Its part of my ‘schtick’, my gimmick, my routine to drop names and tell stories about when I was a kid signed to Elton John’s Rocket Record Company. Some radio interviews have actually added a clanging sound fx every time I drop another name. I do it with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I hope people think it’s funny and as I once said to Elton…. well you get the picture.
The thing is, yes, I love visiting the past it’s just that I don’t want to live there.
Singing in school assembly 1972
But there are times and special occasions when its hard to ignore the past. This year I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the year that changed my life. 1973 was already a good year before the big change came. I had just captained the Swansea Schoolboys Under 13’s to the Welsh School’s Championship, I was in the under 15 squad a year early and I was about to move from Junior Comp to Dynevor Senior school.
Letter to say I’d made the Swansea Schoolboys Squad a year early joining the ranks of legends like Ivor Allchurch, Cliff Jones and Terry Medwin.
The change came later in 1973 but the ground work was already there in the previous few years. I had already had an audition for HTV Wales, they suggested I get guitar lessons, and for Opportunity Knocks which was a no thank you. But none of that mattered to me, at 12 years old I was invincible. I was singing my own songs all the time in school, church or at the youth club. I’m not sure when exactly I sent a tape of my songs to John Peel at Radio One but it must have been late spring 1973 because the letter that changed my life was dated 23rd May 1973 and I know it had taken John Peel and his producer a little while to find a tape recorder old enough to actually play my tape.
By the time my life became a mixture of showbiz parties, recording sessions, school football and school concerts I remember my dad telling me I should keep a diary. Of course being 13 years I knew best and didn’t but of course years later I regret ignoring that advice. What do they say, keep a diary and one day it will keep you. Thank fully although I didn’t write a diary my father did.
My father had been an avid diarist since his teens. It was only this week I thought it might be good to see 1973 through my father’s eyes. In amongst the diaries from the 70’s and 80’s were diaries from his youth. The entry from Tuesday 6th June 1944 was particularly poignant
‘D-Day. Heard news on 8 a.m. News. Electrical Atmosphere. What happens next?’
I started off by looking at his entry for 25th February 1973. The day was a Sunday which meant most of his references were about Philip Street Gospel Hall. He had given a word based on Psalm 84, a Psalm that had been on his mind a lot in recent days, followed by a message to the Sunday School about snow as even by early afternoon the snow still lay heavy on the street.
I thought I would look at the end of May 1973 to see what impression the letter from John Peel and his producer had made on the Pope family. I have to say it seems to have made no impact at all. I seem to remember my mum brought the John Peel letter to me while I was still in bed which means it must have been a Saturday. I reckoned that if the letter from BBC Radio One was sent on 23rd May I would have received it on Saturday 26th May 1973. I checked my dad’s diary. All I found was that it had been a warm day and my dad had used Uncle Haydn next door’s mower to cut the grass.
July 10th 1973, John Peel and Maldwyn Pope Egton House, London.
There was an entry for 10th July where dad mentions he dropped me and my brothers off at the station in the morning, had a quiet day in school (he was a headmaster) and then picked us up later that evening. It was quite a while before the diary started to talk about record company interest, visitors from London and finally signing a record contract on 3rd October 1973. It is quite strange that my dad goes from gardening, preaching and school work to an entry dated 20th October which says
‘A rush to Rocket Records at 5pm. A gay time with Elton John and the others. Paddington in Phantom Rolls. A pleasant journey home. A long chat with Nun from Newport Comp’.
As I read it now it sounds so matter of fact. One minute my dad is talking to Elton John about gardening the next he’s chatting to a nun on a train.
Which brings me back very sharply to 2023, 50 years later.
Notes my dad made after conversations with John Walters Radio One Producer (left) and Steve Brown Rocket Records (right). Notice mention of a new co. interested…Virgin!
Having this Golden Jubilee for my time in the music business brings with it memories but also unfulfilled dreams. In 1973 there was talk of touring the USA and Japan, hit records seemed to be the order of the day for anyone associated with Elton but as the time passed those Golden moments never came.
But the same desire and love that I had for music 50 years ago still burns brightly. As I prepare for my Golden Jubilee I am excited about the future as much as I celebrate the past. In many ways my new record and video sums up how I’m feeling, I want to be a butterfly.
Butterflies are interesting creatures. For much of their lives they exist as something totally different. They crawl around as caterpillars before building a protective wall around themselves and lying there encased in their cocoon. Now sometimes it only takes weeks to change to under the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly but occasionally it can take a lot longer depending on the environment around them.
For me it’s taken nearly 50 years!!!
Looking back the interesting thing is that as a kid in the business I assumed everyone knew best. For many years working with that world class calibre of person as my mentors that was probably true. But times changed and I had to move on. For far too long I have been encased in a cocoon and almost too afraid to break free, spread my wings and fly.
I’m probably not the only one. Maybe you are in that same place. The cocoon is nice and comfy. You know what it’s like to be a caterpillar and crawl around on leaves here and there. The prospect of breaking free growing wings possibly terrifies you. Well all I can say is welcome to the club. Change can be hard but if we want to live then we have to escape and break free.
That is the way I view my Golden Anniversary. It’s a time for reflection but its also a time to look ahead. I want to be a Butterfly and its time I grew some wings and took to the skies.