Sorry if this is a bit long, but it's something I've submitted, with photos, to the 3 Queens journal recently:
THE GREAT ZYYI CHRISTMAS CONCERT OF 1972
It wasn't a long road to this, my single moment of stardom, but it had its obstacles along the way. For a start, we weren't supposed to take any but military equipment with us on the plane to Cyprus in late 1972, where we were to do a six-month UN tour of duty. How could I get my guitar aboard? I solved that problem by thinking within the military mind-set. I painted the canvas guitar-case black, and stencilled on it "kits segovia diy" along with the old War Department arrow logo, and a series of meaningless numbers. Passing through security at the airport, I declared simply "Platoon guitar", and was waved through without question. We were on our way to Zyyi (pronounced 'ziggy'), a small town on the Cypriot coast, our UN base for the first stage of our tour.
My musical experience was the other obstacle to stardom. I'd only picked up the guitar a few months earlier. I had no flesh and blood tutor, just a how-to book on classical guitar method, which I did study for hours at a time in my barrack room, and even more so in Cyprus because when not on duty there was not a lot to do. I canít have been that bad at it, because I donít recall getting any complaints.
Yet somebody out there must have heard about me, because when Christmas approached, CSM Rigby, the person responsible for putting together the camp concert informed me that Iíd be taking part in it too. I wasnít asked if I wanted to, simply told told to attend rehearsals.
I canít remember being terrified at the thought of public performance. But then most others gathered before the makeshift stage in the canteen were no more experienced in the field of entertainment than I was. I was detailed to play a solo spot, and take part in a band called ďThe Zyyi Camp StompersĒ. In it besides me there was another guitar, strummed by a bloke called Tommo, Dave Eley played a bluesy harmonica, and Jim Laker played a tea-chest bass especially made for the show from a wooden box and a broom handle, and strung with D-10 telephone wire. I canít remember the name of the vocalist, only that we had to feed him at least two beers before heíd even consider getting on the stage.
We all soon discovered that same secret. Stage fright? No such thing, if you dosed up on the performing artistís friend: alcohol. Not too much, just enough.
Fortunately, on the night of the big show, most of the audience were in the same condition, if not more so. So, not much attention was paid to the lyrics of one song I'd written especially for the band, a straightforward blues belter called "The Provost Corporal Blues". This was perhaps a good thing. I seem to have been in my Bob Dylan, protest song phase, because it went like this about a soldier arrested for no reason at all:
Walking down the road, I got stopped by a full screw, (x2)
He said I'm the provost corporal, it's my job to take you.
He took me down the guardroom, they gave me twenty-eight days, (x2)
I lay down on that cell bunk, my head was spinning in a haze.
That provost came in my cell, this is what he said, (x2)
By the time I'm finished with you boy, you'll be wishing you was dead.
That this song got applause even from the senior ranks present might also be due to the fact that our beered-up vocalist, doing his best Muddy Waters impression, wasn't singing at all coherently. If he had been, I might have ended up in the guardroom myself.
I'm surprised we got away with my other act too, a skit I'd worked up with another bloke which was titled for some reason in the printed programme, "Wrangler". I sat on centre stage playing a solo piece for classical guitar, something from the Romantic period by Fernando Sor. The other bloke, pretending to be gay, minced around the stage, and the music seemed to be making him more and more attracted to me. I angrily ignored his advances for some time. Then, before the piece was over, I stopped abruptly, stood up, told him "F*** off!" and stalked off the stage. Maybe you had to be there, but this skit got a lot of laughs.
Thus ended my performing career. It could have been otherwise, because after the show a warrant officer in the audience - it might have been the CSM or perhaps even the bandmaster - approached me and told me that if I would sign on again (I was within a couple of months of demob), he could get me into the regimental band. Of course, bandsmen had to learn a marching band instrument, but they were encouraged to learn others of their choice too. Indeed they even ran some kind of rock band which played at mess functions.
But I had other plans, and was writing already to a girl in Canada I was keen on meeting, so I declined. Instead, along with the rest of the concert party, I retired to the M.I. room for a party hosted by the orderly, Cpl Ken Caffel, and - like most of the others - ended my career in entertainment then and there in a sea of beer and the local Keo wine. I think the Canadian girl at least was pleased with that decision; we've been married now for over forty years.
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