This month the Time Machine returns to the 1960s. We take the journey with local resident Denise Tayler who once “saw Jimi Hendrix for half a crown”. Her story is also one of how music forms bonds and enriches lives. It begins in London.
Born in 1951, Denise Tayler grew up in Battersea, “very poor”, the oldest of two children (she had a younger brother). The rare spelling of her surname derives from a Dutch-Afrikaans ancestry. In 1963 the Inland Revenue, for whom her parents worked, decided to move many of their operations out of the capital. Her family were settled in Barrington Road, Goring.
“That’s where the Inland Revenue still is,” she says, “My dad was an adjudications officer and my mum was enforcement. They absolutely loved Worthing, lived there for their whole lives. If you look at that building, there’s a square bit at the top: that’s where my dad sorted out the one computer for the building. It took the whole top floor.”
Her parents may have been happy but Denise wasn’t. Now aged 13, she’d come from a London comprehensive but made it into Worthing Technical High, a grammar school (now Durrington High). A self-confessed geek, with thick glasses, a tooth missing and a Cockney accent, she was badly bullied. Added to that, she wore a black and white miniskirt, on-trend in London but in Worthing…
“People thought I was a prostitute or something,” she sighs, “They’d never seen skirts above the knee before. It made me notorious. Then, a few months later, everyone was wearing them.”
There was another notorious girl at the school, Janice Clements, who, a year older than Denise, was dating a DJ, one of only two black guys in the area.
“I later went out with the other one,” she recollects, “I went on the back of his scooter but my mum and dad banned me from seeing him because he was black. We didn’t have sex or anything; we only went for egg’n’chips but it upset my parents no end.”
All that came later, though. Initially Denise and Janice had a terrible playground scrap, “scratching each other’s eyes out”. Denise won and, strangely, after that the pair became firm friends. Janice introduced Denise to Tamla Motown.
“When I was a kid the big thing was swing,” she remembers, “My granny and my mum used to listen to Frank Sinatra and I absolutely loathed it. I still do. Jazz upsets me. If I hear it I have to go for a walk. Then one day my mum borrowed a single, ‘Wonderful World’ by Sam Cooke. All of a sudden my family stopped swing and started to get into soul.”
Motown, then, wasn’t a huge leap. Denise began collecting cast-off singles from American jukeboxes, some now Northern Soul classics. She, Janice and friends also started attending the Big Beat Sessions at the Worthing Assembly Rooms and on the Pier, promoter Freddy Bannister’s Thursday night pop concerts.
“I was one of the few allowed out on a school night,” she says, “Mum used to say that as long as I was in by 11.00 it was OK. I’d have to get the 10.45 bus home. I left to get it even when Jimi Hendrix was in full flow.”
Denise kept the flyers for those gigs. Between the ages of 13 and 16 she spent all her paper round money seeing a who’s who of ‘60s music: Hendrix twice, The Who twice, Cream (Eric Clapton asked her for directions back to the A24), The Troggs, The Kinks, The Easybeats, The Merseybeats, Napoleon XIV (of ‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!’ fame), Fleetwood Mac, Arthur Brown, The Mindbenders, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch (Denise scribbled on that flyer, “Touched Dave and got his autograph”), The Yardbirds, Zoot Money, Jeff Beck Group and more.
She would go down the front to stake a place, her only sustenance a bottle of Coca Cola. It was usually a scrummage and she often suffered cigarette burns to her back and neck. But it was also the stuff of memories.
“I was madly in love with Jimi Hendrix,” she says, “I sold my Beach Boys album ‘Pet Sounds’ to buy the first Hendrix album. When I saw Hendrix I pulled on his red velvet bell-bottoms and he grinned at me, made eye contact. It was so loud that afterwards I was deaf for a few days. Another memorable one was The Who. Roger Daltrey spent the whole gig with his back to us, wiggling his bum. I was right near Keith Moon. He was totally off his face. He smashed up his drum kit and this cymbal shattered, bits of metal flew into the crowd. I picked up a piece and kept it for donkeys’ years.”
In 1968, Denise left school and departed Worthing for Holland, then Spain. She popped back for a year but found the town lifeless (“The only thing to do was at the bowling alley, a little disco called The Woods”), so she made a life for herself in London, then Sheffield, in various professions, mostly as an operating theatre technician and a sales rep. Eventually, in 1996, she came back and settled in a flat on Worthing seafront, throwing herself into local magazine publishing.
“When I came back I went on Friends Reunited and looked in the phone book,” she says, “I found the mums and dads of my mates and organized a reunion. It was in the scruffy back room of the Jack Horner pub [now The Cornerhouse]. Janice Clements came but she was in a wheelchair. She had MS. I went to see her in a nursing home a few years later. She couldn’t speak. They invited me to a soul and Tamla event in that nursing home, playing Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, all our stuff. It was lovely. Janice smiled at me. She couldn’t speak but she said one word, “Sorry.” I said, “It doesn’t matter because you’re the one that gave me music.”
By Thomas H Green