Friday, 22 February 2013

Auld Reekie Rockin’ – How Edinburgh Swung

When Bob Dylan was photographed barnstorming his way along Princes Street in 1966 en route to his show at the ABC Regal cinema on Lothian Road, it perfectly encapsulated exactly how much of a hurry that particular decade was in. It also captured how much the times were a changing again. Here, after all, was the acoustic idol of the coffee bar protest scene, who was in the thick of a pivotal UK tour on which he announced his new electric direction, looking, in his wrap-around shades and pixie boots, like the coolest, most glamorous man alive.

Yet here he was, in a city with a busy network of dance-halls serving the beat boom on the one hand, but also in the thick of a folk revival which had begun a decade before. The ABC had played host to both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones two years before, but Dylan was pushing the envelope. The ABC audience may not have accused him of being Judas like they did in Manchester on the same tour, but legend has it that a portion of hard-line folkies did play harmonicas throughout Dylan’s set in protest.

Edinburgh in the 1960s was in part an uptight and seemingly straight-laced city steeped in Calvinist restraint, but which had also embraced hedonistic excess for centuries in a form of enlightenment
that forged a thriving creative underground. Such contrarian sensibilities have always been there in Edinburgh in a way which the fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson capitalised on in Jekyll and Hyde.
And in the 1960s, a brand new generation were coming up for air in a speak-easy environment opened up by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where pop and poetry shared after-hours stages in coffee bars and cellars across the city.

1966 was also the year that The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Spencer Davis Group and a myriad of others played Edinburgh. All three shows took place at McGoos, the hippest Mod hang-out in town. McGoos was situated on the High Street in the former Palace Cinema opposite John Knox’s House. Support acts for these and the likes of The Troggs and Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, who also played McGoos in ’66, included such local luminaries as The Hippie People, The Moonies,
Three’s A Crowd and The Squad.

Also on the scene in clubs like The Place on Victoria Street and The Gonk Club in Tollcross were The Beachcombers, The Andy Russell Seven (who once played in Arab robes as Ali Ben the Hoose and the Tauregs) and The Jokers, who split up, only to reform as the far groovier sounding The Carnaby Set.

Elsewhere, the times were a changing in other ways. Musician Archie Fisher ran a Folk club in the Crown Bar, where Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer had been playing regularly as a duo since 1963. The pair were seen by record producer Joe Boyd, but only when they enlisted Mike Heron as a third member of what they now called The Incredible String Band did Boyd sign what would become the ultimate hippy band to Elektra Records.

Other under the radar success stories included Tam White, who fronted The Boston Dexters and The Buzz, the latter of whom went on to record a single produced by legendary pop boffin Joe Meek. White became the first artist to sing live on Top of the Pops, before becoming a Blues institution in the 1980s with a reconstituted Tam White and the Dexters. White also provided the singing voice for Robbie Coltrane’s character, ‘Big’ Jazza McGlone, in Tutti Frutti, playwright John Byrne’s seminal TV drama about a washed-out first generation rock and roll band hitting the comeback trail.

But Edinburgh’s biggest musical sensations had yet to break through. A year before Dylan’s majestic Princes Street perambulation, brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir and their mate Nobby Clark formed The Saxons, who became regulars on the circuit as assorted members passed through
the band. The core of the band decreed to change their name to more exotic sounding by throwing darts at a map and choosing whichever destination they landed in.

The band now known as The Bay City Rollers were eventually picked up by former band-leader Tam Paton, who became their manager, and they cut their first single in 1971. Following this minor hit, lead singer Clark left, and, with an image change involving tartan flares, tartan scarfs and stack-heeled shoes, for a few short years, The Bay City Rollers, with Les McKeown replacing Clark as singer, became teeny-bopper idols bigger than The Beatles. Things may have been changed, but they looked awfully familiar.
 
http://www.edinburghgigarchive.com/ http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/index.htm
Commissioned programme notes for the Edinburgh dates of rock and roll musical, 
Save the Last Dance For Me, February 2013

ends

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