Category Archives: Teenage Years

A Hard Pains A-Gonna Call

George Cheyne: Glasgow, October 2022

By the time I turned 15 I was well on my way to being worldly wise thanks to my parents, teachers and peers.

I knew how to eat, walk, talk, do sums, kick a ball, ride a bike, swim, neck a can of Tartan Special, get myself a paper-boy job and spend my hard-earned cash on records and going to gigs.

This was all learned behaviour. But nobody – and I mean NOBODY – could teach me how to dance with a girl at the local Saturday night disco.

Sure, you could watch others up on the dance floor from the safety of the side of the hall and it looked pretty straightforward.

A banging tune, just three minutes or so to throw some shapes and find a bit of chat…how hard could it be? Nigh-on impossible for me, as it turned out.

That teenage angst has stayed with me for almost 50 years and I can’t listen to the song I had my first dance to – Bryan Ferry’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, if you must know – without regurgitating that sense of pain from back then.

This would be late 1973, so the only dance-floor experience I’d had up to this point was the school dance – a clumsy collection of classmates hurtling around a hall with no coordination or finesse trying to do waltzes and such like.

There was, I suppose, an all-male jump-around to Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize” at the disco, but that hardly counts.

Dancing in front of a bedroom mirror to practice my dance moves was a non-starter, so I opted for that traditional Scottish warm-up – a shared half bottle of vodka and a couple of cans of Tartan Special.

It was during this illicit booze session that my fate was sealed.

Too many slugs of voddy and coke had loosened my tongue enough for me to start singing: Oh, where have you been my blue-eyed son? Where have you been, my darling young one?

Aside from the amount of drink taken, there was no rhyme or reason for belting out the opening lines of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Well, apart from liking Bryan Ferry and having blue eyes of my own, that is.

It was just a random song rattling around in my befuddled mind, but it was somehow seen by my tipsy mates as a sign from the Dance Gods.

“That’s it”, I was told, “If they play that song tonight, you have to get up and dance.”

“No bother,” I said, clearly emboldened by a few more gulps of vodka.

An hour or so later we were standing around like wallflowers at the local disco as the chart toppers of the day boomed out one after the other.

The odds of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” being on the playlist shortened dramatically when, unbeknownst to me, one of my pals went up to the DJ’s booth and requested the song.

Just for good measure, I was reminded of the promise I’d made about getting up to dance to Ferry’s interpretation of a Bob Dylan classic.

A song ironically about suffering

The net was closing in. One of my mates had the decency to say he’d be my wingman if the song was played to make sure I wasn’t flying solo.

Then, to my dismay, out the speakers came: Oh, where have you been my blue-eyed son? Where have you been, my darling young one?

Gulp! This was it, no turning back. Any thoughts of not going through with it were banished by a friendly push in the back from my wingman as he steered me towards four girls already up dancing.

They were only a couple of yards away, but those few stuttering steps somehow felt like a walk to the gallows.

Target 12 o’clock high. I tried to keep my focus as beads of sweat trickled in my eyes, down my back…everywhere, in fact.

Hold formation. Shoulders back, eyes front, make eye contact and remember to smile.

Target dead ahead. Keep smiling, clear throat and say: “Uh, widjuhliket’dance?” Thankfully, the noise levels disguised my mumblings and – it appeared to me, anyway – I had bagged a dance partner.

What I didn’t have was a wingman. He’d aborted the mission halfway through and returned to base.

I risked a half glance behind me and saw him standing with the rest of them in full wallflower pose, giggling and pointing in my general direction. Cheers, lads.

My legs felt as if they had been planted in quick-set concrete and restricted my movement to the waist up.

The result was a dance style which was somewhere between a Weeble toy trying to restore its balance after being pinged with full force and a hen with two broken wings trying to take flight.

Not at all embarrassing, then. To her eternal credit, my dance partner stuck with it despite the bizarre antics of the uncoordinated 15-year-old in front of her.

The song’s lyrics flashed through my mind during the five minutes and 20 seconds of torture I’d given myself. Trust me to pick a song which went on for ever.

The blue-eyed son in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” had stumbled on the side of 12 misty mountains, walked and crawled on six crooked highways, stepped in the middle of seven sad forests and been out in front of a dozen dead oceans.

No mention, you’ll notice, of him dying on his arse on a crowded dance floor. That particular embarrassment belonged to me and it’s why I still cringe whenever I hear the song all these years later.

Ferry’s haunting voice singing: Oh, where have you been my blue-eyed son? Where have you been, my darling young one? is enough to make me know a hard pain’s a-gonna call.

Btw, if I was looking for inspiration Ferry was no help, he sits on his arse all the way through the video. perhaps we had more in common than the colour of our eyes!

Me and Mr Paul

Paul Fitzpatrick: July 2022, London

I did a piece recently on Santana’s version of The Zombies ‘She’s not There’, and someone followed up by asking what my favourite 70s cover version is.

I tend to go with my gut reaction on these type of things otherwise you end up trawling through your music library, second guessing yourself and choosing songs on the basis that they have a bit of street-cred.

My initial pick was a song I first heard at my local youth club, although I have to admit that I wasn’t even aware it was a cover version at the time – Matthews Southern Comfort’s version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’.

On reflection, I decided that I couldn’t choose the Joni cover, because at its core, the definition of a great cover has got to be when an artist takes a song you’re already familiar with, puts their stamp on it, and makes it even more listenable than the original.

That helped me to narrow it down to my next gut choice – Billy Paul’s version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ .

I can remember the first time I heard this track like it was yesterday, I’d come back from a party as you did in those days, to the realisation the morning after, that half your records were missing, replaced with other peoples discs…. the time honoured tradition of writing your name on the record label or cover seemed to make no difference and searching in vain for your Roxy Music – ‘Pyjamarama’ single only to pull out ‘Paper Roses’ by Marie Osmond was to put it mildly – a real pisser!

As it happened, following this particular party I ended up with someone else’s copy of Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ and noticed that the B side contained a version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’.
Out of curiosity and with extremely low expectations, I put the needle on the groove, and then sat transfixed for six and a half minutes as a euphonious masterpiece emitted from the speakers.

It was hard to describe what I was listening to.
It was definitely ‘Your Song’, but not as I knew it.

Part Jazz, part Gospel, part Philly sound, It was a musical feast which had to be played again…. and again…. and a few more times after that.

I was dumbfounded, Billy Paul was a crooner, the married dude who was meeting Mrs Jones ‘every day in the same cafe‘ what was he doing ambushing me like this… with a fricking Elton John ballad?

I remember marching down to my mate Jay’s house armed with the single getting him to close his eyes as I lined it up on his record player to make him listen to it.

Jay and I had similar tastes in music but were constantly trying to outdo each other when it came to presenting new tracks. I needed to introduce him to this musical extravaganza as a matter of priority AND be there to gauge his response.

First Time Hearing – Staying Alive

Apparently gauging first responses to 70s songs is a YouTube phenomenon at the moment but we were all doing it 50 years ago.

I never get tired of listening to Billy Paul’s version of ‘Your Song’, even now.
It runs for 6 minutes 36 seconds but every time it comes to the faded ending I just want it to keep playing.

It’s a classic example of an early Gamble & Huff production driven by Billy Paul’s Jazz-infused vocals and the full might of the MFSB Philly session players, who’ve played on everything from ‘Love Train’ to ‘Disco Inferno’.


So there you have it, my favourite 70s cover.
It may not be the coolest, but it’s my choice and like Billy Paul says, he definitely ‘got a song!’

Of course there are lots of honourable mentions when it comes to great 70s covers so I threw together a quick playlist where in all cases (*bar one) the cover versions are better (in my humble opinion) than the originals.

*It’s a universal fact that it’s impossible to improve on any Steely Dan track….

Karate In Scotland In The Seventies

Russ Stewart: London, June 2002

New hip or new car?  Unfortunately the former. 
Root cause analysis: a phenomenon in Scotland in the 70s. 

Bruce Lee films and the Scottish climate conspired to spawn an explosion in participation of the indoor pastime (not sport) of Karate.  

Further: my general uselessness at any sport involving a ball drew me to the Bearsden Primary located Shotokan Karate club in 1973, thence to the Allander club, Strathclyde University club and a number of dojos in Hong Kong and London. 

Scotland was recognised as the most successful small nation in international  competition karate during the 70s.
The Glasgow Shukokai based Kobe Osaka club produced good competition fighters.
At its peak Glaswegian Tommy Morris’ Kobe Osaka had hundreds of students across the world. 

Tommy Morris, Kobe Osaka Club

Another Scot, Gene Dunnett, a member of the GB team that defeated the Japanese National team in the 70s, took a guest training session at the Allander club fairly soon after his achievement.
A hard session I recall; training was harder in the 70s.  Alumni arthritis a consequence.
Press ups on knuckles, punching wooden boards, over extended stretches to enable high kicks……..

Gene Dunnett was amongst 3 Scots in the 10 man fighting team

However, competition karate is not really karate.

I parlayed modest skill and a limited number of combinations into a couple of silver medals at the Scottish University Championships in 1978.  Later, in 1980, as a member of the Royal Hong Kong Police Tai Kwan Do squad I was beaten by a 16 year old Chinese member of the Police Youth Club team. 

High participation numbers in Scotland drew top Japanese masters, such as Enoeda and Tomita, to give training sessions and grade students in local sport centres. 
Enoeda graded me green belt at an East Kilbride sports centre in 1975.
His eagle eye missed my shoddy round house kick. Perhaps the other 120 students distracted him. 

Glaswegian Dan Docherty died last December aged 67. 
I met him in 1980 in Hong Kong, when he was a Shotokan practitioner.
He switched to Tai Chi and won the 1980 SE Asia full contact knockdown championship, beating the much larger ( 21 stone) Roy Pink by a knockout. 


The Chinese master of the Wudang Tai Chi style made Dan, a fluent Chinese speaker, his successor. Dan had hundreds of  students worldwide and was an influential, controversial figure.
RIP Dan! 

from hair to eternity.

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – April 2022)

It’s funny how hair styles can define an era and popular culture. 

The war-time 1940s were synonymous with austerity: pin-curls, victory rolls and snoods for women which kept their hair out of harm’s way when they worked in munitions factories.

The 1950s saw a younger, more rebellious generation sweep away utilitarian styles in favour of more glamour: from bouffant to the poodle-cut  made popular by film stars such as Lucille Ball. Men kept their hair short throughout the post-war era until the 1950s, when rock and roll introduced more textured styles such as the quiff and pompadour.

Then came the ’60s with its Flower Power, anything-goes zeitgeist; but not at my house.

Mom

My parents were far more conventional when I was growing up in America’s Deep South in the ’60s.  Not one to “let it all hang out” my mother kept her long, black hair scraped up in a large bun rolled over a foam doughnut-shaped hair form; held aloft by hundreds of hair pins and a cloud of Elnet hairspray which seemed to follow her around; like the cloud of dust around Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon. 

I can still smell it.  As for that hair form – it had a life of its own and seemed to crop up in unexpected places. I was scared of it.

Dad was old-school and favoured short back and sides, slicked down with a dab of Brylcreem, which gave it a high glossy sheen and controlled his unruly, curly forelock. He looked like Frank Sinatra (his musical hero), or one of those guys in Madmen.

Dad in The Sixties

Dad and I would sing along to the Brylcreem ad on TV,  “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya,” which became our special song for the rest of his life.

My grandmother kept  her beautiful white hair in a permanent wave during her weekly trips to the beauty parlour and sometimes her hair changed colour from white to mauve, which kept us all on our toes.

When my brother was about twelve and hitting new pubescent strides, he did something radical and grew out his crew-cut which my dad had insisted on, into a longer style inspired by the Beatles. My grandmother gave him five dollars to “get a decent hair cut” which he spent on records and came home with his mop intact.  Having survived our grandmother’s scorn, he had a narrow escape outside the local ice-cream parlour when some kid threatened to cut his hair off with a  knife! Life in Appalachia could be tough.

If we were going to church, Mom would slick our hair down with a dash of spit on the palm of her hand; she was even known to wheel out the Elnet for that perfect, sleek finish. I can see my brother now, ducking and diving with a mischievous grin as he tried to dodge the spit.

As a very young child, my mother kept my hair short with a fringe but as I grew, Mom let my hair grow and had fun styling it. I had low bunches, high bunches, ponytails, pigtails, plaits across my head or rolled in coils above my ears like Heidi – and buns for ballet!  And don’t get me started on French Braids! They HAD to be just like Dorothy Gale’s in The Wizard of Oz (MGM 1939).

Andrea had a feeling she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. (She never was.)

When Mom washed my hair she would twist it – stiff with shampoo – into ‘sheep horns’, ‘dog ears’, ‘rabbit ears’, ‘kitten ears’ and ‘unicorn horns,’ which I thought was funny but I’m sure was a ploy to get me to sit still long enough to have my hair washed.

 My grandpa used to say, “Why sugar – you look just like Minnie Pearl with your hair in pigtails.” Minnie Pearl was a comedienne and star of the Grand Ol’ Opry; who to my knowledge did not wear her hair in plaits. Mom insisted that I  looked nothing like Minnie Pearl, despite the fact that we were vaguely related to her. Minnie Pearl (real name Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon) was my mother’s father’s brother’s wife’s niece. Work that one out!

By the time I was nine, my hair was waist length and to my mother’s despair, “tangled at the drop of a hat.” She called them “rat’s tails.” Exasperated with my fine, knotted hair, she once took me to her hairdresser, where he held the crown of my head with one hand (getting a purchase on my scalp) and raked a fine comb through the wet tangles, at which point I screamed and Mom marched me out, telling him that he had “absolutely no understanding whatever of how to tackle tangles – or children!”

Andrea age nine with hair that provided endless hours of fun for her mum! (Who needed a Tressy doll when their daughter grew hair this long?)

The point was, my hair was in my mother’s hands, quite literally. The length and style were her choice. She even rinsed my hair in warm vinegar to make it squeaky clean, but boy did it stink! The only hair conditioner you could buy then was Creme Rinse which Mom considered an extravagance.

One of the first records I bought was ‘Hair’ by The Cowsills (1969), written by Galt MacDermot with lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni; a cover of the original song from the musical ‘Hair’. I thought it was really “groovy” and “far out man”, as I sang along swinging my “shining, gleaming, flaxen, waxen” locks. It was the dawning of the age Aquarius and my first and only foray into psychedelia. Cool.

As the ’60s gave way to the ’70s and my family moved to Birmingham, West Midlands, I became aware,  for the first time, of how hair could get you noticed. Watching Top of the Pops one Thursday evening in 1971, I was mesmerised by Rod Stewart’s feather-cut as he strutted around on stage singing Maggie May. Dad said Rod’s hair looked like a cockerel: well, that was the whole point!  And we all knew that David Essex’s trademark dark, shaggy curls were going to make him a star.

I begged Mom to let me have a feather cut – or a Lion Cut, like Jayne Bolton’s  at school –  but I was met with near hysteria from my mother who said these “fancy hair-dos were just plain ugly.” Good job she had a set of Carmen rollers; I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror trying to perfect the Farrah Fawcett flick a la Charlie’s Angels – and half a canister of Elnet. My flick was nothing compared to Rachel Sadler’s, whose blonde tresses were sprayed into magnificent, solid waves.

One day, aged fifteen, I decided to take matters into my own hands and get my hair cut – only shoulder-length mind – but it was a significant moment. My dad greeted me in the hallway and burst into tears, “My little girl has cut off her beautiful hair! She’s all grown up!” Embarrassed beyond belief, I marched through the house swinging my new shiny bob tied back with a cotton bandana.

“Oh Dad, of course I’m grown up! Duh!”

A trip to the cinema in 1976 to see ‘A Star is Born’ starring Barbra Streisand changed my hairstyle for the next decade. In the film, she wore her blonde tresses in a soft curly-perm which I thought was the most exciting, sexy looking hair I’d ever seen. Luckily for me, Steiner hair salon in Birmingham city centre were advertising for perm models, so I took a seat, lit a cigarette and strutted out four hours later with a halo of tight curls and an afro comb.  I looked perfectly ridiculous and nothing like beautiful Barbra.

On a trip back to the States with my dad to visit my grandparents in the summer of ’78, I stepped from the plane in my high-heeled sandals and perm, which immediately caught the attention of my conservative, Southern grandmother.

Dad, Andrea …and perm.

“Your shoes are just tacky and your hair – well, there’s nothin’ I can do about your hair!”

She had a point.

As disco stirred-up a veritable Night Fever on dance floors in the late ’70s, my curly-perm took on even greater, pretentious proportions; it even had its own routine! Beneath the mirror balls and strobing lights of Birmingham’s clubs and wine bars, my hair held centre stage, glistening with gold  spray. As I sashayed along Corporation Street one afternoon to the bus stop – my perm radiating sophistication – I was approached by a sleazy photographer offering me work as a model for ladies underwear. My perm bubble was burst.

Andrea’s True Disco Connection.

The ’70s gave way to the ’80s, heralding my Liza Minelli era with a short crop which went to my head and announced my arrival at university to study Performance Arts, where I felt emboldened to take to the stage as a jazz singer with a new, sassy confidence.

Andrea – Life is a Cabarellnet.

By the mid 1980s trends were changing as the age of BIG hair arrived, influenced by TV shows such as Dynasty and executed with a tonne of mousse and attitude.  With hair as wide as my huge shoulder pads, I strutted around the office in power suits and towering heels  that Alexis Carrington Colby would have been proud of; until my hair caught fire as I lit a cigarette.

A pixie crop followed –  it was a lot safer.

These days, I keep my fine, grey hair short and think of my mother as it still tangles at the drop of a hat.                                                               

(Copyright: Andrea Burn)

What We Used To Wear – Patchwork Jeans

(A look back at some of the things we used to wear in the 70’s)

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, March 2022

I can recall badgering my parents to buy me a pair of Wrangler jeans in 1971, a plea which fell on deaf ears, my Mum came home with a pair of brown cords from C&A, because she thought…. “they were a bit smarter!”

Maybe it was this early trauma that spurred me on to work in the jeans/denim industry for most of my adult life.

I did eventually get the Wrangler jeans I wanted in 1972, in what became an early example of… ‘If you want a job doing, do it yourself’.
Off I went to Arnott Simpsons department store in Glasgow to purchase them, weighed down with pocketfuls of change saved from my paper round earnings.

I can still remember the shiny Western labelling, the leather branding on the back pocket and the smell of unwashed denim.

I couldn’t wait to get home to try them on.

I have to admit that my enthusiasm diminished a tad when I realised that my new jeans were stiff as a board which meant you had to break them in… a bit like the wild stallion on the jeans label, which in retrospect was a fantastic piece of subliminal branding.

The first couple of times I wore them was agony, it felt like someone was rubbing sandpaper behind my knees… I missed my comfortable, soft brown cords!

I found out later that this was a rookie-mistake and that I should have washed the jeans first to remove all the excess starch but I’d probably have ignored this advice anyway, I’d waited long enough.

By 1974, trends had moved on a bit and like my old monkey boots, abandoned in a cupboard somewhere, dark, rigid, unwashed denim was now a thing of the past.

In its place were faded, lived-in jeans that looked like they’d been worn on a sun-kissed road trip from Laurel Canyon to Woodstock, whilst the wearer was listening to the Doobie Brothers.

Truth be told, the look we were going for was Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin (but maybe without the extra padding!) whilst the girls had their own fashion inspirations from that era.

The big problem with attaining that worn-in jeans look, circa 1974, was that you had to do the hard yards yourself…. stone-washing hadn’t been commercialised yet, so if you wanted to get your jeans to look like you’d lived in them for 10 years, you either had to live in them for 10 years or launder them several times a week, and who did that?

This led some to experiment with bleach, usually with disastrous results.

Back then most of us obtained our jeans from the usual outlets… department stores, mail order catalogues or boutiques but then an amazing thing happened, a specialised jeans shop opened in 1974 – Slak Shack on Hope St, near Glasgow’s Central Station.

It was a denim Mecca offering a variety of jeans, jackets, shirts and dungarees with one item standing out from the rest …. patchwork jeans.

Yep, new jeans made up of ‘old jeans‘ that had been cut and sewn together again.

Yep, ‘Old jeans‘ like the ones we’d been frantically trying to recreate by washing them every 5 minutes, plus the Slak-Shack strides were baggy which was the current trend and it didn’t even matter that there was only one leg length – LONG – because we were all teetering about on platform shoes now!

As soon as word got out about this fashion essential we all headed to the Shack, who struggled to cope, with demand rapidly outstripping supply.

The really cool thing about those original patchwork jeans in my book was that due to the customised way they’d been produced no two pairs were the same, so you could spend ages sifting through the stock to select your preferred pair.

Also, because the jeans were produced by using pre-used denim they were wonderfully soft and comfortable…. as if you’d been wearing them for 10 years.

Like most fashion crazes, other retailers and manufacturers soon cottoned on to what was in-demand and within a few months there were cheaper, nastier versions hitting the streets.
However, for a wee while in the autumn of 74, these personalised strides were like currency in Glasgow and Slak-Shack was the bank.

The Slak Shack Team

diary of a pimply kid: memories of the late 60s & 70s – Focus on the Trees.

(*a little bit fact; a bit more fiction; much exaggerated.*)

Diary

Wednesday 31st May 1972 – (aged 13, end of 2nd year)

Everyone today is talking about a band from Holland called Focus. They were on the Old Grey Whistle Test last night. Most in the Smokers Union shelter say how amazing that yodeling guy was. Some though, those I see wearing the ex-RAF great coats with an LP by the band stuck under their armpit, have a smug ‘told you’ smile and ignore our conversation.

Focus on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

It was very wet at PE time. Old Boot (gym teacher) decided it was too wet to play football. What?! This is Glasgow. Rangers, Celtic, Thistle, Clyde and Queens Park all manage to play ok.

Anyway – PE was switched indoors to the gym. Everyone has football boots – only a few also brought gym shoes. Those of us who hadn’t were lined up to get two of the belt! Old Boot got more exercise than any of us.

The tawse / belt / Lochgelly

Buses were late to pick us up at 4 o’clock. Had to stand out in the rain till they arrived. Trip home was a bit smelly.

Woods clearing ‘football pitch.’

Rain stops but did some studying for exams till teatime then out to the clearing in the woods for a game of football. Get chased by Mr McIlwham who says we shouldn’t be using trees as goalposts because they can feel the ball hitting against them. (Cuckoo!)  

Lucky we weren’t using a Mitre Mouldmaster, then is all I can say.

Mitre Mouldmaster

Well, that’s it – game’s a bogey! We tell Mr McIlwham that we’re off now to break some windows and scrawl graffiti.

See us kids, eh?!

Broken window
Graffiti

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – March 2022)

______________________

diary of a pimply kid: memories of the late 60s & 70s – ‘Big’ School.

(*a little bit fact; a bit more fiction; much exaggerated.*)

Diary

Monday 10th August 1970 (aged 12 – only just.)

Didn’t finish my Ready Brek this morning – first day at big school, so tummy churning a bit. Been told all sorts of stories of what the 2nd Years would do to welcome us.

Excited about getting a bus to school. (You can read Paul’s wonderful account of this, here.)
Met pals at The Cooperative Shop in the village. Lots of the older boys from the village gang were there. I know several of them so it was ok even though they were a bit boisterous.

Bus – Alexander Midland

Tried to get on the top deck of the bus but seems there is some kind of hyer highera order about where you are meant to sit. Got bundled down to the lower deck. The conductress seemed a bit stressed.
“Sit down! No standing upstairs! Keep away from the open platform! Have you tickets and bus passes ready! I SAID NO STANDING UPSTAIRS!”

Stood around the main entrance with my pals until we were put into our classes. A few from my primary school are also in 1A. Boys and girls from four other schools are in my class. They look OK.

Bearsden Academy

In class, we have to copy down our timetable. When did I sign up for Latin?! Mum! Dad! What?!

It could be worse, I suppose – double English to start the week on a Monday morning. And double PE on Wednesday afternoon to finish – that’s good.

I am in Endrick House – I have to go to the annex for registration each morning before class.

Break-time and many pals are welcomed into Bearsden Academy by having their heads stuck down the toilet pan which is then flushed. There are some fights. Most just give in. I escape attention until afternoon break for some reason. The suspense is terrible.

School toilet

Eventually, I’m picked out, but my captors don’t drag me to the toilets. Instead, I’m carried to a drinking fountain and held over it by my arms and legs. I then had my trousers soaked, front and back, before a teacher chased the boys away.

First Latin lesson next – infectum bum I think is the translation.

Trousers still damp when I get home, so place them over the clothes horse in front of the fire.

Electric fire
Clothes horse.
Pilchards

Pilchards on toast for tea. Blech!  Out to play and swap footy cards with pals and tales of first day at big school.

It’ll be alright. I think.  

________________

the big yin and me.

(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)

I’ve always had a strange relationship with Billy Connolly.

Not that we’ve ever met.

I call it Christopher Columbus syndrome – You find an artist, hear a song or read a book that hardly anyone else knows about, you become an early adopter and spread the word, and before you know it everyone loves them – with people even asking you if you’ve heard of them!

It drives you mad because you feel like you’re the one that DISCOVERED THEM, and if it wasn’t for you unearthing their great talent and spreading the word, they’d be nowhere.

You even begin to resent their newfound fame – they’re being greedy or they’re overreaching or they’re forgetting where they come from, or some other daft notion.

Welcome to my relationship with Billy Connolly.

I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Connolly utter a word was on the Pavilion stage in February 1974.

There was a buzz as the relative unknown had sold out several nights at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, something only Sydney Devine (Scotland’s answer to Elvis) could do back then.

Billy promoting his stint at The Pavilion.

My pal Barry suggested we get tickets to see him on a Friday night as we had no school the next day, we were both 15 at the time and part of the plan was to find a pub and go for the full Friday night Glasgow experience.

We duly found a wee working mans pub round the corner from the venue, and foraged for a seat out of view, it was tea-time on a Friday, so the pub was busy with artisans in their work clothes finishing their shifts for the weekend.

We must have stood out like sore thumbs.

I think Barry braved the first approach to the bar and I was amazed but delighted when he came back with 2 halves of lager and 2 vodka and oranges’ (non-diluted orange squash of course).

A half and a half back then was the working mans preferred tipple, so who were we to challenge the established order of things.

The drinks were downed pretty quickly, and we enjoyed a few more bevvy’s before floating off down the road to the Pavilion in good spirits.

Stand-up comedy in the 70’s was dominated by middle aged men who wore suits and bow ties and told corny jokes about their mother in laws or minorities or Germans bombing their chip shops.

This guy Connolly was different though he was younger, he looked like a welder on acid and he spoke our language.

A bit like listening to the opening 4 tracks of Led Zeppelin IV for the first time, Connolly literally took our breath away. I had never laughed so long or so hard before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t since, although Jerry Sadowitz has come close a couple of times.

He was loud, gallus, hilarious and the audience loved him, his stories were relatable, and he was one of us.

I remember hearing the Crucifixion sketch for the first time that night, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, he was irreverent and didn’t give two hoots about poking fun at religion or sectarian taboos or bodily functions or the establishment, no topic was off limits to the Big Yin.

It was a memorable evening; from the nervous bus-journey into town wondering if we’d get served or huckled for being underage, to the journey home, fish supper in hand, trying to recount all the jokes and patter and remembering we had football for the school the following morning.

We were so smitten by Connolly that we spent the next couple of weeks spreading the gospel, telling everyone we knew how great he was, mostly to blank faces however, as no one had heard of him.

Billy takes over The Apollo.

His career really took off after a live album of the Pavilion material was released in May 1974, and the following year he finally came into the general public’s consciousness.

In 1975 Connolly sold out an unprecedented 12 nights at the Glasgow Apollo, as well as appearing on Parkinson for the first of his record breaking 15 appearances.

That year he also showed off his acting chops by appearing in a powerful Peter McDougall TV play called ‘Just Another Saturday’ which was about West of Scotland culture, beliefs, innocence and sectarianism.

If that wasn’t enough, he also headlined a London gig for the first time and even had a number one single, appearing on TOTP with a parody of Tammy Wynette’s Divorce. It was the archetypal rags to riches story; the guy had gone from zero to hero in the space of 18 months.

There’s a picture that was taken in 1975 by Ronnie Anderson, a newspaper colleague of one of our contributors George Cheyne, that is my favourite Connolly portrait.

The occasion was an after-party in The Dorchester for the first of Billy’s sell out shows at the London Palladium in 1975, and it features – Billy, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Reid the shop steward, Hamish Stuart from AWB, Frankie Miller and Jimmy Dewar (a musician from Stone the Crows and Robin Trower Band).

A motley crew of 6 Glaswegians toasting their mate’s success in a foreign land.

The Glasgow Mafia – 1975

If I’m being completely honest, the parody single was the point when I started to think the Big Yin was overreaching.

A parody single? That was for Benny Hill and Rolf Harris but not for the Big Yin!

I’d also noticed that his accent had started to soften a bit and he was definitely losing some of his tough Glasgow brogue.

Of course, I look back now and understand he was just reaching out to a wider audience, the guy was a welder turned folk singer turned comedian, he had no idea how long this gravy train was going to run for.

He was simply making the most of his opportunities

As Connolly got bigger so did his global reach, hanging out with Hollywood celebs and Royalty and appearing in big budget movies and hosting TV specials.

Billy, Robin Wlliams & Dudley Moore.

There was a point where he seemed to be everyone’s favourite comedian, but he probably wasn’t mine anymore.

I had discovered American stand-up, guys like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, and I liked the cut of their jib.

Richard Pryor doing his thing.

I still liked Billy and I would go the odd gig, but for me comparing his newer, more mainstream material to his earlier stuff was like comparing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You to Superstition or Living for the City.

And I guess I’ve just addressed some of my issues right there!

If Stevie can’t maintain unrealistic artistic excellence, who can??

On a subconscious level I also think that for some absurd reason I thought he’d forsaken his Scottish roots, which is illogical, particularly as I moved away from Scotland myself in 1984.

There’s no doubt that Connolly has had a fantastic career, he’s adored by millions and he is and always has been a wonderful ambassador for Scotland.

As he’s got older, I think he’s got back to being a bit more irreverent and a bit more outspoken, and that’s the Billy I adore.

I’ve loved stand-up comedy since I was 15 thanks to the Big Yin, he was my first and he was one of the best.

When all’s said and done, I’m glad I got to discover the Big Yin in February 1974 and share him with the rest of the world.

You’re welcome!

In Praise Of Lunch

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, January 2022

It came to my mind recently that lunch tends to get overlooked these days.
Brunches & Suppers are regularly championed by Nigella and Jamie, we’re constantly bombarded with dinner ideas on MasterChef and up until intermittent fasting came along we were hoodwinked into thinking that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.

By the way, do you know who’s credited with that oft-repeated and very famous quote?
None other than John Harvey Kellogg…. yeah THAT Kellogg!

Subsequently, lunch has dropped down the ‘square meal’ league table into the relegation zone which is a bit of a comedown.
Once upon a time it used to run away with the title but that was before Gordon Gekko’s “lunch is for wimps” claim in the movie Wall Street.

In its glory years lunch was called dinner, it was the main meal of the day and was eaten any time between late morning and mid afternoon. Then the industrial revolution came along at which point sustenance was required between morning and afternoon shifts to enable workers to sustain maximum effort throughout the day, hence the regimented one hour lunch break, we know now.

Cut forward to today and lunch for many consists of a quick sandwich in front of a computer screen, checking out social media and looking at Nigella’s recipes for supper, or if you’re male, and of a certain age, just checking out Nigella!

Back in the 70s however, when we were at school or newbies in the workplace, lunch WAS the most important meal of the day… by a long chalk.

Maybe it was by default… after all breakfast was relatively basic, a plate of cereal or a slice of toast before you ran out the door to catch the school bus.
Dinner, on the other hand, was a bit more formal in most households, the table would be set but you had to wait till your faither got home.

To be honest dinner was a bit hit or miss in our house.

You see, my dad was an offal man for his offal – kidney, Tongue, liver, tripe, all the stuff that was popular in its day and made fancy window dressing at the butchers…. but offers good reason to turn vegetarian now.

It got worse though, if the raw materials my mum had to work with weren’t great, then her cooking skills only compounded things.

I love my Mum to bits, but she was no Fanny Craddock and trying to mask the stench of charred liver from my favourite Fred Perry polo shirt, (by splashing on copious amounts of Brut) before heading out to impress, was not a pleasant experience.

So, whilst breakfast was on the hoof and dinner could easily have consisted of hoof…. lunch was always to be savoured for a few reasons…..

Firstly, although we may not have been enduring the same hardships as our distant relatives from the 1800’s, lunch still broke up the day perfectly – and if like me you were stuck in a dull lesson pre-lunch, then you could start counting down to the lunchtime bell before meeting up with your pals to eat, blether, and release some of that pent up energy.

Secondly, free-will, which was in scant supply back then, came to the fore as we were able to take ownership of our daily lunching choices.


You could go to the canteen for school dinners if you were seduced by the day’s menu offering, (beef olives was always a favourite), or if you fancied a wee donner (the walk not the kebab) then you could take your lunch money and saunter down to Bearsden Cross to the bakers for a sausage roll or a sandwich…. always accompanied by a carton of ski yoghurt for pudding.
It was probably the best hour of most school days!

Bearsden Cross pre lunchtime

School holidays meant lunch at home, and after a bit of trial and error, home lunches became a slick operation, i.e. straight out of a can – Campbell’s chicken soup and cold Ambrosia Devon Custard…. tasty, low-maintenance stuff that even I could prepare without the need to splash any Brut on afterwards.

It’s strange but I can’t remember much about school lunches at primary school, I lived about 15-20 min’s walk from school so I doubt that I lunched at home every day. I do remember a few kids having packed lunches though and thinking that themed lunchboxes were cool, but I don’t think soup and custard would have travelled that well.

Another weekly treat during school holidays was going to Drumchapel swimming baths, not so much for the eye-stinging chlorine or the daredevil belly flops off the dale, but rather for the delicious pie & beans in the adjoining canteen afterwards.

As we moved into the workplace, lunchtimes were a saviour, it broke the day up and gave you time to regroup and recharge your batteries.

I worked in a small office in central Glasgow when I left school. There was just 5 of us and I was the youngest by some 20 years, so come lunchtime I was a lone-wolf – until my good mate Billy Smith started working in Frasers in Buchanan St a few months later.
This was a tremendous turn of events as I used to go with Smiddy to their excellent staff canteen where we’d fill our faces and gawk at all the elegant cosmetic girls, before meandering about town to wile-away the rest of the golden-hour.

The iconic gallery at Frasers Glasgow

It was a splendid arrangement and when Smiddy told me he was thinking of quitting his job for a more lucrative one, I did what every good mate would do in the same situation….. and tried my darnedest to convince him to stay.

what about the great staff discounts”
“what about all the pretty girls in the cosmetics dept”
“what about the opportunities for promotion”

“what about the fact you’re working in an iconic building”
“what about – the subsidised staff canteen for Christ’s sake!!

Of course, Billy very selfishly took up the life changing opportunity, leaving me to lope around as a lone-wolf once more, although I used to regularly meet my mate Joe Hunter on a Friday and we’d head to Paddy’s Market to get our outfits for the weekend.
If ever clothes required a splash of aftershave, it was those ones!

As enjoyable as all those lunch times were back then, you knew the pleasure was temporary, you always had an enemy – the clock!

As you get older and escape the constraints of the clock, lunch offers a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and family and the lunches I look forward to the most now are the leisurely ones you have on holiday. Looking out at a sun-splattered, turquoise ocean, with a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine accompanied with never-ending portions of seafood or salty tapas… living in the moment with nothing to rush back for.

All hail lunch….


What Made Milwaukee Famous

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, January 2022

Hands up if you can remember your first trip to the pub?
And by pub, I mean a proper public bar, not the Beachcomber at Butlins in Ayr with your Mum & Dad.

I’m pretty sure mine’s was the Burnbrae bar in Bearsden in 1973. I went with a few pals, one of them, Jay, was a year older than the rest of us, and as he strolled nonchalantly up to the bar, the rest of us hid round the corner near the dartboard and tried not to squeak.

I’m not even sure I liked the taste of beer back then or knew what type of beer to order so when Jay said he was having a pint of ‘heavy’ we all followed suit, lowered our voices by several octaves and growled – “yeah pint of heavy for me too mate”.
What came back was warm brown liquid (probably slops reserved for undiscerning intruders like ourselves), and I realised heavy wasn’t for me, settling instead for lager and lime which lacked a bit of credibility but suited an unrefined palette, more used to Garvies fizzy pop at the time.

It’s interesting to reflect on our hierarchy of needs in those early days; the main priority of course was access – can we get into the damn place without suffering the ignominy of a knock-back, and the subsequent walk of shame .
This also encouraged a Darwinist, law of the jungle approach to proceedings, where some of your best mates got left behind because they had a baby-face or looked too young…. they weren’t too happy at the time but they’re probably laughing now!

Being an underage pub-goer took meticulous planning, for instance the ETA was critical – the pub had to be busy enough so as not to stand out but quiet enough that you could get a seat.

What entrance you used was important – if possible, a side entrance that didn’t face the bar.

Where you sat was also critical– out of sight of the bar if possible, and always with your back to the bar.
Close to an exit was preferable in case it got raided by the police and you had to get out pronto

So much thought and energy just to rush down a couple of watery Norseman lagers all the while sitting in fear of being chucked out.

Once we got a bit more confident (and older) then we started looking at other variables – pubs that offered better value, pubs that had a jukebox or played live music and then ultimately livelier disco-pubs like The Rooster or City Limits at weekends where you could mingle to your hearts content
Of course, the landscape has changed a tad from 1973 particularly the breadth of choices on offer.

Back in the day there would probably only be one draught lager on offer whereas now you can take your pick of multiple lagers and craft beers from around the globe (plus numerous bottled options).

Similarly, if you asked for a gin, it was probably Gordons (or a cheap supermarket version in a Gordons bottle) whereas today it can take 10 minutes just to present the various options.

Vodka? the same, – Smirnoff used to be the only game in town but now you can have any flavour you want – toffee, watermelon, passion fruit, the list goes on.

I don’t even remember if you could buy a glass of wine in a pub back then, but if you were lucky there was a house white and a house red.

One thing my friend Tabby reminded me of recently is that cordials used to be a big part of the offer – lime, orange, blackcurrant and his favourite, peppermint, all essential mixers and often laid out on the bar with lemonade and water, totally free of charge, nowadays it’ll cost you £2.50 for a bottle of Fever Tree to mix with your Gin and juniper berries.

Talking about prices, on my first sojourn to the pub a pint was 15p which is equivalent to roughly £1.55 in today’s money. A shot of vodka, rum, gin or whisky was 16p which is equivalent to £1.65 today.

To put it in perspective the average annual salary in 1973 was £2,000 or 13,300 pints of beer.
Jump forward to 2022 where the average salary is £32,000 and the average cost of a pint is £3.80… equivalent to 8,420 pints of beer.

Which means that we’re 4,880 pints worse off people!!

It’s true that our money used to go a lot further in those days, and when you tell youngsters today that you used to be able to have a great night out for the cost of a bottle of Fever Tree, they look at you the same way we looked at our parents when they spoke about collecting jam-jars in order to get into the cinema!

Public Bar price list 1971

It’s easy to get nostalgic about some of our old haunts and there’s a great Facebook group called Old Glasgow Pubs, which features some terrific images and memories about pubs from the 60’s, 70s & 80s in Glasgow.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/oldglasgowpubs

It’s mostly made up of punters reminiscing about their favourite pubs & bars in Glasgow, with people commenting on how they used to frequent said establishment, or in some cases how they worked there, or met their wife/husband there or in the case of the Bell Geordie in Bell St, a previous owner joined the thread to say he used to own the gaff.

As you go through the posts you realise just how many pubs there are or used to be in Glasgow, for instance according to the site below there are 579, yes, 579 pubs within 10 miles of Partick train station, sounds bizarre but you can check them all out on the link and start the biggest pub-crawl of your life.
I’ll see you in The Curlers!

https://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/results.shtml/tr/1663/