Lionel Morton, Blackburn Cathedral choirboy turned leader of chart-topping group The Four Pennies, continues his reminiscences of life in the Swinging Sixties. Here Lionel recalls a close encounter with a glamorous lady who had been headline news in the Sunday papers and everywhere else.
I was having dinner one evening with Michael Wilshaw, the bass player from my group The Four Pennies, at The Lotus House, the biggest and best five-star Chinese restaurant in London. It was at the bottom of Edgware Road, just before Marble Arch; immaculate service, upmarket.
Our producer at Phillips Records, Johnny Franz, had taken us there after our first recording session round the corner at Stanhope Place, when the Phillips Studio was four-track, and we’d started going regularly. It was popular with musicians, celebrities, pop stars etc. It was really good.
So Mike and I are in there, it’s late, there’s a black guy playing a grand piano on a dais and we’re enjoying a hearty Chinese meal, and next to us at another table for two are a couple of very attractive females.
All of a sudden one of them speaks. It’s loud, it’s over-the-top aristo, it’s unbelievably deep.
“Wow listen to that”, says Mike and before I could stop him he leans over and says: “That’s an incredible voice you have. Ever thought of making a record?”
We spend the next three hours drinking champagne and smoking cigars. We’d pulled two classy chicks, with a flat round the corner.
We stagger out onto the Edgware Road, singing and being outrageous, like you do. I settle for the tall dark one, Mike’s is smaller and fair. We jump into my Jag – save the girls the trouble of finding a taxi – and they invite us in of course to share the couple of bottles of champagne they had purchased from the Lotus House.
April, who’s with me, is coming on strong as the champagne flows and Mike disappears into the bedroom with April’s friend. Thank you and goodnight. Now there’s April dancing a dance for me, sprawled out as I am, and she begins to strip. She’s got all the gear on – bodice, stockings, suspenders, high heels – you know the sort of thing, and she’s coming on strong. Then she’s towering over me saying in this (now weird) deep, deep voice: “Do you like my cleavage?” while shoving it in my face.
Now as I’ve already said before, I’m just a simple lad from up North but I could swear her cheeks, and I distinctly noticed the backs of her hands, felt a bit rough. Know what I mean, girls?
Feeling a bit rough myself after all that champagne and Chinese food, I felt no desire to s**g this chick at all; nothing. I didn’t find her dancing sexy, either, and when she comes up close, in her deepest of deep, deep (I wonder if she ever made a record) voice and says: “I like you, you’re so common”, I fondled her, felt nothing and fell asleep.
The next thing it’s early morning, April’s fast asleep and Michael is waking me saying: “Come on, let’s go.”
“It’s too, too early,” I say with a thick head. He’s now seriously signing me to get the heck out of there NOW… and be quick about it. He’s really being serious about leaving. Something must be wrong. And as we’re leaving the basement flat, going up the stairs, Mike says to me: “Do you know who that is you’ve been with?”
“April,” I say.
“April Ashley,” he says. I still don’t get it. It hadn’t clicked, until he reminds me of a story in the news a couple of years before about the first ‘Sex change’ operation ever, that had taken place with full consent from all concerned: Chop it off, fold in the skin flaps and hey presto – a fanny. Keep taking the hormones and bingo – boobs.
“Do you like my cleavage?” in that Paul Robeson voice, and the penny dropped. My gaster was flabbered. I didn’t know whether to flip or fly, probably did both.
We left that place in a hurry, I can tell you, and no looking back, know what I mean? Anyway, April Ashley was a beautiful Feman then and is a handsome lady to this day. Thanks for the memory.