It's the late seventies in Glasgow, Scotland. The date is New Year's Eve, which precedes "Hogmanay", a Scottish celebration of the arrival of a new year. It's fifty percent cultural tradition and fifty percent bona fide excuse to have a party. The ritual is complex and mind-boggling. I first experienced Scottish Hogmanay in 1969 when Michael and I came to Glasgow to meet with Audrey, our benefactress. Audrey provided the all-important Invitation Letter that enabled us come to the UK from Czechoslovakia (see "First Year in London"). We stayed with Audrey's parents in a blue collar housing estate (as project houses are grandly called) in Penilee on the outskirts of Glasgow. It was the week between Christmas and New Year and everyone made sure that we were aware that New Year in Scotland is special. As our English was still lacking, we were not quite sure how special.
On New Year's Eve, we all sat in the living with the family drinking...coffee and watching television. Ten o'clock passed, then eleven and nothing happened except some neighbors stopping by wishing "Happy New Year....when it comes". It was even quieter than other nights and we wondered what was going on. All those built up expectations for this?!
At the stroke of midnight, bottles of "usquebaugh" and cans of beer known as "heavy" were liberated from coat pockets, glasses procured and promptly ignored and Hogmanay started in full. After the usual round of hugs and good wishes, everyone settled down to the serious business of partying. The atmosphere was happy, almost ecstatic. Some men drank a bit too quickly and passed out only to wake up a couple of hours later and continue drinking again. Early in the morning, Michael, Audrey and I decided to get some fresh air. All the apartments in the street had their doors unlocked and it was perfectly acceptable to go into someone's apartment, locate the refrigerator, grab a beer and relax by the fire. Whether the owner was home or not didn't matter.
This lasted for three days and nights and despite all the heavy drinking there were no fights, or any other trouble. It was a true neighborhood party.
As fate would have it, I found myself in Glasgow again in December 1976. I lived in the dour, yet exotically named suburb of Mount Florida and commuted by train daily to my job in one of the Glasgow theaters (see Theatrical Anarchy in Scotland). I worked at the Pavilion Theatre; a low-brow variety kind of venue with cheapo touring productions, ad-hoc music competitions, annual Christmas pantomime written around local club entertainers and so on. It was not challenging intellectually or creatively, but it was a temporary occupation until something better came along.
There was icing on this greasepaint cake. Across the street from the Pavilion was Glasgow's premiere concert venue; the famed Glasgow Apollo, a 3,500 seat theatre with a 20 foot high stage. It was THE place for the touring bands to perform, as Glasgow audiences were renowned as being extra appreciative and receptive. In no time, I got to know the staff and the manager at the Apollo and had free access to the concerts. I saw some great bands like Queen and The Eagles, oddities like The Sex Pistols and mediocre, polyester groups such as The Bay City Rollers who were immensely popular with teenage girls. I still remember the reek of urine in the auditorium after a Bay City Rollers concert when many girls were unable to contain their excitement.
At the end of 1976, Rod Stewart came to the Apollo for a week of back-to-back concerts. On New Year's Eve, my show finished early so I wandered across the street to catch the last hour of Rodney. As I listened to his gravelly, yet melodious, voice from a prime spot in the front center of the circle/balcony, I could feel the floor moving up and down about a foot with the full house rhythmically rocking en masse along with Rod. It felt very unsafe and, in fact, the Apollo was demolished a few years later due to these structural weaknesses.
Rod Stewart is a lifelong soccer fan and during the finale of his show kicked about 20 soccer balls them into the audience. One of them flew directly at me and I caught it like a pro, to the dismay of those sitting around me.
The manager of the Apollo invited me to a New Year's party that was organized for Rod at one of the Glasgow hotels. I had nothing planned so I went along and at midnight ended up singing "Auld Lang Syne" in a circle with Rod and 15 other people including his girlfriend, Swedish eye-candy named Britt Ekland. It was all very pleasant, but as the early hours approached, things started to get wild. I was talking with someone when I noticed that two band members next to me dropped their pants and started comparing the size of their appendages. In the middle of a party!
Then someone found the soccer ball I brought with me and ten of us, including Rod, started playing vigorous soccer in the spacious lobby. The hotel staff was lined up against the wall just waiting for something to get broken. But the party seemed to be winding down so I went home.
The following morning I heard on the news that some of Rod's band members and crew got even wilder after I left, and in true rock star tradition, started demolishing the hotel rooms. The "Polis" were called and some key crew members were arrested. At that point the phone rang. One of the Apollo staff was asking if I would, please, come as soon as possible. The sound operator was in jail; there was a concert that night and no one could work the sound console. Would I...?
I am really a lighting guy and now faced this massive sound mixer ten feet wide with a myriad switches, dials and buttons. I knew how it all worked, in theory, but to match that to the actual show without additional information or at least a run-through rehearsal was virtually impossible.
I sweated over it for a couple of hours when, with 30 minutes to go, I heard that the sound guy was released. It was a close shave...
* Hogmanay is a word that has become synonymous with the Scottish celebration of New Year. The origin is obscure.
** Usquebaugh; from Gaelic literally meaning "water of life" - commonly known as "whisky".
*** Fitba is Glaswegian for "football" or "soccer". Duh!