(By Alan Fairley – Edinburgh)
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.’
My Top 5 Who songs
- Squeeze Box
- Won’t Get Fooled Again
- I Can’t Explain
- Baba O’Reilly