He has always been keen to skim over what has been called his ‘lost year’. And one look at the photographs on this page perhaps suggests why.
Sporting shaggy, shoulder-length hair, a tight Lurex shirt and brown flared jeans (with patterned turn-ups), this is Tony Blair circa 1972. Aged 18, he had thrown off the shackles of his Scottish public school to dip his bare toes in the choppy waters of the rock music business.
Along with his friend, Alan Collenette, he enjoyed a brief career as a ‘promoter’ before heading off to university.
Mr Collenette, who is now the director of an estate agency in San Francisco, said: “Tony came down to London for a bit of fun in his gap year. He turned up at my door with a homemade blue guitar nicknamed ‘Clarence’ – from which the neck would often detach itself entirely during riffs – and suggested we go into the music business together.
“I was to be a star promoter and he was to be a great rock guitarist. Unfortunately, Tony couldn’t play guitar very well at that time and I had never promoted anything”.
Despite their glaringly obvious lack of talent, Collenette-Blair Promotions was formed.
“We hit the Yellow Pages looking for somewhere to put on concerts,” Mr Collenette said. “Somehow we managed to cobble together a couple of bands. Then we started calling up vicars to ask if we could use their church halls for dances and concerts”.
Mr Blair moved in with the Collenette family and ran the business from the back of a Thames van he picked up for £50. Among his signings was a group called Jaded.
‘Exciting Rock ‘n’ Roll band available for all Dances, Concerts and Parties’, a handbill boasted. As if that wasn’t enticing enough, there was also a ‘Spacematic DISCO with LIGHTS!!!!’
Eventually, Mr Blair secured a regular spot in the crypt at the Vineyard Congregationalist Church in Richmond, South West London. Today it is run as a drop-in centre for the homeless.
Between 1971 and 1972, Al Collenette and Tony Blair Promotions held weekly discos which they advertised with hand-drawn flyers. Mr Blair was responsible for ‘bookings and management’ and keeping the accounts.
“We used to deliver a lot of our promotional leaflets outside colleges and schools. Especially girls’ schools”, recalled Mr Collenette. “The girls would always ask if he (Tony) was going to be at the gig. He was a very glamorous figure with great charm and charisma.”
Despite his long hair and questionable taste in clothes, Mr Blair never lived the rock star lifestyle – although he sometimes smoked a cigarette while doing his ‘legendary’ Mick Jagger impression.
“We were driving through Richmond with a band late one night and the parked cars made the street very narrow. Tony misjudged slightly, scraped against a smart green Jaguar and removed half the paint from one side,” Mr Collenette told the Richmond Magazine.
“The general consensus was that no one had seen us, the guy could afford the repairs and that therefore we should just keep on going.”
“Tony, however, insisted on getting out and left a note with an apology and his name and number.”
Mr Blair also demonstrated an early gift for diplomacy – gently remonstrating with a hulking Hells Angel called Gordon who took a swipe at his business partner after being asked to pay the disco’s 30p entrance fee.
“They were great days,” Mr Collenette mused.
Originally published in the Daily Mail. 6 March 2004