AWB with Hamish Stuart front and centre
I’ve been enjoying listening to Edsel’s set of four double CD’s of the complete recordings of the original line-up of the Average White Band. The packaging, sleevenotes and mastering are exemplary and all the music (and more) is there; the great Average White Band, Cut the Cake, Soul Searching, Person to Person, Feel No Fret; the OK Shine, Benny and Us; the tired Warmer Communications; and the completely misconceived Cupid’s in Fashion. There’s also The Clover Sessions, which is pretty much the first run at the Average White Band album – it’s almost right, but thankfully Arif Mardin heard it and decided to produce Average White Band.
There are a series of demos and recordings on the first set which are never less than interesting and document what AWB sounded like in the brief period before the arrival of Hamish Stuart…
Now there’s a man. Sadly, he’s declined to tour or record with the current incarnation of AWB (who continue to play great shows and never fail to make me feel honoured to have been able to watch them,) but his contribution to the body of work is massive. Surely it’s not accidental that my favourite AWB album, Soul Searching, is the only one on which every track features a composer credit for him?
Then, of course, there were the two world tours and two studio albums with Paul McCartney, where Hamish got to be Paul’s bass-player for much of the evening and to sing John’s lines. Quite a good job.
Hamish continues to play jazz-funk under his own name. More importantly, he was also in the first rock group I ever saw.
When Radio 1 started in the UK, they promoted the station with the Radio 1 Club; for a few shillings, you could buy membership which gave you a) a membership card which b) allowed you entrance to the Radio 1 Clubs which ran as live broadcasts over weekday lunchtimes. They would ship out one of the star DJs to play the top chart hits, organise a few daft quizzes and introduce a live band.
When this happened, my mum immediately enrolled herself and me as members, because she knew it was my sort of thing (and maybe it was hers too…) I found out later that she had tried and failed for years to get tickets to take me to see Top of the Pops recordings. In retrospect, maybe it’s as well that as a young boy I didn’t get to mingle with the (alleged) BBC light-entertainment swingers tag teams (how did they get any programmes made?) Things could have turned out differently…
It wasn’t just my mum who encouraged this nonsense. After she died, my dad tried to get tickets to take him and me to see Roxy Music at The Empire in Edinburgh in what must have been 1973. I frequently thank the gods of ticketing that he was too late and the show had sold out. Not that it wasn’t nice of him and that I wouldn’t have wanted to go, but I think his style critique of Ferry et al would have been audible and succinct. My dad probably would have seen Glen Campbell’s haircut in 1973 mark him out as a sleeper cell of the Manson Family, so would have made a meal of a band who looked at the time as if they had just survived an explosion in a Martian Oxfam shop, to which a camp cowboy had recently bequeathed his cast-offs…
Anyway, when Radio 1 Club hit Edinburgh, my mum and I were right there, queuing outside The Cavendish Ballroom at Tollcross (currently Ignite nightclub) from about 11am. I guess it must have been school holidays and estimate it to have been April 1969, based only on the knowledge that “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was Number One at the time – so probably Easter holidays.
The day’s featured DJ was Stuart Henry, like most of the initial Radio 1 crew a former pirate radio broadcaster. He was also a professional Scotsman on the radio and jock-ed it up good style; this, along with the name that his forename was spelt like mine seemed to have convinced my mum that he was practically my brother. (The ramification of her and her mother’s possible mis-interpretation for me of their relationship, hence mine, with James Bond, who was also came from Tollcross in these days, still threatens to break out with the full force of a Greek tragedy one day, but that’s another forty-odd year old story…)
So up rolled Stuart Henry’s car to the kerb, a Roll Royce or a Bentley, I don’t remember, and out rolled Stuart in his ankle length fur coat. He surveyed the queue and spreading his arms wide above his head, shouted his catchphrase with which he opened each show;
“Good mornin’ mah friends!”
To total silence, the kind that only an Edinburgh crowd can pull off. He went into the club, to be followed by us, his friends, about half an hour later.
The Cavendish, at the time, was still recognisably a former dancehall. Over the years, it morphed into Coasters (a roller disco, where in 1988 I sat on a mushroom shaped stool in an audience of twelve, half of whom were staff, to watch Dean Friedman play on the last night of the Edinburgh Festival – he smiled ruefully then did his gig, bless him) then back into The Cavendish, which in the early noughties used to open about 4pm on a Friday, along with the other Tollcross nightclubs, to entice the office workers from Edinburgh’s new financial district. You could re-enact the last days of Rome by about half-six…
But that morning in The Cavendish, I was placed on one of the sofas which had been arranged, backs outward, to keep the crowd from the stage. Although “well-built” with fine boobs for a boy, I was still just nine and probably wouldn’t have been able to see much over the big kids’ heads. So I had a great view of that day’s live band, who had come all the way from Glasgow; The Dream Police, a bass/drums/guitar/organ outfit fronted by Hamish Stuart, who had a massive Afro which was surely the inspiration for the Golly design of the first AWB album a few years later.
I’ve no recollection of what they sounded like, but I do remember Hamish saying to the organ player as they were soundchecking (or practising as my mum said) “Gimme a G, man,” words which immediately made me want to enter into the freemasonry of the musician, to be a musician. Apart from lack of talent, drive and vision, nothing thereafter stopped me…
Similarly, I remember little about the rest of the hour, although it could have been two, of the Radio 1 Club, apart from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” being played. And Hamish from The Dream Police shoving a drum stick, as a memento, into my porky wee paws. It had seen one rimshot too many, to be fair.
I had the chance to organise an album signing for Hamish in the late nineties and was able to tell him the story of my awakening. He was very kind and pretended to have a glimmer of a recollection of the gig. A lovely man, who I watched playing a gig later that evening, which he seemed to enjoy as much as the Dream Police show back in 1969.