The enveloping darkness of the cold wet Cornish night was offset by the splashes of yellow light from the windows of the old lichen bedecked granite building, sited just off to the side of the B3311 road that snaked up from St Ives down through Cripplesease to Nancledra then via Gulval to meet the A30 down into Penzance. Rain had been falling steadily on and off through the day and was now, it seemed, settling in for the remainder of the night. Water streamed off the black glistening tarmac to be carried into the drainage runnels and away. The down pipe from the gutters on the roof emptied noisily into the same channels heading probably for a soak away somewhere far below. Rivulets of clay coloured water carrying small stones poured off the gravelled earth of the large car park across the road and joined the torrent pouring into the overburdened drains.
Bursts of blue cigarette smoke accompanied by happy laughter and excited conversation poured out each time the door was opened to admit yet another customer. A look through any of the ground floor windows would show a barroom full of people jostling for a space at the bar, chatting and bantering, faces red with sweat, eagerly anticipating the evening’s entertainment. This was to be the last night in this pub, The Engine Inn, at Cripplesease for popular landlord Les Rowe and tonight the main attraction would be an impromptu appearance by his comedian brother Geoff, stage name Jethro, to reflect the family name. It was also sometimes displayed as JeThRo – meaning I supposed “Geoff, The Rowe” – but don’t quote me!
In support there was me, Mic McCreadie, a pub singer with a side line in light comedy. To say I was pretty nervous would be to understate the case; Jethro was a well known and well loved, very successful comedian with TV and concert tours under his belt, someone I viewed as an established professional, confident in his trade. Although it might look it, it’s not that easy being a comedian, there’s a lot of skill and art in the creating of the content and a quick and lively wit is a basic requirement in that particular trade.
Jethro had them in abundance.
However buoyed by the genuine good will from the punters many of whom knew me from past appearances at The Engine, and perhaps a few pints, I started my show and appreciated the applause and encouragement I was getting. There being little space in the packed saloon bar, Jethro had found a bit of spare room with a chair to one side of what we were using as a stage. Which was the floor space in front of the open fireplace, happily not lit even on this cold wet night. Outside the rain pattered loudly on the window glass as it continued its steady but growing increasingly heavier, downpour and I’m sure we all felt glad to be inside and in such good company on such a night.
I think it was when I began to notice that the laughter for my jokes and comical remarks seemed a bit over hearty and even somewhat fulsome that I began to suspect that Jethro, who by now had made his way over behind me to an open window, was maybe gesticulating and play acting at my back for comedic effect. However when I turned I saw that he’d done nothing of the sort but was stood with his face stuck out the window presumably to inhale less of the smoke filled atmosphere and take in some fresher air. He noticed I’d stopped, turned back in towards me, smiled and said, “Go on, you’re doing well Mic” then stuck his chin back out the window. So, naturally I carried on but so too did the seemingly inappropriate laughter which, by now was being accompanied by elbow nudges, nods and sly grins, the main focus of which seemed to be somewhere down in front of me. I couldn’t fathom what it might be so decided to ignore it and just carry on regardless.
Behind me Jethro and the open window were still in deep and meaningful congress and I could hear the wind howling and flinging the rain all around the building. It was when a line of listeners began to loosely form in front of me and when the nudging and nodding and sly grinning had grown to such odd proportions that I knew for sure it wasn’t anything to do with interest in and approval of my offerings.
What I didn’t know was that the continual deluging rain run off had by now completely overwhelmed the drainage system and had found its way under the pub where inevitably it began gathering. It wasn’t until I glanced down at my feet in hopes to locate the source of the amusement that I saw I was now standing in the middle of a large puddle! The pooling rain under the pub had begun to well up through the joints to gather in a dip in the large slate flooring slabs and was forming a pool about a foot wide and an inch or more deep. Now I understood the reason for the audience’s rather avid interest. I realised that now, connected as I was to the inefficiently earthed 240 volt electricity supply by my mains powered P.A. system, which involved a steel microphone stand, and my by now fairly wet shoes, I was in real danger of being electrocuted! This was what had been causing the amusement and interest, not my singing, not my jokes or performance, not Jethro’s possible antics, but the likelihood of the spectacle of my potentially imminent demise!
Happily as you’ll have gathered by my surviving to compose this article the disaster was averted, I moved myself and the microphone stand out of the water and finished my set unscathed. Jethro went on to make a great night even better. As I watched his performance that night, I learned a great deal from him. I saw how skilfully he worked a joke up, how he drew the audience in, how he used his body language and casually elaborated here and there building the story and feeding the audience’s anticipation and their hunger for the punch line but how he managed to dangle it, like an angler, just out of reach until he judged it the right time and then how he landed it with such a breath taking ease it raised the hairs on my scalp. What I witnessed that night was a master at work and I saw it again and again on many other nights as our paths crossed every once in a while. He was a natural, born with the gift of the gab and the talent to put it across. As we chatted that night much, much later over yet another pint he told me how he suffered from pre stage nerves while waiting to go on and that was why he was behind me during my set and breathing fresh air at the open window. He’d not noticed the water seeping in around me either. We were also able to reflect on the strange ways of the world and its peoples. He invited me to come up to perform in his club in Lewdown more than a few times but sadly that, for various reasons, never did come to pass.
Another meeting, some years later brought more reason for amusement.
We were performing in separate rooms on the same night in a place called The Ops Room at Portreath. Jethro and his brother Les came in to watch my set as Jethro wasn’t on stage in the ballroom until much later that night. He was booked for the Annual Cornish LGBT Christmas Party I think and I was doing my weekly Saturday night show in the public bar.
In my ‘half time’ break we sat and chatted a bit and we swapped business cards and copies of our individual merchandise cassette tapes. Off I went with one of Jethro’s “Live At Trebogus” and he had a copy of my, at that time, one and only pub show product: “Songs & Stories”.
Some time later I was watching Jethro on TV; he appeared quite a few times on the Des O’ Connor show, and also on The Jim Davidson Show more than a few times. During the chat interview with Des he did one of ‘my jokes’ from the tape I’d given him. Next time I had occasion to ring him I jokingly made mention of him ‘stealing my material’ and he kindly replied, “Oh hey! Yes you’re right Mic! I did! Tell you what, when you get on, you do one of mine!”
The third event that comes to mind was when we shared a gig at St. Ives Rugby Club, held I seem to remember in the newer club house. I was on first again, naturally, and was doing fairly well but it was clear to me that though most were enjoying what I was doing, it was with a certain degree of toleration; it was Jethro they’d come to see and hear. It had previously been agreed that I’d work from up on the raised stage and then Jethro could get right on immediately with his show from the floor when I’d finished my set.
So, my bit done, I was behind the closed stage curtains and disassembling the stage gear as quietly as I could. I could hear Jethro being announced and then him making his opening remarks. Somehow or other, and I still don’t know to this day what really happened, I got a right belt of an electric shock when I touched the prongs of the three pin plug of the amplifier mains connecting cable I’d just removed from the wall socket. Now I hate getting electric shocks and I’ve had more than I want already but my reaction, perhaps predictably, is usually the same every time though some might be more vigorous than others depending on the severity and length of the shock. This time it was a real belter and it made me cry out, involuntarily, but unfortunately quite loudly too.
“Ow! Oh, you b*stard!” I yelled. Jethro, by now in full flow, and without breaking his stride, said, “Now Mic, you’ve had your go. ‘Tis my go now so – kindly – give over.” The room exploded into raucous laughter and he carried on as smooth as you like. We sat and had a drink after all was done and dusted and someone decided that my electric shock was because I’d ‘discharged a condenser’ – I still don’t know what that meant either. Anyway we sat and chatted over a pint, swapping tales, yarns and new jokes and laughed about the things we have to bear.
I met his parents too quite by accident, when, during a lull in my musical career I was employed by a friend as a TV aerial systems engineer making house calls and had the good fortune to be sent to repair a fault in a house close to Nancledra if my memory is correct. I was given a cuppa once the job was completed satisfactory and TV signal had been restored then as we crunched on biscuits and supped our brews Mother brought out the photos of Jethro, beaming with pride and happiness at her son’s achievements and fame. Nice people.
A genuinely lovely chap and always without a trace of superiority, craving star status or being someone ‘special’ – he was real, down to earth, approachable and friendly every time I saw him in company. He’d sit and chat with his audiences before, during and after a show. He liked a pint and he liked live music too and would often be found in a pub mingling and chatting with the rest of the crowd where a session was going on. He was generous to a fault too.
When a distant cousin over in Belfast after hearing my stories about encounters with Jethro asked if I could get him a signed photo I rang Jethro and asked if he’d oblige. He said he’d be happy to and a short time after that Sam Sweeney and his wife Ella in Belfast had a package in the post from Jethro containing a signed photo or two and one of his cassette recordings!
There were those who considered his material obscene and his delivery somewhat foul mouthed but the Jethro I knew back then was not blatantly profane, smutty or dirty; he knew very well the everyday language of conversations in the daily lives of the folk he was performing to; he’d been brought up in a small tight knit community and had experienced the same.
The members of his audiences weren’t that different from him and knowing they all spoke the same language he used the same descriptions, in the same vocabulary that they did – he just had the knack of pointing out the funnier side of our everyday lives. He spoke of things and situations they could easily identify with, he understood their daily grind, their hopes and fears, and the realities of their day to day lives. When they paid for their tickets they knew that what they’d be getting was a comic’s view of the idiosyncrasies of life, of work, of marriage, of wives, husbands and sex in all its ridiculous rigmaroles. He spoke of experiences in a language they themselves used and understood. He told it like it was and like they knew it to be. Let’s face it, if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t have attended the concerts or bought the merchandise, the tapes and DVDs, They’d have stayed away if they didn’t like it, or want it and appreciate it. They put their bums on the seats in an unequivocal demonstration of approval and approbation.
I don’t mean to claim in this article that Jethro and I were best buddies; we only really met up on the rare occasions when we both were booked on the same night at the same venue but I looked upon him as a good pal who was always pleased to see me and I will always treasure the many happy memories of those good days and nights ‘way back when.
Rest in peace my dear chap and – thank you.
Written by Mic McCreadie. 28th December 2021.
Geoff Rowe was born in St. Buryan, Cornwall on 08th March 1948. Before becoming the professional successful comedian we all knew and loved he sang in choirs, played rugby, trained as a carpenter and worked down a tin mine. As well as a nationally known and respected comedian he was also a very successful businessman and horse breeder winning many prizes at The Horse Of The Year Show. He died after contracting Covid-19 on December 14th 2021. He was 73 years of age.