❛ My name is Carol Grimes, the name under which I have sung since the late sixties. My name: I chose it. I chose The Singer’s Tale because of Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote his Tales in his wanderings from Southwark to Canterbury. I have lived both north and south of the River Thames and now on the coast in Kent near Canterbury. He wrote about Cooks and Friars, Lawyers, Nuns and Millers but not of Singers, so here is a Singer’s Tale. He didn’t write one so I have done it; how presumptuous of me! I was born in 1944 in South East London, when bombs were falling from the skies: there were no Bananas, and radio was the music and the word. Not much song for me in those days, but in 1959 I fell in love with Ray Charles. It was Margie Hendricks roaring out the chorus of ‘Night Time is the Right Time’ on a Juke Box on a Pier in Lowestoft Suffolk. It made me wanna holler, made me wanna sing and the voice of Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Every time we say goodbye.’ touched me deeply. These early Musical memories and the voices of women the like of which I had never heard before, strong powerful and full of passion, giving me a life long love of the Jazz and Blues, melody, rhythm and improvisation.
My singing didn’t start during childhood and adolescence ,but once I opened my mouth I couldn’t stop. I became addicted, addicted to the feeling, the soaring and roaring feeling inside my Belly. A release, a Catharsis? Whatever it was I loved it.
Singing in the streets of London as a Busker, first as a Bottler for an Accordion Player called Paris Nat, and then along the South coast in the mid 1960s working with assorted guitar and harmonica players until I joined my first band called The Race. The Singer’s Tale weaves its stories, sometimes shady, mad and bad with music, song and London at its heart. Singing in the Streets as a Busker to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and the concert Halls of the South Bank, from Nashville back to All Saints Road near Westbourne Grove, San Francisco back to Bethnal Green, to Eastern Europe and beyond and always returning to London.
Written looking back from the Millennium Years to early days in the 1940s and 1950s as a child in South East London, then always moving; from London to Weymouth and back again, to Lowestoft, Norwich and Cambridge, Tunbridge Wells then finally returning to London. My first sixteen years of life, many schools, many moves, failing the 11+ and off to Secondary Modern school leaving just before my 15th Birthday which fell during the Easter Holiday.
1963 to 1979 Bed-Sit rooms, shared flats and Sofas, in Earls Court, Fulham, Chiswick, Chelsea and then to ‘The Grove’ in West London in 1966. The early days of the Hippy invasion of the Balearic Islands, long before the rave, club scene it has since become. Living in a caravan in the Welsh Countryside, a little shack on stilts on the banks of the Sacramento River in the Bay Area of Northern California, in Texas and Tennessee and an Island in the winter, north of Stockholm, touring Poland and Estonia before the wall came down in East Germany, the old USSR was dismantled and the Big Boot removed from its occupied Eastern European countries.
Living in 8a All Saints Road in North Kensington from the late 1960s within the heart of the Caribbean community I saw first hand the harassment they endured. By then, in my 20’s I had begun to understand that Woman struggled more than Man, on the whole, she seemed to be considered less than. She had to work harder in order to be heard. Unwelcome attention from Men in the Music Business who appeared to be more interested in my Breasts than my Voice. If I had Sex with these men there were no end of promises of a glittering career, money and Fame.
I became an activist. The first Musician to step up for Rock against Racism and then against Sexism, Reclaim the night. I sang for the striking Miners and the Brunswick Women. I became angry, seeing injustice, poverty and cruelty all around me. I was nicknamed by some of my friends as Benefit Bertha.
Married twice, the first to Larry Smart, an artist, the second to Maciek Hrybowicz, a Musician.
Both marriages gave me my children, first a Son then 20 years later a Daughter. Coming from a background that was at best bleak, I had to learn to be a Mother…fortunately my love for them was immediate and strong. My lack of formal education made me realise that the uneducated woman has even more of a struggle to be taken seriously. I read ferociously, and wanted to write, but for many years my jottings were hidden in boxes or still inside my head. In my early 30s I thought, ‘Sod it ‘ and began to write for myself. Songs, Poems anything that needed to emerge, anything I needed to say. I loved the writing as much as the Singing.
My story is of a child, an adolescent, Mother, a Singer and an observer of human kind. In my later years I have worked with people with Neurological conditions, singing in choirs. Run workshops for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for The Princes Trust and Rock School. I sang, toured and recorded for 12 years with a 16 piece Contemporary Opera Choral Group called The Shout. I write about the music I love, from Folk to Blues, Rock to Jazz and even Stories about the musicians I sang with, the adventures away from home, recording in London, Nashville, Memphis, Stockholm, The Isle of Jura…. An organic career, that is to say mainly unguided, unmanaged and sometimes dubious decisions were made, but I never regret, although I often fly by the seat my best M&S Pants, often broke, but singing gave me a life. Being a Musician is not just the preserve of the educated, I can still sing, do sing, but I am dealing with ageism in later life… too old to sing? Not this old Gal, not until I croak.
It was during the 1980s that I felt the compulsion to make sense of this life of mine. Thoughts fed through into the lyrics I was singing, and I was asked to do two shows about my life, Lipstick and Lights followed by Day Dreams and Danger. These shows meant writing prose as well as verse. The audience at the Drill Hall loved them, and they were well reviewed. Suddenly I felt that the book that was starting to sing inside me was something I could really write and in spare moments the writing began to emerge. Not just about me and my world of music, but also about the London I lived in and loved, and about how during the 1970s political activism and music joined forces.
Recently, other books appeared about these times in which I played a part, but all from a man’s perspective. At last I was goaded into getting my book into shape and seeking a publisher.