Into Music: The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard – Chapter 1
EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD
The true story of the greatest band you’ve never heard
Chapter 1 – Socrates,Tony Bennett and Toblerone
The airport terminal building is laden with colourful decorations. Seasonal music plays. A dog is taking a piss on a fake tree and my heart is rock heavy. None of this makes sense. But it will. The night is black but my mood is three shades darker than a vampire’s velvet bedsheets.
How in the name of fuck did I get here?
My eyes were drawn from the out-of-focus baubles taxiing up the runway to the harsh, luminous screen of impending doom overhead.
‘Zurich – Gate B32 – Gate Closing’
Switzerland. What in the name of fuck was I thinking? If one’s not stashing swag, one is checking in to check out, if you dig(nitas) what I mean. No one in their right mind buys a one way ticket to Yodelville. Don’t believe me? Look at the evidence. Audrey Hepburn, Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin. Boom. Gone. James Joyce and Malcolm McLaren? Tschuss! Even poor old Richard Scarry bought his last Toblerone there. Auf Wiederlüge, motherfuckers. By the way, that parting comment literally means ‘until we lie again’.
Now, I’m not saying that this tale is one long tapestry of falsehoods. Quite the opposite actually. A few minor embellishments and some names changed to protect the unwitting/unwilling but it did happen and pretty much as I’m about to describe it. Anyway…
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Or maybe it was? Who knows? As a kid though, I’d dreamt of becoming the new Kenny Dalglish, except my socks would be around my ankles and I’d be flicking the vicky Peter Shilton’s way as I ran towards our fans in rapturous celebrations at Wembley. Or Paul Newman using too much dynamite to rob the Union Pacific Flyer? Yeah, someone like that.
I don’t have a huge amount of friends today, but then, I had almost none. I didn’t ride a bike or go adventuring, apart from this one time, late on a summer’s evening in 1974. I headed off on my own, found a hollowed out tree in a field behind the pitches near the Boydstone Road. I must have sat there for hours. One of the few times in my childhood where I felt completely – and comfortably – at home in nature and with myself. I briefly considered moving into the stump permanently as baby brother number three had just arrived and it was getting a bit congested at home. However, a few local gangs, most likely, the Priesty and the Bundy, started knocking the bejesus out of each other nearby and I got spooked. I ventured back again a few days later but it wasn’t the same. The perfect moment had passed.
Truth be told, I was a bit too much of a shitebag to be anyone as fearless as King Kenny or Paul Newman. To possess even a modicum of cool, to be as confident as those guys would have satisfied me infinitely more than two packs of Tudor Gammon and the latest edition of ‘Shoot!’ ever could. Then, one afternoon at the Church of Our Lady of the Perpetual Disappointment, something remarkable happened.
A dozen giggling boys sat in the pews, oblivious to the heavy religious iconography which surrounded them. Big Paddy wiped his nose on his already crusty jumper as Mikey Duffin and Stevie Ward perfected their ‘grog drop’. The secret was to ‘sook’ an Argentina (a blue and white coloured boiled sweet) until the consistency of one’s saliva was like wallpaper paste, but I digress. The thundering menace that was Father Burns appeared. Heads were walloped in perfect rhythm as he bellowed out his warning.
“Behave yourselves, you little heathen shites. We have a guest … Fr Breno, from Brazil.”
Men prone to violence, especially those who act as though they are above any mortal law, tended to command respect and undivided attention around these parts. Wild rumours circulated about him and his unconventional lifestyle. Some said that he once hospitalised Gerry O’Kane’s da in Nitshill because he owed him a tenner. Ridiculous, I know.
“Do not let me or the parish down today” he growled through clenched, nicotine stained teeth.
It was actually for a fiver.
A youngish priest – looking like what would happen if Che Guevara fucked Socrates – appeared, carrying a guitar. He smiled and started playing the most beautiful song about touching Jesus’s beard.
The girls sat on the other side of the church swooned as if John Travolta had just sashayed down the aisle. To be fair, most of the boys did too. One awkward, skinny boy with hair like Darth Vader’s helmet, looked at the girls, then at the guitar, then back again, captivated by this bewitching vision…
‘Jesus … you’re my hero and my rock’ he sang.
And for one transcendent moment, we all believed.
‘But I need someone…’
Testify brother, we beseeched.
‘Oh I need someone’
‘Lord above, I need someone to touch my…’
And that’s when I knew I didn’t want to be Butch Cassidy anymore.
But becoming a bank robber? That’s a dawdle. Gallus gangsters were as common as white dug shite up here. Heading to Haight-Ashbury with Donovan? Hmm … that might be a tad trickier. Possibly because the psychedelic caravan never made it up the M74. I believe that the Summer of Love got as far as Ecclefechan before the locals realised they couldn’t do the slosh to the Incredible String Band. I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by free lovers in Laurel Canyon nor in a sonically charged, racially mixed powderkeg like Detroit. And the only muso I knew was a septuagenarian organ player from the Chapel called Mrs McPhee.
No, I was forged in Glasgow. Much has already been written about my hometown so I won’t bore you with another ‘grim industrial city filled with beaten down men and women old before their time, a damp, crumbling cauldron bubbling with sectarian tension, Fran and Anna and a life expectancy of 37’ stream of pish. It’s been said before and it’s been said better. But I would say this, in this town, even a trip to the ice cream van was fraught with danger.
We seemed to go straight from Doris Day to Altamont though. Obviously, the occasional record by the Beatles and the Stones got through but as Englebert and Tom would testify, we were a people fuelled by alcohol induced sentiment. Throughout the country, men of a voting age would know, by heart, songs of far off plains they would never in their wildest dreams actually visit; El Paso? The Streets of Laredo? San Quentin? Or about sending a message to your ma’ as you were led away at daybreak. No, it was convicts, cowboys and abandoned children in orphanages that were the Achilles heel of the stoic Scottish working class male.
“Your faither’s just dropped deid? Ah well, that’s a shame, son. Come in a take a drink. Shooey? Geez a few lines of ‘I’m Nobody’s Child’ will ye?”
On any given Saturday night, after the football and once the fish supper has been carefully removed from your old man’s jacket pocket, extracted with the dexterity of a bomb disposal expert, and unwrapped from a soggy copy of the Saturday Pink, the banks of the Clyde would be bursting with long repressed tears. And San Francisco meant one thing and one thing only; Tony Bennett. Not putting fucking flowers in your hair. That was for poofters or cunts a bit too mental to argue with.
From my current perspective, it’s clear that the longing for far-off lands, risks and adventure, was something considered acceptable, so long as it remained confined to those communal sing-songs. But it was always there, just under the surface and if it itched, by God, Glasgow Man would claw at it like one would a very sweaty pair of bollocks. By the time I was a teenager, I too had those dangerous longings. And the bollocks.
But I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by free lovers in Laurel Canyon or in some Golden Gated City-by-the Bay. I became a teenager here, Glasgow, at the start of the 1980’s. A grim city in a lost land, filled with beaten down men and frumpy women, a cauldron bubbling with social unrest, venal politicians and terribly contrived synthetic music which matched the fashion…
Sorry. I promised I wouldn’t do that, didn’t I?
Anyway, this is what happened next.