From Oxford (not, not that one) to Cropredy - Part 5,
Sunday morning saw me depart Oxfordshire for Swindon, as I was on my way to catch up with Mark Colton from Credo, who was the other witness at our wedding. I first saw him sing with Casual Affair more than 25 years ago, and we very soon became firm friends. When he told me that he and Mike Mishra were going to split the band and form a new one I was there to run the newsletter and spread the word of the mighty Freewill. Soon afterwards he was asked to join another band who were operating at the same time, Ad Hoc. They soon changed their name to Chequered Past, then finally to Credo, which is when Freewill stopped and Credo soon signed a record deal and I was helping them to get gigs. In the early – mid Nineties I probably saw Credo play live in every toilet in West London, but as they kept playing they gained more success, and when Mike Varty (Shadowland, and later Landmarq) joined the band they really hit their stride. Unfortunately, Mark was struck down by a serious illness which left him just hours from death, and he has never fully recovered (he showed me his latest impressive scar). There have been incredibly long gaps between the recording of Credo’s albums, but they are now working on their fourth and I was lucky enough to hear some of the tracks as they currently stand. Yet again I believe they are going to surprise a lot of people, just as they did with their last album ‘Against Reason’, which was released in 2011.
But, he is and always will be the consummate frontman, and if Credo aren’t gigging enough then he will find other outlets for his creative energy and passion, even with all the health issues he has suffered. We discussed all the bands he had been in recently, and what had been happening in the punk covers band he had been working with, One Chord Wonders, who were building a steady reputation. But, all was not well and he told me that a new band was soon to be announced, Rotten Aces. These guys are already hitting the circuit, so if you want a great night, then check them out.
Down to Devon that night to finally hit the county I hail from, and the next day surprised some family that I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years. During the day, I was served copious cups of tea, and for some reason I kept being given a new mug, and I was looking at the design of one of them and noticed that it was for Fortean Times. I mentioned this to my cousin, who told me that she was a massive fan and was a subscriber. When I then told her that I was going to see Jon Downes the following afternoon she turned into a gibbering wreck as she kept telling me how amazing and wonderful he is.
Tuesday found me heading into very deepest and very darkest Dartmoor. When I was young I used to often head up to the moors, but normally into the areas of Widecombe and Haytor, so the wilds around Bideford were quite unknown to me. The roads became lanes, which in turn became tracks, but just when I thought the hedges couldn’t get any higher or dense, I finally made into the village. Jon had told me to head for the church, which I did, and was amazed to find in the middle of nowhere a wonderful Norman building that I could look around. I took my time as I had arrived early, and even sat for a while in the peace of the graveyard, but then it was time to walk to his house which I was told was easy to find. Jon had told me to stand with the church behind me and just walk down the lane to the right and I’d see it with no issue. Having gone up and down the length of the lane a few times I admitted defeat and went into the shop and asked for directions. I was told to take the lane to the left and I couldn’t miss it, and when I said I was told to take the one on the right I was told that I could get to it that way, but probably wouldn’t find it!
I finally found the right gate, and after being introduced to Jon’s two very neurotic dogs (who are both sweethearts), made my way into the inner sanctum. Although I have been writing for Jon for more years that I can count, it was the first time we had ever met, yet immediately felt real kinship. We were soon discussing Gong and that his wonderful wife Corinna had seen Henry Cow in concert when she was following Genesis in the early Seventies. I am still a little unsure if Jon was pleased to see me because I had made the effort, or if it was because he was allowed cake, as Corinna bakes when there are guests. We had a great afternoon, discussing not just music but lost animals from New Zealand, my upcoming books, the search for the Loch Ness Monster and anything else that sprang to mind. It was a wonderfully warm afternoon, and before I left he kindly signed a copy of ‘The Owlman and Others’ to give to my cousin, as well as giving me a copy of his novel ‘The Song of Panne’ (which is next on my reading list after the exhaustive biography of Barclay James Harvest I am currently working through).
That left me with just one full day left in the country, so I headed down to Brixham, where I was born and raised and can trace my ancestry on my mother’s side for generations (my dad was a foreigner, born at Bolt Head some 30 miles away). But, I came away incredibly disappointed, knowing that the town I knew and loved just doesn’t exist anymore. But, I did have a present for my cousin so spent another great evening in Exeter. The next day it was back up to Heathrow, and the very long journey home.
Was the trip worth it? Yes, on so many levels. I caught up with friends and family not seen for aeons, as well as hearing some of the most amazing music it has ever been my privilege to witness. Will I ever go back again? Unless there is a compelling reason, I seriously doubt it. I left the UK by choice in 2006 to find a better life for myself and my family on the other side of the world, and we have everything we could have dreamed of and much more. I live in a country larger than the UK, with a population of less than five million, and I love it. British by birth, Kiwi by choice.
Now, what’s next I wonder?