“I knew I was the victim of somebodys evil plan.” (The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Framed, 1972)

On returning from the States with ‘some tart’ and our children, I reestablished the solo gigs to make a steady living and bought equipment required to record the new songs I was writing. 8-track Portastudio, reverb/compression unit and, a new kid on the block: The Sony Datman. DAT or Digital Audio Tape was the future back then, and the Datman was the ultimate portable solution to getting your recordings down. At £999 it wasn’t cheap but fitted in the palm of your hand and was every bit as professional as the studio-installed equivalents. The downside was it used 4xAA batteries which lasted about a minute with the optional extra of a power unit exclusively available from Sony at £25. Being Scottish, I complained profusely to my fellow Scot at East Kilbride Sony Centre before paying the extra and getting banned from ever entering the store again by calling his entire Sony enterprise a bunch of cheating money-grabbing C*nts. No matter, songwriting-wise I was on a roll. According to my records I sent Polygram over 30 songs, 23 of which were being considered by artists as diverse from Mr Big to Irish Eurovision winner, Johnny Logan. Astrid was cautious; after all, there was no deal beyond the Move Me contract, so anything subsequent would require a new agreement.

Her bosses at Polygram were more direct.

Rock music was a no-no, dance-inspired techno was the future and they were probably right. Record companies and publishers were signing up teenagers with samplers in their bedrooms and doing rather well thank you very much. Despite Astrid calling my new stuff, “Amongst the best songs you’ve ever written,” I was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time. I continued writing and demoing at a ferocious pace and at least one of the ditties would come good for me later.

Things were getting out of hand with Naz, however, legally speaking.

In a pathetic game of ‘Sue Me Ping Pong’ which, looking back at it now, verged on laughable so I’m not going to elaborate, was finally put to rest by Dunfermline based solicitor, Blair Morgan. Blair was the legal head of Nazareth Dunfermline whose duties included pacifying ex-member Manny in times of dispute. He was also a childhood friend of Pete & Dan’s, the administrator during several of my house purchases since 1981 and a devout supporter and director of our glorious Dunfermline Athletic Football Club. On the whole, he’s a good egg, so when we finally touched base in mid-season at yet another defeat for our local team nicknamed The Pars, a sudden case of common sense overcame us. We agreed to drop all litigation and concentrate instead on debating who’d be a decent centre half for the aforementioned Pars. The weight off my shoulders was immense. As Blair himself said at the time, “No one’s going to benefit from mudslinging and life is too short so let’s all just shut the fuck up.”

Amen to that.

Around this time, Zal and Ted, my oldest bandmates from way back, got back in touch. I had a Saturday afternoon residency at The Brewhouse, a popular venue set in the Merchant City area of Glasgow and, along with bassist Nicky Clarke, we formed a new incarnation of The Party Boys. We were bloody good, but SAHB had commitments which they were unable to fulfil cos their lead singer was being a dick. We met at the Lincoln Inn, Glasgow, where I was playing a solo gig and, just to explain, the Lincoln was rough. You had to put your name down for a fight but, if you were good, they were a forgiving crowd. I did a version of Faith Healer after which the audience not only applauded, but let me live so I was rightfully proud and so were my chums.
“Good drums there, Bill,” said Ted afterwards. “That could’ve been me playing.”
“That’s cos it was, Teddy Boy,” I replied.
I’d sampled the actual intro from SAHB’s ‘Next’ album track and made it a part of the backing track. If only I could’ve done the same thing for Zal’s guitar parts, but hey-ho.
Here’s when Alistair himself gave me a rare guitar lesson.
For the initiated axemen out there, the main riff of Faith Healer revolves around the chord of D played in the order of 5th fret, 7th fret, 2nd fret then 5th fret again, repeated.
“What ye do,” Zal advised during a break in my gig, “Is add your little finger 3 frets up from the E string of the D chord and smack the fuck out
of the chord but only hit the E, B, G and D strings. A weird harmonic thing happens.”

The Party Boys at The Brewhouse, Glasgow 1995
The Party Boys at The Brewhouse, Glasgow 1995
The Party Boys at The Brewhouse, Glasgow 1995
The Party Boys at The Brewhouse, Glasgow 1995
The Party Boys at The Brewhouse, Glasgow 1995
The Party Boys at The Brewhouse, Glasgow 95

I tried this method sitting at our table in the Lincoln Inn and was immediately reminded once again why Zal is the genius that he is while simultaneously wanting to stab him to death with my string cutters. If you’re reading this and can play a D chord on a guitar, do yourself a favour and follow the instructions above to impress everyone or at least yourself by just for a few seconds sounding like Zal Fuckin’ Cleminson! Regardless, this was the beginning of another relationship with SAHB which would last on and off for many years: In fact, we may do it again if someone invents resurrection and we get Ted and Hugh back.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh 2.9.95
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh 2nd September 1995

My first gig fronting SAHB (or being Alex) was at Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, an outdoor venue of somewhat glorious beauty. Also on the bill were such luminaries as our old pal Derek ‘Fish’ Dick, vocalist Sam Brown, (daughter of one of my late brother’s heroes, Joe Brown) and a likeable, but talentless singer from Australia named Craig Dougall McLachlan.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh AAA pass 2.9.95
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh AAA pass 2nd September 1995

I say talentless cos he honestly couldn’t hold a note, but he wasn’t there for his vocal prowess. Craig was also a well-known actor on Aussie soaps and, like his fellow thespians, Jason Donovan and wee Kylie Minogue, was having a bit of success in the UK charts thanks to Stock, Aitken and Waterman. We’d never heard of him, or his hits, or his TV shows, but we liked him and he liked us. This led to a spontaneous change of lyric by me during our rendition of Framed.
The first verse normally goes:
I’m walking down the street minding my own affair.
When two policemen grabbed me and I’m unaware.
They said, “Is your name Alexander?” and I say, “Why sure.”
They said, “You’re the cat that we’ve been looking for.”

Craig McLachlan

On this occasion, I spotted Craig watching and enjoying us from the side of the stage, dragged him out, putting my arm around his shoulder before changing the words and sending the audience into hysterics. I wasn’t sure how he’d take it, but I needn’t have worried. Later, back in the dressing room, Craig hugged me with genuine affection and said, “Aw mate! That was fuckin’ amazing! Nobody’s ever done that to me before.”
What he was referring to was this:

I’m walking down the street minding my own affair.
When two policemen grabbed me and I’m unaware.
They said, “Are you that bloke from Neighbours?” and I say, “Why sure.”
They said, “You’re the C*nt that we’ve been looking for.”
But Ah was Framed!

“Should I go, should I stay, should I have another try? Why? Don’t try rules cos they do not apply.” (The Wildhearts: Nita Nitro, 1995)

Barry has, over the years, turned me on to numerous bands I’d previously been unaware of: Pink Floyd was not one of them, they’re still shite, but the likes of Jellyfish, Terrorvision and Buckcherry were a revelation to me, thanks to Barry.

Mean Fiddler, Dublin 6.11.95
Barry & Keith with The Wildhearts. Mean Fiddler, Dublin 6th November 1995

But the one which blew me away both sonically and image-wise were The Wildhearts. He gave me a cassette of their first album ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts’ just after I’d left Nazareth and I was impressed. When, in August 1995, he informed me they were looking for a guitarist I initially thought:
“Shit! If I was a few years younger, I’d be up for that gig.”
“They’re not much younger than you, Auld Yin,” Barry assured me, “Why don’t you audition?”
So I did.

The Wildhearts audition letter 30.8.95
The Wildhearts audition letter 30th August 1995

As part of the application, I enclosed the Move Me album and some solo demos which were received by their management company with the invitation of a formal audition in a London rehearsal studio.

After booking into a hotel near Charing Cross, I made my way to the nearest pub to the studio and had a pint. I was early for the audition, so I ordered a second pint. Suddenly, I realised I’d fucked up the timing of things so, after bidding the landlord farewell, I abandoned the almost untouched beer and made my way to the studio. There I met bassist Danny and drummer Ritch and we had a fantastic jam session which included some Wildhearts ditties, but also an inspired Rock version of an ABBA classic. We all got along swimmingly and agreed to alight to the pub I’d been to previously. On arrival, the landlord placed an almost untouched beer in front of me and said:
“You never finished this, mate. I kept it by for you.”
“Aw thanks, man, but it’s been over an hour since, so you’re alright.”
“Wait. What?” exclaimed bassist Danny.
“I’ll have it!”
That moment probably saved my life cos I hadn’t taken into account how much this band were dependent on getting fucked up, regardless of etiquette. The night ended with Ritch and Danny driving me to my hotel in high spirits which I was not expecting, but was grateful for, before the final question:
“Hey, guys. That was a blast. Am I in with a shout?”

“Sorry, Bill, you’re great, but you’re just too old.”

“I like trucking, I like trucking, I like trucking and I like to truck.” (Not the Nine o’clock News, 1981)

By the summer of 1996, the previously agreed “I’ll give it a year” had well and truly passed and, although the gigs were paying the bills, it was time for me to consider for the first time in my life a future out of the music business or, as Mary had put it, “Getting a real job.” After many an argument which usually ended with me yelling, “I can’t do that! I’m a Rock Star,” and the deserved response of, “You’re an Arsehole!” I started to really weigh up the options here. At 37-years-old, I was too young and not to mention too affluent-less not to work, but equally far too old to learn any new skills.

My Dad’s younger brother and my namesake Will Rankin had always ‘drove the lorries’ and used to fill our heads with tales of being on the roads, dodging weighbridges and the Law, much like a harder more Scottish Lowell George in his song Willin’. Uncle Will was funnier than Little Feat could ever be. Take when he drove for Glasgow firm, Marley Tiles in the ’70s. After leaving the depot and heading south, he arrived at the first roundabout for the A74 and proceeded to lose his entire load of slates onto the grass verge. He then continued, oblivious to his loss before eventually arriving at a builders merchant in England, dragging an empty flatbed trailer. He’d tell this story not with shame but with great humour and, dare I say, Pride. “Ach relax Man, naebody died!” he’d remind my faither when Dad tried to stop me laughing any further.

I’d also had experience with other truckers during the Naz years. As a major touring band of some note and success, we used 3, 4 even 5 full 44-50-foot articulated trucks to transport the equipment between cities and I’d occasionally tag along with one of them. Particularly in Russia when, during our 1990 tour, we’d be almost too terrified to fly between venues due to Aeroflot’s horrific internal flights’ record of ‘not landing properly’ or, in other words, crashing, we’d take the train instead. I’d ride shotgun with one of the Polish truck drivers when the drive wasn’t too far. He had a Volvo FH12 tractor unit and he could stick that huge trailer onto any venue’s loading bay, even on his blind side no trouble at all. I was always suitably impressed. So much so that he’d occasionally give me a shot at driving the bastard, at -35° on Russian motorways covered in ice with little or no visibility in the middle of an unlit night and absolutely no experience of driving this monolith with 38 tonnes up our arses.


Put simply, he was out of his tree. We both were.

The number of amphetamines these guys could handle was impressive, even by my own Rock musician’s standards and the Speed was always straight from a chemist’s lab, of that I had no reason to doubt. As Lowell George himself would agree, truckers always have the best drugs.

Trucker Bill SECC, Glasgow 6.6.13
Trucker Bill, SECC, Glasgow 6th June 2013

“Family. I am going to be a Trucker!”
“That’s wonderful Dad,” exclaimed my youngest (and still to this day) automotive-obsessed son, Jordan.
“Is it because of the skills involved in manoeuvring and operating such a massive and impressive piece of driving technology, making you a true Knight of the Road?”
“That too, son. That too.”

After a week of intense training I obtained my HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) licence on December 21st 1996 and, a few months later, was put through my paces by driver/trainer Big John Wilson at Asda, now a subsidiary of Walmart in the UK. The session didn’t go too well, but afterwards Big John shook my hand and said, “Welcome to Asda William, you start next Tuesday.” Having been earlier instructed to “Reverse onto Bay 12” by John and, after several minutes of inability, had meekly replied, “Would Bay 22 be okay?” I was surprised, to say the least, at my new job acceptance. When pressed, John elucidated: “Out on the road test you were observant and conscientious although you almost took out a Honda. In the depot, you are clearly unable to manoeuvre the trailer anywhere in reverse and will struggle to do so at any of our numerous stores throughout the country. Improvement in this will require much work on my part. Your reply of “Fuck Off!” to our shunter’s mere enquiry as to whether or not you know what you’re doing is unacceptable and should be reserved only for store warehouse staff asking the same. Your hair is too long and having been a Rock Star in a past life will, I assure you, lead to some awkward moments with the others, so bear this in mind as you are being sodomised. You are, quite frankly, not very good at this, but I like you, William.”
“What? Ye tear me down, say I’m a shite truck driver, foresee my arse being burst and yet you’re starting me next Tuesday?”
“Yes, indeed.”
“But why, Big John Wilson? Why?”
It was then the words from my childhood came echoing back as if it were Uncle Will himself.

“Ach relax Man. Naebody died!”

“Watching the madness and the people fight.” (Billy Rankin & Tony Rocker: Turn On The Love, 1996)
Rankweil, Austria 19.9.93. L-R John O'Leary, Billy, Tam Sinclair, Ronnie Dalrymple
Rankweil, Austria 17th September 1993. L-R John O’Leary, Billy, Tam Sinclair, Ronnie Dalrymple (obscured)

John O’Leary is a friend of mine. I first got to know John when he was the drum roadie for Lee Kerslake with Uriah Heep. Then he was my roadie, along with Trevor Bolder’s and Phil Lanzon’s,  at the Mick Ronson Memorial gig. We kept in touch even after my departure from the so-called Big Time. I got a call from him one day in early 1995 about a guy he’d drummed for called Tony Rocker. It seemed Tony was on the verge of breaking into the music business and John felt I could help by writing and playing with him. We got together in July ’95 when Tony came up to Glasgow and booked a room for the week at the Crowwood Hotel, one of my regular gigs. I set up recording facilities in said room. Now, let me describe Tony Rocker to you all for a moment. He’s from Chicago, beanpole skinny, black with a Hendrix afro and sings a lot like his hero, Mick Jagger.  Oh, and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this, a tad eccentric.

Tony Rocker

Tony Rocker?
He should’ve been called Aff His Rocker, which he was by numerous friends of mine I introduced him to in Glasgow at the time.

He was also extremely driven: By his self-belief that he was going to be a star, by the various financial backers he kept coming up with and, occasionally, by inanimate objects. Such as the night I took him to one of my Wednesday night residencies, The Ettrick Bar in the Partick district of Glasgow. Helping with the load-in, Tony took a firm grip of a large speaker cabinet from my estate car then proceeded to run with it at full pelt way past the venue and on down the street before tripping head over arse and landing painfully on the pavement. Some of the bemused onlookers offered him assistance, others thinking he was stealing the cabinet, offered to kick his afro. I and the others continued to take equipment into The Ettrick. We’d witnessed this type of behaviour from Tony Aff His Rocker before and reckoned he could hold his own, if not a speaker, and would appear in good time. This he did 5 minutes later.
“Where does this go guys?” he enquired.
“Over there Tone,” I said, helpfully pointing at a table.
“Isn’t anyone gonna ask?” said Barry, who was one of the others present.
Silence, then:
“What was that all about?” someone eventually said.
“Huh? What?” replied Aff.
“The whole grabbing, running, tripping, falling over, sore one, death threats etc.”
After a few seconds of deliberation, Tony made it all so clear.

“What can say? The Speaker Led Me.”

Crowwood Hotel

Back at The Crowwood, our writing and recording methods were different from what either of us was used to. Tony had a book full of lyrics and we’d flick through them til one of us said, “Let’s try that one!” What followed is difficult to explain, but I’ll try. Tony sang, sometimes coherently, but more often than not, miles from any key known to music. I would then strum the 12 string to find a basis for the unknown key before Tony would, for no reason, start singing in a different key from the one I’d just discovered.

“For fuck’s sake, Tony!” I would subtly suggest, “Why can’t you stick to the key you were in?’
“But I don’t know what that was, Bill. The Music Led Me.”
Eventually, we’d get something going, and it resulted in us writing and demoing lots of songs we both approved of, albeit via a bizarre route.

Wessex Studios 12.96
Wessex Studios 1996

Tony returned to London armed with the new ditties (including our Barry on bass) and came back up to Glasgow later in 95 where, at the Holiday Inn Express, we repeated this writing/demoing process and honed them a little. (For example, the track Four Leaf Clover became Heart’s On Fire cos Tony didn’t know what a four-leaf clover was. That must’ve been one of my lyrical ideas.) Later, in January 1996, and with another financial backer on board, we met up at the famous Hansa Studios in Berlin. Along with bassist Chris Childs of Thunder and drummer Andy Wells from Then Jerico, we re-recorded some of our earlier demos. We repeated the process almost a year later over Christmas 1996 at London’s Wessex Studios, again with Chris on bass, but this time featuring our shared mate, John O’Leary, on drums. This was to be the last time I worked with Tony as he shortly afterwards relocated to Germany and subsequently released a couple of albums there. I guess the bottom line for me was that, even although he often referred to me as his Keith Richards, Tony couldn’t guarantee me any financial security or career longevity at a time when I really had suffered enough in the business. My family even more so. Regardless, it was a great time for Tony Rocker and me as you will hopefully agree if you listen to the tracks presented here.

Four Leaf Clover – Crowwood Hotel demo July 1995

Turn On The Love – Hansa Studios, Berlin demo January 1996

Heart’s On Fire – Hansa Studios, Berlin demo January 1996

Joanne – Wessex Studios demo December 1996

Heart’s On Fire – Billy guide vocal Wessex Studios demo December 1996

Heart’s On Fire – Wessex Studios demo December 1996

Devil In Heaven – Billy guide vocal Wessex Studios demo December 1996

One final thing. I detest racism.

Back in the late ’70s, The Mirrors had Mike French, a black guy playing bass in the band. My dad made a derogatory comment when I showed him our publicity photo. I not only realised I was ashamed of my father’s racism, but also that I would never put up with it in my life. Tony and I were two guys making music together, and sure, we knew we weren’t the same colour. After our recording session at Hansa Studios, we were dining in one of Berlin’s many excellent restaurants when something happened which was so out of character for me. It was becoming clear to us that, to quote Kennedy, “Ein Berliner” at the table next to us was making loud drunken racist comments directed at Tony and for some reason, I saw red, no pun intended. A few seconds later, I had the guy pinned to his table and was holding a dinner fork to his forehead. (I have little memory of this, but my bandmates do.) “Don’t Push Me Pal!” was apparently what I growled before the Berliner pished himself… or it might’ve been me. Regardless, the skirmish was broken up and the racist ejected from the restaurant.
“What the fuck, Bill?” enquired Tony.
“You could’ve died, Man!”
After a few seconds of deliberation, I made it all so clear.

“What can I say? The Cutlery Led Me!”

German captain to British private: “Your name vill also go on ze list. Vot ees it?” British captain Mainwaring: “Don’t tell him, Pike!” (Dad’s Army, 1973)

1996 was the year Mary and I agreed would be the 12 months or so we’d give it for me to either remain in the music business or get a real job. My dalliance with Tony Rocker wasn’t the only iron in the fire. In March Trevor Bolder called:
“Remember that tribute band we played with after the Ronson Hammersmith gig?”
“Vaguely Trev, we were a little pished.”
“And then some mate, but the lead singer, the bloke in a dress who looked and sounded like Bowie?”
“Aye! What about him?”
“Woody and I went to see one of his band’s shows and he’s bloody good.”
“He’s up for fronting The Spiders for some gigs we’ve been offered. You in?”
“Can he drink like us?”
“And then some mate!”
“Good, then count me in.”

John Mainwaring and Billy. Mick Ronson Tribute aftershow 29th April 1994

Now just to be clear here folks, the bloke in question not only looks and sounds like Bowie, but he could also become him. I witnessed it and, if you check out the video and audio evidence here, you can see it for yourselves. His name is John Mainwaring and he still fronts Jean Genie, the band we played with after the Ronson concert. He is spookily accurate in his performance but, unlike all the other Bowie tribute acts doing the rounds, John is for real. As close to authentic as anyone could be, he’s got it down to a tee, “And then some,” as Trevor would say, again. After a few days rehearsals in promoter John Ford’s city of Birmingham, we were ready. Everything just clicked, from the song choices to the actual playing we were outrageously good, and the planning of the gigs was equally so. Me, Trevor and Woody would stay in John Ford’s house between shows although sometimes we’d go home when it suited us. John ‘Bowie’ Mainwaring and keyboardist Dick Decent (not his real name) would meet us at the scheduled venue. We’d play, get paid (rather well if I recall correctly) and do it all again over a period of a few weeks. The gigs, for me, were glorious. Not only was I getting to play all my favourite Bowie songs, but I was able to be John ‘Bowie’ Mainwaring’s Mick Ronson, albeit without blonde highlights and playing a Gibson 335. Trevor and Woody (whom I still called Mick, always will) were similarly chuffed, despite the occasional exception Woody, sorry Mick, had to Dick… Decent. As a keyboard player, Dick was brilliant but, as he was also contributing backing vocals, he had access to a microphone. His singing wasn’t the gripe. It was that he would occasionally ‘ad lib’ something he thought was funny. Woody thought otherwise. For example, when your drummer is in mid solo, you should never yell out something liable to put him off. Dick did this and, instead of losing his bass/snare/tom/hi-hat coordination, Woody aimed a perfectly struck drumstick at his head.

As an aside, this might explain why Woody lost his job as the drummer with Art Garfunkel on a cruise ship. During Bridge Over Troubled Water, Bright Eyes or whatever, our Woods noticed someone lose control of a wheelchair user who then went careening down the ramp towards a wall. Instead of halting the performance, Hull’s finest percussionist started a drum roll which ended with a cymbal crash as the victim hit the aforementioned wall. Legend has it Woody was fired on the spot and removed by helicopter. I believe it. Why wouldn’t you do that?

Back to the tour, we ripped it up on the official dates, then were offered the support slot at the Astoria, London backing The Yellow Monkey.
The Yellow Monkey are a very successful rock band in their homeland Japan and therefore the Astoria was packed to the rafters with every Japanese rock fan presumably currently residing in London at the time. Oh, and The Yellow Monkey were big fans of The Spiders From Mars, hence the invitation. It turned out their fans were big fans of us too which led to one of my more bizarre autograph signings afterwards in the backstage area. Hoards of teenage girls awaited us screaming, “Spiders! Spiders!” which was nice. Things got tricky when they asked what our names were. “Woody” was easy to enunciate as was “John” but there were some diction problems when they attempted to talk to “Twevor” which we all found childishly amusing. Twevor was to have the last laugh. “Go on then you lot,” he said, addressing the Japanese ladies and gesturing towards me. “What’s his name again?” Oh, how we chortled as a chorus of pubescent teenagers yelled out the reply:

“Ah! Biwwy Wankin!”

Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars flyer 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill 28th April 1996
The Robin, Brierley Hill ticket 28th April 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Limelight Club, Crewe April 1996
Limelight Club, Crewe April 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars 1996
Spiders From Mars backstage 1996
Spiders From Mars backstage 1996
Spiders From Mars backstage 1996
Spiders From Mars 96

Changes – JB’s, Dudley 13th April 1996

Moonage Daydream – JB’s, Dudley 13th April 1996

Suffragette City – JB’s, Dudley 13th April 1996