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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Those First Impressions



Summer of 1982: Fragments

I: Melody Maker magazine, 17 July 1982 (Cover Faded, Otherwise VG)

Shalamar on the cover, riding high with I Can Make You Feel Good. However, on page 4:

The Associates, Attila the Stockbroker, the Flying Pickets and American doo wop band Fourteen Karat Soul are among the acts being presented at the Edinburgh Festival.

The artists will be playing the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh from August 14 to September 11 as a major part of the Fringe side of the Festival.

The Associates are on from August 19 to 21. – BRIAN HARRIGAN

II: Puch ‘Sports 5’ Racing Bike, Reynolds 531 Steel Frame (One Careful Owner, Purchased March 1982, Stolen October 1982)

Like all racers of the era, the gear shifts were mounted on the down tube. It may have been that I was looking at those – trying to work out which one did what – that caused me to momentarily lose my balance during our journey to buy tickets. I should just have let myself fall but I stuck my left arm out in a hopeless attempt to prevent the inevitable and only ended up grinding loose grit into the palm of my hand.


III: Ripping Records, 91 South Bridge (Now Closed)


Ripping Records was owned by John Richardson who retired in 2016 having run the shop since 1975. At the time of my visit in July 1982 and for many years after, he pretty much had a monopoly on ticket sales for Edinburgh gigs. If you wanted to know which bands were playing you went to Ripping and looked at the tickets displayed in John’s window, an analogue version of Ceefax. After we’d bought our tickets for the Assembly Rooms, John tried to sell me a copy of the Associates recently released 18 Carat Love Affair / Love Hangover, but I didn't have enough money and, with my bloodied hand, I was having enough difficulty holding onto the handlebars of my bike, let along control a bag containing a 12" single.


IV: Edinburgh Military Tattoo Office, 1 Cockburn Street


And this is where it gets weird. There were three of us that afternoon and one of my friends suggested we “get jobs”, a novel concept for all of us. Whether we decided working at the Tattoo would be fun (it definitely wasn’t) or we just pedalled past their office at the foot of Cockburn Street and thought “that’ll do”, I can’t now remember. Either way, after an interview of no longer than 10 minutes and no background checks whatsoever, we secured three weeks employment as stewards at all twenty-one performances of the Tattoo.


V: Ticket for The Associates, Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, Thur. Aug. 19, 1982 (Unused)


Unused because - along with those on the following two nights - the concert was cancelled. As to the precise reasons, no one knows. It was reported that singer Billy Mackenzie had lost his voice but, regardless, that night, at the peak of their success, guitarist Alan Rankine quit the band.


And the fact that I still have the ticket suggests that I never returned to Ripping Records to receive my £3.50 refund.


Forty Summers Later: August 2022

Even now there seems to be precious little security around the Lawnmarket during performances of the Tattoo. People are able to line the road to watch the military bands exit the Castle Esplanade during the show and march towards the various buildings commandeered for the month as temporary dressing rooms. It was into this carnival atmosphere that we stumbled on a stiflingly hot Saturday August evening last summer as we made our way to see a play at Riddles Court.


Pausing to enable the musicians to cross Upper Bow I glanced up: waiting to cross in the opposite direction and no further away than three drummers was a young woman wearing an Associates t-shirt.


There was a gap in the ranks, she crossed the road, we crossed the road. And that was it, all over in – at tops – three seconds. Even at that moment I couldn’t say for certain what the image on her t-shirt was, it was rendered in black & white and might have been the cover art of Fourth Drawer Down. But what was unmistakeable was the distinctive elongated font, spelling ASSOCIATES, used on that album, the following year’s Sulk and on almost every release thereafter.


We listen to music recorded or written by artists who are long since dead all the time, in that there’s nothing particularly remarkable. But there was something about that woman resonated with me: she probably wasn’t alive when dear Billy took his life in 1997. And yet his – and, of course, Alan Rankine’s – music lives on, just a wee band from Dundee, still giving pleasure after all these years.


Later that evening, walking down Johnston Terrace with the Castle towering above us, my wife told me how, when she lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia her bagpipe playing neighbours the Macquaries were invited onstage to accompany the White Stripes. Moments later we were deafened by the US Army Field Band who burst into a rendition of Seven Nation Army which was met with rapturous applause from a delighted capacity Tattoo crowd.


How lovely it would be if the Royal Regiment of Scotland Pipes and Drums kicked off this year’s Tattoo by marching through the smoke covered drawbridge of Edinburgh Castle with a rousing version of the Associates Party Fears Two. What a wonderful sight and sound that would be.


After enduring twenty-one performances of the Tattoo in 1982, I said I could never go back. But for that … there’s a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye just thinking about it.

I’d be there like a shot.


In memory of Alan Rankine, 1958 - 2023



Image: Harry Papadopoulos

First published on Bella Caledonia

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