The Magic Highway


Part TWO


Teen Jeff"I LEFT school at 16 after scraping through my GCE with three O levels. I treated school as one big cat and mouse game with the masters and took great pleasure foiling their constant attempts to discipline me with physical or mental punishment.
   It was all huge fun until my parents started getting fed up with my behaviour and the last two or three years I made more effort to get down to some swotting and not make a total disgrace of myself when it came to the final GCE exams, that would determine if I would qualify for the sixth form or not, with all its attendant privileges, and a compass set reading for university which I wasn’t interested in as I was itching to get ‘out there’ and play some full time rock’n’roll, stay out all night and be done with all that homework or swotting for exams!
   It was 1962 and the Beatles were about to conquer the world which only reinforced my earlier, youthfully, optimistic and arrogant ambition of having the same job! I was fortunate to make some good pals at school of who I’m still in touch today.
   After a short period where I resat some GCEs and failed them due ironically to not having the discipline of being at school and the freedom of not being at school, my dad decided that I wasn’t going to lounge around the house any longer and would talk a pal of his in to giving me a job at a carpet warehouse in Leeds called Modern Floor Covering to try and stop what I’m sure he saw as a gradual decline in whatever small sense of residual discipline may have remained from my school days and to build character!
   Even though my dad was to prove a great support in helping me on my journey to fame and fortune, or infamy and misfortune (whichever suit fits) along with my mum in those days, he, like most parents at that time didn’t believe their kids could ever make a decent living as a musician, and hoped I’d one day take over his fish and chip restaurant which was quite possibly the best in Leeds after building it up from a shop in town with a small café in the back to a thriving successful business with an enlarged premises within a few years. I used to wait tables in school holidays and remember going down into this dank cellar where a chipper chipped all the spuds and the haddock, cod, plaice and halibut were skinned and filleted for human consumption upstairs.
   It just wasn’t going to happen, how could it possibly compare with my dream of doing what I really loved and being paid at the same time! In other words making music and traveling the world in the process, or at least that was my hope. Like the song says – ‘you’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true’.

   I worked for a couple of years dragging carpets from floor to floor and selling them to poor unsuspecting newlyweds, pensioners and all sorts of people. I quickly learnt the art of doing the least work I could get away with which was the form at work, to buck the trend would’ve sided me with the bosses and by default set me apart from my ‘comrades in arms’ who seemed to want nothing more than to make as much money as they could whilst doing as little work as they could, drinking as much as they could and generally skiving off and finding some poor new kid (me) to go out to the shop and buy a skyhook, which I almost did.
   I knew I was being tested just like early schooldays with the bullies, so had to win some respect there whilst not being seen to be too groveling to the boss who was friendly with my dad. A question of fine balance was called for.
   One day an employee called (Jolly) Jim Preston challenged me to a duel hoisting 27 inch body carpet on our respective backs and carrying them up to the balcony storage area four flights of steps from the ground floor. Dapper Jim was popular with all the lads, tall, slim, in his late 20s and somewhat rakish in appearance with slicked back hair, slitty eyes and a moustache that made him look a little shifty with the look of a northern Lothario who you wouldn’t want to buy a car from, new or used!
   Big Jim thought I’d wimp out of the challenge or at best give up after a few ‘runs’. I was dropping on my feet and bathed in sweat but refused to give in and concede defeat to this gloating swaggerer when after 20 or so runs he red-facedly announced to me and the assembled workforce watching ‘All right Jeffrey, I think you’ve made your point’, which seemed to suggest I’d challenged him in the first place, although by this time I was greatly relieved that he bottled out first as it was only sheer defiance that kept me going! Another case of standing up to bullies proved correct, he never bothered me again.

Mr Muscles

Jeff always stood up to bullies.

   The following year, aged 18, I quit work and turned professional as it became untenable and embarrassing for me to remain the job after I started coming in late for work after traveling further afield, to gigs out of Yorkshire, across to Lancashire and Derbyshire and getting home very late at night.
   I was also starting to experiment with songwriting and would disappear into the nooks and crannies of this big warehouse to jot down lyrics and song ideas. I broke out in a rash all over my body once with the overwhelming frustration of being stuck in this demoralising cycle of negativity and nihilism.
   It was always on the cards that I’d quit, as the job was never anything more than a stopgap and a means to an end in buying me a little more time to ‘learn my real trade more’."


At the University of Leeds with my band The Outer Limits, we played alongside Bluesology and they had this keyboard player who was as quiet as a mouse, and so under the radar, called Reg Dwight .. who a couple of years later morphed into Elton John.


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