Admit it. We all read on the throne and Billy Connolly made Scottish humour synonymous with toilets, so this week’s article is going down the pan.
The purple sail above me catches all the strength of summer.
Fishes stop and ask me where I am bound.
I smile and shake my head and say my little ship is sinking,
But I kind of like the sea that I’m on, and I don’t mind if I do drown.
Painting Box by The Incredible String Band
Like good pop and bad pop, there are certain books that I call toilet books and they are distinctly split into two clans, those that you throw down the toilet, and those that leave you with a red ring around the erse, courtesy of being sat too long lost in another world. It may say something about my psyche that I have a book/magazine rack in the cludgy (loo), so I thought erse, why not look at what makes a really excellent toilet book?
All books should be captivating, engaging and thought provoking and as much as I enjoy putting my feet up with a brilliant novel, often or not my time in the life or loo is determined more by my wife’s desire to get to the shops or do some DIY task than my free will or internal movements. A “good toilet book” therefore needs to be non-linear i.e. the kind that has little or no narrative, allowing you to dip in and out at leisure without losing pace or enjoyment. My best example of this is, “Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews”, which you can pick up and depending on how much peace you have, read 1, 5 or 20 pages of cranky rudeness, witty escapism or sheer hilarity. The latest book that has made it into my privy is the wonderful Rock and Roll Tourist by Graham Forbes, former bass player with The Incredible String Band (note ISB not IBS).
Graham’s book is an entrancing jaunt through, bands, countries, bad hotels, musical genres and male menopause. It is clever, charming and, like all the best jokes, so near the truth it hurts. I read with pleasure his musings about artists as gigantic as Rod Stewart and Chuck Berry playing Glasgow, tales of travel to foreign lands to see Anthrax in Brussels, Amos Grant in Galloway or Franz Ferdinand in Reykjavik, and was humbled by his inclusion of The Hedrons and Darkwater, two wee Scottish bands who left as substantial an impression on Graham, as did U2.
Rock and Roll Tourist struck a high A travel chord with me as it opened the Fender case in my mind to my own past travelogue, like making the first lone and dangerous journey from Bo’ness to Edinburgh as a 12 year old to see The Sensational Alex Harvey Band get Framed at the Usher Hall only to escape through a brick wall sprayed with Vambo Rool! My maiden voyage south of Gretna was to Wembley in 1976 to see Bowie’s Thin White Duke “shimmer and stroll like a Chicago moll” and throw “darts in young lover’s eyes”. I have seen Iggy Pop play in an Amphitheatre while the Rhine was in Flames below. I have played football with Del Amitri outside a venue in Bielefeld, Germany and I have stood knee deep in Radiohead, in Belgium. We travelled to London to be mesmerized by Patti Smith and The Cowboy Junkies, and again to see Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails, only for those two shows to be cancelled at the last minute and having whole new non-musical adventures.
Not so long ago I got on an Amtrak bound for glory and saw The Doors in Cleveland, old blues maestros in Chicago bars, Lyle Lovett in Seattle, and Lou Reed in Portland before catching a cheap flight to NYC just in time to book into the Chelsea Hotel and watch Ryan Adams and Jesse Malin rock a free 4th of July show at Battery Park. There have been annual pilgrimages to SxSW in Austin Texas, CMJ in NYC, Popkom in Berlin, goNorth in Aberdeen and In the City in Manchester, catching a few blasts from the past like The New York Dolls, or Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the best of what is new from home and abroad. I have been privileged to see many great Scottish performances at SxSW though my finest memory of Austin was watching The Grim Northern Social playing through the open windows of BD Riley’s to a bigger crowd gathered outside than was allowed inside.
Growing up in Scotland, I think that what makes us travel to see bands, is that some tours just do not make it that far north, or perhaps it is the subliminal knowledge that our rock stars live on the road and that by someway experiencing bad hotels and long drives, it makes us feel closer to them as individuals. Expendable income also helps. The older I got and the more I earned, the further I was prepared to travel to see idols, and looking back I have far more memories of the trips than the shows. Though without a doubt the music was the catalyst to shake off my apathy and get me moving.
Tommy Cunningham of Wet Wet Wet said of Rock and Roll Tourist, “If Bill Bryson could play guitar, this is how it would sound!”. Graham’s book is full of gleeful stories that will turn a song into a smile and is a top quality 4 ply absorbing read, in or out of the cludgy.
More on the Incredible String Band next week.
Recent books that have graced my cludgy are in my top toilet list below:
Alec’s Top 10 Toilet List Reading
Acid Plaid: New Scottish Writing
The Proud Highway Hunter S Thompson
Innocent When You Dream: The Collected Interviews: Tom Waits
Picador Book of Contemporary Scottish Fiction
The History of Scottish Rock and Pop by Brian Hogg
Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed
Listen to This by Alan Reder & John Baxter
Complete: Lyrics, Notes and Reflections by Patti Smith
31 Songs by Nick Hornby
Rock & Roll Traveller USA by Tim Perry & Ed Glinert