“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.