There used to be a great club in Glasgow, Scotland called The Maryland, and the owner Willie Cuthbertson (one of the great unacknowledged heroes of Scottish Rock) brought Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band up to play at a place called the Kelvin Hall. This venue was famous already in the halls of rock n roll fame as the site of the Kinks first “Live” album. Because we knew Willie he promised to take us back stage to meet the Captain before the concert.
We were all massive Beefheart fans – there were about 6 of us – and Gus (Angus Macintyre) was the biggest Beefheart fan of all. We met up for the gig and were all pretty excited. Gus had hired a tuxedo and looked like a drunk waiter in a posh hotel! When it came time to go back stage we all walked in single file behind him into the dressing room. I was a massive Zappa fan so was knocked out to meet Roy Estrada (Orejon), Artie Tripp and Elliot Ingber (Winged Eel Fingerling). The Captain was very gracious, and I remember him making small talk and jokes about Pluto, the Disney mutt that I had on my T-shirt, which helped me to calm down a wee bit.
Now, Gus was very artistic, and unbeknown to us he had some gifts for the Captain. He reached into this brown paper bag he had brought in, and pulled out this bottle of Spanish brandy that he had read somewhere in an interview that the Captain liked. Then he pulled out this glass cube that he had made, and suspended inside it somehow was an orchid. It looked really fantastic, and he presented it to Jan, the Captain’s wife. Then he brought out this other larger glass cube, that had this large cigar inside, trapped diagonally in top and bottom corners, with a nail through the middle of it. Well, the Captain was really touched by this and the whole vibe in the dressing room was really great. These 6 extraordinary Americans, producing the best music on the planet, all nattered away to these rather drunk and very excited Glaswegians (did anyone except the Captain understand what we were saying?).
Too soon it was show time and we went out and parked our arses in our front row seats. The show began with a ballerina which was in fact a constant on this tour. Who was this ballerina? Why have I never read an interview with her? Then Rockette came out and strutted around doing a wonderful dance and bass solo. As his bass solo shaped itself into the riff from When It Blows Its Stacks, the rest of the band came on. Finally the Captain came out with the bottle of brandy that Gus had given him and he said, “This is for Angus Macintyre!” and took a big swig from the bottle and the show began. Well, we were all blown away completely, of course, and the show was an absolute blinder.
We didn’t go backstage after the show, but had tickets for the gig in Edinburgh, a few days later.
I do remember one part of the show where things went askew and the Captain and Artie Tripp both said something peculiar in the middle of a song that we didn’t really understand. Years later in a mid-page spread in the Melody Maker, in an article entitled something like “Rock and the supernatural” there were all these quotes from rock stars about ‘weird stuff’ happening on stage. The Captain said that he and Artie Tripp saw something on stage at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. I particularly remember it because the closing quote from the Captain was “Perhaps it was the Loch Ness Monster”!
Gus had given the Captain his phone number, and the next day the Captain phoned up, found he was out, but sent a taxi round to pick up his mum and sister and they both had dinner with the Magic Band and the Captain in their hotel. Because it was Easter weekend, all the shops were closed and the Captain was really disappointed – he wanted to go out and buy a tartan suit!
The Captain played Edinburgh after Glasgow and we (The Maryland backstage Bunch) all agreed to meet at a bar near the Usher Hall. Gus didn’t turn up and nobody had heard from him, so it was all a puzzlement when we got to the gig and the show began and Gus was still nowhere to be seen. The support band were Foghat (surely some fascinating tales in there – has anyone ever asked Foghat about that tour?) and I have this memory of them as this horrendous, dreadful, awful, terrible, very white blues disaster, but perhaps I’m being unkind!
Towards the end of Foghat’s set we noticed The Magic Band coming in the side door, by the stage, and following behind was the Captain and Gus! Turned out when he got home and heard from his mom about their time with the Captain, he came through to Edinburgh to meet up with them and he had spent the day at Edinburgh Zoo with the Captain and Magic Band! Don and Gus kept in regular contact for years after the Scottish gigs, through phone calls and exchanging drawings.
I’m reminded of a simple anecdote here – one time the Captain did an interview in the Melody Maker and the journalist mentioned John Peel, who had always been a great supporter of Beefheart. The Captain said “THAT BASTARD! I phoned him last night and he wasn’t in!!” Years later, a good friend of mine, Ben Watson (he wrote the Zappa book ‘The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play’) was hitch hiking and he got a lift from John Peel. He asked him about the telephone incident, and John Peel laughed and said “The Captain didn’t speak to me for years because of that!”
Ben and I both agreed, the Captain was right. John Peel should have been in when the Captain phoned!