Driving force

24th January 1997 at 00:00
Former drummer Garry Gamblin and his son Duane talk to Harvey McGavin about their time at school and what they wanted to do

Garron Gamblin bought his first drape jacket aged 15, donned his brothel creepers and took his first steps towards what he hoped would be rock and roll stardom. His parents weren't best pleased.

"My father was an army officer who thought all musicians were long haired drug takers and that music was a waste of time - not something you could look at as a career."

But he proved him wrong, playing the drums in bands with names like Dixie Phoenix and The Downbeats for 20 years, backing touring American artistes of the day and even once hitting the charts with a song called "Punk Bashing Boogie".

One day in 1978 he was walking through Winchester town centre when he was knocked down by a drunk driver. He spent the next 18 months in hospital, had dozens of operations, and lost his left leg.

"The surgeons said I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. " He overcame the odds and learned to walk again. Even so, it was five years before he fully recovered mentally and physically, and 11 before he got any compensation. The driver was never prosecuted.

After the accident, Garry moved to the seaside port of Poole in Dorset to make a fresh start. But two years ago, Shane, the eldest of his seven children from three marriages, was killed by a train at the age of 16.

These two tragic events have affected Garry's middle son, 15-year-old Duane Gene Vincent, named after his Dad's musical idols. Duane admits he "bottled it all up" when his elder brother was killed and soon afterwards he began to play truant. When he did go to school - a Poole comprehensive - things went from bad to worse.

"I was always getting in trouble for mucking about and talking. When I went there I had a form tutor who I got on really well with. But then he left and the teachers started picking on me, giving me detentions and chucking me out of the class for not doing any work. After that I used to get the blame for anything that happened. If I had stayed at school I would probably have got expelled."

Instead, his headteacher suggested he join a pilot scheme run by the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders in Association with the school, where he receives training in bricklaying and joinery, counselling and careers advice.

Duane's schooling is a far cry from that of his 55-year-old father, who felt let down by his own education and dropped out of grammar school in Berkshire when he was 17.

"It was very archaic. 'Stand to attention when I'm talking to you!', that kind of thing. It was even frowned on for us to speak to a secondary modern pupil while in uniform.

"The whole thing was academically orientated. I was interested in civil engineering, but everything that I had learned at school was training for being a solicitor or a bank manager. I had enough O-levels but I couldn't get anybody to look at me because I had no practical skills at all."

Garry has had to give up being a musician and is a salesman now, living alone with his teenage son. Even though Duane has had problems at school, Garry remains a strong believer in the comprehensive system, partly because of his own negative experiences on the other side of the academic divide.

"But if I have one criticism of the modern day school system it is that they mix the two sexes when your hormones are running berserk. I don't think I would have got half the O-levels I did if I had been in a mixed sex school."

As a single Dad among many single Mums, Garry found his face didn't always fit. "When I took Duane to playgroups they would look at me as if to say 'what are you doing here?' But the important thing is that you are a caring parent and not what sex you are.

"You have got a duty as a parent to guide your children away from things that aren't right. But I get aggrieved when I hear people say you can control teenagers. Once they are outside the house you don't have the physical control."

Father and son have both rebelled in different ways, but Garry doesn't blame Duane for underachieving at school. "You often hear people say 'I'd like to be 21 again' but you don't hear anyone say 'I wish I was 15'. It's a period in your life when you don't know who you are. Duane's had a traumatic background and he has had quite a lot of hammer blows."

And the father recognises the new pressures on young people growing up today. "When I was a teenager if you cheeked a policeman he gave you a cuff round the ear and took you home where you probably got another one. Nowadays you can't do that. Drugs were virtually unheard of when I was a child. Now they seem to be on every street corner."

Duane wants to be a car mechanic. To him, education is no more than a means to an end. On the Turlin Moor estate where he lives and unemployment runs at 27 per cent, that can often mean a dead end.

"School is important because you have to get a job when you have finished. I don't think it suited me - but it suits a lot of other people. I like it better here than school because I don't get in trouble. It's not just sitting down and writing all the time. I wouldn't be bothered if I never set foot in a classroom again."

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