Reunions, Raincoats and Rock & Pop Memorabilia

A couple of Saturdays ago I got up at the crack of dawn and caught the first train south to Edinburgh. An ex-flatmate from student days had recently been back in touch – inevitably via Facebook – and she was keen to have a bit of a reunion. As one of the other girls from the flat (we’ll always be girls however old we get) was coming up to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, a meet-up there seemed to make sense as the rest of us all still live in Scotland. As an aside, another thing that precipitated this reunion was that one of our number has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, which came as a massive shock to all of us. It’s too easy to put off these kind of reunions as it can be tricky finding dates that work for everyone, but this news certainly galvanised us into action, for obvious reasons.

There certainly was a lot going on in Edinburgh the Saturday I arrived at Waverley Station. We knew however that much of our time would be spent just catching up, as we hadn’t actually met up with the instigator of this reunion for 37 years. She’d left a year earlier than the rest of us to coincide with her student boyfriend’s departure, as he was a year older. They got married within 12 months, and wait for it, are still together! I suppose I shouldn’t be so shocked, but it just didn’t work out that way for the rest of us, so full of admiration for anyone who has gone the distance so to speak.

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After the mid-morning coffee and the boozy lunch, it had been suggested we head along to the National Museum, as the much-publicised exhibition entitled Rip It Up, The Story of Scottish Pop was currently running. It certainly did chronicle the music we Scots have been responsible for inflicting on an unsuspecting nation (world?) over the last 60 years or so, taking us right back to Lonnie Donegan and ending up with the Chvrches by way of Lulu, The Rollers, Deacon Blue, the Soup Dragons and Franz Ferdinand to name but a few.

Only the previous week however I had finally caught up with all three episodes of the BBC 2 documentary series also called Rip It Up (link here), so I was already familiar with “the story” and had seen most of the audio-visual material used as part of the exhibition. Also, there was a strict no taking pictures policy in operation so that kind of ruined my chances of creating a blog post out of my visit (but I’m still going to try). What was great however was to see all that rock and pop memorabilia, donated both by fans and the pop sensations themselves, which had been pulled together for the exhibition.

My last blog post before this visit was as a result of having been set the challenge of writing about James Yorkston (link here) which is when I found out about Fence Records, set up by Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote). One of the items on display was the actual fence used as inspiration for the artwork for Kenny’s album, still boldly displaying the words KC RULES OK.

There were of course an awful lot of guitars, records and sheet music filling up the glass cases but for me it was the clothes I enjoyed looking at most. Considering I was meandering around these displays with people I had shared a flat with in 1980/81, a few memories invariably came to mind. Both myself and the instigator of the reunion had been lucky enough to receive little black and white portable tellies from Santa that academic year, so from January 1981 onward we took turns in hosting the viewing of TOTP on Thursdays at 7.30pm. That was of course the era of New Romanticism and the charts were littered with acts who were very prone to dressing up in elaborate frills and falderals.

POP-COMP

A band who will always be remembered for producing a highly pretentious, airy fairy video at that time was Ultravox, headed up by Scottish singer Midge Ure. The song it accompanied was of course Vienna, which became infamous for losing out on the UK Singles Chart’s top spot (for weeks on end) to an Australian called Joe Dolce with his novelty song Shaddap You Face. Along with many other iconic outfits in the exhibition, there was the very raincoat Midge wore for the video.

Vienna by Ultravox:

Other panels of interest contained a display of some of the many albums made by Scottish acts over the years – I can only identify a few of the less obvious ones, but I’m sure a fair few of the blogging buddies could identify many more. Some interesting snippets of info up there too – Did you know that in 1975, the Average White Band was the first Scottish band to get to No. 1 in both the US Singles and Album Charts simultaneously? No, me neither, but I do now courtesy of the exhibition.

Last stop was of course the gift shop, and although I didn’t actually buy this Bay City Rollers badge (because I already have one!), it was worthy of a picture. Plenty of nice new T-shirts on offer as well for those of us whose originals have perhaps seen better days (or perhaps that’s the point).

I will leave you with a link to the playlists of songs inspired by the exhibition – From Scottish pop classics to the tracks that mean the most to the people involved in creating the exhibition. Also, one last image, this time of the iconic outfit worn by Annie Lennox during her Eurythmics partnership with Dave Stewart. Considering our little reunion was the result of having once-upon-a-time shared a student flat in Aberdeen, where Annie was born and brought up, it would be fitting to include something by her. I used to find it quite amusing that during my decade of living in Aberdeen, just about every female I encountered had either been to school with her or knew her – Looking back, if you were 5 years older or 5 years younger you probably did attend school at the same time, but highly unlikely you will still be in touch. Just sayin’.

Neil Hanna Photography www.neilhannaphotography.co.uk 07702 246823

Here Comes The Rain Again by the Eurythmics:

So, “What’s It All About?” – First and foremost, if the chance comes up to reconnect with old friends, don’t keep putting it off as to my cost I have found that some of my old friendship groups are now reduced in number. Not something you really want to think about, but now that people are starting to retire, it should mean get-togethers are logistically a bit easier to organise, but it also means we are all getting older. Enough said.

As for the Rip It Up exhibition, it is on until November, and well worth a visit if you have any interest at all in the history of Scottish Pop. If like me you have already watched the Rip It Up documentary, there is a big overlap, but still lots of memorabilia to bring on a dose of nostalgia. We are used to our museum artefacts from ancient cultures presented to us in the form of pottery, jewellery and crafts. In the future, the artefacts attributed to our time on the planet will be vinyl, trousers with tartan down the sides and button badges. What will they make of us as a culture I wonder, in the year 3000AD?

Until next time…. , Shang-a-Lang!

Vienna Lyrics
(Song by Warren Cann/Chris Cross/Billy Currie/Midge Ure)

Walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window pane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until

The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance

The image has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

This means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

The Kingdom of Fife, James Yorkston and “Woozy With Cider”

A few weeks ago, right at the end of my Seven in Seven challenge, I threw down the gauntlet and asked followers to come up with ideas for future posts. Whenever I’ve done this in the past it’s been quite easy to come up with something reasonably entertaining, as a fairly mainstream song has been suggested. This time…., not quite so easy. This third reply post was always going to be tricky, as I hadn’t actually heard of the artist or song when it was first suggested by Mr Medd, whose Are We There Yet? blog is one I visit often. My proviso for this challenge was that I had to have heard of the artist, so by rights I could have wriggled out of it, but that would be a bit lame so here goes:

Woozy With Cider by James Yorkston:

Woozy With Cider was recorded by singer/songwriter James Yorkston in 2007. It’s a spoken word kind of affair and apparently falls into the electronic/folk rock camp. As I said above, both James and his “song” were new to me, so before hitting the keyboard I was going to have to do a bit of serious listening. Lots of imagery in this song but what comes across loud and clear is that Mr Yorkston is neither a fan of big cities nor city folk and their sometimes patronising attitude towards those of a more countrified nature. He kind of yearns to be back in the place he feels most comfortable, “a village the size of a teacup”. There has been a wedding though (oh no, another wedding post – I can’t get away from them), which is the reason for the trip to the big smoke, but it is now the day after where there is time for reflection, relaxation and just enough cider to cause a bit of “wooziness”.

I really liked this spoken word song right from the off, and I think I worked out why pretty early on. Once I’d done a bit of research into James Yorkston, I discovered he came from the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland, which is a peninsula situated between the Firth of Tay and Firth of Forth (and home to the ancient Pictish kings). He became part of something called the Fence Collective set up by Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) where a group of Fife-based musicians got together and released music on their own record label with little more than a CD burner and the use of a local bar’s unused “back room”.

Looking at a map of Fife it looks remarkably like the Black Isle peninsula where I reside. From experience, these are beautiful places to live – Great scenery (water on three sides), picturesque villages, clean air and not too many people or cars. Like James, I would find life in a big city nowadays nigh impossible and find the best mix for me is kind of what is implied in the first line of the lyrics, “I hear you softly sleep amongst the cars and saluting songbirds”. It is now evening and the sound of the traffic has died down so the birds can be heard in equal measure. That’s my ideal – To be near enough civilisation to hear the sound of cars in the distance, but also to be able to hear the sound of birds (as I type I am listening to a hooting owl). It’s not for me the cacophony of city life with only the odd squawking seagull – I know where I’m supposed to “be” and like James Yorkston, I very fortuitously found it when I was relatively young, in my late twenties.

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So, I only found out about James Yorkston when the suggestion for this post came in but since then I have been bombarded by references to Fife and Fence Records. There is a name for this phenomenon (more than just coincidence) which currently eludes me, but we all experience it from time to time – In our house, whenever it happens it’s always accompanied by a quick burst of the Twilight Zone music.

First of all, as per my previous post, we ended up having a spontaneous wee break last week in the city of Dundee, which is just on the other side of the Tay Bridge from Fife. It was a no brainer therefore that we would head across for a visit. By this time I knew all about the Fence Collective based in the East Neuk of Fife, so what better place to visit in order to get “woozy with cider”?

Secondly, a couple of night’s ago I caught the final episode of the BBC2 documentary series Rip It Up which was ostensibly about how Scots have had to overcome obstacles, and blaze a trail, in order to make the music they love. This episode featured those independent labels such as Fence Records who decided to follow a different path and not head to London, but to remain in Scotland and be inspired by their surroundings – They would make music primarily for the love of it and not just to make lots of money. We even had a lengthy interview with Mr Yorkston (whom I warmed to greatly) and I’ll no doubt look out for him now that I know the background to his, and the Collective’s, aims.

Before I go, here is something I found when trying to find out a bit more about the man. It was from an interview he gave after having written his second book (yes it seems he’s multi-talented, also being an author – not jealous honest, grrr…).

Interviewer: James, what’s your guiltiest music pleasure?

James: I think I’ve grown out of that stuff now. When I was a kid, I was very much involved in genre, so I’d only like punk rock or dub reggae, say. Fortunately, as I’ve aged, I’ve thrown off such daft shackles and I no longer feel guilty about anything I like. I feel guiltier disliking things, especially if it’s music by people who I like as people. Guilty Music Displeasure, perhaps.

A great place to end, as since starting this blog I have had massive crises of confidence after writing about songs from my collection that others may well class as “a guilty pleasure”. I know everyone is usually very kind about it, but when James Yorkston also comes out and admits to now feeling more guilty about disliking music, I think I’m ok.

Until next time…

Woozy with Cider Lyrics
(Song by James Yorkston)

I watch the park quieten from the hotel window, I hear you softly sleep amongst the cars and saluting songbirds,
For a city whose size had scared me for years right now it’s a feeble evening row, not un-similar to a beach evening ending.
On the table to my left there’s a magazine with a picture of dead money, making a mockery of what I’d call art
But what would I know about the scene in the city that has swallowed up friends lovers and family,
Just give me a village the size of a teacup

You’re happier here spread out with your eyes closed,
I feel I should order a drink in celebration to welcome the summer, whose first day is ending
Should you wake you’d catch me of course and ask me the wisdom of drinking once more
I cast my mind back to yesterdays wedding where we got drunk and fell over
I did my best to be polite to a family I’d never met, but on numerous occasions, I guess, I could have tried harder
Of course by the end of the night I was a best friend with everyone and every ones wife but right now I couldn’t remember their names no matter how hard I try

As the sun glares through the hotel window I wonder of our future and where it will lead to,
I wonder if you’ll be laying there 10 years 20 years 30 years down the line
I’ll still be staring out at the street confused about love and life,
It’ll be interesting to see if anyone every bought those songs of mine if anyone heard those words that I never got quite right,
I think I can be honest in presuming the world is not exactly going to be leaping out of its bed to make me rich using my songs in adverts selling oranges or lemons

Who knows I may end up owning the whole street, or more likely sleeping under tree in the park opposite
Would the runners keep me awake or would I keep them asleep
I’d hope I have the sense to move back home, as lovely as today is, I‘d imagine the winter would be rather cold

I’d been told for years that the devil had the best tunes and that the devil lived down here whereas us country folk weren’t worth the salt from the road
Ex pat magazine editors who choose to loose their temper on the easily persuaded northern town dwellers
And sure enough 99 percent of the people I meet have scant regard for entertaining me, it seems I’m too old too slow too quiet and just wrong
And I’m glad. In their cocaine fuelled electronic cabarets I’ll be the man at the bar drinking overpriced whiskey from a bar maid who’s too good to catch my eye
She only works here two nights a week, the rest of the time she’s a singer in a rock and roll band
I bet she’d change her tune if I told her my album had peaked at number 172 and that I also had friends who worked in bars and that didn’t define who they are
Though it certainly helps their capacity to drink.

But I’ve strayed off the subject
Now I’ll be leaning over and waking you up, and you’ll squint at me through the cracks between your eyelids, woozy with cider
As if you’re asking exactly where we are and exactly what I wanted.
And I’ll be happy because we won’t be taking anything too seriously.

Dundee: City of Jam, Jute, Journalism and the “Party Fears Two”!

Well, I have a feeling this is going to be another one of my travelogue style posts but there will be a musical connection by the time I get to the end of it, I promise.

First of all, a word to the wise – If your other half decides to do a bit of browsing on your computer, forewarn them you might have set up a faster payment method on some sites, otherwise you could end up seriously out of pocket. This happened to me a fortnight ago. We didn’t really have any holiday plans for this summer, but I had mentioned I would quite like to visit the Scottish city of Dundee at some point, as with the new V&A about to open, along with all the other established attractions, it does seem to be a city on the up. So, whilst I was busy watching some very worthy television (not Love Island, honest…), unbeknownst to me Mr WIAA started to scour Airbnb for accommodation in Dundee. He liked the look of one particular apartment in a converted grand old house on the Perth Road, and tested the booking system to find out its availability. Quick as a flash they came back and said yes, it was available the following week, and the payment promptly came off my account.

It was at this point he decided (very sheepishly) to tell me what he had done – “A lavish apartment…, in Dundee…, next week…,” said I, dubiously. In a former life this would have been a lovely idea, but with a business we run from home and an elderly parent to look after, not easy nowadays to take off on spontaneous jaunts. “But it’s ok”, he said, “you can ask for a refund within 48 hours if you change your mind.” Turns out you only get a refund if the trip is at least 14 days away – Looked as if we were heading to Dundee!

Suffice to say, we quickly got everything organised and had a lovely five days last week in that city famous for it’s Jam, Jute and Journalism. Despite being Scottish I had never really visited Dundee properly before, having just passed through or dropped in for a work-related meeting or course, so it turned out to be a really great trip. Like most urban areas with an industrial past, it’s inner city has seen better and more vibrant days, but it’s a city that is reinventing itself with technology parks (home to the computer games industry), visitor attractions (Captain Scott’s Discovery), arts venues (Dundee Rep, the new V&A) and education (it has two universities and many colleges) now the main source of revenue.

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RRS Discovery berthed in Dundee

For me however, Dundee will always be synonymous with DC Thomson, that long-established publisher responsible for supplying our house with newspapers and magazines when I was growing up. Most homes like mine would have got the Sunday Post (complete with the Oor Wullie and Broons comic strips) and my mum also subscribed to the People’s Friend (the oldest women’s weekly in the world). I could look forward to The Bunty as a pre-teen, and then best of all, Jackie Magazine (link to a previous post) as a teenager. Had I been a boy I would have no doubt relished the antics of Dennis the Menace in The Beano and Desperate Dan in The Dandy but as a bit of a “girly girl” I preferred The Bunty, because of the dressing doll that came on the back page every week. I saw yesterday that The Beano was celebrating it’s 60th birthday and possibly because of that there is currently a big exhibition in Dundee’s very central Art Gallery and Museum, The McManus (aptly renamed The McMenace for the duration).

But this is supposed to be a music blog and when in Dundee I of course thought of all the bands of my youth who came from there. A couple of summer’s ago I wrote a series of posts focusing on the sheer number of great bands who came out of Scotland in the late ’80s. One was Deacon Blue (my sister-in-law went to school with Ricky Ross) and another Danny Wilson (click for links to those posts), both bands from Dundee. As they have featured here previously however, I won’t look to them for this post’s song choice – No, the artist who came to mind was the unforgettable Billy MacKenzie of the Associates whose Party Fears Two reached No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart in 1982.

Billy had a distinctive high tenor voice and dressed like a member of the French Resistance (or Frank Spencer depending on your take) so was memorable in the annals of pop, but like so many around him he died young, after committing suicide in 1997 at the age of 39. I always knew Billy was born and brought up in Dundee, but didn’t realise that he had decamped first to New Zealand at the age of 16 and then to America at 17. Billy got married there to his aunt’s sister-in-law in order to stave off deportation, but returned home after 3 months of marriage, never to see his bride again. It was then that he met Alan Rankine and the pair went on to form the Associates.

Party Fears Two by the Associates:

It’s certainly a strange title for a song and tricky to understand the lyrics other than that a party is involved. Billy did explain the origin however, “My wee brother was at a party watching two girls who wanted to come in. They were smashing windows and attempting to kick the door in with their stiletto heels, which he admired, so he christened them the Party Fears Two and I pinched the title from him.”

Hmm…, that doesn’t say a lot for the calibre of young lady who would have been attending parties in Dundee in the late ’70s/early ’80s, but here’s the thing, parties amongst young people in those days were not soirees involving sociable chit chat and fine wines, it was simply that someone had a venue, and others found out about it! The Scottish stand-up comedian Kevin Bridges sums up nicely the difference between the parties held in American teen movies and the parties the youth of Scotland were more familiar with, and if you watch this clip you’ll probably get a better idea of the “Party Fears Two”. They would probably be middle-aged ladies now – I wonder if they ever found out the song was about them?

So, “What’s It All About?” – Sometimes the best trips are the spontaneous ones that come along without much pre-planning or thought. My trip to Dundee was one of those and I have another couple of posts up my sleeve inspired by the place. The V&A Dundee is to open on the 15th September and they obviously expect lots of visitors as many hotels are springing up in the vicinity. The very modern railway station is also situated just across the road. After never having been to Dundee as a tourist before, it seems I might well end up visiting twice this year – To be thoroughly recommended.

Until next time…

Party Fears Two Lyrics
(Song by Billy MacKenzie/Alan Rankine)

I’ll have a shower and then phone my brother up
Within the hour I’ll smash another cup
Please don’t start saying that or I’ll start believing you
If I start believing you I’ll know that this party fears two

And what if this party fears two?
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me

Don’t turn around I won’t have to look at you
And what’s not found is all that I see in you
My manners are failing me I’m left feeling ugly
And you say it’s wonderful to live with I never will

So what if this party fears two?
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me

I’m standing still and you say I dress to well
Still standing still I might but it’s hard to tell
Even a slight remark makes nonsense and turns to shark
Have I done something wrong?
What wrongs the wrong that’s always in wrong

I’ll have a shower
And then phone my brother up
Within the hour
I’ll smash another cup

Postscript:

One last picture from the exhibition at the McManus – Book titles courtesy of The Bash Street Kids. Every one a winner!

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The Cairngorms, “In A Big Country” and Heatwaves in Scotland!

Tuesday seems to have become my default day for posting something new, however with all this fine weather I haven’t been spending much time on the computer, or pondering blog ideas. Hmm…

Time to resort to the dash cam!

Last Saturday Mr WIAA and myself headed down the A9 to The Cairngorms as only 45 minutes from home and a great place to visit on a beautiful sunny day. Yes – unbelievably – Scotland is also experiencing this very uncharacteristic heatwave that seems to be sweeping the country. The film I took was hard won I can tell you, as every few minutes the device over-heated and had to be slotted into the car’s air-conditioning vent to cool down. I have however managed to piece together the following and when asked what music might be appropriate for it, Mr WIAA suggested In A Big Country by who else but Big Country.

In A Big Country by Big Country:

Big Country formed in Dunfermline in 1981 and had their heyday in the mid ’80s. The band had a very distinctive music style which involved engineering their guitar sound to evoke the spirit of bagpipes, fiddles and other traditional folk instruments. In A Big Country was released in May 1983 as the third single from their debut studio album “The Crossing”, and reached No. 17 in the UK Singles Chart. The album was a hit in the United States which is how my friend Rich from Kamer Tunes Blog must have come to know about them and how they became his favourite band during his high school years (I know this because he has mentioned it often). He is on hiatus at the moment but because of his great affinity with Scotland, here are a few more pictures taken whilst out and about recently, just in case he drops by.

It actually rained today, for the first time in about five weeks. Can it really carry on like this for much longer? Who knows, but with all the political shenanigans going on right now, it’s nice to be able to just chill out under the shade of a tree. Scotland may not in reality be a “big” country, in fact it’s really quite small, but it has a big heart which was what those boys from Big Country capitalised on back in the ’80s.

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Until next time enjoy the sunshine, and remember that even in Scotland, we still need to wear sunscreen. I can’t turn the clock back and tell my teenage self of the dangers of too much sun (let’s face it we all got burnt every single year) but a bit older and wiser now fortunately. Cross fingers it’s shaping up to be another Summer of ’76!

In A Big Country Lyrics
(Song by Stuart Adamson/Mark Brzezicki/Tony Butler/Bruce Watson)

I’ve never seen you look like this without a reason
Another promise fallen through, another season passes by you
I never took the smile away from anybody’s face
And that’s a desperate way to look for someone who is still a child

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered
I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

So take that look out of here, it doesn’t fit you
Because it’s happened doesn’t mean you’ve been discarded
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted
I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered

I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

Postscript:

It may be a small country but Scotland extends a bit wider in all directions courtesy of the many islands off its coasts. One of these is South Uist, the second largest island of the Outer Hebrides, and I couldn’t help but gasp in wonder at the pictures shared recently by a friend after a visit. She grew up there and those beaches used to be her childhood playground. Spectacular, and barely a soul in sight.

“Rollermania” and Me – A Tribute to Alan Longmuir RIP

A couple of months ago, I was finally coerced into writing about my teenage relationship with the Bay City Rollers, and had a fond couple of days revisiting some of the memorabilia (unbelievably) still in my possession. When looking back, it became apparent there would have been no BCRs had founder member Alan Longmuir, along with his brother Derek, not persevered and pestered until they found success. He was definitely the shyest of the bunch however, and at times found it tough being the oldest member of what we now would call a “boy band”. I was sad therefore to hear it announced today that Alan has died in hospital aged only 70 – The first of the Rollers to leave us.

They were ill-equipped in the early ’70s to cope with the kind of international success they achieved and it is well known they ended up with little of the vast riches that must have accrued from the tours and sale of albums. As for Alan, that didn’t seem to faze him, and humble until the end he used to tell friends and family – “I was just a plumber from Edinburgh who got lucky.” RIP Alan Longmuir.

What's It All About?

Welcome to this occasional series where I share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web!

I’ve been threatening to write this post for a while, and it seems the time is right, coming at the end of a trilogy of posts inspired by my recent trip to Edinburgh. On our last day there we met some friends in an area of the city called The Meadows, a large green space near the Old Town. Bordering the Meadows is a large building which I discovered was Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, however in days gone by it was called Simpson’s Hospital. And why…

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Seven in Seven #4: Capercaillie, “Caledonia” and Letters From America

Day Four of my annual challenge to write seven posts in seven days. No pressure on regular visitors to leave comments though and these….. Oh what the heck, you know the score by now, I’ll just get on with it.

So far so good with this challenge but as I was away last weekend, today the garden beckoned. Lots of plants to be bedded in and pots to be filled. I am seriously cream-crackered so this will definitely have to be a shorter post.

One of the gardening pressures I have, is that I am custodian of the “family begonias”. Some people inherit money and some inherit good genes. After my dad’s death I inherited begonia corms! These corms have passed down the generations and can’t be purchased in garden centres nowadays but continually reproduce every year. I usually have around ten tubs of beautiful red flowers in my garden every summer but as the only child, of an only child, of an only child, I feel the pressure not to render them extinct. Darling daughter is sadly disinterested in gardening at the moment, but then again so was I at her age, so all is not yet lost – Down the line these knobby corms will become hers, and hopefully she will rise to the challenge of keeping them going for another generation.

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The family begonias!

These begonias have been mentioned in this blog before, when I wrote about The Proclaimers’ song Letter From America (link here). The lyrics reminded me that although my family in Scotland is really small, if I included all those who left for America at the turn of the last century to find work, and perhaps their fortunes, it would be enormous. My grandad’s aunts and uncles all left the family croft and made the brave journey across the Atlantic to the New World. To track down their offspring would be an enormous task, and one that might have to be a retirement project, but at this time of the year I often wonder if any of them took a few begonia corms with them, as a reminder of home. If they did, there could well be gardens all over America with pots of red flowers just like mine.

emigration

Letter From America by The Proclaimers:

The Scottish diaspora is said to be around five times the size of our native population, and often far more fervently Scottish. Caledonian Societies abound and many bands from Scotland are probably far more widely known in “The Colonies” than south of the border. The folk band Capercaillie was founded in the 1980s, and is fronted by singer Karen Matheson. The group adapt traditional Gaelic music and lyrics with modern instruments such as electric guitar or bass and are probably one of our most successful exports. Here they are performing Cape Breton Song at Aberdeen’s Capitol Theatre in 1992.

But I always include the lyrics in my posts and although I laboured over Peter Kay’s Car Share Buddy song yesterday (which I couldn’t find anywhere), this time the lyrics are in Gaelic, so I have no chance. Time to think of another song that seems to go down well in those parts of the world where the residents often have a surname with the the prefix Mac. The song Caledonia was written in 1977 by Dougie MacLean – He was on a beach in France, feeling homesick, and wrote it in less than ten minutes. The song has became something of an anthem for Scotland and has been covered by many artists. The version I have in my collection is by Frankie Miller, so the audio clip will be that one, but for the video clip I think it will have to be the man himself. I wonder if he is also custodian of the family begonia corms?

Caledonia by Frankie Miller:

Caledonia Lyrics
(Song by Dougie MacLean)

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way

I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have travelled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Postscript:

Just in case anyone doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I mention the word “corm” – This is what they look like.

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Not very attractive granted, but once buried in some soil they start to perform their annual magic.

The scene of our “End of the Summer” get-together.

Alyson’s Archive #6 – “Rollermania” and Me

Welcome to this occasional series where I share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web!

I’ve been threatening to write this post for a while, and it seems the time is right, coming at the end of a trilogy of posts inspired by my recent trip to Edinburgh. On our last day there we met some friends in an area of the city called The Meadows, a large green space near the Old Town. Bordering the Meadows is a large building which I discovered was Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, however in days gone by it was called Simpson’s Hospital. And why did that sound familiar? Because it’s where most baby boomers from that city were born, including those five lads who for a brief period of time went on to be the world’s biggest boy band – Yes, I’m talking about Les, Eric, Woody, Derek and Alan: The Bay City Rollers.

Simpsons Hospital where the Rollers were born

“It’s a teenage dream, to be seventeen”, sang Les McKeown back in 1975. But no, I beg to differ Les. Back in 1975 it was a teenage dream to be fourteen, and have pictures of you and the rest of the boys staring down at me from my bedroom wall. Had I been a year or two older, or a year or two younger, it just wouldn’t have happened but I was the perfect demographic for these “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh”. My generation had missed out on Beatlemania, and Osmondmania was on the wane, it was time for something new and luckily for me the band that inspired this latest mania came from Scotland.

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The humble author’s teenage collection of Bay City Roller pinups!

(I have shared a display like this once before, of David Cassidy pinups. I would just like to reiterate that I honestly don’t spend my evenings pouring over such teen-dream fodder, because that truly would be weird, it’s just that if you’ve ever had to clear out your parents loft when they downsize, it kind of becomes redistributed to your own loft, which fortunately for this blog is where it remains today.)

Anyway, getting back to the Rollers, the band’s founder members were brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir but after a few changes along the way, in late 1973 the classic line-up fell into place, consisting of guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart “Woody” Wood, singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan and drummer Derek. Tam Paton, their (highly controlling) manager was the man in charge, they got a record deal with Bell, and they came up with a unique “look” which consisted of cropped trousers, skimpy V-neck sweaters and plenty of tartan – What could go wrong?

All through the year 1974 they were never far from the UK Singles Chart and when we heard the band were coming to the Capitol Theatre in Aberdeen, of course my friends and I (aged only 13) went to see them. This tour was to promote the album “Rollin'” where most of the songs were written by those champions of the short and catchy pop song, Phil Coulter and Bill Martin. First of all we had Remember (Sha-La-La-La), then we had Shang-A-Lang, Summerlove Sensation and finally All Of Me Loves All Of You. The album went to No. 1 in the Album Chart – The boys were adored by hordes of teeny-bopper fans and were well and truly on their way.

And here are a few personal memories of that time. I don’t know about elsewhere in the country but here in Scotland, back in the 1970s, many young lads left school at 16 after (half-heartedly for many of them) sitting their “O” Grades. They all had apprenticeships lined up and work was plentiful, so why not? There was however the technicality that if you turned 16 later on in the calendar year, you couldn’t leave school until Christmas. As a group they were called “The Christmas Leavers”. They didn’t want to be there and the concept of abiding by strict school uniform rules went out the window. One by one, in 1974, they started to adopt Bay City Roller style clothing wearing trousers with tartan down the side, the cropped jumpers and the short-sleeved shirts. They had Les, Eric and Woody style haircuts and of course had similar accents – For girls like us in the lower grades they became our big crushes. We all had our favourite Roller (mine was Les, quite the showman back in the day) and there were definitely boys in our school who started to look like him – Unlike the clean-cut Osmonds, who kind of came from an alien planet as far as we were concerned, the Rollers were the “boys next door”.

By 1975, Rollermania had really taken hold, and after putting together their second album “Once Upon A Star”, another tour was announced. Again my friends and I persuaded one of our mums to take us into Aberdeen to see them. Their cover of the old Four Seasons song Bye Bye Baby was at No. 1 in the Singles Chart and ended up being the biggest selling record of the year.

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The Rollin’ Tour programme and Wish Upon A Star, complete with pull-out pics

Unlike the previous year when we went to see them, this was a far more hysterical concert with girls screaming constantly throughout – I probably went hoarse myself, shouting LES at the top of my voice every time he came near the front of the stage. But strangely, my most vivid memory of that night is of a particular member of security staff, who for one night only had been given free rein to manhandle young girls. This is not a #MeToo confession but I did come home with a whiplash that night, as suddenly, out of nowhere, a pair of hands had grabbed my shoulders and firmly shoved me back down into my seat. Everyone in the entire theatre was standing, but for some reason this one “bouncer” had decided he would go up and down all the rows forcing us back into our seats – I took some time out to watch him, and even at that young age, could tell he was enjoying hurting us. Of course I didn’t tell my parents, as we didn’t in those days, but this was a new concept for me and one I have obviously never forgotten.

But back to the Rollers – In 1976 they were kind of lost to us as they secured a record deal with Arista and were heavily promoted in America. They appeared on Saturday Night Live and ended up at the top of the Billboard Chart with a song that had been a flop in the UK but obviously hit the spot in the US. Saturday Night started off with a chant that also struck a cord with New York band the Ramones – It is no coincidence that their record Blitskrieg Bop starts in the same way. They had watched the Rollers on telly and decided to copy their winning formula of a catchy three minute song, a “uniform” and a football-style chant. Hard to believe I know, but part of rock and pop folklore.

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Most of us by this time had moved on to “real boys”, so we were happy to forget about the Rollers and leave them to their success in other parts of the world such as North America, and strangely enough Japan, where they still have a following today. I have never had any inclination to see them perform as part of a reunion tour, as for me, they were very much of their time. I do however feel very sorry for them sometimes, as it is well known that despite their global success they ended up with none of the money – 300 million albums sold worldwide (in an era where the revenue came from such sales) and no spondulicks. Tam Paton was of course blamed, and he went to his grave taking the secret of where the money went with him. The Rollers were not highly educated and they came from families that were ill-equipped to deal with their fame, so became one of the many financial casualties of that era.

Give A Little Love by the Bay City Rollers:

I am going to end this post with some extracts from what has turned out to be the most interesting part of rifling through old teenage memorabilia – The words that were on the back of the pinups. Prior to being in a band, Alan used to get the horses ready for the local dairy’s milk round (yes really). Eric and Derek (has a nice ring to it) were apprentice joiners and Woody and Les were only 16 when they found fame – Not the best backgrounds from which to go on and “take care of business”. Despite it all falling apart in the late ’70s, it sounds as if the Rollers still have happy memories of their heyday, their time in the sun. The Beatles had a mania, and so did these five boys from Edinburgh – Who would have ever thought it possible?

The Rollers’ Story Part 1
The Rollers’ Story Part 2

Until next time….

Give A Little Love Lyrics
(Song by Phil Wainman/John Goodison)

It’s a teenage dream to be seventeen
And to find you’re all wrapped up in lo-o-ove
And I found that you made a dream come true
Now I do believe in what they say-ay-at

You’ve got to give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do-oo

Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do

When I walk with you there is just we two
And the world goes by and I just don’t care-are
And I know one day I will find a way
To be safe and sound within your hear-eart

So until I do, gonna give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do-oo

Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do