Helix: my time as a rock star

[This recollection was first published on my Geocities website in 2006 - but as the future of Geocities is uncertain, I thought I'd re-publish it here with a few tiny amendments.]

I did promise, on my British Blues page, a history of Helix, the poetry and jazz band (don't laugh!), starring Yours Truly on harmonica and poems, Rick Welton, also on poems, Chris Brunt on flute, alto sax, clarinet and guitar, Peter Panayi on bass (there's a recent picture of him in the News section of www.brookguitars.com), Peter Jackson on guitar and Terry Raven on drums. I was off to a Physics Dept reunion at the University of Surrey, and rooting through some ephemera, when I found a cutting of an ad in NME (or was it Melody Maker?) showing us supporting Joe Cocker on 24 January 1969, our greatest achievement!

It all started in the folk club at UoS (then Battersea College of Advanced Technology) where me and Chris did a double act: he (Blind Willie Brunt?) on guitar and me (Whistlin' Walshaw Fred) on harmonica, singing the blues. Also playing regularly were duo Pete Panayi and Ronnie Hicks (wife of Rick Welton). Eventually we all got together to perform Dylan songs with Ronnie as vocalist. Rick was the roadie (he had a van) but started adding his poetry to the mix. Then Ronnie left and we decided to go electric. An ad in NME (or was it Melody Maker?) produced Peter Jackson, who'd been playing the US bases in Germany, and part-time Horror film actor Terry Raven. By now we were doing poems (me funny, Rick serious) and the odd Mose Allison song (plus 'Scarborough Fair' I think!). There is one recording, made at All Saints Hall in Powis Square, Notting Hill, recorded by Ronnie's new bloke, film sound man Tony Jackson, but we never made any records.

We were represented by Pete Jenner of the Blackhill agency (who managed Pink Floyd before Syd left, and went on to organise the Hyde Park free concerts) - Lynne, a booker there was married to my friend Adrian Boot, who went on to photograph Bob Marley and others. Their offices in Notting Hill later also became home to Stiff Records. We did gigs at Canterbury (supporting Third Ear Band), Bradford (with Liverpool Scene), Chelsea Town Hall, Bridgend in south Wales, in Battersea's Courland Grove halls of residence where I met an American girl called Clare Greenwood, and in Guildford, at the Stoke Hotel (22 December 1968) where I met Jenny Parsons and was introduced to Guildford Arts Lab

Two notable concerts were the Jazz Poetry Song Package at Battersea Town Hall on 28 November 1968 and Guildford Civic Hall on 8 December, both with the Michael Garrick Quintet featuring Don Rendell and Ian Carr with various poets, including Jeremy Robson and Vernon Scannell, with Ron Geesin and Pete Brown (of Cream lyrics fame) and his Battered Ornaments (inc Chris Spedding and Dick Heckstall-Smith).

All done in Letraset by Rick!

The Stoke Hotel gig may have been our last. Rick moved to Guildford to run the first Guildford Festival (he's now a LibDem councillor in Hull), and I followed some time later. Chris teamed up with Ronnie and Eric Johns (brother of Dorris Henderson) to form Gallerie, who played with Roy Harper and Michael Chapman in the 1971 Guildford Festival, the one I directed. By now I was reading poetry with the Arts Lab and about to get married. To be continued dot dot dot

Page from the programme of Jazz Poetry Song Package (price 2 shillings) 
Other reminiscences:
British Blues: part 1 Bury
British Blues: part 2 Manchester
British Blues: part 3 London

Glad Day and Guildford Arts Lab

Jump to the post-1969 Arts Lab years of Shyneford >>

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