Fifty years ago, October 11th 1971, I attended my first proper gig, at Glasgow’s Green’s Playhouse. Oddly, as I am not really a prog rock fan, it was in the court of prog royalty – King Crimson.
Half a century on, I still retain a soft spot for the band, though not soft enough to have paid 100 quid to see them play live in London a couple of years ago.
Featured below is the actual ticket for the gig courtesy of Roger Brown who found it attached to a King Crimson album he purchased from me many moons ago….
King Crimson’s support act that evening was a solo acoustic guitar/singer called Keith Christmas. Due to alliteration, I was suspicious as to whether this was his real name. Still gigging today Christmas played guitar on Bowie’s Space Oddity album.
My erstwhile near neighbour, Alan Doig was the one who introduced me to King Crimson and he was part of the group who attended this gig.
Alan’s father had been a provost of Bearsden and had a symbolic single blue provost street light outside his house indicating the holding of such past office. I believe that this entitled him to kill a swan with a crossbow on Kilmardinny Loch each eve of Michaelmas.
Alan had a great sound system which did help influence the appeal of the new Crimson album at that time, ‘Lizard’. In particular it projected the fantastic, bombastic synth riff in the middle of the track Cirkus
Aged 14 I was impressed with Peter Sinfield’s lyrics on the Lizard album, particularly as I strove to find the deeper meanings embedded in his ditties. I now realise they are incoherent nonsense.
The gig: after Mr Christmas’ plaintive noodling the lights dimmed and a mellotron chord rang out. C sharp minor 7th flattened 5th, though I could be mistaken ( ……or bullshitting).
The band: Robert Fripp sitting down playing guitar and mellotron. Boz Burrelll on bass and vocals, Mel Collins on sax and a drummer dude.
Most of that line up later deserted the prog camp. Boz Burrell left to form Bad Company, Mel Collins played with the Average White Band and Kokomo whilst Lyricist Sinfield went on to write for the likes of Buck’s Fizz and Leo Sayer.
Fripp now makes YouTube videos of himself accompanying the terpsichorean insanity of his fruity little wife, Toyah.
I have continued to dabble in prog listening and I’m grateful for the school friends who dragged me along to selected prog gigs in those early days. The likes of Graeme Butler, Simon Brader and Ralph Jessop helped me to open my ears somewhat, to Genesis, Greenslade and Magma.
Glasgow City Halls usually accommodated the lesser known prog bands in those days and one could easily wander backstage to chat with the musicians post gig. I recall a schoolboy French conversation with the blue chinned caveman, Christian Vander, who led Magma.
Magna’s bassist played a Fender bass covered in baby oil ( …. the bass that is). They talked about the philosophic works of Ouspensky, which meant as much to me as King Crimson’s lyrics.
As I write I notice that Van Der Graaf Generator are touring the UK soon… maybe worth a punt.
Talking about gigs, my own band is playing the Three Kings Pub in Twickenham on New Years Eve. There will be no prog rock, or baby oil… though there will be some Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Michael McDonald and Doors covers in the set.
My co-contributor, Russ Stewart, offered advice in a previous article along the lines that you should never meet your heroes, a sentiment which no doubt many will relate to as the experience can often be something of a let down when you realise that the hero you’ve just met is flesh and blood like everyone else and not necessarily the mystical figure you’ve idolised, whether it be on stage, cinema screen, television or in some sporting arena.
During the years I spent in sports journalism I have been fortunate to have come face to face with a number of those that I would describe as heroes. Some have left me feeling disappointed (step forward, Chic Charnley) but, in the main, those that I have met have been pleasant, courteous individuals ie Denis Law, Joe Jordan, Henry Cooper, Jim Watt, Alex Arthur and of course the legend that is Jimmy Bone (sorry Russ), all of whom who have left me feeling that it had been a pleasure to have enjoyed a few brief moments in their company.
Moving away from sport to the other great passion in my life, I feel privileged to have established a genuine friendship over a period of many years with one of rock music’s most influential exponents.
This being a 1970s website, I will rewind to where it all began – Green’s Playhouse, Glasgow, 24th September 1971.
Deep Purple, arguably the highest profile band on the planet at the time (certainly the loudest as noted within the Guinness Book of Records) were riding high on the back of hit singles Black Night and Strange Kinda Woman and were playing in my home city, a gig which I attended along with my now departed schoolmate Nicky Mawbey.
It was our first ‘big’ concert (seeing Mungo Jerry at Kilmardinny Riding Stables a couple of months earlier was good but this was an altogether different ballpark) and my attention was drawn throughout to the charismatic stage presence of the band’s lead singer Ian Gillan.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him but, for the record, this was no man-crush. I didn’t fancy him, I wanted to be him. I wanted to be on that stage screaming into the mic and basking in the adulation of the fans below.
Long brown hair tumbling around his shoulders, his multi-range vocals alternating between screams and whispers, he had the audience, and a 16 year old me, in the palm of his hands throughout.
I no longer wanted to chase the unlikely dream of being a professional footballer. I wanted to be a rock star. I was a wannabe years before the word was even invented.
(As it happened I did become a professional footballer of sorts, playing a couple of trials for semi-pro junior side Glasgow Perthshire and receiving a brown envelope with a crisp one pound note inside after each game before hearing the dreaded words, “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.)
Fast forward 20-odd years and the company I worked for at that time handed me a list of key clients, responsibility for whom had been assigned to myself. (For reasons of confidentiality I can’t disclose the nature of the work involved).
The list comprised roughly 50 names along with each individual’s profession and one particular entry jumped right off the page – Ian Gillan, Recording Artist.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. After all these years of wanting to be him, I was actually going to be in direct contact with him….or so I thought. Key figures within the music industry tend to delegate their day to day personal affairs to a manager and, after working my way through the list and trying to make contact with the singer I had idolised as a starry eyed teenager, I found myself dealing with his representative, a genial chap by the name of Phil Banfield, who also represented other members of the rock glitterati such as Tony Iommi and Sting.
Phil was delighted when I tentatively advised him of my long time admiration for Ian and before long he was sending me demo CDs and other items of memorabilia, the likes of which very few fans would ever have got their hands on.
One day I was preparing for a family holiday with the wife and kids to Orlando and made a quick courtesy call to advise Phil I would be away from the office for a couple of weeks.
‘Where are you off to?’ he asked
‘Orlando’ I replied
‘Really?- Ian’s out there just now with the rest of the band recording the new Purple album. Tell me where you’re staying and I’ll get him to call you.’
So, off to the land of the free I went, and on arriving in my hotel room, noticed a light on the phone saying there was a voicemail. I dialled in and heard the magic opening words ‘Hi Alan, this is Ian Gillan…..’
I was invited to the studio at Altamonte Springs in central Florida where the band were recording the Purpendicular Album and found myself in the company of legends Gillan, Morse, Glover, Lord and Paice while they were working on a track called The Aviator.
It was an eye opener. I sat in for about two hours and all that was being recorded was Ian Paice’s 10 second drum break between two of the verses.
‘He’s a real perfectionist’ whispered Roger Glover to me after about 12 takes, and only then did I realise how important a 10 second drum break could be (think of In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins with its iconic drum break which was immortalised by the Cadbury’s gorilla and you’ll get the gist.)
After two hours Paicey still wasn’t happy and left the studios frowning.
‘He’ll worry about that all night’ remarked Roger.
Afterwards I adjourned with Mr Gillan to a nearby bar along with some of the band members and road crew in the expectation of hearing lurid tour-related stories concerning naked groupies, outrageous imbibing of alcohol, excessive intake of Class A drugs and the old rock’n’roll favourite, destruction of hotel rooms.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. All were respectable married men in their 50s with kids and grandkids and as such the bar room banter circled around families, schools, gardens, finances, football and the other staple conversation topics of middle aged men sharing a beer after work.
Since then, Ian’s always fixed me up with tickets and backstage passes whenever Deep Purple have ventured north of the border. After a gig at the Armadillo he introduced me to his wife, a lovely lady called Bron to whom he’s been happily married for 37 years and with whom he has a daughter named Grace.
He gave me a signed copy of his autobiography Child In Time and demo copies of both Purpendicular and his solo album Dreamcatcher.
Although I haven’t seen him for some time we remain on each other’s Christmas Card lists and he did send me a particularly comforting message after my wife passed away.
You should never meet your heroes? – I’m thankful that I did
To many people, going to a gig and ending up in hospital would be regarded as an occupational hazard but to go through that experience while carrying out the comparatively mundane and harmless act of purchasing a ticket has to be regarded as something of a rarity.
It was an adventure I experienced back in October 1971.
The Who had just announced that they would be returning to Glasgow for the first time in over a year to play a show at Greens Playhouse and interest in the gig was sky high, coming as it did on the back of the band’s highly successful and unique Rock Opera Tommy which had been kicking around for a couple of years.
On top of that, Who’s Next, which is widely regarded as the bands finest ever piece of work and which featured the anthemic single Won’t Get Fooled Again, had just been released
The announcement came that tickets would go on sale at 10am on the Sunday before the show and plans began to develop as to how these sought-after pieces of paper could fall into the hand of myself and my two fellow Who fans from school, Angus MacAulay and Nicky Mawbey (both now sadly deceased).
Long before the days of Ticketmaster and online/telephone booking, anyone looking to attend a gig would merely trot along to the House of Clydesdale electrical store in Sauchiehall Street and proceed to the oasis-like ticket desk which was crammed in between the fridge freezers and the twin tubs.
With demand expected to be high the best option to guarantee success for a high profile show like The Who was to camp out on the pavement overnight which, bearing in mind the onset of a Glasgow winter would have been a course of action palatable only to the foolhardy and the supremely dedicated.
None of us fell into either of these categories (although we perhaps verged on the borderline of foolhardy) so we devised a plan to wake up early and rendezvous at 6am on the day of the sale prior to making the six mile journey into Sauchiehall Street.
What we didn’t allow for, however, was the non-availability of public transport at six o’clock on a Sunday morning so, with no buses or trains running at such an ungodly hour, we resorted to the noble art of hitch hiking.
It was an activity in which none of us had any prior experience and as a result, we stood by the road with thumbs outstretched hoping that some passing driver would be daft enough to pick up three long-haired, denim clad teenage boys.
After getting some strange looks from the occupants of the few vehicles who sped by, a car finally stopped and our spirits were lifted when the driver shouted “ur yees gaun intae toon for Who tickets, boys? In ye get.”
This kindred spirit kindly dropped us off in the city centre before looking for a parking space but when we we turned into Sauchiehall Street we were met by what only be described as a seething mass of humanity with a queue from Clydesdale, four deep on the pavement, snaking all the way round to Hope Street then into Renfrew Street.
We trudged gloomily in search of the end of the queue when an almighty scuffle broke out amongst those in line. Police were soon on the scene, manhandling everyone in the vicinity, the outcome being Angus, Nicky and myself being pushed into the queue by the said officers.
This episode of police-enforced queue jumping led to us gaining a foothold at least 100 yards further up the line from where we should have been and raised our expectations of a successful outcome to the trip. Every cloud and all that.
We then heard that, on police advice, the ticket desk was to open at 9am and it wasn’t long before we were slowly shuffling round with the Holy Grail of Clydesdale Electrical within our distant sights.
Then, disaster struck.
A rumour began circulating (allegedly by the police) that the tickets were almost sold out, panic set in and an almighty crush developed as the four-deep queue grew to six or seven-deep, with people desperate to move forward in what was now beginning to look like a forlorn quest of seeing Townshend, Daltrey and co in the flesh.
By this time, the three of us, along with many others were pushed up tight against the plate glass window of Graftons, a ladies clothes shop.
As the crush increased, there was no means of escape and the window began to creak with the weight of bodies trapped against it.
Before long the inevitable sound of breaking glass became apparent as the window gave way and I found myself lying on the floor amongst the Graftons mannequins with deadly looking shards of glass raining down on my head.
The cops again appeared, hauling bodies out of the carnage and I recall one senior office shouting “get this dealt wi’, we don’t want another Ibrox”, a poignant nod to the Ibrox disaster which had claimed 66 lives earlier that year.
I was lucky… I only suffered a few minor scratches, as did Nicky but Angus wasn’t so fortunate. When we found him he was lying on the pavement with blood pouring from a wound in the back of his neck.
By this time a fleet of ambulances had arrived, and we hauled him over to the nearest one before we were all bundled in and carted off to the Royal Infirmary.
Now, on, say, a Friday or Saturday night, the emergency department of Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary is not a place for the faint hearted as the hard-pressed medics deal with the never-ending stream of drunken casualties but Sunday mornings? -that was time for the doctors and nurses to relax a bit and review the events of an eventful night shift over a well-earned coffee and a bacon roll.
Not this time. Their peace was shattered by the sight of several dozen blood-soaked rock fans coming through the doors for treatment. I actually felt quite embarrassed taking up a space in the waiting area with my puny little scratches while the guy beside me, a hippy dude called Stevie, held his kaftan tightly against his head to stem the blood from the area where an almighty shard of glass was embedded.
Stevie addressed the situation with the classic black humour for which Glaswegians are famed, uttering a line which has has stayed in my psyche until this day – “I feel like I’m a packed lunch for a fuckin’ vampire.”
After several hours in casualty, Angus emerged with an impressive row of stitches in his neck and the three of us went home ticketless.
I did get to see The Who twice in the years that followed, firstly at Charlton Athletic Football Ground (The Valley) in 1974 and again at Celtic Park in 1976.
The Charlton gig, which I attended with my mate Mike Rooney from Temple, was an all-day event and featured a stellar supporting cast of Humble Pie, Lou Reed, Bad Company, Lindisfarne, Maggie Bell (who took great delight in informing the 60,000 crowd that Scotland had just beaten England 2-0 at Hampden) and Montrose.
The last-named band had been called in as last-minute replacements for The Sweet who had been scheduled to open the show but were forced to pull out after singer Brian Connolly had his head kicked in by some neds after a gig the previous night.
The show had its high points and low points. One of the high points was, when sitting in the blistering sunshine on the terracing steps, the bra-less girl beside me graciously decided to whip off her t-shirt and remain topless throughout Humble Pie’s set. That vision always returns to my mind when I dust off the cover of the Pie’s epic double album Eat It which was around at the time.
The low point was the fact that The Who were 40 minutes late in taking the stage and it was inevitable that the show would continue beyond its 10pm curfew.
As the last train to Glasgow would be departing Euston Station at 11pm Mike and I made the reluctant decision to leave the gig early and, after negotiating the complex route across the capital from Charlton, we managed to jump on the train with seconds to spare.
In hindsight, it proved to be smart move. Had we stayed for the encores and missed the train, the alternative would have been to spend the night in that particular corner of hell known as the Euston concourse.
Reflecting on stories which have emerged since then regarding young lads who were in similar situations, who knows, it could well have been our lifeless, severed body parts which were found stashed in the dark recesses of Dennis Nilsen’s freezer.
In the words of Bob Dylan – ‘a simple twist of fate.’