Sunday, 24 April 2005

1984: A Warning from History?

Ingsoc. Doublethink. Sexcrime. The Thought Police. Minitrue.

Newspeak. The language of the revolution: the mutilation and destruction of the English dictionary. "It's a beautiful thing the destruction of words," muses Syme, member of the Newspeak Committee during lunch at the canteen at the Ministry of Truth. "It's an encouraging thought that by the year 2050 not a single person will be able to have a conversation like this."

"Except the proles..." interjects Winston Smith, our protagonist. Always thinking outside the box, always seeing the bigger picture, never subscribing to the propagandist world played out in front of his weary eyes. A sure fire way to a one way ticket to a firing squad.

A world so controlled, regimented and pessimistic; a world where the natural reproductive system is seen as inferior to artificial insemination; a world whose subjects are watched constantly. There's nowhere to hide - apparently. Yet we follow the clandestine activities of Smith and his lover Julia as they take on the Party and lose horribly. Two empty shells of humankind are left in the Chestnut Tree Cafe at the end of George Orwell's final work - Nineteen Eighty Four - stripped of hope, imagination and meaning. This book wasn't meant for a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Or maybe it was. Maybe its whole purpose - despite being a masterwork in storytelling, imagination and sheer, unadulterated negative escapism - was to charge the psyche of even the most un-political of persons, to enlighten and make aware the dangers our polarised human natures could exact upon our societal constructs.

Nineteen Eighty Four is a political statement, a futuristic conspiracy fiction and an erotic thriller bundled into one, 245 page book. Written in the immediate post-Second World War years, it was lauded, criticised, praised and derided by various sections of society. Its dramatisation by the BBC in the early 1950s raised questions in Parliament. Michael Radford's faithful and powerful film in which Richard Burton gave his farewell performance as Inner Party official O'Brien still has the ability to chill any viewer's spine. And the book itself still sells well, nearly sixty years after Orwell put finger to typewriter key.

But there has been one single issue that arises constantly whenever this book is mentioned in scholarly criticism or artistic review. Orwell's predictions have been proved unfounded. We are now in the year 2005, 21 years after the fabled time illustrated in the novel. Although closed, propagandist and militaristic societies exist in the developing world - most notably in North Korea - they are in the minority. Airstrip One of Oceania - the western world including Britain, Australasia and the Americas - is the most politically democratic portion of our globe. So the question now asked is what purpose does Nineteen Eighty Four serve? Will it slip into history along with Fahrenheit 451 as simply a work of fiction completely removed from modern society? Or do we still need Winston and Julia in our lives to remind us of what could theoretically happen? Should 1984 be re-dubbed 2084?

THE WORLD OF NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR
Nineteen Eighty Four was not the original title of the book. In fact, Orwell had started with 1980 as the setting for his post-revolution socialist society. However as work on the book continued through 1945-49 the novel advanced with the passing of time. Retrospectively, it's hard for any Orwell fan to imagine the book being called Nineteen Eighty One or Nineteen Eighty Two. The date, the year, even the number has passed into literary folklore.

The title of the book however is not the only aspect to have achieved near-legendary status. The terms coined by Orwell - Big Brother, Miniluv and Room 101 - and the language he invented are as much a part of the package as Winston and O'Brien. For an author in writing a book to envisage a completely new, sterile, skeletal lexicon completely removed from the textures and nuances of present day English - and then to apply it in such a way that the terms are ingrained in the reader's mind, shows us just what sort of person Orwell was.

Orwell himself had written the book against the backdrop of the political and social upheaval that he had witnessed before, during and after the Second World War. Fascism had been defeated in two European countries, and its polar political opposite - Communism - was now being seen as the new enemy. Mankind's ability to wage war in increasingly devastating fashion materialised in two Japanese towns. For a politically active mind such as Orwell's, this period of transition must have seemed like gold dust when it came to writing his pessimistic, twisted vision of the future.

Orwell's motivation aside, for years many were fearful of his prophecies coming true. The staunch anti-Communism felt by many during the various crises that typified the episodic nature of the Cold War materialised in the McCarthy "witch hunts" of the House Un-American Committees of the US Senate in the 1950s, and the final destruction of the USSR during a period which saw Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan governing the West - in the 1980s. So instead of a militaristic socialist dystopia, the states within Orwell's Oceania in the real 1984 were conservative right wing heartlands.

And what of Eurasia and Eastasia? Out of the three superpowers, Eastasia resembles most closely its counterpart in the real world. China and North Korea are both militaristic communist states, and until recently encapsulated a variety of military dictatorships and religious fundamentalist rulers. Although Eurasia was home to a number of communist states, particularly in the Balkans, it is now home to emerging democracies, new states and, peaceful revolutions aside, are relatively stable and peaceful.

It would seem therefore that by luck or judgement, Nineteen Eighty Four still has limited relevance, and Orwell's vision wasn't completely inaccurate and fanciful. However the years following the events of September 11 2001 have all but changed the world beyond recognition. With a seemingly war-hungry president in charge of the most powerful country in the world, can we call George W Bush "Big Brother"?

NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR - POST 9/11
My first encounter with this novel was when "Room 101" became one of my favourite television shows. Intrigued as I was as a ten year old watching his first post-watershed programme by this clearly comedy-based show, I was ignorant of the origins of the show's title - not that it concerned me. Seven years later a television show of an even greater popularity and magnitude was broadcast. In 2000 the first series of Channel 4's "Big Brother" was (to use a cliché) unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Described by listings magazines as "Orwellian", it had the effect of drawing me towards the book. Subsequently I discovered the reason for "Room 101"'s name.

Is this what Nineteen Eighty Four has been reduced to? A resource to be mercilessly plundered for modern television programmes? Well, not quite. However the Orwell Estate's concern and anger over the use of the term Big Brother by Endemol Entertainment, creators of the reality show can be understood. Yet when taking a look at the way the show is constructed - constant surveillance, manual tasks, ignorance of the real world, elimination of unpersons - the programme setup is perhaps as faithful to the ideas of the book that a post-modern televisual concept could get.

One wonders however how many of the Big Brother TV audience - usually around the six million mark - could name the novel from which the concept arises. Fewer still may be able to tell the story, and perhaps fewer still would understand the meanings, themes and other notions contained within its pages. One could therefore argue that indeed the novel is irrelevant - even Radford's impressive film being shown in the graveyard slot of 2am on Channel Four recently only confirms this.

Until we look at the novel when applied to the post September 11th world. Since 9/11, America has become a nation obsessed with surveillance and espionage. A new department for homeland security has made it near impossible for any would-be terrorists to enter the country.

However these new anti-terror laws also make it legal for the state to look at any of your public or private records if you are deemed to be a hazard. Anti-war or anti-Bush talk has been construed in the past as suspect activity. The black-and-white approach of the current administration leaves no room for conscientious objectors - labelled Anti-American by the right wing press - and for any forms of dissent.

George Bush is portrayed as the great leader - a man fighting for the freedom of his people. Characters like Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussain are the Goldsteins of this world - men to be hated and blamed for the deaths of Americans everywhere. This approach is further complicated by the fact that Eurasia and Eastasia exist in the form of the "Axis of Evil." Afghanistan and Iraq were once allies of America; then enemies, now allies again.

In America it is acceptable for newsgathering and journalistic organisations to have political leanings - for what would be called propaganda in any other country to be reported as factual, objective news. Embargoes on images of dead American soldiers, images of planeloads of coffins in opposition to the open celebration of "Fallen Heroes" mirror closely the reports spewed out from the novel's telescreens when reporting the battle at the Malabar Front.

Even the American language was changed by the war. With anti-French feeling rife the fries served at McDonalds and other fast food outlets became known as Freedom Fries. Terms such as "insurgents" and "homicide bombers" also became widely used.

Maybe Orwell was onto something. The Inner Party surrounding Big Brother are the crack team of advisors, secretaries and officials - including characters like Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld - who sell this new model of right wing politics to a wary world. The Outer Party are the working public who are encouraged to swallow this (mis)information and be persuaded that their government is doing the right thing.

CONCLUSIONS
The way the nuances surrounding the novel and post-9/11 America fit together may be seen as being a little convenient for anti-Bush sentiments. However one cannot help but marvel at the ironic way in which Orwell's socialist society so closely mirrors Bush's conservative society. For sixteen years Nineteen Eighty Four lingered in an irrelevant wilderness. Devoid of the novelty of prophecy which it held from publication right up to 11:59 on December 31st 1983, and of any semblance of political relevance due to the societal structure of the time, it had become a timepiece, an antique, another classic to be left on a shelf getting dusty.

The modern world has inadvertently given it a new lease of life. It has gained status by being the embryo of two successful television shows, and following 9/11 has gained a new respect as a comparator for the changes brought about by the neo-conservative regime in Washington.

Orwell would be happy to know that his book is being considered in the way he wanted it to be. He would be less happy that the very things he predicted were slowly and worryingly coming to pass. He would be even less happy that it was the right wing and not the left wing of the political spectrum that was exacting these changes.

George Orwell died in 1949, soon after his masterwork was completed. He never saw the Korean War follow hot on the heels of the Second World War. He never saw the building of the Berlin Wall or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Whether his book was a warning, a lecture or a fantasy, it had a profound impact upon all who read it and its importance should never be lost on anyone ever again.

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

71 Days, 14 Hours, 18 Minutes, 33 Seconds

I’m not normally a morning person. Rarely disturbed from my slumber much before 11am, I am the king of the lie-in and frequently traipse around the house with bed hair and dressing gown. But on Tuesday February 8th I was uncharacteristically keen to get out of bed, shower and head out the door into the bleak chill of a Cornish February morning.

The reason was a compellingly simple one: to witness history. That morning a diminutive, unassuming 28-year-old girl from Derbyshire was sailing her boat into the harbour. It’s at moments like this I’m thanking all the powers that I didn’t go to Liverpool University. I would have given myself a massive kicking if I had.

Surrounding me on the harbourside at the ungodly hour of 9am were people from all over the country and world who had by definition travelled miles to be here. I had walked from my front door to a front-row spot in a matter of minutes.

 
Standing through two rainstorms, a numbing northerly breeze and with increasingly cramped legs were a few of the less fun aspects of the morning, but any sense of discomfort only fuelled the fire burning with anticipation and excitement. What had up until now been an image on a computer screen or TV bulletin was soon to moor up less than 100 yards from my own eyes.

 

When the space-age curves of “B&Q Castorama” – the £1.5million trimaran built especially for Ellen’s record attempt – finally slipped round the Kings’ Dock and headed towards us, the respectful hush that fell on the overawed crowd was punctuated only by the crackling of the tannoy announcer and the clicking and whirring of the essential cameras. Small ripples of applause occasionally filtered out from the various colourfully crammed vantage points as the graceful 75-foot orange and blue beast turned on a sixpence and slid gracefully up to the pontoon jetty.

  

Photo opportunities followed when Ellen finally left the craft that had been her home for 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds. She jogged enthusiastically up the ramp to the Maritime Museum before emerging onto the stage to euphoric applause, cheers, whoops and two massive confetti cannons spewing out orange, blue and white tickertape – the colours of her two main sponsors of course.


There was no weeping, no kissing of the hull this time; she and her trusty steed were parted for now, but not forever. As various tributes were paid to her, bottles of champagne uncorked and the Team Ellen members romped onto the stage, it became clear that although Ms Macarthur was now the fastest sailor in the world, her motivation had not been quenched by the subzero salty spray of the Southern Ocean. She listed more records, more challenges and more tests for her sea legs.

 
All this was happening in the quiet, unassuming town of Falmouth. Always the bridesmaid to its more glamorous sister Newquay, Ellen’s presence had brought the world’s media to the historical harbourside as well as several thousand people who needed feeding by the restaurants and pasty shops and watering by the bars and pubs.

Small businesses reliant on summer tourism had received a late Christmas present. Locals looked on in bemusement as the normally desolate Falmouth-Truro train service was besieged. Ellen, by choosing Falmouth to dock at, had given the town more than she realised.

The next day many of the public – myself included – took the opportunity to get up close and personal with B&Q Castorama. Feeling the flawless carbon-fibre hull pressing gently against my hands, lilting softly in the water, was surreally exciting and humbling. It felt like shaking hands with a world famous rock or sports star.

I had held history in my hands – touched it, respected it and valued it, something Ellen’s misguided and jealous detractors could never do. This journey wasn’t an ego trip or an attention-grabbing stunt. It was a personal triumph for one woman, one boat and one town. She proved that anything is possible. She is a much better role model than any self-obsessed footballer could ever hope to be. All the clichés will have got an airing this week but one stands out for me against the rest. Ellen and her triumph is one of the most inspiring events I have ever witnessed


Thursday, 20 January 2005

A Brief History of Hiraeth

When Wales hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1999, a lot of people asked “Where is Wales?” Well if the sickly-sweet Tourist Board-funded adverts are to be believed, Wales is “two hours and a million miles away.” OK, let’s dissect this for a minute. Wales is for example about four hours train journey or car drive from Cornwall and 200 miles away. Depending on which measurement you’re disproving, Cornishmen are closer or further from Wales than they think.

However, if you were to take a more pragmatic view, Wales is that big bit of mountainous land sticking out from the side of England. If you were to travel west from any point between Oxford and Sheffield, there’s a fairly good chance you’ll cross Offa’s Dyke.

Then of course there’s the sentimental view. Wales, in some way, is home to about six million people in the UK, a further two million in the United States and Canada, and a good few thousand in Y Wlad (The Colony) in Patagonia, Southern Argentina.

But to many outsiders Wales has no firm identity or purpose as an independent principality. Apart from a rugby team, a football team, a flag and an anthem, some wonder why Wales as we know it should exist. As Anne Robinson once so eloquently put it, “What are they there for?” To answer your educated, non-xenophobic, sensible question Anne, we must take a little tour of Welsh history and find out why Wales is held with such scathing disregard.

The Principality of Wales was once an independent collection of kingdoms, just like the rest of the British Isles, ruled by princes and noblemen sharing common Celtic traditions and rituals. Wales’ original Latin name was Britannia – home of the Britons. The native Celtic Britannic race, conquered by Picts, Scots, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and then Normans, spoke early forms of what are now the Welsh, Cornish, Irish and Gaelic languages.

Wales’ sense of national identity first emerged after the Roman Invasion of Britain when, along with Scotland, it remained largely Roman free due to the tenacity of its tribal armies. In fact the Emperor Offa built a barrier on the Welsh/English border to keep out these Welsh tribes, like Hadrian did in Scotland. Large parts of Offa’s Dyke still exist today, and it remains the traditional border between the neighbouring countries.

Following the Norman invasion and the defeat of King Harold (arrow, eye, you’ve seen the tapestry), Wales as a nation came close to vanishing altogether. However they fought on until one man almost secured Wales’ future as a nation. Owain Glyndwr was the figurehead of the resistance armies which took on the English and scored some notable victories against them. He succeeded in, for the first time, uniting the landowners and local princes to form a united Welsh force. Ultimately however he was defeated, and Wales was annexed to England. Glyndwr disappeared into the hills of Gwynedd, never to be seen alive again. Today Glyndwr is recognised as the last Welsh prince, and enjoys a reverence amongst Welshman and women almost as passionate as Winston Churchill holds amongst the English.

Although Wales had been annexed, somehow it did not become part of England and the language survived, despite large numbers of English people relocating and taking over land and jobs. These were the spoils of war – the English landowners who had funded the invading army were rewarded with new territory and opportunities.

Wales’ contribution to British history didn’t die with Glyndwr however. Henry Tudor, later to be Henry VII, was born in Wales and, following the Tudor family being banished to France, was smuggled back into the country at Pembroke to take on Richard III in the War of the Roses.

The town of Newport was created as a major trading post at the beginning of the industrial revolution, leading to the creation of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, taking supplies up through the mining towns of Cwmbran, Pontypool and Abergavenny. Mining itself was the core of Welsh industry in Victorian times, with thousands of pitheads springing up over South Wales. Cardiff became the most important trading port in Britain in the early 1920s, attracting business from all over the country.

In the Second World War, the hills and vales of Wales became refuge for thousands of evacuees from London and other cities like Birmingham. The industrial centres in South Wales received frequent bombings in the years between 1941 and 1943.

Post-war Wales continued to rely on mining as well as finding its feet in tourism – the Butlins resort at Barry Island and the Mumbles Mile were both popular holiday spots. People from the Midlands began to head west to Aberystwyth for their holidays, and ferry routes to Ireland helped put Holyhead and Fishguard on the map.

In the 1960s Wales hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. At Aberfan in Blaenau Gwent scores of schoolchildren and their teachers were buried after a spoil heap – a mound of waste earth produced by a coal mine – above the village collapsed and sent an avalanche of mud down the mountainside. The tragedy was headline news around the UK. The compensation given to the village went not to the victims’ families, but to the Coal Board in order to remove the spoil tip.

Following the Beeching Axe of the railways and the years of Thatcherism, industry in South Wales all but died in the 1980s. Mines disappeared, leaving communities with no work. The steelworks were scaled down with the plants at Port Talbot, Llanwern and Ebbw Vale all losing business after British Steel became Corus.

However one major factor has kept Wales at the forefront of recognition – our tradition of rugby excellence. Rugby Union was invented at an English public school and to a certain extent remained a middle class game. An observation once made was:

Football is a gentleman’s game played by ruffians. Rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen.

In Wales it was different: a fiercely working class game played by mining communities on their days off. Every village in Wales has a rugby team – sometimes two. The number of divisions, leagues and cup competitions rival the English FA for sheer quantity. Rugby is on the National Curriculum in Wales. Rugby is to Wales what baseball is to America.

It has been said although the actual home of rugby is Rugby School in England, and the best rugby-playing nations are in the Southern Hemisphere, the spiritual home of rugby is Wales, because of the passion Welshman have for the game. Even now in the professional era with technology and dual-nationality players Wales are still in the top 8 rugby playing nations in the world, and on recent form are almost equal to the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and even world champions England.

Wales, as mentioned earlier, is also represented around the world by its colonies, or Wladau. The most famous of these is Patagonia in Argentina. In 1865 158 Welsh emigrants left Liverpool intent on settling and establishing a New Wales free of the rigours and structures of the Anglican Church. Many moved to Canada due to flooding, and all that remained became Argentinean citizens when the Argentine government formally took control of the Patagonian region. Today the Welsh language is still flourishing amongst the inhabitants of Puerto Madryn and other communities in the area.

There were also Welsh on the Mayflower and other emigrant convoys to the New World following the discovery of America. In the USA the strongest Welsh-American communities are in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Los Angeles California as well as those in New York and Boston. There is even a National Welsh American Choir who perform Welsh songs in the States and Canada.

Canada also has a strong Welsh contingent due to the Pilgrims and the refugees from Patagonia. You can even find the Welsh language being taught in schools in the Saskatchewan province. Elsewhere in the world Welsh communities exist in Australia and even Ibiza, where San Antonio has an entire district full of Welsh ex-pats.

Perhaps Wales’ biggest claim to fame is that President Thomas Jefferson, carved into Mount Rushmore and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, was a Welshman.

Finally, perhaps the one factor of which Wales is most proud of. Despite our torrid history and numerous influxes of “foreign” culture, the last words of the Welsh National Anthem are testimony to the strongest link we have to the very beginning of our history: y Iaith Gymraeg – the Welsh Language. Whereas Scots Gaelic and Cornish are almost dead, Welsh is fluently spoken by 26% of Welsh people, with thousands more learning every day. It is compulsory up to GCSE level in schools, and is the foundation for a world-famous cultural festival – the Eisteddfod. It has its own dedicated, public-funded TV channel and national radio station.

And, if you’re wondering, the last words of the Welsh National Anthem are O byddyd i’r hen iaith barhau – o let the old language continue. I have a feeling it will.

Are You Going To San Francisco?

At the end of December I walked into the Prince of Wales pub, keyboard in hand, all prepped and sorted for another open mic night. Sat at the bar, pint of Carling in hand was Brian, the harmonica player. Behind the bar, kitted out in 1970s-esque black shirt and jeans, was the landlord Nick. The regulars were huddled round their usual spots. The house lights had not yet been dimmed, the spots still cold. Everything was just as it had been for the previous fourteen months that I had been coming here.

It soon changed. As I unceremonially dumped my keyboard bag onto the wooden-effect floor and dropped my coat onto the stool already positioned in my place, the greying, wiry man sat next to me tuning his electronic-acoustic guitar muttered something. Fighting against the strains of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Back From Baby’s”, I craned my neck and said “You what?”

“It’s my last night tonight mate.”

Although I’d known about John Cocks’ intended departure from Falmouth for a six-month sabbatical in San Francisco California, it still felt weird that it would be the last time Brian and myself would be accompanying him to classics such as “Route 66”, “I’m On Fire” and “Key To The Highway”; songs I had never heard before meeting him. A few weeks before, I had sat down to talk to him about his life, determined to hear his story before he disappeared to the West Coast.

John had been running the open mic night at the Prince of Wales for nearly two years. According to him, the previous host would “just go on and on and on and make the most appalling racket, and no-one else would come in. You couldn’t play there. So I sort of scared them off and gradually it sort of turned around.”

Born in Yorkshire in 1948, John moved to Cornwall at the age of two. His parents had met in London during the war. John’s father worked as an RAF engineer due to a lazy eye which kept him out of combat action. His mother worked for RAF central flight control. “As far as I can work out she was one of the people who had long sticks and pushed the little aeroplanes on the maps”, he recalled. “She had to commute in every day during the Blitz from Surrey, taking different routes to avoid the bombed out areas.”

Following the end of the war John’s father became a schoolteacher at Camborne Basset School. His mother was wholly Cornish to begin with, and his father’s family had moved away from Cornwall when the tin mines closed, so in a sense the young Cocks family were coming home.

John hated school. After a fairly inauspicious year at Redruth Grammar – where he was moved down to the B stream – he was packed off to Truro Cathedral School by his appalled parents. He failed Latin, Army Corps and rugby and was promptly put down into the B stream again. By the time it came to take his O-Levels he failed all but two – gaining top grade in English Language and scraping through English Literature. As a result he stayed on in education for a further year at the TEC in Pool, where he found the more relaxed system beneficial. “Suddenly it was a free environment where you were not made to work, it was demonstrated that it was quote a good idea if you did,” he observed. “I retook my O Levels, got them all – just shot through them all cos people were treating me like a grown up, which is what I’d been wanting since I was about 12. Public school also teaches you arrogance” he added.

As well as failing his O-Levels, John was discovering the pub music scene, beginning playing live when he was 15. The catalyst was the Beatles’ “I Saw You Standing There”. He had first picked up a guitar at age 11 after seeing Tommy Steele play and “thinking it was going to be easy, tried it once and it was like “Ow! It doesn’t work!” However with the aid of a self-teaching book he soon began to gain confidence in the instrument.

His first gig was at a youth club in Troon playing lead guitar with a band led by the man who is now head of County Council Libraries in Truro, Terry Knight. Following this he was headhunted. As he put it: “People who could play [live music] were in demand. I joined a band called Circuit Four. Then we got another guy and became Circuit Five. We played middle of the road crap for people to dance to.” Following this, and with the advent of supergroups like Cream, he and two others from Circuit Five broke away to form a power trio called Confusion. “We had an acoustic guitar we used to break up at every gig, then put it back together and break it up again.”

Technology at this time was still in its relative infancy – they were happy if it worked, never mind volume and levels. However then they discovered credit cards, and John acquired a 8x10 Marshall speaker stack. Confusion apparently found its massive power perfect for the tiny little village halls they were playing.

Then came the first major turning point in John’s life. Confusion entered a rock competition in Truro. Amongst the competitors was a drummer by the name of Roger Taylor. Confusion came in second place. In the audience was the deputy manager of the Barclays’ Bank branch in Falmouth. “That was my dad’s idea – for me to become a bank manager. Job for life”, scoffed John. The morning after the competition, the deputy manager called John into his office and made him choose between the bank, a promotion and a transfer to Launceston, or the band. John chose the band. However by giving up his banker’s salary he realised he would have to leave Cornwall anyway to find work. So in 1968 he went to London.

According to John, it was perfect timing. “London was an amazing place in ’68.” John and his friends were regular patrons at the Hampstead Country Club in North London. At that time other, onstage regulars included Free and Pink Floyd. As well as this he saw the Rolling Stones, The Who and the Small Faces at the Roundhouse.

Around this time he also dropped out and became a “bit of a hippy”, living in Wales; on a farm owned by the original bassist from Hawkwind. He became involved in organising the first proper Glastonbury festival in 1971, and cut an album with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers.

Returning to London, he found work at the newly opened Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park; a project funded by US music mogul John Morris, owner of the world-famous Fillmore East and West. John started as a barman, then a doorman, finally ending up as a stagehand. When a new stage manager, Michael J Hoon was appointed, he and John became good friends, sharing a house. Hoon soon made John his number two. John had gone from being a barman to the second most important person behind the scenes in a matter of a few weeks. Being a stagehand he renewed his acquaintances with the likes of the Jackson Five (“I met Michael Jackson when he was a little 9-year old black boy…”) BB King, Jethro Tull, the Faces, Pink Floyd and Stephen Stills.

Then, just as quickly as it had happened, the dream ended. John Morris’ finances – or lack of same – resulted in the Rainbow shutting down. However Morris had “wangled” the production responsibilities for Paul McCartney’s first post-Beatles tour, “Wings Over Europe.” Michael J Hoon was made tour manager so John went too. However it wasn’t as rewarding as John had hoped. “Never meet your idols” he warned. “I didn’t like McCartney at all. He was unnecessarily vain and pompous and rude. He stayed in a different hotel to the band; I felt that was pushing it a bit.” However John’s relationship with Linda was better. “She was lovely, I got to know Linda quite well. I used to buy her dope. She’d say “John I need to score” so I got given loads of cash to get her dope. She couldn’t sing and couldn’t play, but she was lovely.”

A Grateful Dead tour and a Santana tour followed for John, and then he was invited by Hoon to come to America. He arrived in San Francisco, California on December 6th 1972. He had become known as “the guy who did lighting for Macca” – a somewhat inaccurate description as he had only moved to the lighting rig on the Santana tour. However John took it in his stride and was hired by Boz Skeggs as a lighting designer. After a while he set up his own lighting design company, touring all over the US. In one gig he “very nearly set fire to the Tubes’ front-man’s hair” due to the heat of the 1000W bulbs.

In 1977, well after the expiration date of his six-month work visa, John returned – exhausted – to Penryn. He joined “probably the best band to come out of Falmouth”, British Intelligence, who tried and failed to get a record deal. Since then he’s turned sound engineer, doing “brutal” summer seasons all over Cornwall for various bands and projects. He’s produced four solo albums – “Gone West”, “All This”, “Different Game” and an upcoming, as-yet unnamed album. And he’s played live every week for two years at the Prince of Wales.

In January 2005 he left once more for San Francisco. Falmouth has – temporarily – lost one of its rock ‘n’ roll stars. John Cocks lived the dream and came through unscathed to tell a remarkable story.