Pirate Party ~ Report

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When Dave Cash invited Gary to be his special guest on Pirate BBC Essex on Monday 13 August, some of Gary's family and friends couldn't resist the opportunity of accompanying him to Harwich to savour the return of pirate radio.  The fun started on Sunday upon arrival at the very bright yellow Hotel Continental where the owners, Blossom and Gordon, and their staff provided a very warm welcome.  A stay at the Hotel Continental is definitely an experience in itself.  The relaxed atmosphere is more in keeping with a gathering of long lost family members than a stay at a hotel.  The restaurant serves excellent food, and at very flexible times too!  The bar was always well populated with local residents who were full of stories about their lovely town and the buzz that Pirate BBC Essex had brought to Harwich.

As you can see on their website, all of the rooms are very different, so quite some time was spent exploring them all.  It was agreed that Gary's luxurious room 4 was probably the best of them, but Gary's son Michael and his girlfriend Becca were equally thrilled with room 5.  The whirlpool bath was a big hit!!  The owners' eclectic art collection is featured throughout the hotel, and it didn't take Blossom long to recruit Gary as the resident advisor and guide!  With so much to enjoy in the hotel, it was an easy decision to spend the evening there appreciating the excellent food, company and atmosphere.  One or two visits to the bar were also required!  Along the way Gary found a few moments to call Dave Cash to make the arrangements for his trip out to the LV18.  Dave had just returned from London after his appearance on Johnnie Walker's Radio 2 show, so it was agreed that he and Gary would meet up on Halfpenny Pier at 8.30 the next morning.

Monday morning was sunny and calm - perfect weather for a short sea cruise!  When Gary arrived at the pier, he was greeted by Dave Cash, Howie 'Bud Ballou' Castle from Radio Caroline, Mary and Chris Payne from Radio London, and a few members of the Pirate BBC Essex staff.  After some chat and laughter it was off to the tender boat for the short trip out to the LV18.  As 9am was fast approaching, Dave Cash was the first to don a life jacket and climb the rope ladder to get onboard.  He made it into the studio shortly after the 9 o'clock news bulletin from Gord Cruse.  Gary safely negotiated the rope ladder, signed the visitor's book, received a security and health and safety briefing, and was soon engrossed in conversation with the BBC staff on deck.  Producer Tim Gillett had to intervene to remind Gary that he was needed upstairs in the studio.

The next two hours flew by as Gary and Dave entertained the listeners with some of their memories from the good old pirate days whilst playing some of their favourite music from those times.  Gary's choices included The Cryin' Shames Please Stay, Tim Rose Morning Dew, Jimi Hendrix Hey Joe and Tim Hardin's If I Were A Carpenter, and of course he had stories to tell about all of them!  Mary and Bud also joined in with some of their memories but, despite encouragement from Gary, Daphne refused to be interviewed.  There were many other visitors to the studio, including Gord Cruse, a long time Walker fan who was very delighted to meet Gary.

After the broadcast, it was back down the metal gangway to the deck where Ray Clark was waiting to have a chat with Gary.  Gord and Dave joined in, and Keith Skues emerged from the depths of the ship to complete the party.  The BBC staff were fighting a losing battle to get Gary on the tender and back to the shore!  Eventually the dreaded rope ladder had to be negotiated again, and it proved to be much more daunting going down.  "A hairy experience, I wasn't sure about that at all", declared Gary, and he was still talking about it when he arrived back on the pier where a small crowd had gathered for autographs and photos.

During the afternoon Gary and his family explored the area around the pier where many people were circulating to enjoy the journey back in time.  The cafe was doing a roaring trade, as was the wonderful display of pirate memorabilia in the Mayflower Exhibition centre.  Of course the BBC Pirate Essex transmissions could be heard all around the pier area.  It was back to the 60s for everyone, and on a lovely sunny day too!  Gary met so many people, it was difficult to keep up with them all, but spending time with the harbour master was a highlight of the afternoon.  It might have had a little something to do with his name.........Nick Walker.  As Nick was quick to tell everyone, "I'm the real Walker".  The two Walkers definitely hit it off, and were never far from each other whenever Gary was on the pier.

In the early evening it was time to say goodbye to Gary's family who all had to get home for various commitments on Tuesday.  It was very tempting to spend the rest of the evening with the excellent company, food and drink at the hotel, but the local area had to be explored, at least for a few hours.  The nearby Dovercourt High Street also feels like a journey back in time, so it was an appropriate place for a very fine meal at the Peking Chinese Restaurant.  The food and service were first class, although the waiter did get a little confused when their PA played the Righteous Brothers while he was hearing tales from a Walker Brother.  He's certainly not the first to confuse his Righteous and Walker Brothers!

Rumour has it that Gary and one or two others were partying in the hotel bar until well into the early hours, but surely that couldn't be true.  Then again, it was sometime after midday when Gary surfaced on Tuesday, so you never know!  Thank goodness the Hotel Continental were just as flexible about their check-out times as they were about everything else.  However, Gary seemed to be part of the family by then because he soon disappeared again, and it was quite a while later before he emerged from Blossom and Gordon's private rooms.  The story was that they had been discussing the hotel's art collection, and had only dragged themselves away from that so that Blossom could personally cook Gary's hamburger lunch to his own specification, which she duly did!

Eventually it was off to the pier again to await the sad end of the pirate broadcasts, and to greet the pirates on their return to shore.  In a stark contrast to Monday's lovely weather, Tuesday was very wet, windy and cool, but the conditions didn't stop the large crowd getting well and truly into the spirit of it all.  Ray Clark was manning the BBC outside broadcast vehicle, which soon became a focal point for interviews, photoshoots and autographs.  Gary was introduced to the Mayor and Mayoress who were both handing out flowers to everybody on the pier.  Of course Nick Walker was not far away, and he was soon escorting Gary down to the jetty to await the return of the pirates.

The terrible weather caused some delays, but eventually the pirates returned, all huddled together in the covered area of the tender.  Gary welcomed them all ashore, and Ed Stewart in particular, was very pleased to see him.  They all made their way up the ramp to the pier and quickly disappeared in the large crowd.  Everybody was soaked through, but it didn't seem to matter.  The only important thing was actually being there to experience the emotions and atmosphere of pirate radio once again.

In all the chaos, nobody knew where anybody was, but The Pier Hotel became the meeting point, and Gary eventually enjoyed a very welcome drink while he chatted with Jeff Martin from Offshore music radio.com and Graham Hughes from BBC Radio 2's Sounds of the 60s show.  Nobody wanted to leave, but most people had long journeys home in the awful weather, so the partying had to stop.  It was time to return to the hotel to dry off, pack up, and say goodbye to all the lovely people there.  Gary was last seen in the bar, deep in conversation with Blossom and Gordon.  If we don't hear from him for a while, we'll probably find him still living it up at the Hotel Continental!!

Huge thanks to everyone at Pirate BBC Essex who worked so hard to make it all happen.

Harwich and Manningtree newspaper article

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