I’ve discovered many things of interest on Twitter but they are not often as personal as this week’s revelation. It started with a video being tweeted of Mike Scott from The Waterboys playing a classic song from one of his previous bands Another Pretty Face, All The Boys Love Carrie. The video starts with the information: “Live at Steve Fraser’s Surprise 50th Birthday Party at Electric Circus, Edinburgh Sunday 20th March 2011.”
So the mystery of why Mike Scott is playing in a small Edinburgh venue is explained but who is Steve Fraser? I may know a lot about Scottish bands but I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of band members and while the name sounded familiar I had to look it up.
Steve’s story and all the stories that are interwoven is fascinating if music from that time is of interest, though quickly it became clear a family tree of musicians and bands and how they were related would be useful.
For those of you interested Mike – who is back in Edinburgh on Waterboys business at the Playhouse next Friday – writes a lovely piece about Steve Fraser on his blog in 2009 – check out http://www.mikescottwaterboys.com/waterboys-blogs.php?blogid=15. And there is a flavour of the aforementioned family tree in a piece on the dubiously named Edinburgh punk band the Belsen Horrors, an early band of Steve Fraser’s, at https://www.punk77.co.uk/groups/belsen_horrors.htm.
It transpired that most of the band Mike was playing with at the Electric Circus as well as Mike had all stayed in the same bedsit building in Edinburgh in 1979 at 1 Hartington Place in Viewforth.
Steve and Lenny Helsing, singer with the Belsens and later in several bands of note, had stayed on the top floor with Mike and long-time collaborator John Caldwell on the first floor.
Mike reminisced about their landlady and how they weren’t allowed visitors after 10pm. Anybody found after that time would be confronted with the cry: “I am Landlady. Who are You?” It turned out this inspired a song that was put down on a cassette which still exists to this day that’s unlikely I imagine to be released – though you never know with Record Store Day!
What I realised working on the history of Scottish music myself is that you need to cater for a wide range of people. Some will understandably want to know how Mike wrote The Whole of the Moon while others will be very interested in how that point was reached and all the bands and songs that went before.
The late seventies and early eighties was such a prolific period with so many interesting characters that to document all of it is not an easy task but I’ve felt for a long time now it is something worth doing. That period is by no means the only one with interesting anecdotes and facts and I had many fascinating conversations talking to folk from the sixties beat bands that were so popular at the time but are often now overlooked. Of the many great stories I must say I’m particularly fond of the one about how Rod Stewart got his trademark spiky haircut!
I’ve been asked a lot recently how what I’ve been working on with the ScotPop Music Exhibition Centre will differ from the National Museum of Scotland’s Rip It Up, which opened yesterday. Obviously I’m working towards a permanent cente while the museum’s exhibition will finish in November but also the remit will be much wider including many of the clubs, venues, labels and even shops that were so important in their time.
Also the evolution of bands can often be as interesting as the final successful band and sometimes even a small band that had little success has an interesting story to tell.
The Dreamboys, a little-known Glasgow band who released one single, may not seem like an obvious candidate for inclusion but say that their singer was Peter Capaldi and their drummer was Craig Ferguson and a story starts to unfold.
Hopefully Rip It Up will be a springboard for something permanent, albeit a different beast from the glass cases and audio-visual delights on offer at the museum.
And that personal connection? Well in 1982 having finished uni and needing somewhere to stay I found a tiny bedsit room on the top floor of a building in Viewforth next to two much bigger double rooms. It was from there the plans for Avalanche were launched, finally coming together in late-1983.
There was a vibe about the place and the people that came and went that always made me think it could have been the basis for a play or possibly a soap opera. And the address of my bedsit? 1 Hartington Place. Myself and Steve had been next door neighbours just three years apart.
Luckenbooths are worth a try
I’ve mentioned the idea of bringing back the Luckenbooths to the Royal Mile in several quarters and the idea always meets with enthusiasm, with the obvious proviso that they don’t cause any issues with the flow of pedestrians.
There is actually a surprising amount of space on the High Street where the idea could possibly be accommodated and if they housed local artists it would be going back to the roots of how the Luckenbooths were first built.
While permanent structures, that isn’t to say they couldn’t be trialled and then easily removed if for some reason it was felt they weren’t working.
Something certainly needs to be done with the High Street to improve its image and done properly this could be just the thing.
Grassmarket needs a long-term plan
Whenever I talk to anybody involved in improving the Old Town and what it has to offer there seems to be an acceptance now that the Grassmarket is quiet and there isn’t much that can be done about it.
Given the issues with overcrowding in the Old Town the Grassmarket being used more is an obvious solution that simply has to be made to work. Nobody is claiming it is easy and the opportunity lost in developing King’s Stables Road is well documented. However it often feels now as if the Grassmarket is just written off with little to be done in the future.
As with providing a more varied retail experience on the High Street there is no simple or short-term solution but a five to ten-year plan would I think see a major improvement on both counts.