My first band, 4 Minute Warning were formed in 1980, after punk's initial wave had evolved into more interesting, and enduring, post-punk. 42 years ago today we supported First Priority at The Astoria.
In early 1980s Edinburgh there was still a retrograde scene scornful of 'post' or any other prefix being associated with punk rock: the fast, aggressive, vitriolic sound that Sounds journalist, Gary Bushell was now proudly labelling, 'Oi' music, a clarion call for youths sporting mohicans or skinheads. But just as 'Oi-oriented punk' became increasingly insular and rooted in the past, resolutely refusing to do anything as remotely arty as 'progressing' or 'experimenting,' post-punk was soaring into new dimensions.
John Lydon hadn't been Rotten for a couple of years, and his post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Limited, were exploring soundscapes light years beyond three-minute rock 'n' roll anthems. (My blog from 2017 waxed lyrical about watching their first appearance on national TV in February 1980). Along with the likes of Wire, Magazine, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pop Group, The Slits, Gang of Four, and many other captivating bands who could trace their origins to the musical maelstrom of 1976/1977, alternative music was spiralling off into myriad intriguing directions.
4 Minute Warning had performed our debut gig at The Astoria in February 1981, when we'd been Killing Joke-fixated teenagers. We returned to this venue on November 25th that year, supporting First Priority in a benefit gig for muscular dystrophy.
David Bell, Edinburgh promoter, 1948-2022
This gig was arranged by First Priority's manager, Dave Bell, who sadly passed away in May 2022 after a battle with cancer. A longtime champion of live music in the capital, Dave began his lengthy career as a promoter of local talent in 1978, running a club at the Annandale Street bus depot under the banner ‘Super Bop at the Depot.’ Attracting hundreds of revellers, this venture’s success encouraged him to launch Midas Promotions with business partner, Les Wilson. Searching for a permanent location, they scouted the derelict Regent cinema at Abbeymount (where Dave remembered first falling in love with music after his father took him there, aged 8, to see Elvis in Jailhouse Rock). Midas Promotions took out a 20-year lease on the building, offering rehearsal rooms to local bands, and starting a club, The Moon, in what had been the main theatre. Dave enlisted the help of former Bay City Roller, Alan Longmuir to help restore the plumbing! Midas Promotions also ran gigs at Eric Brown’s in Dalry Road, including the earliest performances by cult Dundee band, The Associates.
Dave went on to manage or promote numerous bands, including Scars, Bhundu Boys, The Thompson Twins, Another Pretty Face, The Last Detail, The Cadets, Thick Pink Ink, Blues in Trouble, Rossetta Stone, The Mafia, Razor, Tam White and the Dexters, Rootsie Tootsie Band, John Otway, Angelic Upstarts, The Two Canoes, The Flowers, Twisted Nerve, Blues Conspiracy, Cadiz, Q Street, The Valves, Strutz and The Metrognomes. Along with many of these bands, 4 Minute Warning rehearsed in the dingy basement rooms of the former Regent Cinema on Abbeymount (now student accommodation), a few hundred yards from The Astoria. Other groups who have utilised these practice spaces include Napalm Stars, Random Factor, Sceptix, Visitors, Wild Indians, and Gallery Macabre (who became Fini Tribe).
The Astoria and Regent Buffet
One good thing about practicing so close to The Astoria was not having to hire a van when we played there - we just humped our gear up the steps from Abbeyhill, up the slope to the venue, then downstairs to the stage.
After most band practices, we'd adjourn to the pub on the corner of Abbeymount, then called The Regent Buffet. A slightly less abrasive version of the Mos Eisley bar in Star Wars, youths from every 1980s sub-culture would drink in separate clusters: punks, post-punks, mods, bikers, skinheads, rude boys, New Romantics, and soulboys. It was the pub's manageress that approached Dave about organising the fundraiser.
First Priority had a following, so a decent amount was raised for muscular dystrophy research. And it certainly spurred all of us to keep on making music.
I recall Dave popping into our practice room to make arrangements, and also offering to add us to the growing roster of bands he managed. One of his first suggestions was changing our name to something less overtly political. The Pandas. As it happened, we'd been contemplating a change in direction in any case, veering away from Killing Joke-influenced apocalyptic post-punk to surf the latest wave hitting alternative music: New Romanticism. Although we dug our heels in about becoming Pandas, and insisted we were billed as 4 Minute Warning for The Astoria show, we were already making plans to ditch DMs and creepers in favour of pointy suede boots! In a telling fanzine interview we undertook with our mates in Insane Society (who became Napalm Stars), we listed our musical influences as Bauhaus and Duran Duran. We were on the verge of renaming ourselves after one of our newest songs, a danceable slice of pop/funk somewhere between Boots for Dancing and Haircut 100, entitled 'Radiate Away.'
Radiate Away lasted for one demo tape, before we settled on Desperation AM, a nod to our latest musical heroes, Gang of Four. First Priority, who'd opened for The Clash when they played the Glasgow Apollo in January 1980, eventually became The Crows. Their guitarist, Donald MacLeod, remains passionate about the promotion of music, opening The Cathouse in Glasgow, as well as The Garage. Iconic bands he has promoted over the years include Oasis, Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Queens Of The Stone Age.
I remember that Astoria gig on a bleak Wednesday night in late November not being too well attended. But First Priority had a following, so hopefully a decent amount was raised for muscular dystrophy research. And it certainly spurred all of us to keep on making music.
Back then, 4 Minute Warning's bassist, Ross, worked in a paper merchant's warehouse, which meant having access to a machine that printed off stickers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s these festooned LRT buses, bus stops, Gorgie chippies, and sundry locations across the city.
My memoir, 1976 - Growing Up Bipolar, also touches on my own small part in Edinburgh's post-punk scene, and that gig 42 years ago!
P.S. Regarding Dave extolling Alan Longmuir's plumbing expertise. The former teen idol may have fixed the piping in the main building. But down in the Regent's basement where we practiced, all the bands used the old boiler room as a communal toilet!
Mental health issues - managing not 'curing'
As I mention in 1976 - Growing Up Bipolar, when I received my bipolar diagnosis (aged 25 in the late 80s), I was informed that, like the majority of mental health issues, my condition would be managed rather than cured. This isn't to say anyone with any sort of mental health diagnosis should ever feel disheartened about living with this, alongside friends, family, work colleagues or fellow students apparently living 'normally.' Everyone has mental health. Everyone has the potential to develop issues of varying degrees. But appreciating these can be managed as successfully as any physical symptoms can encourage people to reach out, rather than be dissuaded from doing so due to ongoing stigmatisation.
My own condition led to stints as in inpatient at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, followed by some three decades as an outpatient, prescribed with anti-psychotic medication (Lithium). A combination of medical intervention, not least those spells in psychiatric wards and medication, along with natural remedies such occupational therapy, meditation, healthy diets, exercise (including long walks immersed in Scotland's wild/beautiful natural landscapes and, far less frequently, inept displays on a 5-a-side pitch), love of family and support from friends (particularly those with relatable mental health experiences of their own), and, especially, musical therapy, have helped maintain my wellbeing, avoiding the periods of severe depression and manic delusions I suffered as a younger man.
Combatting dips in mental outlook
But, taking on board those comments about managing not curing, I'm also aware that although their levels might not soar into the 'red zones' typified by the bipolar scale I've highlighted in a previous blog about hypomania and depression, my bipolar moodswings can recur. At anytime. The difference between now and then is that in 2023, I'm aware of the dips. I can talk about feeling down with family and friends, especially the guys I've met at The Changing Room, the mental health awareness group aimed at (but in no way exclusively) football fans with issues. I was introduced to an intake of The Changing Room in October 2022, 12-week sessions run by coaches from Scottish Action for Mental Health (SAMH), providing a safe place for sharing lived experiences. I know full well how detrimental it can be not to broach the subject. Bottling everything up, either through wearing a mask of denial or hoping negative thoughts will somehow dissipate, has the potential to make things so much worse.
At The Changing Room, participants can feel empowered to share their experiences, as doing so, getting negative feelings off your chest, is an important step in managing unique but related mental health issues. Shared stories collated by SAMH at The Changing Room run at Hibs, Hearts, Rangers, and Falkirk can all be read in a blog I published in May (during Mental Health Awareness Week 2023).
Many factors can crop up that will sap your enthusiasm and optimism. In the wider world, war erupted in Ukraine last year, and in the Gaza Strip last month. Closer to home, the ongoing cost of living crisis was exacerbated by Liz Truss's catastrophic 49-day premiership in September 2022 when, abetted by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, a mini-budget aimed at slashing taxes merely derailed the UK economy. Although most of their measures were hastily reversed, the damage was done. Mental health charity MIND have estimated spiralling interest rates have effected one-in-three of the population, with one-in-10 further admitting this has also impacted their mental health (undoubtedly the tip of an iceberg).
Where tackling financial difficulties is concerned, denial is never an option. It's recommended to approach any organisation sending worrying statements or red bills to underscore your situation and discuss the possibility of repayment plans. By law, they are required to attempt to accommodate your circumstances rather than make impractical demands. There are trained volunteers you can approach for confidential advice, such as Money Advice or your local Citizens Advice office. SAMH offer constructive pointers about financial security for anyone who feels economic uncertainty is causing stress.
One of the best nuggets of advice I received at The Changing Room? Remember everything is temporary. Sometimes it might be hard to see it, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Walking from Portobello to Fort Kinnaird, there are two alternative routes, both requiring crossing bridges over the main East Coast railway line. To the west, you can stroll along a lengthy bridge that traverses the Harry Lauder Road and the railway in the direction of Portobello golf course; eastwards, you can head up Brunstane Road (closed to vehicles since 2019). Taking the latter option, as you cross the former road bridge over the line, to your left you'll see the former Joppa Station building still stands, although this hasn't welcomed passengers since the station closed in 1964. Turning into Milton Road, another bridge crosses the Border Line, the longest new domestic railway built in Scotland in over a century, running from Waverley to Tweedbank, southeast of Galashiels.
Following the path past The Range and through a subway towards ASDA, you pass the Niddrie Burn, one of several burns forming in the Pentlands, their names changing as they meander through Edinburgh. The Niddrie becomes the Brunstane Burn, eventually entering the Firth of Forth at Joppa to form the boundary between Edinburgh and East Lothian. Climbing the walkway past ASDA, you cross another railway bridge, this time traversing the Suburban Line, once a passenger network connecting the city's south and west suburbs, now used for freight traffic, and diverted/excursion passenger trains. In the photo, this line heads towards Peffermill before passing through long disused stations at Newington, Blackford Hill, Morningside, and Craiglockhart. Weed-clogged stairwells, crumbling platforms, and piles of rusting sleepers lurk by the tracks where trains would once have regularly chugged by leafy housing.
After the derelict Craiglockhart Station, the line snakes northwards past Shandon. As kids, this section of the railway was our playground. A tin pipe crosses the embankment beyond Shaftesbury Park which we used to 'tightrope walk' across, the thought of which now makes my blood run cold! We used to scamper around diesel-caked shunters parked on marshalling yards behind Appin Street, and when British Rail maintenance workers reproached us and demanded our names and addresses for their notebooks, we'd get creative about our pseudonyms.
Fort Kinnaird was built in the late 1980s on the site of Newcraighall Colliery. Once known as the Klondyke, this colliery contained two surface mines and a 250-metre shaft, at peak production employing over 700 miners before the pit closed in 1968. 'The Fort' (not to be confused with the former Leith flats) was home to Edinburgh's first multiplex cinema, the 12-screen UCI. When Back to the Future III was released in 1990, US actress Mary Steenburgen (then married to star of A Clockwork Orange, English actor, Malcolm McDowell) made a personal appearance here, along with the Delorean MC12 used by her co-star and love interest, Doc (Christopher Lloyd) for his time-travelling escapades. I saw various films here, including Bridget Fonda in The Assassin (1993), and One Fine Day (1996). There's now an Odeon at this location.
Playlist: Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder (Arts & Crafts, 2017)
Less an indie band, more a Toronto musical collective, Broken Social Scene were formed in 1999, and have so far released five studio albums (this, their most recent, came after a 7-year hiatus). The musicians involved ranging from six to 19 members drifting in and out, there are actually 22 musicians credited on this album, including founder member/vocalist/guitarist Kevin Frame and co-vocalist Leslie Feist, along with sundry players of keytars, clarinets, a vocoder, and much more. Feist came up with Hug of Thunder for the album title because it represented, "exactly who we are. That is our show. We're trying to create that hug of thunder. That sound. That embrace amongst the chaos."
If you're partial to spiralling, multi-textured baroque alt-rock, heavy on showgazing pedlary, and overflowing with deft melodic twists (as opposed to the predictable verse/chorus/middle-8 template utilised by less-memorable indie fodder), you'll love this gorgeously expansive album. The layered melodies tap into a rich vein of anthemic delights, reminiscent of everything from early Verve to Sea Power from this side of the pond, and Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, The Secret Machines, Arcade Fire, and The War on Drugs on their own side.
Every track is the perfect accompaniment for a scenic walk aimed at recharging the mental batteries, and there are so many highlights. Driven by an insistent bassline and ringing guitars underpinning Emily Paine's strident voice, 'Protest Song' is infectious, the choruses rising to the climactic: "We're just the latest in the longest rank and file that's ever to exist in the history of the protest song". Emily also moonlights in Metro, a prolific band with crunching riffs closer to art-punk that alt-rock! 'Skyline' brings the groove down a notch, but the dream pop melodies are just as catchy, swirling below multi-layered instrumentation. 'Stay Happy' starts more wistful and folky, quickly developing into a slice of jaunty pop, culminating in blasts of horn and fabulous vocal harmonies.
There are so many joyous, uplifting tracks here, from 'Halfway Home,' 'Towers and Masons,' and 'Gonna Get Better' (with co-vocalist, Ariel Engle intoning "Things will get better, 'Cuz they can't get worse") to more atmospheric pieces, like the mellower 'Victim Lover.' The climactic offering, 'Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse' propels the baroque pop momentum in finest grand finale style, with full-on multi-instrumentation.
Like the blood red legend imprinted throughout a stick of rock, mental instability runs through so many horror storylines
A psychological drama rather than horror, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest had horrific moments. But horror films set inside mental hospitals are an entire sub-category of the genre.
For horror screenwriters, mental illness equates to danger. Movies and Netflix series are infested with unhinged characters. Mad scientists. Mentally damaged Appalachian hillbillies. Psychiatric institution escapees in William Shatner masks.
In Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), a convict, Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is placed in a mental facility to determine if he is suffering from a genuine psychotic condition or feigning this to avoid prison labour. After rebelling against the head nurse's stern regime, he ends up, literally, losing his mind through medical procedures. A psychological drama rather than a horror movie, McMurphy's demise was nevertheless horrific. In another outing, The Shining (1980), adapted from bestselling author Stephen King's third novel, Nicholson plays a hotel caretaker who suffers a mental breakdown inspired by supernatural forces, eventually 'going mad' and becoming intent on butchering his family. Horror films set inside mental hospitals are an entire sub-category of the genre. Shock Corridor (1963). The Ward (2010). A Cure for Wellness (2016). Asylum (1972), sharing its title with the 2nd series of the American Horror Story anthology. Stonehearst Asylum (2014). Session 9 (2009). Unsane (2018). Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018). The Ninth Configuration (1980), written by William Peter Blatty, who also penned The Exorcist, an inspiration for Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010).
Just as McMurphy's condition initially seems ambiguous, in the real world, not everyone claiming to be mental is actually mental. The emotive word can simply be a euphemism for recklessness rather than behaviour warranting psychiatric intervention. Scottish teenagers have long added 'mental' to gang names as shorthand for warning rivals of their propensity for violence: Young Mental [scheme name.] (Here, it's important to point out the correlation between gang membership and actual mental health issues is an entirely different subject, and a central theme of Airdrie writer, Graeme Armstrong's outstanding debut novel, The Young Team.)
The most captivating stories rarely concern people coasting through untroubled lives. Central characters are more likely to be on the edge, taking out their seething inner turmoil on others, verbally or physically. But in any context, what constitutes mental instability is a perplexing, age-old question. Serial killers, considered madmen by the majority of society's sane individuals, sometimes blame phantom voices for their horrific actions. In 1970s New York, David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz, heard demons. In 1980s Yorkshire, Peter Sutcliffe heard God.
Was Colonel Paul Tibbets a madman for piloting the B-29 named after his mum, Enola Gay, over Hiroshima, a Japanese city populated by civilians, 20,000 Korean slaves and US POWs, then dropping the hilariously ironic 'Little Boy' atomic bomb to incinerate them all?
Writers have often addressed the correlation between madness and warfare. Kurt Vonnegut used his sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, to describe his experiences of being a US POW in WW2, where he witnessed both the firebombing of Dresden, resulting in the deaths of 25,000 of its citizens, and the execution of an American soldier for looting a teapot from the charred rubble. In Joseph Heller's Catch-22, the central protagonist, Yossarian, forced by his recklessly social climbing superior to fly excessive combat missions, wrestles with a dilemma. “If one is crazy, one does not have to fly missions; and one must be crazy to fly. But one has to apply to be excused, and applying demonstrates that one is not crazy. As a result, one must continue flying, either not applying to be excused, or applying and being refused.”
For horror screenwriters, tapping into unbalanced minds is a 'go to' plot device. But as Barry Katz, PhD, a forensic and clinical psychologist with the West Essex Psychology Center, New Jersey, has stated. "In the movies, people with mental illness are literally seen as monsters and dehumanized. This takes fears and lack of understanding people already have and exploits them by presenting a narrative in which the individual is threatening or scary."
In my memoir, 1976-Growing Up Bipolar, I address society's stigmatised attitude to mental health issues in a chapter entitled Psychos.
Writers of horror can mine the human mind on a more visceral level, poking at our deepest fears of danger. Of what lurks in the dark. This is why, on a purely entertainment level, I love watching horror films.
As teenagers, whenever anyone had a free house (an empty), word would spread like wildfire. Carryouts were purchased. 18-certificate videos were rented from Blockbuster. You always had one mate who could get his hands on grainy Nth generation copies of titles from the wave of so-called ‘video nasties’ banned in the 1980s. Driller Killer. Cannibal Apocalypse. I Spit on Your Grave. SS Experiment Camp. That latter title is a reminder that few stories conjured by a fantastical writer's vivid imagination come close to matching the horrors clinically sane humans are capable of inflicting on each other.
But we’re approaching Halloween and the shops are rammed with the trappings to festoon kids’ fancy dress parties. In the run up to October 31st, my daughter suggested popping names of horror films into a hat (a plastic pumpkin hat!) We draw a film at random, then find it on a streaming service, satiating ourselves with films of every sub-genre of horror every other night. So far we’ve been alternately scared witless and enjoyed a gory potpourri including Alien, Monster House, Carrie (the 1976 original), The Amityville Horror (the 2005 remake), Friday 13th (the 1980 original), and The Corpse Bride. With Halloween refreshments.
Horror can be fun!
Scotland's capital has many parks, but the largest, Holyrood, boasts 650 acres of gorse-strewn glens, ridges, volcanic cliffs, three lochs, Edinburgh's loftiest point (823-feet high Arthur's Seat), and Scotland's earliest railway tunnel. Marshland to the east of the park was flooded to create an artificial loch, St Margaret's, in 1856. This is now home to a sizeable colony of mute swans, as well as other waterfowl, mainly mallards, coots, moorhens, tufted ducks, and greylag geese. To get those feel-good hormones flooding your system and help flush away stresses, there are many scenic walks to be enjoyed through these tranquil surroundings.
Entering the park from the Meadowbank end, the first landmark you might notice is a cairn (pile of stones) overlooking the road. 'Maggie's Cairn' was constructed by locals to commemorate Margaret Hall, the 17-year-old murdered by her physician husband, Nicol Muschat, near this spot in 1720. This was the culmination of months of inept attempts to take her life by Muschat, who'd run up debts and wanted to start a new life abroad. He'd tried poisoning Maggie with mercury dichloride (a noxious substance used as an insecticide and also in the treatment of syphilis), administered in whisky drams and ale over a period. Maggie gamely recovered, prompting Muschat to take more direct action. After a long day on the peeve, Muschat persuaded Maggie to accompany him on a walk to Duddingston Kirk, then sliced her throat with a breadknife. Throughout this scheme, he had plotted with accomplices, his cousin James and James's wife, Grizel. Both grassed him up (referred to as turning King's Evidence back then). Muschat went to the gallows in the Grassmarket in 1721. A third accomplice, James Campbell, was deported to the West Indies to work as a plantation slave.
Heading to the loch, a pathway peeling to the left winds above the calm waters, leading to stairs rising towards the ruins of the early 15th century St Anthony's Chapel. You can continue up the scree-ridden slopes towards Arthur's Seat, head through Hunter's Bog to Salisbury Crags, or climb back down to the loch.
An awesome live version of DEPECHE MODE's 1983 Thatcher-baiting anthem 'Everything Counts,' the crowd taking over the chorus: "The grabbing hands, grab what they can." NITIN SAWHNEY, a London-born composer who has collaborated with everyone from Pink Floyd and Brian Eno to Nelson Mandela, here joined by Elbow's GUY GARVEY. Timeless harmonies from one of pop's most influential groups, THE BEACH BOYS.
Beautifully swirling dream pop from Barcelona's MAGIA BRUTA (Catalan for Dirty Magic). A spine-tingling cover of Tim Buckley's 'Song to the Siren' by THIS MORTAL COIL, a music collective featuring 4AD artists, here starring breathtaking vocals by Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser. Isle of Wight indie rockers COACH PARTY get in your face with an infectious slice of vitriol. Gorgeous melodies from Baltimore dream pop duo BEACH HOUSE. Evocative ambient music by TINY LEAVES (Joel Nathaniel Pike). Bringing us back in a circle to Depeche Mode, upbeat electropop from Australia's CONFIDENCE MAN.