For everyone who loved him, Ted died this morning from a haemorrhage during elective surgery. Freak occurrence and a huge surgical team fought for 10 hours to save him. Unfortunately, there was no solution to stop the bleeding, and he faded away without ever knowing. I’m going to miss him so much.” (Claire Taylor Facebook post, Saturday 19th January 2019, 9.46am)
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Ted McKenna

I read this at 9.50am that morning, and my first thought was Ted’s close friend of many years was referring to a pet she’d just lost to a botched operation which she’d named Ted. Not too much of a stretch for those who know Claire. On closer inspection, however, I noticed she’d highlighted ‘Ted’ which led directly to a particular Facebook profile: Ted McKenna.

Fuck No!

Within minutes tributes were appearing on his FB page and elsewhere. All said ‘RIP Ted’ and featured stories and photos of themselves with my friend of over 40 years.

FUCK NO!!

Head spinning, I first thought of phoning Claire directly, but this didn’t seem appropriate, so I decided to contact the one person who’d known Ted far longer than me, and was responsible for us being friends in the first place: Eddie Tobin. I hadn’t used the number for years and the first two attempts resulted in being hung up on. Then he called back:
“You’re phoning me. Who are you?”
“Eddie?”
“Aye. Billy?”
“Aye.”
“Fuck Me! How you doin’?”
“Doin’ good. Listen, have you heard about Ted?”
“No. What about Ted?”
“Passed away this mornin’. Just heard.”
The line went silent, then after what felt like minutes:
“Eddie. You still there?”
“Ted? Deid? Naw! How?”
After explaining as best I could Eddie ended the call with, “What a start to the day, you wee bastard!” Next, I contacted Zal. Eddie had just called him and he was taking it hard. We all were. Chris had already posted his reaction on FB so, apart from Ted’s cousin Hugh whom I reckoned shouldn’t hear it from me, the only other person I thought needed to know was Joe Elliott. His response isn’t printable so we won’t. ‘Devastated’ was the word of the day.

I started to think of the hundreds of memories I have of Ted McKenna.

Ted-McKenna-3

Let’s start at the beginning in a rehearsal studio in London, January 1978. I’d already met Zal with Eddie at the Cleminson home in East Finchley, been accosted by Chris Glen who called me weird for refusing a beer at 10 in the morning, then Ted shook my hand and enquired:
“How old are you, Young Man? Twelve?”
“Eighteen, Dad. Don’t you remember me?”

From that moment on I can say, hand on heart, we never had a bad moment… except for a few months later when Ted accused me of ‘Bogarting that joint’ in a Swedish hotel room and assured everyone present he was gonna “Fuckin’ kill ye, ya wee bastard!” Eddie confirmed to me Ted was serious and advised, “If I were you, I’d Run like Fuck.” Apart from that isolated incident we always got on swimmingly… except when I’d just explained his involvement on Growin’ Up Too Fast.
“So, you want me to play live drum fills over a drum machine?”
“Aye, Ted. With your taste, it’ll be fun.”
“You’re a wee bastard! But, cos you mentioned ma taste, I won’t kill ye!”

Bill & Ted’s Guitar/Drum Clinic, Glasgow 9.8.11
Bill & Ted’s Guitar/Drum Clinic, Glasgow 9th August 2011
Bill & Ted’s Guitar/Drum Clinic, Glasgow 9.8.11
Bill & Ted’s Guitar/Drum Clinic, Glasgow 9th August 2011

Nope, apart from those two events, I have nothing but happy, loving memories of Ted. Like when he introduced me to his bandmates, Gerry MacAvoy and Rory Gallagher in a London pub, 1979. “So, is he any good, Ted?” asked Rory. “Well, define ‘Good’ boss. Actually, don’t bother. Billy is no Rory Gallagher, right Bill?”  “Aw, I’m sure he doesn’t mean dat Billy, to be sure, to be sure,” said Rory placing an arm around my shoulder. “If he wasn’t such a big bastard,” I replied, “I’d kill him, Rory. To be sure, to be sure.” From the first early gigs with the Zal Band; the sessions on my first solo album when Ted gave my toddler son hi-hat-snare drum coordination lessons; the memorable SAHB collaborations with me as vocalist; the Tartan Clef Awards concert when I played Zal’s part (and Joe Elliott sang lead cos he’s a big bastard too) and not forgetting our more recent collaboration as ‘Bill & Ted’s Guitar/Drum Clinic,’ it’s fair to say we had a good 40-odd-year musical run together.

But that would be missing the point.

Ted was one of my bestest friends. Case in point: 1979, I had squeezed him into my Mini 850, and we were driving through central London when a big black Range Rover cut us up at the traffic lights. Ted opened the window and confronted the driver. “Come on out, Little Man,” came the reply. I mounted the pavement and sped off. “What did ye do that for?” said Ted. “He probably had a gun,” I replied. “What makes ye think that?”  “Anybody who calls you Little Man must have a gun.”

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Ted always asked after Mary and the kids. He was one of my best friends and also the best drummer I ever played with. To clarify, I’ve played with a few. Darrell was no slouch, Gary Ferguson an absolute powerhouse and Alan Hendry with Phase was outrageously good: He based his technique on Bowie’s Spider, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, which is ironic. I played with him too. Woody recounted to me a gig his Hull band, The Rats, played with Ted’s pre-SAHB outfit, Tear Gas at Liverpool’s Cavern club in the early ’70s where he heard Ted’s coordinated drumming and asked, “How the fuck do you do that?” Always the gentleman, Ted showed him the syncopation he was using and henceforth Woody/Mick said of Ted: “Of all the drummers in ’70s Rock Bands, Ted McKenna is the only one I respected.”

Therefore, with that in mind, Ted was indeed the best drummer I ever played with.

final text conversation
Our final text conversation 2nd January 2019

Our last correspondence by text a few weeks before his death regarded the sudden passing of Ted’s Coatbridge comrade, Dean Ford of Scottish legends Marmalade. Neither of us could’ve foreseen events about to happen as our final phone conversation was to arrange meeting up at Barry’s home to assist with a book Ted was writing about his illustrious career, and yours truly’s sporadic involvement.

Barry with SAHB at The Arches, Glasgow 29.12.93
Barry with SAHB at The Arches, Glasgow 29th December 1993

Apart from the few examples previously mentioned, Ted and I never had a bad moment… except for the time I arrived at his Hampstead mews to drive us to a recording session involving Chris’ wife Jennifer and Ted’s then-girlfriend Heather. The track, called Baby Joe, was a Bananarama type ditty pre-Bananarama with Chris also involved on bass. Ted’s cousin, Hugh, recently released from the hospital, was staying with him and Ted answered the door. “Is there room for Hugh? Thought it might be good for him to get out of the house and…” Thump, Thump, Ohya, Thump! Hugh had launched himself from the stairs and landed in a heap at our feet. “Call an ambulance!” Ted screamed. “Does this mean the session’s cancelled?” I asked both McKennas. “Think my leg’s broken!” offered Hugh. “Call an ambulance!” repeated Ted. “Since when’s he played piano with his feet?” I enquired, quite reasonably I thought. Trying hard not to laugh, Ted looked at me with that ‘Seriously? You shittin’ me?’ expression I’ll miss. From that moment on I can say hand on heart we never had a bad moment….

At my age, my head’s telling me I’d better start getting used to this losing friends shite, but my heart says otherwise.

Too soon, old friend. Way too soon. Xx

“Stone Cold Sober, looking for bottles of love.” (Justin Currie/Del Amitri, 1989)

Tuesday 19th February 2019: A day I’ve been dreading for weeks now.

As it got closer to the 2pm kickoff at Glasgow’s Daldowie Crematorium and I was suited and booted for the occasion, it dawned on me I should be honoured to have known this friend of over 40 years and be looking forward to saying goodbye to Ted McKenna, not dreading anything.

As I got into my car to make the short journey towards what would be Ted’s last (if you believe that shit) I was still dread-ridden. Unaccustomed to all but a few of these ceremonies at Daldowie, I’d given myself plenty of time to locate the correct, for want of a better word, ‘furnace’ and parking space so as not to be that last-minute running across the keep off the grass type mourner we’ve all witnessed in hard-to-believe movies, or once in real life in my case. No Sir. If I had to do this at all, I wasn’t going to fuck it up by being ‘late.’ (No offence to Ted.) Neither did I want to be first. My fears were unfounded.

The whole area around the chapel was awash with people, some of whom I undoubtedly knew, but it was hard to tell. I started looking at their eyes cos, even if you haven’t met them for decades, it’s usually a good reference point. Two of them I didn’t have to eyeball. First was Eddie Tobin: He’s always looked about 70. The other was Zal. I couldn’t scan his iris’ cos he was wearing really dark shades which, even after I requested he remove, was refused. “I still can’t take it all in,” was his reasoning and who can argue with that? John Miller, I only recognised after he pushed Eddie aside and asked me if Darrell Sweet still owed me money. He’s such a Cad! Others present I knew included Donald MacLeod, Brian Young from Ca-Va, Gerry McAvoy, Ted‘s bass player mate from Rory Gallagher and Band Of Friends and, of course, Chris Glen. Big Chris was handling the situation as only he can: with relentless humour. “Hey, Wilhelm! Elaine’s your biggest fan” was his way of introducing me to his petite wife. “Yes, I am, Billy,” she responded, and we both waited for the punchline. “Aye!” Chris continues… (here it comes)… “But only because she’s wearin’ 6-inch heels!” Boom! Tish!

Ted would’ve loved that. Then slapped him.

After the hearse arrived, we all shuffled inside. Well, when I say ‘all’ I mean the ones close enough to do so or others like me and Eddie who had ex-SAS mercenary John clearing a path. Once inside, I found myself seated next to journalist and self-professed ‘Friend of the Stars’ Billy Sloan. I love the fact that since he awarded Growin’ Up Too Fast his Album of the Week back in 1984 and in all the times we’ve met since, he doesn’t know who I am. And I never tell him. Unless you’re Bono or Mick Jagger (both of whom he only met to have a photo taken) Billy Sloan has no recollection of anyone. “Hey, Billy, sad day, huh?” I nod. “Sure. How are you?” Today, of all days, I still didn’t tell him.

Ted would’ve loved that.

Meanwhile, on my other side, Eddie informs me, “Pete Agnew is coming.”
“What? But aren’t Nazareth doing one of them Rock N Roll Cruise thingys in the States right now?”
“Aye. Spoke to him this morning, he’s trying to get an earlier flight. It finished last night.”
“Well, he’s fucked cos this place is packed and he’s no here. By the way, have you met Billy Sloan?”
“Aye. Hey Billy. You’re a Fanny!”
“Sure. How are you?”

Once seated, we were immediately asked to stand as Ted’s coffin was carried in to the soundtrack of Anthem by SAHB. Awkward but okay. The pallbearers were all professional wrestlers as far as I could tell (Ted was a Big Lad) all except a wee guy struggling on the front left who seemed to be mouthing “Holy Shit!” under considerable stress. It was Gerry McAvoy who, (and I’m avoiding family stuff here cos that’s personal) gave a heartfelt farewell eulogy to Ted, second to none. It spoke to all of us who loved Ted, and Gerry certainly did. Then, the curtains closed and Ted was gone.

And so, as is traditional in these parts, it was off to the after-show party being held at the Tudor Hotel in Ted’s hometown of Coatbridge, well Airdrie which is close enough. Once there, I was overwhelmed by the size and numbers of my old pal’s ‘pals’ present including Fish, Donal Gallagher (Rory’s younger brother and tour manager) and even Michael Schenker himself who was bravely just trying to understand what anyone was saying. I just shook his hand and hugged him. I think he understood. I was seated with Chris and Elaine then a familiar voice from the next row yelled out, “Hey Billy Boy! Gie yer Uncle Pete a hug tae, fuck’s sake!”

Yep. He had made it, bless.

Much hugging and jesting followed. I was reseated with Pete Agnew, Eddie Tobin and Rory’s brother Donal who were in mid-conversation about Nazareth’s first-ever gig in Germany with Rory in Nuremberg, early ’70s. Aware of my lack of personal involvement, non-alcohol intake and ‘this is supposed to be about Ted’ feelings, I zoned out while Donal recited the story of a staircase they’d discovered at the venue which had pedals operated by Hitler during his famous speeches there. Apparently, the pedals changed the lighting from say a green to a red when his speech required a response from the Nazi audience, something the black and white footage of the time didn’t reveal. “So,” Donal was explaining, “When Adolf got angry about stuff, he’d press the red pedal and everyone responded with anger. Then when he’d be talking about the bright future ahead, he’d put his foot on the green pedal. Genius!” Just as Pete, Eddie and Donal were launching into Basil Fawlty Hitler Lighting Operator impressions, Michael Schenker, who’d been approaching our table suddenly turned about and, I swear, muttered in perfect Glaswegian/Coatbridge Scots: “What the Actual Fuck!”

Ted would’ve loved that.