it’s 1981,and after five years away from the place,i’m now back in northern ireland with the intent of forming a new band with myself centre stage as king schitt of my own fuck mountain.
the political conflict is in full fling with bobby sands on hunger strike,while the careless hand of maggie thatcher just keeps drizzling petrol on an already fizzing fire.
on paper,northern ireland in 1981 should be the last place on earth you’d want to be,but i and many others were having a ball.
there’s two things that can make the north of ireland pure heaven or at least bearable,and that would be the abundance of switched on hippies, and a good sunny summer.
within days of being back there, i was taken under the wing of the daughter and her husband of a family who ran the local jeweller shop in portrush.
they are the oldest family business in the town.it’s been handed down through the generations over a hundred years now,while her husband played groovy bass in a fantastic band called ‘the mighty shamrocks’.
he also plays bass for one of paul mc cartney’s guitar players,henry mccullough.
the long sunny summer had just begun,and they would have me sleep on their sofa,then wake me in the morning to mugs of strong tea,with a full fry up of a breakfast.
i was made to feel so welcome …..and we’re still good friends to this day.
for all of the troublesome elements of northern ireland,the only people i were meeting were talented musicians,teachers,university folk,and painters,
many of them out of their heads on marijuana and sometimes L.S.D or magic mushrooms.
i became more clued into music, breathing in that clean north coast air,than i ever could have in the throbbing heart of london.
there was one chap..a scientist who sailed boats from the harbour, who’d spark up a joint from his seaside living room,while turning me on to that wonderful brian eno/david byrne record.
there was an artist who was a keen surfer,blazing up his marijuana pipe, turning me on to john cooper clarke,while he quietly painted brilliantly with oils in his attic.
all these super smart hippies back in the little seaside town i grew up in, a long long way from london, were now exposing me to the newest records…
i even had a girlfriend…she was ten years older than me, with three kids,but it hardly mattered…
there would be a small cluster of girls in my life before i finally came to terms with being a shirtlifter,and i’m very glad i experienced that kind of intimacy.
this lady was a fierce vegetarian,read a lot…loved music….refused to live in the mainstream,and as result her friends were of that same milieu…
it was a good scene for a fledging songwriter.
my new friends ‘the mighty shamrocks’,who were permanently out of there heads, played in a cozy venue by the harbour ,
they’d drag me up to sing in my own right with them accompanying ,making it so darn easy for me…
i remember thinking,wow i can really do this…i’m broke…i’ve got nothing,but i’m not trapped…i was so high on possibility,thanks to these fine fine people.
they’d lend my new group their amplifiers and gear…share their gigs…big hearted dope drenched maestros.
i shat out lorry loads of naive but sparky songs ,which gave me the material to form my first earnest attempt at being a serious player…
but serious was my undoing, because over a short time i became the most serious precious little cunt you could possibly meet.
no one could tell me to loosen up..i was just on too much of a mission with too much to prove.
but for a while, there was a honeymoon…
my plan was to get keen young players..it didn’t matter how inexperienced they were…they just had to kick arse..which they did beautifully.
this worked for a while,only i suppose the drugs became a double edged sword.
on one hand they were unlocking creativity,but on the other, they were making me frightfully insecure ..
the marijuana wasn’t too much of an issue at this stage…
it was the cheap speed i was using to keep me up all night for the lengthy rides to and from dublin, for the lower price recording studio rates at midnight till 8.am.
speed is a terrible drug..it’s filthy..unhealthy…it makes you sweat…it made me even more paranoid than what i naturally am…and it lingers in the lens long after the comedown.
but drugs appealed to me for their creative possibilities..they weren’t a social thing..if anything, they turned me into even more of a loner.
but the end result was some recorded music that our well connected managers were able to shop around for a deal with.
a record deal arrived on the table in no time at all.
you would think after my first bash in rosetta stone,i’d be primed and savvy..but if anything i sort of went backwards.
my innocence was gone…the drugs had made me hyper,imbalanced and strange…twitchy..almost autistic in demeanour ,and i’d either over think or under think everything.
none of this was made any rosier when my father decided to commit suicide during the same month of us signing that record deal.
i never really got to know my dad…
he was quite elusive and distant,and the only time he really connected was when he’d be drinking in his pub after hours.
he was lovely with drink in him actually…he would relax and laugh…
he was very good-looking,had fantastic style…never made bad choices with his clothes..thick lustrous hair..and a face not unlike clark gable.
i have particular memories of him…one of him when i was around eleven years old, putting my first guitar up against the wall like firewood,then slamming his foot through it..
this happened on two occasions within the same year.
i remember feeling lost in the weird aftermath of not knowing what to do with these broken instruments..it seemed wrong to just bin them…
i can still hear the sudden sickening sound as they’d bust in two….twang…clunk…then silence.
he would always buy me a new one the next day though..
and another memory is when that thing came on the telly called M.A.S.H..
the theme tune would go ‘suicide is painless…it brings on many changes…and i can take or leave it if i please’….horrible record.
the strange thing was,my dad wasn’t madly into music,but he definitely liked that song a lot,cause he’d singalong word for word while smiling..
but i was too young to clock the weight of it.
i believe one of his brothers also jumped off this mortal coil in a similar way.
dear reader..don’t let these words paint a picture of a monster…he just wasn’t…he was pretty special actually..was never jivey..and he had a definite integrity about him,and ours was a fine home.
when i think back about him putting his foot through my earliest guitars,i sort of understand it now…
it’s not easy being a parent…mothers and fathers must feel like they’re cracking up a lot of the time..especially when it’s a big family.
a difficult thing was in the 1960’s he would be away in the far east for long periods of time,and during one such time i cultivated an excellent beatles moptop hairstyle.
he’d suddenly be back, and the next day marching me down to the barbers,where i had to be literally held down snarling and biting while all my loverly hair was chopped off.
how i hated those trips to the barbers…he was military through and through, actually marching me and a younger brother shouting ‘left right left right swing yer arms’
and he was always at me not to slouch…’stand up straight lad’….he meant well…he just wanted his boys to have good posture..but i was an extremely effeminate child.
it made me recoil and become even more effeminate.
here’s a picture of my dad…he’s third from the left.
i think about him a lot..as i get older i almost look similar him…it’s oddly comforting.i like him a lot,regardless of his ill judged exit from this world.
and so it goes, my gorgeous new band called ‘perfect crime’ get this record deal in london with MCA.
the biggest mistake that record company made was meeting one of my demands in buying me the gubbins of an eight track recording studio…
once i wired that sodding thing up,the dear band almost became redundant to me.
a combination of marijuana, musical ego,lonerism,dads exit,and a DRUM MACHINE,had me bolting the door behind everyone.
i don’t think i’ve fully come out from behind that door to this very day.
this was wrong of me because previous to that blasted studio, this fab little band was like ‘gang of four’ fronted by a male version of bette midler.
here’s a photo…i’m the one with the dyed burgundy hair(wouldn’t you know it)
the drugs in the studio were making me creative to the point where i would loose the plot entirely,and recast my band as actors..
the excellent and able drummer was often replaced by a drum machine,and i would record him acting as a strict christian headmaster, caning the evil out of a school pupil,
and i would have the bass player channelling that pupil screaming,while we faked the sound of a cane coming down…
i thought it was magic..and still do
here it is….it ended up on the b-side of an awful single called’i feel like an eskimo’
it got reviewed in the nme,and a most excellent critic called gavin martin said “if gregory gray feels like an eskimo,he should fuck off to the antarctic and find one”,
on reflection, that’s hilarious and most deserving..
but here’s that magic b-side..i’m quite proud of it…the david essex ‘rock on’ bass guitar sound…my amphetamine vocal,with my band recast as actors…
dear reader…if yer impatient,the laughable drama occurs around one minute thirty seconds in.
naturally within a year of this record contract i was dropped for being a total nightmare…
the posh public schoolboy that signed us, who’s dad was a high court judge, found me to be completely unworkable,
but up the corridor was another posh boy who’s father was the editor of the mail on sunday,and he found my madness thrilling…
he pulled me to one side and told me i was going to be dropped,but not to worry…
he was headed for new pastures,and that once he’d settled in,he’d be in contact…he kept his word too.
i remember on the final tour of this fine group feeling very low and lonely..
it had all been such a gas opening for the early U2…orchestral manoeuvres in the dark…eurythmics,but i had fucked it up royally.
on the last gig in the coastal town of hastings, i took a walk after the soundcheck on my own,and saw this bookshop selling postcards …
it must have been some sort of gay scene cause there was this postcard of an idealised gay domestic household..
two men…clean…solvent..with their arms around each other…dignified..happy…manly and sexy…
i stood in the freezing wind staring in the shop window at this dumb fucking postcard of gay domestic bliss…..hahahahaha….fuck±!@£$%^&*
right in that moment it was all i wanted..i was so lonely….but i’d have to wait 15 more years for that.
another thing that threw me out into deep space is at the beginning of this chapter, i’d changed my name.
if there’s anyone with pop star blood coursing through their veins reading this,i have to tell you to think very carefully before making this leap.
i had no idea what a heavy lick it is to change your name…i can’t say i regret it,cause i can now see i was hardwired to do this at some point anyway.
the artifice of the pop world was the only thing i’d ever known..it felt as natural as the day to reinvent and transform…but alas,very difficult for anyone who’d known me all their life.
it never crossed my onerous little mind the hurt that my family would feel….
but it was something i had to do…a combination of utter pretence,creative impulse,and more than anything, a total lack of self worth.
i went from being paul lerwill,to gregory gray…i wanted something sumptuous and smooth,simply because i was/am not.
the tricky thing about changing my name is i’d end up with two boxes of people in my life…
there was the paul folk,and then the gregory folk…
but inevitably the two worlds would overlap in situations..
this would freak me out ,and i’d exile from the room sharpish, cause i hadn’t developed the élan to handle it.
i suppose the only way to handle such a thing is to say flat out to everyone..this is the name..my new name..get used to it.
over the thirty plus years,i’ve grown into gregory,but to make life even more confusing there’s now this ‘mary cigarettes’ business…
but that’s really a moniker for my new music,even if folk do call me mary sometimes,which is fun…but then shirt lifters are always calling each other mary..especially in america…gay urban slang.
my life story must read as a manual in how not to become successful..
but all turned out pretty great in the end,although there was a load more musical rough and tumble before i’d gain any handle on life.
in the next post,i’ll dribble on about heading back to london to record my first solo album,and all the joy and disaster of that.
dear reader…i hope i’m readable..
i enjoy writing it down,and the clarity i untangle from doing so.
mary of the sand dunes.