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Badge - Cream

Back in 1969 when I was 14 in my first year at a certain boarding school in Scotland, us young 'uns spent our first few terms in a remote house several miles away from the school, not far from the seaside village of Hopeman. Everyday we had to cycle in to school - which took us about 20 minutes - and latecomers would have the embarrassment of being late for chapel.

Hopeman Lodge was an old fashioned sort of second rate manor house, probably once a hotel, coloured a stucco yellow and overlooking the sea amidst gorse bushes and then sand dunes, very remote and storm beaten like something out of an early Hitchcock movie. We loved it, 25 youngsters, controlled by two masters and five senior boys. Have a look:-

At that time, I was receiving strange looks from all my mates due to my diet of the Beach Boys and Tamla Motown. They couldn't understand what I saw in the music of middle aged black people like the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye, not to mention the Supremes. In those days, the common fare of the average public schoolboy was the white blues based rock such as Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Humble Pie. But boy, even to someone who like me who was soul obsessed, Cream were tremendous: melodious yet driven by some of the first and greatest funky rhythm line riffs, fabulous attacking drumming and scorching guitar solos that fuelled the argument about who (after Hendrix) was the greatest "guitar hero".

In order to regain lost musical ground and achieve social "cool"status, I used to study the geneology of all these groups through assiduous reading of Melody Maker and Sounds and show off my expertise to unsuspecting friends to earn their respect. One of the things I was particularly proud of was knowing the line-up of the 5 musicians who were playing on Badge - Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Felix Pappalardi, (later of US heavy rock combo Mountain) and George Harrison (credited as L'Angelo Mysterioso as he was contracted to Parlophone Records at the time) who cowrote the song with Eric Clapton.

I and my friends Ricky and Mark used to share a study, and would stand on our chairs and perform Badge at least three times a week, and it never failed to lift our spirits. Ricky and I would be on guitars (squash rackets) while Mark would drum on the desktop, and oh what fun we'd have, me quietly picking out the bass line, Mark bursting in on the drums, and then the glorious moment:

"...then I told you 'bout our kid now he's married to Mabel..."

that pause with the note hanging in the air, always just a little bit longer than you remember it, just enough to make you hungry with anticipation, ........and then that wonderful, sublime spiralling piece of guitar picking, ever so slightly fuzzed, that makes anyone with the faintest bit of "mensch" in them just want to go spinning round in a slow motion twirling dance forever, the phrase repeating once before three heavenly lowering drum rolls from the Ginge and then we're off again. The rather typical late sixties guitar solo is just to try and slake our thirst after our slice of rock heaven, to bring us back down gently, because they know, and rightly so, they're only going to let us have it once and to hear it again we're going to have to play it again, which somehow makes it all the more precious.

Anyway, when we were playing it for the third time, squash rackets and all, at top volume one Sunday afternoon, we all finished in a flourish and then realised that one of the seventeen year old "seniors" had walked in the door and was watching us. We thought "this means trouble" but he only smiled, and said "keep it down a bit guys" before clearing off, We realised he must have seen most if not all of our performance and thought we were lucky that it was a good sort like Boyd who was on duty.

Some 15 years or so later, while watching "Good and Bad at Games" a Film on Four production, (Channel 4's early tv commissions, half way between BBC's Play for Today and actual film releases), I sat up in the shock of familiarity. The story was part set in a public school which already seemed strikingly familiar when three of the characters stood on their chairs in their study and played air guitar to Badge.

The stage direction in the script for the play reads:

"Shouts of approval from the others. Joyce puts on 'Badge'. The opening chord rings out loudly.

Everybody sings along, plays imaginary guitars, drums, etc.

Cox slips unobtrusively out of the door."

And of course, I checked the name of the play's author, and low and behold it was Boyd, later to achieve fame as author of highly-rated novels such as "A Good Man in Africa", "An Ice-Cream War" and "Stars and Bars". Even now, it feels good to have been someone's muse, even if only for a few seconds, especially in the company of Clapton and Co.

And it also reveals William Boyd as a "mensch".

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