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We’re living our very own virtual ‘Spinal Tap’ reality


By SPP Reporter


‘You are never too old,’ says Dan, who has started attending guitar lessons at North Highland College in Thurso with tutor John Newton (third from left) leading the way. Missing is tutor Andy Coghill.
‘You are never too old,’ says Dan, who has started attending guitar lessons at North Highland College in Thurso with tutor John Newton (third from left) leading the way. Missing is tutor Andy Coghill.

‘You are never too old,’ says Dan, who has started attending guitar lessons at North Highland College in Thurso with tutor John Newton (third from left) leading the way. Missing is tutor Andy Coghill.

"I GOT my first real six-string

Bought it at the five-and-dime

Played ’til my fingers bled

It was summer of ’69.”

Well, it was not so much the summer of ’69, more Christmas 2010. My “first real six-string” – a Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar – was a present from my daughters. I was well impressed.

After all I’d always fancied having a go at learning guitar. Two things put me off. First, I’d reckoned I was too old for all that malarkey and, secondly, I’d inherited Dupuytren’s contracture – a constricting tendon condition which affects manual dexterity. (It’s also known as the Viking disease given its Scandinavian prevalence. Heroically, it confirms my ancestry as a direct descendant of Viking marauders!)

Fortunately, the condition has not progressed and in the true spirit of having a go I joined guitar lessons at North Highland College. One thing I’m discovering for sure: you are never too old and it’s never too late!

Along with a couple of mates, Brain Yellop and Michael Ball, we have become the faithful few who head up to Thurso every Wednesday night.

We tell people we’ve signed an exclusive recording deal with NHC – a remarkable achievement, we tell all our listeners, for a rock band that has never played a single gig. Maybe we should elaborate...

The course awards successful students a vocational qualification and part of the verification process means we have to be recorded by our tutor, John Newton. So, strictly speaking, we are telling the truth. We did sign up and we have been recorded. We even talk about launching our first CD, in somewhere like Outer Mongolia...

And now, just four months after the course started, we are enthusiastic day dreamers. Having a weekly lesson is a discipline in itself and we are learning you have to put the hours in to reap the benefits.

Those first clunking chords were a bit of a struggle, it must be said. But we’ve learnt a few sweet ones too and with John’s encouraging tuition we’re happy to thrash away to our hearts content.

NOW let me tell you a little about John Newton: awesome guitarist and a more modest and unassuming guy you’ll never meet. Doesn’t matter how bad we play – which is most of the time – he always offers positive feedback. Don’t know how he does it. But he does!

Joining him is Andy Coghill, an Orcadian by birth, who claims we are just “Tartan Vikings” and not the real thing – as he is! John and Andy are both seasoned musicians who’ve played in numerous bands down the years. Hugely talented, both command a lot of respect from their students.

We’re not sure what they must make of us. Maybe their silence tells us we are not quite ready for the Britain’s Got Talent auditions. And we doubt whether Simon Cowell really wants to see us on The X-Factor but that doesn’t stop us dreaming. One day, eh?

Away from the college we tell people we’re in a band and being seasoned-looking guys – we share a certain distinguished grey maturity – most folk seem to believe we actually are veteran musicians... We’ve hatched some bizarre band names I can tell you and have evolved from Full Frontal Lobotomy to the The Sinclair Bay City Rollers!

We openly discuss ambitious plans to tour the States next summer and tell people we are waiting to hear from the hall keepers at Skerray, Scourie and Achnasheen where we plan to do warm-up gigs before playing the big stadiums in California...

Yes, we’re living our very own virtual Spinal Tap reality. Remember the spoof 1984 film of that title?

We loved that film. It was a total parody of life in a rock band. We especially liked the understated Stonehenge backdrops they used as part of the band’s stage production. Coming from the Far North, with its neolithic heritage, we feel inspired!

We dream, ultimately, of being invited to appear on the cult BBC2 series Later Live... With Jools Holland. We would know we’d have made it then. Just a matter of time.

We’re chunking out that Bryan Adams track, the “Summer of 69”, just now. He sings about a distant summer, and wonders what went wrong. “Those were the best days of our lives,” he says. Not so for The Sinclair Bay City Rollers. These are the best days of ours!

‘A PROMISE is a promise and the Conservatives and their partners, the Lib Dems, both said they would create a medal and now they are breaking their word”. It seems the coalition Government is reneging on another commitment. This time a pledge made in opposition to honour the men who served in the Arctic Convoys.

The veterans’ leader, Cdr Eddie Grenfell, speaking to The Scotsman newspaper at the weekend, branded the Government’s decision as “unacceptable” and “outrageous”.

The Arctic Convoy memorial at Lyness which was unveiled in 2009. The event came under criticism in the Orkney press when it was claimed it lacked the dignity the veterans were due.
The Arctic Convoy memorial at Lyness which was unveiled in 2009. The event came under criticism in the Orkney press when it was claimed it lacked the dignity the veterans were due.

The Arctic Convoy memorial at Lyness which was unveiled in 2009. The event came under criticism in the Orkney press when it was claimed it lacked the dignity the veterans were due.

The Government has acquiesced to a Ministry of Defence recommendation not to award a special service medal which, it says, is already covered by the Atlantic Star. Not so say the veterans.

As recently as January, Prime Minister David Cameron had pledged his support: “There is a case for saying they have missed out. Many of them are coming to the end of their lives and it would be good if we could do something more to recognise what they have done”.

What a difference a few months makes!

It puts me in mind of the controversy that surrounded the unveiling of the Arctic Convoy memorial in Hoy in 2009. Then an imposing memorial was commissioned as a tribute to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Winston Churchill had described the voyages to the Soviet ports of Archangel and Murmansk – transporting essential supplies to Stalin’s war effort – as the worst journeys in the world.

Far up in the Arctic Circle the convoys had to endure not just terrible subzero conditions but heavy bombardment and attacks from Stuka dive bombers. Three thousand sailors lost their lives. One hundred ships were sunk. Their protective escorts had come from the Royal Navy fleet anchored in Scapa Flow close by to the memorial site at Lyness.

Critics said they were embarrassed both by the Orkney Islands Council which, it was claimed, had not fully prepared the site for the unveiling ceremony and by an intrusive media which was accused of disrespect and disregard during the formalities. It was in stark contrast to a similar event in Russia when top government politicians, senior military commanders and a host of officials had attended a dignified commemorative event.

The Arctic Convoys were notoriously dangerous. As The Scotsman newspaper claimed in its editorial: “All of the three main UK parties have betrayed these brave men who survived a nightmare in frozen seas only to be hapless victims of perfidious politicians.”

Shame on the Government! The veterans deserve their medals and the nation’s respect.



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