To coincide with my recent John Foxx and Phil Cool interviews on this blog, here’s the part of the jigsaw that links those features – the true story of that broken nose incident, or at least Phil Cool’s version of the tale.
Heard the one about the rubber-faced funnyman and future electronic music star who had their first hit on a Lancashire swing park?
It’s been 30-odd years since Chorley schoolmates Dennis Leigh and Phil Martin met, but a recent feature on this blog and in the Lancashire Evening Post may well have re-opened the lines of communication.
Not recognise the names? Well, try their stage names instead – the former having made his name as musician John Foxx and the latter as comic Phil Cool.
An interview with the ex-Ultravox frontman in late July, marking his honorary doctorate from Edge Hill University, included a few lines about his school-days with Phil.
John, arguably best known for solo hit Underpass and his pioneering career in art and music, told me at the time: “We knew each other very well at school and after.
“He broke my nose on St Mary’s Rec and says it’s one of his greatest achievements!
“Later on, I sometimes used to go with him to club gigs at Horwich Loco and Wigan Labour Club. He did about 20 years of that. No wonder he’s good.”
As it turned out, Phil read those words and felt the need to tell me more, to cast more light on that infamous incident.
The Chorley-born and bred impressionist was at St Augustine’s Secondary Modern School with John, who was then known as Dennis.
That seat of learning later amalgamated with a girls’ school and became Holy Cross High School. But that’s another story.
Phil said: “It was nice to hear about my old mate again. I haven’t seen him for 30 years. We both had a contract with Virgin Records at one stage.
“Last time I saw him was in London while doing a video shoot. We might have spoken a few times on the phone since, but it would be nice to talk again.”
Phil’s own Virgin deal was for the album, Not Just a Pretty Face, and he added: “They wanted a single to go with it, so I took up this suggestion to do Bridge Over Troubled Water in a Rolf Harris style.
“That was something I’d done a snippet of on my BBC television series at the time, but was trying to get gags in between the lines. In retrospect it was a real mess!
“It’s probably the worst single that’s ever been made, although it was good fun to do at the time.
“They made a video of it as well, with me in a recording studio and lots of kangaroos working the faders and knobs in the control room.”
I’m not so sure it would be getting too much airplay these days, not least in light of Harris’s recent court case.
Phil added, in a deadpan style: “I don’t think you’ll find it anyway. It’s only me that’s got a copy … and I’m going to burn it!”
“Yes, it just sounded more romantic than it actually was. As if I’d been in a fight with him.
“He must have been about 11 at the time. Like a stupid kid I more or less invented this silly game, which I’d just tested myself, and said to him, ‘Try this, Dennis.’
“We were kneeling down with our eyes level with this swing – the old sort on chains, with a wooden base rather than rubber like today – then throwing it as hard as we could away from us.
“Then, when it swings back and it’s about to hit you, move away. I’d done it myself a couple of times, then he tried but didn’t get away quick enough.
“The damn thing hit him straight in the bridge of the nose. There was blood all over the place, and an ambulance came and took him away.
“I felt really stupid and guilty for being so daft. I turned up at his house the next day, knocked on the door, it opened and he stood there like a mummy, his head wrapped in bandages.
“His mother was stood at the side of him. He couldn’t talk, but she said: “Our Dennis has broke his nose and he’s not coming to school today.”
Did she know of your involvement?
“I suppose he hadn’t had chance to tell her by then, because he couldn’t talk!
”Besides, in the photograph you used, his nose seems alright. So whoever patched his nose up did a good job.
“And when we met again in our mid-30s he looked fine to me then too.”
Phil mentions more about his Chorley childhood and early work-days in a cotton mill and as an electrician in his autobiography, Phil Cool – Stand Up Chameleon.
He said: “I was at that school from around 1959 to when I was 15 in 1963. It was a horrible time. I hated it. But Dennis and I were in a class together for a short while.
“He was nearly 12 months younger, but a really good artist and used to get lots of pictures up on the wall, as I did with my own.
“There was another good artist actually – a fella called Psychedelic Sid, also known as Michael Kavanagh. He was from Brinscall. A real character, and a good friend too.”
For a full interview with the ‘stand-up chameleon’ – including more anecdotes about his Lancashire upbringing, his TV days, his past health struggles and farewell live shows, head here.
And if you missed the John Foxx feature that prompted this feature, try this link.