The Tarmac Party and other writing
I have published part one of The Tarmac Party. Part two is to come, but for reasons of delicacy I have to wait a while until I can publish the rest. Although this is a work of fiction it may be seen to have much of my own life there so forgive me if I quote one of my heroes, Thomas Wolfe, and I wish that I had the skill to write as fluently as he did!
“This is a first book, and in it the author has written of experience which is now far and lost, but which was once part of the fabric of his life. If any reader, therefore, should say that the book is "autobiographical" the writer has no answer for him: it seems to him that all serious work in fiction is autobiographical--that, for instance, a more autobiographical work than "Gulliver's Travels" cannot easily be imagined.
“This note, however, is addressed principally to those persons whom the writer may have known in the period covered by these pages. To these persons, he would say what he believes they understand already: that this book was written in innocence and nakedness of spirit, and that the writer's main concern was to give fullness, life, and intensity to the actions and people in the book he was creating. Now that it is to be published, he would insist that this book is a fiction, and that he meditated no man's portrait here.
“But we are the sum of all the moments of our lives--all that is ours is in them: we cannot escape or conceal it. If the writer has used the clay of life to make his book, he has only used what all men must, what none can keep from using. Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose. Dr. Johnson remarked that a man would turn over half a library to make a single book: in the same way, a novelist may turn over half the people in a town to make a single figure in his novel. This is not the whole method but the writer believes it illustrates the whole method in a book that is written from a middle distance and is without rancour or bitter intention.” (Thomas Wolfe, ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ 1929)
The Tarmac Party
This is the story of an alienated young kid’s experience of London in the swashbuckling years of the late 70’s when rules were being broken everywhere and nowhere was as perfect a place to be as the Kings Road from 1976 to 1981.
It’s also the story of a journey; inspired by the great cultural and geographical trip of Jack Kerouac only twenty years before him and a story also about a friendship between a searcher and someone who was happy to lead.
This is a story about a seminal time in a seminal place; about revolutionary music, art and attitude and all through it our protagonist is simply there as a lightning rod for it all; never making judgements but simply experiencing it for us.
It’s 1977 and Sonny Winger has arrived in London. There’s some mystery as to how and why he’s there; something happened and he’s been forced out of his mother’s house and out of school in the countryside. He’s angry, young, curious, open.
Perfect fodder for the Kings Road Punk scene.
He finds himself by sheer chance in the absolute vortex of the scene; a seedy, druggy, exciting pool room above a pub, The Roebuck, in the World’s End in Chelsea and starts to experience life-changing shattering events and makes new friends who open his head to a New England and something that will ripple out and change the world.
He joins a gang who ritually square up to the Teddy Boys every Saturday on the Kings Road, he goes to parties and clubs and becomes immersed in the scene. He gets arrested for fighting, burglary and gets beaten up by Teds, The Police and even his own girlfriends and every day of this first year in London is lived (and told) and breakneck speed with a rocking soundtrack of songs that were played on the jukebox in The Roebuck.
He’s there at a gig when Elvis’ death is announced; he’s beaten to a pulp by the SPG at the Lewisham Riots, he misses the notorious Sex Pistols Boat party, he’s attacked outside Buckingham Palace by crowds celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, he parties with Derek Jarman, Adam and The Ants, Don Letts and is set upon by arch West London gangster John Bindon. He lives in squats, on a boat on the Thames and as the blaze of fun and experience consumes him he hardly realises that he is slipping into the netherworld of heroin addiction.
Part One ends with the end of a strange and powerful friendship and the end of the first, glorious and energetic blaze of Punk and the Punk scene and the beginnings of the seductive embrace of heroin.
Sonny continues to hang out at The Roebuck but something has changed. The simplistic, joyous exuberance of youth has become distorted. He escapes to Italy for a few months and when he returns he finds that things have moved on. His punishment for the Lewisham Rioting is Saturdays spent at the horrendous Attendance Centre in Greenwich. His fellow internees are either football hooligans arrested for aggro at matches or West Indian youth plucked off the Brixton streets and he finds himself forced to pick sides.
Meanwhile his world has developed. The post-Punk scene has emerged, the Sex Pistols have broken up and Lydon forms PIL after Sid's death, Killing Joke and other bands emerge from the wreckage. Sonny and Danny open a stall selling second hand clothes in the fabulous Kensington Market and that exposes him to a whole new group of people and he finds himself drawn into the New Romantics, focussed first at Billy's and then The Blitz. He finds himself hanging out with Marylin, Boy George, Steve Strange, Rusty Egan and others who run this small, nascent world. He's also going out to The Embassy Club in Old Bond Street, London's answer to Studio 54 and the natural home to the Disco Scene.
He joins a band, first as a singer, with Captain Sensible on guitar, Rat Scabies on drums and Harry'Up on bass, then he picks up the bass for The London Apaches, a Kensington Market-based band. Gigs, tours, recordings, the stuff that Sonny has dreamed of, and all of a sudden it's a reality.
He appears in films, for Derek Jarman in The Tempest and in Breaking Glass.
He is a star.
But it can't last and it doesn't.
He turns headlong into the underworld and becomes a part-time and ineffectual supplier in Chelsea. He sees death and the underbelly of the Bad Life but somehow survives. By this time he has joined the ‘Bright Young Things’; a party set that is entirely marked out by the official social calendar, with black tie balls in country houses, white tie events in palaces in London and still, beneath it all the sickly pulse of heroin throbs as Sonny slides relentlessly back. He is drawn to a dark, bohemian set of kids who spend their allowances on drugs and gather in their parents’ houses in Parsons Green and Chelsea to listen to reggae, smoke weed and inject. The death toll is intense, overdoses, addiction, car crashes decimating these people.
Parties, clubs, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, music all whirr along and Sonny clings on as a child on a too-fast funfair ride with bright colours and loud music spinning all around and the sense of chaos never too far away and the friend who mentored and inspired him seems to fade away…
The end is inevitable as everything closes in and one evening Sonny finds himself locked inside the bubble as it bursts. Hospitalised, he finally finds a sense of peace and lying, close to death he is visited by friends from his past four amazing years and is invited to consider and question what has happened.
Over the years I have contributed to books of short stories,
‘Disco Biscuits’ (Hodder & Stoughton; First Softcover Edition edition (June 1998)
‘Disco 2000’ (Hodder & Stoughton; First Softcover Edition edition (June 1999)
‘Le Foot’ (Little, Brown Book Group (May 1, 2000)