Kirtlington Park: Centre of the Universe
In 2003 I returned to Oxford after ten years in Canada and began working in a call centre. I was tasked with phoning up old ladies to persuade them to part with vast amounts of money on behalf of a variety of good causes (and some not so good ones.) It was a job that I hated but was surprisingly good at for a while. Aside from the regular pay cheque my spirits were kept buoyant by the cast of colourful characters I worked with. There was Lillia whom I had the hots for and who kept a dead kestrel in her freezer and sometimes carried a bow and arrow for no explicable reason. There was Richard the impecunious actor and singer who reminded me of Sylvester McCoy. He dressed like he’d stolen his outfit from a charity shop on the way to work. On one particularly warm day he arrived in the skimpiest pair of shorts, with no shirt on but wearing two waistcoats. There was Stuart (now the singer and pianist with the Rabbit Foot Spasm Band) whose general knowledge knew no bounds and whose expletive-laden project briefings were always entertaining. And there was the one and only Bert Audubert with whom I formed an instant and lasting friendship after a boozy night by a canal playing guitar and making up songs.
Bert told me he lived in the sleepy village of Kirtlington, a few miles northeast of Oxford and I should come over sometime to jam. He said that the house he lived in was a bit special. Talk about an understatement. I turned up on the bus one afternoon, guitar in hand, and found myself walking down a long, meandering driveway toward Kirtlington Park House, an Eighteenth Century Palladian mansion in grounds designed by one of England’s finest landscape architects--Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. My jaw practically hit the floor. It was a far cry from semi-detached, pebble-dashed New Marston where I was living at the time.
As soon as I saw Kirtlington Park House I knew I wanted to live there. Not many months later, the opportunity to rent a room arose and I took it without hesitation. My rent, I was told, would be Two-Hundred and Twenty Five quid a month. I was flabbergasted. I had a large room all to myself and my own private bathroom which was accessed by a secret door. It was absolutely the best place for a musician to live. The closest neighbours were in the village half a mile away and my landlord was an octogenarian named Christopher Buxton who was more or less deaf and away in London half the week anyway. He was an interesting character. In his earlier life he had hobnobbed with Prince Charles, Richard Nixon and Elizabeth Taylor and was a descendent of the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. I set up my recording studio, guitar amps and even a drum kit, knowing I could make as much noise as I wanted without bothering anyone.
Bert lived in the room next door. We shared a tiny galley kitchen that was positively filthy as we only washed the dishes in an absolute emergency. There was always a plentiful supply of booze and a revolving cast of friends and friends of friends calling round to share it. One of the best things about the house was its huge copper roof which was accessible from the sash window in my room. The roof was the size of a football pitch and on any given night of the week, if you passed over the building in a low-flying aircraft, you would likely spot a half dozen idlers sprawled out making merry into the small hours of the morning. There was no danger of falling off as there was a five foot high stone balustrade on all sides. The house was enormous and largely uninhabited and Bert and I treated the place as if we owned it. The top floor where we lived was about three-quarters derelict. There was one room in the derelict section which contained a great many pieces of discarded furniture, some of which were undoubtedly antiques. We helped ourselves to whatever we needed without asking. The house was so vast that Bert and I filmed a video for our band International Jetsetters in a forgotten wing of the building without the landlord’s knowledge.
Bert and I began a variety of creative projects together, most of which were utterly ludicrous. We recorded rambling, improvised comedy with our good friend Bruce Windwood; we did random acting jobs for companies like B & Q and Barclays Bank where we'd spend days in fits of laughter at the ridiculousness of our situation; we wrote a sitcom pilot that never got finished and, most successfully, we began writing songs together--initially under the preposterous name of Grunt and Groove Productions (I was Dave Groove, Bert was Bob Grunt)--before deciding to call ourselves International Jetsetters. I don’t remember which of us came up with the name but it was an ironic allusion to the fact that neither of us went anywhere beyond the boundaries of the village if we could help it. This changed almost immediately as soon after we formed the Jetsetters I was drafted into The Mary Chain and began jetting around the world.
Initially International Jetsetters was just me and Bert and we hadn’t really thought much about performing. But I’d been playing in Jim Reid’s band for a few months and had become friends with Loz Colbert who was the band’s drummer (and had previously been Ride’s drummer.) I asked if he would play drums for the Jetsetters and he said he would. I was delighted as I’d been a massive Ride fan in the early 90s.
Meeting Loz was a pivotal moment for me and one of many instances of my being in the right place at the right time. I was loosely involved booking shows for an Oxfordshire band named Dusty Sound System during my two years working as the world’s worst booking agent. At one such show in High Wycombe I went along to hear the band play and was astonished to see that the drummer was none other than the aforementioned Loz Colbert who I’d last seen performing with Ride about ten years earlier. When the show was over I plucked up the courage to say hello and told Loz I was a fan of his. He was super-friendly and gracious and I went away from the show in high spirits. Not long after, when I brought up the idea with Jim Reid of me playing bass in his as-yet non-existent new band, I told him I knew Loz and that he’d be the perfect drummer for the band. So when Jim got back to me later to say he was interested in pursuing the idea and would I be able to contact Loz and ask him if he wanted to be in it, I desperately hoped I’d be able to track him down again. It didn’t take long to find Loz through a quick email to Ronan Munro who writes, edits and publishes Oxford’s brilliant monthly music magazine Nightshift. Loz agreed to come and meet Jim, Phil and me one night when Jim was booked to play an acoustic show at The Cellar in Oxford. The four of us made a plan to get together at Rotator Studios to bang out a few songs at some point in the coming weeks. Little did I know that this casual arrangement would lead to a decade of unforgettable rock n roll shenanigans.
More next week!