Thursday, November 11, 2010

Onwards anyway... 'Don Partridge and Company'...

Probably the main reason why my blog posts have been very sporadic this year is because I have been working on a book – provisional title: 'Don Partridge and Company' – with two friends, Patrick Keene and – Don Partridge, 'King of the Streetsingers.' Who, of course, sadly died a few weeks back. (I have also been busy on another project, a novel). Don and I started the book a couple of years back and very soon afterwards brought in Patrick, but our progress was understandably delayed when Don's partner Pam died about eighteen months ago. A lot of grief has been carried. The premise of the book: three interlinking stories, two fairly obscure characters, one who became very famous for a while, then left orthodox show business to go back to his original occupation, which we all shared. Busking – the art of being a street musician. Don, especially after he launched his one man band, inspired originally by Jesse Fuller (whom he had encountered in London when he booked him for a gig at Ealing Town Hall in the early Sixties) but with a more flexible mobile apparatus, had already made a lot of waves in London and beyond before he was discovered by Don Paul and subsequently became a pop star. He was earning a very good living on the streets and lived high, wild and well. Patrick Keene, who was playing with Don when I first met them, sometime in 1966, had started busking in Paris in 1960, mixing with the likes of Alex Campbell, the young Davey Graham, Derroll Adams, Richard Farina, Ralph Rumney and the Guggenheims (I kid you not). (Pat also recorded an lp with Don just before the one man band days). I started playing in London (having dipped my toe in the water here and there) in the summer of 1966. Pat was also a photographer and increasingly focused on his talent in that area to make a living. He did some freelancing for the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Telegraph and other mainstream newspapers – plus some work for the underground publication International Times. The idea of the book was to use our stories to bounce off the more famous one of Don, illustrated by the stunning black and white photos that Patrick took in the late Sixties on the streets and beyond – culminating on the night of the Buskers Concert at the Albert Hall in 1969. Which have never been published. Inspired apparently by Alan Young, Don's oldest friend and fellow busker, Don booked the Albert Hall and brought all the London street musicians, young and old, together for a unique event. Helped by his agent, Don Paul and his publicist Max Clifford, the show was a sell-out. An amazing night – yet one that now has been almost forgotten. The three of us were involved – myself playing with my then street sidekick Aidan Agnew and with The Earl of Mustard, a tap-dancer and street legend whom I had often worked with, when his accompanist refused to go on with him because he was in drag(!). Don, top of the bill of course – and Patrick, who did not perform but was there as a photographer and who also appeared obliquely. Pulled out of the audience by the escapologist who coaxed him to reluctantly stand on his throat! Pat, who was and is a tall, powerfully built man and who was wearing cowboy boots, was naturally a little reluctant. But this guy knew his trade (although there is a story that a couple of years later, another busker, whose name escapes me, obliged his prompt to the crowd for someone to tie him up at the Derby in front of a large crowd – and trussed him up too tight for him to escape!). But on this occasion, the show went to plan! (And Patrick was not arrested for involuntary manslaughter).
All of this was - and will be – the meat of the book. There are many stories and characters in the world of street music: ours just illustrate a particular time period, from the beginning of the decade to the next – by the seventies, London was becoming over-crowded with buskers and many of us had created other circuits in Europe where the pickings were better. Perhaps the Albert Hall concert stands as a unique event, the culmination of something wonderful and weird...
So Don is gone – but the book was almost complete and will be finished perhaps differently, relying on some other testimonies. The special flavour he brought to it I hope I have captured. We are doing the rounds of publishers at the moment, some more work needs to be done. But hopefully...

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