A sweet cool breeze blew in my front door Sunday afternoon as I watched Jordan Spieth win the 2015 U.S. Open golf title on Father’s Day. Somehow it reminded me of being in Seattle, 16 years earlier. The Open was played at Chambers Bay, on a site that looked like the dark side of the moon with craggy bunkers, almost zero fairway grass and weed-choked hummocks everywhere you looked. The course was located just south of Tacoma, so that must have been the connection that set my mind to wandering.
In August of 1999, I flew to the U.K. for about the 15th time after first hooking up in Seattle with old pals the Green Pajamas. They were slotted to play the third Terrastock Festival, this one on the grounds of the University of London, near Russell Square.
I thought I’d convinced Pajamas frontman Jeff Kelly to purchase a weekly tube pass once we arrived in London. They were much cheaper than standing in a ticket line at a tube station every time you wanted to go somewhere. When we disembarked at Victoria Station, I headed straight to the London Underground office to purchase a pass. I gestured across the courtyard to Kelly, now standing with his wife Susanne in front of the station’s ticket machine. But she was already feeding coins into the machine as Jeff held up his arms, palms extended upward in the universal sign of surrender.
What I remember most about that London fortnight wasn’t the music, although there were fine sets by the Bevis Frond, Tom Rapp, Abunai!, the Green Ray and the Alchemysts, as well as the GPJs and Welsh prog-rock legend Man. One especially savory memory was that first night in town when Jeff, Susanne and I jumped ship and ventured down to Bill Allerton’s Stand Out! records. It was a short tube ride to Notting Hill Gate, then a 10-minute walk down Portobello Rd. to the famous record shop. Waiting there for us, behind the barn door-like entrance to the place, were Allerton and former Bucketfull Of Brains editor Jon Storey, all eager to finally shake Jeff Kelly’s hand.
Storey even slipped Kelly a copy of his self-produced CD containing many of the flexi-disc tracks that had accompanied issues of Bucketfull, one of which, unknown to Kelly, was a Pajamas track. We dined in fine style that evening after inhaling the pungent aromas of the excellent Indian restaurant just around the corner from the record shop.
On the tube ride back to our hotel, the President near Russell Square, I told Jeff and Susanne of that night in 1978 when Allerton had driven my wife Jenifer and me in his battered Sunbeam Alpine to a dance for the freshman class at west London’s Ealing Polytechnic. We were excited when they announced that fabled London outfit the Downliners Sect would be playing for the kids. Earlier that day, I’d phoned for ticket info, and the snotty social secretary had informed me, “You won’t need to know where it’s taking place because you won’t be coming.” That’s what he thought.
Another memorable evening from ’99 took place in the late-bar of the Hotel President. It was a gathering of London characters that included the editor of The Ptolemaic Terrascope, Phil McMullen, the mag’s co-founder (and slashing Bevis Frond guitarist) Nick Saloman, current Buckeftull editor Nick West and the mag’s in-between editor, Jon Storey. All we needed was Bucketfull’s original founding editor, Nigel Cross, who was not there that night, and the room might have self-combusted.
The back-story to this volatile mixture of sensitive British lads reads something like the girls’ lunch table at any U.S. junior high school. McMullen, who’d written for Bucketfull before starting the Terrascope, didn’t like Storey for reasons unknown. Storey, a one-time tennis opponent of Saloman, claimed that Cross, from whom he’d taken the reins of Bucketfull, had once assaulted him on the street. To top it off, McMullen’s teenage daughter, Emily Grace (still known as a Green Pajamas’ song title), was taking somewhat good-natured potshots at me. As for why these things took place, God (and possibly Brian Wilson) only knows. A man of well-chosen words, Kelly said little as he tugged at his pint and puffed on a cigarette while taking it all in. Final score: No punches were thrown, no glassware broken.
The next day, I led a rambling, non-Terrastock event, a boat ride down the Thames from Westminster pier to Greenwich for the same fried white-fish luncheon that Charles Dickens had served at the wedding of his daughter. Then it was on to the Archway tube station for an uphill hike through Waterlow Park, where you might sometimes catch Kinks frontman Ray Davies jogging in the morning through his “Land Of Misty Waters.”
Then it was on to Highgate Cemetery where we encountered the elderly lady who ran the place blocking our admission. She informed us, in no uncertain terms, that “Highgate was a cemetery not a tourist attraction.” Just as I was about to grease the palm of “the dragon lady” with silver for a tour of the joint, the cellphone of Heather McMullen jangled in most rude fashion. We finally did get our tour, which meant that Jeff Kelly could pay homage to the final resting place of one of his life-long heroines, pre-Raphaelite angel Elizabeth Siddal.
The Terrastock concerts? Oh, they turned out just fine. But when you’re in swinging London, somehow, other weighty matters frequently just happen to get in the way of all that good music.