The writing group topic this time was ‘cuckoo’ – a very seasonal choice, but tricky to be original… here is a mostly true story:


I was thinking of not very much as the headmaster droned on… It was warm in the hall as assembly wasted more precious moments of my life… didn’t I, didn’t we all, all the boys and masters have so much better things to do? I played music in my head to get through… Man of Mystery… the Shadows… better without the so-called heart throb Cliff… Tony Meehan… crikey… what a drummer… I would have patted out the rhythm on my legs except I was pressed hard between the others…
I was suddenly aware of a persistent whisper…
“Hey, hey Stanhope! Stanhope… hey!” I tried to see who was hissing at me, being the tallest not just in the year any more but in the upper school I could survey the rows of Brylcremed hair and bored faces. I looked over my other shoulder and saw Terrance, a boy I didn’t know, looking at me urgently. He whispered something which I didn’t catch, but the boys next to him seemed interested.
“What?” I whispered back and just as he was answering there was a bellow from the stage.
“Stanhope! See me after assembly, my room!”
Blast and damn, that would mean a lecture and probably lines, not detention, please not detention! I wanted to get into town to Hall’s record shop…
What did blasted Terrance want? I thought he’d whispered something about a group…

I hung around in the playground… I’d escaped detention and lines but had to tolerate the deputy head rabbiting on about silence in assembly, setting standards, discipline, the usual old tripe. Now I was waiting for Terrance.
He came out at a trot… he was the boy in a rugby school who dribbled a tennis ball round the playground playing solitary football. His hair slicked back, unmoving whatever he or the wind did, sculpted into something vaguely resembling Elvis’s style. His family were the local auctioneer’s – Terrance’s, not Elvis of course! – he had a brother… that was all I knew about him, football, Brylcreme, brother and auction house…
“Wotcha!” he greeted me with a smooth smile as if we knew each other. “Someone said you’re a drummer?”
I was hooked… I’d been described as someone who played the drums, as Harold’s boy who accompanied his dad in the pubs of the area, Harold on the piano, his boy on a high hat, snare and bass… but a drummer, you’re a drummer!

I’d gone along to Terrance’s house that evening… why his group needed a drummer was evident when I saw the split head of the former drummer’s snare… left too near the electric fire, the calf-skin had exploded in the night nearly giving Terrance heart failure. So in need of a new drummer, I’d been hissed at in assembly.
We were the Four Tones, David Terrance, me, Vic the butcher’s apprentice – on a good day in the shop he came to rehearsal’s stinking like an abattoir, and his mate Martin. Vic was bow legged, Martin knock-kneed, walking behind them, in their drainpipe trousers they spelt OX. Vic looked good, the girls loved him, but he couldn’t sing, and the end came for Martin when his guitar, strung with strings for a bass exploded on stage, the tension too much for the poor old thing…
Somehow we acquired Julian, a steady, committed and, more to the point, punctual bass player, and Pete who could have been quite good, if it hadn’t been for his girlfriend resenting the rehearsals… The Four Tones became the Easthopers – a name rapidly abandoned when a rival group called us the No-Hopers. It wasn’t until Terrance hooked a big fish in our parochial music pond… the legendary Gary Cook that we turned from a bunch of fourth years playing for church youth clubs, to a Group, with a capital G. We began to get gigs at working men’s clubs, in pubs, available, as someone said, for weddings, funerals and bar-mitzvahs!
Gary was slim lad with a powerful personality, just what we needed. He had a fearsome reputation with the ladies, not just girls our age, but women of eighteen and even nineteen! He was remarkable in many ways, perhaps the most obvious was that he was able to style his hair with Brylcreme so from the front he appeared not to be wearing his school-cap. His luxuriant locks (as he called them) were sculpted round the navy and pale blue cap, holding it firmly in place without hair clips (as was rumoured by enemies)
He also had not just a voice, but the voice we needed, Elvis, Cliff, Bobbies D., V, and G, Genes V., P., and A… you name it Gary nailed it! He was a powerful personality, but so was David Terrance, in a quieter but maybe more determined way… Dave however, knew which battles to fight so when it came to the name of the band he gave way gracefully.
We had been the Four Inches (each or between you?) the Earwigs, the Fivetones, and then the Cooks. We lasted a while as The Cooks, until once again rivals kept changing the posters advertising our gigs to The Cocks… We tried The Cookies, but the American influence was waning, and so almost effortlessly, and almost presciently, abandoning the The, we became Cuckoo…

Lois Elsden 2019


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