I was born in Wrexham, North Wales on October 9th, 1962 – on John Lennon’s 22nd birthday, as it happens. I suppose it was only fair for my dad to repay this compliment seeing as John’s own mum and dad had seen fit to arrange for him to be born on my grandmother’s 30th birthday. (To complete the cycle John and Yoko repaid us in turn by having Sean on the day I became a teenager!) But I digress…
My parents, Ken and Jean Harry were Salvation Army officers (ministers of religion) and when I was just a few months old and having endured the longest, coldest winter in living memory we moved from Coedpoeth to London to live in Clapham, where my sister Eira was born in March 1964.
By the time I was 17 we had lived in Wrexham, Clapham, Newport & Bargoed (both S Wales), Ferrybridge, Knottingley & Heckmondwike (all W Yorkshire), Camborne (Cornwall), Torquay (Devon), Tunstall (Staffordshire) and Bedlington (Northumberland). That was 11 homes, 9 different schools and a lifelong penchant developed for speaking in a variety of regional accents!
Along the way I had managed to develop various skills that would shape the rest of my life. I had been singing and acting in public from the age of 5 when I appeared in the musical ‘Take Over Bid’, I took piano lessons from the age of 7 and, as I continually tell my students, I am still learning and improving 37 years down the line. I remember I first played a brass instrument in the front room of our house in Henry St., Bargoed aged about 5 (see the house, right). My dad had written out the tune of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ with the fingering underneath and it is one of just a few things I can remember clearly from my time living in the Rhymney Valley. Another is the utter despair that hung over the whole area in the aftermath of the local disaster at Aberfan when a slag-heap collapsed onto the village school killing a whole generation of children. My parents were ‘on duty’ at the scene for several days, dad carrying the bodies of twenty children out of the carnage. (Some of my dad's own pictures of the disaster can be seen here. Click on each to enlarge. For more info contact me - firstname.lastname@example.org )
We moved from South Wales to Yorkshire - first Ferrybridge, then Knottingley (both within a year) and then we spent two years in the lovely little town of Heckmondwike (see poem 'Life in a Northern Town). One of our longest moves followed - all the way down to Camborne near the tip of Cornwall! I spent two very happy years there in a lovely Junior School (Roskear) and passed my 11 plus. I still spend holidays in Cornwall and going back to the Salvation Army there is always a treat - the people who remember me so well as an eleven year old now welcome me at four times that tender age and they are such nice people. By the time I was 12 we had moved to Torquay and I had progressed onto playing the euphonium (via tenor horn). I was building up a reputation as a 'young virtuoso' soloist within the Salvation Army. At 15 I passed Grade VIII with distinction and (I am told) a record high mark. I sang vocal solos and duets with my sister Eira, once winning a talent competition organized by the Daily Mirror singing ‘Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet’. Mum still smiles when she recalls me singing, on another occasion, the gospel hymn ‘Now I Belong to Jesus’ in Heckmondwike…verse 2 begins ‘Once I was lost in sin’s degradation.’ What a dreadful child I must have been!
My biggest failure in my early years was undoubtedly the utter mess I made of my A levels! Having secured 10 high grade O levels working under the eternal condemnation of teachers who invariably reported my achievements with ‘Marc manages to do well without really trying – what could he do if he bothered to make an effort?’ I embarked on a half-hearted attempt to become a dentist by taking Chemistry, Physics and Biology at A level. The only thing that comes into my mind now when I recall this is: WHY???? I guess the answer could only lie in a recollection of Mr Pemberton, my 5th Year biology teacher telling us that dentists earned some £12,000 per year (circa 1978). For the next 24 months were dreadful – I hated Physics so much I frequently never bothered turning up, preferring to hide in the music dept practicing the piano or even nipping down to the YMCA to play snooker with my mate Colin! I attended Chemistry because I fancied the teacher (well, she was only about 4 years older than me!) and Biology because I was Ok at it! Of course, my results were not good enough to take up my offered place at Manchester on the BDS course. Saved from a lifetime of 2nd hand breath I went instead to Colchester to take a BA (hons) course in Music.
Surprisingly, this filled me with a sort of trepidation; music had always been a hobby – something I was good at and found easy – an oasis in my sea of academia. Suddenly it WAS my academia – I had to learn who John Dowland was (for that matter what a lute was!), about such innovations as sturm und drang and that there were people in the world like Russell who spent his days in a Scriabin-inspired daydream somewhere between this world and another! Fortunately, in my second week at the ‘Institute’ (great name!) I visited the office and bumped into some familiar faces – it was Alvin and his dad!
Alvin Allison and I had attended summer Music Schools at Sunbury Court in London since 1975. He was a cornet player, I a euphonium blower. We had been in the same band on many occasions, first with dear George Mallyon (where I remember Alvin dinging a cowbell in Mountain Camp) and, always, the A Band – the elite ensemble for those who not only needed no fingering beneath the notes but could decipher such intricacies as demi-semiquavers! We had spent evenings in his chalet (he had brought his luminous skeleton from home to hang on the bathroom door – come to think of it it STILL hangs in his studio/office today, if I remember correctly!) listening to rock music and discussing forming bands with bizarre names like ‘Johnny Johnstone and the Uranian Aztecs’.
For the next three years I guess you could only say Alvin and I ‘terrorized’ Colchester – not, of course, in a Bin Laden sort of way – more like a Monty Python way! We dressed as Laurel and Hardy (to this day my kids still refer to L&H as daddy and Alvin), skipped up North Hill into the town centre after our daily canteen lunch of burger, chips and beans (with a packet of Worcester Sauce flavour French Fries and a cup of hot chocolate for afters) to write silly poems and drink Coffee in Martins.
We borrowed his mum’s Capri and went round and round roundabouts blowing a trombone exceedingly loudly through the window and unsuspecting passers-by. We even faked an accident in the snow in Victor Road terrifying a taxi-driver who thought he’d found a dead body only for me to jump up, shake his hand and laugh hysterically!
Alvin also began to show me there was ‘pop’ music in existence that had not been made by The Beatles, Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson. He was ‘into’ a type of music I had never previously encountered and it went (apparently!) by the name of Progressive Rock. He played me tapes of a group called Yes but they went right over my head – especially that singer with the unusually high voice… What I latched onto in the end was the music produced by Yes’s keyboard maestro, Rick Wakeman (with me, left) – and once discovered was as good as addicted! Within weeks I was lapping up King Arthur, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and his latest album 1984. Ah! There’s that singer again! And through Jon Anderson singing ‘Hymn’ on the latter-mentioned LP I got used to his voice… Within a year I was both a Yes and Genesis aficionado and my lodgings were filled with twiddly keyboard solos, impossibly difficult guitar lines and indescribably indecipherable lyrics about such widely disparate subjects as the Gates of Delirium and prostrate young ovines in New York’s Theatreland!
Lodgings! I first lodged with a dear old Christian lady called Mrs Hurnard. She was in her eighties but as strong as an ox – and, I’m afraid to say, she was too much of a Christian for the 18-year-old me. Not that I was in any way not as committed a Christian as I thought I could be at the time – I did church 3 times each Sunday as well as at least 2 evenings a week set aside for church music rehearsals plus Youth Fellowship with Mildred and the wonderful Eric Ford. It was just that 2 or three chapters of bible after breakfast (porridge) every day and, on one occasion, the whole book of Jonah was even worse than the breakfasts back at home with Terry Wogan! To be honest I switched off and, over the course of one period memorised the entire back of a cornflakes packet! To make it worse, my fellow lodger in ‘Chez Hurnard’ was Brenda, a leading light of the college Christian Fellowship, an organisation we had studiously avoided and one who not only revelled in the extended breakfast devotions but even offered to take her turn leading them! *
However, our contact with the said Christian Fellowship was soon reinforced when we met a wonderful young man who I can only possibly describe as a thoroughbred Christian Activist! Simon Barnett. I can honestly pay tribute to Simon by saying, quite honestly, that his Christian influence on my life has had as much, if not more, effect for good than any other single person. He is still today, over 25 years later, the man I first turn to when in need of guidance and spiritual help. And not only is he a great chap – he is a magnificent drummer!
I had taught myself to play guitar while living in Bedlington. My parents had ‘acquired’ some old electric guitars from Salvation Army Headquarters and I, recently having discovered The Beatles, had clumsily persuaded my stubby fingers to strum along from a ‘guitar case chord book’. I knew I would never be a guitarist from very early on – I was a good enough brass player and pianist to know that! However, I persevered and learning bar-chords was my biggest breakthrough, enabling me to play virtually anything in a rock/rhythm style especially when my output lead was going through a distortion pedal! Lead lines were a completely different matter…
Whilst in Bedlington I had played trombone with the Northumberland Youth Orchestra. A viola player in that same group was Lindsay Graves – another aspiring rock God guitarist from Ponteland. He had showed me how to play a simple blues scale in E over a 12 bar blues in E. Indeed, we spent a whole day playing 12 bar blues in E while we mastered the skill – I still have a hissy old cassette we recorded ‘for posterity’ of the occasion – just in case we ever got as famous as we probably believed we deserved!
Alvin, meanwhile, was far more advanced down the ‘Rock God’ path than I was – he even had his own group! Blood and Fire were based at Woking Corps in Surrey (his home) and had been playing local gigs for some time. My cousin Jason was also at Woking at the time and played bass guitar with the group. Alvin himself had long-since discovered it was much more fun to play rock and roll on an electric piano (or even the songster organ) and had already largely fallen out of love with the cornet.
Simon, Alvin and myself spent countless hours ‘jamming’ in the drum cupboard between the foyer and main concert hall at the Institute; new songs (I remember writing ‘Devil on Horseback’ there), old songs (Genesis’ ‘Turn it On Again’ stands out in my mind with Simon changing the lyrics to ‘I can show you, I can show you – some of the blessings in my life’). Of course, I wanted to join Blood and Fire but had to make do (for now) with starting a new group at the SA in Colchester with Alvin, Peter Blair (bass) and Kevin Ling (drums – but mainly cymbals!)
I first ‘guested’ with B&F at a gig at Butlins, Bognor Regis in late September 1982. We did a cover of ATF’s ‘Take Me Higher’ in which I managed to play some lead (learned note for note from John Russell’s original recording) but realised to my horror that notes you could sing in a studio (or drum cupboard) were a completely different prospect in a crowded bar! I missed more than I hit and another ex-Sunbury-ite, Graham Whitehead, whispered in my ear after the debacle, “A word of advice, Marc. Stick to the euphonium!” Since when did I take advice?
B&F rocked the place to the rafters that night! The inimitable Jorge Booth compered a totally memorable evening that has gone down in the annals of SA Youth history! Guitarist Malcolm Dragon came on stage straight from work and still in his KFC uniform! Jason sang Lieber/Stoller’s ‘Saved’ wearing a tux and bow tie and Ian Mayhew the enthusiastic ATF-mad drummer was wearing a vintage ‘lion-tamer’ SA band festival tunic. Things changed for B&F after that night, not just because they had captured the attentions of SA youth in a very big way but also because personnel changes were ahead.
Ian’s family were moving from Woking to Worthing. His last band date was supposed to have been the weekend at Colchester SA. Unfortunately, immediately after the Butlins gig he had been admitted to hospital with appendicitis. For the Colchester gig Simon was invited to stand-in. My new band ‘National Youth Banned’ (later ‘Blueflame’) were the support act. Alvin, of course, played with both bands so, in order to not be recognised before B&F came on, he played with NYB in a rubber face mask, disguised as a very old man. I wore my new ‘Asia’ T-shirt, bought at their gig at Wembley Arena a couple of days before – my first ever ‘big’ rock gig!
Both sets that night were recorded and released on cassette by ‘Citadel Sounds’, a local label. On the Sunday (when B&F led the services at the local Corps) Simon was unavailable so Malcolm played drums and I guested again on guitar. Next was a Christmas gig in a Surrey prison (Alvin’s brother Karl, the B&F vocalist actually used the ‘captive audience’ line!) and I guess I was pretty much ‘in’ B&F. By the Summer of 1983 Malcolm had left the band, Simon Barnett was fully installed as new drummer and we had a new bassist in Bandmaster Simon Herbert from Teddington. The rest of the B&F story can be found elsewhere on these pages.
Suffice to say we spent the next three or four years touring all over the UK and Europe playing hundreds of gigs, some while still at college then full-time afterwards.
After college, with no paid job to speak of, the Salvation Army having turned down our request to work for them as lay-evangelists I returned home to live with my long-suffering parents. They had left Bedlington in 1982 for the Suffolk merchant port of Felixstowe and their subsequent move to the home of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth coincided with my gaining of my BA (hons.) degree and so I joined them on the South Coast. After moving town 17 times in 21 years I have lived in ‘Pompey’ ever since. Twenty-three years (so far) in one City – albeit in 4 different houses.
In Spring 1986 I started dating a lovely young lady who lived in Worthing and, feeling the need to finally start earning a living, I began my own mobile recording business BAF Recording. The launch of BAF coincided with my leaving Blood and Fire after a final gig at the Dorking Halls supporting Paul Field (Nutbush). I stood on the station at Dorking waiting for a train home and cried my eyes out. To this day I still don’t really know why I left and it is a regret I’ll always carry with me.
Heather and I became engaged in October and were married the next May. I began teaching in Sept 1988, the business having set me up for nothing more than 20 years of debt. In the meantime I had spent two dreadful months as a trainee Insurance Salesman and only went ‘on the dole’ in desperation when I needed my wisdom teeth out and couldn’t afford the treatment! My wife had not settled into regular employment either having tried dental nursing and (surely the worst job in history) Replacement Windows telesales!
With us both in pretty much full time work by 1989 things began to get a bit easier for us. Heather returned to nursing (she was an enrolled nurse but later upgraded her qualification to RGN/SRN) and I qualified as a ‘proper’ teacher in 1992, by which time I’d been Head of Music Department for three years and we had a son, Morgan, who was born in July 1991. Children added a joy to my life which is still unsurpassed. I wouldn’t change anything about any of them and, if I could, I’d be delighted to start all over again. I thought I lived to be a musician for many years but now I know I was only born to be a dad!
Lewis came along in Feb 1993, the same week that my dad had a stroke. He had been putting envelopes out for the SA’s Annual Appeal all morning and my mother had driven to the other side of the estate and stopped the car for a lunchtime sandwich and coffee when he suddenly asked why they were there. Not really suspecting what was wrong he carried on doing the job at hand before returning home and falling asleep for several hours. In the morning he woke, got in the car to fetch his morning newspaper and drove straight into a milk-float he didn’t even see. He was part blind, could not read, write or tell the time and was even unable to pronounce his new grandson’s name. They told him he would never drive again. Within three months he was reading, writing, working and driving although the SA gave him early retirement and he and mum moved down nearer to us in Reading. (After leaving Portsmouth a fortnight after my wedding they worked in Southampton, Wrexham and Dudley before retirement.)
St Luke’s School music dept was gaining an excellent reputation both in the City and beyond. In 1996 over 40 students took GCSE music, over 75% of them gaining A* to C grades. This in a school that was achieving only 6% GCSE passes overall and was heading for years of Special Measures and threatened closure. Summer concerts each year were always sell-outs and past students were going on to careers as professional singers, instrumentalists and Royal Marines bandsmen. One pupil achieved a Grade A GCSE pass two years early and another won a local schools music competition by improvising a sonata movement in the style of Mozart. I would have happily committed myself to St Luke’s for life at this time.
Unfortunately for me a new Head teacher arrived and, instead of allowing existing successes to continue to thrive and grow she insisted on everyone starting afresh with her ideas alone. In most areas of the school this meant new teachers coming to replace those who chose to leave. But I didn’t want to leave. These oppressive conditions led me, like many others at the time, to suffer a ‘breakdown’ in 2000 but I fought back against the odds and returned to work - even though the head had taken no time in ‘replacing’ me with a new Head of Dept. and it was to take me another year to ‘get my proper job back’. I wish that had either been the end of it – or that I hadn’t bothered at all – for the next couple of years were absolutely the low-point of my professional life.
I had spent over a decade building that department from nothing – when I arrived at the school all the Music dept had was a box of broken percussion instruments and a ‘not so grand’ piano whose top bore over a thousand carved initials. An OFSTED inspection had made only one recommendation for the department – the building of state of the art practice rooms and a digital recording studio in the Music Block. These were built and I equipped them. On my return to St Luke’s it was ‘decided’ to move Music completely into one of the old school kitchens, complete with tiled floor, leaking water pipes and the biggest extractor fan on the planet. This was just one of the ‘ploys’ which drove me to a relapse and my ultimate resignation from St Luke’s. Was it a deliberate scheme to get me out? Judge for yourself, but let it suffice to say that within a few weeks of my departure Music was moved out of the kitchen and back into its rightful home where it remains today.
Our third son was born on 2nd Jan 2004 and he was named Ieuan Lisle Cennydd. Ieuan because all my boys have Welsh names as a consolation prize for being born in England, Lisle after our best friend at Portsmouth Citadel Salvation Army, Lisle Linnett, who was tragically killed in a car accident some years before and Cennydd after my father, a true Welsh Kenneth who just happened to be spelt the English (Scottish?) way!
Dad did not have the best of times after his stroke. Although he recovered better than we could have hoped at the time other health issues were causing him great discomfort and inconvenience. His digestive system was reacting badly to certain ‘brands’ of his diabetes medicine (better when his doctor insisted on him being given ‘Rolls-Royce’ as opposed to ‘Skoda’ tablets!) and an ‘over-enthusiastic’ pedicure from a hapless nurse at a clinic led first to a toe infection and, ultimately, to the loss of his left leg. With steps leading from both the front and back entrances of the house in Reading he was a virtual prisoner in his house for six months before he was able to move one last time into a purpose-bought bungalow near Portsmouth where his life was transformed. His last appointment and Dudley Rotary Club in the W Midlands were involved in purchasing for him an electric scooter and, between the use of this (above, left) and his Motability car he was as active in his last few years as he could have ever dreamed.
He learned to walk again on his artificial leg and climbed 2 flights of stairs to his season-ticket seat at Fratton Park every other Saturday. He and mum travelled around the country leading meetings at many Salvation Army Corps as well as supporting all the local SA events and dad remained a keen Rotarian to the end. He came with me to a Pompey away match at Crystal Palace just three weeks before he died so you might guess the end was sudden for him as it was for the rest of us. He died the day before my mum’s birthday in April, 2002 – 5 days before the wedding of my sister, Eira, which he was supposed to be conducting. As it turned out, his wonderfully exuberant and celebratory funeral took place the day before the wedding, which my mum conducted in his place.
Having vowed never to set foot inside a classroom again I tried to make a living as a professional actor and musician. Unfortunately, when you have large mortgages and loans and are used to paying them with a reasonably generous salary it is very, very hard – if not impossible – to sustain such a life and change career so drastically in a short space of time. While I enjoyed making the odd Corporate Video and performing in plays the famous actor’s ‘resting time’ led to more and more problems meeting the bills. Eventually, the only paid work I seemed to be doing were Shakespearean workshops in…schools! When it was pointed out to me that there was a drastic lack of Music teachers and supply staff were paid three times what I was getting per day for dressing up in a Tudor costume it didn’t take me long to decide to give it a go.
My seven months at an arts college in Gosport helped me to remember all that was good about teaching once more and, when there was no permanent post for me there I was happy to look elsewhere. A post became available at Bridgemary and I tried to do my best there - unfortunately there was no support for the subject from the Sports College's management and I suffered another major breakdown in 2006 and had to leave the teaching profession for good a few months later.
And the rest of the story? Well, there have been more changes there, too. Sadly, after 18 years together Heather and I separated and divorced but all 3 boys continued to live with me at home. Home had to change a few times as we had to sell the house and move into rented accommodation. I have suffered several more years poor health - learning what I am capable of doing and learning my limitations - but, more importantly, being the best dad I could be to the best 3 boys in the world!
I have done some acting, including making my first two films, 'Jump' and 'Hollow Feet' - the latter with its prestigious Premiere at BAFTA - what an honour that was! I have developed a 'one-man variety' show that I regularly perform to the older generation in the area to great success. We moved Salvation Army corps from Portsmouth to Southampton Shirley in 2010 and are very, very happy there!
Morgan no longer lives at home but with Fiona and their beautiful son, Owen (right) - who was born in June 2010. Lewis is at University studying Music Technology and Ieuan attends a local Portsmouth school, spending some weekends with his mum who has now moved back to Worthing.
Onwards and up into 2013! I still haven't shed all the excess weight - something I'd love to do but I'm not alone in our extended family to suffer with that! Who knows what is just around the corner??
* I left Mrs. Hurnard after half a term and was much happier in later lodgings with 2 families from the Colchester SA corps with another short stay with a somewhat over-zealous puritan family in Straight Rd sandwiched between them!