17 November 2010
By Michael Holland
‘I had the chance of being at my own funeral and it was brilliant.’ When you meet a man who tells you that; whose life story would merit a book, a film, a graphic novel, another book and a musical to top it off, it is difficult to know where to start.
Terry Rawlings was a teenage Mod who has stayed stylish ever since; always looking like one of the rock stars that he writes about and can call his friends.
Born in Bermondsey both he and his brother Mick went to St Joseph’s in Dockhead, then on to St Michael’s: ‘Neither of which produced any great academics, to my knowledge – including me!’ he jokes when I meet him. As a boy he went to the Fisher Club and remembers playing football in bright orange kit. ‘It looked ridiculous,’ he recalls with horror.
Born when there was still some industry employing the locals the young Rawlings had a number of dead-end jobs including doing something with waste paper and in the Guy’s Hospital morgue, where he was sacked. He also spent some time working alongside Bermondsey Beat stalwart Phil Burkett, with whom he remains firm friends.
From those humble beginnings he found himself working at the NME, a force in the music world back then. ‘I followed Danny Baker and Gary Crowley into the job as receptionist,’ says Rawlings. ‘Mainly because I was a Mod and looked like Gary Crowley: they swapped like for like.’
From following Mod bands and through numerous jobs in record companies the young Rawlings came in touch with Paul Weller who he knew from family holidays in Selsey Bill where both families had caravans. Weller asked Terry to put together a little book on The Small Faces for his publishing company Riot Stories and that was his first entrance into writing.
Rawlings says now: ‘I never had any intention of trying to make a living as a writer, I really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do but being exposed to the sort of life style Paul was experiencing made me realise that there was quite possibly a different way to get by in life other than manual work, which I’d have been rubbish at.’
In the music world he was now part of he became great friends with Ronnie Wood’s older brother Art after writing an article on his group The Artwoods. Art ended up Guardian to Terry’s daughters Molly and Nancy, but it was through their friendship that Terry realised that nobody had written a book about the big star of the family, so in the late ‘90s Terry began a biography of one of Britain’s best and most loved guitarists, Ronnie Wood. ‘Because Ron approved it was easy to get people to participate,’ says Rawlings. So, through numerous filmed interviews with the family, Rock On Wood was written to tell the story of how Ronnie came to be a Rolling Stone. ‘Ron has those tapes now,’ he says wistfully.
Eleven years on, Ronnie Wood’s life has gone through many changes. His mum and both brothers have all died; he is in recovery from a lifetime of substance abuse and has divorced his wife of many years. With a big update and with lots of extra additions the book has just been republished.
Over the years Rawlings has met a multitude of interesting people: he has rare knowledge of how Brian Jones met his death and was a consultant on the film of Jones’ life; he has Buzzcock stories galore and Paul Weller anecdotes coming out of every pore; he counts many rockers amongst his dearest friends; he has rubbed shoulders with Rotherhithe’s finest armed robbers; he has been there and done it and lived to tell the tale. Just.
It was the re-publication of the Ronnie Wood book that drew me to getting Rawlings to do an interview but when he showed up in The Mayflower with a family crisis just about to explode and tells me about being at his own funeral I knew the book was not the story.
In 2007 Terry started to feel ill. A lot. He could not eat and was losing weight: ‘I went down to 7½ stone,’ he says to my amazement, as he is a big man. ‘But even though I had these scrawny arms and legs I had what looked like a fake pregnant belly strapped on my front.’
Terry Rawlings had a rare form of cancer and was told he would not see Christmas. One doctor refused to operate, telling him that he did not feel he had the knowledge or experience for such a big job. The Rock Man was pleased: ‘I respect that; he could’ve had a go and use me as a guinea pig, and chance killing me off if it didn’t work.’
Work dried up soon after. ‘No one’s going to give a commission to someone with cancer in case they don’t live to see the job out.’ He laughs at his own honesty and realism.
Like any father about to die Terry Rawlings worried about the future of his children. Before long his friends found out of his plight and rallied round to see what could be done. What happened was two benefit gigs - comprising of the best of British - that will go down in history: A Benefit For Terry’s Girls No. 1 and No. 2.
One concert was in the famous 100 Club, the other in Whitechapel and over those two nights ‘super-groups’ were formed to play and raise money for Terry Rawlings. Members from The Kinks, Ocean Colour Scene, Clash, Squeeze, The Who, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, The Small Faces, Nine Below Zero and all the best of the current wave of Mod bands turned out to do something for the man they had all grown to know and love.
It was at the 100 Club where he managed to get himself up on to the stage and see how many people had come out for him and realise he was looking at what his own funeral would look like. Not many of us could do that.
Eighteen months on Terry Rawlings is still going strong, though having regular check ups with the doctors. Work on the DVD of the benefit concert is underway and the disc will be on the shelves in the coming months.
I enjoyed my brief time with Mr Rawlings. I know he could tell stories all night about those people we have all admired from afar. He shows no outward signs of his illness or of letting it beat him, and I salute that. I left as his daughter arrived at the pub for the family crisis to be dealt with. This was just another molehill that Terry will not let turn into a mountain.
From those early days ‘down the van’ in Selsey Bill and then catching up with Paul Weller while following bands, Terry Rawlings’ life has been spent in the music business. Fourteen books later he doesn’t look like stopping: ‘I work on loads of music-related films and TV stuff, all thanks to Weller giving me a break. Gawd Bless him.’
ROCK ON WOOD – The Origin Of A Rock & Roll Face ~ £14.99
No comments have been posted.
RAILTON ROAD SE24,
Leasehold, For Sale
TEA TRADE WHARF SE1, £1,295,000 , For Sale
TOWER BRIDGE WHARF E1W, £550 , per week, For Sale
PROVIDENCE SQUARE SE1, £1,600,000 , For Sale