School Bands and Laughing in the Face of Danger

Ray Norris: Helensburgh, April 2021

Silas Wood – Original Line-up

Ah yes…. perhaps it was the unbridled enthusiasm of youth, or merely the relentless pursuit of musical mediocrity that kept us going in those school band days.

None of yer fancy guitar tuners or modelling amps back then … no sir, it was cheap transistor amps, Jedson guitars (£19.99 from Cuthbertsons) and home-made speaker cabinets sporting unconvincing “Marshall” logos.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit my insight into life on the road (mainly Milngavie Road) to two anecdotes united by the thin and fraying thread of danger and scant regard for life and limb when transporting musical equipment.

Probably the stupidest example was when Ronnie Taylor and I borrowed a speaker cabinet from David Gillespie (Ges), who lived at the top of Boclair Hill.

“Do you have transport?” says Ges.  “Mm…hm” was our reply. 
This speaker cabinet was a monster, made from a solid door, lined with carpet, it weighed a ton.
Our task was to get it back to Ronnie’s house in the Switchback. 

Fortunately, it had been snowing heavily, and Ronnie had a sledge. Sorted!

I have no idea how we got it down that hill without speeding towards the busy Milngavie Road at a rate of knots.

who needs strings??

The band that I played in was called Silas Wood, with Ian “T” Thomson, on keyboards, Hubert Kelly, on drums, Russ Stewart (of this parish) on bass, and myself on guitar…

In case you’re wondering about the band’s name – my brother came up with it on a bus journey along the Great Western Rd one day whilst passing “St Silas Church” and “Woodland Drive”…. it could have been worse I suppose!

Our set-list was a mix of covers, from Humble Pie’s (Stone Cold Fever) to Bowie’s (Moonage Daydream), as well as some original material – “Free Fall” by Russ, and the inspirationally titled “The Wah-Wah” (a song written by me after I had just bought a wah-wah pedal …. hmmm).

You can check out some of the songs we covered on the Spotify playlist below…

Selection of Silas Wood covers…

The band’s regular rehearsal venue was the “Tenants Hall” in Castlehill – very handy as we kept our equipment in Hubert’s flat a short walk away. 

It may have been that we were double booked or that the hall was finally condemned (I once fell into a hole in the floor, mid-solo, didn’t miss a note!) but I digress…. on this day we were due to rehearse at a different venue – Kessington Hall. 

Kessington Hall – Bearsden

There was nae transport in them days, it was too far to walk with amps, drum kit, etc and there was no convenient sledge (or snowfall)…. so the obvious solution was to take the good old bus. 

This seemed like a logical solution until we worked out that it would take several bus journeys to schlep our entire kit from one side of Bearsden to the other. 

Gearing up for our multiple journeys, we packed ourselves and as much kit as we could into the limited space at the open entrance to the old style blue bus… generously leaving a small gap for people to get on and off.

Grasping to bass drums and high-hats for dear life, we were entirely at the mercy of the driver’s brake foot.
What could possibly go wrong?

Rock and Roll! 

Led Zeppelin had an aeroplane
Kiss had a customised truck
Silas Wood had an Alexanders bus
Or a sledge….!!

A bit about Silas Wood ….

As you can see from the material we covered, we loved a 3-4 minute rocker but we also had a melodic side as well.

We played a few gigs at Kilmardinny House with other bands from the area as well as gigging locally (nae transport, you see!). 

One such gig was at our school – Bearsden Academy, where I happened to hear some loud banging in the afternoon when we were setting up. 

The source of this was Hubert nailing a piece of wood to the stage floor to prevent his drums from sliding forward….Drummers!!

Cue assistant Headmaster and perpetually angry man…. Deuchars!

In the words of David Crosby, “it’s all coming back to me now”

Paul Fitzpatrick (Ed)
Ray is too modest to blow his own trumpet but he is still playing and composing 48 years on (as is Russ), and he’s still sounding pretty good to these old ears.
For anyone interested in hearing the 2021 version, here’s a link to Ray’s Spotify page that he’s kindly given us permission to share.

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