The whole venture was a classic of its time and a rare
mixture of cultures and value systems which generated a very
special atmosphere. I was also more than delighted to hear that
you had contacted Peter Hill who was a hell of a man. I would
be hugely grateful if you could tell me how I can contact him.
I couldn't remember his name but he was the tent master, lion
tamer and professional wrestler. He kind of adopted me as a'showman'
and promised to get me a 'showman's licence'. I can think of
no qualification I would rather have, even if it is, by now honourary
Another great character was Kevin Westlake: well to tell
you the truth,
the show was studded with characters - a rare commodity these
think that Ronnie foresaw the boring tedium that was to follow
music, and even then he was conscious of the forces of conformity
convention which had infiltrated a music which had started off
as a kind
of protest. His idea was to take music to the people: he hated
the concert hall circuit and the repetition of turning up at
the same old venues. At the same time, he hankered for alternative
life styles; maybe you could
say he was heralding a kind of new ageness, but his music and
personality were anything but wishy washy. He hated the pretentiousness
of his contemporaries and their obsession with stardom and glitter.
At the same time, he was fascinated by gypsy culture. I remember
we sat in his caravan listening to Romanian music which he was
He hired the big top, complete with crew but was badly
Sometimes, the thing you love most can cause you the most pain!
The show featured clowns who were so hopelessly inadequate that
caricatures of themselves. They put chairs back to back with
between them and then did a tightrope act which involved them
falling over and so forth. The circus people had a very rigid
hierarchy which was
almost like a caste system with the showmen at the top then gypsies
ten tinkers. I don't remember if they used that terminology,
but the effect was the same. A bottom grade, born into that family
could never become a showman. The caravans they had were fabulous
(or so it seemed to me) and the culture was not like this country
at all. A few years later, I
lived for two years in the back of a van and got to know and
the tinker (travelling people!) more closely. The urban traveller
gypsy or whatever you want to call them is a phenomenon; despised
by the locals in their houses and jobs and aspirations. I guess,
existence was what mostly appealed to me. We played on Chester
race course and Newcastle Town Moor etc and we were like an alternative
reality, moving through the world like aliens from outer space.
The people did not turn out in great numbers and the tour
was, I believe,
a financial disaster. The great disappointment for Ronnie was
people did not want realities, alternative or otherwise, they
conformity and glitter, the very things he despised most. I guess
the great connundrum and perhaps disappointment of his life and
view. Of course, once they were in the tent, we had great nights
and no-one went away disappointed. Ronnie didn't want to think
that it was his stardom that attracted people, but rather his
down to earth bonhomie-ness and down to earth music. In a strange
sort of way, I was never sure of the extent to which he identified
with the showmen around him (the circus people I mean). I think
he was too preoccupied with the money draining away and so couldn't
relax enough to enjoy them. I always thought they perplexed him
somehow. I'm sure others will be able to throw some light on
that question. They weren't what he thought they should be.
On the music side, I joined the band on the last night
of Gallagher and
Lyle at a venue near St James's palace. I can't remember the
name of the
place. Ronnie heard me playing with a guitarist in the Tudor
Richmond (which was close to Rod Stewart's place).
I was a bit down at the time as I had passed an audition
Yamashta's Red Buddha Theatre and then got promptly thrown out
by the flute player for reasons that I never found out. My thing
at the time was jazz-rock and Ronnie liked the rock bit, but
not the jazz !! Anyway, he invited me to join his band and the
tour. I'm not sure why he wanted a
fiddle player in the band; maybe it was the gypsy thing again
! I didn't
do the string thing at the beginning of the Poacher. That was
arrangement by Jimmy Horowitz and played by a string quartet.
I put in
some bits towards the end which you can hardly hear ! I guess
contribution to the album was pretty minimal. On the tour, however,
I did the intro as a solo with some double stopping to sound
a bit like a string
ensemble and put in a few improvised solos.
The other guy who you didn't mention was Bill Barclay,
comedian who did a warm up act as did Drew and I. We used to
compete to see who could horse each other off ! Lurking in the
background was manager Brian Adams who briefly took over management
of Ronnie. Brian was attached to British Lion Music in some way
or another (I'm not sure what the arrangement was there) and
after the demise of the tour, the whole thing moved to Shepperton
studios. Drew and Bill were both managed by Brian at the time.
The original managerial 'spiv', Brian was not good for Ronnie
The band was disbanded when Ronnie ran out of money. I
don't know if you have managed to contact Brian Adams as he would
have more background as to what happened after that. I left and
went with British Lion as well for a short period.
Anyway, there are many anecdotes as you say. I think that
the best way
forward would be a kind of reunion as you suggested. For my part,
I would be delighted to help in any way I can. One thing I would
contribute, is to research and document some of the gypsy side
that I would need contact with Peter. I had more interest in
that side of
things than the others as I remember. The only trouble is that
I might be
off to Singapore soon for about 8 months, but I will do my best.
It was an important part of my life and one which had repercussions
much later on. I remember on one occasion, Peter broke a tow
bar going up the
M6 and stopped near an exit to cut down a Give Way sign and weld
shape as a tow bar. The police stopped and asked him what the
hell he was up. "Well" (in his Hampshire accent) "as
you can see, I'm cutting up this 'Give Way' sign to make it into
a tow bar". Just as they were taking out their note books
to take notes, he says he took out his Showmans licence and flashed
it at them. He says they crossed their faces as in the
Exorcist and cleared off. He had only got into trouble with the
filling them in he says.
The show itself followed the circus tradition of opening on Monday
after walking around the town to advertise the coming of the
Saturday night, after the show, the circus people would work
all night to
dismantle the big top and Sunday was travelling day with the
big top being erected at night. That was the routine.
I don't remember all the thousands of incidents but I do
Stanshall (Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) trying to do a shite in my
wardrobe in Chester Race Course, and sitting on my fiddle to
considerable detriment. It still bears the scars.
I enclose some stuff from the Melody Maker of the time
and a cut out from a newspaper in Chester. I was wearing a Bishop's
outfit and some people complained. Anyway, I'm glad you're resurrecting
the story and look forward to participating in anyway possible.