What you rebelling against?
What you got?
It’s May Day 2018 and I’ve just tweeted the Scottish Book Trust to say that today’s the perfect day to start writing my Rebel story. I get a tweet of encouragement back and we’re off.
This invitation has come at the perfect time as I seek ways back into writing after years rebelling against it. I really wanted to be a writer when I was young and got as far as an interview for a trainee journalist post at The Scotsman newspaper but not got the job.
I wrote lyrics for our teenage punk band Dirty Reds. Following a lucid anxiety dream, I penned a poem about growing up and into the straight life of employment - Dine On My Mind - which began...
Tonight my future invaded my room.
I said - Please go away, you’ve come too soon.
Future said - Look son, we’re all that you lack.
If we go now we’re never coming back.
And it ended -
Prospects look good if I’m not rude
And always wear a tie and don’t step out of line
And once in a while, I’ll invite the boss over to dine
Dine on my mind…
Such writing helped nurture my rebellion against such prospects. But what really did the job in getting me out of the 9-5 was finding a way into acting for a living. James Dean was a hero of mine and I felt such affinity with his Rebel Without a Cause and that opening Marlon Brando quote.
But acting has meant serving the cause of other writers’ words not mine. Hey I’m not complaining, far from it. How could I feel anything but blessed to have been given the jobs of recording ten of Irvine Welsh’s novels and short stories as audiobooks? I truly love talkin’ Welshy.
Another wonderful engagement has recently come through Bill Drummond deciding to start documenting his work as short plays and asking me to perform in them as him. I not only get to give voice to Bill’s ideas, experience and humour. I have the opportunity to study up close an artist I’d love to emulate. Bill’s agreed to cast an eye over what I produce and this story will be going to him before the Scottish Book Trust and you.
So, back to May Day when I committed to writing this true story. Bill Drummond doesn’t do Twitter so he knew nothing of that. But that very First of May evening into my inbox pops the first draft of Bill’s latest play called … The Rebel Stand. Talk about serendipity…
I won’t use up my allotted words here with the story of Bill’s play but The Rebel Stand title comes from The Band song The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. I will though give a quote from the play as it’s very pertinent to what I’m trying to say here-
“… it confirmed what I guess I already knew, that taking the rebel stand, is nearly always done as a mere pose and not to achieve actual change for the better…”
I knew I had to challenge and explore that idea in this story.
The Rebel story deadline set by the Scottish Book Trust is tomorrow - June 6, the day after the 150th birthday of the greatest rebel ever produced by my hometown of Edinburgh, James Connolly. So happy birthday to rebel James Connolly!
I first learned about him through his great love for the football team I support - Hibs. We sang Irish rebel songs on the Easter Road terraces in honour of his attempt to break the might of the British Empire in the Dublin Post Office in 1916. That was a rebel stand that was no mere pose and did achieve actual change for the better, even if obviously not without its own enormous problems.
But there is another more personal bare thread to all this. When I moved beyond teenage punky angst I also left behind James Dean and that very sort of rebel stand pose raised in Bill’s statement. Through the experience of the Miners Great Strike of 1983-84 and a visit to the Soviet Union over New Year 1984 (with some of the band Bill actually managed at the time - Echo and the Bunnymen. But that’s another story!) I joined the rebellion against capitalism that James Connolly embodied and gave his life for. I became a communist and threw myself into full-time party politics which somehow jostled along with my acting career. I also finally took up journalism writing many articles in the party papers The Leninist and Weekly Worker. I even stood as the Communist Party of Great Britain candidate in Glasgow Central in the 1992 General Election (not the CPB as Wikipedia wrongly states).
But then in 1994 I got a job with Boilerhouse Theatre Company to make a devised show called Headstate with Irvine Welsh that he dubbed Acid House theatre. Having been oblivious to all that meant, I thought I better explore this E-culture and as Irvine said in the intro to the published play - Tam dived in and never came back out. All the partying did come to mean the end of my party membership…
I came back to writing about that for a song I recorded with Edinburgh jazzy hip-hop outfit 3 Bag Brew called Mantra. The day after my first clubbing experience just happened to be the annual James Connolly March and I carried right on through to it with the drums of the Republican bands bringing me back up again. This is what I wrote -
…Past the plaque, now painted black, James Connolly’s plaque, calling me back to the march that weekend that changed my life.
He said the great only appear great because we’re on our knees.
Well, I’ve been on my feet since then - dancin’…
PS On BBC Radio Scotland Stark Talk interview May 30th I described myself as…
Rebel without a fringe!