Glasgow 1986 Back
A winter morning in Argyll Street in Glasgow in 1986, Stevie and I were busking outside a big shiny department store. I was playing chords for Stevie, who had a guitar slung over his back while he played tunes on the pipes and accurately negotiated the chanter even with fingerless mittens on. After a short occupation of our spot we had taken in most of the features around us, subconsciously keeping an eye out for grumpy shopkeepers with a complaint about the volume. The coast, for now, was clear; we were making good steady cash and putting a few smiles on folks faces. A couple of wee lassies went promenading by on the slick paving slabs laughing their heads off. There was an old boy keeping his distance on the far side of the street, leaning on his brolly nudging his big toe up and down, one eye shut and the tune on his pursed lips. A big overcoated jakey in a bunnet was delighted we were there and thought everybody wanted to dance with him. They didn’t. And the cash dropped steadily into the hat.
There’s always a magic wand of a tune that loosen coins though, usually not a tune you’d play through choice. You possibly would through hunger. Certain tunes for certain places like The Dark Island, The Bluebell Polka and The Sash if you happen to be hungry in Larkhall. It's quite liberating to busk and be able to play where and when you decide or even change spot halfway through the tune if you feel like it. Sometimes the cops feel like it. And storekeepers can be tricky, especially with pipers.
Stevie and I were both aware of the suit that emerged from the department store and knew what was coming. Something like, he doesn't mind buskers but we're just too loud and he can't communicate with his customers. He might have chosen different words to that, but hey, if we didn’t notice him, and we certainly couldn’t hear him, then how was he to communicate with us? Iron lungs Gillies was on it and his set of pipe tunes went on for a very long time. And all the while, the boy in the suit stood to the side until the last blast sounded from the chanter. He seized the opportunity jumping into eye contact before we could re scramble his communications.
‘Yis dae me a wee favour boys?’
‘No bother,’ we lied.
‘Wid yis come intae the shop an' do me a tune.’ Then he tugged a crisp fiver between thumbs and forefingers. We followed him into the store past the various aisles and glass counter tops stopping behind him at the door to an office where a few members of staff had gathered a few yards away. He turned to us then and asked if we could begin playing the second he opened the office door and be ready to march into the room. Inside the room, the boss was suffering with a mighty hangover and wanted to be left totally undisturbed until further notice. The pipes were incredibly loud in that tiny enclosed space and no chance of us hearing the poor tortured guy’s pleading. His complexion was of dry rotten lime plaster and he looked ready to die. He threw his arms over his head and staggered round us towards the door. On the other side, the assistant manager was jamming the handle in the horizontal position with a chair cutting off any hope the boss had of escaping. So, we were a fiver up, and a good pitch outside the shop .
Gregor Lowrey Back