Episode 2. 118 Wansdworth High Street, SW18 4JP
The Palazzo style four-story building at the above address now sits in a row of others crowded into almost invisibility by the commerce and business that surrounds it but it was originally a stand-alone building, dating from somewhere in the early to mid-nineteenth century and for the years 1982 – 1986, it was my home along with a music business veteran, a NWOBHM band, a stripper and a man who appeared to do nothing.
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118 Wandsworth High Street in 1983. From the outside it looks derelict but inside was something quite unique.
Wandsworth at that time was a surprisingly musical place to live. Ewarts Television Studio was a couple of hundred metres away from 118, tucked around the corner from The Kings Arms pub and the stars of the day could often be seen in there during a break in filming. Rick Wakeman and Tony Ashton took all their guests there when making Gastank to get them in the mood and pretty much any video shoot or studio performance credited to Ewarts was fuelled by the ale from The Kings Arms. At the other end of the High Street which was easily walked in five minutes, just next to the Monster Music instrument shop at No. 134 stood the Rose and Crown (now L’Affaire, a French restaurant) which was a classic old pub on the ground floor whilst upstairs housed three rehearsal rooms and a photographic studio, the former being used by Micky Underwood after he left Gillan to give drum lessons as well as many of the upcoming bands of the day and several local Sunday garage bands who obviously didn't own a garage. The photographic studio was rented by Kerrang! photographers Tony Mottram and Ray Palmer and it was here that many of the studio shots for the magazine were taken. During ’84 and ’85, the place often reeked of hairspray as the US Hair Metal bands posed to get their big break in the UK and a look through the Kerrang! year books from those years brings back strong memories of being introduced to both Bon Jovi and Poison before they hit the big time. More frequently though, it would be the British bands that used the studio and it was when they were there that 118 became one of the music hubs of South West London.
John Turner was the music business veteran who lived at 118. As a teenager, he saw Bill Haley & his Comets play at the Kilburn Theatre in London in 1957 and like thousands of others at that time, formed a band, practised hard and got nowhere. In 1961, he and his sister recorded a demo with the legendary Joe Meek producing and John sent the demo to Norman Paramor at Columbia Records. Paramor was the producer of Cliff Richard & the Shadows earlier recordings and he liked what he heard and signed the band having just turned down a four piece band from Liverpool. (Paramor rejected The Beatles for Columbia at the same time that Dick Rowe turned them down for Decca.) Jill & the Boulevards recorded their first single in Studio 2 at Abbey Rd which was engineered by Norman Smith and had promotional photos taken by Dezo Hoffman. It was released in April 1962 and was Radio Luxemburg’s ‘Record of the Week’, but despite all this, failed to chart and the band were dropped by Columbia. From there, John played sessions and produced until he married, settled down and had children. He and his wife eventually separated which is when he opened the music store and rehearsal rooms in Wandsworth High Street.
Rock Goddess with manager John Turner and producer Vic Maile taken in 1983 at Jackson’s Studios in Rickmansworth which is sadly now demolished. Vic came to 118 a few times to preview the songs for their debut album.
John managed Rock Goddess and his daughters, Jody and Julie were respectively the guitarist/singer and drummer; The bass player was one of Jody’s school friends, Tracey Lamb who of course is now in Girlschool. She lived in Putney about twenty minutes walk away and was a frequent visitor to the house as the 4th floor as Rock Goddess had their own private rehearsal room. Later, when Tracey left the band and Dee O’Malley joined, Dee moved in with us completing the entire band/manager/rehearsal room/roadie living under one roof, meaning they could rehearse at the drop of a hat, whenever inspiration struck or Jody wrote a new song. This was a good thing for me because if the band were not doing gigs, I could set the gear up and spend my time doing anything I wanted rather than having to travel to a studio every day. The down side of it was that my bedroom was also on the 4th floor next to the rehearsal room and that inspiration I mentioned earlier would sometimes be at 2am. It’s a nasty jolt being woken from a deep sleep by a Heavy Metal band but I had no right to complain as one of the house rules was ‘Anyone can play anything, at any time, as loud as they like.’ This may have been a problem for some residential areas but flanking 118 was a ground floor café that opened at 6am and closed at 4pm, the proprietor of which lived elsewhere and an undertakers on the other side, the residents of which couldn’t complain even if they wanted to. Completing our family were John’s business partner Doug and his stripper girlfriend, both of whom pretty much kept themselves to themselves but were equally adept at making noise at ungodly hours. This didn’t affect me as they were two floors down but morning conversations between Jody and Julie who both lived on the 3rd floor and John who lived on the 1st were on occasion heard to start with ‘What the hell was Doug doing at 3:30am last night?’ We never found out. Whatever it was, in the daytime, he would be sitting in the music shop, feet up watching a 12” black and white TV while customers browsed around the instruments and whose occasional purchase seemed more of an inconvenience to him rather than a profitable sale.
When the photographic studio was booked by either Tony and Ray, they would often call in and if we were free, the bands were brought down for a few beers and a chat at 118 and then onto the preferred drinking establishment, the Kings Arms, where a rather lovely barmaid kept the beer flowing as the local Hells Angels occupied a separate back room, blasting out Deep Purple and Black Sabbath on the old jukebox; when closing time arrived, we would then head back to 118 to carry on drinking. Lee Aaron was a regular visitor whenever she was in the UK as were Terraplane (now Thunder) and Pete Jupp and Merv Goldsworthy from Samson who went on to form FM. I remember them playing us their four-track demo before they signed a record deal and we were knocked out with it. Kal Swann (Tytan/Lion/Bad Moon Rising) moved in for a while and Rock Goddess had a Japanese guitarist named Mika Satake for a little while whose boyfriend was Ian Mitchell from the Bay City Rollers: Ian and I occasionally took turns to carry each other home after a good session at The Kings Arms. 118 was also used as a ‘third party’ venue after a night out at the Marquee or the St Moritz club. Minicabs would be ordered and whoever was left still standing at the end of the night was invited. Bruce Dickinson, members of Motorhead, Neil Murray, Paul Samson…1am jams were not uncommon and there were some classics that I recorded on a TEAC 244 machine. Hopefully some of those musicians still have them as my copies were lost through my various moves around the world.
Me in the 4th floor rehearsal room in early 1984 after our tour supporting Def Leppard. Every time the band were in the music magazines, a copy was bought, the article cut out and pinned to the wall.
All good things come to an end though. I don’t really know why Rock Goddess were not more successful than they actually were because it seemed to be all going so well but then in 1984, A&M, for various reasons, decided they did not want to release their third album which had already been recorded* and the band were dropped. A fourth album was recorded in 1985, funded by John but only a small French label was interested in releasing it and it was the beginning of the end of the band. That coincided with the Wandsworth Borough Council doubling the rent on 118 and we could no longer afford to live there and within six months, we had all moved out one by one; me first and John last. When I drove past it a few months later, it had become a take-away pizza parlour – it still is – and my heart sank at the realisation that it had all gone; the music, the fun, the all-night parties, the secrets we were told about musicians, the deals that were done there between music business people…all gone but whenever I drive past it now, on a nostalgic trip to London, I don’t see a pizza parlour, I see and hear one of the happiest times of my life.
As it is today. A fresh coat of paint and a green roller door hide the Rock history of 118 Wandsorth High Street.
Picture courtesy of and ©Google Maps
*For all you NWOBHM fans out there, the unreleased third Rock Goddess album still sits in the vaults of A&M’s archives, unheard for thirty-five years.