Right now I am expecting to get an answer and some news, from Gilberto, one of the three musketeers on the London mission! As everyone knows the musketeers were in fact four. Gilinho, Quim. Mané and I would perhaps rather be seen as conquerors. What sort of mission or conquest were we on, in those very first years of the seventies?
Pretty much looking for a future… All worked from early age and just as kids of any generation, meeting females was part of the essence that kept us going through thick and thin. Girls were in fact present in our lives and there was always some type of relationship going on. The teenage male image of the day, was to show that you were not really in love . The measurement of your success was rather down to how many conquests you managed to make! Or as a representative from the previous generation once said to me after being introduced to my girlfriend of the time!
– You want to follow the three F rule. – Ok, and what is that? Find them, Fuck them and Forget them! I will admit that that rule never really applied very much to me as I was more of the kind that Found, Fucked and Fell in love!
But going back to the topic in hand. Mané lives in Macau where he is in the business of selling Portuguese wines to the Chinese. Quim probably lives in Houston, Texas, but his restless spirit does not leave him put too often in any place. . Gilberto or Gilinho as we called him resides in Watertown Massachusetts. What he does I do not know as yet. As for myself I have been faithful to the small town of Sundsvall right in the middle of Sweden where I have committed myself to work for the town’s development, now in politics and previously teaching teenagers.
None of us stayed or returned to live in Portugal. In that sense we are like the millions that throughout history left Portugal following a good Portuguese tradition of “giving new worlds to the world”.
So I managed to find one of my friends from the London days, Mané Fernandes. He now lives in Macau and I last saw him in Lisbon, 25 years ago! Internet and Skype put us in touch! Mané took Gilberto’s place in the cloakroom at Maximus!
Maximus at Leicester Square was meant to attract the passer by. There were a few regulars but not enough to justify an economic stable situation for the club. The members of the staff at this point were mainly Portuguese as Quim Semião was in the bar and I was at reception!
There is a lot to be said about the cloakroom. There is also a lot to be said about London and nightlife’s employment and working conditions. What was above board and what was not, is unclear! As far as I remember there was hardly any salary to talk about! According to Mané, who seems to have a better memory than mine, we earned about £2 a night. Somehow the owners expected the staff to work for peanuts or maybe they accepted that the staff would find their own incomes in way of tips and the like! We could really say, illicit incomes for which no taxes were paid and everybody was happy!
The cloakroom gave enough to survive but still not enough for Gilberto who moved on to the restaurant business! Mané took his place and got another guy to replace him when he had to go somewhere. This guy seemingly “spilled the beans” to the manager, on the way things were run among coats and umbrellas and by doing this tipped the plates of the silent agreement! Mané had to go!
As young immigrants we lived in a world of eat or get eaten up. It was all a question of survival. Imaginative power was a main ingredient! Mané recalls for example how at one time we had run out of English money to put on the meter for the boiler! Someone discovered that some of the Portuguese coins of a lower value fitted exactly on these meters so they were used as long as possible! Later the bill had however to be paid!
Glad to have gotten in touch with you again, Mané!
It’s a fact. Earl’s Court was a great place to be in the beginning of the seventies. Near to everything and with the underground station serving the most important lines- District and Piccadilly- who needed a car? Plenty of restaurants, a bookstore, Wimpy bars, Pizza Hut and other fast food giants, launderette and Drycleaners, Pubs, in short, the ideal place for the common bachelor with little money to live his adventures.
Some excitement was at times provided when travelling without a ticket on the tube. If caught we were tourists and once when Gilberto Matos was stopped in Piccadilly and asked to produce a ticket he did not have, and pressed to answer where he came from- the answer popped out as Portugal instead of Earl’s Court! Great times, with lots of laughter and perhaps not as carefree as one would like to remember it today! We were, in short, on our way somewhere but not quite sure what it would be.
The reader of my blog has been able to follow a period of my life between 1952 and 1972. Twenty years of memories that I try to recall and share in a way that others might find interesting. I have tried to keep faithfull to my original idea to keep texts short and keep them coming. Up to today I have published 95 texts and they have been viewed 4130 times. Most of the views are from Sweden (1570) tightly followed by Portugal (1447), UK comes third with (386). I have hits from 41 countries. I have no idea how frequent people visit this blog or who they are, unless they make comments, but I wish to express to all, my thanks for looking in!
Life in a sort of exile is not for everyone… It prompted Mané Fernandes to go back that Christmas in 1971/72. It took him to an army spell in Africa! It was different for Quim Semião. He wanted to make it and one time he even began to be known as Mr. King. He met a Swedish girl called Yvonne around this time and they were a couple for some time. Gilberto had his Swiss girlfriend and eventually they moved to her country on the Alps. I believe that both Gilberto and Quim later moved across the Atlantic to the USA. Quim did, for sure!
It all meant that that very eventful year of my 20th birthday started with the need to get new tenants for Nevern Square. Two school colleagues of Mona’s and Åsa’s needed a place, so they swiftly moved in.
These girls were wild, and I look forward to having them share some of their memories on this blog. One of the first things they did was getting a huge dog that they named Martini! This was an Afghan hound of some sort that spent most of its life hidden under a bed terrified of everything and everyone.
Ulla Hjertstedt and Jannike Beijer were our two new flat mates. Like so many other Swedish girls they came to London for the adventure and who can blame them? I have as a teacher often given advice to my students- Take a year in another country to develop and grow on the personal level.
The way of getting to London for many of the Swedish female army was with arrival at Tillbury with start in Gothenburg aboard the MS Saga.
In the autumn of 1971 the Swedish girls came into my life. They had walked in to Maximus. I knew very little about Sweden. Absolutely nothing about the town they came from or the island they said they lived in.
What I knew was that it was a Scandinavian country and the women had the reputation of being blond, blue eyed and liberal. Meeting Mona and Åsa was the next step and follow up from a few pen friends I had been in contact with through the IYS “International Youth Service” of Turku in Finland.
They shared a basement room and worked in a hotel. At this time Mona was mourning the death of her grandmother mormor Helga. This was in October 1971. I recall the two friends went back to Sweden to celebrate Christmas but came back in January.
They moved into Nevern Square. Mané had returned to Portugal and Gilberto’s Swiss girlfriend was in with him.
In the course of a few weeks we started to fall in love. Glances were exchanged and in those glances a passion was growing. No one can really explain why people fall in love… It happens and I felt it was reciprocal but still a bit unsure. I invited Mona to eat out at a restaurant called La Pergola in Cromwell Rd. It was a Monday evening more precisely the 24th of January 1972. At the back of the card I wrote I love you and signed my name…nor James Bond, but João Pinheiro…from then on we were a couple!
Life in Earl’s Court was good. We had our own apartment. Four guys ( Quim, Mané, Gilberto and I) shared two rooms, bathroom, living room and I am quite sure there was a kitchen. Like all other type of sharing it had its inconveniences. These were related to having hardly any privacy and being constantly dependent on what everybody else felt like doing.
It is easy to understand how one could easily fasten in this make believe life. Fortunately none of us were doing drugs. I think everyone smoked and there was no special relation to alcohol.
During a period of time it all circulated round long nightly card games to the continuous sound of Santana’s “Abraxas” or Deep Purple’s “Fireball” albums. The card game in question is for four players known to most Portuguese as King. This game consists of two parts where the first is to avoid winning different things and the second to make points. When the counting was done there were losers and winners. These games were played for money. Generally we would sit after 3 in morning returned from our nightly jobs and went on for a couple of hours. Sometimes there was more company sometimes not…How I ever had the stamina to live this kind of life I really do not know today.
When we eventually got up it would be about midday and time to deal with the strenuous daily tasks of looking for somewhere to eat and to pick up any clothes left at the dry cleaners.
My favorite restaurant was “The Hungry years” right on Earl’s Court Rd. Their hamburgers were the best I have ever eaten and besides choosing the weight you had to choose between some twenty odd different delicious sauces!
It is just as one thing leads to the next! As I started to work nights the question of residence was important to fix.
Earl’s Court was an ideal place for anyone without a car and no money to put down on mortgages and the like. The underground was practical and took me wherever I needed to go in the Greater London area. The place was full of restaurants and their numbers were increasing. As I moved into this area the fast food chains seemed to be doing the same. Pizza Hut, Kentucky fried chicken and a hamburger restaurant called “The hungry years” appeared.
As I recall the hamburger restaurant had the tastiest hamburgers ever and even the fried chicken tasted much better than it does today!
There were plenty of digs around so when Quim Semião and his neighbour from Lisbon, Mané Fernandes turned up in the London night scene, we had enough people to rent an apartment. This was a step forward and together with Gilinho we advanced.
My new address became 10, Nevern Square. The furnished flat had two rooms, a bathroom, a dining room and a kitchen. I do not remember anyone ever making any food there. It suited us perfectly!
Even though the rent was high we always managed to pay it. We ate out, left our clothes to the dry cleaners and turned the dining room into card playing premises. In the dining room there was a record player and some LPs to go with it.
As we all worked until 3 o’clock in the morning it’s easy to understand that day was night and night was day. In the photo, above Quim Semião and Gilberto Matos on the roof in Nevern square.
The period of transition between my City gentleman’s life and night club worker occurred gradually. After my more regular weekend visits to the Concord, it didn’t take long before I went from the junior Night Club to the senior one.
The necessity to make more money, in order to keep up with my new life styles, put me on the lookout for income opportunities. The owner of the Concord was Mr Nat but he was also a part owner and active controller of the Maximus disco in Leicester Square.
If Tony was at the Concord, Gilinho or Gilberto Matos, “the good giant”, was at Maximus and digging gold on the cloakroom there. Sometimes he needed help mainly at weekends and at given times when most costumers arrived. But my grand activity was trying to sell the Club to passers-by for which I received 10 pence per successful Club visitor.
The job consisted on chatting up and convincing people on the street that this Roman styled Discotheque was the place to be. And in many senses it was! The place was at the time rather African American influenced and the DJ was an American. It was here I discovered James Brown and other artists of the Tamla Motown label. The waitresses wore very little and the Go-go dancers were as far as I could understand very competent!
Here the reader can see what the card looked like, that I dealt out in front or around, 14 Leicester Square.
After meeting the Portuguese I started to move away from the City and naturally from Barnes that was a quiet place and a bit far from where the action was.
The new contacts meant that it became logical, practical and economic to move together. It all started with late nights in the West End mainly on weekends, that gradually increased in intensity as I started to make some money working in Discotheques. I’ll have the opportunity to come back to that subject, but now I am more interested to describe my first real love affair.
Most boys aspire at doing their debut with a female partner as soon as possible and it is of great importance that this is a positive experience. It is certainly a nervous one! It is an advantage if this girl should be a bit older and more experienced.
Living at West Cromwell Rd 3 we had Gilberto Matos and Tony (the Setubal guys). Opposite them lived another Portuguese, Rodolfo Fonseca. He was studying automobile engineering and was a few years older than everybody else. Truth is, we thought he was ancient, being around the age of 25. At any rate everybody got along with Rodolfo. He was social and we had great fun at his place. We just didn’t let him in on our nightly excursions!
He kept a tight watch on the females and had spoken several times about this beautiful Russian neighbor living in our building, on the top floor. I was obviously interested and thought of her, as well beyond my reach. But she was nice and curious and before long I was invited to her room and discussed many questions and shared common interest in languages and cultural matters. She was older than me and spending her time in London, getting educated. But what was the story of this sophisticated Russian with long black hair?
It turned out she was Armenian, not at all Russian, and had lived in one of the emirates where her family lived. In the Christmas period of 1970 we became a couple to my friends’ amazement and my own great sense of accomplishment. I was in love, but it wouldn’t last!
As time went by the West End started to take over from the City. I cannot recall how we started to frequent the Concord Club at Oxford Street/Regent Street??? It’s dead and buried and there’s nothing to be found about it, on Google. Has it existed? I am now giving it new life, anyway.
This was a disco for a younger public. No big spenders, but a good place to listen to music, dance and take a cool drink! The disc jockey was the Portuguese Toni (Carolo), a Setubal born good looking boy, that was popular with the girls. His friend was another Setubal native Gilberto Matos and we eventually shared digs in West Cromwell Rd. It was this Portuguese connection that brought us to the Concord blessed, as it were, by the owner Mr Nat, who for some reason liked us and wanted us there.
My strongest memories from the Concord were together with Mário Soveral. We would go there quite often and worked on our female conquests to the sound of “Blame it on the Pony Express” by Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon and many Tamla Motown labeled music. It was my introduction to Black American music and I stayed with it.
When we started to increase our network of friends we had to meet and keep the contacts going. For this there was obviously the conventional telephone. (I cannot recall ever having one of those).How did we meet and keep in touch with each other? I do not know but we were certainly masters of logistics deciding to meet up at tube stations and the like, between certain hours, at certain days. Communication was not what it is today!