Saturday, 8 June 2013


Squat City Rocks has been available for a week or so now in its Kindle English version at Amazon.
It can also be read on an I-pad with a simple Kindle App, although shortly it will be available through Smashwords that will  distribute it to Barnes & Noble, Fnac, Apple I-book store, Kobo etc.

Here is an extract from the book where I describe the first  gig we had at Wandsworth Prison. The 101'ers were to return to the "venue" again in the future....for me just about the most memorable of our outings...

"Wandsworth prison in South London is a top security establishment catering for long term guests of Her Majesty.  One thousand three hundred male inmates incarcerated in a state-of-the-art prison:  state-of-the-art, that is,  in 1850 when it was built. We piled into Dave the VD’s Bedford and rattled off south of the river not knowing really what to expect. First stop was a small door in a huge stone turreted wall, towering above us like the battlements of Macbeth’s castle. A sneering officer answered our ring at the bell with a not too friendly welcome. Yes, they were expecting a musical ensemble that morning, but:
"Sorry gentlemen, definitely no dogs or females allowed in ‘ere, thank you very much."

Jeannie and the Piranha sisters had to turn on their heels and take the Pig Dog for a long walk on Wandsworth common.

"…Order restored, they now remained seated, straining at their shackles and casting furtive glances at their keepers…"

The gates cranked open, we were directed to a door for unloading, and we proceeded to hump the gear under the very attentive eyes of a couple of screws and their inquisitive hound. It was just as well Trouble hadn’t been allowed in: the police dog looked as though he’d have eaten him alive. A couple of oldish boys in prison greys and with ready smiles appeared from nowhere and helped us with the equipment. We learnt by degrees that the red arm-bands they wore designated them as “reliable inmates”. From then on, all our contacts with officialdom were through them, and this included a continuous supply of weak tea and moldy biscuits.
We were led into a large circular domed chapel.  Trust the Victorians to have endowed their institution with an enormous place of worship, so very concerned they would have been with the spiritual health of the condemned. So this was to be the site for our musical offering, and lo and behold – where else to erect the stage but over the altar on a raised dais at one end of the church. The sacristy, where the priest would have donned his vestments, was our dressing room, and the ironies were beginning to leave a wry smile on my face. As a ten year old I had seriously considered embracing a vocation to the priesthood, to devote myself to a life in the service of the Lord. Here I was pulling on my stage gear to partake in a very different kind of ritual. We had come prepared with a special liturgy for this particular ceremony, and our sacrificial offering contained as many prison-related songs as we could manage: Jailhouse Rock, Out of Time, Junco Partner, and a special rendition of Riot in Cell Block Number 9. Truth is, I think we were more nervous than we had ever been as we filed out on to the stage not knowing what kind of reception we would receive.
A complete and utter stony silence greeted us as we took to our instruments and Joe introduced the first song. I looked out from my drum stool and saw the chapel full to the brim, a sea of intent faces, five hundred or so inmates seated in their pews, the first row not two yards from us, with a ring of uniformed warders leaning nonchalantly against the back wall.  It’s a fact that we would give our all  every time we performed, but at this gig we were determined to unload at least 101 per cent.  After all, here we were a bunch of fresh-faced, squatter musos with all the freedom life could offer, playing to an audience some of whom had before them the stark reality of twenty years or more behind  prison bars. How could we compare them to our normal college student punter, or Speakeasy sycophant? We tore into the first song like there was no tomorrow, and sure enough at its end the place erupted. They loved it, but there was something not quite right. As quickly as the clapping and cheering had started, it stopped. It dawned on me that of course here as well, the inmates were all very much under strict orders. The screws around the perimeter of the hall would suddenly make their presence felt after a minute’s applause, and silence would once again descend on the chapel. No standing up either.
The set continued. Joe was in great form, and making the most of a continual battle with an unstable mike stand, he quickly established a rapport with the audience. I’ll never forget the expressions on the faces in front of us. It’s no exaggeration to describe most of them as ecstatic. Imagine being cooped up in that place day in and day out for years, and then suddenly being in front of a hot rock band firing on all cylinders.  As song followed song some of the men became bolder. I don’t know if it was because the keener rock fanatics had managed to get seats at the front, or because they were the furthest away from the guards mostly situated at the back, but the first rows were getting carried away, and you could see them unable to remain seated, hanging on every word, and not missing the smallest detail of what was happening. Towards the end of the set my bass drum pedal broke, which for Joe was yet another opportunity to have a chat. A repartee built up, and I remember  shouts of “keep taking the tablets!” and other witticisms in response to Joe’s quips, yet another mistaken assumption as to the source of our energy! At one point a couple of warders came down near to the front and made it clear what the limits were. Order restored, they now remained seated, straining at their shackles and casting furtive glances at their keepers when, maybe at the end of a song, they remembered where they were.  A couple of encores and that was that. We would have carried on playing all day if it had been up to us, but the men in red arm bands made it clear that our time was up. I’m not sure at what point it was, but a suspicion gradually formed about these “trusted ones”. Though prisoners, it was clear that they had special privileges, and you started to wonder exactly what they would have done to get them! By the time we had cooled off and changed, accompanied by yet more gallons of tea, rightly or wrongly, these willing helpers appeared in a different light. An unjust deduction perhaps, as of course we knew nothing of the inner workings of the place.
 We loaded the van, again under the close observation of the guards – maybe they thought we could have had a prisoner hidden in the bass drum, or perhaps a pair of candlestick-holders in a guitar case, and trundled out of the main gate. As Clive was later to observe:
“There’s nothing like a captive audience." 

True indeed. For me it was the most enjoyable gig we ever performed. "

The illustration, as with all the 30-odd drawings in the tale are by Esperanza Romero

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