are you being served? (part 1)

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – February 2021)

There was a plan. The neatly dressed careers officer lady at the Clydebank Job Centre and I (apparently), had mapped my future in one 20-minute meeting. I was to work for a year until I was 18 then audition for the newly created Bachelor of Arts jazz course at the Leeds College of Music. Careers lady set up 2 interviews. One at Listen Records the other at J.D. Cuthbertson’s Ltd. Incidentally in Cambridge Street, Glasgow.

It was decided that I would leave school in spring 1975 at the end of 5th year. Another plan by teacherdaddy and me (apparently) as I had failed my 4 highers and ‘only’ obtained an A pass in ‘O’ grade music. I would have liked to have taken music earlier in my schooling but that wasn’t part of the plan. English, French, Maths, Arithmetic, a couple of sciences, and the choice of history or geography (gee, thanks Dad). Music and techie drawing, which I actually enjoyed, were not on the agenda. Stick to the plan.

My first interview was at Listen. I had feverishly swotted up on obscure artistes and albums by thumbing through as many NMEs and Melody Makers I could find.

I went for the smart but hip look.

The first part of the interview about music industry knowledge was OK, but they stumped me with some arithmetic type questions like “If an LP travels at 33 and a third rpm and costs £3 and fifty pence, and a customer gives you a fiver, would there be Blood on the Tracks, how much change would they get and who pays the Zimmerman? ” – or something like that.

The second interview was for Cuthbertsons.

I went for the smart but smart look.

“Can you be nice to customers and sell stuff ? You’ve got the job.”

And so it was that I started my first proper job away from my Bearsden cocoon. Clocking in on my first day was quite a thrill which quickly waned as the offices and tearoom were on the 3rd floor and the lifts were a bit dodgy.

My work mates in the musical instrument department were boss man Freddy, Malky, Jim and Tommy – a motley crew from all corners of greater Glasgow.

On the surface, Freddy appeared like a quiet, unassuming bloke – hid his plectrum under a bushel – but he was a bit of a guitar legend and had the respect of many a prominent local musician.

“Your pal Jack seems like a nice bloke, Freddy. What does he do? ”

“Not sure these days but he used to play bass with a band called Cream ”

Mr. Bruce had just left the building and I barely acknowledged him!

Freddy had a wicked sense of humour. A customer got all tongue tied and couldn’t say the word ‘guitar’.

“Can I have some gistar strings……sorry gistar. I’d likesome gistar……….no gistar strings”

“You say it and I’ll give you them” said Freddy with a deadpan face.

Freddy ordered a pedal steel guitar for the shop and proceeded to teach himself it with the help of the Lloyd Green Pedal Steel Book. Within a couple of months he was creating some lovely sounds and playing it regularly with his band Foxy.

Listening to Steely Dan’s “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” always reminds me of Fred.

Most of us played in bands of some kind and there was an occasion where Freddy’s band and my band Souled Out were double billing at the US Navy base at Faslane.

When Souled Out played our version of blue-eyed soul and funk, all these black dudes with garish suits and hats would strut their stuff on the floor and when Foxy played their soft, country rock, all the white home-boys with crew cuts, checked shirts and cowboy boots would be boot scooting across the floor. Great gig.

On the long drive home on empty early morning roads, Freddy’s band’s van would come out of nowhere and scream pass ours then we would overtake them. Just when we thought we had lost them, their van thunders past again windows open with a pimply bare arse sticking out ! That was Freddy.

I caught up with him a few years ago. He tells me he’s traded all his guitars and equipment for golf clubs. Doesn’t own a single plectrum.

Malky was the only one of us who did not play in a band although he played a bit of guitar. He would often sit in the corner and pick one the better acoustics (Martin, Gibson, Guild) and tinkle away. The Beatles “Blackbird” was his party piece.

Malky always wore this suede bomber jacket and had his hands in his pockets.

Being next to City Bakeries there was always a bit of a mice problem hence various mouse traps were set under the window display.

Someone (probably Fred) decided to put a dead mouse in Malky’s pocket. He had a day off and on his return we thought there would be hell to pay, but no, Malky was as cool and laid back as ever. Eventually, someone asked him what he kept in his pocket.

“Just my keys on this lucky rabbit foot key ring” (which he constantly fondled when walking about). He had found the rodent !

Revenge was sweet. Freddy was strapping on his Les Paul at a gig a few days later and was about to strike a power chord when he saw a wee dead mouse head sticking out from between the strings !

Malky loved a flutter and being central Glasgow there was always a bookies nearby. He would nip out 3 or 4 times to place a bet. One day I noticed a slight smirk on his face.

“Any luck” 

“I’ve just won £800 ” 

This was mid 1970s. It was a fortune ! He had 4 more bets that day – £200 each bet. He lost the lot. A few months later he had another big win, put in his notice, joined up with some overseas government volunteers and headed off to the middle of Pacific – Ellis Island – now known as Tuvalu. He married a local girl and has 2 stunningly attractive and successful children. His wife is a friend on social media. Good bet Malky.

Jim was a lad. Think The Offices David Brent. He played guitar in a wedding band and probably earned more than the rest of us put together. 3 or 4 nights, regularly, he would pump out “ Uno Paloma Blanca ” or would wait for the response and arm salute ‘hay, ho silver lining’ to his ‘and it’s’ but deep down I think he was a bit jealous of us in pub bands but he had a wife and kid to support.

He thought himself a bit of ladies’ man. On bringing out the plectrum box to a young female customer,

“Would you like plastic or do you want felt? “

I think he invented the ‘bare arse /smarmy bastard’ game. As a customer approached the counter, your colleague would whisper ‘BA’ or ‘SB’. BA or bare arse was when you had to be as rude and disinterested in your customer as possible. Plenty of tutting, eye rolling, heavy sighing and head shaking. SB or smarmy bastard was polar opposite were you had to be the most snivelling, servile and obsequious to the point of dry retching as possible. Silly I know but it passed the time.

Jim left to sell televisions. I don’t think he sold too many as he popped into the shop most days. Poor Jim. Even for the late 70s he was a bit of a relic.

When I started at Cuthbertson’s Tommy was nearing the end of his french polishing apprenticeship until the company did the dirty on him and closed down the workshop. I can’t remember how many people were put out of work but for the younger ones, working on the shop floor was the only option.

Tommy lived in a high rise with about a dozen other family members in a place called Hutchesontown which was what you called the Gorbals when you didn’t want people to know you came from the Gorbals. These days it’s probably quite trendy to say you come from the Gorbals as opposed to Hutchesontown I wouldn’t really know. In the 70s though it didn’t appear in many travel guides.

We sales folk were generally none too shabby – shirt, tie and jacket – and the blokes wore something similar. Tommy was different. Tommy was groomed within an inch of his life. Not a hair out of place, a trace of stubble or wayward nose bogie and that was during the working week. Come the weekend he positively glowed. Immaculate tailored suit, a shine on his shoes that could power a small hamlet, he oozed style like a south side Bryan Ferry.

He would lead his posse at the start of the evening to the Rogano – a pretty up market town centre restaurant, visit many a fine dining (and drinking) establishment through out the central metropolis before ascending the steep hill to Glasgow’s Mount Olympus, Maestro’s. Mere mortals like myself would wither at the slightest sneer of the bouncer but Tommy was in. Tommy was “The ‘In’ Crowd” take it away Bry !

Then they would all stagger home, scrape the kebab juice and dried vomit from their suits to be dry cleaned and then repeat the process the following night. I don’t know how he did it.

His pal Aldo decided to buy a second-hand Jaguar, even though he couldn’t drive, so Tommy took over the driving duties. The cruising element added a whole new dimension to these young guns hunt until the enforced sobriety got to Tommy.

The Jag (or what’s left of it) could be seen perched on stacks of bricks parked outside the Hutchie flats 6 months later.

What about me ? I turned 18 and barely noticed. I never went to any audition. I was too busy having fun, revelling in the camaraderie and earning money. My song?

Earth, Wind & Fire “Happy Feeling”

J.D. Cuthbertsons & Sons Ltd. got swallowed up in 1978 by its parent company Littlewoods in 1978. I moved on to McCormacks but that’s another story.

And there are plenty more stories to tell, bit players to introduce if you’re interested and have the time.

“I’m free”

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