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’ CafĂ©, 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.