“My love of music starts with my dad. He was a very good blues pianist who’d played in the army and he’d sit down anywhere and just start playing – boogie, blues, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. He had a love of jazz music, and when he played me Sing, Sing, Sing by the Benny Goodman Orchestra I just fell in love with Gene Krupa, and with drums. I realised music was something alive, not just the false Elvis Presleys we had over here. It hit me in a way I’ll never forget. The Rolling Stones’ first album was my own first record and my first gig was them at Manchester Apollo when I was 16. I remember Brian Jones being hit in the eye with a Jelly Baby and Mick shouting, ‘Can you stop throwing Jelly Babies, we don’t like them!’
My second gig was Hendrix at The Palace with Pink Floyd, The Nice and The Herd, one of those great little package tours where the bands played three songs each. Floyd had had a fantastic light show and Roger Waters said, ‘Sorry about this, our light show hasn’t followed us from the last date and our fucking guitarist hasn’t either’ – and then you saw Syd Barrett, right at the back of the stage, just twirling around, wrapping himself in his guitar lead. I saw Floyd a few times but it’s the early stuff on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn that always stayed with me.
By this time I was drawing cartoons for myself, but I didn’t go to art school – I wasn’t allowed. My dad said, ‘Get a proper job.’ I started in advertising, in production, but I was always in the art department where they had copies of Punch with great cartoons in by Bill Tidy, Ray Lowry and Mike Williams. Thanks to John Peel’s Perfumed Garden show on Radio London, I got into the real hippie scene and loved San Fran stuff like Quicksilver Messenger Service, 13th Floor Elevators and Love. I started drawing for two underground hippie magazines in Manchester: Grass Eye and Mole Express. I didn’t get any money for it – I’d review records, which was a good swap!
I was also going to this amazing club called Magic Village, a psychedelic cellar run by Roger Eagle who also did the famous Twisted Wheel club and, later, Eric’s in Liverpool. That’s where I fell in love with Jefferson Airplane’s Bless Its Pointed Little Head, which the DJ played a lot. I saw so many great bands there, such as Jethro Tull, who were like the house band; Glass Menagerie; Procol Harum; and** Tyrannosaurus Rex**, whose album Prophets, Seers & Sages is a favourite. I remember talking to Marc Bolan and watching his bandmate Steve Peregrin Took, totally out of his head on acid, talking to a paper plate. Bolan was telling us about being a white witch’s apprentice in Paris and how he made spells for people and took them round to their houses. He was a very nice guy.
John Peel also got me into Soft Machine and Kevin Ayers. The second Softs album has some wonderful tracks, and for Kevin, I love Joy Of A Toy. He’s louche and elegant, like Noël Coward! It was such a great, open-minded time for music. Strange people like The Mothers Of Invention would come along and be a success; also Moondog. Captain Beefheart was part of this wave, and I love Mirror Man, particularly the jam session where they go off on one for 10, 15 minutes. I saw them loads.
I turned full-time as an illustrator in ’84 and I started a kids’ comic called Oink! and that’s when I got to know John Peel as a friend, as his son loved the comic. I was drawing skinheads, taking the piss out of them and sending them in to Private Eye. The idea came from when I was a hippie and had a buckskin jacket like Dennis Hopper’s in Easy Rider. We were out one night and got beaten up by skinheads. I still have the jacket with the blood on it. Ian Hislop had just taken over as editor and he commissioned me a ‘short run’ of what we called Yobs – and that was 29 years ago!
In the 80s I met [BBC radio DJ] Marc Riley, who was in The Fall and then a record promoter. He gave me Doolittle and Surfer Rosa by Pixies and I was suddenly back into American stuff like Grandaddy: they were like Floyd but with softer songs. The music’s great, and their drummer Aaron [Burtch] introduced me to the Radar Brothers, a band now in my Top 10. I turn to them when all else fails, when I need peace and a place to go that I can trust.
The Beta Band came to me very late. I heard The Aliens on Mark Riley’s radio show, a track from Astronomy For Dogs, now one of my favourite albums. Then I traced them back to their roots as The Beta Band and it opened the door to their catalogue. I thought they were an American soft soul band and I was wrong! They’ve joined that elite group now as mood music for certain times.
I pick up on new music all the time. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Wave Pictures, Plank, Pond… Marc and I go to a lot of gigs together because he says I’m just as mad about music as he is. Recently we saw Cate Le Bon – she was so good and quite darkly psychedelic. When Marc said she’s from Cardiff, I didn’t expect that. She has much more of the Canterbury style. It was very intense, and one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.”
Tony Husband’s’s illustrated memoir about his father’s dementia, Take Care, Son, is out now via www.constablerobinson.com. For more information, visit www.tonyhusband.co.uk.