The Day the Banshees Split in Aberdeen

What a Line-Up

It’s almost inevitable that bands will eventually split up. However it would be hard to top the break-up of Siouxsie and the Banshees for sheer drama as it played out over a crazy day in Aberdeen.

The 7th of September 1979 would have been a momentous day for the band anyway. Their second album, Join Hands, was released that day to positive reviews. The day was to down in the bands history as memorable for rather less positive reasons though. The group, singer Siouxsie Sioux, bassist Steve Severin, guitarist John Mckay and drummer Kenny Morris had embarked on a tour to promote the album. There had already been a simmering tension between Siuoxsie and Severin on one side and Mckay and Morris on the other. It was to all boil over during a somewhat bad tempered record signing session in The Other Record shop on Aberdeen’s Union Street. (This was back in the days when record shops were a familiar sight on the High Street.)

Polydor had only sent a paltry amount of albums to the shop resulting in the bands management selling the shop owner a couple of hundred promo copies  to satisfy demand. Much to the shop owners dismay Mckay and Morris decided to hand out copies for free. Mckay also removed their own album from the shops turntable and replaced it with the Slits album. This lead to verbal and physical exchanges between the various band members and ended with Mckay and Morris storming out of the shop.

With a gig to be played at The Capitol you would expect that peace talks back at the bands hotel would have calmed things down. After all, as the saying goes, the show must go on. It didn’t turn out that way. The rebel pairs backstage passes were found wrapped round their pillows, their room unoccupied.

Apparently they had jumped in a cab and asked to be taken out of town. That turned out to be a few miles down the coast to Stonehaven where they hopped on to a train south, their Banshee careers abandoned in the Granite City.

Opening that night was Edinburgh band The Scars. They were followed onstage by The Cure who were asked to play a longer than usual set as the promoters tried to locate the long gone insurgents. As The Cure left the stage it was obvious that the Banshees could not perform.  An announcement was made over the public address system offering the crowd their money back.. The story could have ended there but Siouxsie Sioux stepped out of the back stage shadows to address the crowd. Her anger was clear as she embarked on a ferocious attack on her  former band mates.

“Two original members of the band are here tonight. Two art college students fucked off out of it. All I can say is we will be back here with some friends who have got some roots. If you’ve got one per cent of the aggression we feel towards them if you ever see them you have my blessings to beat the shit out of them.”

It must have been an electric moment for the crowd. There was more to come. The Cure returned to the stage to play a few more songs before announcing that they had a couple of special guests coming on. To tremendous cheers Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin reappeared with Siouxsie again taking to the mic  to condemn the deserters.

“I hope you realise these guys know nothing about the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’ It’ll probably be all the better for that. John and Kenny were doing it for the money and you can’t do a good ‘Lord’s Prayer’ with that attitude. We will be back!”

And that’s how the night ended,  with a rendition of the closing track from their new album. There are lots of things I love about this story. I love that rather than being the end of the band it acted as a catalyst to greater things. Ex Slits drummer Budgie was soon recruited with Robert Smith helping out on guitar on tour dates. The record shop rebellion sounds almost comical now, particularly McKay’s ditching of the Banshees own album for The Slits. It’s hard not to smile at the thought of two musicians jumping in to an Aberdeen taxi and asking to be taken out of town. And I love that despite participating in a part of musical history and witnessing a one off Cure/Banshees supergroup performance the canny Aberdonians still queued up at the end for a refund.

Robert Hichens, Titanic Villian?

RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic

In Aberdeen’s Trinity Cemetery, sheltered from the cold North Sea by the squat mound of the Broadhill, a simple wooden cross on an otherwise anonymous grave marks the final resting place of Robert Hichens, the man who was at the wheel of the Titanic on the night that she struck an iceberg leading to her loss.

Robert Hichens
Robert Hichens

Hichens was one of six Quartermasters on board the Titanic on that fateful night. An experienced sailor, it should have been the pinnacle of the twenty nine year olds career. Instead the events of that night were to send him on a downward spiral, eventually leading him to a spell in prison for attempted murder.

Robert Hichens took the wheel of the Titanic at 10pm on the night of April 14th, 1912. One hour and forty minutes later the alarm was raised as a massive iceberg was spotted. The First Officer immediately ordered that the wheel be turned hard to starboard. Despite reports that Hichens panicked and turned the wheel the wrong way the order was complied with, the Sixth Officer checking that it had been done. It was to be a case of too little, too late. As Hichens turned the wheel the ship was already in contact with the iceberg, the violence of the collision rupturing her hull fatally.

Claims that his error had actually caused the famous disaster were bad enough. Descriptions of his conduct whilst in charge on lifeboat number six and subsequent fictionalised re-telling of the story were to see his reputation damaged beyond repair. As a Quartermaster Hichens was given command of a lifeboat with thirty eight women and four men including himself on board. One of these women was Margaret ‘Maggie’ Brown, better known now as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. (She was never called Molly in her lifetime, the name being a Hollywood invention.) Allegations about Robert Hichens bravery (or lack of it) and general demeanour during his time in charge of the lifeboat were disputed vigorously by the man himself during the official enquiry in to the sinking. Some survivors suggested that he refused to return to help other drowning passengers. Hichens himself said that he was concerned that if they did not get away from the stricken liner they would be sucked down with the ship. It would not be unreasonable to assume that some of the wealthy socialite passengers felt less than enamoured with a West Country accented seaman being in charge of their fate. However claims that ‘Molly’ Brown effectively took control of the boat appear to be based on Hollywood’s depiction of events with some of the more unsavoury claims being mere legend. Hichens was to say in later years of the woman he was so often linked with, “She could have walked in to any lifeboat, why did she have to walk in to mine?”

The Unsinkable 'Molly' Brown
The Unsinkable ‘Molly’ Brown

Unable to ever fully clear his name, for the rest of his life Robert Hichens was  a haunted man. A failed boat chartering venture in the 1930’s appears to have been the final tipping point for him. Mentally damaged by his Titanic experience, Hichens behaviour became more erratic as alcohol and possibly post traumatic syndrome  took its toll. By 1933, his wife had left him and he was bankrupt and homeless. Hichens, desperate to punish somebody for the situation he was in, attempted to shoot dead the man who had sold him the boat for his failed business. The intention had been to take his own life but his victim managed to overpower him and have him taken in to custody where he was to remain for four years.

Released in 1937, Hichens resumed his seagoing career serving on several vessels as an uncertified Third Mate. His final voyage was to be on board the English Trader, a cargo ship carrying coal from North Africa to the UK. On the 23rd of September 1940, whilst anchored outside Aberdeen harbour, Robert Hichens was found dead in his bunk, his heart having failed. For years it was thought that he had been buried at sea but in 2012 his Great Granddaughter Sally Nilsson discovered through Aberdeen Council that he had been buried  in an unmarked plot containing two other men in the Granite City.   As a man who spent so many years trying to escape his own notoriety it is perhaps apt that he found anonymity in his final resting place

Robert Hichens Grave, Aberdeen
Robert Hichens Grave, Aberdeen

His final ship, The English Trader, was to outlast her most famous Officer by a mere thirteen months. In October 1941 she ran aground on a sandbank off the Norfolk coast in gale conditions. Thankfully all 44 men on board were rescued before Robert Hichens final ship sank to the bottom of the North Sea.

Dundee, The Sex Pistols and the Filth and the Fury.

The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols

 

On the 12th of October 1976 the Sex Pistols played their only Scottish gig in Dundee as a young punk band intent on shaking up the establishment. They were to return to Scotland during the 1996 Filthy Lucre tour but it could be argued that by then they had effectively become their own tribute band. Their connection with Dundee is also notable however for two dates that they didn’t play in the city later in 1976.

It’s only too easy to believe that it’s forty years since Punk music started to move out of its London strongholds to take over the whole country given how much the social and cultural landscape has changed. In 1976 Dixon of Dock Green with its homespun wisdom had only just ended its long run. The Black and White Minstrel Show was seen as acceptable wholesome family fun and the F word had only been heard twice on National TV, both times on obscure late night arts programmes.

The Sex Pistols played at the Dundee College of Technology’s Union, more commonly known as the Bowling Alley by the locals. The band, still including original bass player and songwriter Glenn Matlock played that night to a mixed crowd. You might imagine a hall full of punks but outside of London the punk scene was very small. Most provincial crowds had  a majority of  curious long haired music fans, perfect for the young John Lydon to noise up.

On the 8th of October EMI had signed the Pistols and their first single, Anarchy in the UK was released on the 26th of November. Malcolm McLaren had put together a punk rock package tour to promote the record during which it was planned to play a second gig in Dundee, this time at the Caird Hall. The tour proved to be somewhat shambolic, a TV appearance on a tea time television show sparking a wave of outrage that was to see many of the gigs cancelled. The Dundee date was to be one of them but rather curiously we seem to have two dates for the gig that never was.

On the 1st of December the Sex Pistols appeared on Thames Television’s Today programme, a tea time show hosted by Bill Grundy. By the end of the live broadcast the use of the word fuck on national TV had doubled. The fallout from the show was to effectively end Grundy’s career and punk rock and the Sex Pistol’s in particular were to be on the receiving end of a media and political backlash. During the show Grundy had goaded both the band and their followers, the Bromley Contingent including Siuoxsie Sioux into bad language. It was an invitation they weren’t going to turn down. Despite the fact it was a show only being seen in London it caused outrage nationwide. The Daily Mirror couldn’t resist stoking the fire and their Filth and Fury headline has gone down in punk folklore.

Daily Mirror Outrage
Daily Mirror Outrage

The story in Dundee goes that the band were due to play at the Caird Hall that same night and that they had cancelled the gig in order to appear on TV. There are easily obtained facsimile posters for sale that seem to confirm that this was indeed the case.   Evidence elsewhere suggests otherwise though.

The New Musical Express had published the tour dates for the Anarchy in the UK tour on the 27th of November and it showed the Dundee gig as being due on the 16th of December. The Pistols had been rehearsing for these dates when the last minute call to replace label mates Queen, who had to cancel due to illness, on the Tonight Show came. The Anarchy Tour was originally to have seen the Ramones accompany the Sex Pistols as they travelled the UK but the American bands management pulled them out due to what they saw as rushed planning by Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren. It’s possible that the gig organisers had been giving a provisional date leading to the famous 1st of December Dundee posters being printed. The actual line up for the tour ended up as The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash and the Heartbreakers from the States.

As it was no further gig was to take place in Dundee. The high heid yins on the City Council decided that Punk should be effectively banned. It was a situation repeated all over the UK. At least though the former patrons of Dundee’s Bowling Alley have the satisfaction of knowing that the band did take to the stage there once giving them a small place in the history of a band that will continue to be talked about for decades to come.

Glasgow’s Coat of Arms, Tales of Sex, Violence and Royal Scandal.

glasgow-arms

As the well known saying goes, every picture tells a story and Glasgow’s coat of arms are no exception. You could easily dismiss them as rather staid signs of civic identity. However the familiar emblem tells a tale containing, sex, violence and royal scandal.

Sat on top of the coat of arms overseeing the whole story is the benign looking figure of St Mungo and quite rightly so.  It is his story after all. Mungo was born around AD510.  His mother was  Princess, Tenew, daughter of the King of the Lothians who became pregnant after a dalliance with a Prince. It would be no understatement to say that the King was not too pleased at the prospect of his daughter giving birth to an illegitimate child.  In fact he was so angry he had his daughter flung from the top of Traprain Law, a two hundred metre high hill near Haddington. Luckily Tenew and her unborn child survived the ordeal and managed to escape across the Firth of Forth in a coracle to Fife, ending up in Culross.

Here they were taken under the care of St Serf.   Mungo’s birth name was Kentigern.  It was St Serf who gave him the less formal pet name, Mungo. Mungo can be translated as ‘my dear one’ or ‘my friend.’ A modern day Glaswegian would simply say ‘Pal.’

Sometime around AD530 Mungo set up a church on the banks of the Clyde in order to spread the word of Christianity.  He chose a spot near the Molendinar Burn, a place where the River Clyde was easily forded. For over a decade he lived a peaceful, monastic and austere life, as you would expect from the man seen as Glasgow’s founder. After being driven out by the anti-Christian King of Strathclyde Mungo settled in Wales before eventually returning to Glasgow.

At the base of the coat of arms the words, ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’ appear, taken from a sermon by St Mungo. The centrepiece contains images of a bird, tree, bell and three salmon, each with a gold ring in its mouth. A handy wee rhyme acts as a reminder of these symbols.

Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam

The bird refers to a  robin that Mungo’s benefactor, St Serf, had tamed. In an attempt to turn St Serf against his favourite pupil his jealous classmates had rather cruelly slaughtered the bird.  However Mungo thwarted their plan by bringing the bird back to life.

Whilst tending a fire at St Serf’s monastery, young Mungo had fallen asleep and the fire had gone out.  Not wishing to incur the wrath of the other inhabitants Mungo took a branch from a nearby tree and placed it in the fire.  It instantly burst in to flames, relighting the fire and saving Mungo from unwanted grief.

Mungo undertook a pilgrimage from Rome whilst resident in Wales and it is said he returned with a bell which he regularly used during services. The bell was thought to have miraculous properties although what these were is not really clear.

The three fish tell the rather sordid tale of the Queen of Strathclyde’s infidelity and how St Mungo rescued her from the King’s wrath.  Queen Languoreth had been having an affair with one of her husband King Riderich’s knights. Rather stupidly she had gifted her wedding ring to her lover.  Her husband lured the knight to the banks of the Clyde where he ripped the ring from his finger and threw it in to the river. He then confronted his wife and informed her that if she couldn’t produce her wedding ring she faced death.  Now most people caught out having an affair would be unlikely to turn to the local holy man to get them off the hook.  Luckily for our hapless Queen she did though and after being told of her plight Mungo sent one of his servants to the river to catch a salmon and bring it back to him. Mungo cut open the salmon and there inside its belly was the Queen’s ring which she was able to present to her husband. Apparently the King was so confused he accepted his wife’s protestations of innocence.

So there we have it,  the origins of Glasgow, its founder, it’s motto and one of the best fisherman’s tales ever told, all depicted on one plaque.

 

 

 

Celebrating National Poetry Day with Robert Burns.

On National Poetry Day it seemed natural to look to Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, for inspiration.  This poem speaks to us with words that are as relevant to modern day scotland as they were when they were written in 1795.  It really needs no more introduction,  read and enjoy.

A Man’s a Man for A’ That 

Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave - we pass him by
We dare be poor for a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
Our toils obscure an'a'that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an a' that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho e'er sae poor,
Is king of men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an stares, an a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at  his word,
He's but a coof for a' that,
For a'that, an a' that,
His ribband star, an a' that:
The man o'indpendent mind,
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Guide faith, he maunna fa' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
The dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that,
Fir a' that, an a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a'that. 

 

Kat Healy. Wolf, A Five Track, Five Star Gem.

wolf

Wolf, a five track EP by Edinburgh singer-songwriter Kat Healy was released back in July. On Friday the title track was released as a single, hopefully giving a gentle nudge to those yet to discover this audio gem.

Following the death of her father in 2015 Kat sought solace in the beautiful Schwarzwald region of Germany, a place she had visited with her parents as a child. During what must have been an emotionally raw period the five songs that constitute Wolf were crafted. They were then recorded live over only two days after she returned to Scotland.

Given the background to the recording of Wolf you would be forgiven for expecting a consistently downbeat collection of songs. Yes, there is grief and melancholy here but the overall message is one of hope and belief in the resilience of the human spirit.

Healy’s delicate, vulnerable voice deftly translates the emotion expressed in her lyrics into sounds that can sometimes break your heart and often lift your spirits whilst cleansing your soul of cynicism towards a sometimes cruel world. Opening track Be Still Gentle and Kind will have you instantly captivated. Trust me, you will find it hard to tear yourself away until the final notes of closing track Highland Fairy Lullaby have faded away. The sparse piano and cello backing provide the perfect accompaniment to Kat’s remarkable voice proving that sometimes less is more. Pianist Thilo Pfander and cellist Graham Coe have to be commended for ensuring that Wolf is a totally satisfying experience for the listener.

I’ll steal shamelessly from her lyrics in Be Still Gentle and Kind here by saying that Kat Healy is a flower you can’t ignore. She will be playing several gigs over the coming weeks to promote Wolf. I’d urge anybody who can to get along and see her live.

John Robertson 03/10/2016

http://kathealymusic.com/

https://twitter.com/kathealymusic

 

 

Deacon Brodie, Edinburgh’s Gentleman thief, hung on this day in 1788.

On the 1st of October 1788 Deacon William Brodie of Edinburgh was executed for his crimes on a gallows he reputedly played a part in designing.

William Brodie was born in September 1741 in Edinburgh, the son of a successful cabinet maker. Following in his father’s footsteps, young Brodie entered the family business and soon built a reputation for himself as a highly skilled craftsman and respectable businessman. His standing was further enhanced by his position as Deacon of one of Edinburgh’s trade guilds, The Incorporation of Wrights. As a member of the Cape Club, a convivial society which met nightly in Edinburgh’s Old Town, he rubbed shoulders with local dignitaries and higher members of society.

Deacon Brodie Figure on The Royal Mile (by Kim Traynor)
Deacon Brodie Figure on The Royal Mile (by Kim Traynor)

Deacon Brodie had a dark side though, he was a compulsive risk taker. During the hours of darkness Brodie was fond of frequenting some of the more unsavoury establishments in the Cowgate area where opportunities to gamble on cards, dice and his favourite, cock fighting, were plentiful. His personal life was no less risky or expensive. Brodie had two mistresses to support as well as five illegitimate children.

It was probably a combination of financial pressure and the  thrill of it  that saw his criminal activities commence. It is thought his first robbery occurred in 1768 but he may well have started before then on a smaller scale. As an accomplished locksmith it was easy for Brodie to copy the keys to a bank door enabling him to enter with ease at night and steal over £800. His criminal activity gradually increased over the years as his lifestyle became more and more costly but it was his meeting with George Smith in 1786 that was to see him crank up his crime wave considerably. Smith, an Englishman newly arrived in Edinburgh, was also a locksmith and the two men were to plan and carry out several robberies together. Several prominent citizens and businesses saw themselves targeted and relieved of property and cash. It can only have added to Brodie’s excitement when as a councillor he found himself discussing what was to be done to catch the ne’er do wells responsible.

It was the desire to pull off ever bigger crimes that was to prove Brodie’s undoing. Within a year of meeting Smith the duo had become a gang of four, as criminals John Brown and Andrew Ainslie were recruited. They began to spread their operations further afield with properties in Leith also being targeted. The gang must have thought themselves untouchable as they decided to pull of the big one, an assault on the Excise office at the bottom of the Royal Mile. The job was an unmitigated disaster. Departing from their normal modus operandi they decided to break in to the building. This time they were disturbed and had to flee the scene, their haul only amounting to £16.

Brown was the first gang member to be arrested and in return for a pardon he gave evidence blaming Smith and Ainslie for the robbery. Brodie fled to Amsterdam but was soon captured and returned to Edinburgh to face trial. Ainslie also received a pardon in exchange for giving a full account of the robbery so it was that only Brodie and Smith stood together in the dock in August 1788. The case against them was overwhelming. The verdict was guilty, the sentence, hanging.

Deacon Brodie was hung on the 1st October in front of a huge crowd. His case had totally gripped Edinburgh as the man formally seen as a respectable citizen had his outrageous private life laid bare. Rumours circulated that he had somehow cheated death by wearing a steel collar to prevent his neck from breaking on the gallows. The rumours however were false. If Brodie had been involved in designing the gallows he met his fate on then his skill as a craftsman had triumphed again. Brodie was cut down and declared dead. However his story did continue as Robert Louis Stevenson used it as inspiration for his classic tale of a man with two identities, Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde.

Nowadays the story of Deacon Brodie is often retold to Edinburgh’s tourists. Of the man himself there is little sign, his body having been consigned to a long lost unmarked grave. However you can visit the pub on the Royal Mile that bears his name or enjoy a coffee at the Deacons House café in the Old town, reputedly the site of Brodie’s workshop. And whilst you enjoy a leisurely coffee or beer you can look around the room and wonder which of your fellow customers are, like Brodie, harbouring a dark side.

Deacon Brodie's Tavern. (by Kim Traynor)
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.
(by Kim Traynor)