The room to the back of the anonymous back-street building in which I’ve been placed is, at best, serviceable; it is approximately fifteen feet square with walls painted a uniform, hint of a tint (but now-fading), Magnolia. Truth to tell, the colour scheme is actually more off-white with no tinted hint at all.
There is just the one, metal-framed window. It is set annoyingly high on the far wall – presumably so as to preclude any view other than that of the gun-metal grey, rain-bearing clouds, scudding past on this dreary, mid-February, afternoon.
Beneath the window is an oversized, malt-brown melamine-topped desk – more junior accountant than office manager. The right-hand border is scored with blackened cigarette burns that spread along its edge like so many decaying woodlice; I’ve seen fag-end burns like this many times before – most often on old B3 Hammond Organs played by the likes of Steve Winwood.
On the desk and in a mug that’s known better days, there’s a half-drunk cup of coffee. It has been poured from a machine down-along the frayed-brown-carpeted hallway. Even behind the now-closed door, the percolator gives off its own signature odour of stale dregs at twenty paces.
The entire place reeks of early-Seventies, Habitat-inspired, office functionality.
My Moleskin notebook lays bare and untroubled (yet) by note-taking on the desk; my coat is hanging on a hanger that, itself, is suspended from the single hook on the back of the plywood door. My brown-leather briefcase is huddled against one of the desk-legs; much like a cat, hungry for its master’s affection.
Spread across the stone-carpeted floor are plastic crates – some are green, others are Air Force grey while a few began life as shout-out-loud iridescent orange.
Some are stacked, one upon another while others have been spaced apart in random order; all are heavily pock-marked – as if suffering from crate-acne – and scratched from being thrown into and around the back of Transit vans; their heavy contents man-handled with ease by burly men with muscles to match.
Functional boxes which, in their own simple way, are simply that – since there is no other requirement… strong but serviceable; sturdy and utilitarian.
And each of these containers that are approximately three foot long by eighteen inches by another eighteen or so in depth hold innumerable smaller boxes.
Most of these are twelve-inches square; some are over two inches deep, some are slimmer volumes. All are stacked vertically and… sprinkled amongst them are a handful of smaller boxes – a mere seven inches square and slender in width too.
All of them have been labeled at some long-past time or other; the labels themselves have been stuck on the actual box fronts – some have been scrawled on, some have a good deal of writing that’s been crossed out and replaced by other, almost-as-old, scribbles; some have a doodles and drawings while some of the labels have been neatly typed out.
Like ancient hieroglyphics high on a wall on the inside of a Pharaoh’s tomb, they offer their own clues… hints that these boxes contain the treasure which, Indiana Jones-like I’ve been hoping to find for many months.
Fast backwards: a restaurant from the Indian sub-continent on the main drag that connect Chiswick to Hammersmith; Popadum frenzy, Chapatti heaven and Korma bliss. Two Kingfisher beers have been part-supped yet we’re not quite ready for the next infill; the singer and writer of songs and I sit opposite one another.
“Sometimes,” he muses, “I do wonder what still exists… Me and my bands, y’know… over the years… we recorded a lot; over at Basing Street and just down the road at the back of St Peters Square… And… now that I come to think about it, I do wonder what… might have survived.”
“There was a lot that never got released… but… I suppose all that stuff probably got wiped… or, maybe recorded over… or, perhaps those tapes just got chucked out. I dunno… but… yes, absolutely, if you wanted to do your Sherlock Holmes thing and… see what really is there… then… yeah, I’d be up for that…”
He sits quietly for a moment or two; a sliver of Naan bread held lightly in his fingers, hovering just above his side-plate. “Y’know… there was some really good stuff that we did… so yes… it’d be interesting to see what they have… but, honestly, I don’t suppose there’s very much. Another beer..?”
Fast forwards a few months… the singer and writer of songs wanders back into his sitting room with two large glasses, each having been re-charged from the bottle of well-chilled in the fridge; a couple of reserves are laying in wait in the garage that's attached to the house... just in case.
A real-fire hisses and pops in the grate… the gentle scent of top-notch Welsh lamb being oven-roasted in the kitchen across the hall mixes with the wood-smoke to permeate the air. A cat trails in after him and struts past the small, elderly dog curled up on the hearth.
The singer of songs settles into the depths of the sofa as I sit on the floor, just in front of the drawn curtains in the bay window. There’s a MacBook attached to the stereo-system; speakers placed either side of the fireplace.
A portrait of him, his young son and his wife taken at the time of the photosession for his first solo-album hangs, ever so slightly off kilter, above and to the side of the left-hand speaker. Books of eclectic persuasion stand to attention like so many soldiers line abreast on their parade-ground shelves. The lights are low with music in the air.
“Y’know… I’m amazed at what you’ve found…already… and you say there’s lots more?” His trademark eyes are lined by no regrets as he leafs through the box-front scans from today’s work-in-progress for project-X.
“This… y’know what it is..? It’s pretty much the whole album I did with Rabbit who nowadays plays keyboards with The Who… the one that CB (Chris Blackwell – owner / founder of Island) kinda rejected… I mean, we kept one track… but… really, it’s quite incredible that you’ve found this.”
“I mean, some of it is a bit… y’know… but… this one still stands up, don’t you think..? I have to be perfectly honest, though… I can’t really remember writing this let alone recording it… Let’s have a bit of a memory-jog.” He presses play on the MacBook and the unedited song is counted in by an unknown voice and then sparks into life.
Three minutes or so later, the tune gradually fades into the distance… the singer and writer assumes a far-away stare. Abruptly he says, “Heaven's, what kind of compression did we use on that piano..! That’s Mike Kellie from Spooky Tooth on drums… Pat Donaldson who played with The Fairports as well as lots of others is playing bass… that’s Rabbit on keyboards… and me strumming away on an acoustic guitar…”
“Why is it listed like that on the box? Well… I never came up with a title for the song. I think… maybe… I was planning to call it Hallelujah or something like that… but… ‘cos it was the third song on the tape and had no proper title, the engineer or the tape-op would have written it up as that.”
“I think we can stick this on the list as a definite for inclusion… don’t you..?”
Ladies and gentlemen… this… really is… the very first Hidden Master we found… Song 3… by Jess Roden.
(nb, this is an edited clip – there being very real reasons why the full track isn’t being posted… a) this song has yet to be re-mastered (this is a lo-res MP3 audio) and b) to make it less attractive to the pirates - copyright must be respected. In time, however, this track – as well as the original non-vocal demo – will be part of the Hidden Masters : The Jess Roden Anthology set that is in preparation currently).