Bought up way down in the Thames delta, Byron’s early years were spent amidst the boondocs of Cheltenham. Known as the home of the blues, blue stockings, bloods, party rosettes, most anything you care to name... all except the bands, they were mostly brass. So it was not long befire the young Byron found himself bright lights, big city bound in search of a new sound – much to the relief, it has to be said, of the local PTA for the town's eponymous college for girls to whom his attentions had thus far been directed.
Among the denizens of London's many Dickensian music halls he came under the influence Axel Crooner, a Fagin like emigré who’s band of boys, known as the Blues Incorrigibles, were fast becoming the scourge of the London musical establishment. They were boys trained not (for the most part) in the picking of pockets, but rather their guitars – along with the occasional bale of cotton to get them in the mood. Fueled by zeal and a diet of eel pie gruel – a disgusting local concoction for which there are never requests for “more” – they were performing their proselytizing music across the city to burgeoning audiences.
And amongst this number, Byron was to meet the future members of the legendary band he was destined to form: The Artful Lodger (aka Keith Retched), Charley Waits, Bill Sykes (later Wymandy) and Nancy Boy (aka Mick Jaguar) …and the rest is histerical.
Mick’s background could be said to be one of deprivation. Poverty, dysfunctional family, a childhood spent in run down estates, all qualifying credentials for an aspiring rebellious social outcast teenager who thumbs his nose at society, he lacked them all. If he was ever going to gain acceptance as such, burdened as he was by such privileged bourgeois stigma, Mick was going to have to earn it the the hard way… by affectation.
How convincing has his inverted Pygmalion transformation been is moot. While maybe not quite in the Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins class, a latter day Henry Higgins could not safely bet his house on passing Mick off at a ‘Pearly Queen’s My Old Dutch Ball. Indeed the nick name ‘Nancy Boy' earned in the Crooner band arose out of rather unconvincing attempts at a ‘Cockney Swagger’. His rather free hands on hips interpretation has however since served him well as the 'Prancing Prince of pop'.
Appropriately Mick only plays lip service to this persona, he will always be more likely to be found in company of establishment movers and shakers in a Wimbledon or Lord’s debenture, than rubbing shoulders with the hoy polloi. Nor is he averse to bending the odd knee for royalty when there’s a gong in the offing.
A chance meeting while waiting for a bus was to reunite Mick and Keith Retched. They had both attended a local primary school. Noticing the Melody Maker in Mick’s pocket, Keith, was sizing him up as a possible mark. “At the time I was raiding my old man’s” record collection, blacking up the faces on the sleve and passing them of as rare American imports. It was ok as long as I could get away before they realised that the faces were blackened, not by ethnicity, but by crudely applied boot polish. when removed they would be looking at some cheesey smiling Pat Boone, or Max Bygraves”. Little did he know it at the time, but Mick was looking at his future ‘better (or worse for wear) showbiz half’ in Keith that fateful day.
Paradoxically Keith, who can boast genuine working class antecedents, tends to the verbal mannerisms of a mature brandy soaked aristo, to the extent that few, other than those closest to him have the faintest idea what he is on about half the time.
It is hard to equate the angelic faced choir boy Keith of formative years with the ravaged satanic visage confronting the world today. It is the sort of wear and tear that a lifespan of Methusalahean proportions could not account for. You certainly could not put it down to skin damaging UV exposure, chance would be fine thing, the Sun and Keith meet only in passing at the end of their shifts. Some have even suggested that he possesses a portrait of an old man hung in his attic that gets ever more youthful.
Keith lives and breathes his music, the other trappings of success being of little interest. The ‘Artful Lodger’ was an epithet earned thanks to his habit of taking up residency of wherever he happens to be at the time. Known to all as ‘The Human Riff’, Keith is the indestructible motor that drives The Stoned music. A motor that runs on lethally toxic cocktails of high octane Rocket’n’Roll fuel. While most people have biological clocks to live by, Keith has toxological one, as long as the chemicals are supplied, it will keeps going.
Keith Retched, or David Farren as he's known in a parallel life, is also an artist and his work can be viewed HERE.
Some say he has the largest collection of dead pans in the world and when he smiles, a butterfly will get into a flap on the other side of the world. All we know is he's called Bill, a man who could win a ‘first to blink’ stand off between himself, a Rock and a Hard Place.
Born before the war (he won.t say which) Bill is the oldest member of the band. He even served national service, which if nothing else taught him how to ‘shoulder’ his instrument. It has to be said, he has never let age get in the way of his pursuits, particularly when it comes to women, other that is, than reasoning that the older he gets, the younger the women needs to be, in order to keep an constant average.
Charley hails from Wembley, where the FA Cup comes from, not that Charley would know an FA Cup from a D cup, even if handed to him with tied ribbons by the Queen – whom he likewise probably would not recognize.
His first love is Jazz, however career opportunities for a young would be Art Blakey around the Left Bank of the North Circular were not good. So while he may not have set his sites on a life as a rock drummer, when the chance came to be the other half of the Stoned rhythm section, he was happy enough to lend a helping hand to the cause.
As is the lot of all drummers, Charley has time on his hands. While some of it he will have to waste beating out for the band, the rest can be devoted to hanging around. So far, he reckons he’s clocked around 20 yeas hanging around with The Stoned. But he mustn’t grumble… that’s not to say doesn’t… constantly.
Mick cut his teeth as a guitarist in John Mainliners Booze Busters, bitter rivals to the Axel Crooner mob. He was recruited into the Stoned as cover for Byron’s persistent late on stage arrivals. A musician whose shy retiring demeanor is somewhat eclipsed by the brash attention seeking anitcs of those around him and does not reflect the virtuosity he brings to the Stoned. History fails to give due credit to the significance of his contribution to the Band, and, at the behest of Mick and Keith, so shall we.