to say a little about the adoption of the name Roctober: I have no idea when the decision to drop the name Revolver was taken, nor when ‘Roctober’ was decided upon as its replacement. I seem to think that initially the name came from me, my earlier suggestion of the ‘Tony Green Band’ being frequently vetoed by Mike. I don’t remember any other names being considered. ‘Roctober’ was a pun on ‘October’, or even ‘Red October’, a reference to the October Russian Revolution of 1917, a historical event that as a Militant supporter loomed large in my mental hinterland at that time. There is another cassette from this period that has been uncovered. This is labelled ‘Mike Anderson and Tony Green New Start 1983’, thus pre-dating the adoption of the name Roctober. This tape is also undated, and unfortunately has not survived the withering of the years and has proved to be unplayable. The only clue to its contents is references on a piece of paper inside the cassette case to us working on Mike’s song The End with Richard Wilkinson, a fellow Militant supporter, on bass. The sparse notes also indicate that side two featured mostly Mike on guitar and me on bass, but give no clue as to what songs we might have played.

The first reference to the name Roctober is on the cassette ‘Roctober 1983,’ which is also undated. This short tape features only four tracks: Mike’s ‘Hold on Tight’, which appears here without what would later become it’s trademark electric rhythm guitar harmonics; his classic ballad ‘You Know’ which is here almost identical to the definitive Roctober One version; and incomplete versions of two songs that were written by me: Same Song and Ritual, of which more later. Apart from the drum-less Ritual, all of these tracks feature my drum machine, which dates them as post the beginning of July 1983. 

On a personal level, apart from Mike’s return from Shetland, my strongest memory of 1983 is political. The June general election was a disaster for the Labour Party under Michael Foot, but for Militant it was a triumph, representing as it did the first time two openly Trotskyist candidates, Dave Nellist in Coventry South east, and Terry Fields in Liverpool Broadgreen, were elected to the House of Commons. I spent most of the campaign journeying up to Bradford North to canvass for another Militant supporter Pat Wall, at one point staying for a whole week, along with Richard Wilkinson, on the Bradford Labour Party Headquarters floor. I have great memories of wondering from door to door in the Yorkshire sun, usually getting a warm welcome, especially in the Asian community, of virtually living on the best curry’s I’d ever tasted in the most rundown curry house I’d ever seen, and of drinking Real Ale in a local pub in the evenings whilst local Tendency stalwart Keith Nyree held court. I was also present at a huge rally in the city when Foot shared a platform with both Wall and Arthur Scargill, as well as other Bradford Labour candidates. It’s difficult to imagine any leader since the much maligned Foot sharing a platform with a controversial Trade Union Leader and a self-professed Marxist-Leninist. Ultimately Pat Wall was narrowly defeated, largely through ex M.P Ben Ford splitting the Labour vote by standing as an independent. But it was still a great campaign to be involved in, more memorable and exciting somehow than the victorious campaign of ‘87.

The 1983 election campaign also provided a rather strange afternoon at the highly untidy house of local Grimsby Labour M.P. Austin Mitchell. He'd invited representatives of the Grimsby LPYS there in order to discus how we might best be of help in his own campaign for re-election. SAs it turned out, about six of us spent two to three hours with him, discussing everything from the weakness of Labour's Alternative Economic Strategy to the class nature of the Soviet Union. Amusingly, we found a copy of Mayfair under a cushion when Austin was in the kitchen making drinks. But fair play to him for taking us seriously enough to engage with us at such length. Not many Labour M.P's would have done so.

Musically I don’t remember much more from 1983 than I'vee already mentioned. Mike and I must have continued to write and to develop the songs which would eventually appear on Roctober One, but I have no memory at all of this. Strange but true, but apart from the Revolver song ‘Today’, a song I wrote called ‘To See Dawn Come’ in Israel in 1991, and a few that I wrote much later between 2003 and 2007, I have little memory of my own songwriting processes. It’s like the songs just emerged fully-formed, perhaps from, as Keith Richards likes to put it, the place ‘Where the Angels have them.’

Mike and I continued to see each other regularly, and our friendship remained a close one. Booze though now played more of a part in our relationship than it had previously, with rarely a get together being conducted without the lubricating presence of the demon drink. By the summer of ’83 Mike was living in Wells St, along with Richard Wilkinson, whom I’ve already mentioned, and fellow Militant supporter Bill Brewster, who would later be the singer in the band the Expanding Wallets, and later still would attain a modicum of fame as a D.J and author of the book Last Night a D.J Saved my Life. I will remember the empty Vermouth, our preferred tipple of the time, bottles beginning to pile up in the kitchen, an occurrence that did not go unremarked upon by Richard, Bill, and the latter’s ever present collection of often annoying friends and sycophants.

Cannabis had also become a factor in our lives. My first joint had been smoked as early as 1978, with Neil Jenkinson in his back garden, before he went off to watch a Rugby match, not a generally preferred stoned activity, at his sister’s house. I did what you were supposed to do; I went home to listen to Sgt Pepper on the headphones. The close proximity of my parents however soon led to a mild attack of paranoia, and I quickly took refuge in more mundane activities until the effects wore off. At the suggestion of a work-colleague, whom I nicknamed Zany Humour but do not now know the real name of, Mike and I did have a brief dalliance with Marzine Travelling Pills before our move to Shetland in 1980. Normally, even when mixed with a fair quantity of booze, these legally purchased tablets did little more than make you feel tired and shake a little bit in reaction a weak head-rush. But one night after Mike had left to return to his own place, I did have a near full-on psychotic experience on these pills, imagining that people outside the house were planning to break in, and seeing a fluffy white bunny rabbit that was inexplicably in my bedroom turn into a giant spider when I reached out to touch it. I never took them again. My next experience with a ‘proper’ drug was in Shetland, smoking grass in Mike’s cousin Karen’s room a couple of times before heading out to the pubs. This proved to be pretty weak stuff however, with hardly any effects worthy of the name.

Given the sort of music Mike and I liked, and the sort of musicians we admired, from the Beatles down, it was inevitable that we would want to dabble in drugs. My own regular cannabis use, and it was never that regular, really began in late-’82, access being gained through a group of people, led by ‘Simon Drugs’, the dealer whom I referred to earlier as living in a bedsit on Welholme Road, who were on the periphery of Militant for a while. Mike had become a seasoned smoker in Shetland, after I had left. On his return, the dope perhaps added a new dimension to our friendship.  In the Revolver days, we would talk virtually non-stop in a generally successful attempt to amuse each other and ourselves. We still did plenty of that, but now we would also sometimes sit in silence smoking and listening to music. It wasn’t worse or better than before, only different; and without a doubt these drug experiences fed into the sort of music that we produced. My songs Ritual and the later Where oh Where, for instance, could not have been written without a certain amount of drug exploration.

It is perhaps apposite here to say something about musical influences in this period, just as I did about the Revolver years in my earlier memoir. Again I will add the proviso that everything really influences everything else, so an ‘influences’ list really amounts to little more than a list of what we were listening to at that time. The Beatles, of course, never went away. We favoured their later stuff at this time, the closing medley on Abbey Road side two being a particular favourite, especially when spliff’s were circulating. Dylan came more to the fore, especially his Blonde and Blonde double album, and especially on that album the lengthy Visions of Johanna track (‘should I leave it by your gate?’). We were also big fans of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, the Pet Sounds album and the ‘pocket symphony’ ‘Good Vibrations’, of course, representing the high point of their (really his) creative output. Mike had become a fan of Heavy Metal whilst in Shetland, and this fed into our listening habits when he returned: Tank, Def Leopard, Foreigner, Boston, ACDC, Led Zeppelin is all stuff I remember listening to at this time. I was perhaps never a Metal fan to the extent that Mike was, though I could enjoy it well enough when stoned. I did like Zeppelin, having first become acquainted with them through my brother-in-laws record collection at my sister’s house when babysitting. They were always something far more than a Metal band anyway. I also liked ACDC, having been introduced to them by the afore-mentioned Zany Humour during my Community Programme wall-building period 1979-1980. We also listened to slightly more psychedelic stuff, like Hawkwind and Pink Floyd, and classic off-the-wall sixties albums like Ogden’s Gone Nut Flake by the Small Faces. Our taste was perhaps more varied and eclectic than I have done justice to here. Kate Bush was a big favourite of both of us, as was, a little later, Van Morrison. We even went through a short-lived period of listening to the Bay City Rollers (!), their catchy, bubblegum pop, melodies sounding surprisingly good when stoned, a fact that Karen and Maggie from Shetland, who as young girls had been swept up in the original wave of ‘Rollermania’, acknowledged after a stoned Rollers listening session during their ’84 visit.  

I had lapsed temporarily into political inactivity by the beginning of 1984.  This was no doubt due in part to over-indulgence in booze and dope, the apathy inducing properties of the latter being well known. But it was also perehaps partly due to the renewed excitement of playing music with Mike again. Because my contact with the comrades had lessened, our main drinking buddies in those days were two older men by the name of Steve Draper and Terry Danville, who everybody except his mum called Jagger. Steve was a gentle and eccentric soul whom had perhaps never quite recovered from a breakdown he’d had in his youth. He’d been on the periphery of Militant since before I’d joined. Sadly, most comrades regarded him as a joke, someone who was good only to elicit a weekly donation from, not someone who was fit to attend our weekly branch meetings. He loved to write letters to the Militant and the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, loved his Barley Wine, and was one of the most thoroughly decent human beings I’ve ever met. Jagger had been Steve’s friend since the sixties. He was a nice guy too, an agreeable drinking companion, though prone to rather grandiose statements about himself at times. I remember that he claimed to be writing a novel called ‘Opec Monacle’, which is a good title, but for which we never saw any evidence. Both of these gentlemen are sadly no longer with us. Jagger died four or five years ago, and Steve last year, 2013. The latter got a nice little obituary in the Socialist newspaper, the successor paper to Militant. It was written by Alistair Tice, who I remember as a Militant Full Timer in Hull in the eighties. Everyone called him ‘Ticky’. It was nice that Steve belatedly, if posthumously, got some recognition for his longstanding contribution.

, For those of you who enjoy lists of old and in some cases now defunct Grimsby pubs, as I definitely do, the favoured watering holes for the four of us were Peppys bar, the Tivoli Tavern, the White Hart, and me and Mike’s old stompin’ ground of the P and M. Other people entered our orbit for a time in this period too, before disappearing almost as quickly as they had appeared: Martin, who was clearly an alcohol, and whom Mike and I once watched embarrassed as he begged his aged, defeated looking mum for the money for ‘a bottle’; Sally, who briefly went out with both Jagger and Mike, though not at the same time; and Pamela, who Mike called ‘Floella Benjamin’ because of her more than passing resemblance to the former Playschool presenter.   

Roctober One was recorded in June and July 1984. I don’t know why it took so long to get definitive versions of these songs down on tape. Maybe it was laziness, maybe it was perfectionism, maybe a combination of both. It was certainly a far cry from the prolific Revolver days of 1979-80, when we produced eleven cassettes in seventeen months, though admittedly some of these were knocked out without much thought in a single evening. As there really are only these fourteen Roctober songs in existence, not counting the unfinished Roctober ’87 tracks which I will discuss later, I will go through each of them in turn.

Side One opens with Hold on Tight. This is one of Mike’s best, a rocker that begins with a similar ‘A’ to ‘E’ verse chord sequence to Up and Down/Say What You Feel from the Revolver days, then goes somewhere else in the choruses, the main refrain of which gave this piece of writing it’s title: ‘Hold on, hold on, hold on tight to your dreams/it may never be the same again.’ The beat, as on all songs on this tape, is provided by my drum machine. Mike plays acoustic and sings, and I play electric guitar with distortion. One note of interest here is the ‘beep-beep’ harmonics that appear on the verses. Whether they were accomplished by accident or design is unknown, but they certainly provide an added dimension to the song. Like all tracks on One, this was recorded live straight into Mike’s cassette recorder. Lyrically, it’s one of Mike’s most political, and one of his best.

Specifically Same Song has already been referred to earlier. The ‘Specifically’ prefix, was a rather short-lived and misguided attempt to ape some of Dylan’s odd title choices around the time of the Blonde on Blonde album, e.g. Absolutely Sweet Marie, Temporary like Achilles. I wrote Same Song about one of the few girls in the 80’s to actually fancy me. Sadly, although I would have loved to have had a girlfriend at this time, I didn’t fancy her. Such is life. It’s quite a simple song, only three chords, with a simple melody, but quite effective, with one of my better vocal performances. I play acoustic and sing, with Mike echoing my guitar part on electric, as well as joining in with the vocals on the choruses.

I remember that Jagger particularly liked the lyrics to Where oh Where, and it is one of my strongest, most atmospheric songs lyrically. It’s the first song I ever wrote in 3/4 waltz time rather than the standard 4/4. It’s difficult for me to separate the song from the image of my playing it live in Scartho Road cemetery on our Roctober the Movie video, of which more shortly. This is the only Roctober era song that I re-recorded when I resumed musical activity between 2003 and 2008.

You Know is my favourite Mike song, and one of our best ever, be it Revolver or Roctober. When we do finally become world-famous (soon), then it is during this song that thousands of mobile phones will be hoisted high. Great chords, beautiful melody, and excellent lyrics: I like to think that my jangling electric guitar arpeggios add something too.

Mike has recently described I’m Moving On as ‘Roctober play Status Quo’, and it is perhaps our most generic rocker. It’s not bad though and I will always enjoy and look forward to the bit where Mike runs his plectrum up the bass string. It features Mike on electric and vocals, me on acoustic.

It’s True is another of my rockier tunes, featuring myself on acoustic and vocals and Mike on electric. It’s about a guy meeting up with an old flame who seems to have gone to seed physically. I don’t think that it had any real-life inspiration. It’s quite light-hearted, and I remember Mike and I finding the words amusing at the time. That shouldn’t detract from the passion of the performance though, which is real enough. Listening to it recently for the first time in at least a quarter of a century, I’ve decided that it sounds quite like Talkin’ Heads, although I’m not sure if I was aware of Talkin’ Heads at the time, possibly, if only through Psycho Killer.

Ritual was probably my best song musically and lyrically of the Roctober era. It’s almost Prog’-Metal before there was such a sub-genre, with a great arrangement. My favourite bit is the point when the acoustic guitar, drums and vocals only middle-eight leads directly into Mike’s second excellent solo of the song. My finger picked guitar part and Mike’s electric arpeggios on the verses are slightly out of tune with each other, but this kind of adds a depth to the sound, or maybe I’m just so used to hearing it that way that I can’t imagine it otherwise. It is definitely one of my three top tracks.

Side one ends with New Lament.

Side Two opens with Fantasy, a Mike rocker which is rather a neglected member of the small Roctober canon. I remember us having a ‘musical difference’ over Mike’s use of the word ‘baby’ in this song. I was going through a bit of a purist, ant-rockist period at the time, largely influenced, I think, by Fall fan Richard Wilkinson. ‘Baby’ offended my actually not very strong at all punk credentials. Anyway, Mike eventually changed the lyric to ‘and I know’, and that was probably the right decision. Mike on electric and vocals, me on acoustic, with our voices blending quite nicely on the chorus.

Standing at the Altar is a strange one. The lyrics were based on the television comedy show Just Good Friends starring Paul Nicholas and Jan Francis which was current at the time. It was a mainstream sitcom which has probably not dated well, but I quite liked it at the time; it had some good lines. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed by Alta because of its origins, but the lyrics do work quite well in their own terms. The song has one of my best ever melodies, and on the recorded version here a cracking guitar solo from Mike.

Today of course stems back as far as Revolver Five, and it is one of only two Revolver era songs to feature on One. That we did return to this song at this time had been completely erased from my memory until recently, which is surprising as the version here is great, the brilliant lead guitar riffing and soloing from Mike perfectly complimenting my acoustic rhythm and bluesy vocals. If we could have been given a sneak time-travel glimpse of this version when first working on this song nearly five years earlier, we would have been more than happy.

Burning Out I’ve mentioned earlier. It sounds to me like it was influenced somewhat by the Jam’s later stuff, like something that could have been on Sound Effects. It’s a nice song with a nice, varied arrangement, with me on acoustic and Mike on electric. Lyrically, it is quite literary: the ‘Chewing the fat over cups of tea’ line near the beginning is a reference to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, whilst the later ‘…where the big fish play’ references George Bowling’s return to his mythically remembered childhood home of Lower Binfield in George Orwell’s Coming up for Air.

(Say What You Feel) Eventually is the other Revolver song that survived into the Roctober era, the brackets and ‘Eventually’ addendum being another rather pointless Dylanesque touch. Here, the previous descending chord sequence intro is replaced by a distorted, bass strings Pretty Vacant style effort played by me. The ending features prolonged strumming of the ‘E’ chord by Mike, over which I play some of my wildest, loosest lead guitar playing ever. This part of the song had survived as a fondly remembered myth in my imagination, and I was not disappointed when finally having the opportunity to hear it again recently.

The tape closes with Don’t Come Running to Me. This is Mike’s song, although I may have contributed to the lyrics. We share the lead vocals on this, which was actually quite a rarity. It’s a driving pop-rock song with nice ‘Things She Said Today’ style acoustic guitar triplets from me, and equally nice staccato electric guitar stabs from Mike. Like most of the songs on One, this was great to play whilst busking.

             Roctober One is a great collection of pop-rock songs, well played and well recorded, given the limitations of our equipment. It’s interesting to speculate how good it could have been given the addition of bass, and had we had access to proper multi-track facilities. But it is what it is and, really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            That summer we also rented a video camera. At this time, such technology for public use was in its infancy, and it was expensive and bulky, with separate floodlights needing to be erected in order to get the lighting right for indoor filming. We filmed ourselves miming to the songs off Roctober One and, perhaps more interestingly, also shot sections in Scartho Road cemetery, and in my parents back garden on the Yarborough estate. The former location is where I performed the solo acoustic version of Where oh Where that I’ve already mentioned. Apart from a few extracts that have been preserved minus the original sound, I have not seen this video in almost thirty years. I know we had good fun making it though.

            This was also the summer that Maggie and Karen from Shetland made the second of their three visits to Grimsby. My best memory of this visit is of the four of us getting stoned on a a hot day on Cleethorpes beach, then paddling out to the tide, a fair distance away, splashing through puddles on  a playful, magical afternoon that has long lived in my thoughts as being one of my happiest ever drug experiences. Later, we watched videos, including Roctober the Movie, back at Mike’s. That was the night that we also listened to the Bay City Rollers compilation, as I mentioned earlier. ‘Porky’s’ was one of the video’s we watched.

            The two girls’ visit coincided with one of only two live Roctober performances. This was a striking miners benefit gig at the Winter Gardens in Cleethorpes, where we appeared alongside many other local bands, perhaps the only time we ever got close to being part of a musical ‘scene’. We rehearsed hard for this gig, up at Mike’s flat in Cromwell Avenue. The ‘Roctober Rehearsal’ tape of these preparatory sessions, has survived down the years and contains two nice, raw, live-feel versions each of the eight Roctober One songs that we performed that night at the Gardens: ‘Hold on Tight’. ‘Same Song’, ‘Standing at the Altar’, ‘Don’t Come Running to Me’, ‘It’s True’, ‘You Know’, ‘Ritual’, ‘I’m Moving On’. I don’t remember much about the actual performance itself. We went down quite well, especially with the local punks in attendance, but we were I think, as usual, pretty shambolic. I recall having great difficulty in hearing myself on the fold-back monitors. A lot of drink was drunk that day too; we never did learn the lesson that the best way to perform music is stone-cold straight and sober.

                It was about a month after the Garden’s gig that we took up busking. Until that year, apart from the occasional Salvation Army band or the like, there had been no tradition of live street music in Grimsby. ’84 seemed to be the year that it began, and I only remember two others who took to the streets to play before me and Mike. The first of these people we dubbed Mr Glasses, on account of him wearing glasses, and us not knowing his name, even though we soon began to regularly pass the time of day with him. He played mostly Dylan covers, complete with neck-wrack harmonica supplementing his acoustic guitar picking. The other regular busker was known universally, i.e. to Mike, Mr Glasses, and me, as Jesus John. He looked like a typical hippy acid casualty, but was an excellent guitarist, though I don’t remember him singing and have no idea what songs he played. There were probably other buskers around who I’ve forgotten; certainly competition for the prime Market Hall spot soon became pretty intense.

Sometimes together and sometimes separately, Mike and I were at least semi-regular buskers in Grimsby until as late as 1988. We were perhaps rather unique in playing mostly original material, acoustic versions of the songs from Roctober One forming the core of our busking set. We developed a good set of crowd-pleasing covers though too. Some of the songs I remember doing, again either together or separately, include: a That’s Alright Mama/My Baby Left Me medley; Stand by Me; Knockin’ on Heavens Door; Working Class Hero; His Latest Flame; the Ballad of Hollis Brown; and C’mon Everybody, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music and Run for Your Life from our Revolver days.

 Mostly we busked for the hell of it, and for booze money, though later financial necessity did start to creep in more and more. Often, on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, once we’d made enough to go to the pub, that’s exactly what we would do. Frequently, after an afternoon session which lasted until three o clock closing, we would carry on drinking at Mike’s place, before heading back out to the pubs in the evening.

The last act, really, in what has come to be known, in my mind if nowhere else, as the Year of Roctober, came in November when Mike and I made the pilgrimage to Liverpool, the birthplace of our heroes the Beatles. We stayed in a Y.M.C.A hostel and did all the usual touristy things, visiting the Fabs’s old haunts and drinking in places that they had once frequented like the Grapes, the Jaccaranda, and the mock-up of the Cavern on Mathew St. We also loitered close to Gambir Terrace, opposite the beautifully Gothic Anglican Cathedral, where Lennon once shared accommodation with his best friend Stuart Sutcliffe. It’s funny sometimes how life turns out. Just over eighteen years later my girlfriend of the time, Hilary, would be helping me to move into a flat just a five minute walk from here.

            Whilst in Liverpool, we supplemented our meagre living expenses by busking in the city centre on the Saturday afternoon, at one point having to track down Dawsons music shop, the very shop where the Beatles once purchased their musical equipment, in order to replace a broken guitar string. We didn’t make much. There was a lot of competition around that day for scouse’ loose change. The miner’s strike was soon to reach its sad, dwindling and defeated post-Christmas endgame; and that November day the collecting tins of NUM and their supporters were everywhere. This was also the time when Liverpool Labour Party, and through it Liverpool City Council, was under the control of Militant. Its spokesman and Deputy Leader of the council Derek Hatton had become a household name, and figure of press-hate second only to Scargill himself. People were out in force collecting and petitioning in support of the councillors too, along with paper sellers from every leftist group and group-let then in existence hawking their publications, Militant, the SWP, WRP, RCP, CPGB, RCPB (ML) et al.

            1984 could have been a jumping off point from which Roctober went on to write and record more new music, perhaps seeking out more gigs, even attempting to find like-minded musicians to join with us. In fact, none of that happened. Our high-point had come and gone and there would be no new Roctober songs, ever. From the end of ’84 onwards, we maintained only a shadowy half-existence, with only isolated, sporadic burst of activity left to report.   

            Mike and I remained close, we were still one another’s closest friends, but in the period of 1985-86 the days of living in each other’s pockets were over. We still went busking, but as time passed more and more separately than together. We still socialised and drank together, but less often. It’s funny, but I don’t remember either of us ever owning a phone; I never owned one until I left university in 1993. These days, we have come to take for granted that we can, and should, be in near constant contact with those who are closest to us. Then, it was different. Mike and I would often turn up at each other’s place of residence with a bag of booze, dope now being a much rarer occurrence, just on the off-chance that the other would be in. Oddly, we usually were. We still had fun when we did meet up. Strangely, considering we were still so young, Mike turned 23 in January ’85 and I six months later, we were already deep into nostalgia. I remember a night at Mike’s not long after my mother died early in ‘85, when we got drunk and got out the old Revolver tapes, with perhaps the odd tear for innocence lost lurking not far behind the lopsided, drunken smiles. It seemed then that we had not seen each other for ages, though it was probably only a couple of weeks or so.

            I can speculate on why we did not continue to develop the musical progress we’d made with Roctober. There were probably a variety of reasons. By the spring of ’85 I was back in Militant full time and once again busy with my political activities. Mike was in the midst of a fairly longstanding relationship at the time with Dawn; and maybe we were simply all out of ideas musically. I have always tended to write songs in batches anyway: a few in 1979-80; a few more in ’81-’82; my Roctober songs of ’83-4. After that I didn’t write another song until 1991, the next proper batch being ’94-95, the next after that 2002-2003. Not exactly Mr Prolific. By the end of ’84 I had nothing to say, either musically or lyrically. I believe that prolonged heavy drinking was at least partially responsible for this.

            The second and final Roctober gig took place at the White Knight pub on Freeman Street in December 1986, and came about simply by asking the barman if we could come back and play one night. I think that we had some vague notion of building up a residency somewhere, like the Beatles at the Cavern, or the Stones at the Crawdaddy.  As it was, it was simply a one-off. The audience was small, mostly in transit to somewhere else, and not greatly appreciative. We played mostly our busking set, acoustic only, a set which by now would have been quite tight, honed by many, many hours of street experience. Mike has said that, in 1980, Shetland was to be ‘our Hamburg’. In reality, if anywhere was ‘our Hamburg’, then it was Grimsby Town centre, outside the Market Hall, near the stairs that led to the car park and the toilets.

For the record, the songs we played that night at the White Knight were: That’s Alright; His Latest Flame; Slippin’ and a Slidin’; Blue Suede Shoes; C’mon Everybody; Standing at the Altar; and Trouble, with Mike also doing two of his solo songs.  It’s just a pity that more people weren’t there to hear us. We did at least get paid that night, for the only time in our history: in beer.

            This gig might not have been an earth-shattering success, but it did herald a renewed bout of Roctober activity. The catalyst for this was actually more Mike’s purchase of a four-track cassette recorder and a sampling keyboard, bought with the proceedings of a ‘shutdown’ worked at Lindsey Oil Refinery. The four-track provided our one and only opportunity to produce proper, multi-tracked stereo recordings of our music. By this time we were living in near-adjacent high-rise blocks of flats between Freeman St and Cleethorpes Rd, I in Tennyson House, Mike in Thesiger House. These ‘state apartments’, as Mike liked to call them, were the scenes of the last ever Roctober sessions, the sessions that have become known (to us) as the Roctober ’87 sessions. We worked on six songs: No Charity; Shetland; I Want to Stay at Home; Today; Bill and Ben; and Say What You Feel. In other words, four Revolver songs, and two which spanned both the Revolver and Roctober eras. For No Charity we wrote new, rather amusing lyrics; the last time that we were to write together. At one time, a mixed, finalised cassette of the first of the three songs mentioned, titled simply ‘Master Tape’, did exist. I remember having a copy and playing it to people in Manchester in the early nineties. This tape now seems to have been lost. All that does survive of Roctober ’87 is a cassette of the six songs, unfinished, un-mastered. Rectifying this situation is a must do for 2014, especially as the version of Shetland on this tape appears to be the only recorded record of its existence.

            Our sound in ’87 was very different from that of ’84. Access to multi-track facilities allowed me to overdub different, mostly electric, guitar parts for the first time. Mike was concentrating mainly on his bass playing, and produced what was perhaps his finest ever displays of musicianship, particularly on the long instrumental coda of Shetland, and the hypnotic bass riff on Bill and Ben. We became almost funky, almost danceable. It’s a pity that so little evidence of our sound at this time survives.

            This was the year also when Mike again rented video equipment, producing his own ‘solo’ video on which I appeared as a guest, performing a solo version of Dylan’s The Ballad of Hollis Brown, singing and playing guitar with Mike on That’s Alright/My Baby Left Me, and playing bass on Stand by Me. I haven’t seen this footage since the time that it was recorded.

            Apart from busking, there was no musical activity from Mike and I beyond 1987. Our lives were changing in other ways, anyway. I was unemployed from the time of my return to Grimsby from Shetland in January 1980, right up until September 1986. Apart from the shutdown at LOR, Mike was also out of work from his return from Shetland in the spring of ’83 onwards. In those days, as long as you signed on at the appointed hour and didn’t try to cheat the system, you were left pretty much to your own devices. Noel Gallagher has recently pointed out how many British bands and artists from the sixties to the nineties would not have had the time to develop without the generosity and relatively liberal nature of the British benefits system. Mostly, I was quite happy on the dole and so used to the financial hardships which went with it that it became hardly a hardship at all, though of course busking helped in this respect. But by the autumn of ’86, for whatever reason, I’d had enough, and happily took up the offer of a place on a Government training scheme doing gardening jobs around churchyards, as well as for the elderly and the vulnerable.

            I enjoyed this scheme, and through it even rose to the dizzying heights of becoming president of my local Trade Union, UCATT branch. I enjoyed feeling useful and busy, and when the scheme finished in September 1987 I did not want to go back to the point where I had been before it’d begun. By some other process, Mike must also have come to a similar conclusion, as in the autumn of that year we both found ourselves registering as part time students at Grimsby College of Technology. At first we did GCSE Drama and ‘A’ level History together. After a term or so Mike dropped History in favour of a business studies diploma, leaving us with just Drama in common.

            This proved to be great fun, perhaps the creative outlet that we both needed now that music was now not so prominent in our lives. It was nice to be around a mostly bright, attractive, younger crowd of people. We loved the improvisations, and for our exam’ set-play we worked on Pinter’s The Birthday Party, with me playing Goldstein and Mike playing McCann, the third part being played by a guy whose name is now lost to me. Mike and I got into the whole theory side of it as well, and would often stay up long into the night, in either my flat or his, drinking and discussing the Stanislavski method. Frequently we would simply fall asleep, or pass-out, in our chairs, waking up in the morning to head off onto Freeman St for a reviving large Hotdog, resolutely refusing to utter the word ‘Jumbo’, a principle that I’ve maintained to this day. 

            I have fond, though necessarily hazy memories of those long-night drinking sessions. We even went through a phase, during the high-rise-years, of cooking together, trying out new recipes which would be consumed in huge proportions, drunkenly and ravenously, at some point in an evening mostly devoted to drinking, chatting and listening to music.

This was the time when whisky had become our preferred tipple. On one memorable occasion, we got drunk in my flat in the morning, on whisky and ginger wine, with thick snow outside, watching ‘Daytime’ television at a time when that lumpen animal still had a novelty value. The last of our bottles dredged, the plan was that we would head off to Jagger’s house via the off-license to continue our session. Sadly, my legs collapsed under me the moment I attempted to stand, leaving Mike to head off drunkenly alone. For a time, we even took to stealing whisky, although I think that this was more for the sheer hell of it, and because we could, than through real alcoholic need. I favoured Tesco for my thievery, Mike Presto’s. It was inevitable that one of us would get caught, and it was me who eventually did so. We’d had a good run, and I considered myself lucky to get away with a Caution, a punishment which meant that nobody else need ever know of my transgression. The shame of it all prevented me from ever stealing anything ever again (honest).  

            It was in this period, 1987-88, that Mike, after being around and being known to the Militant Comrades since ’83, finally took the plunge and became a fully-fledged member for a year or so. It was good having him around, at branch meetings, and on paper-sales, and even better that I was now able to combine my two longstanding social outlets, Militant and Mike. We had some great nights, actually. My fondest memories of this time are of hanging out at the house that was shared by Militant Full Timer John Rathbone and benefits worker and comrade Nick Walker, mostly playing board games and drinking. John in particular was a very agreeable drinking partner, far removed from the usually humourless persona found amongst most ‘Full time Revolutionists.’ He and Mike and I even invented our own board game, provisionally called ‘Imperialism’, which we even vaguely discussed attempting to copyright and market. It was a good game; I wonder what became of it? I’ve heard that John has become quite financially successful in life: maybe he sold the rights for millions, thus cheating us out of our rightful inheritance.

            1988 being an Olympic year, it would not have been complete without a visit from Karen and Maggie from Shetland, although on this occasion they visited separately, Karen in April and Maggie in August. I can remember nothing about the first of these visits, but Maggie’s provided the occasion that was to lead to the last time that Mike and I were to appear on tape together, though it was not a music tape.

            Four of us, me, Mike, Maggie, and Mike’s girlfriend of the time Bev had gone to my dad’s house on the Yarborough in order to say hello, to drink, and to pass the day. We’d met Bev initially on a paper sale outside the dole office, when our offer of a ‘copy of the Militant, Marxist paper for Labour and Youth?’ brought from her a lament for the ‘death of political theatre’, not the usual response that we got from the Great Grimsby unemployed. She was middle class and attractive, and once had to be dissuaded from joining us on a docks paper sale wearing an extremely short and tight mini-skirt and low cut top. I’m sure the Dockers would have appreciated her presence, she may even have sold a few papers; but some people need protecting from themselves. Anyway, Mike and her quickly became an item, and she was present that afternoon at 72 Newsham Drive. At some point during proceedings, as the drink flowed, my dad surreptitiously turned on a cassette recorder. I still have this cassette. It has sentimental value because it features my dad, talking and playing his harmonica. But most of it is taken with political discussion, a discussion that ranged across South Africa, the benefits system, the IRA, the miner’s strike, the treatment of the mentally ill, and much else. I hate myself on this tape. I come across as a rambling, drunk, judgemental dogmatist, everything that I have come to hate. My voice is the sound of a man who has lost himself.

            The end of more than a decade of friendship between Mike and I came suddenly and not very dramatically late in September 89. We were at a party somewhere or other, probably a ‘Militant social’ of some description. Mike had met a new woman there, by the name of Pam. For some reason, I drunkenly and needlessly insulted her, rambling stupidly and incoherently about middle-class social workers or some such. There was no argument. The two of them just left. And afterwards Mike didn’t contact me and I didn’t contact him.

            We saw each other a few times, at college and the like, but did not acknowledge each other’s presence, perhaps out of embarrassment, or pride, or a combination of conflicted emotions that it would take a crack team of telepathic analyst’s a lifetime to unpick.

            Our friendship had not been repaired when I left Grimsby for Manchester and the life of a full time mature student in September 1990, just under a decade on from our great move to Shetland.

            Occasionally I’d get reports from my family: he’d passed the time of day with my sister on the West Marsh estate, commenting that she’d ‘not changed since the late seventies’. He’d been spotted working in a shop by my niece. But other than that there was nothing.

            Until, one day late in 2013, as I was travelling home by bus from an uneventful day at work, I checked my email on my phone to find a Facebook ‘friend request’ from a certain Michael Anderson...