Minstrels, Poets and Vagabonds…

I recently received a copy of Minstrels Poets and Vagabonds, the history of rock music in Glasgow from the sixties up to the present day. Having finally had a chance to read it it’s a fascinating book. Written by promoter and DJ Robert Fields the book is a fascinating history of a musical genre that is at best ignored, at worst ridiculed.
But rock fans are like Millwall fans, their mantra is ‘no-one likes us, we don’t care’. Most modern music is influenced by fashion, obsessed with image almost as much as songwriting, bass lines and chord structures. This is not (necessarily) a bad thing. Roxy Music, Bowie, The Smiths and Public Enemy; all great bands and musicians whose image was vital in conveying their music and message.
Rock’s stance, particularly the heavier stuff, was often described as anti-fashion. A deliberate stance in itself. Bands and their followers affected an attitude that nothing mattered except the music. But I’ve been close enough to fans and musicians to know that there was enough thought going into their ‘don’t care’ look that they would shame many New Romantics. Denim had to be the right shade, cut and length. T-shirts had to be ‘the right bands’, and hair had more effort put into it than anyone had the right to expect.
I’m aware of this world as I was a pre-teen metal-head. My earliest musical loves were pretty heavy and not very humble. AC/DC, Queen, Maiden, Thin Lizzy, SAHB, Motorhead (first ever single, 30p from Woolies bargain bin, aged 9) all of these and more were very important to my formative years. Influences I had picked up from older cousins and friends who were all on the side of metal or, god help us, prog. Punk may have won the war in hindsight, but the reality of music in the late-seventies and early eighties, at least in the suburbs of Glasgow, was that many identified more to classic rock and metal. Here’s the kind of thing we were listening to. AC/DC, complete with bagpipe solo, with It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Want to Rock n’ Roll:
Field’s book deals with some bands you may have heard of, but, much more interestingly, those that I doubt you have. For every Stone the Crows, Frankie Miller and Gun there are many more pages dedicated to scores of groups such as White Trash, The Flying Squad, North Wind, Pink Kross, Blob and his own prodigies Drunken State. He takes us from club nights in East Kilbride and Paisley, to legendary venues such as The Apollo, The Videodrome, The Mars Bar and The Cathouse, and back again.
Along the way we meet figures as disparate as Dougie Donnelly, Tom Russell, Danny McGrain, Robbie Williams and Ally McCoist. To get a picture of how important this music was in Glasgow incredible early scenes are recalled. The Humblebums (including Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty) supporting Kenny Rodgers and The First Edition at the Glasgow City Halls. The Grangemouth Rock and Pop Festival in 1971 organised by Stanley Baxter (yes, that one) and featuring Uriah Heep, AWB and the Everly Brothers!
But the bulk of the book is given over to the seventies, eighties and nineties. Fields paints these as the glory years for rock music in Glasgow, and his enthusiasm and knowledge sweeps you along. But there is the overriding feeling as the book progresses that this is a scene in decline as he moves into the last decade. There are still plenty of bands out there, but fewer places for them to play, and a music business which has moved away from the louder stuff.
This is a book written by an unashamed music fan. There is no attempt to be knowing or hip. What is so refreshing is the enthusiasm that Fields shows. Yes there is a lack of critical analysis, except about the music industry, but that’s not what this book is about. It’s a celebration of a life lived and music loved. Robert Fields and rock music were perfect for each other. I would recommend you read it even if your not a fan of the music under discussion as it reminds all of us why we liked music in the first place, before we started stroking chins, talking of ‘influences’ and reading Paul Morley.
As I have mentioned elsewhere (see BPE: Before Postcard Era) the godfather of Glasgow rock music must be the sensational Alex Harvey. It’s difficult to imagine that the musical landscape of the city would have been the same with out SAHB’s music, and the inspiration Harvey in particular provided for those who followed. Managing to portray someone who didn’t care what anyone thought of him, but at the same time caring more than anyone else about the music, Harvey exuded menace without effort. This was no pose, he meant it. This clip is one of my earliest musical memories from a 1976 Top of the Pops, and shows exactly what I mean. This is the Sensational Alex Harvey Band with Boston Tea Party. Be warned, the clip contains brief scenes of Tony Blackburn:

Since the young me moved on from heavy rock to embrace the output of Postcard, Rough Trade and the like, I have consistently maintained that there is something pre-pubescent about much of the music that this book celebrates, although that may have been to justify my early leanings. After reading Minstrels, Poets and Vagabonds I realise that actually there is perhaps an honesty involved that other forms of music often avoid. When it comes to music none of us really grow up. Even if our tastes change as we try to appear more knowledgeable, sophisticated and interesting, we’re still fans trying to convince others that we are right and they are not. As many of us who love music attempted to put away childish things and dress to impress, fans of rock seemed to remain in the clothes and attitude of youth, banging sticks together to make loud noises and having a whale of a time. Just no longer my idea of a good time… I might get my good gear dirty.

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