This is a picture of my grandmother, Amy. She was a showgirl, who married my grandfather, George Grisewood, much to the chagrin of his Catholic family. They were impoverished gentry(!), whose most immediate ancestors had squandered most of the family fortune. Nonetheless, my grandfather inherited £50,000 when he was 21. By all accounts he had mostly spent it a year later. George's most renowned extravagance was hiring the Bolshoi Ballet to come to his house and entertain his guests. My mother Josephine was born in 1912. 2 years later George went off to fight. He died in the trenches of pneumonia in 1916. Here is a picture of him a year before he died with some of his family. He is the gentleman in uniform in the middle with his niece Magdalen standing between his knees,
After George died, the beautiful, hapless Amy was shipped of to the US by George's family, who considered her unsuitable to raise her own daughter, the infant Josephine, my mother. Now effectively orphaned, Josephine was sent to live with her Sicilian grandmother in a villa in Grasse in the south of France. My mother often told the story of how at 4 years of age, distraught at the absence of both her parents, she was praying in church and God spoke to her, urging her not to worry as he was her father and would always be there for her. From this experience stemmed her lifelong unshakeable faith.
At the age of six she was packed of to a convent boarding school. Here is a picture of her at an early age .
Inexplicably she was adopted at the age of 16 by the family of one of her school friends, the a Beckets. They were the proprietors of a private mental hospital and when she left school, Josephine was roped in to help. By her account, for the last 3 years of the hospital's existence, the rest of her adopted family had either died, run away or gone mad themselves. So it was left to Josephine to take care of everyone. This could not continue indefinitely, and it was closed down. So at the tender age of 29, my mother entered the 'real world' for the first time.
She would occasionally regale us with stories of the wild times she had in London during the next several years. She must have met my father, Alan Bacon, by 1949, as I was born in October of that year. Dad was in jail at the time and they were not married. I was 25 before my mother was able to tell me that I had in fact joined the world as a little bastard! When Dad got out of jail, they did marry, so my younger brother John, born in 1952, escaped a similar fate. A year or so later, my father was offered and accepted a job in South Africa by a friend he had met when he was stationed out there during WW2. Off he went, and in 1955 the three of us went out to join him. Here is a picture of my mother, my brother and I in the streets of Johannesburg in the late 50s . My earliest musical influences are from this period. Firstly, I heard a lot of local African music in Johannesburg. There were plenty of street musicians, some of whom were really good, and I went to sleep each night listening to a radio station from Alexander Township, which today is more famously known as Soweto. Still today I am transfixed anytime I hear an African singing group. The other regular source of music I remember was listening to the radio with my dad. He had a great love and knowledge of the old songs from the 30s and 40s and pink gin in hand, would happily sing along. Also at this time we were hearing the very first rock and roll records. I particularly remember Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Jim Reeves and of course Elvis...
My dad lost his job around 1960 when his friend died. In the next couple of years, he got in a bit of a financial pickle. My mother was the only one bringing home the bacon, and finally in 1962 she decided to return to England. My father stayed behind. At first my brother and I understood he would soon be joining us, but as time passed it became clear this was not going to happen. I never saw him again.
Soon after returning, my brother and I were packed off to Catholic boarding schools. In the next four years we came home first to Berkshire, then to London, then to South Wales, and finally to Cambridge. We arrived there in 1967, and amazingly my mother lived there until she died in 2001.
Musically I began when I was seven or eight playing the recorder. In 1963 a cousin gave me a Canadian ukelele, and soon after that I got my first guitar. I had always been singing. My mother embarrassed me often by recounting how I used to sing French Christmas carols on the bus at the age of four. My guess is it was probably just the one...When I got to Cambridge, I forsook boarding school and enrolled at the local technical college to do my A levels. This was effectively the end of my formal education, not because the college standards were poor, but because I had lost interest. Musically however I was up and running. I started playing in pubs on my own and with anyone who would have me. I also started writing songs. I formed my first band with a Cambridge student, Richard Chipperfield Jones. We had some great experiences, wrote some good songs, and had lots of fun, but it was never going to last. Happily Richard and I remain friends to this day. Here is a picture of me on a London bus around this time
I got involved in another band, Rocksoff, with musical friends from London and Cambridge. I was back and forth like a yoyo at this time. If you go here and scroll down, you will see us included in an extended genealogy of Cambridge bands, on the left under Stars, Pink Floyd and Cochise. We also had some great times, and wrote a number of songs. However, like so many bands of the time, we spent far more time getting wasted and talking about it than actually playing. In the early 70s I had visited Paris for the first time to see an old girlfriend. I particularly remember from that visit seeing musicians in the Metro and the street playing and making money. 'I could do this', I thought. Finally, after a particularly frustrating period in London, I made my mind up to head off to Paris and try my luck. Thus began a love affair with street performing that persists to this day. Every day found me playing and singing for several hours with all kinds of different people, earning my daily bread, and most importantly, starting to develop some chops.
Over the next several years I spent time in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Holland and various corners of France and Germany. I'd go back to England once in a while, but not very much. I played clubs and bars and even festivals, but it all stemmed from the street. I met a great many people during this time. The artists that I particularly recall are Tina Provenzano, Paul McGovern, Danny Fitzgerald & his Lost and Wandering Blues & Jazz Band, Charles Nemes, Bill Gross, Eddy Wilkinson, Peadar Melinn, Pascal Segard, Douglas Ley,
Graham Levy and Simon Murley. There are many more whose names as I write escape my tattered memory. Apologies to all concerned...In 1980, after a year in Spain, I rejoined Tina Provenzano and Paul McGovern in Paris and we formed a rhythm and blues(old style!) band, Miss Thing!
We sounded pretty good, but couldnt make a dime, and wound up starting another street band and taking off to Switzerland and Germany. By 1982 I was determined to go to New York and in July that year I did. I stayed there 9 years.
Without dismissing the history I have thus far recounted, it is in New York that I was truly able to evolve into what, for better or worse, I am today. It remains my spiritual home. For some reason I was lucky enough to land on my feet there. I immediately started meeting and connecting with like minded players. My street experience gave me a good start. I played for a while with the 9th Street Stompers, an extraordinary street jazz band with 2 drummers, a great tuba player, and depending on the day, anything from two to sixteen horn players. I sat next to the tuba player, comping away, and learnt a great deal. They handed out cards, and thus got hired for all kinds of occasions. Then Paul McGovern and I figured we could do our own street thing and develop our own business so we started the Fabulous Mellotones. Here we are around that time
We did well and did indeed develop our own business which continued to generate work long after we had stopped playing on the street. On big holidays like July 4th, or New Years Eve we began to get more than one booking and we got used to each going out with our own bands. Musically we were drifting apart too. He was getting more into funk, and I was more interested in roots and country music. So Paul started a band named Mr Thing and the Professional Human Beings, and I formed George Breakfast and the Corn Flakes with my dear friend Steve 'Homeboy' Antonakos.
Around this time, Joe Flood showed up in New York after various European adventures of his own. We became fast friends, and while he also began playing with a number of different people, he was also a Corn Flake, and around 1984 we started an acoustic band together named Mumbo Gumbo with Rachelle Garniez & Mark Ettinger. I had been playing bass in The World Famous Blue Jays, Jeremy Tepper and Jay Godfrey's great cowpunk band. I had also met and befriended the one and only Neil Thomas, a keyboard player who was just getting interested in accordion. He also became a Corn Flake. We had begun playing at Nightingales Bar on 13th St. and 3rd Ave. The undisputed kings of this venue were Joey Miserable & The Worms. Their guitar player and singer, Jono Manson, also quickly became a friend and he invited us out to his Nightcrawler Studios in Brooklyn to record. All of these guys were as excited about writing songs as I was, and they were also very good! I could no longer get away with the kind of half assed nonsense I had sung on the streets of Europe. I had to suddenly work much harder at it. About time!....
In the next several years this fabulous group of like minded collaborators expanded to include Howie Wyeth, Kevin Trainor, Mark Horn, Tim Carroll, Ron Sunshine, Fats Kaplin, Andrew Hardin, Andres Villamil, Craig Dreyer, Aaron Comess, Chris Barron, BBQ Bob, John Popper, Jimmy McDonell of Loup Garou, Jerry Dugger, Chuck Hancock, Wesley B Landers the late great jazz drummer who had played with everyone and was good enough to play with us, Gary Gold, John Siomis, Anders Gaarmand, George Kilby Jr., Bruce Rose and a host of other luminaries....It was a great time in NYC, certainly in the scene we were all involved in. We all played a great number of gigs, in ever changing line-ups, wrote songs together, and encouraged each other.
In 1991 I moved back to the UK. I lived down in Devon till 1994 when I won a competition to write a theme song for National Music Day. Later that year I moved to London and spent 2 years living there during which I toured in Germany several times but as before had little luck in 'The Big Smoke'. In 1997 I moved up to Cambridge. In early 1999, being in a bit of a financial hole, I gave up my home and resolved to live in my car and wander round Europe for a while, playing wherever they would have me. Thanks to my dear friends Bill & Charlotte Gross, I wound up staying in Copenhagen, a great music town, for nearly 2 years. When my mother became ill in early 2001, I moved back to Cambridge and have been based there ever since. I visit the US most years and play some shows there. I have played in Italy several times, usually with Jono Manson as the Whateverly Brothers. In the last several years I have played bass with George Kilby Jr when he is in Europe, touring Norway, Denmark and Ireland. I play a fair amount here in the UK, either solo or as the Corn Flakes with the help of Fabian Bonner on bass and Pete Newman on saxes.