DROWNING ON DRY LAND -
In an ideal world everyone would buy a copy of this book and make the author a very rich man. The only question being what would he do with the money?
The subtitle of Drowning On Dry Land is Plumbing The Depths In Ladbroke Grove, Swansea And San Francisco but as an alternative it could so easily have been 'Memoirs Of A Ne’er-do-well' because Ray Roughler-Jones is nothing but. Or, rather than being used as chapter heading it could even have been called 'Taffy Was A Welshman, Taffy Was A Thief' because the author is that as well. He's also a scoundrel, a waster, a walking talking exasperation, a cad, a chancer, a revolutionary romancer, a hustler, a gambler, a midnight rambler - and a living legend. He's the kind of person who one day might have a blue plaque put up outside the house where he was born.
If you've got a few hours to spare then this is the story of his life yet at the same time it's more than that. It's a ripping yarn, it's a confession, an odyssey, a tale from the topographic ocean, a dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, a bodice-ripper, it's spiritual research, it's nights of love and days of laughter, it's a ball-buster - as opposed to a blockbuster.
It's the story of being born on a council estate in Swansea where career options were thieving, fiddling and low-end drug dealing with the prospect of imprisonment at the end of it. All very normal, you might say and you'd be right but whilst the apparent thing to do is to try and 'improve' yourself by moving up and away from working class roots into property ownership and middle class boredom, Ray instead moved sideways and then down.
After trying his hand at being a pop star with a band called Page 3 which led to them being taken to court by The Sun over use of the name, Ray headed off to London to live with his girlfriend whilst she studied at college there. They'd landed a flat in Ladbroke Grove and whilst his girlfriend studied, Ray got to know the area. Through getting a job at a betting shop (though not for long) on Portobello Road he started to frequent a nearby pub called the Warwick Castle and it's here that the story really begins.
This was a pub situated bang in the middle of Portobello Road and though it was just like any typical neighbourhood pub found anywhere in the country, it just so happened to be in one of the more famous landmarks in Britain. And whilst the locals were mainly interested in talking football, the price of beer and the racing results, it would also attract a more arty, bohemian type turning it into a bit of a cultural hotspot.
Ray goes into name-dropping overdrive, telling tales of encounters and adventures with the likes of Nina Hagen, Keith Allen, Shane McGowan, actress Anna Chancellor, Gareth Sager of Rip Rig And Panic, Wendy James of Transvision Vamp, Neneh Cherry, Nelly Hooper, Joe Strummer, Feargal Sharkey, John Lydon, Marianne Faithfull, even Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and many, many more. Lesser known but just as amusing are characters such as Johnny 600, Pete the Murderer, Dog Woman and the Singing Sikh. Interestingly, throughout all these tales Ray never once bigs himself up and in fact does the complete opposite, constantly putting himself down and describing himself as useless, talentless and hopeless. And there's also the little problem of his drinking and gambling addictions.
Ray is master of the faux pas and cites many an example. He's at an anarchist meeting in Swansea and some guy is talking about some misdemeanour or other that had been perpetrated by such and such somewhere so Ray says "Fuck this, let's get out there and cause some trouble". The person he's bored with is only John Barker of the Angry Brigade, responsible for among other things the bombing of the Post Office Tower and the Home Secretary's home.
Ray gets invited to Kevin Allen's (brother of Keith Allen) wedding in America and ends up telling the bride to shut up and fuck off. The icing on the cake being that Kevin Allen had paid for Ray's plane ticket to get there, meaning he'd paid for the privilege of having his wife insulted by a drunkard.
On another occasion Ray's backstage at an Oasis gig, this being when Liam is going out with Patsy Kensit. So Ray mentions to Patsy that (through drinking at the Warwick) he used to know her ex-boyfriend, Dan Donovan of Big Audio Dynamite - as if this is what she wants to hear about. Ray then tells Liam that he's only come along for the lig, causing Liam to turn on him, saying "Nobody ligs around here". Ray quickly makes himself scarce.
Years of alcohol abuse has withered Ray's memory, however, and in some of his anecdotes there are a few gaps and a lack of detail. He was compère, for example, on the Class War Rock Against The Rich Tour headlined by Joe Strummer and personally I would have liked a bit more on this. It's made up for by plenty of other stories though.
He's offered a small part in a Comic Strip film based on the miners strike of '84 and through his endeavours he ends up for a short time on the party circuit in London. At one such party all his friends from the Warwick want to attend also so when they arrive Ray tries to blag them all in. People had told him in the past of his resemblance to a certain Irish songster so he puts it to the test. "Oim Feargal Sharkey from the Undertones," he says "And these are my guests." It works.
Years later, Ray asks Peter Richardson, the producer of the film: "Am I the only person you know, who'd acted in an award-winning film, and never worked in the movies again?" To which Richardson replies: "That's the best way Ray, go out while you're at the top."
At another party he spots 'a short arsed geezer in the corner' and it's none other than 'multimillion record selling singer/songwriter' Paul Simon so Ray's friend, poet Jock Scott (who, of course, has never met Simon before in his life), strolls over and thrusting out his hand says "Hello darkness my old friend." Well, you would, wouldn't you?
Ray reminds us of Keith Allen's old pirate radio show featuring such characters as Sex Boots Dread, the gay Rastafarian ("Me black and me proud and me Rastafari - and me homosexual") and Gerry Arkwright, the northern industrial gay. For anyone interested, Ray (ever the blagger) still has copies of the extremely rare album featuring these acts which for twenty quid he's willing to make a copy of. He also mentions a story about Petula Clark and Sean Connery but for some reason fails to expound upon it. Oddly, it's a story I know: Sean Connery is asked one day by some wag, of all the women he's known, who has he had the best sex with? Connery considers it for a moment then says "Petula Clark. 1965. Up the arse." Can you imagine?
Ray Roughler-Jones is the perfect pub buddy, always up for a laugh and always ready to regale you with another tale. Unlike the stories you get from a lot of barflys, however, Ray's are all true. More's the pity in some instances. It comes as no surprise that he's recently been voted Ladbroke Grove's Personality Of The Year.
I wonder if he's ever considered running for London Lord Mayor?