Thursday 27 December 2012

Part 2

In May 1973, exactly one week after Sunderland won the FA Cup, I flew to Jersey in the Channel Islands. I had a one way ticket, two nights accommodation paid for in a hotel, and twenty five pounds cash. I knew only one person there, a. guy called Ian Nixon who I went to senior school with. We had met up the previous Christmas in Carlisle, and Ian had told me what a wonderful place Jersey is. Through Ian I found work with a car hire company. Years later Ian’s wife was to win £125,000 on “Who wants to be a Millionaire”
One reason I needed to get away from home was I had just received a suspended jail sentence. I certainly didn’t fancy living in Carlisle with that hanging over my head. To say the local constabulary would have done their best to make sure I was in breach, and thus get me jailed is an understatement. At that time I hadn’t served a prison sentence.

I also was getting quite heavily into gambling, and the thought of a sun drenched island with no bookies really appealed. Imagine my horror when the taxi taking me to my hotel from the airport, on that first Saturday, stopped at some traffic lights, and through the open car window I heard “Under orders at Sandown“. The taxi was stationary, right beside a bookmakers. To make things even worse, I found out later, they were open for night racing, something that didn’t occur in main land Britain for several years. .

I stayed in Jersey for four years, coming home at Christmas, for periods varying from a couple of weeks to a month. The second year, after hearing my stories of a beautiful island, sun kissed beaches, cheap booze, and an endless choice of girls who were replenished on a weekly, or fortnightly basis, holiday makers, several of my friends from Carlisle joined me

In December of 1975 we were all in a night club called Lords. It was the only club I have ever been to where there was only one guy on the staff, the glass collector. There were no bouncers, and Jenny, the manageress, stood on the door, and decided who was allowed entrance. On one occasion she turned away Malcolm McDonald, a professional footballer, because he said “Don’t you know who I am? I play for England“ I knew Malcolm through my old friend Stan Bowles. He was in Jersey with Newcastle United, and when I met him earlier, I had suggested we have a drink at Lords. He was supposed to ask for me by name. He never did get in.
As we stood by the bar, an argument developed about what the Who’s first hit had been. I definitely knew it was called“ Can’t Explain “, released in 1965.The others disagreed, and the barmaid suggested we asked two guys sitting a couple of tables away, saying they played in a band, and should know. We looked over, and saw two long haired geezers. Nothing special there, most of us wore our hair that way in those days. As usual I was chosen to do the talking, so I walked over to their table.

When I told them what I wanted to know, one asked me what I thought it was, I replied,“ Can’t Explain “ Immediately one stood up, and started playing air guitar, and the other air drums, making noises to the intro of that song. Having confirmed I was correct, the “guitarist” sat back down, and  invited us to join them for a drink. My best mate in those days was a guy called Jack O’Hare. He inquired if they played professionally. The two guys looked at each, grinned, and one said, " I guess you could say that." Jack asked if it would be anyone we had heard of, and they burst out laughing, and said.

“ Led Zeppelin, mate. “

Believe it or not, I had never heard of them, and before any of the boys who had, could stop me, I asked

“Have you had any records released then?“

The two guys, who turned out to be John Bonham, and John Paul Jones, thought I was taking the piss, and weren’t amused at all. However as soon as they realized I really didn’t know, they cooled down, and we had what was to be the first of a few great nights with them, although Mr Jones was always a little suspicious of me.

It turned out they could only spend sixty six days a year in England due to tax reasons, They were in Jersey as it was a short trip home for Christmas, planning to arrive there just after midnight on Christmas morning. I now know Bonham was called Bonzo, but don’t know if this was used by his friends, or by fans. I can’t remember this name being used then. We only knew him as John. After a few drinks, we were invited to their hotel, the Atlantic, on the north side of the island. Jack O’Hare, and John got on like a house on fire, and started “glugging,“ downing in one, £80 bottles of wine, to see who could finish first. £20 was our average weekly wage. After more drink, and some wonderful stories of a their experiences on the road we agreed to meet up in Lords the following evening.

When we met them there, we were told they had agreed to jam with a local band at our other favourite watering hole, Behan’s night club the next night. Behan’s was much larger than Lords, the biggest, and by far the best, at that time on Jersey. I believe it is now called Behan’s West Park. We went along and watched those two rock stars play a few numbers, and while no doubt they were very good, it didn’t seem that special to me.

The real treat was to come a seven nights later.

We had met them a couple of times the following week, and during the second evening, John quietly told Jack it would be a good idea if we went to Behan’s the next night. We duly turned up but there was no sign of either of them.

Suddenly Hughie Behan, the owner, appeared on the stage, and announced that Led Zepplin were about to do a free gig, right there and then. This one off show had, obviously, been kept a secret to avoid the club being inundated with punters. I think it was a Wednesday evening. The entrance fee during the week, out of season, was 25p. Imagine how many of the Jersey population would have turned up if they had known in advance?

Onto the stage walked the guys we already knew plus Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant.

On August 4th that year, Plant had been involved in a horrific car accident with his family on the Greek island of Rhodes. His daughter had been very seriously injured. She was airlifted back to a UK hospital. Plant still had a full plaster cast on one leg. He opened the set by saying “ Tonight we are going to play the music that influenced us, and we grew up with, and still love, rock and roll “

For the next hour and a half, they did exactly that. Here was an excellent band playing all my favourite tracks. Classic rock, and roll. It was almost as if they were playing just for me. The club, which was only half-full, was rocking. No one wanted to miss this experience by going to get a drink, so, unemployed, the bar staff joined the audience. I don’t know how much of the material they had played together before, but it was like they had being doing it for ever. I had seen several top guitarists play, and I may have seen Paige with the Yardbirds, and not known who he was. This night he was sensational

After the gig they came out front, and sat around some reserved tables. Bonham sent a message over to Jack, and invited us to join them. After introducing us to Plant, and Paige, we had an exceptionally heavy session. In Jersey there is a very strong drinking culture, and we thought we could drink, until we tried to keep up with these guys, but I guess they had practised more than us. During the course of the evening I remarked to John, how brilliant I thought Jimmy had been. He replied.

“ Pete, that was a borrowed guitar, the neck was too thick, you should hear him on his own “

This episode in their history is told in an unofficial biography called “Hammer of the Gods “, written by Stephen Davis. Though the account recorded is slightly inaccurate.

Davis writes

“On December the 10th, they jumped on stage at Behan’s pub, and played some old favourites “

What Hughie would have made of his wonderful night club being described as a pub, I don’t know. He was an Irish guy, brought up in Birmingham, and very well connected to most of the top London villains. We had some mutual friends so I knew Hughie very well, a lovey guy. Plus Robert Plant could hardly have jumped anywhere.

Only last year, after telling a very good friend this story, he told me about “Hammer of the Gods”. It was great to read the short account of that excellent night (page 265), and to realize I hasn’t dreamed it all. While in Jersey, Bonham had his dark blue Rolls Royce brought over. Due to the narrow roads, and his excessive drinking, within a week there were scrapes, and dints all over the car. He just laughed when Jack told him it would cost a fortune for a paint job, and replied.

“ I will just buy a new one, mate. “ Now that is rock, and roll !

Like many of the other bands I met, or worked with, I never met, or saw Led Zepplin live again though I used to read of their exploits with great interest. 
When I heard of John Bonham’s death, I wasn’t too surprised, but deeply saddened. Over the years I have heard many tales of his drink, and drug fuelled rages, but in my experience he was just an amiable guy who loved to party





Thursday 20 December 2012


For the Christmas, and New Year period I am leaving my Rush experiences, and telling a short tale of my experiences as a roadie in the '60's, and one time a little later  when I met a famous band I had never heard of.

Part 1

It is very important that you believe me when I say any stories I recount here are all true. I may not get the year right, but they all happened to me and, are not me telling yarns I have heard from other people. My main association at this time was with a local Carlisle band called Norman's Conquests

Those that know me realize that I have been lucky, and met, and remained friendly with a couple of so called “ famous “ folk during my life. The best known over here probably is a soccer player called Stan Bowles, who is still one of my best mates.
However the thing about a lot of musicians, and singers that we played with back in the sixties was, they were not all well known then. Of course some were, but I have never been in awe of anyone, so talking to these celebrities has never been a problem. Of course the majority were those who I met once, or maybe twice, and then never came across in person again.

I would like to start with such a case, though in fact I had never heard of the guy at the time, even though I probably should have.

In December 1965, Norman’s Conquests were booked for a mini tour of the south of England some three hundred miles away. Now this was almost unheard of for a local band. They were very good at what they did, and were very reliable in a world where time keeping wasn’t always adhered to. We had five gigs to play in seven days. We really thought we had made the big time.

All the venues were around the London area, but the only one I can remember was the final one, in Camberley, Surrey, the Sunday night before we came home.

We turned up to find a double Hammond organ, at right angles, so the guy could lay both at once, already on the stage, and some very seriously looking long haired rock people milling around. Peter Smithson, our lead guitarist plugged in his guitar only for his amp to blow. He called me over, and asked me to go, and see if we could use their lead amp. I told him to go, and ask himself. He just looked at me in amazement, and said in a hushed voice “ But that is God, I can’t talk to him “ Bemused, I went over and, asked who the lead was. A couple of the guys looked at me like I was insane, but one came over, and offering his hand, and said , “ that’s me mate “. I explained the situation and he immediately replied. “ I was just coming to see you, we have a stand in bass player, and the pratt hasn’t brought an amp with him..“ I suggested leaving our bass, and their lead amp on for both groups. This was agreed.

Our band played first, doing their usual pop stuff, Herman’s Hermits, Beatles etc. The boys wore suits, and ties with Norman wearing a different colour. Then as I stood by the stage waiting for the curtain to be pulled back for the other band, I heard this incredible sound, the Hammond being played, and a guitar like I had never heard before live. I stood there totally amazed for the next hour or so as this wonderful music was played.

The band was called The John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and the guy on lead guitar was Eric “ Slowhand “ Clapton. How my band ever got through the second set I will never know. After an even better second session from Clapton and co., Eric came across, shook my hand, and thanked us for the use of our equipment.

He was a lovely friendly guy who gave a couple of tips to our dumb struck lead, wished us all the best, and disappeared into the night. At no time on stage did he ever speak, never mind sing. He seemed really shy so it was a surprise in later years to hear him chatting away on stage, and singing. For obvious reason he has always been one of my favourite guitarists, although as you will discover later on, by no means the only famous one I met.

That night I met a beautiful young girl who worked for Radio Caroline, in the office, and for some reason decided a northern roadie was cool. When I later moved to London we used to meet up quite often.

I started with a high profile “ meeting “ mainly to get your interest, but also to show you how easy, and not unusual it was, to play with, and meet top musicians in the 60’s. Something, I guess, that would be very hard to do today.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year.

Thursday 13 December 2012

                                      Legends of Brocklehurst Chapter 7                                                                                                 Part 2
What? We’re off to see the Wizard/Professor! Lead on Dorothy er, Pete! We are not following the yellow brick road, just the back of Pete’s balding head! Through the doors backstage to a sign that reads ‘Dressing Rooms’. Bern is beaming as much as me, as we head down the corridor. Apart from some crew huddled by a door, it is deserted. They move forward as Pete nears, he shows his ‘Triple A Pass’. We show our, further-down-the-ranks passes. But something’s worked and the guy’s part and the door that has RUSH on, opens and in we go.

The room is fair sized, but not overly big. It is very bright. Unsurprisingly there are no brownless M&M’s, no midgets wandering around, with bowls of ‘class A’s’ on their heads. Or stilt-walkers or fire-eaters! Pete scuttles off. I can see Geddy talking to some guy with long hair and a moustache. It turns out he is the video director. Further left in the corner, there is a large table covered with a white tablecloth. There is Chinese food laid out as a buffet. There are some people I didn’t recognise, apart from the blond guy sat on the edge of the table with a bowl of noodles. Alex was tucking in but was also talking to someone. Always smiling! A few recognisable crew members were also there, suddenly Pete was walking back, with a tall dude following him.

Before I go on I quickly want to show how preconceptions of someone can come unstuck. We all know too well Neil’s views on his privacy. We know (of) Neil’s persona. Every time I have ‘met’ him, he was smiling and always courteous. No look of when is this shit finishing. Neil though is very much a ‘player’, he is tremendously respected in the Rush organization. Even when Pete was ‘working’, he demanded (in a nice way), that the schedules be kept. Why? To give us his best performance! Pete used to say that people on the periphery were always asking if he (Neil) was OK, how his mood was? As if they had some fear or trepidation. Well with this all on my mind or shoulders, I too had some trepidation. Will he just politely say “hi“, and make some excuse to leave? Will this be the Neil we know and…Fear?!!
Pete stopped in front of the three of us, the tall, familiar guy stood next to him. He immediately hugged Jackie then, vigorously shook Bernie’s hand. “Bern”, Neil boomed. Then, “You must be Chris, Hi”, still shaking hands. “How’s the football going”? ( During my younger, fitter, wilder days, I had joined a Manchester based, American Football team. Pete had mentioned this to Neil ). Shit! In my head I was on my knees “I’m not worthy”. But maybe I was worthy! From the first hug of Jackie, Neil’s face never lost his smile. His eyes disappear to slits as he, at times roared with laughter. How wrong can our preconceptions be?
The man will give us his every ounce in his performance. He doesn’t owe us. In fact he rewards us! So let him have his peace. If anyone met him he will be charming and friendly. He doesn’t want, Wayne’s World ‘adulation’. And after meeting him you wouldn’t want to. Because he suddenly became that other Joe!
Pete also told me weeks before now, that if I ‘ever met Neil’, that if he introduced me to someone else, then he would introduce me as a ‘friend’! “Come on I’ll introduce you to the other guys”. No way! Oh yes! We are advancing towards Geddy. He was still talking to the video director guy. When Neil approached Geddy turned towards him. Neil politely asked to briefly interrupt, and said to Geddy. “Can I introduce you to a friend of mine, Chris he’s a good Northern lad”. “Hi Chris”, Geddy, yes Geddy, offered back as we shook hands. I think I mumbled some gobbledeegook, like great show, nice shoes. I forget now! But he had his big glasses on!

Then off on ‘NeilTours’, we headed to the buffet. Alex still bowl in hand, still smiling. He jumped to his feet as Neil approached. “Meet a friend of mine, Chris, a Manchester lad”. Now all the stories about Alex are true. I nicer guy you couldn’t meet. Pete would share some ‘memorable’ nights with Al. His smile beamed as I appeared from behind Neil. “Hey hi Chris, want something to eat” ? I kid you not! I declined, ( but I could have murdered some ribs ) ! He almost cartoon-like shook hands and some grip. I was much calmer now and I chatted with Neil and Alex for sometime. I noticed that their and some crew member’s pass laminates were different from the ‘normal’ ones ie: Pete’s. He had the Edward G Robinson, type mobster guy, juggling the three flaming spheres, from HYF. The band’s however had different images on. They were ‘stills’ from the David Lynch (classic) film ‘Blue Velvet’. Neil said it was their favourite current film. It was also that I witnessed first hand, the now famous laminate set lists. Neil showed me his, his picture was the Dean Stockwell character singing ‘In dreams’, into the lit up mike. Neil suggested that we should head back to Pete and our ‘gang’, as ‘we’ should get going???
I bid Alex a final goodbye. Then I quickly moved to Geddy, not wishing to interrupt I waved; he waved back and gave me a thumbs up! Cool! So back I went to the “party”. I was planning a farewell and good luck to Neil, when he moved off into the background. Pete told us quickly that we were going to follow, him and Neil back to their hotel!!! I thought this night finished with, “thank you Birmingham, good night”. Never mind being admitted to the inner sanctum. Wrong!

Neil reappeared with jacket, baseball cap and a smallish shoulder bag, no doubt containing his ‘note books’. He quickly said some goodbyes and waved at various points in the room. Then like a shepherd he guided/ushered us out the door. Down the corridor into the backstage area, that had calmed down now. Past the big rewound projector, and out through the makeshift door. As we got through Neil asked me if I wanted any t-shirts???!! Without waiting for the ( obvious ) reply he called to someone to bring some t-shirts. In seconds a crew member returned with armfuls of black t and sweat shirts. So perhaps a career move when he gets fed up of this drumming, rock star malarkey, he can go on the ‘merch’ desk ! Now my arms are full as we once again are in the columned parking area. Neil and Pete got into the BM, we got into Jackie’s car immediately behind. The huge door that was closed began to rise silently until it was fully open. As we pulled away, even though I was still in quite some daze, due to these ‘events’ I wasn’t prepared for what was waiting as we cleared the doorway.
I of course presumed everyone would be gone, but of course none of the band had left yet! So suddenly we saw all these faces as they “rushed’ towards us, trying to see who we were. They picked the wrong car. Bernie smiled and gave them the ‘Queen’s Wave ’! The one’s who guessed right were pointing and waving frantically at the BM’s window. I still bet they wonder who was in the other car.
As part of traveling separately the band were staying apart too. Geddy and Alex were staying at the Metropole Hotel near the NEC. Neil however was staying at a small hotel in Dudley. It wasn’t too far as we ‘tailgated’ the BM. The hotel was a charming, ‘olde worlde’ building, set in a vast rural setting, off the beaten track.
We parked the cars up, then set off inside through two big, thick glass doors. No one batted an eyelid as we swept through the reception. Just as Neil would like it I guessed. We reached our destination, the bar lounge. Christ, did I need a drink! I did actually feel drained. Neil was sprightly as we found some chairs and a table. Then after removing layers and making the ‘toilet run’, we all settled down. A waiter brought our drinks to the table and we enjoyed a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing, ‘liquid’, funny, couple of hours.

Pete and Neil had anecdotes from their ‘old days’. We all listened to some of Bernie’s, humorous adventures, with the ‘Dreamers’. This was amazing; I was in the wonderful company of two generations of drummers. The longer it went on the more relaxed I felt. I wasn’t in the company of the “great drum rock god” just Neil. There was one point where Neil went to the bar, after asking me if I wanted another drink. Asking if he was sure, and not wanting to go and wreck a hotel room. He duly returned with my drink. “Oh my god, Neil Peart has just bought me a drink”, I over-acted in mock astonishment. He laughed and put it on the table. I think Neil really liked Bernie’s company, but then a lot of people did, he was a lovely bloke.
Well all good things must come to an end. Neil had finished his brandy and was signing for the bill!!! I suggested all chucking a tenner in, but Neil insisted we were ‘his guests’! As we went into reception, the lump of skin gathered on the back of my hand, from my earlier pinching, had receded. I had realized long ago that, this wasn’t one of those “too real” dreams; this was for (very) real! Variously there were hugs, kisses and handshakes. Then followed our farewells and most definitely thank-yous. We set off out the door waving as Pete and Neil waved back. Then they turned around and headed off, possibly to find some dynamite to blow up the toilet, before cocoa and bed!”




Thursday 6 December 2012

                                         Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 7
                                         Part 1
The first night of the HYF tour at the NEC is still a blur. All I can really remember is Neil’s solo. It reminded me of the times when I used to watch Stan Bowles play football. Stan was an old friend of mine who played soccer at the top level in England culminating with five caps for England. Can that be a friend of mine ? In both cases while on their respective stages, it was like they were two different people to the guys I knew. Not the mates who I would be talking to and in Stan’s case drinking with when they had finished “working”. I watched, open mouthed, as Mr Peart did all these unbelievable things with two pieces of wood and two feet. Could that really be only one man ? Every time I have seen Rush play, whether working or not, I have never missed his wonderful solo.
With Chris Lea’s permission I have adapted part of his “Amazing Story” to cover the Saturday night’s show. His recall and descriptive powers and knowledge of all things Rush are far superior to mine and I know he captures the scene so much better than my failing memory. Chris, Bernie Dwyer and my girl Jackie travelled down from Manchester in her car for the show that night, Neil had invited them as his guests.
Thank you Chris.
“ Whilst Pete was ahead of us ‘working’, he had sussed out where to come and meet us. Which at the precise roundabout, he did. The Car looked even bigger as he was already at the rendezvous point. We waved, and he indicated to Jackie to follow him.
It was our mini motorcade, as we weaved around the small linking roads of the complex. In front was the almost gliding, black, behemoth. As we approached a security post, with the barrier lowered, Pete stopped, and flashed a special, band transport pass, then, we saw him indicate towards us, the guard looked, and disappeared into the hut, to raise the barrier. Cool! Checkpoint Charlie, we’re in...I think. As we neared our destination, I thought we were just going to be first in the car park, the people activity increased. Then Pete slowed as we approached what I now realized was the main concert hall. We had taken a ‘secret route’ and came in the back way.
The cars were dwarfed by the huge articulated lorrys parked up. We moved past six trucks, and three crew buses. Roadies, techs, and other assorted essential personnel, were all scurrying around. To say a ‘hive of activity’, would sell it short. There were also the trucks for the film crew, and their various techs, busying themselves. To be fair the actual ‘air’ was relaxed, as all the gear had been in the building since Wednesday. So we weren’t dodging large, boxes of vital equipment, as they were wheeled into the hall. Still following Pete, we carried on into the large opened doorway, and into a cavernous backstage area. We swung around, and Pete parked the BMW next to one of two tour busses. We stopped right behind Pete. We finally parked. Now we were in!

As I stretched outside the car, I turned three-sixty. We were inside the NEC, ( Northern Exhibition Center, ) it looked like a huge underground car park. Pillars supporting the roof would make a great slalom course. Then as I continued to rotate, into view came the black sheeting, and scaffolding that formed the stage area. There were silver tubular metal lighting rigs, criss-crossed across the top, and length of the stage. Bern and Jackie were now out, and Pete also had left the BMW, and was walking ahead of us. “Follow that Man”!
The closer we got to the stage area, the bigger it got. Flight cases were piled, and stacked underneath the stage. Crew guys milled around. Pete was letting on to a few as we approached the very backstage. Knowing Pete he’s already probably introduced them to the great old British institution…the Bookies!( betting shops ) Now Pete slowed down, so too us. I imagined that we would find a door, and exit into the arena. We carried on through a makeshift doorway, built into the black-drape-covered staging construction.
Through the door we were now in ‘Backstage Central’, at the very heart. Immediately in front of us and, almost dominating the actual space, was a huge piece of hi-tech looking kit. When I looked closely I thought it looked like a cinema film projector, only very streamlined, futuristic, and very big. It was the back-screen ‘film projector’. Set against the very back wall of the NEC, furthest away from the stage, was the Production Office. As I looked towards the back, in the far left corner was the door that leads to the…Dressing Rooms! The band are actually through those doors now! Pete is scanning left, and right, then when he spots who he is looking for, he heads over. I believe it was Nick Kotos, who apart from being the tallest man in the world, was the, then Production Manager. Pete said something to him, Nick ‘bent down’ to hear, then they both turned and plodded towards us.
Like the stage as Nick approached, he got even bigger! He had a walkie-talkie, stapled almost to his hand, it was always crackling and ‘talking’. Pete and Nick walked towards a ramp that ran upwards. They stopped, Nick moved to one side, then Pete began up the ramp! He then stopped, and gestured to us, in the ‘follow me’ way! Holy shit, this is the ramp to the actual stage. We were ‘Entering Stage Left’!!

Akin to Richard Dreyfuss as he, gingerly entered the Mothership. I too slowly moved up the ramp. As we hit the level, I stopped. I had to take it all in. The whole, completely empty, almost silently eerie NEC arena, opened up in front of me. Wow. Of course I tried to visualize every seat filled with, smiling, happy, cheering, singing people. Then I moved to my right, as I walked off the ramp, and onto the stage proper, a huge flight case was positioned. It was split into racks, most of the racks held bass guitars. Geddy’s basses. Then as I passed them, to my left was Ged’s keyboard set up. Complete with funny ‘toys’, as adornment. I noticed that my feet felt cushioned. Of course the Rush ‘Axminster Shag Pile’. I always thought the ‘carpet’ was a nice touch. Then as I journeyed to Stage Centre, I passed Geddy’s back-line. What no domestic white-goods?

My pace, even though slow enough, slowed further as I reached, for me, the ‘piece de resistance’. The Professor’s Office. I’m glad Bernie could join me. All he kept saying, quietly was “how the feck does he play all this”? It took up about the size of a small office too. Of course I embarrassingly drooled over this drum, and cymbal fest! But of course I didn’t need to identify every piece, but it was the ‘pinky’(??) white, Ludwig double-kick set up. I remember that even then Neil’s hardware was brass plated, and up this close, it looked like pure gold. Then I did it… I played Neil’s kit! Well not technically, I did very gently tap my fingertips on the heads of some of his toms. But hey that’s as close as you can get…Isn’t it????
Across the back, panoramically spread was the electronic pads of his second kit. Dazzling, shiny cymbals hung silent. Looking like discs of gold. Everything was bolted onto his famous spinning riser. As I stood between the bass drums, I turned around towards the vast, eerily quiet arena to gauge Neil’s viewpoint. It was then I noticed the cameras, lots of them. I was particularly fascinated with a piece of equipment; I found out was called a Louma Crane Cam. Oooohhh! This is the camera fixed to a massive crane (again I think the clue’s in the name) that gives those swooping high to low, ariel shots. They kept testing it swooping over the stage. Strange I know sod all about cars, but plenty about camera cranes, hmmm. As I looked to the roof I saw a huge white net, fastened to the ceiling girders. Inside were what looked like hundreds of red balloons.

Bidding ‘farewell to things’…percussion, I approached Stage Right. Big Al’s domain. Not being that knowledgeable about ‘guitar stuff’, his pedal board alone looked like it had been built by NASA! Then as Big Nick appeared we realized that this ‘once in a lifetime’ moment was up! So we exited stage right!! I heartily thanked Nick, and we walked past Alex’s guitars, loads of them, all standing to attention, ready for battle. I had a final quick look around, reaffirming that, yes, I am standing on Rush’s stage. And all is still!
We walked down the ramp back to the backstage area. I was pointing out various crew members to Bern, when he turned to Jackie laughing, “he even knows the crew’s names”! But I just did!! We just do! This was all too surreal. Pete then suggested we might want to get something to eat, we had ages to kill. Like ducklings we once again all followed Pete, as we moved to catering. We had something to eat which I recall as being very good indeed, and there were some bottled beers that we could enjoy. Well apart from the show, it can’t get any better…can it????
As I further drank in the strange atmosphere, (and beer) the vendors, and bars were opening. Then the doors were opened and the volume was slowly being turned up, as fans streamed in. Pete had gone off briefly, and then returned with our tickets. Bern asked why we needed them, because we were in already. So I asked him which seats were ours? ”Oh yeah”, he realized. Then Pete also gave us a stick on adhesive pass. It was red, with the three floating spheres from HYF. It had the date on and the initials NP!

Our seats were great. Geddy’s side, but very close. I presumed that those sat around us were, friends and guests too. As we took our seats I looked around, now it was a gig atmosphere. The fans were in good spirits, and good voice. I tried to imagine how it looked a couple of hours ago, vast, empty, silent.
The house lights were cut, the audience rose as one. Then the huge projector I had seen, standing silent suddenly kicked into life and light, we were off! It seemed to me somehow even more special, as it was not just being recorded, but filmed as well. So when I watch ‘A Show Of Hands’, the whole day comes back to me. Realizing that I was on that very stage, I ‘played’ those very drums.

Of course the gig was just stunning. They were on it! And I sang (out of tune,) and drummed (out of time) to every song. Bernie particularly enjoyed it, and now realized that Pete’s “Buddy”, was damned good. Jackie too enjoyed the show. Rock is not her favourite, but I think she appreciated what was going on and liked it visually.
Well the show came, and went. We waited in our seats for Pete, who was going to come back for us, so he could get us to the car. Pete subsequently turned up, and again made like the Pied Piper, we followed him. As I left the arena I glanced back, to see it, as it was when we arrived, empty”. We followed ‘our leader’, along the perimeter corridor that surrounds the arena. Then we walked along to the ‘checkpoint’ at the backstage area. Pete had his All Access Areas Pass, and as we each went through, we ‘flashed our passes’! Pete told us to wait a minute. As we stood there watching this calm, frenzy go on around us. Bernie started smiling, and gesturing to someone.
It turns out this ‘someone’ was the British promoter, Danny Betesh, who runs Kennedy Street Promotions, who were promoting the HYF tour. They also promoted R30. Kennedy, and certainly, specifically Danny, used to book Freddie and the Dreamers, back in the ‘60’s.( Bernie's old group ) Bern introduced us to him, just as Pete returned. Pete and Danny knew each other as well. Quelle surprise! After some social intercourse!! Danny asked Pete, and us where we were going now. Pete answered, and boy did he answer.

“We’re going to see Neil”!!

Thursday 29 November 2012

                                  Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 7 

                                                           

  I was due to meet Neil off his flight from Toronto on the morning of Wednesday 20th April. I travelled to London the night before and stayed at a hotel near to Heathrow airport. I arrived in plenty of time, and parked the car in the short term parking. Enquiring at the information desk, I was told which gate to go to.  Don’t ask me why I didn’t just check with the TV screens for the arrival gate ? I watched, and waited as what seemed like an endless stream of passengers arrived. No Mr Peart. After half an hour or so, I began to get worried. There were no mobile phones in those days, and the Anthem offices wouldn’t be open for hours. Panic set in. I ran back to the information desk where I was told I had been given the wrong gate. With a sinking heart I rushed to the new location, and in vain searched for my colonial cousin. How could I have been so stupid ? My first assignment of the tour and I had failed miserably. Then, to my relief, I saw Neil pushing a trolley, nervously puffing on a ciggie, looking around for his driver.

I hurried over, said “hello” and explained what had happened. The poor guy was so confused by my non appearance he had bought some cigarettes, and started smoking again. Of course I wasn’t aware then that some of the Anthem bosses had questioned Neil’s sanity in employing an ex-criminal for this very important post. Poor Neil must have thought his worst night-mare had occurred. Had his old mate sold the car before the tour had even started, ? Or had I been arrested again, and even as he waited, was I languishing in some jail ? I think he was so relieved that I had eventually turned up, he forgot to give me the bollocking I truly deserved.
We loaded Neil’s cases into the car, and prepared to set off. Neil had recently been on holiday in Africa, and he told me, in a letter, their driver had only one tape which had been played continuously. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” As I started the engine that familiar sound came from the stereo. I had bought it as a joke. Neil looked at me, and smiled. He realized straight away what I had done, and why. However from then on all the music played on our travels would be his choice !
We were going to Manchester for the night, and then back down to the NEC  in Birmingham the next day. The rest of the band was staying at the Mayfair Inter Continental Hotel in London. We were soon into our usual routine of talking and travelling. As we past the M6 turn off from the M1, Neil asked if we should have taken that exit. Without any hesitation I replied “No, we are taking the scenic route”, and went on to explain we would cut across from the M1 to Manchester via Snakehead Pass. In fact I was so busy chatting, I had missed it all together !
The time flew by so quickly that I was amazed when we saw our turn off, we had alreday travelled over a hunderd miles. As we started to climb at the bottom of the pass, there was an articulated lorry in front of us. When we reached a straight piece of road, I pulled out to overtake but the driver had different ideas. He swerved across in front of us, and I was just able to stop before we were slammed into a stone wall. Neil was up, out of the open sun roof, hurling obscenities, and giving the errant driver the finger before the car was stationary. Once again I was aware that one little accident, which didn’t need to be my fault, and the whole European leg of the tour could be off.
We arrived safely in Manchester, and checked into the Ramada Renaissance Hotel on Deansgate. Neil, tired after his long flight, and car journey, said he was going to have an early night. I popped out for something to eat ( I was on a daily wage and expenses but this didn’t, apart from breakfast, include eating in the four and five star hotels we would be staying at ). When I returned I rang Chris and invited him to come for a drink. We met in the hotel bar. I think he was hoping Neil would make an appearance, so when I told him Neil was already in bed, he was a little disappointed. Once again Chris was in the same building as Neil but didn’t get to see him.
We only had a couple of drinks as the next day my job would start in earnest. I was about to find out what touring with a big rock band was really like, just what a Rush tour entailed. I couldn’t have envisaged this in my wildest dreams.
Neil gave me a couple of bits of good advice before the tour started. Bring plenty of reading material as there would be a lot of time spent hanging about hotels and venues. The second was to make sure I had a watch that kept good time. As previously stated, when I am working I consider myself to be a punctual person. I found out on this tour I had to be ! If Mr Peart said we would check out of a hotel at a certain time it had to be within a minute. That meant I had to be at reception checked out, when Neil arrived. The next morning I turned up at the allotted time to find him there, waiting for me. I wasn’t late, just not prepared for the boss to have already checked out, and expecting the same of me.
There has been a lot written about Neil feeling uncomfortable around fans. I found out on this first day he didn’t like to be kept waiting one second more than was necessary at a hotel reception as it left him vulnerable to the public.

We drove to Birmingham and found the NEC. Not an easy task as every turn off seemed to be for that place. We arrived in plenty of time for the 1-00 pm dead line sound check was at 2-00 pm.
 We drove through the security check point showing our passes, and then along a small road up to the rear doors. I now saw for the first time what a Rush tour meant in terms of vehicles, and personnel. Remember the last tine I had been involved with a band, all the gear, and musicians plus the roadie, were able to travel in a Ford Transit van.
There were three tour buses, six articulated lorries, and all sorts of people milling around. Add to this several vehicles for the film crew as the shows at the NEC were to be filmed, and you can imagine my amazement at this scene
I drove the BMW through the large open roller doors and into the back stage area. There seemed to be organized chaos every where. People like so many ants, swarming all over the place. Wide eyed I watched as this seemingly disorganized crowd went about their individual business. I was soon to realize each and everyone had a purpose and knew exactly what they and each other were doing.
Neil took me to the production office, the heartbeat of the shows, and introduced me to various members of the Rush hierarchy. Howard Ungerleider, tour manager and lighting director. Liam Birt, stage manager. Pegi Cecconi, a senior executive with Anthem and others. We then went into the stage area where I met more people involved with the tour. Larry Allen, Neil’s drum technician, Don Collins, head rigger, Tony Geranios, keyboard technician and George Steinert who was the stage carpenter. I also learned George worked for Neil while not touring, responsible for the maintenance at his house.
I was soon left to my own devices as Neil had things to do. If I had expected to just hang out with my old mate when he wasn’t actually working then I was in for a big surprise !
Neil in working mode is a totally different being to the guy I knew in London. He is ultra professional and, expects those around him to be the same. I guess the only time he is comfortable on a tour is when he is on stage playing. I know that also applied as we travelled together between shows. Being very comfortable in each others  company, and me not being very knowledgeable about music in general, and about Rush in particular, made it easier for Neil to relax. Once we were driving it was like the old days, two friends chatting, and the pressure of the tour forgotten. We rarely discussed the shows as I drove. I guess this was why I was offered the job in the first place.
I am not going to go into the NEC shows in detail as I am going to quote Chris Lea’s version. Not only is Chris’s memory of that time so much clearer than mine but he has much more awareness about Rush, and their equipment. Until Chris told me I couldn’t even recall that Neil, and I stayed in a different hotel to the others while in Birmingham. Those first few days of the ’88 tour really are just a blur. There was so much going on, so much new stuff to take in, and always at the back of my mind, once false move while driving, and the tour could be cancelled. I didn’t really start to enjoy it until we reached mainland Europe when I began to relax.
My head was spinning with my attempt to take it all in.
The tour had really started at last !

Thursday 22 November 2012





                                  Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 6

 

After some time, a few letters from Neil and endless talks with Chris, the next part of the adventure was to be revealed. I was to fly to Munich a few days before the tour started to pick up the tour car.
It was to be a 750i BMW !
I have stated in my roadie stories that logistics have always interested me and when I am working, I like to think I am professional. Armed with the information of which car we would be travelling in, I immediately visited my local BMW dealer. I explained to the head salesman the up coming tour and that I needed assistance acquainting myself with this model of BMW. I was amazed when I was told, not only did they not have one there, but there were only eight in the UK. Then I was told the car cost a cool £55 grand to buy. ( No wonder Neil hadn’t been interested in my friend’s second hand Audi ! ) However they did have a 730i in the showroom, and I was shown the salient features. The guy also said when I got back to Manchester; I should bring it to his showroom. For two reasons, one, the instructions would be in German and he could help me work them out. The second reason was to show him the car as he had never seen one.
I was now getting very excited, and not a little scared. What had I let myself in for ? The responsibility was beginning to become apparent. If Neil were to get injured due to one little mistake by me while driving, the tour could be cancelled. What would the Rush hierarchy and other members think of Neil’s choice of driver ? Apart from a few hours during his visit to Manchester, and my flying visit to London, I hadn’t seen Mr Peart for over fifteen years.
For a few days I seriously doubted my ability to do such a challenging job. Then with Chris’s help, common sense prevailed. It was only driving, and in a wonderful motor car with a valued friend. I had always enjoyed every mile we had driven together in the old days, why should that be any different now ?
Neil had suggested that I get a route organised so I contacted the AA. Although I wasn’t a member I talked the young lady into preparing one and sending it to me. I already knew we would be mainly driving at night after the shows. This meant that although there were some fairly long trips the roads would be quieter. I have always loved driving long distances at night and this would only add to the adventure.
As the time to collect the car got closer I was instructed to attend the offices of an accountant to collect a £1000 expenses for our trip. I was quite surprised to see the company was located less than a mile from where I lived in Didsbury. I went at the allotted time, and was handed the money in an envelope. Did the powers that be at Anthem know what they were doing ? I was an inveterate gambler and I could see a Ladbrokes betting shop as I came out of the accountant’s office. Wouldn’t be the best of starts if I blew some or all the readies on a couple of slow horses !
Somehow I resisted the temptation. The thought of letting Neil down plus losing the exciting prospect of working on the tour overcame my natural tendency to gamble. Funnily enough it made me realize, for the first time for ages, I didn’t have to throw away my money as soon as I got it. Although I was still to bet in the years to come, this was the beginning of some control in the gambling stakes. Something I have under reasonable restraint these days. Another thing to thank Neil for, I guess.
The next to arrive by post was my flight tickets and a letter letting me know which hotel I would stay at and telling me the car would be delivered there the next morning.
On Thursday 14th April, 1988, I flew from Manchester to Munich and settled in at my hotel. I must confess I didn’t sleep much that night. Even to this day, I am still like a little kid the day before any exciting event. It can never come quickly enough. I was up bright and early, breakfasted and sitting in the foyer awaiting the delivery of the BMW.
The car should have been there for 9-30 am, but by eleven o’clock nothing had happened. I rang the number in Munich given to me by Anthem in case of emergencies, and explained the car hadn’t been delivered. I was told they would chase it up for me. About thirty minutes later a guy came in. I heard him asking for me by name at reception so I introduced myself. He just sort of grunted and walked back out of the hotel, gesturing me to follow him. He led me to a beautiful large, sleek, black BMW, pointed to the keys in the ignition and promptly disappeared.
£55 grand worth of motor and I didn’t even have to sign for it..
I found out later that the German promoters had bought the car to rent to Anthem just for the tour. It was brand new and only had nine kilometers on the clock.
I slowly got into the drivers seat and marvelled at the leather interior and dashboard that resembled the cock pit of a plane rather than a car. This was a serious tool.
I thought I had already worked out how to get out of Munich so I started the engine, fiddled with seat controls, and slowly moved away. It had an automatic gear box so all I had to do was steer it and ease into the traffic. After only a short while I was lost, not seeing any recognizable signs, I parked the car got out and asked directions. Immediately I restarted the car, a message appeared on the dash. I had been told by the guy at the BMW dealership in Manchester, if this happened to stop the car straight away. Of course it was in German so I hadn’t a clue what it said. As I started to panic I saw a sign for a BMW garage. I pulled onto the fore court and explained my problem to a mechanic. The guy looked into the car, started to laugh and told me the message said “Your door is open”. Relief just poured over me. I thought the tour was over after just a couple of miles. Then I saw the funny side and burst out laughing.
The rest of the journey back to England was fairly routine, if that is how I can describe driving the car of my dreams at high speeds across Europe. The BMW 750i is a remarkable car. I loved every mile I was to travel in it.
The only slight hitch came after driving off the ferry at Dover. My seat started to get warmer and warmer. I realized the seat heater had been switched on, but had no idea how to turn it off. I stopped and looked at the manual but as it was written in German it was of no help. I had to suffer the trip to Manchester with me getting hotter and hotter. Even with all the windows open it was almost unbearable. Eventually I arrived in Didsbury with sweat running down my back and my shirt wringing wet, stuck to me.
I now had a few days with the BMW before I was due at Heathrow on Wednesday to pick Neil up. I felt like a king driving round Manchester. Everywhere I went people looked at the car. After taking it to the BMW dealership where all the staff and mechanics came out to inspect it and getting as much info as I could ( the troublesome heated seat was soon switched off ), I made arrangements to pick Chris up at his home that Friday night.
Chris has no interest what so ever in cars but even he couldn’t fail to be impressed. After showing off to the evening revellers in Didsbury ( I think Chris had a Rush tape blaring from the stereo ) we headed for the M62 ( now the M60 ) and I opened the beast up. It was governed at 155 mph, but would sit at that speed all day. Of course I was aware of the up coming tour and the need to be careful, so drove with control. It was so safe at high speeds it was a pleasure to put my foot down. We came off the motorway and headed to a pub in Whalley Range where my old friend Rodney Warr, an old friend drank. As I showed the car to Rodney, all the guys from the boozer came out. Almost like magic there was a crowd that increased to around fifty as people came to look at it, asking all kinds of technical questions and requesting the bonnet be opened so the engine could be seen in all its glory.
On Sunday I decided to drive the 120 miles to Carlisle in order to show the car to my friends and family there. At the slipway to the motorway there were three people hitchhiking. I have done a lot of hitching myself over the years, and though I probably shouldn’t, even to this day I still give lifts when possible. To their amazement this large BMW slowed to a stop and I offered them a lift. There were two boys and a girl. They were travelling to Glasgow. During the journey I found out one of the reasons they were going there was to see Rush at the Glasgow SEC ( now the SECC ). I couldn’t help myself, I had to tell them this was the car that Neil would be travelling in for the duration of the tour. At first they were incredulous and very sceptical, but soon saw I was serious. It transpired they didn’t have tickets but were hoping to buy some at the venue. Apparently this was unlikely as it was sell-out. I had been told by Neil if I needed any tickets, for friends, or for staff from the various hotels, then there would be some available. Being the flash git that I am, I told them I may be able to arrange something. When I dropped them at the Carlisle turn off, I said I would meet them outside the main entrance of the SEC two hours before the show. A promise I kept along with their free tickets, much to the amazement of those three Rush fans.
Like everyone else who I showed the 750i to, my friends in Carlisle were astounded. It was such a beautiful, stunning vehicle I had to pinch myself every time I saw it, to believe I was really driving such a class car.
I returned to Manchester early the next morning, revelling in the almost deserted motorway and doing the trip in record time for me.
 The tour wasn't far away now !

Wednesday 14 November 2012

       Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 5

 

Later that year, probably in the summer, the Barleycorn social club went on a boozy weekend trip to the Isle of Man, a small island off the N. W. of England. There was around forty of us including regulars and staff.
On the Saturday evening I was sat in the hotel bar with the rest of our group. Chris Lea was beside me and Bernie Dwyer ( the old Freddie and the Dreamers drummer ) a couple of seats away. Chris’s version is slightly different to mine, but I defer to his excellent memory. I knew Chris was a graphic designer, and some how in the conversation I mentioned I knew someone who had got in trouble who designed album covers, Neil had told me Hugh Syme, the guy responsible for their album artwork, had been jailed for fraud. Neil seems to have a few good friends who fell foul of the law !
When Chris asked me who I was referring to, I told him. Immediately Chris’s attitude changed. He seemed suspicious that I had even heard of Hugh Syme. Bernie, being the loveable rogue he was, caught on, and started to wind Chris up by asking me who else I knew from Canada. By now Bernie was aware that Chris was into Rush, but not to what degree.
Sensing there could be a laugh to be had, but not sure why, I went on to tell Chris, I didn’t know the unfortunate Mr. Syme, but was an old friend of the group’s drummer. Convinced now that this was a wind up, probably instigated by his work mates who knew of his love of all things Rush, and were on the trip. Chris started to ask me questions. Like what the drummer was called ? “Neil Peart”,  I replied pronouncing it correctly. What were the names of their albums etc? I couldn’t name one, but assured him I was telling the truth. More questions bombarded me, but the clincher was when Chris asked me if Neil wrote to me, and if so what was special about the writing paper. My reply floored him.
“The paper has from “The desk of Neil Peart” printed on the top”, I answered. Apparently year’s earlier, letters to a magazine from Neil, had shown this to be true.
Mr Lea totally bewildered, but now convinced I really did know this god of rock, just sat there in disbelief, shaking his head. Bernie, with perfect timing, then went on to drop the bomb shell, not only had he met Neil in Manchester earlier that year, but they had had a drink in the Barleycorn. To make matters even worse he added that Chris had been in the pub on the night in question, and had only been a few feet away from Neil. Chris’s face was a picture.

Crestfallen, distraught, unbelieving and in a total state of shock the poor guy just kept repeating “Never, never, I can’t believe it, Neil Peart was in my pub, AND I was there without knowing”
Ironically this bit of good natured leg pulling was to have a profound effect on Chris’s life in the future .
After a couple of stiff drinks and a little time Chris pulled himself together and went on to tell me just how brilliant and successful a band Rush were. He also told me my old mate was one of the best rock drummers in the world, if not the best. Now it was my turn to be gob smacked. Chris reeled off album after album. The fact that Rush were extraordinarily highly regarded in rock circles the world over was beginning to sink in. We talked, and drank into the early hours, oblivious to the rest of our party. I wanted to know every little detail about Neil and his band.
When Chris eventually went to bed that Sunday morning, he could be heard mumbling “Neil Peart was in my pub”, shaking his head in disbelief. I in turn could hardly take in just what my colonial cousin had achieved,
Neil and I kept in touch over the next year or so. He sent me all sorts of printed matter about the band, a brochure of The Chalet Studio, where they recorded, and kept me up to date with their progress. Copies of Drummer magazine, where not only was he a regular writer, but also had his picture on one of the covers. My friend really was a rock star. In return I kept Neil up to date with my life, and my criminal enterprises. By now I was involved in a crime called L F's. Long firm fraud, which is company fraud aimed at building up maximum credit, then disappearing leaving unpaid accounts. For obvious reasons I couldn't go into too many details, so in some ways Neil wasn't totally aware of the level of criminality I was operating at.
In the meantime on arrival home from The Isle of Man, Chris came round to my flat laden with Rush albums, and over a period of weeks we listened to them with Chris explaining all he could about each song. To be honest, the music wasn’t my cup of tea, and I found a lot of it very heavy going. But my friend was playing the drums and had written the words, so I had an avid interest from that point of view.
Each time Neil wrote he always finished by writing “say hello to Bernie”. In my letters I told of this guy in Manchester who was a big fan, and was kindly leading me through their music. Also knowing Neil’s wonderful sense of humour, I related the story of that night in The Isle of Man when Bernie, and I had wound Chris up, and his reaction to realizing Neil had been in the Barleycorn without Chris knowing.
With typical Peart humour, and loving the story, Neil in one of his missives added to his usual “hello to Bernie,” “and say hi to Chris “ When I showed this to Chris, his reaction was priceless. I could never have believed those few words could have meant so much. I suspect Neil did, and typical of the man, that was probably why he wrote them.
Neil and Chris are very similar in many ways. Both have artistic ability, and interest in most things connected to art. Both have excellent recall. Very funny guys who once they have decided you are a friend, then it is for life. Unlike many people I know they also accept my many mistakes in life, and are not judgemental about my criminal past. I gauge my friends by how I feel when we meet. Whether I saw them last week, or many months or even years ago, I always get a warm feeling meeting certain people. These two are very high on that particular list.
Oh, and did I forget to say they both play the drums?
Also they were to have a very tragic time in their lives within a few months of each other.
The trans Atlantic mail continued to flow. I felt very sorry for Neil having to try and decipher my atrocious hand writing, but he seemed to do so without too much complaint. No word processor for me in those days. One morning sometime in 1987, I received a telegram from Neill. Rush were touring Canada, and North America, and he wanted me to ring him in America. The person I had to ask for was called, Hank Kimble.
I made the call, asked for Mr. Kimble, and was put through. Not really knowing what to say I sort of mumbled that Neil Peart had asked me to speak to this guy Kimble. A recognizable laugh boomed down the phone as Neil announced he was Mr. Kimble. This was the name he was using on the tour as not to be bothered by fans. A ploy I was to find out was used by all three members of Rush while on the road. After a little small talk ( I said Neil wasn’t one for talking on the phone, ) he announced that Rush were to tour Great Britain, and Europe the coming spring, and would I be interested in some work ? I said “yes” and with no more ado Neil told me the details would be posted to me, bade farewell and hung up.
As I sat there reflecting what I may have let myself in for, I felt sure I was too old for humping gear around, I thought of Chris. We arranged to meet in the Barleycorn that evening, and I told him of my news. Understandably his first reaction was he would see his favourite band again. Then he got excited for me as well. We sat drinking and trying to guess what my duties would be, where they would play, and a hundred other thoughts on this news. Over the next few weeks Chris, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out where Rush would play, how many shows, and how long “my tour” would be.
I then had a letter from Neil telling me my job in fact was to drive him independently of the rest of the band. While Alex, Geddy, and the main players of the Rush entourage would either travel by limo, train, or fly, we were to do the whole trip by road. Neil and I would be travelling together in a car. The financial arrangements were Neil could spend half of Alex and Geddy’s expenses on his travel expenses. This was to be the first time Neil had travelled independently of the others while touring anywhere.
Now I got really excited, the thought of us driving possibly thousands of miles together would just be like an improved version of those old days. Mr Peart’s thinking was we could travel in a “smallish saloon”, while Alex and Geddy were chauffeur driven in a limo, and thus avoid the attention of the fans. I knew a guy who had a fairly new Audi. I suggested to Neil we could maybe hire it for the duration of the tour. For some reason that idea got no reply in the next letter I received
I was soon to find out why.
A few days later a package arrived in the post. It had a booklet in with all the tour locations, which hotels we would stay in. All the information was there about each venue, and when Neil and I ( and the others ) would be travelling, and how.
On the front it said
Rush Hold Your Fire Tour ‘88 Europe & UK
The dates were as follows.
April
Thurs. 21st NEC Birmingham
Sat, 23rd NEC Birmingham
Sun. 24th NEC Birmingham
Tues, 26th SEC Glasgow
Thur. 28th Wembley Arena, London
Fri. 29th Wembley Arena, London
Sat. 30th, Wembley Arena, London
May
Mon. 2nd Ahoy Sportshall Rotterdam
Wed 4th Festhalle, Frankfurt
Thur. 5th Hans Martin Schleyer Hall, Stuttgart.

Three nights in the NEC, three nights at Wembley arena, just how big are these guys?
I would find out in April.


Thursday 8 November 2012

Ed Stenger sensibly suggested I put each chapter as a new post saving readers scrolling down all the time. didn't know I could do that. Thanks again, Ed.

 

                               Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 4

It was a long letter getting me up to date with his life since we had last met.On the first page Neil wrote. 
" How wonderful to hear from you, how terrible to hear from you where you are ! I hope you are serving your incarceration with your sense of humour intact. I am glad to hear a modest post card could do you some good in there as I will never forget your generosity ( how I appreciated and needed those occasional " fivers " you pressed upon me )  Not to mention your refusal to consider my request to get involved in your clandestine occupations. Fear of destitution will remove any principals of ethics and morals. I certainly learned that and but for your open heartedness I may have ended up where you are now. No condescension meant here, as I say it could easily have been me, more than once it has been the lack of nerve that has kept me honest. " 
My request for a few signed post cards was also answered. However when it came to the geezer who was such a fan that he changed his name, Neil wrote “I am glad my father never named me after one of his favourites like Frank or Bing. Remember fan is short for fanatic, and a fanatic shot John Lennon. Keep this guy away from me “ There was no signed post card for Mr. Rush !
For those who know of Neil’s “letters to Brutus”, another friend of his who also ended up in prison, you will realize what a wonderful writer of letters Neil is, and how his script cheered me up.
When I was released from prison I returned to Manchester, and was able to write some longer letters to Neil. In prison I had been limited to four sides of fairly small paper. Neil’s excellently written scripts, over a period of time, changed from being hand written to being printed on a word processor. I seem to recall some of the early ones being in a peculiar purple colour. I was slowly becoming aware that Rush were a very successful band. To quote Mr. Peart “We have been successful on our own terms, which is nice” I understood this to mean they only recorded material they had written. I had also discovered that my old mate was responsible for the lyrics to their music.

Some time during the next year, I guess around May 1985, I heard from Neil that Rush were visiting England to do some recording at the Manor Studio in Oxford. (Power Windows ?) He also informed me that he would like to travel up to Manchester one Saturday, and spend an evening with Jackie, and I. At last I was to meet my old friend. I have to admit I was very excited, not that he was now a member of a recording band, but just the thought of seeing my lanky Canadian friend again.

The day eventually arrived. I stood in Piccadilly train station wondering if I would recognize him after all those years. Would he have all the trappings of a rock star? Adorned with long hair, and wild clothes? We recognized each other immediately. However Neil looked nothing like your typical rock musician. He had very short hair, baggy dark trousers, and a light blue kagool. We hugged each other, smiled a little nervously, but within minutes it felt like we had never been apart. A situation that would manifest itself each time we were to meet, no matter how long it had been since we had last seen each other.
We drove back to my flat in an old van I had borrowed. Neil told me what a pleasure it had been to travel on a train, and no one knew who he was. Something, he said, wouldn’t be possible back home in Toronto. I couldn’t help wondering if he was slightly over stating his band’s popularity. We arrived at my ground floor flat, and Neil met my live in girl friend, Jackie. I had previously told him that the basement flat was inhabited by a 60’s pop drummer. A guy called Bernie Dwyer who had played with Freddie and the Dreamers. After getting up to date with what had been happening in each others lives, Neil announced he would like to take us for a meal that night. However he seemed to be very interested to meet Bernie. I suggested we popped down to my local pub, The Barleycorn, where I knew Bernie would be. True to form Bernie was sat on his usual stool by the bar holding court. He was a lovely, lovely guy with a wicked sense of humour. Generous to a fault but not guy you would  take liberties with. Bernie could look after himself. Sadly he passed away a few years ago. Amazingly Neil seemed a little in awe of this 60’s pop star, but Bernie soon made him very welcome, and they got on like a house on fire, swapping tales of touring with bands. Once again Neil said how good it was to be able to have a drink, and relax without being bothered by fans. Again I thought this was a little over the top. As far as I knew, no one in the pub had even heard of Rush, never mind knew what Neil looked like.
I couldn’t have been more wrong ! A very good friend of mine called Chris Lea was a massive fan. I had no idea at the time, and Chris, who was in The Barleycorn that evening hadn’t a clue his hero was stood by the bar. I saw Chris a couple of times but thought maybe because I was in company he didn’t come over. Chris remembers the situation rather differently. He says he can’t recall seeing the four of us, but even if he had, the thought that Neil Peart could possibly be in his local, would never have crossed his mind.

I will tell more of that later in this story.
We had an enjoyable meal at a small inexpensive local restaurant that I chose. I often wondered in later years when I found out just how wealthy Neil was, what he thought of my choice.We returned to our flat, and had a drink as we reminisced. We had only one bed room, but Neil insisted he would be alright sleeping on a single mattress in the living room. As Jackie and I went to bed we left this famous drummer reading a book. I was to find out later Neil was a prolific reader, and very knowledgeable about all sorts of authors and their history. I still wasn’t aware that one of the best rock drummers in the world was curled up on my living room floor. The next day after breakfast, rather than let Neil travel by train, I drove him back to Oxford in the borrowed van. This was the reason I had borrowed it so we could travel back to the recording studio. It was just like the old days, my Canadian friend, and I travelling along the motorways. Nothing had changed, we talked all the way there, and Neil acted as navigator in the latter stages.
The Manor studio was a lot different to the tiny one English Rose had used back those days in London. It was set in its own grounds, and was an impressive old building. Richard Branson was the owner, and it was interesting to hear the staff say when he visited the studio, he knew all their names and chatted with them. A story I was to hear many times over the years with his various companies.

Neil was recording that afternoon so he asked if I would like to hang around, and watch. He also introduced me to the other two members of Rush, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, plus some people connected with the band. Just before he started recording Neil gave me a cheque as repayment for those odd fivers I had given in him London all those years ago. I won't say what the amount was but the rate of interest was much more than I would have got from a bank ! I stayed a while but as Neil was working, and it wasn't really my kind of music, I said my goodbyes, and headed home to Manchester.

Later that year Rush came back over to London to, I think, mix the new album. I am not sure but maybe it was at a studio called Sarne Street East. I travelled down to London, and we had a wonderful meal in a little French restaurant. That was one occasion when I hoped to spend all evening with Neil but he had to back in the studio by around ten, so our evening ended a little early for me.
The telephone has never been Neil’s favoured mode of contact, I have only spoken to him by phone a few times in all the years we have known each other, but we kept in touch regularly by post over the next few months.. No internet in those days.





                                             Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 5

 

Later that year, probably in the summer, the Barleycorn social club went on a boozy weekend trip to the Isle of Man, a small island off the N. W. of England. There was around forty of us including regulars and staff.
On the Saturday evening I was sat in the hotel bar with the rest of our group. Chris Lea was beside me and Bernie Dwyer ( the old Freddie and the Dreamers drummer ) a couple of seats away. Chris’s version is slightly different to mine, but I defer to his excellent memory. I knew Chris was a graphic designer, and some how in the conversation I mentioned I knew someone who had got in trouble who designed album covers, Neil had told me Hugh Syme, the guy responsible for their album artwork, had been jailed for fraud. Neil seems to have a few good friends who fell foul of the law !
When Chris asked me who I was referring to, I told him. Immediately Chris’s attitude changed. He seemed suspicious that I had even heard of Hugh Syme. Bernie, being the loveable rogue he was, caught on, and started to wind Chris up by asking me who else I knew from Canada. By now Bernie was aware that Chris was into Rush, but not to what degree.
Sensing there could be a laugh to be had, but not sure why, I went on to tell Chris, I didn’t know the unfortunate Mr. Syme, but was an old friend of the group’s drummer. Convinced now that this was a wind up, probably instigated by his work mates who knew of his love of all things Rush, and were on the trip. Chris started to ask me questions. Like what the drummer was called ? “Neil Peart”,  I replied pronouncing it correctly. What were the names of their albums etc? I couldn’t name one, but assured him I was telling the truth. More questions bombarded me, but the clincher was when Chris asked me if Neil wrote to me, and if so what was special about the writing paper. My reply floored him.
“The paper has from “The desk of Neil Peart” printed on the top”, I answered. Apparently year’s earlier, letters to a magazine from Neil, had shown this to be true.
Mr Lea totally bewildered, but now convinced I really did know this god of rock, just sat there in disbelief, shaking his head. Bernie, with perfect timing, then went on to drop the bomb shell, not only had he met Neil in Manchester earlier that year, but they had had a drink in the Barleycorn. To make matters even worse he added that Chris had been in the pub on the night in question, and had only been a few feet away from Neil. Chris’s face was a picture.

Crestfallen, distraught, unbelieving and in a total state of shock the poor guy just kept repeating “Never, never, I can’t believe it, Neil Peart was in my pub, AND I was there without knowing”
Ironically this bit of good natured leg pulling was to have a profound effect on Chris’s life in the future .
After a couple of stiff drinks and a little time Chris pulled himself together and went on to tell me just how brilliant and successful a band Rush were. He also told me my old mate was one of the best rock drummers in the world, if not the best. Now it was my turn to be gob smacked. Chris reeled off album after album. The fact that Rush were extraordinarily highly regarded in rock circles the world over was beginning to sink in. We talked, and drank into the early hours, oblivious to the rest of our party. I wanted to know every little detail about Neil and his band.
When Chris eventually went to bed that Sunday morning, he could be heard mumbling “Neil Peart was in my pub”, shaking his head in disbelief. I in turn could hardly take in just what my colonial cousin had achieved,
Neil and I kept in touch over the next year or so. He sent me all sorts of printed matter about the band, a brochure of The Chalet Studio, where they recorded, and kept me up to date with their progress. Copies of Drummer magazine, where not only was he a regular writer, but also had his picture on one of the covers. My friend really was a rock star. In return I kept Neil up to date with my life, and my criminal enterprises. By now I was involved in a crime called L F's. Long firm fraud, which is company fraud aimed at building up maximum credit, then disappearing leaving unpaid accounts. For obvious reasons I couldn't go into too many details, so in some ways Neil wasn't totally aware of the level of criminality I was operating at.
In the meantime on arrival home from The Isle of Man, Chris came round to my flat laden with Rush albums, and over a period of weeks we listened to them with Chris explaining all he could about each song. To be honest, the music wasn’t my cup of tea, and I found a lot of it very heavy going. But my friend was playing the drums and had written the words, so I had an avid interest from that point of view.
Each time Neil wrote he always finished by writing “say hello to Bernie”. In my letters I told of this guy in Manchester who was a big fan, and was kindly leading me through their music. Also knowing Neil’s wonderful sense of humour, I related the story of that night in The Isle of Man when Bernie, and I had wound Chris up, and his reaction to realizing Neil had been in the Barleycorn without Chris knowing.
With typical Peart humour, and loving the story, Neil in one of his missives added to his usual “hello to Bernie,” “and say hi to Chris “ When I showed this to Chris, his reaction was priceless. I could never have believed those few words could have meant so much. I suspect Neil did, and typical of the man, that was probably why he wrote them.
Neil and Chris are very similar in many ways. Both have artistic ability, and interest in most things connected to art. Both have excellent recall. Very funny guys who once they have decided you are a friend, then it is for life. Unlike many people I know they also accept my many mistakes in life, and are not judgemental about my criminal past. I gauge my friends by how I feel when we meet. Whether I saw them last week, or many months or even years ago, I always get a warm feeling meeting certain people. These two are very high on that particular list.
Oh, and did I forget to say they both play the drums?
Also they were to have a very tragic time in their lives within a few months of each other.
The trans Atlantic mail continued to flow. I felt very sorry for Neil having to try and decipher my atrocious hand writing, but he seemed to do so without too much complaint. No word processor for me in those days. One morning sometime in 1987, I received a telegram from Neill. Rush were touring Canada, and North America, and he wanted me to ring him in America. The person I had to ask for was called, Hank Kimble.
I made the call, asked for Mr. Kimble, and was put through. Not really knowing what to say I sort of mumbled that Neil Peart had asked me to speak to this guy Kimble. A recognizable laugh boomed down the phone as Neil announced he was Mr. Kimble. This was the name he was using on the tour as not to be bothered by fans. A ploy I was to find out was used by all three members of Rush while on the road. After a little small talk ( I said Neil wasn’t one for talking on the phone, ) he announced that Rush were to tour Great Britain, and Europe the coming spring, and would I be interested in some work ? I said “yes” and with no more ado Neil told me the details would be posted to me, bade farewell and hung up.
As I sat there reflecting what I may have let myself in for, I felt sure I was too old for humping gear around, I thought of Chris. We arranged to meet in the Barleycorn that evening, and I told him of my news. Understandably his first reaction was he would see his favourite band again. Then he got excited for me as well. We sat drinking and trying to guess what my duties would be, where they would play, and a hundred other thoughts on this news. Over the next few weeks Chris, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out where Rush would play, how many shows, and how long “my tour” would be.
I then had a letter from Neil telling me my job in fact was to drive him independently of the rest of the band. While Alex, Geddy, and the main players of the Rush entourage would either travel by limo, train, or fly, we were to do the whole trip by road. Neil and I would be travelling together in a car. The financial arrangements were Neil could spend half of Alex and Geddy’s expenses on his travel expenses. This was to be the first time Neil had travelled independently of the others while touring anywhere.
Now I got really excited, the thought of us driving possibly thousands of miles together would just be like an improved version of those old days. Mr Peart’s thinking was we could travel in a “smallish saloon”, while Alex and Geddy were chauffeur driven in a limo, and thus avoid the attention of the fans. I knew a guy who had a fairly new Audi. I suggested to Neil we could maybe hire it for the duration of the tour. For some reason that idea got no reply in the next letter I received
I was soon to find out why.
A few days later a package arrived in the post. It had a booklet in with all the tour locations, which hotels we would stay in. All the information was there about each venue, and when Neil and I ( and the others ) would be travelling, and how.
On the front it said
Rush Hold Your Fire Tour ‘88 Europe & UK
The dates were as follows.
April
Thurs. 21st NEC Birmingham
Sat, 23rd NEC Birmingham
Sun. 24th NEC Birmingham
Tues, 26th SEC Glasgow
Thur. 28th Wembley Arena, London
Fri. 29th Wembley Arena, London
Sat. 30th, Wembley Arena, London
May
Mon. 2nd Ahoy Sportshall Rotterdam
Wed 4th Festhalle, Frankfurt
Thur. 5th Hans Martin Schleyer Hall, Stuttgart.

Three nights in the NEC, three nights at Wembley arena, just how big are these guys?
I would find out in April.


I have posted two chapters this time as I have commitments next week, so there won't be another post for a fornight.






Wednesday 10 October 2012

Legends of Brocklehurst


Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 1

When I was younger, London was like a magnet to me. Those days youngsters never looked for employment abroad, however London was one of the few places we would travel to. The world seemed so much bigger, and Spain was about as far as any of us went for holidays. I had visited the capital previously for a couple of “extended” stays, but in late 1970, a friend of mine called Robin Coulthard, and I decided to see if the streets were really paved with gold. Robin was a guitarist, and singer who had played with local Carlisle bands. He was also a very good goalkeeper, and we had been in the same football team for a couple of seasons. Robin quickly found work in Carnaby Street working in a souvenir shop. While Robin worked in this vibrant atmosphere, I found mundane work selling, and servicing water softeners. However I would travel into Carnaby Street to see Robin at work, or to have a drink in a nearby pub when ever I could.
Any time day or night famous people could be seen walking about the Street. Many pop stars came there to buy the latest clothes, and I once got locked in Take Six, a fashion shop, because the singer from Sweet, Brian Connolly, wanted to purchase some clothes in peace. I also once saw Bob Dylan strolling about, and being virtually ignored by the passing crowds.
After a few months, one night Robin came home to our flat in Hampstead, only a few minutes walk from both the Tube, and the Heath extremely excited. He had been asked to join a group. There were only two problems: they had no drummer, and no transport. However, Robin knew a drummer called Ellway who he had met at work, and I said I could solve the van problem. The company I worked for had just purchased a brand new Ford Transit van. The Transit was the favoured mode of travelling for most bands in those days, and this one was almost new, only 800 miles on the clock, and had double back wheels as well. In those days all vehicles had one key, which opened, and started them, with a number on each key. To get a new one all you had to do was tell the garage the key number, and you could open, start, and drive away almost any vehicle. No proof of ownership was required. It cost me 12 pence to get a copy for the Transit. That night I calmly went to where the van was parked in Lyttleton Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, opened the driver’s door, started it up, and drove off. Through the night I drove the 300 miles home to Carlisle where I had the original colour of pale blue sprayed dark blue, and the back windows blacked out, so no one with my criminal tendencies could see what was inside. I changed the number plates to match a stolen tax disc from a scrapped Ford Escort the number was JHV 151K. The next day I insured it, and returned to London in “my” new van. Robin had persuaded the drummer to join the band, so the van, and I had part time work driving the group.
Apart from Robin and Ellway, there was the singer Jimmy, bass guitarist Paul, and a keyboard player called Lynton Guest, whose claim to fame was that he had played with a pop group called Love Affair. They had a number one hit in 1968 called “Everlasting Love,” as well as a couple of other smaller ones. I am not sure of the first time I met the guys, probably in Carnaby Street, or in one of the pubs near there. Like me, I think, that Ellway was a little overwhelmed by some of the other band members's outsize personalities. Whatever the reason, we spent quite a lot of time together, and got on really well from day one. Whenever we travelled, he would ride “shotgun,” as he called it, sitting up front while the others were in the back with the equipment, getting stoned and drinking. Then as now, if I like a person, their colour, creed, or country of origin doesn’t matter to me. The person is the important thing. Ellway was a cool guy. The band wasn’t to be successful, and didn’t last very long. However we played quite a few gigs. The most memorable was a trip to my native Cumbria, where through an old employer of mine, a local booking agency, Cumberland Entertainment Services, we got some bookings. I remember on our way back to London from the north of England  Ellway telling me the reasons he came to London, and his hopes for recognition as a musician. I told him that it might make a good story for a music paper in the future. The other abiding memory I have of this group was making a demo record. It was the first time I had been in a recording studio, and it was very small, and cramped. I sat beside the drums believing I was witnessing a hit record being produced. Once it was completed, though, no one seemed to have much idea what to do next.
In one of the music magazines, I read that the manager of the Moody Blues lived in a village a few miles from Doncaster. It was decided I would deliver the demo in person. Having borrowed the train fare from Robin’s girlfriend, Kaye, one freezing winter’s day I travelled to Doncaster, then, hitchhiked through snow, fifteen miles to the village. Luckily the guy was in, and agreed to see me. After telling him a potted history of the band, and giving him the demo tape, I left to return to London convinced the big time beckoned. We did receive a reply, but not what we hoped for. A couple of weeks later a letter arrived along with the demo. Basically, it said the guy was sorry but couldn’t help us. He did go on to say he wished the band all the best for the future, and that the band reminded him of a young Moody Blues. 
Not long after this, disappointed and disillusioned the group split up. Apart from Robin, Ellway was the only one I kept in touch with, mainly because I would see him at work, or in pubs round Carnaby Street when I used to meet Robin.
At that time I used to supplement my income with the water softening company by stealing from petrol stations when they were closed, during the night. There would always be £30 or so float left in the cash box, so it was easy pickings with minimal risk. There would normally be a floor safe, and the money in the till was left allow any burglars to get some reward, and not smash the place up trying to get the floor safe open. Ellway was now unemployed, and running out of cash so he once asked if he could come with me on one of my night-time jaunts, but I said it was a bad idea. I argued if he ever wanted to come back to England with a band in the future having a criminal record would prevent that. In those days group members  from over seas needed a visa to enter the UK. However, on a few, occasions I did give him the odd fiver. Being the guy he is Ellway never forgot those friendly gestures. A short time later he left London to return home believing he wouldn’t succeed in his chosen profession. We had exchanged addresses, but the likelihood of us ever meeting again was very remote. For some reason, each time I bought a new address book I continued to write Ellway’s name and details in it. After a few years and several books, his name was at the top of the page for his initials. I am not sure why I continued to keep this out-of-date information, it was almost like I knew our paths would cross again in the future. But how could that happen, having lost contact as we had ?
I guess that should have been the end of the story………

The band in London back in 1971 was called English Rose. Also due to my criminal activities I have since spent a few “holidays“, care of Her Majesty!
I am now going to fast forward many years.
It was Tuesday 7th September 2004 around 8-00 pm, and I was sitting in the foyer of the Savoy Hotel in London. I was very excited as I was there to meet an old friend I hadn’t seen for over twelve years. As usual I was on time but my mate, untypical of him, was running late. I had received a call on my mobile from Ellway telling me he was held up, so I bought myself 20 ciggies and a vodka and tonic. I nearly collapsed when I heard the price, £17-67. I handed the waiter a £20 note, and mumbled “keep the change”. Thank goodness I wasn’t paying for tonight’s meal, and drinks! I had sat in the foyer so I would be able to see Ellway coming in, and I was just wondering if we would recognize each other after such a long time, especially as I was dressed in a smart suit, and tie, the least I could do being in such salubrious surroundings, and my old friend had never seen me attired in my “court clothes “, when a familiar tall figure walked through the entrance to the hotel. We saw each other simultaneously and I heard the words “that bonce looks familiar”. I stood up and gave my old buddy, Neil Peart, a big hug.
Ellway is a joke adaptation of his middle name “Ellwood” that we have used for some time. I, in, turn get many variations of “Brocklehurst” from Brockbank, my surname that goes back to those good old days in London, hence Neil’s decision to entitle my roadie dairies and this tale, “Legend’s of Brocklehurst”.



There will be a weekly addition to this story, usually completed for the weekend.


                                                     Chapter 2


 The last time I had seen Neil was at the end of Roll the Bones tour in 1992. I had dropped Neil, Jackie and Selena, outside a hotel near Southampton as they were sailing back to New York on the QE2. My final memory of that day was watching the three of them waving goodbye as I drove off.
I could never have envisaged the tragedy that would over take them in such a short time.
In the intervening years both the ladies in Neil’s life had died. Selena in a car crash and Jackie died only ten months later from cancer. Neil says it was really a broken heart as Jackie never got over their daughter’s tragic accident.
After hugging we fell silent. To say those first moments were emotional is an understatement, we just looked at each other, neither really knowing what to say. Then Neil, being the first to pull himself together, suggested we go up to his room, and have a drink while he got changed. Rush had just finished their rehearsal at Wembley Arena, and Neil had come straight from the stage to the hotel. The next night, Wednesday 8th September, was the first date of the R30 European tour. This was their celebration for having been together for thirty years with no personnel changes, some achievement. Though I have never been the biggest of Rush fans, I was really looking forward to seeing them play, and in particular Neil drumming, again.
After our initial hesitancy, and awkwardness we were soon into the old routine, laughing, joking, asking each other questions, and getting up to date with each others lives. Even though we hadn’t seen each other for a long, long time, it seemed like days rather than years since we last met. As usual the conversation revolved around our personal lives rather than how Rush were doing, and stories about the current tour. Neil is an excellent host, and the drink flowed. We ate and drank but I can’t tell you the cost as there were no prices on the menus, I will only repeat thank goodness I wasn’t paying ! Neil’s room had one wall that was almost completely made up of glass. We were on the fifth floor over looking the Thames, and had a wonderful panoramic view from the House of Parliament on the right, across to the London Eye, the Festival Hall, all the way down the river. A marvelous sight with so many different coloured lights. Perhaps this view looked even better after the extras !
Those few hours flew by, and early in the morning Neil, who seemed to be slightly less intoxicated than me, said it was time to ring Carrie, his wife. Knowing Ellway the way I do, I understood he was politely telling me the party was over. We said our goodbyes, hugged at the door, and I said I would see him before the sound check at Wembley the next day.
Somehow I found my way to the lift, and managed to hit the right button, so arrived on the ground floor. It was around 2-00 am. I decided to see if anyone was in the American Bar. I was really looking for Pegi Cecconi, one of the Anthem hierarchy who I really like, and get on well with. I stumbled along the narrow room that is the bar, looked around but couldn’t see Peg. Mind you I was under considerable pressure just to keep walking straight, so maybe that is why I had passed, without noticing, the four people sitting near the entrance to the bar. As I exited I saw the back of a familiar head, but there seemed to be less hair than last time, so I wasn’t sure. I altered my angle so I would pass close, but not too near to be intrusive. Then I saw that easily identifiable long dark hair of the guy facing me, and a voice said “I recognize that face”. The blonde guy sat with his back to me, turned round, said “Peter”, and got up and gave me a big hug. Geddy had seen me but it was Alex who gave me the warm welcome. They were sat with Ray Daniels, and a girl from the production team, Shelley, who I didn’t know. Luckily they had all been drinking too, so my alcoholic, stoned state wasn’t so obvious. Some how I managed to sit down, and join in the conversation. As usual they were very friendly, and Alex outrageously funny. When ever I have met Alex he has always been very warm, and with out fail, hilarious. Geddy usually was more restrained, and had taken a while to accept me. Ray, as is normal for him, had a host of rock stories to tell. He is well connected in the music business, as not only does he manage Rush, John Bon Jovi is his brother-in-law. I stayed for a couple of drinks, then bade my farewells, and left. Somehow I found a taxi and managed to give the driver the address of my hotel. I can’t remember arriving there or going to bed!
I think this is a good time to qualify exactly what my friendship with Neil is. I would never claim to be to be his best friend, or indeed, he mine. This is simply the story of two guys who liked each other from day one, and who having lost touch for many years were reunited by a stroke of fate. We have spent many years of not meeting by keeping in touch using various forms of mail, both the basic postal service, and more recently via email, and somehow our friendship has lasted. We are totally different people and of course we have had our minor fall outs. Exclusively down to me, may I add ? It is very hard sometimes to understand exactly what being a rock super star is, and all it entails. There have been occasions when I hoped to spend more time with Neil, but because he was working, that wasn’t possible, and I have felt let down. But letting his friends down is something NEP never does. Each time I have been incarcerated, Neil has found time to write those wonderful letters, and each time was enclosed a few pounds to make life in a small cell more comfortable.
He has always been there to support me, to read my darkest thoughts, and always replied in a manner that gave me hope. Never slow to chide or criticize when deserved, but always with his irrepressible humour. Some times I wonder how Neil has put up with me. That being said there have been times when I could have taken exception at what I felt was over criticism. He has a habit of only answering questions in emails that are of interest to Mr. P. That meant I would often be a couple of comments light in his replies. When I pointed that it out that evening in The Savoy, he apologised, and said it wouldn't occur again. A few emails after the tour Neil was back to his old bad habits. I never mentioned it again. Pointless.
A lot has been said about Neil’s attitude to fans and his unwillingness to meet them. Basically he is a very, very shy guy who feels uncomfortable with adulation. If anyone reading this was to meet him socially, you would be most pleasantly surprised. He is warm, funny and very genuine. He can be amazingly silly, in a lovely humane way. He just doesn’t understand why people would want to meet him. He doesn’t seem to comprehend that concept, any more than we can, of being in the falsely elevated world of rock star royalty that he has to live in. But believe me, this is a wonderful human being, and I am very lucky to have him as a friend. He has never judged me, and always accepted my criminal activities. I think the main reason we have remained mates for so long is that to me he is still that slightly na├»ve Canadian I met in London all those years ago, and not a super star rock drummer. Perhaps the fact that I am not a big fan of Rush also has helped. We both know that isn’t the reason I keep in touch, plus my slightly unusual life style has kept NEP often amazed, and frequently amused.
The fact that I had come to London, and stayed, at my own cost, for five days, explains just how much I value our friendship.  I was also going to both the Wembley shows which in all honesty is far too much Rush for me. Remember Neil always leaves immediately after the last song, so I would only see him before. My son, Mark, and a friend Chris Lee, were also going to the gigs, so returning to The Savoy after the first one was not an option. After the second one Neil would be getting straight into his " camper van, " heading off.

Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 3

I would now like to return to the story of how Neil and I were reunited after he returned to Canada in 1972.

Many years later, in early December 1983 in Manchester where I was living, someone asked me if I knew a guy called Neil Peart from Canada. I told him I had done so years ago but hadn’t seen or heard from Neil since 1972. I was told he had been touring England with a Canadian group called Rush. Neil had asked this guy if he knew Peter Brockbank, and when he said he did, Neil asked him to inform me that he was trying to trace me. The strange thing is neither of us have a clue who this guy could have been. I wasn’t in touch with anyone we both knew from the old days apart from Robin, and it definitely wasn’t him.
I guess fate just lent a hand.

Not surprisingly I had never heard of Rush, but remembering my colonial friend with a great deal of affection, and always loving a challenge, I decided to try, and track him down. First thing next day at work, a company fraud we were running, I rang a local record shop to see if Rush had released any records. I was fairly surprised to hear they had, and was told their record label over here was Polydor. I then phoned Polydor in London to see how I could get to speak to my old mate. A very snooty lady told me they were from Canada, and she couldn’t possibly give any information out. Of course I had no idea I trying to contact a rock star. I pleaded with her to help me in my quest, and eventually I must have worn her down as she gave me a name, and phone number in Canada. I think she was just pleased to get rid of me. The name of the Canadian company was Anthem. Impatiently waiting for the moments to pass so the five hour time difference would mean business in Canada had started, I reflected excitedly that I would soon be able to speak to Neil. Shortly after two in the afternoon I dialled the number. I spoke to a girl called Linda but to my bitter disappointment I was informed Neil wasn’t there. I left my details and asked Linda to pass them on to Neil. Impatiently for the next few days I awaited in vain for a trans-Atlantic phone call. I repeated my call to Linda a few more times, all with no joy. What was wrong with my old friend ? He was the one supposedly asking about me but when I contact his agency he can’t be bothered to return my calls. I know he is in a band that has made a couple of records but I couldn’t believe this had gone to his head, and he didn’t want to speak to me. This all seemed very strange. I was used to bands that popped into their agent’s offices almost daily, either to collect money, to check what gigs were coming up, or just to chat to other groups. Surely he would have seen Linda, and received my messages ? I was to find out years later Neil has never been to Anthem’s office. Eventually after hearing nothing from Neil, a few days before Christmas, I sent him a greetings card care of Anthem. I must admit I was a bit childish, and chose one of the smallest cards I could find. It only had room for a scribbled note. I think I wrote something like “You are the one trying to find me, don’t you check your messages, or has recording made you too big headed to contact your old friends ? “ Plus I added my address.

Early 1984 saw me on a short holiday care of Her Majesty. One lunchtime when I checked my mail, in an envelope, along with a letter from my girlfriend Jackie, I saw a postcard, which had been sent to my home address. Glancing at it briefly I saw a picture of three guy’s heads. Turning it over I read a few words that made no sense. And as I couldn’t make out who it was from, I quickly put it down. Well I did have an important letter from my lady to read !
A few moments later a prisoner knocked on my cell door, came in, and asked if I had received a post card. I asked him what concern of his it was. and told him to piss off. In prison you have to act a little tough or people will try to take advantage. He explained he worked in the office where the prisoner’s mail was sorted, and had seen the post card. Intrigued by his interest I showed it to him. Excitedly he asked me if I knew any of the three silhouetted faces on the card. I looked more carefully, and realized that the one on the left, could, just might be, an old friend. When I informed him I thought it may be a guy I used to know in London called Neil Peart, he almost had a heart attack. “ He is the drummer for Rush ” he gasped, “ the best rock band in the world. This is a promotional post card for their Signals album ”, Fecking idiot, I thought. This lunatic was such a Rush fanatic he had changed his name to Alex, Geddy, Neil, Rush and named his three sons after his heroes.
I was now nearly excited as this new phenomenon in front of me, a Rush fan. I tried to act casual, and hastily got rid of the guy so I could read over, and over again the words. My old friend not only was well, and playing in a band, it would seem he was doing alright for himself.
I wrote a letter that night. and posted it the next day. I explained where I was and why. A small fraud that had gone wrong. The fact I knew the drummer from Rush had spread like wild fire round a certain section of the prison population, and I was getting treated like royalty by some rather peculiar long hired types. I mentioned this to Neil in a second letter, and asked for a few signed post cards knowing I could trade them for weed, and other contraband. I also mentioned the guy who had changed his name. Below is a copy of that post card.



( Sorry about the quality of this picture. It is a very old post card. )

Neil wrote : Peter. Can it be I am not sure that you are the person I am thinking of and have been asking mutual friends about for five years now. Please understand that a lot of strange calls come to our office. They don't know that I remember.

Added was an address to contact him.

A few weeks later I received a reply from Neil.
( I have tried to post a picture of that letter but it is totally unreadable, if I can get it cleaned up I will add it later. )