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American

In The Parish

by 

Meredith John Shepherd III

 

(An excerpt from his memoir Being With Prunes1979 Ffynche-Cult Publishing) 

An

 

When Lieutenant Randall ‘Picker’ Peabody arrived in Wethersfield, England after an ass thumpin’ 15 hour flight from Laurel Army Airfield, Mississippi, USA on February 1st 1944, he didn’t know it but…through all his tender years he’d never encountered ‘bizarre’ before.

Strange?…yeah. Kinda cookie?…sure. But never the b word. Hey, never mind the c word, we’ll get to the Cult!  Guess sometimes there ain’t no fork in the road, there’s just a bend you gotta go round, no matter where it takes you. 

Anyways as Local Liaison Officer for the 416th Bombardment Group it was his job to get around and meet folk. All kindsa folk. You folk. And he came fully armed to engage, with his sweet nature, his gum and his lifesavers -- and an uncanny resemblance to Clark Gable. He grew the moustache ‘specially. Now…no-one knows if he got his tag cause he picked a mean guitar, or if it’s cause he could have his pick

Wethersfield Airfield 1944

of any gal on the dance floor, but Picker liked to do both. Most times one led to the other, every which ways.

Leaving behind his family, friends and jammin’ buddies was a wrench - for us too - but leaving behind his treasured 78s near broke his heart. But there was one consolation - a brand new guitar that he’d somehow managed to sweet talk along for the ride. ‘My Little Baby’ was a Gibson. Only a Gibson is good enough. And that Gibson was gonna change his life - and the lives of a lotta other folk too. Strange, kinda cookie, bizarre folk. Yep. You folk again.

Picker was the firstborn son of farm workers in Justiceville, Pike County, Kentucky on November 24th 1919…and man if there was any justice you’d be allowed to grow up anywhere else.

 

But his family was a warm and happy place….and there was always music. Mama played the piano and loved to sing and dance, his Pa Chuck played guitar Kentucky style, on the flat of his lap.

Randall Peabody. Picker hated to fly but never missed a photo opportunity

So Picker got to play on that guitar real early and got to be kinda good too. Weren’t a full grown man when he started jammin’ with people like Crossthread Hawkins, Longface Lenoir and of course - Prunes MacGonagal and me, L’il Shep. Prunes was his hero. Gave him a 1937 Epiphone Emperor for his 18th birthday. Man that session went on all night! We played stuff like 'Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms'…'Arkansas Traveller'…'John Henry' and a bunch of other stuff we’d known since we was babies.

 

And when we ran outta songs we could play we learnt new ones, straight offa his record collection. Man this kid was obsessed. He had everything- from Hoyt Ming And His Pep Steppers…to Robert Johnson…and even Droolin’ Billy-Bob Baker and his Cincinnati Jug Allstars.

 

So fast forward a few years and this young, talented, good looking guy somehow finds himself in sleepy ol’ Essex, where nothin’ ever happens, right? And while his pals are flying bombing missions, cooped up like sardines in Douglas A20s, he can spread his wings and integrate….and he sure knew how to integrate. 

Now, good people find good people.

And in England, as I discovered myself, you’ll find ‘em in the pub. It’s a feel-good environment, right? And as Picker sank that first pint sweet as nectar and looked around him, he sure felt good. After the second pint he felt even better.

 

So he bought another, then drinks for everyone in the house, so everyone felt better! Picker was fully integrated. 

A Douglas A20 Havoc of the 416th Bombardment Group (Light) at Wethersfield

It was a few weeks later when he first heard the rumours. A home grown fully operational airforce unit working outta Finchingfield? He had to meet these guys! Maybe they could work together, share intel. His C.O. wanted action, but these guys were kinda elusive, ya know? Channels of communication weren’t normal. They were….bizarre. There ya go.

 

So it was that Picker found himself leaving a note under the third milk churn outside Bletherworp’s Farm in the dead of night. What happened next is anyone’s guess, but this is how I heard it. As he bent down to leave the note, Picker was overwhelmed by the smell of gorgonzola before being swept up and consumed by what he described as a ‘truck sized hay bail’. Yep. Guess we’ll never know.

 

Anyways when he woke up he found himself strapped to a chair in a barn, being poked and prodded by guys wearing masks, grilling him on what he knew about something they called ‘Ritual’ and whether or not he’d ever been to Bardfield. Bardfield? Where the heck’s that?! Name, rank and number, that’s all he gave ‘em -- till they brought out their truth serum. I dunno how they did it, but those guys had beer on tap in a barn in a field in the middle of nowhere! 

 

So after a few beers they’re all getting on like a house on fire. Masks off it’s Silas and Arnie, who talk for hours about the Cult and its secret rituals. Picker had grown up in a wasp nest of secret societies and woulda been happy to never see a hood again -- but this was different. This was warm, benevolent and giving….and our boy embraced the Cult like a child running into his Mama’s arms. Our boy had come home.

But a home without music ain’t no home at all. Picker needed some new jammin’ buddies. Hell, he’d make em if he had to!

 

Wherever he went - and it was usually the pub - ‘My Little Baby’ went with him. In them days you guys were starved of good music. They fed ya Vera Lynn like some kinda bromide for the ears. But when Picker started playin’ some of them sweet tunes -- like 'Wayfaring Stranger'…'Sittin’ On Top Of The World' and 'Sunny Side Of Life' -- Silas, Arnie and the other guys in the Cult were caught like critters in a trap.

 

It wasn’t long before they all wanted to join in- beggin’, stealin’ and borrowin’ guitars, mandolins -- whatever they could get their hands on. And those guys could sing too! I mean they weren’t the Inkspots but…

Peabody’s Banner LG-2 is a treasured Cult relic. Here it is on a festival outing

The rest is history. Mainly Cult history, where nothing is quite what it seems. Still, the bonds of friendship between the Cult of Ffynche and its American cousins remain as strong as ever. Me and Prunes get back as often as we can. Gotta keep up you guys’ education!

 

And Picker? Well, the stink of gorgonzola took weeks to scrub away, then he married the sweetest English rose you could ever meet- had a bunch of kids an’ all… and his musical legacy lives on in the songs he taught you guys, still played in the Finchingfield Lion every week, some of ‘em. Hell, even ‘My Little Baby’ still makes the occasional appearance. 

 

Bizarre.

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