Patterns in the Chaos


According to the grown-ups, I was a sickly child. Apparently I spent some months in an isolation hospital with suspected whooping cough. I have no recollection of it, only the interminable visits to doctors, and my frail physical frame being dragged into parked black vans labelled ‘National Radiological Unit’ - the mobile government torture chambers housing cold X-ray machines.
It was post-war Birmingham and compared with today, most of us were undernourished, dishevelled and slightly ailing in some manner. But in one respect, my family were better off than most - we were one of the only ones in our road with transport – dad had a job as travelling projectionist and had the use of the company van.
One of my earliest memories is of being in the back of that little Austin Seven van...
Suddenly the van swerves: ‘Oh No,’ says dad.
Mom screams: ‘what’s the matter?’
‘We’re stuck in the tram lines,’ he says. I look out of the window. Yes, the little thin wheels are in line with the tram tracks.
Mom screams again. Up ahead I can see the tramlines divide from one line into two. We swerve again along one of the lines. ‘Raymond, do something!’
‘I can’t, we’re stuck. We’ll have to wait until we get to the terminus,’ he says with a chuckle.
‘It’s no laughing matter,’ she says sternly but dad just laughs.
We travelled down the Pershore Road like that until the inevtable tram appeared in the distance ahead and slowly loomed larger and larger - along with the volume of mom’s pleas - until finally, dad got off the lines.

It was just the same at the seaside. Dad would creep the van ever closer to the cliff edge, claiming trouble with the gears or the brakes, while the small compartment would be filled with mom’s screaming interspersed with loud guffaws from dad. As always I sat in the back, a bemused spectator.

I had a Godly upbringing. Mom and dad were real Christians - the front door was always open to anybody in trouble, and hymns were sung at full throttle on Sundays! Dad would play an old pedal organ – (ah, that old organ - how I remember it being carried on a horse cart pulled by dad and granddad while I sat on top; the three miles from the leafy suburbs of Kingstanding to the big Georgian terraces of inner city Aston). That pedal organ used to be the focus of entertainment at our home. Dad played it while he and mom and whoever else was present, would brim the room full of singing. He had never been taught music, he just played by ear. When we moved from Aston to the new council Estate at Tile Cross, that organ moved with us.

Dad working his projector at a work's canteen film show circa 1950. 

Dancing Girls

Dad came home late one night to be greeted by an indignant mom wanting to know where he had been. ‘Ssshhhh’ he said, with a finger to his lips and a smirk on his face, ‘they’ll hear you.’
‘They? - WHO?’ demanded mom, ‘I hope you haven’t brought anyone here at this time of night Raymond.’
‘Yes I have,’ whispered dad, ‘they’re just outside.’
‘What! Oh I do think that’s too bad,’ mom gasped in her tone of ultimate displeasure.
‘I’ve bought a couple of dancing girls home for you Clara.’
Clara was dad’s nickname for Mom. It was more of a private taunt, that name with its hard sound often teamed up alongside mention of ‘Carayilie Street,’ a Hockley slum area where Vinnie grew up as a girl. Mom had no similar ridicule to heap upon dad for the Welsh mining community of Risca, from where dad had migrated to Birmingham in search of work before the war.
‘You’ve done WHAT!,’ she exploded. ‘Dancing Girls? - Well you can just take them out again and go right back out with them. You’re not coming in here with any fancy pieces and that’s a fact. You mark my words, they are not welcome here and neither are you if that’s your gallop. So there!’
‘I’ll just go and get them,’ said dad ignoring her and disappearing into the hall.
Dad came back reaching into a paper bag: ‘here they are’ he said as he carefully pulled out two hand made statuettes carved out of sheet wood, and decorously painted… Ladies in full swing with their skirts flowing against an imaginary wind as they twirled around.

The reason I can remember this story so well is because I heard it recounted so many times whenever a visitor to the house would remark about the dancing ladies hanging on the wall.
Yes those dancing girls lived on our wall and were to outlast dad, dancing for another twenty years after he had gone and never growing a day older. There above the pedal organ, they would attract the attention of the many visitors we had – the bread man, the milkman, the postman, the insurance man, the doctor, the vicar, and of course the omnipresent neighbour - as they sat sipping tea around the living room table. Mom would tell each how those girls came into the house late one night and how she almost threw them and dad out before he had the chance to get to the punch line.

Dad always seemed to be involved in the wackiest of enterprises.
On the occasion of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, he erected a giant marquee in the front garden. Bunting, cakes and chairs came from all the neighbours and on the day, everybody in the street was revelling at our house, number 17. I was enlisted to mime an Al Jolson song from the tiny platform inside the marquee. I guess that was my show biz debut, but all I remember was shrivelling in embarrassment at the ordeal of singing, or pretending to, in front of people.
And a year later, in 1954. At Haringay Arena in London, I remember Mom and Dad pushing me forward to join the multitude of people responding to Billy Grahams’ appeal: ‘Go on David’ they said, nudging me to join the crowd moving forward across the football pitch to give their lives to Jesus. And me wanting to go and not wanting to go, all at the same time. Embarrassed at twelve years old even!
‘Go on’ they said again. And somewhat grudgingly, go I did. Maybe they understood something about the importance of being there, of just turning up even when your heart isn’t in it.

But life for me took a dramatic turn when I was thirteen - dad died suddenly leaving me alone with mom. From there, any belief I had in God evaporated, and relations with mom went steadily downhill.

Dad dying just messed everything up. I was at Bordesley Green Technical School, a sort of downsized Grammar School. I can’t remember quite how or why but I went from being at nearly top of the class to the very bottom after dad died. It was probably something to do with the way it happened.

Tile Cross

Tile Cross was the name of the new estate built in the early 50's on green fields to the east of Birmingham - It featured six-storey and three-story flats along with terraced houses made of concrete, like ours shown here. The estate was part of Birmingham's post-war slum-clearance project. At left is mom on the doorstep of our house in Briddsland Road (wherever did the council get the name 'Briddsland' from?? - the mind boggles!) Right: me with a new bike. 

It was 1956, the year Britain went to war over the Suez Canal. But all I knew was that dad had been feeling unwell for several days. He needed some medicine. So, late one night, we drove together in his van to the only place open, Boots the Chemist, in the city centre. We had parked up and were walking along the streets when dad bent down to pick up a scrap of paper... He stood motionless for a moment looking at it. I peered over his shoulder - or I think it was more under his shoulder - to see for myself. It said simply: 'Prepare to meet thy God'. Nothing else - Just like on those sandwich boards that men used to carry.
Two days later, he died. He was 42, a guy brimming with humour and practical jokes, in the prime of life. Mom was devastated. I was numb. I didn’t cry, or rather I didn’t cry in front of anyone else.

Later, after the funeral, I was in the house with mom - she was upstairs in the bedroom. Suddenly there was a shriek like I had never heard. I rushed upstairs to find her just standing there wailing.
"What's wrong mom?"
She didn't answer, just sobbed. On the bed lay dad’s clothes. She had been going through the paraphernalia in his pockets.
"Mom, what's wrong?"
She croaked something and lifted a hand to show me a piece of paper. I recognised it immediately and said shakily: "Dad found that on New Street the night we went to get the medicine."
Nothing more was spoken about it, but as I recall now, and as I have many times realised, that scrap of paper carried upon it the most awful message, the most dreadful truth she could ever have received: Her God, who she loved dearly, had taken her man, who she loved dearly!
Nothing could have tested her faith more. I remember well the scoffings she had to endure from relatives about God, but she never lost her faith. Unlike me. Whatever grudging regard I had for mom's godliness disappeared rapidly.

It was all too much for me. I knew God had done it, but that only made it worse. It was impossible to make any sense of it. I just went to ground. Somewhere I thought: ‘if I keep my head down, maybe he won’t notice me!’ - for surely, God must be someone who zaps his pals for no reason.

It was whole lifetime later, in June 1988, that I laid myself down before God and soon after that, mom and I began gradually to become friends, because we never really were – throughout all that time!
But I am getting ahead of myself…

It was the sixties, an era when a policeman would stop a speeding car by stepping out into the road and putting his hand up. That was all it took. To ignore the command of a policeman was to all intents and purposes, unthinkable. Today of course, when roads are crammed full of traffic and the authority of the law of the land open to question, the result would be one seriously flattened copper, but back then, not to stop was really not an option worth considering.
Order flowed from an unspoken, abiding regard for the powers that be, and was maintained within clear boundaries. What lay beyond those boundaries was largely unknown.

Constable Ferris was a man used to stepping out in front of speeding vehicles, to be precise, speeding motor bikes and scooters. He had also learned to be adept at skipping backwards, as sometimes the invitation to stop for a chat was beyond the capability of our feeble brakes. But despite all the provocations, Constable Ferris maintained an air of amiable, authoritative familiarity with us as he policed the quiet suburb of Marston Green. It was a patch devoid of rebellion were it not for the fact that we imported it nightly from nearby Tile Cross. A race from the chip shop at Marston Green to the bus terminus at Tile Cross was virtually mandatory for the ‘gang’ of which I was a member, some say a ring-leader.

The best of us, or the worst - depending on which way you looked at it, was Paul Goodall. Nobody could beat Paul. I should know, I tried often enough. I could never beat him although I drove as if without attachment to this mortal coil. I learned that the secret to winning was really to convince your opponent that you were absolutely stark raving mad, and that required demonstrations of maximum lunacy. Really, you could always depend on someone else’s sanity giving you a tyres width of lead, if you could make them believe you were mad enough to kill both of you otherwise.
But although I could beat most anybody else in a race, I could never beat Paul, and never did, not once. Paul was completely mad, whereas the rest of us were merely of dubious sanity. I thought the world of him, enough to loan him my scooter, which he promptly crashed.

I saw him do so many crazy things to be first in a race, or just to cause consternation. And sometimes he would pull a stunt just for no reason at all, just because! -
There were four or five of us, biking down a grass track in Chelmsley Woods - not racing, just ambling along. Paul came past me and then, when he was just ahead, he turned around to look at me while a silly grin broke out all over his face. He just sat there, staring square at me, with one outstretched hand gripping the empty pillion seat behind him. We went along like that, Paul not looking where he was going. Up ahead a T-junction loomed with a nasty prickly hedge beyond and I started to shout and point to him…

But he never batted an eyelid. He sat there looking back at me until him and his bike collided with the barrier of bushes, branches and nettles. He went through it to the field the other side while his bike was impaled sideways on the thicket. We pulled him back through the hole he’d punched. He was sporting cuts and bruises, and still that silly grin. He knew the hedge was there, he did it just for a laugh!

One time I remember we were both up together before the beak (I can’t remember what for). We were standing side by side right in front of the bench. The proceedings were at that bit where they are about to pass sentence and the magistrate leaned over and said: ‘Are there any previous convictions?’
The voice of a clerk came from behind us: ‘Yes your honour, for Mr. Morgan there is …. blah blah blah..,’ – an enormous catalogue of embarrassing infractions – speeding, driving without lights, without care, without a licence….’
I stood there listening to this litany of disgrace and the only ray of sunshine in my mind was the thought of Paul’s record, and how that at least, would put mine into the shade, but big time.
The Clerk droned on to the end of my list, shuffled some papers and then said:
‘And for Mr.Goodall, no previous convictions your honour!’
I gasped and looked around at Paul. But he just stood grinning in his mischievous way. They had lost all his records but remembered all mine!

Then one night Paul appeared on my doorstep looking very bedraggled and shivering with cold:
‘Can I come in?’ he whimpered.
‘Yes of course, what’s up?’
‘I’m freezing’ he said. He didn’t have his bike – he’d been disqualified from driving.
‘What on earth have you been doing to get so cold?’
‘I’ve been lying on the railway line up by Marston Green.’
Mom brought us both a cup of tea.

He lowered his voice so that she couldn’t hear and went on to tell me how he’d decided to end it all. ‘I’d been lying on the tracks for nearly an hour wondering why no trains were coming down the main London to Birmingham line, and then I remembered – It’s the day of the National rail strike!’
He smiled that mischievous grin of his telling me about this and I honestly wasn’t sure if the whole thing was just a big practical joke. I didn’t really take him seriously.

But a short while later, on 7 March 1962, Paul Goodall gassed himself. They found him in his parent’s front room. A note said it was because a girl had finished with him.
The route out of town to the big A47 trunk road led past Paul’s house. I can’t remember where we were going that day, just the commotion outside his house making us stop and ask someone: ‘What’s happened?’
Paul’s funeral was the first I ever recall going to (I didn’t go to dad’s, I couldn’t face it). There were eight car-loads of mourners plying a snails-pace to the short service at Yardley Crematorium. Paul’s coffin rode up front in a grey Daimler and I couldn’t help but think he would have been insulted by the speed. It hit me hard, him dying like that. I felt as if death had come to spar with me again, and leave me once more, punch-drunk with the pointlessness of it all. Paul had been indestructible. In another epoch he might have won medals for some audacious dash before a machine-gun nest. But in this epoch - my epoch, his jovial nonchalance for all things mortal was sealed forever in that wooden box placed squarely in front of us that day.

Somebody said how it was losing his licence that had taken away his reason for living. It was true, Paul lived for kicks and the thrill of doing battle with the moving scissors of vehicles and obstacles. Yet it was none of those deadly foes that brought him down, but a girl he barely knew. Her and the devil of rejection.


Girls & Groups
Yes, girls had appeared into our teenage concerns and where once the talk would be about the many crashes we had, soon it gravitated to include the opposite sex. For me, bikes and girls slowly cross-faded to become groups and girls.

It was 1961, the year Yuri Gagarin became the world’s first spaceman. A friend named Roger bought a guitar, and so I bought a guitar too. It was so difficult to play, I almost gave up. Then I saw a book in a shop: ‘Play in a day’ it announced on the cover. Bert Weedon sold millions of copies of that little book to people like me. It had diagrams of a guitar fret-board with numbered dots showing which finger to put on which string. Of course it should have been titled ‘Play in a lifetime,’ but never mind, it was a great help. Still it took me ages before I was able to change chords fast enough to play a song.

The cross-over to music took awhile, but finally became complete for me one frosty night in January 1963. We were all sat around the Formica-covered table at a city centre café, sipping cups of tea while our bikes were parked up outside. Suddenly the juke box exploded into my reality with a sound like I had never heard: It was the Beatles singing ‘Please please me.’ The chords at the end went round and around in my head, I was entranced. I thought it was beautiful. The brute magic of it captured me as it did most everybody else.

A pal named Mick Andrews sang with a group that rehearsed at St Giles’ church in Tile Cross and soon he pressed me into service on rhythm guitar. We fumbled around in varying degrees of ineptitude as ‘The Moonrakers’ and then metamorphosed into ‘The Jaguars’ before disappearing altogether. It was shortly afterwards that I joined a proper group – one that actually got paid to play!
At last, the big time! It was July 1963 and I was one of Jeff Silvas’s four ‘Strangers.’

But there was one slight problem – I couldn’t really play! I had real difficulty keeping time. My left hand was okay at chords, but my right hand was lousy at rhythm, no more that a stuttering sail jerking in approximation to the beat. To compound matters, I found it impossible to play with a plectrum, and resorted to strumming with my fingers so as to avoid the embarrassment of having my pick zoom across the dance-hall, catapulted by my strings with a strident, heralding twang.
All of this I tried to keep secret of course, while I watched other musicians with envy and shame. I was the ‘rhythm’ guitarist, and this gross misrepresentation of fact went largely un-reported. All the same, I felt a fraud. I thought ‘someone is sure to notice I’m not really very good at this!’
(Even now, Mandy and I have a standing joke that my strumming should carry a health warning - if anyone is dancing to it, they are in danger of dislocating something if I miss a beat!)
But I have long lost any insecurity about being a musician, I know that music is something inside that just finds the best way it can of getting out.

I resolved to do what I could, and soon discovered that one thing I could do was write songs:
Chords really interested me and the Beatles were putting them together in novel, exciting ways. One day I came upon a new collection of chords myself. I hummed a tune around them, made up some sickly embarrassing words - and hey presto, I had written a song! It was called ‘I do’. I didn't really think it was any good, but other people picked up on it. I was encouraged and wrote more, and tried not to worry too much about my faltering guitar style.

Jeff Silvas and the Four Strangers 1963-64 photographed by the manager, Ralph Hitchcock.

It was the age when groups wore matching uniforms. Ours were posh red tuxedo's with a dash of silver on the lapels. Front man Jeff Silvas wore white, as you can see in this pic of us playing at the 'Meadway' pub above. Left to Right: Bill Miller, John Panteney ('Pank'), Jeff Silvas, myself. The fourth Stranger - bass player Ray Hammond - is out of shot to the right.

Above, a session shooting publicity photos in a field near Marston Green. 

Jeff Silvas and the Four Strangers at an unknown  gig (could be Solihull Civic Hall?)

4 Strangers - Final version of the group circa 1965, posing for the camera: drummer Alan Bennett, myself, Ray Hammond and Bill Miller.

Then one day our singer - Jeff Silvas - left the group and we contemplated how to carry on without him as 'The Strangers'. Bill Miller, the lead guitarist, took over most of the singing, but looked to me to get stuck in too. The call to stand in front of a microphone and warble was a challenge I both feared and prized at the same time. So I practised for hours while I was on my own - driving. Inside the echo-ey cab of my van, I would sing songs over and over until I had honed enough of the squeaks and rattles out of my flimsy resonations to dare bring them before somebody else. Even then, when I got in front of the microphone, it often sounded dreadful, and I had to go back to the drawing board behind the steering wheel of my van…
I spent a long time in the cab of that van - I used to date a girl who lived in the countryside, south of Stratford-on-Avon, and it took about an hour to drive there. That was two hours of singing practise per night. It was in that cab, bellowing out over the racket of the engine, that I discovered the techniques I needed in order to conceal the fact I had no inbred singing ability. I knew that whatever I was to acquire had to be imparted by method, not nature.
You have to understand that being in a group at that time was really about learning how to mimic - My hero was John Lennon and I practised until I could impersonate his style of singing to a tee. Not anyone's tee, just my tee. I got immense pleasure from rasping out his lines to myself.

Along with singing, I would practise 'speaking' - yes speaking. Something had made me aware of how bad my speech was - maybe it was being around my girl-friends family, with their slightly Shakespearean country English. Maybe it was serving afternoon teas to the toffs who stopped at the impromptu café they ran in the garden of their farmhouse. But somewhere along the line it dawned on me that the slovenly Brummie dialect I had harvested from birth needed a translator to be understood anywhere outside of a Birmingham factory or pub.
There was a feeling amongst my workmates down at Colmore Depot motor stores that you were a traitor to your class if you spoke anything approaching the Queens English, but I came to the conclusion that good speech had to do simply with how well you wanted other people to understand what you were trying to say. So little by little, I tried to improve the way I spoke, ignoring the jibes of workmates and peers who would label anyone pretending to correct pronunciation as a 'ponce.'

Yes I ran my own academy of elocution and singing lessons in that Morris J2 van. I was my own instructor, my own audience. I booed or cheered, I organised the lessons, I set the exams and I marked the papers.

I was a 'Stranger' on rhythm guitar for a total of two years before the reality of my paltry guitar skills got the better of me. It seemed no amount of practice could turn me into a proper musician. I left the group and made a decision: I would become a proper storeman for the Colmore Depot company instead. At least that was something attainable. I still played with a group and wrote some songs, but it ceased to be a priority.

I started to turn up on time for work, a miracle that did not go un-noticed. Then I began redesigning the stores filing system, and organising the racks carrying the spare parts. I was doing really well at it, the management were humming my praises, right up until one day in January 1966.
A call came through for me on the little sales office telephone:
'My name is Danny King' the voice repeated.
'Oh Hello, yes, of course I've heard of you'
'And you are the Dave Morgan who wrote this song - the one called "it's an ill wind that blows"?'
'Er yes I am. How did you get to hear that?'
'I have just been listening to a tape of it down at Johnny Hayne's studio and I want to tell you: I don't care if you're short, ugly, bald or covered in spots - I want you in my group! Come down the Cedar Club tonight and we'll talk some more about it, okay?'
'Oh, er thanks, yeah, right… Okay then, I'll see yer at the Cedar tonight.'
That was the end of my career in the stores of Colmore Depot.
I lost the job for consistently turning up late after joining Danny King's 'Mayfair Set'.

One day mom dropped a bombshell on me: She was considering getting married again!
Alf Print had been her friend since before the war, even before she met Raymond. He had come from a fairly well to do family who, for reasons I never did quite fathom, had disowned and disinherited him as a young man. By 1962 he was down on his luck and living at the Salvation Army Hostel in the centre of Birmingham, a residency that always seemed to be on the verge of summary termination: I remember one occasion when mom interceded on his behalf to keep them from throwing him out. Alf was one of the people in mom's orbit of care but when she announced that she intended to marry him I felt as if that old steamroller was revving up again to roll over me and do me in. Mom seemed convinced that it was God's will for her to marry Alf. I was horrified and indignant.
'Does that mean my name will change to David Print?' I barked at her.
She didn't know the answer. Enquiries were made into protocol and legalities and it transpired that I would remain a Morgan. It was just as well. That would probably have been the very last straw.

But all the objections of her family, and all my protestations, came to nought, and in the summer of 1962 mom became Mrs.Print at the little church up the road where she went to worship every Sunday.

Three months after mom married Alf, the Cuban missile crisis flared up and for a while I existed like everyone else, as a zombie going through the motions - get up, catch a bus, go to work, come home, all the while expecting the enormous bang that would announce the end of the world. Then as quick as it had flared up it was gone. We were at work, on tenterhooks, wondering what would happen when the Americans intercepted the Soviet ships in the Atlantic when suddenly someone was running around shouting: 'It's over - the Russian ships have turned around! They're going back home. Khrushchev's backed down!'

During this time Mom's brother Joe also came to live with us in our council house at Tile Cross. Uncle Joe was a fugitive from other relatives who had tired of him.
Both Alf and Joe suffered with their 'nerves' as mom called it - a euphemism for 'mental health problems', itself a sop to political correctness that belies stark reality like bleach masks the smell of a drain. Whereas Joe's affliction would manifest as inertia and depression, Alf's would surface in fits of violent rage. Then at other times, he would have the temperament and disposition of an inoffensive child. You never quite knew what could cause a flare-up, but often it was directed at Mom. He would pass through the house like an enraged bull destroying things, often things of special significance like dad's photographs or letters, and afterwards he would cry like a baby for forgiveness.

It was in one of these eruptions that Alf smashed the TV to pieces with an axe. My friend Mick Andrews bought us round a replacement, a second-hand one from the TV shop where he worked. I remember Mick saying to Alf: 'You keep smashing them up and I'll keep bringing them. You'll be knee-deep in tellies!'

Then in July 1964, Alf died suddenly, releasing the household from its state of simmering stress and mom from her pledge to God. She had kept Alf off the streets and given him a home. Now all she had to do was look after Joe.

A womans work is never done.... Mom in the kitchen.

Mom and Joe visiting relatives in Brill, Buckinghamshire.

All photographs are copyright David Scott-Morgan unless otherwise credited.