Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Ian’s Old Muckers #1: Fred ‘Spider’ Rowe

“When we went to America, I told him, ‘These Americans Ian, they adore you, they love the stories you tell.’ Everywhere we went, the place was jammed. I told him, ‘In Europe and England, you’ve always been able to pull a bird and get knobbing, but in America you ain’t. What’s the reason for that?’ The American birds never went for him. He only pulled two the whole time we were there, and one of them was a bit of a Magnus [Pyke]. I said, ‘That’s a geezer ain’t it?’ He liked them like that. ‘Fuck off,’ he said."

"Me and Davey had a few arguments. Davey used to tell me he was going to give Ian a whack. I told him, ‘You’ll have to give me a whack first and you won’t find that easy.’ In Germany, we were in the hotel and the bloke behind the desk had an Irish [jig] on. Ian pointed it out to me because I’m bald and I won’t wear one. Ian asked him, ‘How much hair you got under there?’ The bloke took umbrage and got the right hump. I said, ‘Allow me to apologise for my friend, he’s drunk.’ But Ian knocked all the stuff off the counter. The geezer leapt forward and grabbed Ian by his scarf. I wasn’t quite quick enough, so I grabbed hold of his hand and wrenched it away from Ian. I thought he was a mug and I didn’t want to hurt him. I was saying, ‘Please don’t make me do it,’ but Ian’s going, ‘Fred, knock him out!’ As I turned to talk to Ian, the geezer’s punched me on the side of the head, so I had to deal with him. He called the police. They spoke to me in English, but when we got to the police station they could only speak German! Peter Jenner had to pay money to get me out of the nick."

"Ian told me that when he was young he should have been kicking a ball about and scrumping apples, but he was put in this institution. It must have been quite bewildering for this affliction to hit him at such an early age. I never noticed it. All I saw was the man, but he used to think that everybody noticed his disability. He had a down on himself. He invented it. I told him, ‘They see you as an artist and a rocker, not a raspberry [ripple]. It’s your talent, not your fucking bodily structure.' He asked me, ‘Do you believe that?’ I wasn’t in the habit of giving him bollocks. He used to thank me. You could up him for a few days, then he’d be on his own. If he never had some old tabby with him to cheer him up he’d go into depression again."

"But he changed my life. I’d never met anyone like Ian before. I had a huge mistrust of people due to my mixing with the criminal fraternity, but Ian made an impact on me. He would say things that were complimentary, then stand back and let you digest what he’d said. When I met him, I thought he was an ordinary bloke writing songs, but he was far more than ordinary. I know for certain that if we hadn’t have met, I would have pursued a life of crime and been back in jail. But I became engrossed in Ian’s world and people like Dave Robinson were suddenly treating me with respect. Ian was the catalyst. He treated me as an equal. I’d never had that before.”

As told to Will Birch, May 2008. Photographs: Fred by Terry Lott, Fred and Ian by Chris Gabrin.

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