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A Band Fae Edinburgh Called The Valves

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7x7-1977

THE VALVES: AIN’T NO SURF IN PORTOBELLO

I’m riding on the crest of an oil-slick / but I don’t care / I’ve got the smell of freshly treated sewage / blowing through my hair.

Bands announcing that they’re getting back together is seldom a surprise nowadays.

In the last decade we’ve had The Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and The Stone Roses deciding to share the same stage once again. Pink Floyd, who we were repeatedly told would never-ever-ever get back together managed four songs for Live-8 and, as I write, there’s a rumour that one of headlining acts at Glastonbury 2014 will be. . . Abba.

But it’s not just the big names guaranteed to accumulate big bucks through playing arena shows and festivals who are going down the reformation route. Earlier this year The Jazzateers reappeared after a gap of decades and now – and this did somehow surprise me – it’s the turn of the group once described in Hanging Around fanzine as Edinburgh’s finest rocka-boogie combo.

Yep, after a gap of around 33 years, The Valves are back and with the same line up from their late 70s heyday: Dave Robertson aka Dee Robot (vocals), Ronnie Mackinnon (guitar), Gordon ‘Pada’ Scott (bass) and Gordon ‘Teddy’ Dair (drums).

Being a fan myself since I bought their debut single Robot Love/For Adolfs’ Only and then saw them support The Rezillos at Satellite City in Glasgow, I thought I’d ask Pada Scott – in the run up to their show at Edinburgh’s Liquid Room tomorrow night – about the reasons behind the reunion and also find out more about the track that I’ve selected as the latest in my 7 x 7: 1977 series, Ain’t No Surf on Portobello released by Zoom Records at the tail end of 1977 – and I’ll be writing about Zoom in more detail in 2014 in my Scottish Independents series which I haven’t really forgotten about. Honestly.

Valves Ain't No Surf in Portobello

So Pada, what has prompted the band to get back together after all this time?

The royalties for ‘Adolf’ finally run out, so we had to start working again. Actually – triggered by a Japanese vinyl buff asking for permission to produce a 12” album of our singles, demos, live stuff etc, we started the ball rolling on the gig as a publicity stunt for the album, but the publishing and copyright ownerships for the songs was so convoluted and labyrinth-y that we gave up on trying to assemble it and we’ve stowed the idea (temporarily, we hope). But the interest in the gig was so encouraging we couldn’t pull out.

Hopefully the reunion will help the idea come to fruition.

We hope so, but we could do with some advice for negotiating rights/royalties etc. from our 35-year-old catalogue with someone who’s been round that course already.

And how are the rehearsals going?

Great – the instrumental 75% of the band have been rehearsing at Banana Row on and off for 3-4 months and will be working even harder now that Dave is in town. Ah, but the falsetto backing vocals may be lost in the mists of time. We ain’t juveniles no more.

Any new songs?

We’re doing a couple of post-Valves songs by Dave at the gig.

Excellent. And do you envisage the show as being a one off or are you planning more dates (in, say, Glasgow, hint, hint)?

Very probably a one-off as Dave lives in Antwerp and needs to get back for Christmas. And logistically it’s hard getting the four of us together for any length of time. But, who knows?

Valves 2013

So what have all the Valves been getting up to since splitting up all those years ago?

I joined the Mudsharks with Dave, Stuart Nisbet, Keith Burns, Alan Marshall (and another sax player whose name I’ve shamefacedly forgotten). After a year or so, this band split and I’ve been a civilian ever since. Worked in IT for Scottish Office and Scottish Equitable. Took early retirement a couple of years ago but am loving playing in the band again.

Ronnie – played with the Mudsharks and then Fun City.

Gordon – still gigging and did some band management. Owns the ‘Soundtrack to Your Life’ record shop in Tollcross, Edinburgh. Gordon has played in the Gordon Dair Trio, Plats Combinats and El Rey de los Pantalones.

Dave – Gigged with the Mudsharks, did some poetry in Edinburgh, moved to Belgium and played in various bands (the Vikings, Kiss my Jazz etc.)

You were in a pub rock band called Angel Easy in the mid 1970s, what sort of stuff did you play and what was the music scene in Edinburgh like pre-punk?

Angel Easy was the first band that Gordon and I played in, with a couple of guitarist mates from Lochgelly/Cowdenbeath – played covers by the bands we liked – SAHB, Babe Ruth, Traffic (8 minute version of Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – quality!), Man, Burrito Brothers, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac. Our publicity poster was a copy of the pic on the back of Todd Rundgren’s ‘Runt’ album which speaks volumes. We were a wee bit different as other bands (e.g. Brodie) were technically more proficient, but you can only hear so many versions of Locomotive Breath, Smoke on the Water etc.

I’ve heard that people always told you played too fast until punk came along.

When Dave joined, we started doing his songs but they weren’t particularly fast (as I dimly recall).

Why and when did you become Valves?

After Dave joined Angel Easy, we were playing different music so we changed our name to ‘Sale’ (don’t even ask. . .). As the number of gigs and venue size increased, Bruce Findlay showed interest (especially after a support gig at Tiffany’s) and we thought there could possibly be a snappier name out there (and yet we still didn’t find it).

And how long before Bruce signed you up to Zoom?

Sale were only going for a month before Bruce heard us and signed us up. And we could have gone with Lenny Love too. . .

How did Ain’t No Surf in Portobello come about?

Ask our resident genius Dave. It’s basically ‘Surf City’ by Jan and Dean with bits from other surfing songs. It was swapped to the B-side of our second single as we were worried about legal implications if it was played on the radio as an A-side. . .

Are any of the band actually from Porty?

None – the Gordons are from Lochgelly, Ronnie’s from Meadowbank and Dave’s from Sighthill.

And what about the inspiration for the fantastically titled Tarzan of the Kings Road?

Just Dave’s fertile imagination – and he did buy bondage trousers at one point.

Valves Ad

You had quite a reputation for enjoying a bevvy or two, is this still the case in 2013 or are you all reformed characters?

We did like a drink, but no more than any four guys with a common purpose and some spare time. We’re a bit more restrained now, but no-one’s on the wagon yet and we still enjoy a fine ale.

You headlined the Edinburgh Carnival Against the Nazis (I was there myself but my memory of the day is a bit vague after me and my pal met some Skids and drank lots of vodka with them). Any special memories of that day?

The heat (unusual for Craigmillar, I know) and the fact that we weren’t booed off after the Clash failed to show* – a nice generous audience.

Any theories on why The Valves didn’t become better known?

We weren’t as ambitious and single-minded as others, and we were considered punky by some rock fans and too old-school (and old) for the punks. And once the New Romantics came along, well f**k that for a game of soldiers.

And finally, your chance to sell yourselves. Why should the good folk of Edinburgh (and elsewhere) buy a ticket to see you at the Liquid Room?

’Cos it probably ain’t gonna happen again, it’s your last chance to sing along to these songs, it’s gonna be good fun and it’ll give everyone a chance to see if they’ve aged as badly as their long-lost mates.

Should be a cracking night. Enjoy yourself! I’m sure the audience will.

The Valves play the Liquid Room in Edinburgh on Saturday 21st December 2013. 

Doors open at 7 pm. The DJ will be Colin D’uff and the support act will be William Douglas & The Wheel, who’ll be on from 7.30 – 8.00. The mighty Valves will take to the stage at around 8.30 until 9.45. And as the band note on their website: ‘There is an absolute curfew at 10. You will be thrown out in the streets but…. Don’t worry. It’s not love you and leave you. We might have a surprise in store… X.’

Concert Tickets: Liquid Room Edinburgh 

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* The organisers of the Carnival hit on the idea of pretending The Clash were going to headline the bill to swell the attendance, which certainly worked. Whether it was a good idea, when you want people to trust whatever you are going to say afterwards, is far less certain.

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.’