April 12, 2018 has been a long time coming. When I first spoke to Alan Mair in 2006, during research for another book, he told me about the events of June 11, 1965, that set his band The Beatstalkers onto a rollercoaster ride. When a free, open-air show in Glasgow’s George Square attracted 7000 people instead of the 200 that had been expected, the Scottish pop explosion began there and then. By the time the rollercoaster stopped, they’d recorded songs with David Bowie, gigged with the Kinks, Marc Bolan and many others, and achieved the label “Scotland’s Beatles.”
I knew it was a great story and I wanted to know more. Over the next few years I learned things about the Beatstalkers that left me astonished about how they’d seemed to have been forgotten. I felt the same way I’d felt when I discovered the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s story. I knew it was important to record, I knew it was important to share, and I knew I was the best person to take on that responsibility.
And it has been a responsibility. Not just to the band themselves – Alan, Davie Lennox, Eddie Campbell, Ronnie Smith and Jeff Allen – but to everyone who ever cared about them, and that number reaches into at least the tens and probably hundreds of thousands. They wanted to be reminded that what they’d been through had mattered, and they wanted a way of saying, “This was us. This is who were were and what we did. We were all Beatstalkers.”
Alan and I finally hammered an outline together in 2012. But as they say, real life gets in the way. We’d aimed to publish in 2014 and it didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen. Mission-creep, they call it, along with other more pressing commitments (and a divorce). When Alan emailed me in the middle of last year and gently suggested that if we didn’t get it done soon, we weren’t going to do it all, I was delighted that he shared my view. He’s always been a great believer in things happening at the right time for the right reasons, and I think we both feared we’d missed the right time.
We hadn’t. One of the reasons for that is that it took me a long time to really here the Beatstalkers’ story. While the headlines would always be about the fact that you can hear a young David Bowie singing backing vocals and playing rhythm guitar on three of the band’s singles, the truth was much calmer, deeper – and much more important. The Beatstalkers’ story is about friendship, togetherness and the value of shared experiences. (And, after all, isn’t popular music?) These five people remained friends through thick and thin, and there was a lot of thin. I struggle to think of any group of people who’ve been through what they’ve been through and never, ever seriously fallen out.
There are some great stories in The Beatstalkers: Scotland’s Number 1 Beat Group. They’re not necessarily the stories I wanted to tell. They’re the stories they wanted to tell, and my responsibility was to help them tell it, and I’m proud to have done that.
If you want a handbook to the pearls and perils of fame and fortune… if you want a user’s guide to surviving the music industry… if you want to know what’s going to happen to you if you decide to start a band… this book is essential reading.
I struggled to define in an easy phrased just why The Beatstalkers’ experience is so worthy of being recorded. In the very last interview on the very last day of research, I spoke to my dear friend and Scottish music scene icon Eddie Tobin, and in the very last phrase of the very last minute of audio interviews, he said: “The Beatstalkers ARE the story of Scottish music. They were the first, and they were the greatest.” And that’s it, plain and simple. If you don’t know their story, you should… and now you can, and I’m very, very proud of that fact. Today is my seventeenth publication day, but it feels very different from the previous sixteen.