An A to Z of Scottish Fanzines #1


A is for Alternatives to Valium

The first half of the 1980s was a real boom time for Scottish fanzines and Alternatives to Valium, the brainchild of Alastair McKay, was one of the finest to emerge at this time and to kick off the first of this series Alastair agreed to talk about his fanzine.

Alternatives to Valium #1

What gave you the idea to start up your own fanzine and what were the main influences on ATV? Had you contributed to any fanzines before?

I was always interested in magazines. I made one in primary seven, one issue, written in felt pen, which I rented to the class for a penny a read – an interesting distribution model. At high school I did a xeroxed magazine called Blow Your Nose On This, which my pal’s mum used to photocopy during her lunch break at the Ben Sayers’ golf club factory in North Berwick. It was just daft stuff, photos of teachers, music rubbish. It was faintly influenced by Sniffin’ Glue, which I used to buy from Bruce’s in Edinburgh.

Was this where you started the rumour that the Pistols were going to play a secret show in East Lothian?

I mentioned in Blow Your Nose On This the rumour that the Sex Pistols might play in Haddington. Clearly they didn’t, but it was a real rumour, not made up by me.

Did you contribute to any other fanzines around this time?

Before ATV I had an idea for a magazine that was going to be called Fish Pie Talks, based on a misheard Captain Beefheart lyric. The idea was that it wouldn’t have journalism in it, but the artists would be free to express themselves however they wanted. I wrote to a few people, but (unsurprisingly in retrospect) most of them didn’t have the time or energy to do anything. A few people were helpful. The Visitors were encouraging and wrote back, and Mike Scott (then of Another Pretty Face) answered my letters at length. I was very encouraged by that, because his fanzine, Jungleland, was a big influence. I also have an abusive letter from Steven Hanley of the Fall somewhere. I’m not sure where that fits in the timeline, but evidently I’d annoyed him. Reading between the lines of the reply I’d written asking The Fall some tedious questions about selling out. Another time, and I think this made it into ATV, Mark E Smith sent me some xeroxed fragments which had fed into his lyrics. Anyway, Fish Pie Talks evolved into Alternatives To Valium, which I started at university in Aberdeen, though I used my brother’s Edinburgh address for a while

Interesting choice of name.

The name came from a feature in The Sunday Post. I used to get letters asking me for medical advice. I still asked people to contribute in their own words if they wanted, but mostly it became about interviews, ranting, and weird art and essays that people sent me.

The first issue came out in 1983, how many other issues followed and how many copies would you generally sell?

There were five issues (maybe six, but probably five). By the end I was printing 1000 and selling most of them.

Alternatives to Valium #2

How did you put ATV together?

I put it together myself, with the help of my then-girlfriend, Jane. I typed it all on my old Olivetti typewriter and photocopied it all until it was pretty much too small to read. I took many of the photos too. After a couple of editions, I was contacted by Les Clark, who was the singer in a fierce Aberdeen band called Nervous Choir, and also worked in design at the Press and Journal, and he started doing some design work, providing some nice pieces of type, and helping with covers etc. Les really helped the magazine look more professional. It was funded by sales and advertising. The amounts of money involved were very small. I didn’t make anything, but it didn’t make a loss either. I think the first issue was printed by Aberdeen University press, where the printer almost died when he saw the poor quality of the artwork (I hadn’t replaced the ribbon on my typewriter for a long time), but he did a brilliant job. Later issues were printed by some sort of fanzine collective somewhere in England – I can’t remember where. They were cheap, but they screwed up one of Les’s covers, putting a white border on a black page (that was the issue where I put a distorted picture of Diana on the cover because she was on the cover of every other magazine at the time).

And how did you distribute it?

Distribution was essentially done by taking the fanzine to shops such as One Up in Aberdeen, and student union shops, and I sold copies at gigs. I remember selling a lot at a Jesus and Marychain show in Edinburgh. Rough Trade in London were helpful. The real boosts in circulation came from getting mentioned in the music press. I think the NME gave ATV a good write up, as did Tony Fletcher’s (more professional fanzine) Jamming! One of the funniest write-ups was by Gary Crowley in Record Mirror. He suggested that people send postal orders or cheques to “Jock rocker, Alastair McKay”. I got loads of postal orders made payable to “Jock Rocker”, which took some explaining in the Post Office. I think John Peel may have mentioned ATV as well. But there was a real community feel about fanzines at the time – I did quite a lot of trades. What I noticed was that many of the orders which came in the post tended to be from remote, non-metropolitan addresses. They were from isolated people who were very keen to get hold of any information they could. They weren’t city hipsters. 

Favourite Moments or Interviews?

I think one of the most exciting times was going backstage at the making of the TV programme Riverside. The Cure were playing (they did a thing with some dancers). Afterwards in the canteen I interviewed Robert Smith, and he told me that The Cure was, to all intents and purposes, finished. Today, I would have stuck that straight on the internet. Back then, it took me a few months to get the magazine out, but it was an interesting moment. Doing the interview was quite intimidating, because Siouxsie Sioux was wandering around (Steve Severin was playing in the Cure at that point). Generally, there wasn’t a lot of planning with the interviews. There were no PR people involved.  I just turned up after live shows and asked. I did Ian McCulloch and Roddy Frame that way. Also, my idea for the fanzine was slightly political – so I did (gay activist) Peter Tatchell and Alex Wood, the socialist leader of Edinburgh District Council. They were actually more interesting than most of the musicians, because they had something to say and weren’t bothered about appearing cool. One of my favourite moments may be a myth, but my younger sister told me that ATV appeared on Grange Hill when one of the school kids was thinking about doing a fanzine. I hope that’s true. 

Bunnyman On Drugs

What happened next, after ATV?

After ATV, I – along with everyone else in the mid-1980s – was unemployed for a while. I did some DJing at a club called The Flesh Exchange in Aberdeen. I did a bit of very minor talent scouting for a major record label (the only band I sent a positive notice about was Alone Again Or, who morphed into The Shamen. I was paid in records – that’s how I got the first REM album. I worked in community newspapers (the North Edinburgh News in Pilton) – I got the job largely because of ATV. Later, I worked for CUT magazine, and as Scottish stringer for NME, before working for Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman for many years. I’m freelance now, which feels oddly like the mid-1980s. 

And finally, what is the best alternative to valium?

At the time I was doing ATV, I would have said Maynard’s Original Wine Gums. My teeth aren’t up to that kind of abuse any more.


Thanks to Alastair for taking the time to answer those questions.

See the Blogroll sidebar for Alastair’s Alternatives to Valium blog. Or to see some of the photos Alastair took for ATV  click here.

Scottish Fanzines Collage #2

A is also for:

A Boring Fanzine: Produced by the label Boring Records and Bishopbriggs band The Exile, the first issue came out around the time of the release of The Exile’s Don’t Tax Me E.P. in August 1977 and was quickly followed by a couple more issues before the year was out. Mostly Scottish acts like The Jolt, Johnny and The Self Abusers and The Backstabbers are featured along with live reviews of bands playing here such as The Clash, Rich Kids and Graham Parker and The Rumour with some well written assessments of some of the most interesting album releases of the time thrown in too. An Extra Boring Fanzine seems to have been a special Christmas 1977 edition and #4 titled Another Boring Fanzine from early in 1978 included a review of the last ever Sex Pistols show in Britain (with Sid Vicious anyway) written by Billy Sloan, later a long running Radio Clyde DJ (see Radio sidebar). Far from boring.

(The) Absolute Game: Named after the third Skids album. TAG was one of Scotland’s first and finest football fanzines and catered to supporters of all clubs as well as the national team. A number of contributors now work for the sports pages of the mainstream media while Christopher Brookmyre, who wrote on subjects from playground football to his team St. Mirren, went on to become a highly successful ‘Tartan Noir’ novelist, his debut Quite Ugly One Morning (1996) won the inaugural First Blood Award for the best first crime novel of the year and was later adapted into a television drama by Clerkenwell Films for ITV. TAG lasted from 1986 until 2002 and 60 issues were produced. At its peak the fanzine’s circulation fell just short of 3000 copies per issue.

Alive and Kicking: I remember two fanzines in the late 1970s with this title, one from Glasgow and one from Stirling but I don’t think I ever bought either of them.

Always the Bridesmaid: One of a surprisingly large number of Hearts zines.

(The) Angry Corrie: A fanzine for hillwalkers and the Munro brigade. Wide circulation by all accounts.

Another Tuneless Racket: From East Kilbride’s and one of many Scottish zines to feature in Teal Trigg’s 2010 book Fanzines – The DIY Revolution. Put together by Ali Bruce, ATR featured mainly punk, particularly EK acts like The Stillettoes, The Electrix and the curiously named Sinister Turkeys, who were actually a very decent band.

Arsing About: The title parodied the far better known zine Hanging Around. This came free on occasion with another fanzine Wrong Image.

Away from the Numbers: East Fife football fanzine with an appropriate title for the few who watch their football at Bayview. During the 1990s they began adding an occasional music supplement called Ultracore. Started in 1989 AFTN lasted until 2001 but has since re-emerged as a webzine: http://www.aftn.co.uk/

AWOL: Highly rated Meadowbank Thistle fanzine that even got a mention on TV on the Saint and Greavsie show and on radio by John Peel (Meadowbank being his second team).

Aye Ready: Long running Rangers fanzine, which I’m guessing never missed a deadline.

Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

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The First Half: Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

Tonight Scotland play Belgium in a World Cup qualifier and, no matter the result, they won’t be at next summer’s finals in Brazil, in fact, out of the 53 teams taking part in the various European qualifying sections, Scotland were the first country to be mathematically ruled out of that particular, always rather remote possibility, ahead even of San Marino and the Faroe Islands.

If you want to back Scotland to beat the Belgians at Hampden, my local bookmaker is offering odds of 4/1 but even though the recently appointed manager Gordon Strachan has implemented some immediate and obvious improvements, I really wouldn’t advise you to lump your life savings on that one. Or any money at all for that matter.

Rewind to 1977 though and things were very, very different for Scotland as far as football was concerned. The team then consisted of big name footballers from the top English clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds, along with the elite of Scotland’s old First Division. Aston Villa’s Andy Gray, who in 1976–77 became the first footballer ever to be voted PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year in the same season, struggled to make squads, let alone secure a place in the starting eleven.

Kenny Dalglish and Joe Jordan were banging in the goals and finishing top of their qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup ahead of reigning European champions Czechoslovakia and a very strong Wales side was even expected rather than just hoped for.

The day immediately after they sealed their place in Argentina by beating Wales 2-0, this advert, for an event that had obviously been planned some time before the previous night’s tricky away game, appeared in the Evening Times:

Satellite City Victory Dance

Satellite City was the venue above the Glasgow Apollo previously known as Clouds, which had been seen as an ideal gig for up and coming pop, soul and disco acts who would maybe struggle to attract a big enough crowd to make a sizeable dent in the 3000+ capacity Apollo downstairs. Salvation (later to become Slik) were regulars and others who played there included Edinburgh glam rockers Iron Virgin and, before they had become chart toppers, The Bay City Rollers.

In 1977 though, Clouds moved with the times, rebranding itself late that summer as Satellite City. Suddenly a new breed of band like The Rezillos and The Zones began appearing and gradually more and more bands that could be described as punk or new wave such as Magazine, Wayne County and The Electric Chairs and Elvis Costello were booked to perform and Satellite City quickly established itself as the nearest thing the city was ever to have to a Liverpool Eric’s or the Electric Circus in Manchester.

Many new young local outfits were offered support slots for these acts; the very under-rated The Exile and Matt Vinyl and the Decorators both supported Sham 69 at different shows, some believed The Skids actually upstaged headliners Magazine and The Valves certainly gave The Pirates a run for their money. The singer of Bearsden’s Nu-Sonics, Edwyn Collins later penned a track called Satellite City that partly recalled the time early in 1978 when they played on the same bill as The Backstabbers, Simple Minds and reggae act Black Slate.

Satellite City was also later one of two Scottish venues chosen to host the Farewell to the Roxy tour but by this point the news had been announced that, like the London club, it would be closing down itself – along with the Apollo, which was to be converted into a bingo hall (something I’ll maybe cover in a later post).

The second of these Roxy tour dates actually took place on the day that the Scottish squad touched down in Gatwick on their way home from Argentina.

Farewell to the Roxy

The Second Half: Once Upon a Time in Argentina

After that Victory Dance at Satellite City, expectations that Scotland would go far at the World Cup had grown dramatically in a blaze of hype.

Largely the mood of optimism was down to team boss Ally MacLeod. Ally, a man who thought wearing a safari suit was a good idea, was as far from the stereotype of the dour Scottish manager as it was possible to get and he was never going to be accused of downplaying the chances of any team he took charge off.

Asked what he planned to do after he had won the World Cup, MacLeod gave a chutzpah overloaded two word reply that I doubt even Brian Clough or Bill Shankly ever matched. ‘Retain it’.

Very strange things began happening in Scotland during the run up to Argentina: many grown men decided to have their hair permed in emulation of stars like Alan Rough, Graeme Souness and Derek Johnstone. Over 25,000 punters paid money to give the squad a Gala Send–Off at Hampden Park before they flew off to Cordoba – this consisted of the inevitable pipe band and the squad waving to fans from an open-top bus which trundled round the edges of the pitch and then the squad waving to fans again from the bus as it repeated  its journey. Bizarrely this was televised live on STV as Argentina Here We Come!

Maybe strangest of all, enough folk also bought copies of Andy Cameron’s boak inducing dirge Ally’s Tartan Army, backed by the equally awful I Want To Be A Punk Rocker, to put the record in the UK Top Ten.

Some people really did get it into their heads that the team might just bring the biggest trophy in world football back to Scotland. You don’t believe me? Here. Have a look at this (and, no, I didn’t Photoshop in ‘World Cup Winners’):

World Cup Winners

There was even a T-shirt advertised in NME and elsewhere, based on the Lipsmackin’ Pepsi TV ads of the time:

Argentina T-shirt

To be fair, it wasn’t just Ally that was bumming up his side, there was no shortage of well respected football men willing to say nice things about us. Helmut Schön, for instance, the manager of defending champions West Germany, had been mightily impressed after watching the Scots, predicting that if they emerged out of their group: ‘There’s no telling how far they might go’.  

Of course, Scotland arrived home at the first opportunity having failed to pulp Peru or really irritate Iran let alone slaughter Spain or annihilate Argentina. The games against Peru and Iran were both dismal affairs and were accompanied by a drugs scandal, high profile fallouts with the media, a trio of players being banned from ever representing their country again but also a famous, breathtaking victory over one of the tournament favourites Holland that included one of the greatest goals ever scored. Thank you, Archie.

Ally’s side narrowly failed to qualify from their group on goal difference and before he made it back to Glasgow, there were already rumours he’d resigned (false) and that the SFA wanted Jock Stein to replace him (true).

He would only ever manage Scotland for one more match. In his 1979 autobiography, The Ally MacLeod Story, he reflected: ‘I am a very good manager who just happened to have a few disastrous days, once upon a time, in Argentina.’