Little boy sat on his own,
jamming his mind full of Bowie
to drown out his screaming parents.
Sister’s putting on her war paint:
Alex Harvey concert at The Apollo.
mouthing goldfish words.
Father to the pub…
Mum to the bingo…
Little boy to the sherry bottle
and the cigarette packet.
14 August 1976
‘Family Life’ was first published in Words 6. I seem to recall is was affiliated in some way with Aberdeen University but I can find no evidence in the journal to that effect. This was the first poem I ever had published. It was also the first—and for the longest time the only—poem I was ever paid for, the grand sum of £1.50, the value of two issues of the journal. As much as that delighted me I was disappointed when I received my contributor’s copy and noticed they’d omitted the poem’s title.
It’s not remotely biographical. My dad never went to the pub, not in the same ways that other dads went to the pub (I’m not suggesting that he never went inside a pub but it was a rarity), and my mum certainly never went to the bingo. They did on occasion have a drink at home but it was more likely to be martini; Christ knows why I made it sherry. I don’t think my mother ever smoked but Dad had certainly given up long before I showed any interest in having a drag. And no, I don’t have a big sister. But I think I might’ve quite liked one.
I’ve always liked Bowie and he definitely was on a roll in the seventies but he was just one of many singers I listened to. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were a Scottish band. I had their single ‘Boston Tea Party’ which I still think’s a great song but I didn’t really know them apart from that. He did play the Glasgow Apollo many times. In an article in The Glasgow Herald David Belcher recalls a famous show in 1975:
During one of those shows, Alex reached the usual dramatic denouement of the song ‘Framed’, portraying an innocent man fitted up by the polis. The band stopped playing, leaving Alex a broken figure in the spotlight, looking up pitiably to some higher power, pleading: "Ah didn't do nothin'." From the darkness, a Glaswegian voice insisted: "Aye, ye did—ye shagged ma sister."