I was down with Simone at my Mum’s today on one of our regular visits as part of the mutual soup exchange programme we have and to pick up a couple of small slabs of smoked haddock from the fish van she’d got for us. As always we were gabbing and reminiscing and my Mum got out a couple of photo albums to show Simone some family history.
One of them had a collection of pictures of my Dad with his golf cups and some snaps of him with his mates on various golf courses. My dad was an avid golfer but had taken it up very late. He was good, in fact very good, and in all honesty if he’d taken it up earlier could have been edging on Pro status. He tried to get me into it but lack of patience and that father/son “I’ll not like what you like” teenage stance set me against it. For him it was an immense relief from the garage business and all the associated stress and pressures he had that I didn’t fully appreciate back then. Our mutual big thing was football.
During the 70’s my Dad had taken me down to London on the train to watch Scotland against England at Wembley. We had a few trips down, needless to say all were disappointing if not humiliating but the bonding sessions were unforgettable as I saw a very different side to my Dad. Football brought us together and all the alpha dynamics were forgotten at games.
In March 1988 I was booked to play a couple of shows in the Channel Islands with Marillion as part of a ‘Benson and Hedges’ music festival and decided to repay him. He had never been on the road with me only attending individual gigs throughout the years. He’d heard the stories and I knew he loved the ‘tales from the big bus’ (although there was some “tut tutting” and lowered eye brows at some recollections). My Dad was maybe a middle aged, middle class “boring” garage owner from Dalkeith but I also knew he had a great sense of adventure and a twinkle in his eye seen in old photos from his days in the REME in Kenya on national service that had been eclipsed by family demands.
With the help of my old friend John Cavanagh we set it up for my Dad to come down for a weekend with us in Jersey and told him to bring his golf clubs. He was up for it and excited at a chance to get away with me.
We all arrived in Jersey on the same flight; the band, the crew, my dad and I. We were ushered into the customs area, bags searched and all interrogated by officers. My Dad, golf bag over his shoulder sailed through unchallenged. We all looked at each other on the other side of the glass and realised we could have given him a stash.
Hotel, check in, dinner and what was a night off. Not for me and my Dad. Unbeknownst to him it had all been set up and we were going out for a show that was part of the weekend festival. He still didn’t realise until we got to the venue that we were in fact going to see his all-time hero, ‘James Last and his orchestra’. It was all totally ‘secret squirrel’ and even when I put the sticky ‘access all areas’ pass on his jacket it still hadn’t fully clicked.
To put this in context. My Dad was one of the biggest James Last fans in the galaxy and subjected me to endless repeats of his 8 tracks as we drove to Hibs matches or anywhere really. One particular adventure was our first ever family car tour through Europe in the early 70’s where James Last and his orchestra seemed to be the equivalent of cultural waterboarding to this particular progressive rock fan. Only Frank Sinatra, the occasional Carpenters album and a smattering of Beatles ‘greatest hits’ kept me from harming myself in the back seat of his Mercedes.
And here I was in Jersey with my Dad watching a live performance of a man I considered a Teutonic Satan as a teenager – and it was truly brilliant. My dad was in heaven. James Last I could only admire as a showman working a band that were pro/ talented/in the groove and totally on the money. Maybe through my Dad’s eyes and ears I was catching them from a wildly different perspective or maybe I’d just grown up and was seeing them as fellow musicians. I’d thought I’d be outside for most of the show drawing on my free B and H’s or in the bar but I watched the entire show and applauded wildly with my dad at the end of the gig. He was close to tears as he had never seen the orchestra before.
And the ‘hits’ kept on coming.
After show we hung around in the auditorium and then headed backstage for what my Dad thought was a couple of Bacardis before heading back to the hotel. When he was introduced to James Last the smile was incandescent and he was as happy as I had ever seen him. It was only a short introduction, the backstage glimmer, the deep handshake a few words and an exit as James was surrounded by admirers and fans as one would expect.
Back at the hotel my Dad and I were Number 1’s at the end of the bar holding court and I was tempering our curve as there was more to come.
An hour or so later James Last entered the building and took up a table. He was staying in the same hotel. That was our cue and I took my Dad over to the company, glass in hand, him full of cool and reintroduced them. As they’d already met and bottles were well cracked there was a meeting on the square and my Dad settled into conviviality easily with his musical idol. He was introduced to another member of the company, Tommy Horton, the professional golfer, then a Jersey resident. And that was when the cracker was pulled. “Dad we’ve arranged you’ll be going out tomorrow afternoon for a round with James and Tommy”. I’ve never seen anyone try and supress the amount of excitement my Dad was feeling at that time and stay so calm. He was beautiful.
His cool then was nothing compared to later in the day when we met before the show after his round.
“How did you get on Dad, fun time?” ( hoping it wasn’t England/Scotland Wembley scenario)
“Pretty good” (nothing given away but a slight smile)
“Did you win?” (knowing James Last was a serious golfer and Tommy a pro)
“yes” ( him starting to burst into full smile)
“ You just beat James Last and Tommy Horton?” (me incredulous)
“Yes” ( we both burst out laughing)
We delivered a hug to each other befitting of 2 grizzlies and I felt so proud of him. It was one of those moments, forever remembered, and never repeated, it happened, a spike in the glory tales. You could not have written the script.
My dad beat James Last at golf!!! And Tommy Horton the island golf pro!!
And that is the story behind this photograph. More important to me than the show; with all due respect to the Channel Islanders to whom it was more than memorable ( Hullo Will Smith 😉 ) to a lot of people and someday I really want to get back there.
To tie the circle. A friend of mine in the States has sent me a reconditioned 8 track player this week and as I lie with arm in sling for the next 4 weeks plus I will delight in racking those old James Last tapes in and thinking about Jersey and when my Dad cuffed the maestro and holed an unforgettable moment.