Monday, May 18, 2015

Big Jim, Wee Doyle and the Mysterious PE Teacher


Teachers and schools can and do make a difference in our lives. When I think of my time at Magherafelt Technical College, September 1965 to June 1967, two characters - and a certain PE teacher - stand out. I remember Big Jim and Wee Doyle two great teachers and great mates of each other. The PE teacher we’ll get to later.

There are also quite a few images from those days indelibly forged in my mind.

Scenes like those of the gang of smokers behind the bike shed. I never smoked, still don’t, but I used to hang out with a bunch of outlaws (we thought) who did. They were always getting caught when I was with them but the teachers would always say, “We know you don’t smoke Charles, so just wise up and scoot off.” as the rest of the gang were led off for detention or lines or some similar punishment - I don’t remember the cane being used a lot at the Tech. I’d planned that on my last day at the Tech I was going to walk around with a cigarette in my mouth, just to make the same teachers, including Big Jim Warwick and Wee Doyle, think they’d been wrong about me all along. I lost my bottle though and didn’t go through with it. Perhaps if I had I would have been a smoker today, so maybe that’s something else I’ve got to thank the Tech for. 

The Beatles were making their mark worldwide by that point and their influence stretched as far as Magherafelt and even as far as The Technical College.  Long hair, tight trousers and Beatle Boots (winkle-pickers) were all the rage. Long hair wasn’t permitted at the Tech back then and a few of the gang were forever fine-tuning ways to hide their long locks while in school – deceptions such as brylcreaming it back into a slick DA and tucking it into their collars and so forth. I seem to remember that approach had one particular natty dresser looking like he had a permanent stiff neck. Come the final bell of the day, as we were all released and rushed down to Agnews’ Café, their locks would be allowed to flow freely again.

It was around my time at the Tech that I got both the writing bug and the music bug, both of which has been with me every since.

On the music side, one year a few of us formed a wee group together for the Christmas concert at the Tech. The group was called Goggles Anonymous – what can I tell you, we all wore glasses and Hedgehoppers Anonymous were enjoying their one and only attack on the pop charts. By a process of elimination and deduction, and as the only non-playing member, I was duly elected the Manager. At the said concert the girls screamed loudly, as they did to the Beatles on the telly; mind you, in our case it could have been due entirely to the pain, rather than the pleasure, we were inflicting. For some bizarre reason, I was the one responsible for trying to routine the group through Sloop John B 

Anyway, after that exhilarating experience the guitarist of Goggles Anonymous, Vince McCusker, formed another group, this time with four chaps from the Rainey. The new group was called The Blues by Five - there were five of them and they played (their version of) the blues - and once again I was the Manager. This time I wisely kept away from the music. In those pre-a-phone-in-every-house days, my Blues by Five business cards listed the number of the telephone box closest to my house in Beechland.  

I would use Chemistry periods to design and hand-colour posters for the notice board by the front door of the original Technical College building (where my father and my Uncle Harry had attended night classes in their teens). These posters were to announce the Blues x 5’s up-coming gigs, usually at the Trend Club or supporting the Breakaways Showband - the local kings of the Fair Hill - somewhere exotic like Cookstown Town Hall. The forward-thinking chemistry teacher used the sound-logic that if you didn’t want to be taught, well then she quite simply didn’t want to teach you. She was fine to leave you completely to your own devices, as long as you had the decency to attend all the classes and keep quiet; she was an excellent teacher and I regretted having no interest in chemistry.

I probably didn’t have any interest in Chemistry because by that time I’d already mapped out my career:  Staying at the Tech long enough to secure enough qualifications to be able to move to London in 1967 to train to be a Civil Engineer; while in London simultaneously continue with my part-time career in the music business  managing, agenting and writing lyrics for Fruupp, a Belfast group featuring my mate Vince McCusker from the Blues by Five; in the course of my work with Fruupp I would make enough contacts to move into the music business full time; I’d become partner with Paul Fenn in the Asgard Agency and go on to be luckily enough to be agent for (amongst others) Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Don Mclean, Jackson Browne, Crosby Stills & Nash, Robert Plant, The Kinks, Rory Gallagher, Elvis Costello, Jean Michel Jarre, Marianne Faithful, The Undertones, The Waterboys, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Ray Davies, Lonnie Donegan, and Christy Moore; while, at the same time, I would continue to follow my other love, writing, with my weekly column and articles for CityWeek /Thursday Magazine (Belfast) and by persevering with it over the years until in 1995 the first of The D.I. Christy Kennedy series was published. 

But of course I neither knew, nor planned, any of that.  If it was that easy and we could cherry-pick our way through our careers and our lives, I’m sure it would be altogether a much more boring journey.  

However with the group of teachers I was lucky enough to come into to contact with in Magherafelt Technical College, I enjoyed a solid grounding and an education diverse enough to equip me for my great journey. I think that’s most probably where I learned that what you aim to avoid is just as important as what you aim for.

I vividly remember my days at the Tech being extremely happy and really enjoying myself. I know you’re not meant to admit such things, but my school days were very happy days, not my happiest days, well that would be just too sad now wouldn’t it? But happy days they were nonetheless. You see my mum and dad always sent me out of our house well fed, in clean clothes, washed behind the ears, with a smile on my face and a sense of humour that served me well in all my travels. I worked after classes, on Saturdays and during school holidays for a gentleman by the name of Dawson Bates. He had the grocery and hardware shop in Market Square (now the home of Maurice McLean) so I had the occasional few  bob spare to buy the latest singles by the Beatles, Kinks, Them, Dylan or Otis Redding , (six shillings and eight pence) in Toners at the foot of Broad Street.  Dawson Bates, although not a teacher, taught me many an important lesson and, by his example, showed me how absolutely important it is to be professional in all your business dealings.      

With the Beatles came an awareness of girls and there were quite a few to be distracted by at the Technical College; all my gang though were madly in love with the PE Teacher who took the girls’ classes. She had a great swagger, never wore an ounce of make-up but always looked stunning. The only problem was that no one knew her name, except the girls… and they weren’t telling. 

Talking of PE, sadly I was never any good at football or athletics so my chosen sport had to be cross-country running because all you had to do was… keep on running and that was easy for me because there were so many things going around in my head to occupy my mind as I jogged along, including but not limited to The Spencer Davies Group.

Magherafelt always seemed to have more schools than any of the neighbouring towns and the number of educational establishments seemed to grow by the year. There was definitely a pecking order. I always felt the Technical College was, status wise, mid-way between the Intermediate School - a wee bit further out the Moneymore Road from the Tech - and the Rainey School. I always wondered why, due purely to geographical reasoning, they hadn’t called the Tech the Intermediate School.

As I mentioned at the beginning, teacher’s can and do make a difference.  The reason I moved to the Tech was because Mr Mowbery, one of my teachers at the Intermediate School, thought he saw something in me and felt I should not leave school at 15 (which I nearly did). No, he felt I should push myself and try for the Technical College and he facilitated an entrance exam for myself and one other pupil, Derek Mc Celland. But he didn’t stop there. Master Mowbray also thought we shouldn’t settle for the regular secretarial course available to late students at The Tech but nudged us both towards O Levels by way of the Junior Cert. Then the Tech welcomed us warmly, where teachers such as Big Jim and Wee Doyle showed to us once again that teachers can and do make a difference. So to you one and all, not to mention the Technical College itself, I offer big, big thanks and I remain forever in your debt.     



And this time I’ve read:


What’s Exactly the Matter with Me? by PF Sloan & S.E. Feinberg A chilling, disturbing and very sad read. I knew all about Eve of Destruction and The Sins of The Family but I’d never realised he was such a prolific songwriter way before that writing hits for The Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, Jan & Dean, The Turtles, Johnny Rivers, The Association, The fifth Dimension and The Grass Roots where he produced and made the records and then went out and found a band to tour under the name. On top of that he secured the Beatles their first record label with Vee Jay Records when EMI’s sister company Capitol Records literally didn’t want to know. Elvis Presley taught him to play guitar. He signed his first song-writing deal when he was 15 years old. The sad part deals with the company he signed with and how wrong these things can sometime turn out. The book serves as great lesson for everyone wanting to get into the music business - just be so mega careful who you do your deals with. As with all great music books it sets you off out to add to your CD collection. I found – Here’s Where I Belong – the Best of the Dunhill Years 1965 – 1967. Taking into account his thoughts in this book perhaps a somewhat ironic title but for all of that a great selection of songs from his career.   


Mrs Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill – a great read, the inside story only told from a totally different angle.  The description of the ordinariness of the 21st Nov 1963 is spine chilling effective


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – I’ve been meaning to read it for years and, prompted by the TV series, happy I did. Pack a lunch and a sleeping bag; it’s a long but rewarding journey. I really don’t know how they’re going to fit this into 7 hours of TV.


And that’s it until next time.





Monday, February 16, 2015

Mugged In Manhattan Blues

A few years ago, quite a few years ago in fact, I was mugged in Times Square, in New York, one of my favourite cities in the world.

I mean in hindsight I was an ideal target for the muggers. I’d been in NYC on business on a budget air-ticket and so I would cram all my meetings into a few mid-week days and then pretty much spend the entire Saturday in the cinema.

So, mid-afternoon I dandered out into Times Square’s hazy day-light, my mind clearly still in the themes of the previous movie. I was wandering aimlessly along the street with 20 or 30 minutes to kill before my next film.   

To be honest I hadn’t even realised that I’d walked into a makeshift tunnel, which had been created by scaffolding spindling overhead, up the block-size building. There were wooden planks (acting as a workmen’s walk-way) above me, while to my left there were side barriers, solid to shoulder height (and protecting the pedestrians from the nearby screeching and screaming traffic) and, on the right hand side, the building itself secured the tunnel not only from the outside in but from the inside out, that is to say successfully trapping victims in the rat-run.

Anyway I was vaguely aware that there were several other humans in the darkened corridor with me. I did notice one particular lad (mid-20s, Caucasian and slim) several feet ahead of me, because he appeared to keep looking back in my direction. I was aware of this but certainly not preoccupied by it.

Then a string of things happened and although they all appeared to happen in slow motion I was helpless, as in being unable to protect myself in any way whatsoever.

The guy who had been looking back at me, let’s call him Noel (as in the first), made a speedy dash away from me to his end of the tunnel. I later realised he did so, not to confuse me as I originally thought, but, to secure his end of the corridor from any pedestrians entering the tunnel from his end.

Three of his colleagues immediately rushed at me, all mid-20s, and one of them violently shoved me against the building side of the corridor. The same one steadied me and jammed his arm against my throat, thereby pinning me to the building, while his two colleagues piled in as well. One of them kept looking all around him, his head darting this way and that just like a chicken desperately searching for slim pickings on a stony farmyard. The other assailant quite literally ripped my pocket from my trousers and the contents - my rather meagre stash of dollars and cents - dribbled out into his greedy hands. The Ripper and the Chicken then speed off towards Noel, while Mugger himself, pulled me away from the wall and then heaved me back towards the wall with such force, perhaps some of the force  even due to his frustration at their miserable takings, that I was severely winded and I collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk.

Next a very strange thing happens. A man came up to me and helped me up from the ground. He said, “I’m Clyde, you’ve just been mugged but you’re okay.” He dusted me down, examined my torn pocket. Clyde instructed me to stay where I was and advised me that he was going chase after the mugger to get my money back for me.

He dashed off at a speed of knots after Noel, Ripper, Mugger and Chicken.

By which time other people, a crowd even, seem to have materialised from nowhere. They gathered around me and they too were concerned about my well-being. One of them pointed out that the Lone Ranger, a.k.a Clyde, who had helped me up from the ground and rushed off to rescue my dollars and cents was also, in fact, one of the gang. He had been stopping people behind me from entering the tunnel thereby protecting his fellow Caucasian gang members from the crowd.

Clyde apparently was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As well as being the rear guard, his job was to slow me down, disarm me with his friendliness, ensuring I didn’t chase off after the gang and even if I had felt compelled to do so (but please believe me, nothing,  but absolutely nothing, was furthest from my mind) he’d given his mates a good head start.

I headed back to the hotel still very shaky on my feet, feeling very sorry for myself and realising I was on the edge of tears. You see the thing is, you really just don’t know how you should feel or how you are meant to react. Obviously being a stranger in a strange land didn’t help my predicament. By the time I reached the hotel I was still unable to shake the feeling. All the time wondering if there had been a chance I quite possibly may not have made it through the tunnel of terror.

Ray Davies was mugged in New Orleans and when the mugger made off with his girl-friend’s purse, Ray gave chase and was shot in the leg for his gallantry. Nick Lowe was mugged in Spain once and Tanita Tikaram was mugged at the foot of the Spanish steps in Rome. I and several record company staff and band mates were with her at the time and again the attack was carried out by a well organised team; this time several young girls rushed her, begging and lifting their own skirts to hide the fact that one of them was empting Tanita’s purse, her actions camouflaged by their skirts and amplified by the shock effect of them not wearing under-garments. Again a well organised heist, only this time the profits were going straight to their organiser or maybe even pimp.

They all clearly were also traumatised by the incidents and, as I say, I was maybe trying to hide my feelings by being preoccupied about not knowing how to feel.

I remember I was meant to join Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche for dinner that night and I rang them up to tell them what had happened and that I’d like to take a rain check on the meal, saying I didn’t feel up to it. They wouldn’t hear tell of me cancelling and of course they were correct. A night out with good friends was all I needed to see that absolutely everything wasn’t really bad with the world, you know, that the company of good friends would be the perfect cure for those Mugged in Manhattan Blues.


And this time I read:


Mary, Mary & JFK  by Michael Pincot – even Camelot needed a scribe and the fact/fiction approach is very interesting.

The Good Son by Christopher Anderson

Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes  - or at least taken from his tapes after he’d passed.

Sound Man by Glynn Johns – master engineer, worked with the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton and the Who and he is too much of a gentleman to tell tales out of school but yet still manages to come up with a fascinating  account of his own career.

The Time of My Life by Bill Medley – I love the books where you’re given the inside track on how the legendary songs came to life and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Dreamweaver by Gary Wright – I was a big fan of Spooky Tooth, so again a great trip for me.

Stiff by Mary Roach – interesting read, you’re never know when you’re going to need some background.

Live at The Fillmore East & West; West by John Glatt – superb account of the three years the Fillmores were in operation and the rise and slip of Bill Graham and Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Allman Brothers, Santana, grass, cocaine, heroin and (to a lesser degree) The Doors, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He really does take you back to that time and place in painstaking, not to mention revealing, detail. The history of Fillmore (East & West) and the above artists and drugs connection with them have now been properly documented; look no further for a reference book. This is truly a brilliant work, not to mention a major achievement.

Practice To Deceive by Ann Rule – once again it chills me to the bone to see how close some killers come to getting away with their crimes.

The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman – again a first class account of the ever changing group of the cream of LA session musicians and their work all the way from being Phil Spector’s house band for his wall of sound, to the Beach Boys (on record) and everywhere in between and how the records came to be. The author shares the inside track on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, McArthur Park and Pet Sounds. I read it in a single spellbound session!

Ode To Billy Joe by Tara Murtha (Part of the 33 1/3 series of books on classic albums) So much missing both on the artist and on the music; that would be the book I'd look forward to.

Superman Comes to the Supermarket by Norman Mailer – a major including, the original pro-Kennedy, Esquire article by Norman Mailer and a collection of stunning on-the-campaign-trail photos.

JFK -  The Smoking Gun by Colin McLaren – a true revelation. You know I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders as Mr McLaren quite logically, reasonably and without a great deal of fuss or pomp solved the mystery, which has been continuously, not to mention seriously, troubling me since 22/11/63. Approximately a couple of hundred books later on the subject, I happened upon JFK – The Smoking Gun (the clue really is in the title). I followed his research and proof in this major work and I completely agree with his solution. (For me) the greatest mystery in the world has finally been solved! But you know what the sad thing is? I woke up the following morning and the world is still the same, nothing had changed. 

And listened to:


Bill Handle on Law - on KFI 640 FM) – top, top presenter… works without a safety net and is very entertaining.

Breakfast with the Beatles - on KLOS – a weekly (Sunday) treat.


And watched on the small screen:


Final series of Parenthood – classic – brilliantly resolved, but so much  more… at the same time it should be taken as a family as a work in progress.

Whitney – a very sad story, still so sad.

Newsroom – perfect TV.

The Dave Clark Five and Beyond –  there’s a great book there if any investigative journalist ever get down to writing it.

Bosch – 10 outta 10 and congratulations to all concerned on being able to make a brilliant series of books into an equally brilliant TV series (not always the case).


And watched on the large Screen:

The American Sniper – twice – a modern classic, whose 30,000,000 tickets at the box office far out balances the 6000 Oscar voters.


Miss Julie

The Penguins of Madagascar

Big Hero 6

Night Stalker – great movie loved it.

Horrible Bosses 2


Theory of Everything – excellent.

Black or White

Birdman (twice) worth going to see twice if only to witness Michael Keaton and Edward Norton exciting performances.

St Vincent – excellent.


The Imitation Game – excellent.


Whiplash - excellent but I’m a bit disappointed that Miles Teller’s performance seems to have been overlooked.

Inherent Vice

Top Five

Hobbit Five Armies

Night at The Museum 3.

The Gambler

Unbroken – unfinished; the book (and the life of Louis Zamerini) was so much more than the torture the movie focused on.

The Interview – marketing campaign if the year.

Citizen Four



It Was a Really Violent Year

Life Itself

Big Eyes

Taken 3


Still Alice – surely Ms Moore’s Oscar winning performance.

Two Days One Night

The Boy Next Door



The Humbling


And finally I witnessed The Waterboys, in all their powerful glory performing their new, amazing, Top 10 album, Modern Blues, at The Roundhouse London.


Until the next time…


Cheers pc