toby philpott last updated: 27 August, 2004
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And then I dropped out of school, went into withdrawal, then finally got myself sorted out and went off to do archaeology ... I needed a physical job - no more middle-class bookworm for me. Muddy fields, interesting work, country pubs - great when you're 19.
And that led to working on the fairground as a 'gaff lad' (on an Octopus ride) for a season. I worked for a man called Tom Harniess, part of an old established fairground family from Yorkshire.
That, and some other fairly humble jobs got me through the Sixties. I was living in Notting Hill Gate (often on people's floors and sofas) and it was 1967, and I was 21 years old.
I had landed on my feet - I worked behind the counter in a couple of key Folk/Blues music clubs in Soho - Bunjies (which is still there) and "Les Cousins" (a legend then, but now, sadly, long gone) - and I both met and heard live many great musicians, from the wonderful Alexis Korner to the amazing John Martyn, [that's his biographer's site, try the official JM website, too] from Roy Harper to The Incredible String Band (when Clive Palmer was still with them); Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones, Nick Drake, Davy Graham, Michael Chapman - and many visiting Americans. Call it luck, if you like. I have no talent for playing music - but those all-nighters are some of my most treasured memories.
I was in at the beginning of UFO, (though as a punter), and it wasn't just Pink Floyd improvising, and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, with Vivian Stanshall but less well known eccentrics like The Third Ear Band. I also went to all the small, early Free Concerts in Hyde Park - but not the Stones. (Too many people, man...)
I knew a lot of creative people, some in passing, some quite well. Look at Jay Myrdal's astounding photos (Jay also plays all the musical instruments under the sun, unicycles in traffic and could juggle before me). I was, at that time, just hanging out, and making tea for painters like Jeremy Gordon, who painted and played languid guitar - and one day invited John Fahey round, but I missed that; baby-sitting for, or playing darts and drinking with, some of the above musicians; chatting about writing.
Although (in)voluntary poverty reduces one's choices I still managed a sort of self-employed life doing archaeological digs in the summer and spending the winter in London. I met a few dead bodies, back then.
In 1968 you could find me down the well in Sandal Castle in Wakefield - the Battle of Wakefield is the one in the nursery rhyme -"the Grand Old Duke of York...he marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again."
I had a mining expert supervising me on the safety line. I was clearing and lifting out rocks filling the well. Eventually 80 feet down (not in this picture), and never knowing whether the next one I moved was holding a lock on the one I was standing on, over a void. Quite a buzz! And then the newshound says "Look UP!" and I say - staring straight forward at the greenish wall - "You won't catch me that way!" because the safety guy had coached me to NEVER look up... Helmet ON TOP... We negotiated, and the safety guy monitored the cameraman, made sure there were no pebbles to kick in, etc...
And I appeared in the Wakefield Express Saturday July 6th 1968. Fame !