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For The Good Times-One Of The Best Books What Ever Lived.

In January 2017, whilst living in a soul-less new-build estate between Airdrie & Coatbridge, I became aware of a novel due for publication in a couple of weeks time. This Is Memorial Device, set in Airdrie, music a constant thread. The humorous tag line, It’s not easy being Iggy Pop in Airdrie sold it to me. I expected a memoir style novel probably published by a small indie. Within a minute of holding the book, those presumptions were dismissed. Firstly, it was published by Faber & Faber and then the wonderfully titled chapters, such as, Holdin Cells fur Oerweight Ballerinas and I Thought They Had Cut the Top of His Head Off and Were Spooning Out His Brains told me this was a completely different animal. It stated on the inside cover that the novel was An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986. When I began reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. A peculiar feeling washed over me, a feeling I’d only felt a lighter version of when reading another novel from the hundreds I’ve read, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The feeling I can only describe as trance-like. Forgetting about the actual act you’re engaged in. Completely and utterly immersed.
Memorial Device burst with poignancy and proper laugh out loud accounts from various characters who lived through the fictional halcyon days of post-punk in Airdrie of the 70s/80s. I shouted from the rooftops about the book and was delighted it received the plaudits it deserved. In March 2017, I attended an event featuring the author of the book, David Keenan, at the Aye Write festival in the Mitchell Library. His conversation with the host, Vic Galloway, only placed him higher in my estimations. He spoke of how he’d previously written books then destroyed them and started again. In the book, he used a word constantly mouthed in a derogatory manner during my childhood growing up in Drumchapel, PLAMF. I’d completely forgotten about the word and hadn’t heard it for over thirty years. I mentioned this to him as he was signing copies of the book and he duly signed my copy, To Martin, Who Knows What a Plamf really is!!! Memorial Device hasn’t left my bedside since reading it in January 2017. Always dipping in and out of it, re-reading the odd page or chapter. So, when I read an article confirming his next novel would be about, The Troubles, and was due for publication in January this year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Waiting on the release of, For The Good Times, felt like the pre-digital days when a favourite band were releasing a new record and I’d be up at HMV on the day of its release to secure a copy. A fortnight or so ago, I read a newspaper article where David spoke of his late father’s love of Perry Como. Not only the music, but his style and how he lived his life. How his father would sit at night with him drinking tea and eating scones whilst listening to Como. Describing it as ‘Comotherapy.’ This truly resonated with me. My father had an obsession with Sinatra. Every other singer was a ‘cabaret act’ compared to Sinatra. The only other singer he would begin to entertain was, Bobby Darin.
As a child, my friends and I would be playing Three Sticks or British Bulldogs outside our house and a voice would boom from my Dad’s bedroom. My friends would say, ‘Is that your Da playing his records again.’ I’d tell them no it’s my Da singing, he’s making his tapes. He’d be in the ‘recording studio,’ a little microphone plugged into the hi-fi, recording himself singing Sinatra songs. On the tapes he wrote, ‘Tommy and Frank.’ If you made the error of chapping on the bedroom door to interrupt him you’d be met with the sight of his face inches from yours, his tongue hanging out, teeth biting down on his tongue, eyeballs popping out his head, his hand waving from side to side. Not a word spoken, then, the door slammed shut. His love for Sinatra was such that when it was announced he was performing in concert at Ibrox, he refused to go. Sinatra was in the twilight of his career and my father thought his voice was gone and attending the concert would only tarnish his memory and love of Sinatra.
At my father’s funeral, the last song played was, Let Me Try Again. Relatives not seen for many years convinced themselves it was him singing and not Sinatra.
The main characters in, For The Good Times, share a similar kind of love for, Perry Como. Numerous conversations about his music, sartorial elegance, love for his wife and teetotal-ness are peppered throughout the novel which tells the story of Sammy and his friends/comrades in Belfast during The Troubles. I found their love for Como a little curious. Their behaviour had me thinking they’d put Sinatra and his hell-raising ways on a pedestal, not Como. Perhaps, in Como, they looked at the man they wish they could’ve been. For The Good Times is a story about friendships, the impact the conflict had on these friendships during a time when subterfuge and paranoia was the norm. As with his previous novel, Keenan shows such talent for creating memorable characters you care about. I shed tears of laughter at times as I read conversations involving, Barney. His analysis of various topics, particularly music, was a real highlight. These little scenes in the pub or the comic shop the three friends ran made me feel like I was present. One scene, in particular, where a comrade is extolling the virtues of Hawkwind and sonic attacks is an absolute classic. Keenan’s writing forensically examines human beings and how differently they react to their conditions. In one scene, Sammy is sat in his car. He has gotten into the habit of following a female he has a grudge with, he’s asking himself why he keeps following her and comes to the conclusion it’s, ‘to keep my hatred sharp.’ It can’t have been easy to come up with something as good as Memorial Device, however, in my opinion, he has succeeded and more. Keenan’s writing is visionary. The narrator cracks Irishman jokes throughout the novel and the comic book scenes had me scratching my head like I was attempting to solve a koan. This is writing at a different level to anything else at the moment. For The Good Times, will join Memorial at my bedside, another perfect book to dip in and out of, to marvel at how good it is, until he rewards us with his next offering.

For The Good Times, is published by, Faber and Faber, and is available now.

The Famous Glasgow Barrowlands

A favourite restaurant with special memories of time spent with loved ones. A holiday destination that you always return to. A specific view that takes your breath away. Most of us have a place that makes us feel something special. Something powerful…different. Following a hiatus, a couple of recent visits provided me with the confirmation that my special place is the Barrowlands music venue.
Ask yourself a question. When was the last time you felt pure, unadulterated happiness? Eyes closed, lost in a moment kind of happiness. Life can be trying. That is precisely why we need to take the opportunity to scamper from the hamster’s wheel of life as often as we can to safeguard our well-being. A constant stream of miserable news surrounds us. A few days after Charlottesville, I found a place of positivity. A place we don’t get the opportunity to visit often enough, if we are truly honest with ourselves. Life periodically throws us the odd crumb. Happiness. Escapism. Elation. Call it what you will.
Fluorescent lights dangle from the stage like the BFG’s colourful shoelaces. Inflatable mushrooms strategically placed throughout. The ceiling is decorated in cheap looking tiles. All varying in size. Some with shiny looking red wrapping paper. Others look like square tiles crudely glued to the ceiling. A glitterball hangs from the ceiling directly over the stage. This place shouldn’t work. The antithesis of what any new venue or business aspires to. Sticking two fingers up to the sterile venues backed by blue chip companies. What this venue does have though…money can’t buy. History. Reputation. Soul. An aura.
Tuesday night’s aren’t meant to be like this. The Barrowlands has a special feel to it tonight. Right from the start. Perhaps it’s defiance. Who knows? Considering recent events, possibly the best equipped band for lifting the mood are playing tonight. The first line to the opening song seems apt: Two scientists are racing, for the good of all man-kind, both of them side by side, so determined. Now, picture this, we all have our heroes. I happen to think this guy’s lyrics are amazing. He’s one of the coolest guy on the planet in my tiny world. He’s riding a multi-coloured unicorn that looks like My Little Pony through the centre of the crowd. I’ve lost count of the number of gigs I’ve been to in this place. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen. I’ve seen the band before and experienced the madness of him orbing over the crowd—but this? I’m patting the Unicorn and shouting Wayne, Wayne, giggling like a schoolboy playing pass the parcel. He shakes my hand. Really? This is bonkers.
Adult’s transform into smiling, excitable children for ninety minutes. Ticker-tape replaces bullets as a gun fires it into the crowd. Large inflatable balls bounce throughout the crowd and onto stage. The only thing missing is jelly and ice-cream. However, don’t mistake this for childish, light-hearted, whimsical fluff. Yelling as hard as they can, the doubter’s all were stunned, heard louder than a gun, the sound they made was love. The music stops. Cue two thousand people clapping and stamping their feet whilst singing back…..love….love…love.. love. Where else would this happen?
The closing song embodies everything about the night. Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize we’re floating in space? Do you realize that happiness can make you cry? Do you realize that everyone you know, someday will die.
For me, the part of the song that follows this, just about sums up life. And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast, it’s hard to make the good things last, you realize the sun don’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
As I descend the stairs, shirt clinging to me like another epidermis, a man with a smile that will take some shifting, asks his friend who’s walking towards him a question, ‘How glorious was that?’
I concur. Pure unadulterated gloriousness. I sat in the pub afterwards on an almighty high, drinking my pint, recalling some of the highlights that I’ve experienced in the Barrowlands. Win Butler of Arcade Fire walking over the top of the crowd like a messiah to the strains of the anthemic Wake Up, making his way all the way to the back of the crowd. Witnessing bands who were never deemed to be ‘cool’ however the Barrowlands crowd seemed to take them to their hearts and blow them away. Under-appreciated musicians stunned at the reception they’re receiving. Bands like Embrace, that my older brother, Tom and I, went to see so many times, knowing full well the lead singer couldn’t really sing but the crowd would sing for him, pulling him through. A Reef gig that I attended with my other brother, Mark, where I ended up black and blue due to the physicality of it. Seeing one of my favourite bands ever, The Delgados, support Doves before graduating to headliners there themselves. Then, finally, a memory that a month or so later made it all seem perfect. Things turned full circle. I was absolutely buzzing to take my nineteen-year old daughter, Kira, to her first gig at the Barrowlands as an adult to see Wolf Alice. On the morning of the gig, I received an email confirming that my manuscript had been selected for publication. What a way to celebrate! Watching my beautiful daughter, wide-eyed, lapping up the beauty of the venue. Singing her heart out to a band that we both only came across after seeing Trainspotting 2 together and hearing a small clip of one of their songs. Then, the realisation, nineteen years previously, on the 10th January 1998, just nine days after she was born, I was in this very same place on my first night out since she was born, to see my favourite artist, Richard Ashcroft, play the Glasgow Barrowlands with The Verve. Three months earlier, they had released one of the best records ever, in my opinion, Urban Hymns. Ironically, that is the only gig that I have had to bail out on to catch my breath. Rolling People had me staring at those cheap looking ceiling shapes gasping for air.
I worry for the future of this famous venue, however, our elders who frequented the place to dance back in the sixties, probably thought the same.
It’s hard to make the good things last. And that is precisely the reason why we need to savour our special places and our cherished moments when they arrive.