ACCORDING to my Mum, when Dr Fernandez delivered me in Lyme’s old cottage hospital on Pound Road the very first thing that I did in this world was to wee in a great arc all over the midwife.
Although some may say that this response set the trend for what has been my attitude to help ever since, I have no memory of it.
In fact my earliest memory is of a night when I was five and was standing on the stage at the Marine Theatre. I can still see it vividly in my mind now; I was in the infants class at St Gilda’s, the convent that the nuns used to run in Stile Lane, and we children were putting on what I think was a Christmas show.
As a right Just William, or more probably a right Little ‘Erbert, I assumed that my class were the stars of the show as we boys stood there dressed up as miniature guardsmen as the girls sang ‘Oh soldier, soldier won’t you marry me?’
I can still remember feeling that this was all rather racy, getting asked to marry Jane Tomlin and Juliet Walker, girls who made me blush long before I understood why, as I very proudly marched on the spot in my busby, tiny red jacket and my very first pair of long trousers, black with a dashing red stripe down the outside, which Mum had made.
Even now, I can clearly recall the scene that made child eyes sparkle and widen back then; the strange smell of the make-up that the mums rubbed into our beaming faces backstage, the tensing of my tummy as we were shooed out to stare nervously at a darkened hall crammed with parents in their suits and best frocks. I still remember how hot the footlights were against my shins at the front of the stage, and it has been imbedded deep into my psyche ever since that this being onstage was clearly the very best feeling in the world.
For that reason alone, I will always love the Marine Theatre; it gave me the euphoria of being part of putting on a show, a thrill of sheer ecstasy which, a long while later, was to become a big part of my life during the many years when I worked in the music business.
There were other reasons, growing up, for me to love the Marine; going to the discos on Saturday nights in the 1970s when me and my teenage mates thought we were hippies and in our loon pants and grandad vests we would pretend to be Mick Jagger, prancing all hand on hip as Doug Emmett – billing himself as ‘Dr Psycho’ – played Honky Tonk Women and the skinheads who were Nigel Hill, Richard Austin and Geoff Cleal scowled at us and scared us rigid, making us hope that manager Bob Alexander would come to the rescue if we dared go to the toilets alone.
Then there was Linda, I think that was her name. She was a year above me at Woodroffe and when I first went there in 1967 she was one of the three most beautiful girls that I had then ever seen; she, Nicky Hall and Rosalind Love would hang out at break by the gate to the swimming pool, Linda looking all leggy with her white socks pulled up over her knees and her long blonde hair.
She was so gorgeous that for years at school I would turn around and walk the other way if I saw her coming down the corridor, the embarrassment of making eye contact with such a goddess would have mortified me.
When I was 16 I was down at the Marine on a Saturday night as usual and she was there. I couldn’t believe it, I think she lived over Morcombelake way, how on earth had she travelled from so far to Lyme?
Again, I can see the whole night clearly in my head even now. She was dancing on the left side of the hall, traditionally the skinheads’ side and so avoided by my lot. She caught my eye and smiled. Then she walked towards me and, as I entered a near-trance state of disbelief, asked me if I wanted to dance. I had never even heard her speak before, she had the loveliest of soft Dorset accents, a burr that was cream-like in its gentleness.
We danced and then she suggested that we went outside. We sat on the bench overlooking Gun Cliff and she kissed me, actual snogging. I had never been so happy.
‘The star feature of many of my happiness nights’
There have been many other nights that have married my soul to the Marine; the time a few years back when, having publicly smoked the most gigantic ‘roll-up’ that I have ever seen, Geno Washington tore the place down at one of the best concerts of my entire life, the night my old pal from our Macca days, the ace guitarist Robbie McIntosh, played a fundraiser for us on the eve of our first Guitars On The Beach, and, just a month ago, when the brilliant Jess Upton made my legs defy medical science as Jill and I danced all night to her superb show with her band The Guilty Pleasures.
The Marine means a lot to me, it has been the star feature of many of my happiest nights; in my head it represents smiling and joy and good times.
But the good times ceased to be for me several years ago when the theatre took what I felt to be was a more high-brow turn and the music, my sort of music, seemed to stop and the discos went. As more earnest productions were staged and the audiences subsequently dwindled, I became one of its loudest critics, forever mouthing off on Facebook and in the press about the soaring cost of funding it, as I voiced my cynical distain which was, on reflection, probably just my anguished cry of missing nights which represented my youth.
At one point I became so arch in my criticism that I even joined the ranks of those in the town who not only wanted the Marine’s council funding to end, but that the theatre should be closed and the building sold off for at least £3million, which one leading local councillor has confidently told me the town could get for it.
But just as the skies of a doom-laden future darkened over the Marine late last year, along came Gabby – Gabby Rabbitts, formerly the boss of Bridport’s Electric Palace and the best thing to have come to Lyme since a warm summer breeze.
Since Gabby has taken over as director of the Marine, the lights at the theatre seem to have shone more brightly, certainly its future looks more candescent, and now I want to be back down there again; smiling and happy.
Gabby is turning the flagship of the town’s nightlife around. Concerts she’s been promoting have sold out fast, the laid-back music sessions of the ‘lazy Sunday afternoons’ in the bar will soon have a big following, Mad Jeff’s reggae nights are returning by the overwhelming popular demand of Lyme’s young people, and her innovation of Lyme’s first-ever Children’s Week (see page 15) is a superb idea; more than 20 imaginative events designed to inspire children’s creativity over Easter, top stuff.
Among the Children’s Week events will be the In The Band Jam Session on April 4, run by my pal Pete Wild, who is also one of the team organising this year’s Guitars On The Beach.
In the session he will be showing how easy it is to make a great sound by building up the layers of music with young musicians of varying experience.
“Bands can sound great even when one or two members have never played before, so don’t let inexperience put you off joining in”, says Pete. “That’s what the spirit of rock and roll is all about.”
A night for the town’s best musicians
I know a fair bit of what the spirit of rock and roll is all about, some might say that I’ve known far too much about it in my time, and I know that the sheer, intoxicating, exhilarating fun of it will be soaring at another great music night at the Marine, coming up on April 14.
This Saturday dance night will be Guitars On The Boards, when four of the best bands from around these parts will go onstage at the Marine for a benefit night that will enable us to raise the funds we need to stage this year’s Guitars On The Beach.
Besides Brian Street’s Guitars On The Beach house band belting out a set of dance-inciting hits, the show will feature the brilliant talents of Slinky Machine, The IOU’s and, making their world debut appearance, Lyme’s outstanding new young band, Dream Phaser.
There will also be a disco and surprise guests who have agreed to get up for a few numbers with the house band. I know the identity of a couple of these and, believe me, they are fabulous and they will have us rocking and bopping like there’s no tomorrow.
It will be a wonderful night, a night for the town’s best musicians and, importantly, a platform for our new young talent to shine; in essence another one of those “I was there” fun events which are to be remembered with a glow always.
Gabby Rabbitts is bringing on back the good times, the legend of the Marine continues and we should all be guardsmen in protecting it.
And Linda, if you’re reading this, please do grab a ticket for the 14 before they all sell out.
Guitars On The Boards, the Guitars On The Beach fund-raiser & fun-raiser, Marine Theatre Saturday April 14th. Doors open 6.30 pm, show ends way past 11. Tickets £10 advance from the TIC 01297 442138 or from www.marinetheatre.com