Twice a year, I travel to England’s south west coast to meet up with a chap by the name of Brian Meredith.
Brian is my oldest friend, someone I have known since my days as a schoolboy at Lawrence Sheriff.
There must still be plenty of Rugby people who will remember Brian.
The former drummer with The Reprobates and later Big Idea was well known enough when venues around the town and surrounding area regularly reeled and rocked to the popular music revolution of the 1960s.
These days, Brian is retired and lives in Exeter, Devon. But his musical activities have continued unabated. You can’t keep a good man down.
Proficient with piano and guitar as well as the drums, Brian has nearly completed a self-penned album titled First Light.
And very good it is, too, as I soon discovered when we jammed along to the CD of the album with guitars and the occasional harmonica supplied by yours truly.
However, like the brothers-in-arms that we are, the subject inevitably got around to schooldays, Rugby, and the 1960s in general.
Like so many talented people, Brian was a bit of a square peg in a round hole at Lawrence Sheriff. Despite its then thin veneer of academia and respectability, the school was actually a very tough environment indeed.
Bullying was commonplace and the masters dealt out rough justice to boys who bucked the system at the drop of a mortar board.
Oh yes. You really had to watch out for yourself, the best insurance being an older lad who would watch out for you and fight your corner should the need arise.
My ‘minder’ was fellow Churchover lad Chris Keeley, who nobly managed to extricate me from a difficult situation on more than one occasion.
For example, a favourite sport at Lawrence Sheriff was ‘de-bagging’, which involved the forcible removal of the victim’s trousers, the confiscated item only being returned when the baying pack had tired of their recreation.
Yes, I know. This probably makes for awful reading by today’s standards, but regardless of fashionable opinion, and contrary to received wisdom, the luxury of hindsight nevertheless offers very few opportunities to head for the high ground.
And there will undoubtedly be present-day teachers and pupils at Lawrence Sheriff who jaws will make the journey south upon reading of such traditions.
But be that as it may, the fact remains that ‘The Sheriff’ had a public school ethos in those days which would either make or break you.
It is no coincidence whatsoever that author Thomas Hughes great work Tom Brown’s Schooldays chronicles the tender mercies of our hero’s tormentor, the fiendish Flashman.
For Lawrence Sheriff in those days was not only the ‘feeder’ school to its more illustrious neighbour, but also aped its long tradition of imposing what was sometimes harsh discipline on those sons of gentlefolk who ventured within its walls.
However, Lawrence Sheriff, despite all its corporal punishment and generous imposition of detentions, nevertheless had its fair share of rebels, most of whom could be found in the lower class of each year.
The forms were organised into ‘alpha’, ‘A’ and ‘B’. Until 1960, the latter had been marked as ‘C’ but this was done away with, the logic being that no boy who had passed the 11-plus to attend Lawrence Sheriff could possibly come under this classification.
Whatever the somewhat crude labelling, the fact remains that despite being regarded as ‘the scum of the earth,’ the ‘B’ brigade contained some very bright and innovative lads, some of whom went on to do very well in their future lives.
Their names and faces flash by in my mind’s eye… there was Phil Olive, Johnny Pointon, Phil Watkins, ‘Tub’ Dew, Paul Thomas, Don Eales, Johnny Jones and Tim Tyler, to name just a few.
I can see them now, frozen in time, forever young, if not exactly eternally fresh faced.
Well, over half a century later, two aging men once again shoulder their guitars, those great people’s instruments of the 1960s, and hit the strings.
They’re two old battle-scarred veterans of facing everything the Fates can throw at them, yet they’re still somehow managing to keep the flame of lost youth still flickering in the grate.
And that’s why I think that Brian’s new album First Light, the creation of a man who first started playing music in the Rugby area nearly 60 years ago, will surely prove that age certainly hasn’t wearied anyone.
John Phillpott’s third book Go and Make the Tea, Boy! published by Brewin Books, is available from the usual outlets.