Stonefield Tramp - The Legacy

Introduction

I think I can safely say that my first steps in becoming a song writer began in late 1967 as I began to write my lyrics.  But, back in those days, I was no musician, so, in reality, I was only half way there!  The next few months were taken up, first of all, by myself taking part in the 1968 British and British Commonwealth Winter Games in south Germany. In which I was a member of my regiment’s Langlauf cross country skiing team. This was immediately followed by a Commando Course with the Royal Marines. The fitness that I attained through my skiing activities did wonders for my impending arduous Commando Course, which I successfully passed. This was immediately followed by a 2 year posting out to Malaya/Singapore with 3 Commando Brigade.  I am quite convinced, in my own mind, that all of those exercises, in the Malayan Jungle, gave me valuable insight into the Vietnam War and thus kicked off some very hard lyrics that were firmly against that conflict.
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As my writing soon began to fill two folders I cast my mind back, to an image in 1965, of two of my best friends in Alamein Platoon, Rob Van Spyk and Dave Maughn, of, and like myself, members of The All Arms Junior Leaders Regiment, writing a song together.  Rob was the one with the guitar.  Although never having served together since those Junior Leader days, we had kept in close touch by letter.  I sent some of my lyrics to him and asked him to join me in writing some contemporary Folk songs, my words, his music.  He agreed to my proposal and we elected to get together after we had left the Army, which we had both been planning to do for some time.  It was this ambition which brought me to Letchworth, in Hertfordshire, where Rob had been living since leaving the Army.
Rob on holiday in Devon 1966
Terry on holiday Devon 1966
Rob on holiday in Devon 1966
We got together and he played me the songs that he had worked on.  There were 5 of them, some he strummed, and some he finger picked.  All of them sounded perfect to my ears!  And thus, in October 1970 was born the Friend/Van Spyk song writing partnership.  In April 1971 we recorded an album’s worth of our first ten songs, and pressed 4 Acetates.  One for each of the four people who played a part in the enterprise.  Rob, Myself, Marion, Rob’s girl friend who narrated one of his poems, and a young cousin who played a recorder.  We spent a fruitless three years hawking our songs around record companies, and going nowhere!  This was very frustrating and Rob came up with the idea of recording a Limited edition album of our latest songs and selling them ourselves.
By now I had returned, and was once more, living in Tewkesbury.  I worked in a Plastic factory where I befriended a lovely 12 string Acoustic guitar playing fellow called Brian Balster.  With our joint interest in contemporary Folk songs we hit it off big time, and knowing what Rob had got planned I roped Brian into the mix, and he proved to be a very enthusiastic member of our little gang.  I lived in a lovely little cottage, about 5 miles outside Tewkesbury, in a very small Hamlet, deep in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside.  And it was in my cottage that Rob and Brian rehearsed the songs for our first Commercial album, which already had a title.  ‘Follow the Sun’ by Rob Van Spyk and Friends’.  By now I had bought my first guitar and had been steadily learning the rudiments of chord strumming.  So much so that I had written my first solo song ‘Come the Day’ and it was also earmarked for this album.  We hired the Acorn studio in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire and recorded the whole album in four hours with ‘straight takes’ on Easter Saturday 1974.  And at £4 an hour the bill only came to £16.  The albums were pressed, through Acorn and were released on their label.  In the first week we managed to sell 80 copies, at £2 a time.  And as the full production cost came to £600 we should have been selling them for £3 a time.  But the cost of an album, in the shops, was then only £2 so we lowered our price to match the shop one.
Rob-Watchfield 1

Much enthused by the way the project was going I suggested we go and record another album, for we still had about 20 songs to choose from.  Rob wasn’t so sure of this but went back to Letchworth and advertised for a band.  Eventually he settled on Dave Lloyd, electric guitar, and Chris Sutoris, bass guitar.  Both of them 10 years younger than we were!  But the thing seemed to work, and it was only in the car, on the way back from the studio session, in September 1974, to record their first album that the bands name was established.  Someone suggested, and I think it was Chris, Stonesfield Tramp.  But I didn’t like the sound of the s in the name, so I altered it to Stonefield Tramp.  Very soon, after this, Rob had the idea to form our own label as well, and that is how Tramp records was established.  The three of them were never going to up sticks and move to Tewkesbury.  So, I upped sticks and moved to Letchworth to assist with the management and running of the band.  And from March 1975 the gigs commenced.  Their album was called ‘Dreaming Again’ by Stonefield Tramp.

History continued...

It would, naturally, have been much better if the band had found a ‘real’ manager, possibly connected to the Music Business.  But I guess such people don’t ‘grow on trees.’  So, it fell to me to muddle my way through, which I did do.  It was fairly simple to get paid gigs in the local pubs, but I also was the only one with the nerve to approach the record companies with our two albums.  The upshot being that I was thrown out of every record company in London.  It soon became fairly obvious that they were simply not interested in our particular brand of Contemporary Folk Songs.  The band soldiered on, in various local pubs, and the odd College gig, and after a fairly short time, I had recovered the money that I had invested in them with their stage equipment.  Having some experience now, of the local bands, I soon discovered the phenomenon known as ‘Local band syndrome’.  Briefly explained, it means that as soon as one of the original band members left, for whatever reason, the whole thing just simply fell apart.  My fingers were well and truly crossed for Stonefield Tramp, hoping that they would not succumb to this malaise.  Sadly they did!  After only a few months of useful Gigging, Dave Lloyd left the band to join a Teacher Training College.  He was replaced, but then Rob found himself an American girl friend, and I knew exactly where this was going to lead!  And I was right.  For as long as I had known him, he had always had this fantasy of going to America, but under his own steam it would never have been possible.  They had enough unskilled people over there of their own, so why would they want to import another one from England!  Naturally he couldn’t wait to marry his American lady and, very soon, followed on the heels of Dave Lloyd, leaving his band and emigrating to the States.  This is what caused the demise of this band which, incidentally, I had left months before, as I could see the writing on the wall.  And besides Rob and I had stopped writing any new songs ages ago, and I could see no sense in sticking around in a situation that was no longer furthering my interests, or ambitions.  I left to pursue my own path to become a solo song writer and eventually set my own band up.
– Terry Friend

Tramp Records and Beyond...

It had always been Rob’s ambition, from the very first day that he set his label up, to expand and record other bands, as well as ourselves.  The first experiment was a local band called Change, who were all very good musicians, in their own way, and very likeable people.  But they were what could only be described as a prog rock band, possibly influenced by the likes of Genesis etc, and my problem with them was that they had no commercial appeal at all!  To cut a long story short the whole thing proved to be a complete disaster!  And a very expensive one at that!  £600 to be precise, on recording costs of a band that fell apart as soon as they had recorded their album at Acorn Records.  To say that I was disgusted would be a very serious understatement of my feelings at that particular moment!  I would far rather have spent that money on ourselves.
 
Come The Day 
I first began ‘messing about’ with a guitar sometime in 1972.  But found the going extremely difficult and the first instrument I tried was a very cheap one, which didn’t exactly help matters either!  Eventually Brian helped me to purchase a semi reliable instrument and I began to slowly pick up the rudiments of chord bashing.  Despite the fact I was tone deaf and for the very life of me, could not tune the instrument by ear, I soon mastered about 6 rather simple chords.  But it took me quite a long time before I managed to master the ability to hold down the F chord.  And, very much to my surprise, I found it very easy to write my own little tunes.  And over the next four years managed to write enough songs to record my first solo album.
 
Since the move to Letchworth, in March 1975, and getting to know the three main local bands in the town.  I eventually reached a point where I wanted to start work on my songs.  I deliberately chose to leave Stonefield Tramp completely out of the equation, as I had no intention of letting my recording debut sound anything like the past!  From the other two local bands, Change and Quinquereme, I recruited the following people to join me in my quest.  Tony Panico, electric guitar, Keith Farr, drums, and Martin Wood, acoustic guitar and bass guitar.  We were also joined by Maggie Spong on Keyboards, who wasn’t a member of any band.  Having got my little gang together, we practised the songs in my flat, above one of the shops in Leys Avenue in Letchworth.  This went on throughout the Summer months of 1977, and a very pleasant time was had by all.  
 
Once I was satisfied that we were all at our best, I hired the same studio that I had recorded the Bleach Boys in.  This was Piper Sound Studios in Luton.  There were no straight takes this time.  No capturing of performances, and we used the full facilities of the 16-track studio which meant mixing the songs together at the end of the recording.  Naturally this took a few sessions to complete and made for quite an expensive recording cost bill.  But that’s progress for you, and I didn’t regret the experience one little bit.  There was no intention to form a band afterwards and I was very pleased with our finished album, and it didn’t sound a bit like the previous three albums that I had collaborated on with Rob.  As always, without a band to promote it, it was hard to sell, but so had the previous two albums, and they had a band to promote them!  So, I wasn’t surprised at all by the outcome.
 
Fifty years later and my album would have a reputation in the internet similar to Stonefield Tramp’s album ‘Dreaming Again’ but whereas their album attracted a sale price of over £1000, mine would pick up a price of about £350.  Although I was once informed by an American, that had a rare Vinyl Album website, that he had sold one of my albums for £600!  And that was about 30 years ago!  Naturally I never saw one penny of this!  And that sum he quoted always amused me, because £600 was the entire cost of the project in the first place!
 
Meanwhile, I was steadily plodding away at creating my own band and the first step was to link up with a work mate called Colin Johnson, who played both acoustic and electric guitar.  Like myself, he was also an admirer of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, and we got on very well as friends.  I thought that this was a good start.  
 
By now Rob was in the U.S.A. and one day I bumped into Chris Sutoris, the former bass player in Stonefield Tramp, in Hitchin.  He informed me that he was in a punk band called the Fur Coughs.  Say it quickly and it sounds very much like the most uttered Anglo Saxon expletive of all time!  Noting Rob’s failed ambition with Change I resolved to show him how to do things properly.  I was well aware of the popularity of Punk Music, The Sex Pistols, The Damned etc, and decided that I too would hop on the current musical bandwagon.
 
I found a local studio and recorded their single ‘Chloroform’ and ‘You’ve got nothing’ which, incidentally, was a song written by Chris!  The single went out on the Tramp label and ended up being distributed by Rough Trade.  500 copies were pressed and Rough Trade took the lot.  I was over the Moon!  The whole thing was a complete success and we even made a profit of £60.  £30 went to the band, and £30 came to me.  You need to know that, by the time of the recording, they had changed their name to ‘The Bleach Boys’.  My next aim was to produce an album on the success of the single.  But…..you’ve guessed it!  Local band syndrome reared its ugly head and the band was no more!  Just my rotten luck when things looked so promising.  Nevertheless, it was with some pleasure that I mailed a copy of the Bleach Boys single to Rob, with a broad hint of ‘this is how it’s done Rob’.  

The Paw Records Era...

The Bleach Boys single was recorded, and released, in 1978 and to get over the disappointment of being unable to capitalise on that early success, I decided to find another promising band.  Surely lightning couldn’t hit the same place twice!  Or could it?  Read on and find out!  
 
As always there were local bands a plenty, and this time I threw caution to the wind and settled on a band whose style of music I actually liked.  Eventually settling on one called ‘The Bees’.  I also decided that it was high time I stopped hanging onto Rob’s shirt tails and formed my own label.  Thus Paw Records was formed.  The logo being a cat scrabbling away in a dustbin.  There were only 2 releases on this label.  My second solo album called ‘Lazy River’, which was a limited edition of cassettes, as I could no longer afford the cost of vinyl albums anymore!  And the other release was the Bees single ‘Leave Willie alone’ and ‘Mr Gaynor’.  This band consisted of musicians that were a notch, or two, above the Bleach Boys and I approached Rough Trade with their single.  I was very surprised when they turned it down flat!  This whole enterprise proved to be a very, very expensive flop!  We, that is the band and I, hardly shifted any copies, and our old friend local band syndrome reared its ugly head, yet again!  Was there something in the ruddy water in Hertfordshire!  I lost £800 over this.  The only positive thing to come out of this was that I was now firmly resolved never, ever again to put my hard-earned money into any one other than myself!
 
Over the next 40 years I would stick rigidly to this doctrine and released some 17, or so, albums of my own.  Mostly in CD format, but, over the years as my financial situation improved, went back to producing limited edition Vinyl albums again.  Oddly enough, the best-selling album of the lot was the very first one that Rob and I recorded in 1971.  Known then as ‘The Acetate’ it was rereleased, as a Vinyl album, in 2017 with the same title, and by ‘Van Spyk and Friend’.   Talk about things coming full circle!
 
 

The Birth of New Morning

I cannot think of anything worse than starting up a band, from scratch, with total strangers.  To my way of thinking, it always works best if you all know each other, and have been friends for a long while.  As it had been with Rob, Brian and myself.  I put an advert in a local paper and awaited results.  The first time I tried this was before I linked up with Colin, and it all was a total disaster, and I most certainly do not wish to go into details, far too many painful and inappropriate memories!  Eventually Colin and I advertised again to expand our line up and ended up with a rather nice bass player and we went out gigging as a three piece.  We all got along very well and, even more important, as Colin and I couldn’t drive, he became our wheels, as well as our bass player.  We had about 10 paid gigs under our belt but our bass player became disenchanted by the small income we were receiving, and when an opportunity to join a showband popped up, he was off like a rocket!
 
So, it was back to another advert again and this time we ended up with two Nicks.  Nick Bliss on Bass, and Nick Groves on Drums, and they came to us from a former local punk band that had fallen for the usual local band syndrome disease!  But their loss was our gain.  We all got on very well together and all enjoyed the experience.  I think we lasted about a year, perhaps even a little bit longer.  Then our bass player left to go to full time University.  There’s no need to explain what happened next, is there?  I’m sure that you’ve all picked up the threads by now.  It was the end of New Morning as a band, and sadly, even the end of Colin and myself as a duo.  But the band did go out on a high, for our finale gig was at the lovely Red Hart pub in Hitchin.  The place was packed to the walls and the ceiling.  I honestly believe that it was the best gig we ever played, but it was also a bitter sweet moment, knowing it was the last one too.  But that’s life, these things happen.  But it did leave me with the feeling…..why me?  Why now?  When it had all began to run along so smoothly.  Thus began my long fall into musical wilderness.  But I did keep myself from going insane by continuing to write, and record some of my songs, even though I didn’t feel all that comfortable with the studios and the people concerned.
 
Then I discovered the FFG Studio, just outside Tewkesbury, when I was back working on something with my old friend Brian.  And everything changed for the better! 

FFG Studios

It was sometime in April/May of 2001 and I had just returned from my very first trip to the United States of America. In my suitcase was a CD copy of a song that fellow Stonefield Tramper Rob and I had just written, and recorded, in a little studio in San Antonio, Texas. At the time I was making plans to release a series of CD’s that would be called ‘The Anthology’ which would feature the back catalogue of both my solo albums and the ones that I had written with Rob. I wanted this song to round off the first album, and I also had the idea to include Brian, our dear friend and fellow S.T. man from Tewkesbury, to add something to it.

But, having previously subjected Brian to an earlier, now defunct, recording project and not wishing to put him through all that nonsense again! I decided that it would be better to find a studio close to Tewkesbury. So, I trotted off to the local library in Letchworth to look up the yellow pages for the Tewkesbury area. I found three studios in all, one in Bredon, one in Malvern, and one in Cheltenham. This was during my pre-internet days, and so the contact was made by the old fashioned snail mail. Only one of them bothered to respond, and, quite naturally, that was the one that got the job. It was the FFG studio, and it is situated in the little village of Bredon, which is but a stones throw away from Tewkesbury. In fact, David Pickering Pick, replied to my enquiry via the telephone, over which I outlined my needs and a 4 hour session was booked for a Saturday morning.

I do distinctly recall David’s raised eye brows, as I informed him that I had no files for this song. Just a CD version that he would have to copy into his computer as one track and after recording Brian’s Vocal and Guitar tracks, he would have to mix and master the finished song with just the three tracks involved. Whatever Rob and I had done in the first place could not have been altered at all. The recording went without a hitch and I left fully satisfied with what I had heard and seen. I immediately warmed to David, and his lovely studio, which is set in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside, almost alongside Bredon Hill. Unlike most studios, which tend to be rather gloomy and claustrophobic, this one was airy and bright, and I felt most at home here. I turned to Brian and stated ‘I’m going to record my next album here!’ ‘Why’ was his reply. ‘You’ve got it all set up in Letchworth.’ It’s true, I had, and the current studio that I was using were working on my second album with them. But they were very expensive and I had the distinct feeling that I just wasn’t getting my moneys worth of expertise that I was looking for. This was very unsatisfactory and I was eager to change the situation.

Change it I did, before I left I had made arrangements to return and record a whole album with David. His attitude, personality and very friendly, and helpful, manner were just what I was looking for. And, being a multi instrumentalist, he would support the recordings or bring in other musicians, as and when required. I left a very happy man, with an interesting, and more rewarding, song writing future to contemplate. I contacted Rob, with a progress report, and to my surprise he elected to join me and record some songs of his own.

That Summer, we hired the studio for a week’s block booking, to get the ball rolling on our individual projects. I had the studio for the first two days, and laid down the keeper vocal and guitar tracks for ten songs. Rob had it for two days where he laid down the bedrock for 6 songs and, on the final day a drummer was brought in to lay down drums on all sixteen songs. Over the next 6 months, or so, David worked on the songs that I had laid down, including bringing in the well known Phil Beer to put fiddle down onto two of them. To have an artist of his stature on one of my albums was a bonus that gave me much pride, and pleasure.

Sufficient to say the album, and all of the work behind it met all of my expectations. So much so that I was of the candid opinion that in David, I, like the Beatles before me, had found my very own George Martin, whose input and guidance would improve my creative contemporary song writing in great leaps and bounds. Blessed indeed was the day that I stumbled over this man, and this studio. The very first album we recorded was ‘Natural Noise’ and many more would follow. I would never record anywhere else! And, if there are any would be Lennon and McCartney’s out there reading these words. Bring your work to the FFG studio, you will not regret it!

Rob van Spyk

My very early years were spent in Letchworth where I attended the fairly controversial St Christopher’s School. 

Upon the divorce of my parents I moved, with my Mother and two sisters, to an idyllic thatched country cottage, Church Cottage, in the village of Cheriton Bishop, in the county of Devon, about 15 miles out of Exeter on the Okehampton road. 

At the age of 15 I left school and joined the Army and was posted to The All Arms Junior Leaders Regiment at Tonfanau in North Wales.  After basic training I was sent to Alamein Platoon, C Company for the remaining 2 years of my training.  About a year later I met up, and befriended, a new recruit called Terry Friend.  Little did either of us know, at the time, where our bonding and friendship would lead us in the far distant future.

 

After months of trying to hawk our songs to the music industry, and failing to elicit any interest in our work, I concluded that the only possible way forward was for us was to record, release, and sell our albums independently of the system.  These days this sort of thing means almost nothing, as everyone seems to be doing it!  But back then this activity was considered almost a revolutionary concept!  Terry, and his wife, lived in a small cottage, deep in the countryside and it was the most perfect place imagine-able to rehearse our songs.  We were joined by one of Terry’s friends, from his workplace.  Brian Balster, whose input to our little project would prove to be invaluable! Our first project was an Acoustic album titled ‘Follow The Sun’ by ‘Van Spyk and Friends’.  Brian and I doing most of the work, with Terry joining us at the end of the session to lay down his first solo written song ‘Come The Day’.  Another friend of ours, Charles Osmond produced the artwork for the album cover, free of charge.  Thank you Charles!  We pressed 200 copies of this album, which went out on the studios Acorn label.  The first 100 copies were sold fairly quickly, but after that things slowed down considerably.  But this was truly a big step forward in our songwriting ambitions!

 

After the fairly successful sales of our first album, and the fact that we had more than enough songs to release a second one, I was a little reluctant to do so.  But Terry was most persuasive and we started to plan which songs to put forward for the project.  I seem to recall Terry being keen to just use the same line up as for our debut commercial album.  But I was dead against that idea and set out to enrich the sound, and flavour, of the project by forming a band, so I went ahead and organised auditions in Letchworth.  Eventually I settled on two 17 year old’s.  Chris Suttoris, who played bass guitar, and Dave Lloyd, acoustic and electric guitar.  Terry and I were in our early thirties and must have looked like middle aged men to these two ‘kids’ that I had chosen to work with.  Naturally Brian was still in the frame for this latest project.  And, so, rehearsals commenced again, both here in Letchworth, and back again in Terry’s cottage, so that Brian could get familiar with the new songs.  Although this time, I seem to recall, that we didn’t spend as much time on these songs as we did for the first album.  Once again we booked Acorn studio, initially for four hours, but the session, in fact, went on to be for eight hours.  And I think we were all pretty much exhausted by the end of it all!  It’s a great shame that we didn’t have a drummer, and with hindsight we could have got the studio to have hired one on our behalf.  And we had ended up with a semi-acoustic album this time with a completely different sound, and texture, as the first one.  I considered this to be a worthwhile positive leap in our creative endeavours. There was never any intention for the three of us, in the band, to leave Letchworth and move to Tewkesbury.  And as Terry’s marraige had just fallen apart, through the usual third party influence, his wife being the two-timer, it was very easy for him to ‘up sticks’ and move to Letchworth to organise the band. He eventually arrived in the February of 1975 and began organising gigs for us, and doing the rounds of the record companies.  Where, once again, the usual indifference to our song writing, was the order of the day!  Frustrating, and depressing, to say the very least!

Dave Lloyd

Rob has told me that in 1974, at the age of 17, I attended an audition to join the band which was to become Stonefield Tramp. One of my contemporaries was, I am informed, no less a being than Terry Taylor who went on to become Bill Wyman’s guitar player. I was of course delighted to have seen off such lofty competition until Rob pointed out that he didn’t give Terry the job because he was so good that he would have made the rest of us look rubbish. So, there you have it – I joined the band because I was rubbish enough.

Although I have no memory of any of these events I was genuinely delighted to join and to go on to play, record and perform Rob and Terry’s music. Having spent some months rehearsing in Rob’s Dad’s factory in Letchworth, we all went down to Gloucestershire to record ‘Dreaming Again’. This was when I first met Brian and again became acutely aware of my limitations as a player. Following the recording it became apparent that we would need to go out and perform in order to sell some albums. I also became aware that as Brian lived in Tewkesbury and the rest of us were based in Letchworth, it was extremely unlikely that Brian would be joining us in this endeavour, leaving me to play the parts he played on the album. This was one of the most daunting tasks I’d faced – Brian is an excellent guitar player and I am not. In learning Brian’s parts I did however improve a great deal.

Handing over to Pete Kiely, I left the band in 1975 to train as a teacher and, for the most part, left music alone. It wasn’t really until I contacted Terry in 2017, a mere 42 years later, that my enthusiasm for music was reignited by Terry’s invitation for me to write some music to his lyrics. This I have thoroughly enjoyed doing and we have almost completed our second album of songs. As a direct result of these projects, I was inspired to record my own album (‘Five Into One’ – available on iTunes, Spotify etc.) which was released in 2019. I am now in the process of following this up with a second album which I hope to get finished this year.

Having retired after 35 years of teaching, 20 of them as a Headteacher, I am happily married and settled in Leicestershire and very much enjoying not having to go to work anymore.

Brian Balster

brian-balster

Background

I was born on the 5th April 1951 and grew up in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. I attended local schools and from an early age showed a natural aptitude for music.

During my adolescence this talent was recognised and was encouraged and developed by inspirational music teachers. My vocal talent was particularly acknowledged and I was put to good use as the choir leader, in performances of various operatic productions in schools and in musical productions at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.

Practical Experience

I have been and indeed still am, involved in performing as a member of folk/rock bands both county and nationwide, since discovering my particular love for the instrument guitar. I currently perform regularly as part of a well known local duo. I have entertained audiences at the Abby Mill, Tewkesbury and at Sudbury Castle, Winchcombe playing medieval style music.

I am adept at playing acoustic and electric guitars, both six and twelve strings, and have played the mandolin and banjo. To accompany myself whilst playing, I have also acquired the skill of harmonica- though this has been self taught.

I have supported folk/rock bands as a session musician in recording studios and know that there is a feeling of achievement when recording CD’s tapes or records because as well as plying your own part the music has to come together and be identified as a product of the band. To that end certain flexibility in an artist is required.

Having recently returned from playing two functions in Germany, one of which was held at the British Consulate in Hamburg, I have decided that the time has come for me to pass on a little of my musical experience for the benefit of others.

Background

I was born on the 5th April 1951 and grew up in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. I attended local schools and from an early age showed a natural aptitude for music.

During my adolescence this talent was recognised and was encouraged and developed by inspirational music teachers. My vocal talent was particularly acknowledged and I was put to good use as the choir leader, in performances of various operatic productions in schools and in musical productions at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.

Practical Experience

I have been and indeed still am, involved in performing as a member of folk/rock bands both county and nationwide, since discovering my particular love for the instrument guitar. I currently perform regularly as part of a well known local duo. I have entertained audiences at the Abby Mill, Tewkesbury and at Sudbury Castle, Winchcombe playing medieval style music.

I am adept at playing acoustic and electric guitars, both six and twelve strings, and have played the mandolin and banjo. To accompany myself whilst playing, I have also acquired the skill of harmonica- though this has been self taught.

I have supported folk/rock bands as a session musician in recording studios and know that there is a feeling of achievement when recording CD’s tapes or records because as well as plying your own part the music has to come together and be identified as a product of the band. To that end certain flexibility in an artist is required.

Having recently returned from playing two functions in Germany, one of which was held at the British Consulate in Hamburg, I have decided that the time has come for me to pass on a little of my musical experience for the benefit of others.

Alexander Petchey (Jock) R.I.P.

Alexander Petchey was, like myself, an ex Junior Leader, but from a completely different Regiment to the one that I served in.  But we both met up, and befriended each other, in the Autumn of 1965, as we joined 74 (Battle Axe Company) Heavy Battery Royal Artillery.  This was part of 32 Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery and was stationed at Hildesheim in Western Germany.  The guns were 5.5 Howitzers, relics from World War 2.  But these were replaced by modern American equipment some 6 months later.  175 mm self propelled guns, which had a huge barrel and were mounted on tracked Tank chassis.  Our friendship was a solid one and we were both very much on the same wave length regarding our thoughts on the Army life and the World in general.  In fact, we had a mantra which we would blurt out, rather loudly at odd times and in odd places.  One of us would declare ‘The World is full of shit’ then we both would yell out in unison ‘Shit to the World’! Naturally this was never done whilst on parade.  About 2 years after we had first met, I went off on my Commando course, but we kept in touch during the next couple of years and both left the Army at about the same time.  There being no work where Alexander lived in Scotland, he eventually joined me in Tewkesbury where I was able to help him get a job in a factory.  A couple of years later, as the Stonefield Tramp saga took off I moved to Letchworth.  For a number of years, we both kept in touch by letter, for Alex had made a life for himself in Cheltenham and chose to remain there.  Sometime in 1985 we both happened to move addresses but I never heard from him again.  This puzzled me for years until, one day, my former band mate Colin contacted me and informed me that he had joined a website to trace some of his ancestors.  He’d got all the information that he was seeking but had spare time on the site and asked me if I wanted to find anybody.  I immediately thought of Alexander and sent him all the information that I had regarding age and last known whereabouts.  Imagine my shock when Colin got back to me and informed me that Alexander was dead and that he had died at the age of 34 by committing suicide in a wood outside Cheltenham by hanging himself.  During all of the years that I had known him, I had never seen him depressed, or even considered him the suicidal type!  Nor, in any of his letters was there any hint of unhappiness in his life.  I shall never know what made him take such a drastic decision to end his own life in such a way.  For he never ever confided in such thoughts, or feelings, to me!  I’ve never forgotten how his actions in slinging that poem of his, on to my chest, as I rested on my bed, kick started my urge to write as well.  His poem was entitled ‘The Ballad of Johnny T’.  I recently changed the title to ‘The Veterans Lament’ and wrote a tune for it, and the song will appear on the next ‘Balster, Friend, and Lloyd’ album in memory of a very good friend.

We tried to brighten the boring British soldier's off duty dress with a bit of Carnaby Street - but nobody was inclined to follow us.
5.5" Howitzer
175mm self-propelled