In the spring of 1971, on April 3rd, my girlfriend, my sister and I went to London for two weeks to visit my girlfriend Marg, who had moved there. I couldn’t wait to buy the trendy new British fashions, go to rock clubs and meet people. The U.S. Dollar went super far against the British pound. The exchange rate was in our favor then. When I packed to go there, I put my clothing in a small suitcase and put it in a larger one, so I could fill the larger one with new fashionable British clothing.
I came down with a bad head cold the day before the flight, but I didn’t let it stop me from going. It’s true what they say, “never fly with a cold”. I thought my head was going to explode. My ears were mostly blocked and they were very painful. My sister said that that was good, because I didn’t notice the awful turbulence from the scary plane ride.
We joined a tourist club from Canada that was offering a low price private charter plane to England. The flight was cheap, but so was the plane. There was a group of people from Ireland having a great time and they didn’t mind the turbulence. I rather enjoyed barely hearing the Irish songs they were singing, and watching them as they staggered down the aisle with their drinks in hand trying not to spill them.
We flew into Gatwick Airport and had to catch a train. While waiting outside for the train into London, it hit me how everywhere I looked everything was gray and the fog was thick like I had heard about. It was as though I was in a strange dream, a black and white movie or another world. I was still pretty sick and probably had a temperature. But, when you’re 19 years old and on an adventure, you don’t think about being sick. I had to go shopping, to the famous clubs and take in all the British music magic that I could. This is where my favorite music came from, where the musicians who created it lived and I was here. Watching them play in clubs in America was great, but I wanted to see where it all started.
We stayed at Marg’s flat in NW5 London, Kentish Town area. It was quaint and comfortable and in a nice building with other occupied flats. It was a popular rental for Americans visiting London, particularly friends from the Detroit area. Our landlady owned a newsagent/candy shop around the corner. We became friends with her daughter and son. I loved testing out the different brands of candy and biscuits (cookies). I recall having my first Cadbury Dairy Milk bar, and especially loved caramel and hard candies. I was still a kid at heart. Looking back now, it was like a scene from Willy Wonka.
The first club that we went to was The Speakeasy in London. It was more like a late night meeting place for people in the music business to hang out away from rock fans. Bands played there for a low fee to showcase their talent in hopes of being recognized by record company executives.
Not long after we entered the club, found a table and sat down, we were all surprised to see Russ Gibb had walked in with a small entourage. I wrote about him in my first chapter and how he was the concert promoter at the Grande Ballroom. What a coincidence seeing Russ on our first night out in London. It’s another very cool memory.
Another night, we all went to the Roundhouse club in Chalk Farm. I hadn’t really gone shopping yet and was so anxious to do that. But the ticket taker complimented me on my shiny black leather jacket that I bought back home. I was shocked. I really had to search for cool clothes in the states. I think he said “I like your jacket it’s fab”. And with all the concert goers walking in wearing their hip British finery, it was a real compliment. I can’t recall which bands played. The Roundhouse was built as a railway engine shed and turntable. It was freezing in there, and I was shivering the whole time. I was most likely still sick with a cold
Back at the flat, I was sitting by the window and saw a car pull up out front. I mentioned it to the girls and they came over to the window to look. A few guys got out of the car. Marg said that they were the guys that lived in the flat upstairs, but that one of them was their friend David Knights. He was the original bass player of the band, Procol Harum.
We all thought that it was pretty cool to see him walking into our building.
Listening to Procol Harum at the Grande Ballroom was one my fondest music memories.
When Matthew Fisher quit the band in 1969, Chris Copping was invited by Robin Trower to replace Matthew Fisher on organ and David Knights on bass. Thinking about it now, that didn’t seem like a fair deal for David, and it seemed to go behind his back. I’ll talk more about him at the end of this chapter.
Since we would be doing lots of shopping trips and it was spring, the first thing I bought was a black double breasted trench coat. I didn’t want to look like a tourist while shopping and I wanted to stay dry from the on and off again rain. It was still pretty chilly, so I wore a sweater underneath it when sightseeing.
Another thing I had to have was a custom made pair of snakeskin boots. They were very cool and they looked awesome. Back then in the US, the use of snakeskin for apparel wasn’t allowed, only for small items. So we went to the well known Greek boot makers, known for their quality workmanship. They were beautiful. I had Marg mail them to me in the states, so I wouldn’t have to declare them at customs. Not just because of their value but because they were snakeskin. Back in the states, at the Eastown, if you were wearing a pair of snakeskin boots, it was obvious that you had been to London and were showing them off.
We went to the very famous Biba’s on Kensington High Street. There, I bought a beautiful brown crepe pantsuit. The long jacket had a soft belt that tied in the back into a bow.The material was thin, soft and silky and draped beautifully.
At Biba’s, I also bought a pair of gorgeous dusty rose colored suede boots. They came up just below the knee. And as I have small feet for my height of 5’8”, they didn’t make my size 7 feet look big. Later, at another store, I bought a thin dusty rose sweater that matched the boots.
I believe it was in a shop on Portobello Road where I found a beautiful shoulder bag purse. It was made with different pieces of snakeskin sewn together in a patchwork of varying colors. Some of the colors and the shoulder strap matched my snakeskin boots. I had Marg mail that to me, also. I was in British fashion heaven, everywhere I looked. What made British fashion so great was the intricate details, tailoring and materials used according to the latest styles.
I bought crimson red colored velveteen hot pants (not too hot, more like shorts) with a matching jacket.
Since some of the fashion was unisex, I bought men’s maroon velveteen trousers and a men’s pink suede jacket. They were like the velvet trousers we would see on the British musicians at the Grande Ballroom.
It was difficult finding food we liked. And I couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee anywhere. We ate most of our meals at a little family owned restaurant nearby and the food was okay.
Easter morning at Westminster Abbey, we were able to stand just inside of the door. My favorite landmark of all is Big Ben. It is officially known as the bell inside the clock of the Clock Tower. In 2012, the tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower.
Another day we took a day trip to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world which is located in the county of Berkshire. It is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth from March to April over Easter, known as Easter Court.
We took a drive out into the country about 2 hours from London to the picturesque village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. It is still voted the prettiest village in England. While walking around, taking in as much as I could, I kept thinking “How quaint and charming, now where is my prince?”
It was like walking into a fairytale of honey color Cotswolds stone cottages lining the narrow streets. Together with the stone bridge, winding river and St. Andrew’s church off in the distance, it all makes for a most beautiful scene.
The photo below hangs in my living room.
The same day, after that trip, we went to the mysterious Stonehenge, also in Wiltshire. With it’s spiritual and sacred history, the mystical stones are one of Britain’s most famous landmarks. It was eerie being there and touching the stones. I think doing that had something to do with my strange fate.
(I don’t have all the pictures of my England trip anymore. My sister wanted them back after many years. I credit her as the photographer where needed.
We were to leave London for Detroit in the morning of April 17th and with only a few days left to our trip, we went to the famous Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street in London.
I was still looking for something, some sign on this London adventure. But, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I had to remember the important parts of my trip.
I wore my new crimson red pant suit and pink suede boots. Sitting on the bench across from the bar, I had been talking to the bartender. Later he came over and sat down next to me and we talked during his break. He complimented me on my legs. (It was dark). He wanted me to come back the next night, but I couldn’t.
Then above all the music and people talking, I heard a guy say out loud “Carl Palmer is here”. I didn’t know who that was, but he sounded important. So I walked into the other room and looked around for someone I never met. That was a weird feeling. There was also something about that name that I liked. Maybe it was because it sounded like the word caramel, my favorite candy.
Below is the list of concerts from that week. But what night was I there? I’ll get to that in the next chapter.
Another night, the guys who lived upstairs were having a party and we were invited. I remember meeting David. I wore my crimson colored suit outfit again with the dusty rose sweater underneath the jacket.
I was 19 years old at the time and still a virgin and he was 6 years older than me. He was good looking, a really nice guy and I liked him. I had heard from my friends that he didn’t want to talk about the band, so I didn’t say anything about it. I can’t remember what we talked about, but we eventually ended up falling asleep together, which was really nice and innocent.
The day we left London, he was there at the flat and also came to the train station to say goodbye. I was sitting inside the train and as the train was about to start, he put his hand on the window and I put my hand on the other side. And I never saw him again. We wrote a few letters and I called him on the phone once. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I was on a music journey to find or be found by something or someone. I knew I had to remember all the special things along the way. My heart was telling me there much more magic to discover down the road.
I loved the song “Homburg” and it was always one of my favorites. For me, the music was so enchanting and regal. It wasn’t until years later when I understood the lyrics, that I had to laugh
“Your trouser cuffs are dirty
and your shoes are laced up wrong
you’d better take off your homburg
‘cos your overcoat is too long”
The songs Repent Walpurgis, Conquistador, A Christmas Camel and Kaleidoscope were magic for me and helped to set me on this road.
Knights played on the band’s first three albums and on the 1967 hit “Whiter Shade of Pale”, which is one of the best selling singles in history. I love seeing David in the old Procol Harum videos on YouTube.
Several years ago I discovered that David had been in a band called Ruby in 1972 and they recorded an album in 1974 called “Red Crystal Fantasies”. He’s credited with bass, acoustic guitar, vocals and he wrote 4 of its 10 songs. After that, my friends didn’t hear from him. They only knew that he got married and moved out into the country.
Also, right before we left the flat to drive to the train station, an old friend of ours came over to visit Marg. Her name was Sonya and she must have heard we were all there visiting too. She had lived near the Grande Ballroom in Detroit and I had seen her there many times and at parties. In my first chapter, in the photo of John Mayall, she is the other girl with me, watching him play.
She came over to invite us to a party that Led Zeppelin was having. We knew she had known them since the Grande days.
I was getting into the car when I thought about it. I froze up and remember thinking, as if it were yesterday. “A Led Zeppelin party? Maybe this is what I was looking for. I can’t leave now, but I have to. I’m all packed with tickets and passport”. I knew I couldn’t change my plans. I had my secretarial job to go back to. Such a bummer!
Coming soon…Chapter 4 “A Different Drummer” haha