I was a sensitive child an extravert but of an artistic nature, always wanting to make things, draw things or pull them apart in case there was some magic there that I’d missed. I always believed in magic, some kind of formula that could be used to gain all the things you desired, a bit like the alchemist always gambling on finding the right ingredients.
At school I was a poor pupil and learnt little, I never felt part of it and was expelled at the age of 14 for refusing to wear the right uniform. I then spent
a few months working for my father in his tailoring shop. We had a very difficult relationship, alike in some ways, totally opposite in others and arguing regularly. He eventually threw me out. I enrolled at the local art school, staying with friends and living in various cheap rooms. I don’t remember learning much but it gave me the space to think about where I was heading.
I was very naive (still am a bit) but was convinced my name would be in lights, while I still held on to my belief in non-materialism.
In the early sixties art school was an exciting place to be, people seemed to be making changes in their lives and all sorts of stigmas were being broken. I felt at last that I belonged somewhere.
I grew my hair and beard; because that was obviously the natural thing to do, why stand in the way of nature? I wandered around London’s portabella road, looking for old soldier’s uniforms and anything colorful or mystical. Color and originality was the key but I hated it when people stared at me, just because I looked a bit different.
About two years into my course I began looking at other ways of expressing myself and fell naturally into music. I began improvising on the school piano pouring out my sorrows on this new found creativity. I felt that painting and music were closely tied and one could help me progress the other. At the end of the course I decided to join a group, playing at night, giving myself time to paint in the day. I answered an ad in the classifieds for a saxophone player, and before long found myself sitting in a room with 4 or 5 others waiting in turn to audition. I got the job for what it was worth but practicalities never seemed to come into the equation then. It turned out the group had a residency in Geneva and I had to be ready to leave as soon as possible. I spent a nonchalant farewell with my new found girlfriend, unaware of how much she would mean to me later and headed for the start of a messy and hopeless career.
The group then called "The Joint" (later to become “Supertramp”) were penniless and the residency was a small restaurant in a cellar, where the only food I ever managed to eat were sugar lumps I stole from the tables. We all lived in one room across the road from the club. In our time off I was exposed to the group lighting farts and talking openly about masturbation. It was awful but it never occurred to me to leave, I was on my way to success. The nights dragged on, until finally a group of people eating at the restaurant became interested in us. It turned out they were making a film in a particularly lovely part of Geneva and would we like to come and play the music. Well you can imagine none of us had to think twice about that. We suddenly found ourselves transported into clean hotel rooms, eating three meals a day in a lovely local restaurant, hired by the film company, just to serve the crew. It was fantastic.
The film was called "The Happening" with no story that I can remember, just various clips of strange occurrences involving magical parties and a live tiger roaming around the set, which at one point decided it would take a chunk out of the assistant director. Some of us had to object though when the director had the idea of beheading a live chicken during one of the mad parties, thankfully he thought better of it. I got to know the composer quite well and towards the end of the film, I confided in him on what should be my next move. I spoke about my love of classical music and my complete lack of tuition. I had no idea how to read music. He suggested I traveled to Berlin, where he had a flat I could use as a base and then enroll at the music school there. It was around this time that I remember us all sitting together discussing life, when the composer came up with the assumption….
“I wonder who out of all of you will become famous". It was strange because my father had said a similar thing to my three brothers and I, when we were small and I thought then, well I’m defiantly gonna make it, and my thoughts were sort of similar again, except that I thought more about the individuals this time.
Guess what! The one I thought the least about and the one nobody seemed to notice was the only success of us all. (Rick Davis)
The film finished and I caught a train to Berlin, It was a scary place for somebody that couldnt speak the language, and knew nobody. I spent a few lonely weeks practicing the piano and painting, until the composer returned and made an appointment at the music school for me. I played the piano to an audience of grim looking professors. They stared coldly at me as I improvised a piece for them, after which they left without saying a word. I was completely amazed when a week later I was told I was to be the first student ever to be accepted that couldn’t read music. Music school didn’t help my social life; the walk there would be interrupted by people shouting abuse at me, angered by my long hair, or for crossing the road before the lights were red. Arriving at the school, the day was mostly spent practicing on a piano in a big empty room. The only thing I learnt was total loneliness.
Eventually a little African man turned up at the flat looking for the composer. He was my first route into the community, introducing me to various people, two of these were Chic and Franke who had been touring with the 'The Beach Boys' They played fantastic modern jazz around the Berlin clubs.
I hung around with Chick and Frank for a bit memorized by their skill. I was out of my depth but I loved the music they made. They played tenor and alto in tandem, backed by piano and drums, all acoustic but it was like an explosion when they began.
I would make various journeys on the subways, some of them to East Berlin, passing through the armed border controls and entering a stark world of communism. One of these journeys took me to an electronic music studio where this fella was making a sort of music concrete with dozens of old tape recorders. It was there I met a guitarist (Edgar Froese) who had just broken up with his group and I suggested we create a three piece with a drummer. He thought it was a bit mad having no bass player but conceded to give it a go. We finally settled on a drummer (Klaus Schulze) and set off to play in small clubs and bars around Germany. The music was exciting and I particularly enjoyed the free form approach, but the aggressive attitude of some of the German people had taken a toll on my sensitivity and I longed for some familiarity back in England. So I decided to head home.
We set out on our last gig in an old estate car, all the gear piled on the roof rack, calmly cruising down the motorway when Klaus decided he needed a piss, we pulled over and waited for him to emerge from the bushes, which he did running, looking white as a sheet and shouting, there’s nothing on the roof, there’s nothing on the roof. Everything had gone, completely disappeared. Everything I owned was on that roof.
We finally found it, about 20 miles behind us. Completely flattened. However I still had my flute and we somehow managed our last gig before I returned to England. My sax was displayed in the back of the car as a flattened piece of brass.
It was wonderful to be back in my home country; just hearing people speaking the same language and the typical actions of the English people was so comforting. I set about looking for more work in the music world. I had all but given up on the painting. The music bug had completely overtaken me. I returned to the classifieds and received a call from a group in London called Steamhammer. They said they were about to set out on tour and I jumped at the chance to get back into the music. Where was the tour? Back in Germany. The music was exciting and the gigs were a success. It was the early seventies and the combi-nation of blues jazz and rock was at its height. We all shared one little flat in Ladbroke grove in London, but we were on the road most of the time. (Playing pretty much every night), so it didn’t seem to matter. I probably slept more in the van than I did in a bed. The rush of it all took its toll though and after about nine months of no sex, drugs and rock and roll (where were the women?) I began to feel I was losing my identity. I decided one morning to pack it in and try to find some normality. I cut off my hair and beard and applied for a job as a shop assistant. Needless to say, that lasted about three days and I was soon back on a self discovery trip, except the options were no longer so obvious. I went through various part time jobs, moved to the Scottish highlands, took a coach to Greece and practiced reverently on my music. Depression set in badly as I struggled to find the right place to be. Then out of the blue Edgar rang me, from the group I had started with in Germany and asked me to join up again. Ten years had passed since we parted and Tangerine Dream had turned from the rags when I was first with them into a massive success. I was penniless, so the opportunity for me was a God send.
I took the train back to Germany and found myself once again imprisoned in Berlin, although this time real fame was attached to it, so the loneliness was much more bearable. The recording sessions were long and tedious. The gigs were huge and hundreds of miles apart. It was all work and no fun.
I had absolutely nothing in common with the people around me and a timely end was inevitable. So very suddenly I went from stardom to working in a Durex factory where my workmates refused to believe I had just come of a tour with Tangerine Dream. Needless to say that only lasted a couple of weeks, and then I was of to find myself in Somerset. Life was much slower in Somerset. It always amazed me, that driving, little more than 100 miles from London would find you slipping back a hundred years.
I settled in a small village (Bruton) living in an old church that was owned by Henk Huffner a real generous individual who supported the lost and lonely. I felt a real sense of purpose in this place, turning into a sort of musical monk and living most of the time alone. I began to develop my composition and find the true values in my life. There was true magic here. I purchased my first little house in the village for £8,000, and tried to recreate some of the music of the past playing in little pubs around Somerset it was fun but of no importance. I wrote the score for a TV movie („Drake´s venture“), which came about through a friend and had helped me in obtaining a mortgage for the house, but success seemed to be passing me by and isolation was becoming a strident thought in my head. I sold the house and moved to Glastonbury, hoping to find more of a community and purchased a house just outside of the town but the emptiness continued to grow and I became more and more depressed.
The rejection from the record companies and the complete lack of interest in my work was crushing me. I looked for solace in relationships and when they failed I fell even deeper into the abyss. I sold up again and moved to the Wye-Valley (further into the country). I had found a new partner (who was really my soul mate) but the darkness continued to grow and finally cost me that relationship. It was the final blow and I sold up agreeing to a disasterus swap on my house for a house in a run down part of Bristol. This only added to my plight. Fortunately I managed to sell up quickly and rethink my strategy. I decided to emigrate to the USA 'the land of hopes and dreams'.
It was a relief to be somewhere fresh, although I was still shell-shocked from years of depression. I traveled for a bit, mostly on trains and buses hoping somewhere would give me the feeling of home. Nowhere ever did, but I was feeling better in myself and felt Id left a lot of anguish behind me.
I lived on my wits moving from one state to another trying to promote the music and doing the odd concert. I tried hopelessly to put some roots down, while doing my best to promote the music, but I just wasn’t commercial enough and very few people ever related to what I had to offer. It didn’t worry me though. I seemed to have developed more of a distance from the importance of success. Finally a disastarus relationship made me question my life in the states and I returned to England. England seemed a much finer place than Id left six years previously and I had positive thoughts towards a new start. I had managed to hold on to most of the money from the house, which gave me a bit of financial support. I brought a little semi in Marlow near London, but soon felt isolated and misplaced, sold up and headed back to Somerset, but failed to find anywhere that felt like home. I started looking further a field.
I found an isolated cottage by the sea in Cornwall and settled down to the life of a hermit, little knowing the agony in store for me. The house had an idyllic charm and the first few months went fairly smoothly, until I met Denise a friend helping me to find work in TV. She offered to help me decorate and in so doing caught the thatched roof alight, with a hot air gun and burnt the place to the ground.
I was slightly injured in the fire but the worst thing was the mental anguish. I just couldn’t believe what had happened and found it very difficult to relate to it. But this ruin was all I had and as incompetent as I was, I had to find the strength to rebuild it. It took about five years of desolate living conditions and dreadful mental trauma to really put it behind me. After about 7 years of rebuilding on a shoe string and finally creating a fine looking home, I am hit by a once in a thousand years flood. The water crashed through my home taking most of my belongings to the sea and leaving 4 feet of sludge and ruins for me to start rebuilding again. That was enough to force me into selling, and begin again searching for a home.
Steve Jolliffe. 2006