SOME CHARACTERS ALONG THE WAY
Getting news and expressing comment has had its dangers. I have been on the wrong end of a fist, or a verbal tirade, often enough. Usually it arose from an unfavourable record review I had written or a report of a musician’s performance with which he had disagreed. One of the most painful occurred as I was walking through the darkened corridors of the changing-rooms underneath the main auditorium of the Alexandra Palace. I heard a voice from the shadows ask:
“Are you Clayton Goodwin?”
I confirmed that I was.
“This will teach you to write that about my performance” snarled the voice.
I felt a sharp pain as he buried his fist up to his wrist in my stomach. The punch left me gasping for breath as he strode off angrily. Even today I no idea who he was or what I had written to annoy him so much. Obviously it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity as he had used my name.
Acton Town Hall
Sometimes hazards could not be foreseen at the time of committing the act which provoked the repercussion. In 1968 I wrote of the harmony which existed between a band from Shepherd’s Bush and their manager. In those days, however, it took a long time for an article to appear in print after it had been submitted. The report was sent direct to head-office in Kingston, kicked around between newsdesks, set and then returned to this country from printing and distribution. By the time this particular piece was published, several weeks later, the musicians had fallen out with the manager to the extent that they had instituted legal proceedings against him. It was part of their argument that they had never been happy with him.
Assuming that my article had been written in the same week as it was published, some of the band accused me of trying to influence proceedings in the manager’s favour. One of them, a burly fellow who would not have been out of place as an American footballer, encountered me at a show at Acton town hall, seized and pushed me towards the stair-well, and threatened to angle me over the drop into the foyer and basement.
Mayfair, West End
Thankfully, Jim Houlihan, an Irishman of genial mien and powerful physique, was often seen around with me. He was then the driver for a record company, always smiling, without a hint of violence or bad temper. Jim was so gentle that he could joke about having been a strong-arm for property racketeer Peter Rachman that nobody took it seriously. Jim was so lacking in menace that I was re-assured to have him by my side when a rather shady American boxing promoter invited me to his appartment near Leicester Square.
Houlihan was employed later as factotum by an entertainment agency with an office on Berkeley Square in the heart of Mayfair. I called by to meet his managing director, and was asked to wait a while in the outer room as he had a guest with him. From time to time Jim came out to apologise that the meeting was taking longer than had been expected. At last he invited me to come in for coffee with the early visitor. The managing director stood up, expressed his regrets for keeping me waiting, and indicating his guest said:
“I don’t believe you have met Terry”.
“No, I haven’t had the privilege. Pleased to meet you, Terry” I replied, extending my hand.
My grasp was returned by Terry, or, rather, by Captain Terence O’Neill, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The company was arranging the schedule for his speaking tour of North America.
About ten years on from this I read a book from the local library about the aforesaid Rachman, and I nodded sagely at the author’s comments about some of the people I had known personally. Then I saw something which made me catch my breath. The writer referred to one of Rachman’s enforcers as being Jim Houlihan, whom she described as being a generally genial Irishman who could turn violent if directed to do so.
Oh dear, he hadn’t been joking after all!
The Black House
1969 into 1970s
The same library book also had an unexpected – for me – reference to somebody else that I knew well. Ray (Ramon) Morrison also had a sunny disposition. I met him through a recommendation of beauty queen / actress Pauline Peart. He had spoken to her about his being left out of the royalties that were paid to the Foundation vocal group for their hit rune Build me up, Buttercup and wanted to be put in touch with a journalist who could write up his grouse.
We met at the Black House where Ray was painting some murals. Among his many other abilities he was a gifted artist. The venue was a little daunting for a white man to visit. The House was built by volunteer labour as the base for another of Rachman’s enforcers, Michael de Freitas, otherwise known as Michael X and then Abdul Malik. Allegedly, a Jewish businessman had been invited into the premises, attacked viciously and made to wear a spiked colour. Luckily Michael was away on the day I called and I never got to meet him. Shortly afterwards he left the country and was subsequently hanged in Trinidad for a murder he committed there. Michael didn’t lack a sense of humour because he named his enterprise as the Racial Adjustment Action Society. The rich white liberals who fawned on him did not pick up on the double-entendre.
In Jamaican speech, the initials spelt out a very obscene word.
Ray and myself got on well – much better than his case against the Foundations, which foundered. I was a frequent guest at his own Club Calabash (later re-named Club Ramara) downstairs at a property on Finchley Road. It was very small, claustrophobic and atmospheric. There was a restaurant/nightclub with a minuscule dancefloor. Morrison’s own excellent works of art adorned the walls. He was also the club’s chef and led the musical entertainment. Many important figures in jazz found their way there whenever they were in London – as did diplomats and their guests from overseas. Morrison was the first person to tell me that I had a flair for promoting and let me have use of the club on quiet evenings to try out new ideas of presentation.
One dark winter evening, I was sitting in the similarly darkened club, talking with a Nigerian entertainer. As my hearing was not good even then, I leaned across the wicker-basket between us, resting my arms on the top, so as to understand better what my companion was saying. Ray announced the programme was about to begin with “Smokey Joe – the Snake Charmer”.
The Nigerian then took two enormous pythons out of the basket across which I had been leaning. I am terrified of snakes, very terrified. Now on the few occasions that I sit in a darkened club I have any basket, hand-bag or anything else under the table or on an empty chair checked thoroughly – and not only for bombs!
Ah yes, back to the library book. It informed me that this genuinely mild-mannered Ray Morrison was the same man of that name whose contretenps with his white, Swedish wife Majbitt/Tanya had been the trigger for the Notting Hill riots of 1958. I had read the names at the time without them meaning anything to me. Even though we became well-acquainted eleven years later, I hadn’t put two and two together.
The wife, Tanya, whose colourful account of those times Jungle West 11 had been written under the name Majbritt, and from Ray had split, was altogether more daunting. Her presence and accent was so distinctive that I had no difficulty in recognising her when she contacted me to write a piece on her son, Mikael, a motor-cycle racer, in the early-1980s. By co-incidence, Ray’s second wife, Tamara (Edwards), was known to me already as a dancer. “Ram and Tam” became a friendly and professionally productive partnership.
Record shop and travel agency
1969 – early 1970s
Vibart Scrubb was another larger than life personality in the social activity of West London. He had an intimidating reputation and an invitation to call in and meet would be met with some trepidation. He ran his enterprise from a record shop on Westbourne Grove. The premises has since been knocked down to make way for the motorway. People spoke of him in hushed tones. It was rumoured that anybody invited to step into the basement was lucky if he came out with only the tip of his little finger missing.
Scrubb was an outgoing, friendly man who came from Trinidad, though his origins may have been from St Vincent or Grenada. He was involved in most social events in the area from chartered flights to drinking parties. With such all-encompassing personalities, there are always two points of view. Whereas many disapproved of his activities, others considered him to be a misunderstood benefactor of the community who has not received the credit he deserved. Probably it was so, because these points of view, though contrasting, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Scrubb loomed large in any conversation. When I got to know him well, we shared the occasional drink and joke, and I came to like him as a person. Then while the drink and bonhomie still flowed he would make some sort of threat which you could never be sure was serious or not. Perhaps I would have taken a more lenient view if the police had felt compelled to give me protection after Scrubb had threatened publicly to do unspeakable things to me when I attended a show at Bellevue, Manchester. He didn’t carry out the threat, but the police were there in some strength and it was good publicity, too, for the show he was promoting a few miles away.
Yet his antagonism then, or when he told me had had made a trial run on fixing a bomb to my car – though I did not own one, did not impair his general good humour whenever we met. Eventually over one Christmas, the manner in which he ran his beauty contest promotion was condemned in the national press and Scrubb felt it would be wise to leave the country for the U.S.A. I was one of the last people to see him before he left. He was changing his attire, into something from which his identity would not be recognised so easily, in a room on a floor above Madame Rose’s hairstyling salon, and told me he would be leaving that day.
I am surprised that not more is known about Vibart Scrubb today. His dynamism was such that on looking back to those days several front-line entertainers have told me “all the meaningful bookings I had then seemed to be on Scrubb’s shows”. His career and activities covered the point where all West Indian enterprises of the era came together, but could find no opening in the overall British market. Scrubb had to operate in a restricted market with limited opportunities for his drive and talent. In other times he would have been a nationally respected and successful entrepreneur.
Hugh Scotland came into that same category.
Late 1960s and early 1970s
Scotland was short, nattily-attired, multi-lingual and multi-talented with many contacts at all social levels. In our opening chapters we saw how his political in the (Belgian) Congo in the late-1950s had almost brought him before a firing squad. Through him I met the Mighty Sparrow, the most famous of all Trinidad calypsonians, and might have met Miriam Makeba, too. In view of what happened later I am glad that I did not get involved in the shake-out of her tour. Hugh, who had a base on Shafestbury Avenue nearby, asked me to walk with him as he paced Gerard Street in Soho, sweating over a threatening letter he had received from Stokely Carmichael, the American Black Power activist. At the time Carmichael was married to the South African singer, whom, he claimed, Scotland had short-changed. Hugh moved in the haute- and demi-monde without being out of place in either.
Scotty mixed the sublime with something quite different. He ran a number of clubs, including for a while the famous Whisky a-Go-Go, and was a confidant of politicians and diplomats. Among his services he included some times providing company for distinguished visitors. One of his nightclubs was on Quebec Street behind Marble Arch underground station. It was at a restaurant near there that he arranged to meet Eddie Grant and myself to discuss his forthcoming show. The previous evening we had attended a praiseworthy fashion show by sixth-formers at a girls’ school in Tulse Hill. We congratulated the student co-ordinator, as well as the nuns supervising the event, on their effort and success. Eddie said he would give the photographs to accompany my report when we met with Scotty. It seemed to be incongruous, maybe blasphemous, to talk of these innocent young girls in the same breath as the West End night-life.
Hugh was late for the appointment. Eventually he arrived at the restaurant with a female companion who was dressed up alluringly with the full make-up and a broad-brimmed hat a la Latin American sweeping across her face. They sat down with the girl sitting directly opposite me across the table. Scotty apologised for the delay by explaining that a high-ranking politician had just arrived in the country and wanted some female company for the evening. It had to be somebody he hadn’t seen before.
“I’m on my way there with here now” he concluded. “By the way, may I introduce Miss Marguerite Rodriguez”.
The young lady tipped up the brim of her hat and …. I found myself looking into the eyes of that same school-girl who had co-ordinated the previous evening’s show. I could have fallen out of my chair with surprise, and believe that I probably did. Hugh saw the look of recognition and observed:
“You two seem to know each other”.
“No, Scotty” I spluttered. “I can assure you that I have never in my life to my knowledge met any lady called Rodriguez”.
That was true, because her name was not Rodriguez, but I am not telling you what it was.
None of this, however, should detract from Hugh Scotland’s valuable and pivotal role in developing West Indian musical talent and appreciation here. Many artistes of varied genres and styles owed their careers to him. Scotty found them bookings across the entertainment spectrum, including at the well-appointed haunts of the fashionable and social elect. In his personality, style and versatility he belonged more properly to an earlier age of elegance.
Hornsey town hall
Island Records office
London Victoria railway station
1968 into 1969
Around Easter 1968, Hopelyn and myself went to see Jackie Edwards perform at Hornsey town hall. For once he was matched by his backing singer, a novice called Labi Siffre. When he later became famous, the press gave out that Siffre had been discovered by Cliff Richard. As I understand it, the credit should have gone to Edwards. Afterwards we could not stop talking about this young talent. I didn’t hassle him for an interview on the night. Instead I wrote to his agent David Bettridge of Island Records with whom I was in regular contact.
It was a surprise that he didn’t reply personally. A Welshman named Baulch wrote telling me that he was the singer’s personal manager. Although he said that Labi had departed on an overseas tour, Baulch indicated that he would be happy to see me and answer any questions I might have. It was a strange meeting. Then and on the other times we met he insisted on putting the questions, rather than myself. Baulch always pressed me about West Indian music and the recording industry as if he knew nothing about it. Siffre seemed to be no nearer from coming back from what had developed into an extended trip. When the people in the business whom he cited as references for his character told me that they did not know him, I marked Baulch down as a fantasist to whom I should give a very wide berth. How could Labi Siffre have got hooked up with such a man?
When it came to my ears that the Welshman had started to use my name as a reference for his shady schemes, I decided that he had some serious explaining to do. We met at a tiny café by Victoria railway station. He was grim-faced knowing that the game, or several games, was up. The man pre-empted anything I had intended to say by admitting straightaway that he was serving time at Ford open prison. He was a convicted fraudster who was due to report back “inside”. Baulch made no apology for his actions. He wasn’t Labi Siffre’s manager. No surprise there, then. Apparently he hadn’t even met the singer. How, then, did he get hold of my letter sent to Island Records?
Baulch used to visit Betteridge’s office looking for snatches of news he might use to his advantage. He became a nuisance whose presence was not welcome and Betteridge ignored him. However the latter also let correspondence build up on his desk, intending to answer it latter when he was less pressed. After he had left the desk unattended for a moment, his visitor had helped himself to some of the letters – mine included. Back at his lodgings could not resist the temptation to play the manager.
Since then I have come across several tricksters who pretend to represent celebrities whom they do not know. They accept bookings on their behalf, accept a down-payment of money – and when the celebrity does not turn up it’s the latter who is blamed for betraying their fans. Please bear that in mind if you should hear of your idol not honouring commitments. They may not know the supposed engagements ever existed.
Lewisham town hall
Elephant & Castle
The entertainment industry, dealing in dreams and uncertainties, is a minefield for the unwary. Back in the 1960s, several young African and Caribbean girls, who had little knowledge of conditions in this country, came to the notice of Pop Parker. He was an elderly former agent from the Elephant & Castle whose licence to operate had been withdrawn by the local council. He spoke of having had a long career working with established stars such as Al Bowlly (Goodnight sweetheart) who was killed in a Second World War air-raid, and seemed to have a passing, very passing acquaintance, with some bona fide entertainers from the Caribbean.
At this late stage of his life, however, Pop specialised in sending young immigrant girls to ill-defined continental engagements and destinations. With an “I’m well capable of looking after myself” rebuff to those who advised caution they went off to see him and an uncertain future. A swim with Jaws would have been less precarious. Maybe some of them did get lucky. Others found our differently the hard way, which was very hard.
Lucinda, an aspiring singer, came up from the West Country to meet some contacts in London. They included myself. She was a tall, beautiful Jamaican with a surprisingly guttural voice. The Links gave her a try-out on their performance at Lewisham town hall. Her looks and appearance made a good impression but her voice did not. I advised her to go home, think hard, and, if she was still eager to work in entertainment, to consider dancing or modelling – something that was more in keeping with her assets and ability.
Lucinda took my well-intentioned advice very badly. In her pique, she made a telephone call. The next morning she phoned me in a triumphalist tone.
“You can’t recognise my talent but others can. I have been taken on by a proper agent. He is a Mr Parker”.
Nothing that I said could dissuade her.
Some days later I received a desperate letter from Lucinda. Too late she had realised that the booking offered to her in Italy was not for singing. Her new agent, in whose flat she was now staying, had restricted access to her from outside. I could not get through to Lucinda by any means. If I telephoned, Pop always answered and said that she wasn’t there. The Post Office wouldn’t guarantee to deliver my letter to a specific person, only to a given address, where Parker was sure to receive and open it. The local police wouldn’t intervene unless they had been invited to do so specifically by Lucinda, or unless there was sound reason to believe that a crime had been committed already.
On the day Lucinda left London there was a heavy autumn fog. Flights to the continent were cancelled. Robert Duthie and myself kept watch on the mainline railway terminals to the Channel ports. We saw neither hide nor hair of the young lady or her agent. I didn’t hear from Lucinda again.
However it wasn’t the last I heard about Lucinda. Almost two decades afterwards I met with a group of beauty contest hopefuls in Gloucester. One of them asked me to stay behind for a private word. Over a coffee and bun, to which she treated me, in a burger-bar she told me that she had sought me out because I was a journalist and she had a story to tell. The young lady explained how in 1965 her sister hadn’t returned from an audition she had attended in London. A long, long time later they received a painful postcard from her. The sister, riddled with drugs and forced into degrading activities, knew that there was no way back for her, and …..
I had recognised the shared surname and realised what was coming. Yes, her name was Lucinda. There had been no further communication. The younger girl had no way of knowing of my involvement in Lucinda’s story. It was pure co-incidence that I was the only journalist she could find to listen to her.
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