Not long after I’d learned my first few songs on the guitar I was asked to help out with a local variety show, a sort of talent competition. It didn’t take too long to realise I was out of my depth, so they decided to incorporate the talents of another local musician, one who had already some showband experience.
At our first rehearsal, he asked me what key the first song was in. I said “C”. He played a “C” chord on his piano and pulled a face. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied and showed him my fingers on the neck of my guitar. He played his piano again and this time it sounded better. “It’s in “D” he said. At this stage I was beginning to wonder if perhaps this guy is not as sharp as they think he is. I said – OK, so it’s “C” for me but “D” for you. “No,” he said, it’s “D” for both of us… and then proceeded to explain to me that my capo on the second fret meant even though I was holding down a “C” chord” I was in fact playing in the key of “D”. That was my first real music lesson outside of learning a few chords and songs at my regular guitar class.
We played that show several times in different villages and towns and after the show was over we’d sit around and talk music and play bits and pieces. Some people used to wait around and listen to us. One evening a guy came up and spoke to John for a bit and later John explained that he wanted to book us for a gig. John said he knew a drummer and asked me would I like to form a band? He didn’t need to ask that twice… and that’s how Albatross was born. So we had a gig even before we had a band.
We played for several years with that first line-up. We went from playing mostly country and waltzes to rock ‘n’ roll and then full steam ahead rock. John was equally at home singing ballads like Almost Persuaded or He’ll Have To Go in the early days as he was to singing Jumpin’ Jack Flash or The Wild Side Of Life in the latter days.
My over-riding memory of those days is John’s level of enthusiasm. I never knew him to be in bad humour and he always had a smile on his face. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is going to miss that.