MARC BOLAN AND THE G-STRING

The Dagenham Roundhouse hosted more legendary rock bands than you could shake a drum-stick at, so it was a great venue for artists to be seen and heard.

On the 12th September 1970, T-Rex was the headline act, with Bram Stoker as support.

As we were setting up, I discovered a broken string on my guitar and I couldn’t find the one I needed among the spares. Disaster! All I could do was to go cap-in-hand to the only other guitarist in the house and ask for help.

So I banged on Marc Bolan’s dressing room door to introduce myself.

Hi Marc, I’ve broken my G string – I don’t suppose you have a spare?”

For Marc, this was too good an opportunity to miss and I was just met with a camp grin and we both burst out laughing.

Yeah, help yourself, I’ve got plenty”, he said, pointing to a guitar case.

When I opened it, a tidal wave of guitar strings burst out all over the place.

F**k me Marc! You don’t half break a lot of strings!”

He explained that he was sponsored and well stocked by the company that supplied them and that I could take as many as I wanted. Just as desert nomads are famed for their generosity, there is a wonderful solidarity among musicians – and I was very grateful to the legendary Marc Bolan for rescuing me.

It was a good gig, that night, and Bram Stoker headlined at the DR on 31st October.

The Doppler Effect

I was fettling in the shed one day, as you do, and one of Rob’s old cracked cymbals fell off the workbench, landed on its edge, spun gloriously, and produced the most captivating sound. This happy accident, resulted in my exploration of spinning sound effects and the Doppler Effect.

After further experimentation, I got an engineering company to cut the cymbals to shape, and I finished them, so that Rob could incorporate this unusual sound into our live performances.
This seed of an idea led to the development of the Doppler Speaker.

I fitted two 12” speakers at either end of a 3’x 1′ box, which, when spun on its central axis, produced a phenomenal 3D guitar sound, that audiences loved!

This set-up became legendary. During a live gig at The Academy, Boscombe, the Doppler Speaker was positioned on top of a double 4 x 12 Marshall speaker stack and, when centrifugal force did its thing, the whole stack came down and was evermore known as “Pete’s Flying Machine”.

JET HARRIS AND THE HORSE

In the early days, around 1969, we (that is Pete Ballam, Rob Haines and Tony Bronsdon) were in a band with Jet Harris (ex bass player and member of The Shadows).

We were managed, at the time, by Vince Silver, who procured gigs and much needed rehearsal rooms, so that we could develop our material. The West Howe Boys Club provided such a venue and, one day, while we were all set up and waiting for Jet to turn up, suddenly, all hell broke loose.

Jet had decided to arrive in style – on horseback! Our jaws dropped, as Jet’s horse clattered across the valuable Parquet floor, leaped over the ping-pong table, lunged forward and bit a chunk out of my favourite leather jacket. Once everyone, including the horse, had recovered from the trauma and settled down, we got on with what we were supposed to be doing.

The gods had clearly decided that we hadn’t had enough drama for one day and, unexpectedly, during the rehearsal, I found myself in the rather nasty scenario of being electrocuted – unable to speak or move and welded to the floor. Rob Haines (turned superhero) immediately spotted my predicament, kicked his drum-kit out of the way, kicked away the offending mic-stand and saved my life. Apparently, I came round 10 minutes later, and, in the style of any true Englishman, demanded a cup of tea! The forthcoming miracle beverage revived me sufficiently, so that we could all carry on with the rehearsal…

The footnote to this story is that the band was summarily dismissed from the venue due to the wreckage of the Parquet floor and I wasn’t too keen to return, anyway, because the electrics, in the building, weren’t earthed properly.

Jet Harris was later replaced by John Bavin, and Bram Stoker was formed

THE OSTERLEY PARK INCIDENT

In the summer of 1971, Bram Stoker (Pete Ballam, John Bavin, Tony Bronsdon and Rob Haines) performed at The Temple – the basement venue at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub in Soho, London. The American rock band May Blitz were on first, but took hours to get their act together because they were too busy smoking copious amounts of dope in long clay pipes.

Eventually, they were helped onto the stage, so they could get on with the job of being ‘rock gods’ – but the delay meant that, by the time we’d performed and packed down the gear, the sun was coming up.

Bram Stoker’s transport was an old removal van, painted shit brown and orange (a queasy but popular colour combination at that time) and driven by our leprechaun roadie- affectionately known as The Imp – a short, stocky, bearded creature, with a short memory.

We were all exhausted, not least the Imp, who spotted a suitable place to park up, where, as his head hit the steering wheel (with the engine still running), he promptly fell asleep.

By then, what with all the second-hand smell of dope smoke, emanating from all the gear, the belching, farting and snoring from five guys in a confined space, I came to the conclusion that the notion of sleeping under the stars seemed eminently more civilised.

I switched off the engine and found an elegant tree, under-which I could get some well earned shut-eye.

“Allo allo allo, what have we here then? We’ll have no vagrants in Osterley Park!”

Suddenly, I was awoken by a dutiful policeman, eyeing my silver boots, suspiciously.

Scrambling to gather my wits, I explained the situation, and found myself being marched to the dodgy van, in order to justify my story.

When said dutiful policeman banged on the door of the van, he was met with grunts, groans, insults and comments to the tune of “F***k off”, which, of course, he wasn’t willing to tolerate.

He threw open the door, whereupon the Imp fell onto the copper, and, when he’d recovered consciousness, denied all knowledge of ever having known me.

Stirling wits that they were, the rest of the band members all declared,

“No officer – never seen him before in our lives!” The bastards.

Things were getting desperate and I grabbed my guitar from the van, where the guitar case contained relevant evidence, including a picture of my girlfriend.

Bored, by now, the copper explained that the Park Warden would be soon be doing his rounds and would ‘do us’ for illegal parking if we didn’t get a move on.

So we moved on, not before I sacked the band, in a fit of pique, and they demanded their severance pay.

Eagle sculpture on the staircase on the east front at Osterley, Middlesex, looking over the park towards the lake. The tree in the background is the tree that Pete Ballam slept under.