Nov 212014

It is with a heavy heart that I have to write about another boyhood Dons hero who has gone. By David Innes.

1967-05-27-Storie-scores-for-Whips-v-Stokers-ex-Washington-PostWhen Jim Storrie signed for Aberdeen from Leeds United in February 1967, the 10 year old me, and the very few Dons fans who attended my school, were visibly excited. We’d signed a player who some of us could recall playing in the 1965 FA Cup final against Liverpool, and although in the mini-battle of Scottish centre forwards that Wembley afternoon, Ian St John prevailed, this was still big news.

The Dons were going well. From previous torpor and disgraceful cup exits, defeated by East Fife and Ayr United, Eddie Turnbull had arrived and had taken the club by the scruff of the neck and forced it to modernise.

Money was still tight though, as were the Board’s pockets, and with a high quality crop of youngsters coming through, Turnbull’s need was to bring in an experienced striker to score goals and to help the young starlets develop.

Turnbull’s antennae were rarely switched off, and his scouting and insider gossip networks well-established, and on hearing that the experienced, streetwise Jim Storrie was looking to move back north, he wasted no time in bringing him aboard. Storrie was just a month short of his 27th birthday. Turnbull would have been aware of the player’s striking skills when Storrie was hot property at Airdrie before heading for Elland Road.

He debuted in The Sacred Red against Hearts at Tynecastle on 4 March 1967, leaving it two weeks later before he bagged his first Dons goal in a 1-1 draw at Firhill. More importantly, at Pittodrie 10 days later he scored a crucial goal in the Scottish Cup quarter final replay 3-0 defeat of Hibs.

That game was attended by 44000 people, with Pittodrie packed to eye-watering capacity. His own drama continued as the Dons went ahead early against Dundee United in the semi-final but Storrie missed the chance to seal the game when he missed a penalty.

Playing his second national cup final in two years, Storrie was disappointed to be on the losing side, a 2-0 defeat to Celtic in the final, a game where the Dons never got going.

What is often forgotten is that the Dons then played in the USA for a summer, under the banner of Washington Whips. This great adventure saw Storrie score 6 goals in 13 appearances, contribute regular columns on the trip to The Sunday Post, and win the Whips’ head honcho’s garish yellow sports jacket for scoring two goals in a play-off game against LA Wolves.

The whole story of that pioneering adventure was written, with input from Jim and most of his teammates, 17 years ago. I’ll attempt to get it into print for the 50th anniversary in two years time.

It was during the authoring of that book that I spoke with Jim, by phone, from his home near Glasgow. He was a splendid interviewee, full of anecdotes, delighted to reminisce about the trip and his affection for the time he spent at Pittodrie was obvious. On the tour, he was always prepared to sing Scots songs at ex-pat parties to which the Whips were invited.

Of his regular singing partner, Jimmy Wilson, he said, “Wee Jimmy and me thought we were Peters and Lee. More like Litres of Pee”.

He also suffered the ignominy, as a Scot, of being congratulated in the Cleveland match programme for his part in England’s 1966 World Cup theft victory.

Back home as runners-up in the President’s Cup, Storrie made history by scoring in Aberdeen’s first-ever European tie as the Reds crushed KR Reykjavik 10-0. Over both legs, Jim scored four goals, making him the Dons’ ninth equal all-time top scorer in Europe!

Unfortunately, following that US and early Scottish season goal harvest, Jim’s form didn’t continue and he played only fleetingly in the 1967-68 season, before Rotherham United took him back to Yorkshire in 1969. In his time at Pittodrie, he played 25 games and scored 11 goals. He returned to Scotland and managed St Johnstone from 1976-78. He then moved into sports management, running sports centres in the Kilsyth area.

We first heard of his illness in 2012 when Jim’s son Joe contacted me asking if he could have a copy of my manuscript to cheer his dad up after a serious operation. From the feedback Joe sent it seems that it had the desired effect, as Jim enjoyed it.

It was with great sadness that we learned the news of his death on 11 November 2014, aged 74, a fleeting but important part of the Reds’ history. The sympathies of all Dons fans around in those exciting days will be with his loved ones.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Mar 202014

The death of Tony Benn at age 88 has led to comments as diverse as “Maximum respect going out to my main man” – Ali G, and “that twinkling old poisonous irrelevance” – Adam Boulton. By Duncan Harley.

traffic cones

It’s a funny old world really. Just last week I attended the funeral service of Raymond Christie late resident of Newton Of Balquhain, Inverurie. Only a very few of us Scots will have heard of him.

Within the shire he was well known and well liked. As a farmer, publican and churchman he sparkled.

As a man he did what he considered supportive to family, friends and above all his community.

A good service, a good burial and although I did not go, a good few drinks in the Strathburn to celebrate a life well lived and well appreciated.

Ronnie Rocket was there as was George Skinner plus the new owners of the Black Bull. It was a poignant ceremony and worthy of the man.

Raymond’s sons and his daughter were on hand on the way in to welcome all to the service. My friend Joe was too frail to attend but sent his wishes via his wife Anne. All in all it was a good Doric send off.

Tony Benn also died last week. Another life well worth celebrating,  a life truthfully spent in doing whatever mattered to the man. A life spent walking the walk and speaking the talk.

A man of principle who took politics out of the constricted corridors of power. A man who became an iconic figure of our age.
A man who perversely gave up politics in the belief that he could devote more time to politics.

The ever present voice of the right in the form of Adam Boulton had this to say in connection with Tony:

“Oh really, and who elected you? Tony Benn rounded on my colleague John Stapleton as he put a polite but pointed question to the tribune of the left at a Labour conference in the early 1980s. Labour conferences back then were a contact sport. I’d already been spat at, grabbed by the lapels and — this was a surprise — barged out of the way by the party leader and book-lover Michael Foot. Mid-period Benn was a man of that mood. Ready to champion any radical group that wanted to impose its will by protest and threat, from Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers to the Militant Tendency.

I interviewed Tony Benn many times in many moods — pithy, long-winded, charming, vicious and always entertaining and informative. But I don’t think anything he said to me ever mattered. The truth is that by 1983 Tony Benn’s work was done. The twinkling old gent mourned this week is an irrelevance except to the family he loved and those who loved him. Benn’s legacy to the nation should be judged from when he was a frontline politician in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties.”

The Boulton piece was published in the Sunday Times under the title “that twinkling old poisonous irrelevance.”

Many folk of course wonder why Adam Boulton has written about Tony Benn with such great gusto. ‘Where is the respect nowadays?‘ say some and others point to Benn’s interview with Ali G where he came out of an interview with Ali G looking slightly shocked but victorious.

The sanctification of death often brings out the best rhetoric from those who are left. Often it comes from the standpoint of a relief that it was not them who died. After all, who wants to see death from the standpoint of one within.

Described as a “political nutter” by Andrew Marr, Mr Boulton was recently reported recently to have described Channel 4 news presenters as ‘Muppets’ who were ‘fighting over the autocue’

He may have a point or two about unprovoked rudeness.

As Tony Benn once said:

“If one meets a powerful person ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

Tony, bless his soul, tried hard to rid us of such foolishness as Trident and that Thatcher of whom we dare not speak.

I miss both Benn and Raymond Christie for what they stood for and of course for their honesty. Many wonder if we will miss Adam Boulton in quite the same way.

RIP Tony Benn, 3/4/1925 – 14/3/2014. A man of principle.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Jun 132013

Hall Harper takes a few moments to contemplate the death of Iain Banks.

Like many others I was saddened this week by the news of Iain Banks’s death at the age of 59, only a couple of months after doctors had diagnosed him with gall bladder cancer and given him around a year to live.

I first became aware of his writing over 20 years ago when I found myself in Chelmsford with some free time between an early afternoon meeting and an evening dinner arrangement, and wandered into a local bookshop in search of something interesting.

Scanning the shelves, my eye was drawn to the name Espedair Street which, to someone born and brought up in Paisley, immediately brought to mind a road in the south of that town.

Standing in that booksellers in Essex, though, it seemed unlikely that this could relate to the same tenement-lined street of my home town, but a quick flick through the first few pages revealed that it was.

The result was that I bought the book and spent the next few hours totally immersed in a fascinating story that almost resulted in me missing my dinner date.

Over the intervening years I’ve read his varied output and was constantly amazed at the brilliance of a master storyteller whose diverse and quirky range of works were always intelligent, perceptive and witty. I must admit, however, that I haven’t explored the science fiction titles of Iain M. Banks, as I’ve just never been able to warm to science fiction as a genre, but that’s my problem.

But it was mainly the wit that I was always drawn to.

This week, I have heard many observers quote the wonderful first sentence of The Crow Road, “It was the day my grandmother exploded,” which, I would wholeheartedly agree, must surely be one of the wittiest and best opening lines in a modern novel.

Nevertheless, my first memorable encounter with Mr B’s wit was in the early pages of Espedair Street where he described one of the less-salubrious districts of my birthplace:

“Ferguslie Park lay in a triangle of land formed by three railway lines, so no matter what direction you approached it from, it was always on the wrong side of the tracks.”

Let me assure those who are not familiar with the area, aka ‘Feegie’ or ‘The Jungle’, that this is a description which says more than a 200-page dissertation ever could.

But wit was clearly an integral part of the man who recorded that his reaction to being diagnosed with the terminal condition which brought his life to such a tragically premature end on Sunday was, “along the lines of ‘oh bugger!’” and who later asked his long term partner, Adele Hartley, if she would do him the honour of becoming his widow.

Now that really is raising two fingers at death!

So while I mourn the passing of someone I believe to have been one of Scotland’s finest writers, I suspect he would have scorned any display of grief at his demise preferring instead that those left raised a smile and a glass to his memory.

So cheers Iain – thanks for everything!

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Oct 262012

All Things Must Pass, wrote George Harrison, and they do.

Sometimes, though, the death of someone who you don’t really know, but who has affected you in some way, can hurt.  That’s the case with Michael Marra, songwriter, performer, actor and artist who was defiantly and proudly Dundonian who died on Tuesday. Voice’s David Innes writes.

His refusal to drop the overt Caledonian influences and references in his writing when employed as a professional songwriter in London in the early 1980s saw him return home to Dundee and hone his talent to razor-sharpness without ever losing his desire to tell life stories, very often set in Dundee and seen through his own off-centre prism.

That was London’s loss.

His songs were supremely-crafted vignettes whatever the subject matter.  Whether a view on the state of humanity like Here Come The Weak, an observation of women at the berries dissing each other’s housing schemes in Baps and Paste, or a message to his great uncle who was disowned by his family as contained in The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke.  

Equally as entertaining were his introductions to the songs where his clever, self-effacing humour would have audience members in convulsions of laughter.

When he playfully insulted Aberdeen in If Dundee Was Africa and got a laugh for it (even in the Lampie and the Lemon Tree) he would insist that he paid the city a tribute by having the Dons held up as heroes for redeeming the human race in the eyes of the fox in Reynard in Paradise.

His live shows were wondrous to behold.  Always nervous offstage, once he sat behind a piano he became a changed man.  Often, the instrument was his own electronic keyboard, or as he described it once when rippling arpeggios on the Jazz Club grand piano in the Blue Lamp:

 “a piece of plastic on an ironing board”.

He was an inveterate collaborator too.

There have been, and are, musical geniuses in his home city and Michael worked with them all – The Woollen Mill, Skeets Boliver, the Clarks, his own brother the supremely-talented Christopher etc.  These people inspired and were inspired by him and throughout his repertoire there were references to Gus Foy (Hamish the Goalie), Peter McGlone (Peter), Dougie MacLean (Niel Gow’s Apprentice) and Dougie Martin (Julius).

Michael was also an actor.

He appeared in Hamish Macbeth and The Big Man and delivered a well-received performance as Jim, the pyromaniac, in Chris Rattray’s acclaimed The Mill Lavvies for which he also wrote the songs.

He was characteristically self-effacing about his painting and drawing skills but he had talent in this area too.

For a man who cliché demanded had to be termed ‘Scotland’s best kept secret’, he was held in high respect and great affection by significant figures in Scottish artistic circles, yet he was a man who would rather discuss Dundee’s League-winning team of 1962, or The Beach Boys, than talk about his own talent and finely-crafted songs.

Michael was a private man, happy to chat with fans, but never keen on the limelight.  Often keen to play piano at the side of a stage helping out others.

The many touching tributes which have been paid by household names in the arts world are proof that this little grey-haired Dundonian with an easy grin, twinkling eye and black beret was regarded as an outstanding talent and, more importantly, one of life’s genuine and generous good guys.

Michael Marra 1952-2012.  Sleep easy, Michael.

  •  Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.