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Rab Noakes: Guest Blog

A man whose accomplishments are too many to list here, it’s an honour to have the great Scottish singer-songwriter Rab Noakes taking the time to pen a brilliant guest blog for us. Here he recalls some memorable experiences of gig-going in Glasgow in the 60s, including tales of Little Richard, The Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley and The Everly Brothers on the same bill at the Odeon on Renfield Street…and that’s just for starters. Huge thanks to Rab for taking the time to do this. His latest album I’m Walkin’ Here is available now. For more on Rab checkout his website.

Photograph: Carol Ann Peacock

My first visit to Glasgow was in Autumn 1959. The venue was the Kelvin Hall. My dad brought me on the bus from our home-town Cupar, Fife, for the Scottish Motor Show. I was always interested in modes of transport and he was doing that ‘good dad’ thing and taking me on a special outing. Across the road from Kelvin Hall at Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery there was a Veteran and Vintage car collection on display which enhanced the excursion greatly.

My next visit was to the following Scottish Motor Show event two years later. This time I came with a pal, Miles, and on the way we called in to a second-hand record store on Argyle Street. Compared to the bike-shop in our home-town, which doubled as the record shop with a box of discs in the corner, this place was an emporium. It was in the Finnieston area of Argyle Street. We didn’t find it by chance though. The shop advertised regularly in the New Musical Express (full name in those days), so we had plotted to visit from the outset. I remember purchasing ‘Listen to Me/Words of Love’ by Buddy Holly and ‘Take a Message to Mary/Poor Jenny’ by The Everly Brothers.

They feature in the next Glasgow event of significance. Here’s a thing I posted on Facebook in September 2013:

On the 16th September 1963, 50 years ago, I was spending my first night in a boarding-house at Kersland Street in Glasgow’s west end. It was the end of my first day as a Clerical Assistant at MPNI, 1460 Maryhill Road Glasgow NW. The job held little interest or excitement but my first evening in the city did. I took a stroll down Byres Road then along Dumbarton Road/Argyle Street. Going up Union Street and into Renfield Street, The Classic Cinema there was showing the original ‘Frankenstein’. That was exciting as my dad had often waxed lyrical about the movie. I made a date to see it the following evening. Farther up Renfield Street The Odeon Cinema was signalling a forthcoming concert with The Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Bo Diddleyand The Rolling Stones. I made a date to procure a ticket on the way to see the movie. Glasgow was clearly about to provide me with good things. It did, and still does.

It was a tremendous evening in the Odeon. If you’ve any familiarity with the cinema complex in later years, envisage that it was all in one room in those days, accommodating over 2,000 people. As it was The Everly Brothers, who I was particularly fond of, for that show I bought a good ticket – Row D Seat 16 as I recall. This allowed something to happen that was really exciting. Little Richard gave a vitally energetic performance which included him going off the stage, up one aisle and down the other. He jumped back onto the stage then took his jacket off and threw it on the piano stool. Following that, he took his shirt off and threw it into the audience. It landed right in front of me so I thought “What the hell” and dived in, grabbing an edge of it.

For a few years after that, the cuff of Little Richard’s once-white shirt dwelt in a drawer in a tallboy in what had been my room in the family home. It’s long-gone now, having been discarded when my mum and dad moved house and were clearing out the previous one. They didn’t detect much value in the frayed and torn raiment from such an apparently mundane garment. It didn’t exactly show off its elusively illustrious provenance.

I really enjoyed seeing The Rolling Stones as I was aware of them from ‘Come On’, their debut single. Over and above the music, what was interesting was the attire. They were dressed identically in black trousers and houndstooth jackets. The Rolling Stones were always acutely carefully dressed but, it would be fair to say, the uniformity of identical attire didn’t last long, if at all, beyond that tour. Subsequent tales reveal that by all accounts Mick Jagger would watch Little Richard every night getting ideas for moves. He was a good student. Little Richard had been added to the bill to beef up flagging ticket sales once the tour was underway. Despite the fact that their sound was a key component of the American records which had informed the British Beat Sound, Don and Phil fared badly as their popularity waned. Record sales were falling and this tour sold more slowly than previous visits.

That evening was the first of many I spent in the Renfield Street Odeon. In fact, I went to every package-tour concert in there from Oct 1963 until early 1965 when I was promoted(!) and moved to work in Alloa. The only one I missed was The Beatles although I think that actually took place in the Concert Hall in 1964. The tickets just went too soon.

Those Odeon shows were great though. In the big cinema room there were always 5 bob tickets available in the upper balconies. Every British artist of any note was featured. Every tour had an American guest and such artists as Jerry Lewis and Chuck Berry from the rock’n’roll era and newer acts like The Beach Boys, Big Dee Irwin, Ike & Tina Turner and Gene Pitney appeared. Pitney was memorable as he announced it was his birthday and a cake was wheeled out. The crowd loved it. Years later I was in the offices of our Stealers Wheel managers. They were Robert Wace and Grenville Collins who had managed The Kinks. “Oh I saw The Kinks once” I said. “They were on the same tour as Gene Pitney. I always remember it because it was his birthday and he had a cake wheeled out and stuff”. Robert’s eyes rolled as he said “Oh yeah he had a birthday in Glasgow. He also had one in Brighton, in Liverpool, in Newcastle, in, well, you name it. He had a birthday every night.”

At first glance that may seem a bit fake, a bit of a deception. But the more I thought about it the more I appreciated the stagecraft of it. He only had about 12-15 minutes to make his mark and that was a very successful method. Pitney was, overall, a force to be reckoned with. He had written big songs himself like ‘Hello Mary Lou’ and ‘He’s a rebel’. He had a good ear for a song for himself from other writers such as Bacharach & David, Randy Newman and others. Andrew Loog Oldham recruited Gene as part of the Rolling Stones development too and they were given access to his knowledge and experience.

The Rolling Stones return now as, in the midst of all the visits to the Odeon were a couple of visits to The Barrowland Ballroom. The second of these was for, bizarrely, Bill Haley and his Comets. The first one, in January 1964, was, on their first headlining tour, The Rolling Stones. It was really, really exciting. There were lassies fainting up at the front and being ferried out over people’s heads. The band was pretty close if you were up front. The Barrowland room was still round the other way in those days. It wasn’t really a stage so much as a bandstand. That’s where the soundboards go now and, until recently anyway, a couple of remnants of the side panels of the bandstand remained. I can see it still. I can hear it still. They played all the songs from their records. Up to that point it was a couple of singles and the EP with ‘You Better Move On’ on it.

There was a smattering of clubs worth visiting at the time. Mod Clubs mostly, The Bagatelle, The Picasso, The Maryland spring to mind. Local bands played, such as The Beatstalkers, The Poets, The Pathfinders and others. This was a veritable fashion parade.

The Poets

The image of the male Mod as a Parka-clad youth astride a Lambretta scooter has somehow become the prevailing one. I was a Mod in Glasgow in 1965 and I can honestly say I never fit that picture, nor did anyone I knew. Glasgow Mods were all about a really smart stylishness.

There were scooters around but they were found in particular groups of up to half-a-dozen. They represented a kind of affluence on display. The over-garment of choice for the scooter-boys were long, including ankle-length, tailored leather coats. The bespoke suits came in many jacket styles with a prevailing motif, big flaps on the pockets. And Clark’s desert boots. I don’t think these things were exclusive to Glasgow but they certainly were key elements in the look.

The suits were mostly made-to-measure from High Street tailors such as Burton’s. There were a few outlets for other stuff, shirts etc. Much of the window-shopping and subsequent purchases were made at Ger-Ralds in Dundas Street which boasted a wide range of desirable garments. Ger-Ralds was, as I recall, the only across-the-counter outlet for Levi’s in Central Scotland at the time. Those jeans were 502s. Same shrink-to-fit cut as the later ubiquitous 501s but with a zip-fly, not buttons.

Brand names were everywhere. Ben Sherman shirts please, mostly checked or striped, with a lovely fitted cut and distinctive fold at the back with button-down collar. Clark’s, Levi’s – accept no substitute.

Another smart-casual thing I remember was the nylon raincoat, a lightweight, portable thing in blue or brown.

Footwear, alongside the desert boots, consisted of a wide range of smart Italian styles and loafers. A particular favourite I recall were lightweight plain fronted items (not unlike desert boots) from Saxone nicknamed ‘Springers’. The lassies, who shared the leather coat look and the nylon raincoats, liked Hush Puppies. The soundtrack, over and above the beat group repertoire, was Soul and Tamla alongside R&B.

The blues element of R&B spilled over into the next chapter. By the mid-sixties from listening to Bob Dylan I’d been drawn to folk music clubs there were a couple in Glasgow of significance to me. The first of these was Clive’s Incredible Folk Club. It only lasted a week or two in the spring of 1966. It was in Sauchiehall Street, number 134 I believe. You went through a hallway and up two or three flights of stairs to get to it. It was tremendously exciting. It was on Saturday night, it started late and went on all night. I attended once with my girlfriend, Rena Paterson, my brother Alan and my pal Davie Craig.

The great Hamish Imlach was compere. The Incredible String Band played and we just loved that old-timey repertoire they had in those days. Itinerant folk-singer and accordionist Davey Stewart was there. Local guitar-hero Les Brown played and international guitar-virtuoso Davy Graham was the main guest.

I remember hearing Davy Graham complain to Clive about the fact it was an all-nighter and he wasn’t playing until 3 in the morning or something. We were thinking “What’s the matter with him – this all-night stuff is great”. Not so many years later when I was performing and doing the likes of university dates where we were told on arrival “You’ll be Stage One at 2am and then Stage Three at half-past 4”. I recalled Davy and knew more or less what had troubled him back then. It was the fact that it came as a surprise. It’s best if you have some warning and can prepare yourself for these things.

The other folk club of significance to me was similarly located to Clive’s. It was The Glasgow Folk Centre, upstairs in a building, long since demolished and replaced, in Montrose Street.

In May 1967 it was the scene of my first proper paid gig. There may a couple of instances before that where we got a few bob for a few songs in a hotel bar or something but this was the first formal show. I played it with Robin McKidd as a banjo-guitar duo. He was a great banjo player and we had a no’ bad repertoire of old timey songs.

We went on to be booked regularly for The Folk Centre and in the early part of 1968, when we lived in house in Turnberry Road that belonged to an old schoolmate of mine, we helped run workshops and attended some interesting nights. The chronology would allow people to surmise the future-famous Billy Connolly and Iain McGeachy (later John Martyn) were, amongst others, regular fixtures in that room, night and day.

Around this time I remember a couple of shows in the Glasgow Concert Hall including Tom Paxton and a later incarnation of the Incredible String Band with Robin, Mike, Licorice and Rose. It must be reported their thing was considerably, shall we say, looser than it had been a couple of years earlier. Now the stage was festooned with an array of exotic instruments and the show appeared to be being made up as it went along, which it most likely was.

It’s a short hop from here into the 1970s when Glasgow venues of all shapes and sizes became a mixture of stages I played from and stalls and balconies I watched and listened from. There’s probably another chapter or two in all those subsequent years.

Rab Noakes