Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Old Polaroids And Lost Souls

This was written a while back when I went through a phase of 'getting it down on paper' as it were . . an aid-memoire for the braincells . . .

I'd recommend doing this, to everyone - you won't know what you've got till it's gone . . . and even then, well especially, even then! 
 
Be warned though - it's a lot of reading . . . especially if you can't be arsed . . . but if you can, sit down with a nice 'holiday' of Soma and let's get on with it . . .

Morning Choppers - I hope you are all well today - it is jolly cold here, about minus 5 actually and yer Sheephouse Studion is filled with the chill of early morning and memory, because further to the last FB about my youth (which was bloody ages ago actually) I find myself in a reflective state of mind.
As Ali and I sat and did our usual, post film (or in this case post Series 4 of The Tudors) trawling through fun music videos and Sunday night Y'TUBE-ing (surely everyone does this . . a form of free thought scatting [loosened by wine of course] through musical memories and new discoveries) I was reminded that I was once told at Lockerbie Academy that I looked like Meatloaf.
Combine this to archetypal Scots' insult of the late-70's ("Y' Tube" - and no, I have no idea why people called people Tubes, but it was damned good and funny) and the tumblers tumbled and the locks opened.
Then, throw in a viewing of Meatloaf's performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, circa 1978 and you have a lovely set of ingredients for a reminisce.
The performance he and his band gave on "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" caused quite some comment at Lockerbie - it was bombastic, over-acted, over the top and downright suggestive to a bunch of kids whose rural (semi or complete) upbringing had brought them little more than visits from the vet, lambing, tractor graffiti (a true thing) and the quiet (and often boring to a kid) niceties of a childhood raised in small towns and villages and fields.
Re-reading that, it sounds like I am slagging them - far from it - they were damn lucky to have had such childhoods - in truth I reckon most people would give their right arm (albeit unknowingly) to be raised in the freedoms a rural setting can furnish.
But fecking Meatloaf!
Needless to say, I looked nothing like him, not even in the dark, but it was one of those casual kid throwaway things that damn well hurt.
My self-image at that point, as an ex-fat kid trying to make good by starvation and exercise, was I was still fat.
So it was just what I needed - a barbed comment, tossed like a random hand-grenade before the trip home on the school bus.


Err, no, I don't want to go to Aberdeen



Ah, the rural school bus . . . sweet exquisite pleasure and pain wrapped into one.
Ours was typical of the one you see above; a Bluebird apparently, quaint, coach-built with leather seats and a driver called Davey (who was not only all right, but kept an eye out for me too).
I lived approximately 13 miles North of Lockerbie Academy, so shared the bus with the kids from Johnstone Bridge, Wamphray, Beattock, Moffat and all points inbetween. There were a fair number of us on that daily trip, from seniors down to first years, but the problem for me was, though I might have lived there and shared the same incredible landscape and weather, I wasn't of the place, and therefore was anathema
(You can come from, or be from a place, but if you weren't born there, you couldn't be OF the place.  That is simple fact. 
It used to be commonplace in Scotland, but has been diluted a bit in recent decades . . . however please note [from a friend who moved to rural Ayrshire] . . . it still exists.)
This resulted in me (for pretty much two years: '77 and '78) being totally ignored and sitting on my tod.
Usually I just stared out the window or read; other times I thought about guitars and music; other times I bit down the loneliness in my soul, uncocked the mental Uzi that made me want to spray the back of the bus full of condescending bastards, and just kept my head down. '
Cause y'know, shit happens.
You get things chucked at you.
People talk about you in the seat behind you . . .
So I ignored them.
It sort of worked.

Quite how much it worked, was brought home on the bus last night when I was told off by the conductress (honest, pure mortification!) which set a drunken bloke to laughing and then staring and shouting at me (in a totally pissed Dundee accent):
"Mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate, mate . ."
so I ignored him too and eventually he wandered up the back of the bus swearing and bemoaning his lot in life.

Anyway, ignoring shite got into me and for a while I ended up quite a solitary person - worlds away from the semi-gregarious soul I'd been at Harrow.
My best friend Steve recently reminded me that at school, we'd had a circle of friends - not the high achieving sports kids and academics, but the B-Team - who had (ahem) followed us.
Now I have no recollection of this other than some memories of having friends at HH other than Steve.
Oh, like a gatecrash at a funeral, here they are:

The Obvious Benefits Of A Private Education.
The B-Team In All Their Glory!



But back to solitaire.

That sort of (voluntarily-imposed) removal from the usual scrum of teenage life can end badly sometimes, if you're a teenager (which I strangely enough was); the world looks a blacker place than it really is, with isolation and little hope of kind words and friendship.
I've detailed what happened to me when I first got to Lockerbie before HERE where you can read the whole sorry tale.
Unfortunately, to dig the solitude even further, the kids that had befriended me (down to earth, pretty rough, yet lifesavers) didn't live in my neck of the woods, and whilst nowadays I love Moffat, back in the day the kids came across as snooty, unfriendly and downright condescending; the kids from Wamphray were  . . . well . . . let's just say not my sort (though they could have been had they tried).
So it was Me vs. Upper Annandale!
But against the odds, I survived that first year, until the ones I had made friends with in 1977 left after Summer term in 1978, and I had to reconfigure friendhips again

I know, where's the Kleenex . . . 

Now fortunately this is where my guitar playing paid for itself.
I wasn't much of a guitarist in those days, but I did have a 4 year, totally obsessive headstart on the kids who were being swept up in punk and unwittingly (and by default) became a bit of a gear-guru.

Parents, don't tell your kids that their obsessions are a waste of time - all those hours spent staring into music shop windows in Harrow had paid off and I was able to help people!

My new friends from Lockerbie and Langholm and 'Fechan (names withheld to preserve the innocent, but you know who you are, and THANK YOU) were furnished with my in-depth knowledge gleaned from Beat Instrumental, Guitar and International Musician magazines.
It was a wonderful time to learn an instrument actually - with the feeling that literally ANYONE could do it. They all got the bug and became caught up with trying to sound like The Stranglers or the Pistols or even Pete Townsend (!) - impressive idols.
For myself I was in love with Andy Summers of the Police and Jeff Beck and Mick Ralphs of Mott.
With hindsight (and a smug, congnesceti look at things) I still think that gave me an edge in the guru stakes, because I had a foot firmly in a rock past, but was willing to learn and listen to new stuff.
And what new stuff!
I did my best to listen to it all, from borrowed records and John Peel every night; to the Friday Rock Show, Fluff on Saturday afternoon, Whistle Test and of course the all important Birthdays and Christmas (new records!) 
Along with my rock leanings, I developed a deep love for early Wire, Radio Birdman (Australian and more like the Stooges than the Stooges), Dead Boys (RIP Stiv), Richard Hell, The Rezillos, The Human League and a whole gamut of smaller indie bands producing 7" singles in gargantuan quantities week in, week out.
Reading Sounds and NME in the library at Lockerbie became a frustrating experience.
I had hardly any money to deal with the vast 'must-hear-must-own' sea of music exploding around me.
There was no weekend job; in fact nothing except full-time employment in the Summer.
Oh, and I got virtually no handouts from Mum and Dad, simply because they didn't have it.
So there I was with less than two brass farthings to rub together.
It really was Church Mouseville.

Anyway, if you're lost in a spiral of "where the feck is he going?" please bear with me, we might well get there if you stop throwing nuts at me from the back seat . . .

Now, these days you can buy a really decent/excellent guitar for well-under £100, it's incredible really; back in my day you could also buy a guitar for that price (though £100 was a huge amount of money) but they were mostly shite.
So there I was Mr. Gear-Guru and what did I have?
I had a Vox Clubman II - arguably the worst production guitar ever made - currently priced around £200 as a 'vintage' instrument, the Clubman gave the expression "all fur coat and no knickers" new creedence.


Where's Yer Knickers?
GGGRRRRRooovy Daddio!



Mine cost me £20 in 1975 - oh boy did I think it was the bees knees!
But then I grew as a player and realised (rather like the late, great Gary Moore) that having a Clubman II as a first electric (yes, he did and hated it too) really did make you yearn for the finer things in life.
In two words, it was utter cack - hell it was a struggle trying to fret anything on it - the action was a rough 1/2" at the 12th fret, and no I am not joking.  As a design it was a catalogue of errors - one only has to look past the rather super-groovy Red 'POP!' finish to see - hmm, yes a bridge that came off an Archtop; NO TRUSS ROD!!!; a plywood body; and the cracker - instead of the bog (and industry) standard 1/4" jack socket, it had a male/female UHF socket (the sort you find on TV aerials) attached to another 'groovy' artefact . . the microphonic curly lead . . . but I suppose what do you expect for 1963 . . .
So there I was - way ahead of my time with regard to vintage chic, but waaaaaay behind the times with regard to a playable instrument . . . 'Mr. Experience', toting the crappiest guitar ever made and all these lads coming in to school with their new fangled Ibanez' and Yamahas and Fenders and Hondos - it was totally embarrassing!
And so it remained, until 1979 when Dad died, the world fell apart, and Mum insisted I go to London for the Summer to work.

Stick with it . . you're doing well!

Much like the summer of 1978 where working for the Forestry Commission had enabled me to buy a stereo (OK, I couldn't stretch to speakers but my Sennheiser phones were just fine) so, the Summer of 1979 meant working for Michelin on what would become the 1980 Michelin Hotel and Restaurant guide. Yes that guide, you know, Michelin Stars, lunch at La Gavroche, etc. A remarkably civilised Summer job which enabled the purchase of a rather nice secondhand Chris Eccleshall Les Paul Junior . . .
Suitably bouyed and with a Summer spent becoming enthralled and obsessed with the burgeoning rock scene (proto-NWOBHM) I returned with some credibility, and chops
If you're not interested in guitars, chops will make you think I had brought my Mum back some lovely bits of meat from London, but actually in guitar terms chops means playing ability.

So, some credibility, a head start in instrument knowledge and interested disciples (haha!) - I was all set!

Well, actually what happened is that my now firmly established friendships were just that, and interest and enthusiasm were traded around in a lovely sort of muso-bonhomie - the guys were real lifesavers to me - they brought me out of a s(hell), which had been firmly cemented on by circumstances:

Moving from London (and my best friend) to the middle of nowhere.
Starting in 5th year, but on receipt of my exam results being relegated to the 4th Division (year).
Living in the middle of nowhere with nothing but sheep, fish and cows as friends.
Dad dying from cancer (the biggest thing of all).
Being pretty much ignored by anyone my age that lived within 10 miles.

As I have said before, we might not have stayed in contact (these things happen) but they really helped, even though it might not have been obvious at the time. So, chaps of Lockerbie Academy, circa 1978-1980,  thank you.

My time at Lockerbie was, sort of like a death and a rebirth. 
I think it went a long way to contributing to who I am today. 
It gave me, though not obvious till years later, a thick skin and a general attitude that if people aren't prepared to accept me on my own terms then that is their lookout. 
One thing I'll say about myself is that in my 50's I am still pretty much addressing the world in a way that isn't based upon what I would consider compromising myself.
Of course, it is easier to be like that (mostly) these days, but it's also incredibly hard too: men are still expected to wear suits, women are still expected to wear heels - it's a dress code that I think is incredibly old-fashioned and narrow-minded.
OK, I am probably looked upon as a scruffy oik for wearing hoodies and combats all day, every day, but my Dad wore a suit to work (even operating a machine with a brown overall over the top!) and I hate the bloody things - they're suits fer Gawd's sake!
Self-expression (though it was to an extent denied them) is a freedom my parents fought for. Were it not for the guts and privations of their generation we might well all be working in state factories dressed in grey, so there.

'The man' is still about though - tales of Alec Turnips daring-do in his weekend job tell me that - plus ca change . . .
In fact, thinking about it,  have things changed much since I did my own bit of fighting him?

I dunno - I looked unconventional (though very tame by modern standards) in the 1980's when I squared up to him, but I am sure if you trawl the law books, you'll find somewhere how one little man with long hair kept a QC working for Alf Rice Music tied up with the truth and a meticulously kept diary for months.
Oh yes, Sheephouse vs. The Big Machine . . . been there, flew my freak flag high too.

Not had enough yet? Blimey - you're a glutton for punishment!

Do you want the story? 
OK, here goes (in a nutshell):

General buyer/stock processor for Virgin Records in Dundee.
Virgin's smaller shops sold to Alf Rice.
Alf Rice management keen on "rules and procedures' and dislike the 'freedoms' afforded Virgin employees.
Virgin employees slowly picked off by ramping up pressure. Good men and women picked off like chickens in a tiger's pen.
I served customers one week (with hair at chest length) and was told I looked "dirty" and could no longer serve people the following week without getting it cut, because I might offend them.
[Honest, a girl who worked with us (a proto-Goth) was sacked for wearing too much black!]
"You can't do that!" said I quietly to myself, and after a week hiding and getting more and more riled and extremely stressed, I did the correct thing and resigned.


And I think I had that whole "You can't do that!" attitude to thank Lockerbie for.

Initial circumstances there made me tougher (though I could never have thought of myself as tough in the slightest) but I ended up tough enough to say ENOUGH! to the lovely people from Alf Rice.

CODA: In the end curiously, after fighting my side for constructive dismissal (which it was) I settled out of court and spent most of the proceeds on a guitar (thus nicely tying this blog together . . . oh the joy of the syzygy!)
It was a mad thing to do, I know, but I still have it, and it plays like a dream.


Anyway, like I always say, this wouldn't be FB without a modicum of photography (PHEW! AT LAST, the nuts have just run out!) . . .

. . . and here it is, courtesy of my old Polaroid camera and my Mum.
Happenstance too, for there is my old Eccleshall Les Paul Junior, and a proto-mullet.

What you sadly can't see is my amp - our old stereogram with Jensen speakers (weirdly with a jack input custom added to the record deck's amplifier).
Oh yes, pure rock n'roll - imagine the Clash in '78 playing the Hundred Club or the Marquee with a backline of old stereograms! They would have set the 'retro' behemoth into motion a full 10 years before Guitar Player magazine started it.
It (Garrard record deck and Hacker radio/amp in a teak cabinet) was right up there with the best amps I have ever played. 
The whole thing vibrated in a synergy of rock crunch and noise and I loved it and wish it still existed on this earth.
Sadly it went to landfill decades ago.


Meatloaf and his Axe
Autumn 1979
That's a genuine Parker-Knoll chair y'know . . . 





The Collection
Left to Right:
Vox Clubman II
Chris Eccleshall Les Paul Junior (wonderful vintage brownburst)
(Borrowed) Baldwin 12String - back finished in Artex (I kid you not - back was white and rippled, front of guitar was red)
Epiphone FT 150 (Spruce top, so, yellow/brown)
Front: Dulcet Classical (very orange - like the Dale Winton of the classical world)




Spring of 1980 - amazing the changes a hard Winter can bring.
The mog is my beloved Cookie (RIP)



So, where has that ramble got me?

Well, I suppose at the time, my incarceration at Lockerbie seemed like a form of hell, till I made (albeit briefly) friends that were on my level, and then everything seemed a lot more rosey. So unexpected was their friendship that I guess the old turn of phrase 'every cloud has a silver lining' has a real ring of truth to it, and no matter how black things seemed at the time, there was something solid in those friendships that helped to make me more resilient, after the rug-pulls mentioned above.

And where has this ramble got you?

Well, no doubt everyone has a similar story to tell, but that's mine.
Unexpected friendship is a great and welcome thing in what can be a cold and lonely world.

Anyway, enough, you're tired and the Soma has begun to wear off.

I know there's been precious little photography recently, but time really has been at a premium, however I will get there, fear not, and anyway, there's still a tiny bit of photography in here courtesy of that proto-nascent cult item which is making a comeback  with 'The Kids'  (courtesy of the Fuji INSTAX) . . the instant camera! 

Is FB 'On Trend?' . . to quote a hero of mine Mr.Arthur C. Mullard . . OH YUS!

Oh and as I have explained on FB before, there's nothing special been done to those polaroids - they're the best part of 35 years old and were stored scattered in a uncovered tea chest in my Mum's loft until I found them again.
Quite amazing really.

TTFN and remember, keep on truckin'!