BRIAN Flockhart has been playing bass for nearly six decades now, a journey that started in Musselburgh when he was a pupil at the local grammar school.
In the 60s and 70s he played in numerous local bands such as In Sense, The Mimics and Tandem, a band that, at its height, rivalled the Bay City Rollers in popularity and shared the same manager, Tam Paton.
Brian has collected his memories of the Capital’s music scene in a recently published autobiography, Next Year, I’ll Be Famous: Almost making it in the music business... over six hilarious decades.
Casting his mind back to how it all started, the 63-year-old says, “Music was always something that I wanted to do. My brother Joe was a brilliant singer and my Old Man too always had it at the back of his mind to be a singer, so when my mates suggested we start a band, I thought, ‘Well, I cannae dance, so it’s one way of making a living.”
Born in 1946, Brian grew up in one of the most formative eras of rock and pop.
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were hitting their stride and a revolution of the British music scene was taking place.
He recalls the day it reached Musselburgh: “‘We could do that,’ said Jimmy.
“‘Do what?’ I asked. We were at a local youth club and there was a beat group playing on stage. ‘You mean learn to play music?’ I asked.
“‘Yes, start a band up.’
“‘Well, apart from the fact that we haven’t played a guitar in our lives, there are only two of us and we ain’t exactly film-star material ourselves, I think it could work,’ I replied sarcastically.
“‘Well there’s Rob and Michael over there, I bet they would give it a go,’ said Jimmy.”
Which is how Brian ended up as bass player in the four-piece that would become known as The Classics.
“We settled in pretty quickly and practised and practised,” he says, recalling, “Our first ever gig was in St Ninian’s Church Hall, down the bottom of the Wimpey scheme in Musselburgh. I remember one of my strings was a bit loose and I would hold my cigarette in it. The minister came up and said, ‘Would you mind not smoking in front of the kids.’
“Kids! Half them was older than me, I was only about 16 at the time.”
The Classics quickly built up a following, but Brian admits candidly, “The fans would knit you scarfs and I remember being asked for my first autograph and not having a pen.”
He laughs, “God, they must have been easily pleased because we were terrible.”
As he learned his trade Brian moved from band to band. He lists them, “I was in The Manor Lords, which became The Manor, In Sense, another of Tam Paton’s bands, and then Tandem.
Tandem, also managed by Paton, quickly rivalled his more famous outfit The Bay City Rollers in popularity around the city, but never quite made it.
“Tam always had a preference for the Rollers but Tandem were a good band.
“We used to stick a couple of slow numbers near the end of our sets to keep the guys happy too and at one point had just as many fans as the Rollers.
“But I think we let Tam down... You see, he had read Brian Epstein’s book on how he made the Beatles and then followed it.
“So there was no messing with women because we were all ‘available’, and no drinking or nights out... Tandem sort of bent those rules a wee bit.
“There was no resentment as such, but we thought he was going to pick us up along with the Rollers. It never happened.”
A favourite venue of Brian’s in the Capital at the time was The International Club on Princes Street.
“It had about four levels and the more popular you got the higher the level you played,” he recalls.
Another venue that was less glamorous, but arguably more famous was The Top Storey.
“It was where you started and was a popular place but they didn’t fancy paying much, I can tell you that,” he says, adding, “and the coal cellar was the dressing room.”
As the venue’s name suggests, it wasn’t the easiest of places for a band to access.
He recalls, “The Top Storey was literally on the top level of an old tenement building, four flights up.
“It was by accident I managed to find how they transported the gear so swiftly.
“We had just finished our set and were getting changed in the coal house on the floor below, when I decided to go onto the fire escape steps for air.
“‘Below,’ I heard a voice above me shout.
“‘Clear,’ came a voice from the ground and a very expensive amplifier whizzed past my eyes. Next came a drum in its case – I saw it bounce off four old mattresses piled high on top of each other on the ground only to be expertly caught by one of the roadies, who threw it to another crew member, who packed it into the van.
“It solved the mystery of why some of our equipment had been going faulty every few gigs and the tried and tested method of carrying the gear down the four flights of stairs was reintroduced.”
After Tandem, Brian found himself in another popular Edinburgh band, The Mimics.
So popular were they that in 1975 they won the Evening News’ prestigious Search For A Star competition.
“We came into it in the later stages because we were so popular,” he recalls. “I think we came into the last 200 acts – there had been 2,000 at the start.
“We had to play three different venues to get to the final and when we did, someone said we’d never win because there were six of us in the band.
“At the final, resplendent in our different coloured suits (green, yellow, red, blue, dark blue and I was last in line, so I got the pink with platform shoes painted to match) we couldn’t believe it when we were announced as the winners.
“We won a two-week Mediterranean cruise on the Canberra and took our gear on the boat.
“We played on the cruise, so you could say The Mimics starred all over the world,” he laughs, adding, “We also won a gallon of whisky but nobody drank it because it was like hooch, so we gave it to charity.”
Next Year I’ll Be Famous, by Brian Flockhart, is published by Kickstart Publications, £9.99