I became a teenager one day in August 1971 at San Jose, a large house overlooking the Mombasa seafront and golf course and home to our friends the Strattons. We were down from Nairobi for a week or so and staying with the Strattons. A mutual friend, Fiona Loundon who lived nearby had come over to use the Strattons swimming pool. Before all the kids went swimming, she put a record on – ‘Echoes’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ album. I had never heard anything like it! I was immediately and completely enthralled.
I had bought a couple of singles before then, ‘Wild Thing’ by the Trogs, ‘The Israelites’ by Desmond Decker, and although I hate to admit it… ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ by Middle of the Road, things my parents liked! But suddenly I was listening to a music that wasn’t on the radio, it was only known of and appreciated by teenagers. I had graduated! I had arrived!
I had two sets of friends, English friends and Kenyan friends. Going out to Kenya for the holidays I usually met a handful of Kenya friends at the airport. All the boarding schools in the UK broke up at about the same time, so the flights to Kenya (often chartered flights, called lollipop specials) were full of excited teenagers. The poor stewardesses!
At sixteen, my closest friend was Chris Chard, he was a year younger than me and incorrigible! I am not sure that we were the best influence on each other. His father was head brewer at Kenya breweries, which had it’s perks! We did the usual thing of hanging around town at the Thorn Tree (an open air café in the centre of Nairobi), trying to impress the girls. It was the 70s, so on a Friday night, everyone went to the Golf Range disco. However there were less well known events, such as the Hootenanny. This was an ad hoc, open mike folk evening. (There wasn’t much for teenagers to do in an evening!) It had an average attendance of around 100 odd people. Years later I discovered that Donna used to go as well and that we were often in the same room together but never knew of each other.
Being a drummer, I had also made friends with the local band that played in the Grill Room, which was a cabaret at the New Stanley Hotel, where my mother worked. The band took a break before the cabaret went on, and Mike Frances the band leader would meet me in the Hotel bar. This would mean that I could sneak into the cabaret with him as his ‘guest’ without having to pay, or have a meal. In this way, I could not only see some top class acts, but also impress girls by taking them to a show. It backfired once – the cabaret artist was a hypnotist and the girl I took turned out to be the most susceptible in the whole audience. When she later found out all the stupid routines that the hypnotist had made here do, she was very embarrassed. We never went out on another date!
Here are three short clips of the house band, The Mike Francis Sound.
My first girlfriend was Kate Johnstone. I was sixteen, she was only just turning thirteen. I think everyone was a bit surprised (or embarrassed?) by the age difference. As always with girls at that age, she was far more mature than most of the boys I knew. It lasted about six months. I was devastated when we broke up.
A short while later I met Trish Lord. I was introduced to her by a friend called Zoe Harding, whose father and mine were business colleagues. Trish made an immediate impact with my parents, especially my father, as she was quite the extrovert. Zoe’s boyfriend Pete, was a friend of mine. He owned a car which was advantageous and the four of us would go out together. As far as I can remember, my relationship with Trish was on and off for a year or so. Eventually her extrovert nature became too much for me, and to my shame I broke up with her over the telephone.
Since Trish and I were at school in the UK, we would often write to each other. Some time later, which must have been after we had broken up, Trish was at Valley Road Secretarial School, in Nairobi where she became good friends with Donna who was also studying there. Being best friends, she would read my letters to Donna (who I was yet to meet).
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