“Visionaries and dreamers have always been dusted with a little oddity.”
‘Nark Drool and the Shudders’ had played many times on Eel Pie Island and felt quite privileged to be following in the steps of the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Rod Stewart and the other R&B greats of the 1960s. But after a few years of dragging our equipment across the humped back bridge on trolleys and back again in the early hours of the morning, trailing behind us the ghosts of Brian Jones, Keith Relf, Ken Colyer, Keith Moon and all the others that had moved on to the great gig in the sky we thought that enough was enough. Then Trevor Baylis, the man who invented the wind-up radio, phoned us up.
We knew that he lived on the island and now he wanted us to play at his birthday party. The money was good, the gig was in the afternoon, the ‘schlep’ was minimal and the ‘get-in’ easy so it was back to Eel Pie for us.
For all his celebrity and the recognition that came with the CBE awarded to him in 2015 Trevor lived in modest style in a house that reflected his unconventional and gently eccentric nature. You opened the front door and almost stepped into an indoor swimming pool. Running down the side of the house was a cluttered workshop that seemed more suited for repairing shoes or building bird boxes than designing wind up radios. If you wanted to borrow a log splitter or a jet-pricker for your Tilley Lamp Trevor was the man to know. There was a hot tub on the patio outside overlooking the Thames and it was there that we set up to play not only to Trevor and his guests but to passing party boats and walkers on the far towpath. When Trevor partied, everybody partied!
When I first met Trevor I mentioned that I had an itch on my back that had been there since my teenage years but because of its position I had never been able to examine the spot. He thought for a moment and then said that what I needed was a seebackscope, specially designed to allow a person to view inaccessible spots on their body like the backs of their knees or unreachable itches. “Where can I get one of those?” I asked. Trevor smiled. “They haven’t been invented,” he said. “Not yet!” From that day on I always hoped that…
If you wanted to know anything about the man all you had to do was to look around his house. The walls were covered in certificates, diplomas, photographs, newspaper clippings and miscellanea of all kinds - Trevor in university gowns and deep-sea diving suits, Trevor as a champion swimmer and Trevor as a stuntman called Rameses, Trevor hobnobbing with the good and great, Trevor surrounded by coils and condensers, Trevor doing what he did best - inventing. There was a giant slide rule running up the stairs to the bedroom and a home-made red sportscar on the patio. The house was not an expensively designed status symbol but more a collection of things that he liked… and the same could be said for his party guests. They were all friends, neighbours and fellow islanders. No celebrities or notables, just people that Trevor felt comfortable with. No fancy hors d’oeuvres or expensive ‘amuse bouche’. No expensive wine or imported beers - just simple food and drink to eat and enjoy. Everybody seemed to know him and everybody seemed to know each other. It was like joining an eclectic family with Trevor at the head.
Sadly Trevor is no longer with us. Over the years we had become a regular feature at his birthday parties but in 2017 he did suggest that it might be for the last time - and it was. He died at home on Eel Pie Island on Monday 5th March, up the stairs at the top of the giant slide rule, which is probably how he wanted it.
Others have written about Trevor’s many achievements but my memory is of a kind, modest man who lived in a pleasant world of his own imagination and aspiration, who left the world a better place than it was when he first entered it in 1937, a man who booked us to play at his birthday parties, on a patio, next to a red home-made sports car overlooking the Thames.
“The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress.”
Trevor Baylis CBE 13 May 1937 - 5 March 2018
– from Martyn Day