Demick and Armstrong came at songwriting from a different angle and between them had a great understanding about structure, progressions, harmonies, a lot of technical stuff that I knew nothing about. They also had a knack for writing very evocative, memorable lyrics that rode gracefully upon the back of a dappled melody. This flourished with the demise of The Wheels after their trailer broke free from their zodiac and went crashing into the central barrier of the M6 on the way from a gig at The Cavern in Liverpool. Both of them had Harmony guitars (sponsored by a music shop in Lytham St. Anne’s) a six and a twelve string, which perfectly augmented their songs and voices. Rod had a more guttural tone and his playing was more driving. He played the 12 string and harmonica (later he would be a much sought after bass man). Herbie in contrast had a finer more ethereal but powerful voice despite the fact that he only had one lung. Perhaps it is this factor which accounts for the almost whispered quality of his vocal style that has become more distinctive with the years. He was also a more delicate guitarist but his playing perfectly complemented Rod’s. Together they were a force and prolific too.
After The Wheels split they moved down to London to stay with me and some friends in a basement in Barons Court. It was the summer of 1967. Psychedelic flower power tripped through languid London streets on hot afternoons in kaftan and beads, enigmatic as the aroma of incense. All day long and late into the night we played, sang and wrote songs. Soon the pair got signed as in-house writers at Mills Music in Tin Pan Alley. Only a year or so earlier the soon-to-be Elton John worked as an office boy at the same place for £5 a week. Tin Pan Alley was a seedbed for rock mythology, the focal point for Britain’s burgeoning music industry.
I’d meet up with Herbie and Rod after work at the Gioconda, drink coffee and talk. They felt at home in this environment but it wasn’t what I was looking for. As The Wheels they’d recorded several singles just down the street in the basement studio called Regent sounds. The Stones recorded there too and a host of notable others. The street was frequented by stars, hasbeens and wannabes. The new rock aristocracy spawned from here. Sheet music and acetates were the currency. Everyone competing to write, or sing, play or produce the next hit. Everybody wanted a bit of the action but I had just started to discover poetry and fiction. It was around this time that our paths diverged and I went to work as live-in ‘literary secretary’ for the Irish painter/poet Joseph Christopher Ryan at Sinclair Mansions, Shepherds Bush. I was entering a different world.