Grumpy Old Men


When I was 10 I had my IQ tested by a child psychologist. Its 155, which means that I’m smarter than most of you reading this, poor bastards. The reason I mention this is that its relevant to how we ended up supporting The Skatalites on the Scottish leg of their tour.

Four years ago we played up in Lochinver with the amazing Croft No. Five. That was the night of the lunar eclipse and the night I nearly broke my arm using it to arm wrestle our seven foot tall drummer, Mark Bray. I had beaten Roland, our van driver and thought I could beat the tall one, even though his arms are about a foot longer than mine. I’m a genius, but I’m also a steamer. Anyway, Niall Robertson who promoted it turned up at our gig in Inverness last New Year. I suggested getting back over there some time. At which point he says it will need to be later in the summer because: “I might be getting The Skatalites across next year.”

That got my big brain going, and within hours I had an idea. I said to him “Do you know what would make those Skatalites gigs even more awesome? If you had another Ska band, a big one, preferably local to North Britain, who could warm up the crowd for The Skatalites, to open for them, so to speak.”

“Yeah, but where to find such a band?” True, it was a thorny issue. We parted ways knowing it was a beautiful dream. I went to bed that night with something nagging me at the back of my mind. I dreamt that I was in a room with nine other guys and that we were making a racket, and I had a guitar and I kept breaking strings, and it didn’t matter how quickly I replaced the stings, they kept breaking faster than I could replace them, and someone was hitting me over the head with a trumpet every fifteen minutes. And then I woke up and had an epiphany. I phoned Niall. “My god, man! I’m IN a Ska band! WE could support The Skatalites. We’ll even let them use OUR gear.” “My god”, he said. “You’re a genius! Lets do it!” And that’s pretty much how it happened. Thanks to my incredible brain!

The first problem was that we couldn’t support them on the Thursday in Inverness because of the difficulties in getting the time off work for some of the boys, so I agreed to drive up a day earlier with all our gear so that the Skatalites could use it at the first gig. I travelled up to Mad Hatters in Inverness on Thursday to meet the promoters. Got there; set up. The Skatalites arrived and man are they old. Lloyd Knibb is 76! He was in the band at the beginning in 1964. He invented the Ska beat. Lester Stirling is 71and he’s still amazing. The legendary Vin Gordon, or Don Drummond Junior as he’s known, is 57. And so on. Add all their ages up and they are twice as old as The Rolling Stones. I discovered a few things about them over the course of the Thursday. One, they are still really good. Two, they are grumpy old men. Fair enough, they have been gigging for years obviously, but also just about every day since January this year, and have done a lot of travelling. They had just flown in from Dublin the night before, and before that they were in St Petersburg in Russia, so yeah, they were tired and some of them were grumpy. Three, they didn’t like to sound check. They just walked on stage and played, but then had a good moan at the engineer because they couldn’t hear anything. And four, they liked a smoke. That might not surprise you, but they just skinned up in the venue and nobody stopped them. After the show, I struck all the gear down, and Niall and I headed North that night to Inchnadamph, near Lochinver. The Skatalites were to stay in Inverness so Niall and I had this whole hotel to ourselves. On the way up we encountered dozens of stag, as apparently Inchnadamph is Gaelic for meeting place of the deer. After a few drinks to congratulate ourselves on our cleverness we crashed out, and the next morning it was off to Lochinver.

I hadn’t been there since 2003 but it hadn’t changed. A beautiful wee town with a harbour that looks out on to the Atlantic. The only thing I had to do all day was set up our backline again and wait for the boys to arrive. Sam arrived first followed by the rest. I introduced the boys to The Skatalites and explained to a stunned Skatalites manager what a great pleasure it was for him to meet Bombskare. They deigned to sound check that day, and we got to see a rare treat; The Skatalites arguing about which way to play a particular song. I was so pleased. There’s hope for us. Once we sorted all that out, we all went up to the big house and had a meal of venison, prawns and fish. Yum. The big house in Lochinver is communally owned by the town. Any time a big estate like that goes on sale, the community get the first chance to buy it. So the town bought it. I was explaining this to The Skatalites manager, how this was a perfect example of communism in action, and how we should apply this principle to other places like, say Manhattan. He wasn’t too pleased. I didn’t like him either.

We went on stage to a mobbed Lochinver Village Hall. They hadn’t forgotten us. We played a reasonably short set of about forty minutes. Then came The Skatalites and the place went mental. It was exactly as I told Niall. If you have The Skatalites by themselves its going to be terrific. If you have Bombskare warming up the crowd first and then The Skatalites, then its something else and you’re going to have invent a new word for it. They played for ages and at the end of the night they were pleased they had made the journey. After that we all got smashed and the details become hazy. I know there was a beach party after the after show party. People were rolling in at eight in the morning as breakfast was being made. It was great. We had lunch before we headed back down to Edinburgh, where we all got to enjoy watching Mike eat a burger and roll with a knife and fork. Some memories are priceless.

We met up with The Skatalites in Glasgow at the School of Art on the Sunday. They had played the big day out thing in Falkirk. We sound checked for them, and they turned up moaning even worse because now they were even older than when we had left them the day before, and now they were playing two gigs in one day, bless. This gig was a benefit gig for MOJO, Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. One of the Birmingham Six was there. Jerry Dammers was supposed to be playing a DJ Set, as was D Wayne Love of Alabama Three. I love Alabama Three. However both of them couldn’t make it so it was left up to us and the old gadgies to put on a show. We played pretty much the same set we did the other night, but we included a cover of ‘Ghost Town’ in lieu of Jerry Dammers on the ones and twos. The Skatalites were awesome again. It was great to see Lloyd Knibb playing my bubblegum pink Tama Granstar again. Legend. It was a great night. Even the manager had chilled out. Just as well because we had toyed with the idea of kicking him down the stairs with a cry of ‘No quite got the hang o that Scottish gravity yet pally’. We even got a picture of the legendary Lester Sterling in one of our T shirts. After the show they were heading to the States for a few days rest, and then they were off to South America. As I left I said, ‘I know how you feel guys. We’re in Glenrothes next week.’

Thanks to Vin, Kevin, Val, Lester and Lloyd. Thanks to Niall and Craig for programming the events, thanks to everyone in Lochinver and at the Glasgow School of Art, thanks to everyone who came to see us, and most of all thanks to me because I’m a freaking genius!

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