The life and times of John Tondeur - Growin' Up In My Hometown

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

5 April 2024

Roll up, roll up for a mystery tour, step right this way.

From the moment young John saw Peter Noone he knew he was into something good, for music is his first love and music will be his last. Come on a trip down Peakes Lane and other local byways as we find out what makes the velvet voice of Blundell Park tick. There's a story about Slade too. Ah, but which one?

TB: Let's start the very beginning. Where did you grow up?
I lived in Heneage Road and then moved further west. Well...I went to Welholme school. Mr Walsham was the head and he left the year I left, then I went on to Wintringham. I wasn't a high flyer, mainly because I didn't work hard, I guess. Some teachers were great, some not.

TB: Ah Wintringham. Were you taught by Bill Meek (BOTB's dad)?
I knew Bill Meek through other things rather than school. The thing that changed my life was not school, which I didn't like particularly, it was through the youth club on Weelsby Road – most of my friends came from there. At the youth club we used to do a musical thing every year, we put on a show, and Bill Meek would write it and a guy called John Dollery wrote the music. Bill Meek's scripts were just so funny and so sharp. I wrote a couple of the songs with him. When he was poorly recently I managed to find a programme from years and years ago which I sent to the family, which apparently cheered him. I knew him through the music with John Connolly as well. So yes, I did know Bill, but not as a teacher.

TB: You ended up being a teacher. How did you move into that?
Basically I couldn't think of anything else to do! Everything else I wanted to do I couldn't get into so I ended up going to teacher training college because that was the place, back in the day, that if you didn't get into university you went to teacher training college. Now, I should have realised with the words "teacher training" at the end but it was a bit of a shock to come out and find all you could do was become a teacher!

TB: Where did you go to teacher training?
It was Furzedown in Tooting in London. I went there because someone who I respected who was a youth club leader went there. So that's why it changed my life to a certain extent. And there were two or three others from the youth club who went to the same college as well. Cath Hollingsworth, I always remember she'd been there.

TB: It's interesting the turns you're taking - you end up where you are because of the decisions you make
Well yes, because at the end of college I applied for two jobs: one in London, one in Grimsby just in case the other one went under. I wanted the one in London but I didn't get it, I got the one in Grimsby. I got the news at the same time but I remember I sort of felt a huge sense of relief. Actually it was only then I realised that's what I really wanted to do. It wasn't until it actually happened I realised I had convinced myself I wanted to go to London when I didn't.

I still love London, it's still my favourite city in the world. The geography doesn't change much and I got to see loads of bands and people and things when I was down there.

TB: It's quite clear you still have a great interest in music
Oh yeah. If someone said to me you've got a choice of being a famous musician or famous footballer it's music every time.

TB: You are of an age where you were knee deep in the golden era of British rock and pop, is that where you got this love from?
The Beatles was the thing for me. I remember the first gig I went to see was Herman's Hermits at the ABC Cleethorpes where McDonalds is now. The support was supposed to be Billy Fury but he didn't turn up, instead they had The Yardbirds. I'll always remember Jeff Beck was the guitarist and Jimmy Page may even have been on bass. I remember Beck was playing along then he held the guitar over the audience just like that…and it was still playing. And from that moment I was hooked.

TB: Where would rock'n'roll be without feedback? Those were the days when Grimsby used to attract proper bands
Well yeah, I was a little bit young for the Jazz Club – they used to have Fleetwood Mac every two or three weeks, and Jethro Tull, all sorts of people like that. It was a fire hazard – we used to use the fire escape to get in – I did go to it, but after its best days.

TB: So when you went to London you got access to even more bands
I never saw The Beatles, I saw McCartney though. Bowie's famous farewell gig at the Odeon? I was there. The night before (how very Grimsby). I've got Rod Stewart's autograph 'cos he was sat in front of us that night. I saw the Stones at the Roundhouse. In those days if you were big you played small venues. Nowadays one hit and you play the O2.

TB: So from the excitement of London in the early 70s and you came back to the excitement of Grimsby
The first school I taught at was Strand in 1973, yes, yes, when you look back…I taught Harry Clifton's mum. I met someone recently who I taught and they told me they'd just retired.

TB: Your two lives in Grimsby – Radio Humberside and teacher – means you must get a lot of people coming up to speak with you – thousands
Yes, a lot hopefully regard me favourably, some not, but most do I think. Then I went to Willows for a few years then on to Waltham Leas. I actually taught a lot of managers' and players' kids as well. Alan Buckley's lad Adam, Grovesie's lad, Richard O'Kelly's…

TB: Did that cause any difficulty for you, given the two sides of your professional life?
The one thing I did do was keep them as separate as I possibly could and teaching had to come first. An away game in midweek, I just couldn't do it for obvious reasons. Unless it was something like the West Ham cup game when I arranged to go on a course that day. I left the course at lunchtime and I got people to cover for me but they said they'd cover on one condition - there were three words I had to put in my commentary. One of them was ironmongers which was quite easy at West Ham – I can't remember what the other two words were.

TB: Did you succeed?
Yes, but I can't remember them even if you said them. West Ham are known as the Hammers or the Irons because there's a lot of ironmongers in the city. It was quite easy to do.

TB: Did you run the school football team?
Yes, Alan and Arthur Mann used to come along and watch.

TB: Tips given?
One or two (twinkling smile).

TB: Colours!
Green shirts and white shorts.

TB: Hey John, we haven't touched on your footballing career
There isn't one, I was hopeless, I wasn't even in the school team. Ah-ha but I have scored a goal at Boothferry Park. Radio Humberside had a football team (and a cricket team, I played more cricket than football). We weren't very good but we played at some good places. We played Radio One at Boothferry Park (and Blundell Park too) and both games it poured down. We expected 6,000 at Hull, but only 3,000 turned up because of the rain. My claim to fame that day was walking in with John Peel and because I'd done some games at Hull City they let me through without showing a pass but demanded ID from John!

TB: More famous than John Peel! Locally. So you've scored at Boothferry Park in front of more people than Town sometimes got
We had a couple of guests playing – Kev Moore and Alan Clarke (who was Scunthorpe's manager at the time). Clarke's shot hit the post and came out to me about ten yards out. Left foot, straight in. And as we were going off at half time I heard Alan Clarke say "the lad took our goal well". We had Stuart Pearson playing for us, Radio One had Garry Davies and Peter Powell.

TB: When did the 'tache go and why? (It's like Kevin Keegan's perm, we still see it even though it isn't there)
I wanted to shave it off for a while before I did but my wife wouldn't let me. Then I did one day, and she didn't notice. I can't remember when. Everyone had 'taches back in the day.

TB: Your generation John, not mine! Early 70s yes, we understand. Ah, now, as a music man, did you go to the famously forgotten Rock Festival in Bardney in 1972?
I went to the folk one – Elvis Costello was at that, he was almost sat next to me at the Paul McCartney concert and I almost went up and asked him about it – the one with James Taylor and the Byrds. I sort of knew Ralph McTell back in the day – he used to go our college, but not when I was there. So we'd driven down to Kings Lynn on the Friday to see him and drove back up to Lincoln, four of us in a Mini.

The other one, the rock one, we didn't get to the first day because the weather was awful, but I was there for two days. I bought a pass from someone who was going home wet through. The two days I was there were fine. That first day I saw…Average White Band, Slade, Monty Python live and the Beach Boys in a field near Lincoln. It was the first gig I ever went to that had a video screen – black and white.

TB: So you got to see Sha Na Na then?
Yes definitely. But that leads on to another story…Tim Jibson was the guy who got me into radio. I used to do a lot of interviews with rock people for him when they came to Grimsby and I interviewed Slade several times – they were great they always used to say come for drink after the show.

During one interview I said how important Slade were to that Lincoln festival. They were booed on because they were seen as a pop act and they were cheered off because they were so good. I said I'll always remember because you came on after the Average White Band's first gig. And they said we've never played with the Average White Band. I said yes you did, I bet you £1,000 pounds. That night, I went back and showed them the programme. About a year later they came back and I went to interview them again. Jim Lea just walked in, saw me and said "We owe you £1,000!" Never got it.

TB: I find it fascinating about Lincolnshire and Grimsby that you scratch the surface and you find an amazing fact. Growing up when he was at the height of his powers, I never knew Bill Shankly had been Town player/manager. Why didn't I know that - nobody talked about anything. Nobody talked about Rod Temperton and he grew up round the corner from us, and his parents still lived there.
Well Rod Temperton used to go out with my brother's wife but her dad didn't like him and told her to pack him in because he'd never get anywhere. I told her that's doubly disappointing considering what you did end up with.

TB: You're never more than one or two steps from anyone in this town
As I mentioned, I got into radio through Tim Jibson. I did a pop quiz and he invited me over to Hull and we got on really well, still friends now. He tells the story of when he had Heatwave in his club where he was a DJ and Rod came in trying to book a gig for them and asked if he'd play their record. Tim started playing the introduction of Boogie Nights and said, I can't play that, it's too slow, no-one will dance to that!

TB: OK, so what are your views on Rush?
Rush (pulls appropriate face, shakes head)…no. (The right answer) No, no, no I still love music, still travel to see gigs. The Docks Academy has been great, never seen a bad band there. Will's done so much for the town.

TB: Now you have the luxury of a second retirement. Is it too early to say what you'll miss most?
I know I'll miss it, I know I'll miss getting there at about quarter to one, watching the ground fill up and go down again. I'll miss everything about it. I just didn't want to carry on as I don't quite feel so sharp as I was. I can still do it but I don't want to be where people start to think or say…I know I'm going to miss it, apart from travelling to Barrow on a Tuesday night.

TB: When was the last time you sat (or stood) and watched Town simply as a fan?
There are a few games I've watched and not commentated on but it feels weird. I don't think I'll ever get over that, it will definitely feel weird not talking about it. The last time I did that was this season, I felt ill earlier in the week and said they better get someone in, but I felt well enough to go to the game in the end

TB: Which one was that, did we win - that will narrow it down
The one where we were two up, Crawley, and lost 3-2. I was in the Findus with Lloyd and Burnsy. It felt completely strange being over there and not talking and looking from the wrong side. It didn't feel real.

TB: Where are you intending to be seated? Surely not behind the Press Box?
Humberside still want me to be available for my opinion at half time so that'll be somewhere near where I am at present, so I may wangle a press pass.

TB: So basically the Main Stand?
Yeah, then I can sit there and shout "bloody rubbish Town" like everybody else. I like sitting there. The posts, well, I won't say they give it an added charm

TB: You'll miss 'em when they're gone
Yeah, right.