Monday, June 14, 2010

Ray Roughler-Jones

Drowning on Dry Land is the autobiography of Ray Jones. Most people who pen such books have done something worthwhile with their lives, or at least achieved some kind of fame but not Jones. He is a lowlife, a waster, someone who has frittered away most of his adult life in boozers “talking bollocks”. And yet Jones’s story is worth a hundred of those glossy, celebrity, biographical cash-ins.

A native of Swansea he paints a compelling picture of the city in the 1960s. Back then it was the beat capital of Wales and he swiftly developed an interest in the music scene. In the seventies an increasing taste for drink, drugs and thieving led to a stint in Swansea nick. As a natural anarchist the arrival of punk gave him purpose. He saw the Sex Pistols; joined punk outfit Dyfatty Flats; and started hanging out with Britain’s leading anarchist Ian Bone.

Moving to London in the eighties with his hat-maker girlfriend he settled in the Ladbroke Grove area. It’s as a chronicle of life in the Warwick Castle pub on Portobello Road that this book really comes into its own. With its clientele of working-class Irish, style-conscious shop workers, and boho arty types it soon became a west London cultural hot-spot. Encounters with Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan, Lady Di (on the blower), Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Chancellor, Keith Allen, Marianne Faithfull et al are colourfully related.

Jones produced the Warwick Castle’s house magazine The Roughler and became involved in the Notting Hill panto. He continued to live on his wits rather than through regular employment. He sold speed to get by and deepened his addictions to booze and gambling. Relationships suffered, though as a loveable rogue and well-known face in the area, there seemed to be no shortage of women interested in his charms. If only he had been sober enough to take advantage.

With the demise of the Warwick Castle Jones upped sticks and headed for San Francisco. Helping to set up a drinking establishment called Dylan’s in honour of you-know-who things, at last, seemed to be on the up. But tensions with his partners and getting burned in a major drugs deal left him, once more, on his uppers. Back in Britain and now an alcoholic Jones finally has to face up to his demons and give up the drink.

Written in an easy-going anecdotal style Drowning on Dry Land is an absorbing tale of life on the criminal-bohemian margins. Ray Jones’s natural charm and intelligence have you rooting for him all the way, even when he is pressing the button marked self-destruct. In fact Drowning on Dry Land is the kind of book that makes you want to jack in your job and head for the nearest boozer to live a dissolute and hedonistic life. Dangerous but enjoyable.

*Drowning on Dry Land by Ray Roughler-Jones is available from Tangent books.