Cover Story: (5) From Clare to Here. Ralph McTell, Bob Fox or Nanci Griffith
Obermark Over Here: The Great Valerio and jailhouse folk

Overpaid, oversexed, over here? 'Not a bit of it - I'm exploring British folk-rock'


Some variations of the phrase add overfed and overdressed. It goes without saying that I have no idea whether Peter Obermark was excessively remunerated when serving as a US marine in Britain in the 1970s nor indeed whether he ate a lot, dressed extravagantly or had a lively romantic life.

But Peter was indisputably Over Here. And while here, he devoted a fair amount of his spare time to rooting around London record shops in search of folk and folk-rock. He tells the tale so engagingly that I could not resist seeking his permission to reproduce his story from the pages of the Richard Thompson Facebook group. He readily agreed ...



                                                                          Peter Obermark*

Reading Beeswing - [Richard Thompson's newly published autobiography] - has resurrected memories for me of living in London in the mid-70s, and my first introduction to Richard Thompson's genius.
In 1975, I was 19 years old, a corporal in the US Marine Corps, and given the rarest of postings, a two-year assignment to London, as part of the tiny Marine security detachment for US Naval Headquarters, Europe.
We were at 20 Grosvenor Square, diagonally across from the old US embassy.
I was a kid from rural Kentucky, trained at Marine bases in the American south for the first two years of my enlistment, and then - presto - woke up one day to find myself in the greatest city on the planet. It was heady stuff.
I used to poke around record shops in Soho in my off time - I might have visited a pub or two as well - and one day, a clerk introduced me to Martin Carthy, Five Hand Reel and the Boys of the Lough.
I fell in love with traditional English and Scottish music, and with the folk-rock music that was coming on the scene.
There was an Irish folk-rock band called Horslips that I loved, and some of the more folk-ish stuff that Jethro Tull was doing (like Songs from the Wood) appealed to me as well.
My fellow Marines in the small London detachment thought I had "gone native" and didn't understand why I wasn't listening to Steve Miller and the Eagles like everyone else.
One day, in 1975, I was nosing around the same Soho record shop, and asked a different clerk if there was anything else I should be listening to in that genre.
He replied: "I'm assuming you have all of the Fairport stuff, right?"
I gave him a blank look, and replied that no, I didn't.
With a combination of exasperation and pity, he took me over to a bin, and I walked away a few minutes later with Unhalfbricking, Liege and Lief, and Full House under my arm.
Those records spun nonstop on my turntable for the next two years. The songs went straight to my young and feral heart, and they got me through some rough times in the years to come.

That's my RT story. I'm an old man now, and long since finished with military service but London and the UK still feel like my second home after all these years, and I take my wife back there to visit whenever time allows.
* Peter Obermark's Facebook profile reveals him to be 'musician/songwriter, guitarist/vocalist for Copper, a pop/roots rock band in Cincinnati, Ohio'. He'll have seen the enthusiastic response from subscribers to the Facebook group. His reminiscences were a delight to read. And by way of apology for the mischievous headline, here's a quick burst of Horslips ...


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