Apologies for the delay in giving you the next chapter but, after various computer problems have been solved, we are delighted to be back on track. This chapter is very poignant as we come up to the anniversary of Chris’s passing and it starts with Chris’s own thoughts concerning his father’s death.You may wonder why a picture of Stone The Crows is featured here but, as you will find out, Les Harvey & Jimmy Dewar of that band were very much involved in the next development for the band.
Thus far, 1967 had been a good year. We had managed to get the show on the road and, with the gigs and my salary, we were earning decent money, so life was much easier than it had been in Sandy Road.
Namewise, we were getting known and the diary was full, so the future appeared to be rose tinted. But then, just before Christmas, my father fell ill with flu. In a world with antibiotics, this would not normally have been dangerous, but since the Fifties, he had suffered from chronic bronchitis, which had led to emphysema, so the serious strains of influenza could easily prove fatal. When I last saw him, late on Christmas Eve, he was unconscious, breathing with the aid of a respirator and he looked so frail that I sat by the bed and cried, perhaps sensing that I’d never have the chance to say how sorry I was for all the trouble I’d caused him throughout my youth, which was maybe stupid, because he loved his new grandson and we hadn’t had a bad word in years. But life is like that. So much of it we take for granted till it’s too late.
I remember in his fifties, he was still emotional when he spoke of the death of his own father in 1918. At that point, he was just eight, and seemingly he and his older brother Bobby were given the chance to go to a boarding school in Dunblane reserved for the children of servicemen, but his mother refused to let them go. Her objections may have been religious, for unlike her dead husband, she was a Catholic, or perhaps the poor woman just couldn’t face life without her two sons, and given the nature of her bereavement, with only a formal telegram to show for what had been, who could blame her? Either way, my Dad felt doubly cheated by the loss of his father and the missed opportunity of a decent education. I know that life was not easy for him growing up, for like most of his generation, he had to leave school at fourteen. Indeed, the chest problems he suffered from in later life probably originated with a job he got in a chemical factory in his late teens.
But what choice did he have, growing up in a brutally inequitable society in those two decades sandwiched between the wars, under the looming shadow of the Great Depression, which would consign millions to the scrapheap. Unlike me, with my one day in that Asbestos Factory, he didn’t have the luxury of quitting, for this was a city that displayed signs saying NINA, an acronym for No Irish Need Apply, and even though his surname was a neutral sounding Adams, he couldn’t hide what school he’d gone to, and that was the first question employers asked, to establish your religion. Given this, it’s a platitude to say my generation had it easier than his, not that I ever showed him any real gratitude for all the years he worked his Sundays and two nights overtime to give me the chances he never had. Maybe that’s why I cried so much the night before he died; a mixture of guilt and shame.
In the immediate aftermath of his death, I had an unpleasant experience in the nissen hut. For some reason the manager was off and his deputy was a tall chap with a moustache, a bit theatrical, but very much one of the troops, until he sat down behind the manager’s desk, at which point the fascistic streak he showed to the claimants suddenly extended to the staff. When I went into see him after the Christmas break to ask for a week off, to help my mother sort things out, he told me point blank that wasn’t on. Biting my lip, I shrugged and next day went to the doctor, who was happy to sign me off for a fortnight. By the time I returned, the real manager was back and nothing was said, but the incident had driven a psychological wedge between me and the job, and I decided that henceforth, I’d play by my own rules.
Anyway, we were now earning more by playing two or three nights than I could earn grinding out my days in the nissen hut and the pressure of late-night gigs and early morning visiting rounds began to take their toll, so I began to take the odd day off. Gradually these mounted, until one night amongst the sea of student faces in Carr’s Kegg, I glimpsed my LR buddy Ray, who smiled diffidently when I nodded. At the break, I asked him what he was doing in this sweaty post pubescent cellar, and he explained that he’d been sent to spy on me, with the aim of getting me dismissed for consistent bad attendance. It was decent of him to mark my card, and biding my time for a couple of weeks so as not to cast suspicion on him, I walked into the manager’s office and handed in my notice. He read it without comment and sniffed. Shades of the Mitchell Library, though here there were no cellars to be exiled to.
My civil service colleagues were shocked by my decision, declaring that I was leaving a job for life, which sounded to me like Robinson Crusoe being advised to stay on his island. All I could see were the sets of bars that protected the premises from vandals and burglars, and the prospect of spending endless years behind them. Decades later, I bumped into one of the nissen hutters in a supermarket and he spent fifteen minutes reciting a litany of illnesses and early deaths that had befallen my group of co-workers; so if ever I’d had second thoughts about leaving, which I hadn’t, then this potted history would have reinforced my belief that I made my decision for all the right reasons. As Aleister Crowley famously put it:
‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.’
Our time in Maryhill was also about to end, for my old schoolmate Bill Meagher had tipped me the wink about a flat that was available for rent on Glasgow’s South Side. Bill was now a Loss Adjuster and he’d been to inspect two properties in Pollokshields that had been slightly damaged in the famous storm that hit Scotland in January ’68. The Shields, as it was known, was a slightly fading suburb with treelined avenues of Victorian villas and streets of rather genteel tenements, which had seen better days. The two flats were on Kenmure Street, a broad thoroughfare close to the local shops and having taken one for himself, he advised me to grab the other one, as the rent was only £20 per Quarter, which even back then, was an unbelievable £80 a year.
We duly went to see it and did so with both hands. It had a spacious lounge with a bay window, two bedrooms, a kitchen and toilet, and it was ten minutes from the city centre. The ‘storm damage’ had been to the cornicing, now repaired, and the very fact that it had cornices was a big deal. It was two floors up, so it got a lot of sunlight and there was a good primary school a few minutes walk away. But crucially, the incredibly cheap rent would become a big factor in the direction our music took, because when push came to shove, it allowed us to make artistic decisions instead of being always forced to make money. I discovered later that the rent had been frozen for decades after the Rent Strikes which erupted in Glasgow after the First World War, so we had the Red Clydesiders like Manny Shinwell and Mary Barbour to thank for our invaluable artistic freedom.
Moving from Maryhill to Pollokshields created a clean break with the nissen hut and also helped ease the pain of my father’s death. It was strange how a move across the river could change our life so elementally, but it did. Part of this was undoubtedly down to the fact that the South Side felt like a totally different city. The pace was slower here, traffic a lot less intense and just a half mile from our flat were those treelined avenues of villas. The other big change, of course, was making a living from playing music. For the first time in my life, I had no-one telling me what to do. I could let my hair grow down to my waist, and if the notion took me, I could lie in bed all morning. And to cap it off, we splashed out on some expensive Sanderson wallpaper and an orange tv for our fine high-ceiling lounge, and in it we rehearsed by day and relaxed by night.
It’s funny, but certain songs from that era can evoke the time or place I first heard them. So ‘Please Please Me’ takes me back to our house in Yoker, with its old black and white tv, while with ‘House of the Rising Sun’, I’m upstairs in my bedroom, listening to Brian Mathews host ‘Saturday Club’. Hearing Traffic’s ‘Hole in my Shoe’, I’m standing in the parlour of our landlord Frank’s semi, staring out at the rain, while the opening chords of ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ take me to the streets of Maryhill as I plod through my daily round of claimant visits. But with the big Kenmure Street lounge, it’s the other way round, for it immediately evokes a whole list of musical treasures, like Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’, Neil Young’s ‘Everyone Knows This is Nowhere’, The Band’s ‘Stagefright’, Lindisfarne’s ‘Nicely Out of Tune’, and Steeleye Span’s ‘Please To See the King.’ In fact, it seemed like that room was always full of music, ours and someone else’s
By now, we were playing Colleges and folk clubs, in one of which I first encountered Billy Connolly, then one half of the Humblebums with Tam Harvey. Billy played banjo and sang, but even then, it was his deliberate, deadpan delivery between numbers that lodged in my memory. The club in question was actually a folk night in The Picasso, an otherwise exclusively beat venue, and I remember Connolly introducing one the numbers thus:
‘Now if you want to, you can all sing along at the choruses, or the chorii, depending upon where you were educated.’
I thought this was both clever and funny, and though he and Tam delivered the set sitting down, it was actually stand up with a few songs thrown in. As for us, we were never quite at home in the folk scene, probably because of our hybrid American style, which the purists tended to frown on. Given our three-part harmony yodelling on Jimmy Rodgers numbers, they may have had a point, but back them I regarded the hand behind the ear school as little more than musical taxidermists.
Most of the time, though, our gigs were still in pubs, many in a chain run by a Greek tycoon called Reo Stakis, who had seemingly arrived in Glasgow with nothing, but whose restaurants over the years had a bad habit of catching fire. He also owned the Chatelet, where Pauline and I had met, so he is significant in our lives, and in these years, we made a good living playing his Watermill Hotel in Paisley, his Mushroom in East Kilbride, and a huge city centre restaurant called the Vega, which turned into a crowded venue by night. By now we had picked up a few willing humpers, one of whom, Dougie Bruce, was involved in an incident one night as we returned to the flat after a gig with our new state of the art PA which consisted of a flashy looking mixer and a pair of 4×12 Burman speaker columns.
Being heavy, these beasts needed two people to carry them, and Dougie was at the bottom, with a chap called Dave at the front. Like many tenements in Glasgow, ours had an open stairwell guarded by ornate bannisters but at the top bend, the wooden railing was down at hip level and that night for some reason, possibly liquid in nature, Dougie happened to stumble slightly at this point, whereupon the column tipped to the right and Dave went flying over the balustrade. Now we’re talking about a thirty foot drop here and as I saw him go over, I closed my eyes, thinking the worst. But then there came a howl of pain, followed by a thud and when I looked down, he was lying on the middle balcony, having somehow swivelled in mid-air and hit the bannisters with his hip before landing in front of the next set of humpers, who proceeded to climb over him, cursing at this unexpected obstruction.
One unusual gig we did around this time was a lunchtime session in a city cinema. The Odeon in Renfield Street had hosted the Bob Dylan gig back in ’66 on the world tour when he went electric, got himself a backing band called The Hawks and shocked thousands of folkies up and down the country by daring to come out in the second half with a Fender Telecaster, which to the hand behind the ear brigade, might as well have been a large plastic dildo.
Seemingly the Hawks’ drummer, Levon Helm, had earlier left the tour after being serially booed by Dylan haters in the States, preferring to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of New Mexico than go through the same experience in Europe. So, now it was our turn to woo an Odeon audience, but as it happened, the film showing that week was called ‘Airport’, the plot of which involved a bomb planted somewhere in the terminal, and during our set, some wag called the cinema to say that we too had an explosive device hidden in our midst. The manager stopped us in mid song, took the mic’ and proceeded to speak the magic words:
‘Now I don’t want you to panic, but…’
Before he could tell them why, there was a stampede for the door, during which John grabbed the mic’ back and yelled:
‘And a big hand for String Driven Thing on the way out!!’
Opposite the Odeon was a bar called The Dial Inn, where we landed a Friday night residency. This was a good gig, not least because the manager let us leave our gear overnight and pick it up next day. As chance would have it, John happened to be in town one Saturday afternoon when two fire engines went flying by, bells dinging full blast and with a slight frisson of alarm, he saw them turn into the street where the Dial Inn was situated. Naturally he set off running, and as he breasted the corner, to his horror he found the firemen directing their high power hoses through clouds of acrid smoke belching from the pub’s main door. By the time I got his frantic phone-call and headed into town, the fire was out, but we had to wait an hour before they finally brought out our PA columns. On inspection, we found them singed, but apparently still intact, so I phoned around and managed to get a last-minute gig. To our relief, the barbecued PA actually worked, but there was a fair amount of frowning and sniffing in the audience as the smell of smoke wafted off stage. Always alert to a comedic opportunity, John explained the day’s events then launched into a set of gags about us burning the place up!
So, these were zany days, but the problem was, none of it was doing anything to take our musical career further than the pub circuit, so in keeping with the plan I had hatched during that weekend in Gravesend, I decided it was now time to record some demos. Since then, I’d been writing songs tailored for three voices and unlike my Sandy Road efforts, we now had the luxury of trying them in front of a live audience, so a few of them, like ‘July Morning’, ‘Magic Garden’ and ‘That’s My Lady’ had been tried and tested and were in the set on merit. But though I was confident about the voices and material, I knew we were still lacking in the instrumental department, so I decided to look up an old friend with whom I had a demo recording background.
Although Rock was the big musical force of the day, Glasgow also had a very healthy Jazz scene, with regular Saturday lunchtime sessions in the George, a cavernous function venue opposite the shop on St George’s Cross where I once window drooled those big hollow bodied guitars. Though it was daylight outside, the smoke, jazz and alcohol could conspire to make the crowded room feel like midnight, and in that setting, the star of the resident five-piece bebop outfit was definitely Jim Mullen.
Six foot two and lean as a beanpole, Jim was now playing a cherry red SG with his thumb, face screwed into a fist of concentration as his fingers caressed the fretboard. But, along with the outrageous runs, Mullen could also express real humour. His phrasing had a natural sense of comic timing that played off the Parkeresque sax, seemingly sending up the coolness of the horn with his quirky runs. Sitting in the packed appreciative crowd, I could clearly see that this was a man destined to go places.
But meantime, he was happy to pull in some players for our upcoming demo session. He even suggested a studio in St Vincent Crescent, and of course, that name resonated, so off I went to check it out. It had a good size playing area and two tape decks which allowed takes to be ‘bounced down’, studiospeak for recording a basic instrumental on the first machine then copying it with the vocals onto the second. We could even bounce a third time without any great loss of quality, which meant we could double track chorus vocals. Delighted with what I’d seen, I made a provisional six hour booking for a Sunday a few weeks hence.
Jim phoned me a few days later to say he’d spoken to Les Harvey, who had agreed to duet with him on the guitar parts and to bring in the rhythm section from his band The Power. Now to put this in context, Les was regarded by all as the finest guitarist on the Glasgow rock scene. I’d first seen him down at the Cave, when his first band, The Kinning Park Ramblers. supported his older brother, Alex Harvey, of Big Soul Band fame. Then in ’64, he formed the seminal outfit, The Blues Council, whose stints at the Allnighter Club in West Nile Street were legendary; but tragically, their career was cut short when their singer and bass player were killed in a road accident. Now his new band, The Power, featuring his girlfriend Maggie Bell on vocals, were tearing up audiences in Burns’ Howff, the best rock venue in the city. So to say that this was exciting news was putting it mildly.
But rather than us rehearsing with the band, we agreed that Jim and I would go over the numbers and he would then write charts and basically MD the session. With the studio booking confirmed, I set about completing the second part of my strategy, which consisted of getting some very moody photos taken of us in a leafy setting, and sending them off to four music publishers with a short note saying we’d be in London for two days next month and if they wished to hear our material, they should phone me. I had adopted this strategy after the Immediate experience and had found the addresses from the sheet music of hit songs, one of them being Dylan’s UK publishers, Feldmans. The reason I approached music publishers rather than record companies, was because I was convinced that they possessed the key to the back door of a very exclusive and heavily guarded compound.
On the day of the session, an old Commer van pulled up outside the Studio and Les and his bass player, Jimmy Dewar, climbed out. Jimmy had been one of the Luvvers unjustly ditched by Lulu a few years back and having seen him play with the Power, I knew he was up there in the same class as Les; so the only question mark concerned the whereabouts of their drummer, who still hadn’t appeared by the time the kit was set up. It now transpired that Les’ van driver was actually his Dad, Mister Harvey, who considering that his sons were regarded as rock royalty in Glasgow, was a very approachable guy, though he was scathing about the missing drummer, who seemingly made a habit of sleeping in. But as a confirmed jazzer, Jim Mullen was able to pull a rabbit out of the hat with one quick phonecall, and a dep drummist duly turned up in time to start the session only half an hour late.
I sat in on the instrumental tracks, laying down my acoustic and delivering a guide vocal off mic’. Everything went well, with the dep drummer sticking to a basic feel and Jim and Les duetting on some really nice sets of couplets. Two hours later, three songs were in the can, and after the band had cleared up, this left about three hours for all the vocals and whatever a final mix might entail. But as it turned out, we had just managed to get the vocal parts down when the clock ran out and, as there was another session starting, it was agreed that later that day, the engineer would do ‘a quick EQ’, studiospeak for ‘equalisation’, which was basically adjusting frequencies and volumes. This meant that I would have to pick up the finished tapes on the morrow.
I returned next day as arranged, whereupon the studio owner, whose name and face have been erased from my memory, led me into the control room and proceeded to play me the most awful sounding pile of piss it had ever been my misfortune to hear. Flooded with enough echo to drown the Po Valley, the beefy rhythm tracks were now a watery soup of indeterminate origin and floating on it were vocals as vibrant as strands of raw spaghetti.
‘What’s with all this echo?’ I asked, trying not to sound terminally ill.
‘That’s spring reverb,’ said the studio owner, immediately taking the hump.
‘But why have you put it on the backtracks?’
He looked at me the way Vets do with cancerous pets.
‘Because they’re bounced down with the vocals.’
‘But we didn’t ask for it.’
I could see his eyes beginning to squint suspiciously.
‘Naw, but who the hell ever heard of dry vocals?’
Sensing that we were approaching an impasse, I sought a speedy exit.
‘Ok. Can you do me four copies?’
‘Of course. A fiver a time?’
‘Fine. When can I pick them up?’
‘Same time tomorrow?’
‘Ok, see you then.’
And that was the last time I ever saw him.
The problem was, we had now received two replies from publishing companies, one of them Feldmans, so we needed more demos fast. The phone directory provided a short list of studios, one of which was in Royal Exchange Square, so I phoned and arranged to drop in.
The engineer was a guy called Pete Shipton, very buzzy, if a bit offhand, but he took a few minutes to show me the setup. Like the last studio, he had two reel-to-reels and, wait for it, a spring reverb, but I got his assurance that he would EQ the track each time he bounced, and if we waited for the copies, we could walk out the door with the end product. He then played a snatch from a recent session and I could see he was a dab hand at getting a ‘commercial’ sound, which was maybe just as well, for with no time to go down the session player route, the backing would be just two guitars and tambourine, so we might need some tarting up. Anyway, I reminded myself that the songs and voices were the important thing, so finding a gap in his diary two days hence, I booked a four-hour slot.
As it turned out, the session went smoothly enough. The foldback in the headphones was good and we double tracked the choruses and some lead parts that John had worked out on twelve string. That said, it sounded as if one of the tape decks was running fast, for in the finished copies, the songs seemed to have risen a semi tone, and there was an unmistakable warble, known technically as wow and flutter, which gave the vocals a Tyrannosaurus Rex feel, something that might have been desirable if we’d been going for the Underground scene, rather than the conventional pop publisher route. However, with loads of compression and a sprinkling of reverb, the finished article was certainly distinctive, and given that we were due in London next week, they would just have to do. On the distaff side, the photos were moody and evocative, and as I’ve indicated, had already proved good at opening doors.
The first of these belonged to a man called Roy Berry, MD of Campbell Connelly, an old established publisher which appeared regularly on sheet music of chart hits. When he called, he sounded middle aged and urbane, and having agreed a date, he asked me to ring the bell after close of business. I thought this was strange, but hey, what did I know about the Machiavellian dealings of Tin Pan Alley high flyers? The second response came, as I’ve said, from Feldmans, whose office was opposite Campbell Connelly, on the other side of Denmark Street, so working on the basis that we needed an hour per appointment, I booked a slot for three thirty. My other two leads hadn’t got back to us by the time we were ready to head off for the Big Smoke, but a fifty percent success rate wasn’t bad. So, as we finished a Saturday afternoon gig at a club on the North side of Glasgow and headed for the bus station, spirits were high. We had already breached the outer walls of Pop’s citadel and with any luck, that back door might just belong to a stable containing a musical Trojan Horse.