The Wire

In Writing

This Is Memorial Device: David Keenan's photo essay

January 2017

The author of This Is Memorial Device, a fictionalised account of post-punk in Lanarkshire, documents his ‘love letter’ to his hometown with a selection of annotated images

Clarkston lies to the east of Airdrie city centre, just before the strange borderland area that crosses into Plains and then on into Caldercruix. This area was widely mined and there are stories of great underground lakes stretching for miles beneath the pavement, one particularly deep water mass alleged to run beneath the remand home on the outskirts of Plains. Huge sinkholes regularly appear in the area. Plains is perpetually on the brink of being swallowed whole. In the 1970s and 80s the main local employer was a banana factory. There is a much told legend that local bar The Stables has long been a secret haunt of Hollywood celebrities looking to find an ‘authentic’ drinking spot away from the crowds when filming in Glasgow, with everyone from the cast of Cheers through Johnny Depp rumoured to have enjoyed lock-ins here. Once I saw a guy who looked exactly like Jet Black from The Stranglers smoking a fag on the steps. Viewed using Google Maps’ Street View, The Stables features a customer sat on its steps eternally vomiting onto the pavement. The train line, recently extended from Drumgelloch all the way to Edinburgh, still refuses to stop there, but back in the day there were a few music nuts and secret painters hidden away in its back streets. In This Is Memorial Device Maya McCormack of The Ladybugs, later of Dark Bathroom, makes the sad journey from Plains all the way to a flat above Benny’s chip shop in Clarkston just to tell local punk Street Hassle that he was dumped because of her dad who didn’t approve of Protestants.

Lucas Black of Memorial Device is buried in the churchyard of Clarkston Parish Church. He is buried alongside his father, whose body was shipped back from Jos in Nigeria after he was killed in an altercation while working out there. Aside from the family name, there is no other inscription on the grave. Many homeless people sleep through the night in the graveyard, using the gravestones as improvised shelters.

Colliertree Road is another route built perilously on top of great pits and subterranean lakes. In This Is Memorial Device, Michael Donnelly makes a transit of this street every night, dragging Johnny McLaughlin with him in his mind, smoking cigarette after cigarette and staring at streetlights and at lit-up second story windows. The parkland just behind the houses is Goosey from The Clarkston Parks’ favourite Clarkston park because he used to go there back in the day and read “scud mags”. Throughout the 1970s and the 80s large piles of scud mags were deposited in the bushes around the park by an unknown benefactor. We, the denizens of the future, give thanks to you, visionary.

The path that leads to one of the many perilous abandoned quarries that circle Airdrie. Alan Brooks from local punk-pop group The Whinhall Starvers was once popped in the arse by an air-rifle here, and when the pigs picked up the guy that did it he said Brooks had been asking for it ’cause he had a big target on the back of his Mod parka. Brooks gave up being a Mod and got into metal instead. A local legend who history only remembers as Hamburger Lady, after the track by Throbbing Gristle and because he had the words Hamburger Lady written on the back of his leather jacket in Tipp-Ex, lost his life after falling from the top of an abandoned industrial structure in the same quarry.

The flats on the main street where Duncan Gracie, bassist for Chinese Moon, lived. Chinese Moon would meet up to paint lead figures and listen to The Ramones and heavy metal records in Duncan’s brother’s bedroom, which was entirely wallpapered with old issues of Sounds and NME. His brother must have had at least 30 LPs. The room stank of old socks. But it all changed when the four Chinese Moon members dropped acid and began putting on shows in shop windows in the East End of Glasgow, with mannequins dressed up as themselves playing tape loops that sounded like a heavy metal Fripp & Eno. But of course it couldn’t last.

Katherine Park is the least loved but most magical park in Airdrie. Behind the trees, to the right of the photograph, there is hidden the remains of a shrine to the late rock writer Lester Bangs, erected and maintained by Ross Raymond and Richard Curtis (the drummer for Memorial Device) in 1982 after news of his death reached Airdrie. The recently extended rail line from Glasgow to Edinburgh runs through the back of the park. On the other side of the line there used to be a stunning old building, long demolished now, that housed the Wester Moffatt Hospital for Infectious Diseases, known locally as The Plague Hospital. Rod Stilvert, Airdrie’s psychotronic porn auteur, shot the bulk of his first feature Flesh For Fuckenstein in the grounds of the hospital in the late 1970s. It is now an ugly old persons’ home – ie a home for ugly old people.

In the summer of 1983, on a beautiful sunny day in June, Ross Raymond interviewed Big Patty of Memorial Device while sitting in the grass in this park. The interview is reprinted as Chapter Two, “This Is So Pointlessly Wrong”, in This Is Memorial Device.

Benny’s chip shop was a regular hang out spot for headcases and trouble makers and underage drinkers looking to get into it. Local punk Street Hassle, who is interviewed in Chapter Twenty One of This Is Memorial Device, “Every Disappointment Was Like Something Awarded You In Heaven”, lived in the flat just above the Fish & Chips sign. The flat looks out over Katherine Park which Street Hassle claims is “full of ghosts”. Local legend does speak of a mysterious Grey Lady who is supposed to haunt the park, and God knows plenty of people have died there or at least passed out unconscious in the bushes.

Grown adults do still lurk on the stairs of Katherine Park of a Saturday afternoon, drinking cans from out of plastic bags and staring at their feet even though they all have homes they could just as well be drinking in.

It was common knowledge locally that Paul’s maw was shagging Big Davy.

Before they established their regular practice room underneath one of the now demolished arches near Airdrie train station, Memorial Device rehearsed in an industrial container down the side of Big Patty’s house on Forrest Street. But how the hell did they get it there? It seems almost impossible. Early tapes recorded in here sound more like electrical storms or sunspot activity than anything that could be described as music and it’s not a huge leap to posit that the environment had a defining effect on their sound; a violent echo chamber, a windowless cell.

Big Patty of Memorial Device lived in an old gloomy mansion on Forrest Street in Airdrie, though just as many claimed it was a wee gloomy bungalow. In the grounds there were abandoned greenhouses with the windows broken and dark trees, and in the back garden there was the remains of an old industrial red brick chimney.

There was a famous old tramp that slept rough in an improvised hut dwelling down the back of the Safeway car park and who during the day would just wander. Sometimes you would see him miles from home, like round the back of Easter Moffat Golf Club in Plains or fishing in the reservoir at Caldercruix or even one time on the open top deck of one of those buses that tourists take to see the sights in Glasgow – so he must have had money, and an interest in local history and architecture. We’ll never know though. Hamburger Lady actually interviewed him for his fanzine De-Escalate but he went and destroyed it before it even made it to the printers. The tramp’s long dead too. But there he is, immortal in this photograph, walking straight into the past.

Paprika Jones had sex with Lucas Black from Memorial Device up this close once. Now it’s kind of a pilgrimage point.

Dominic Hunter met Remy Farr from Memorial Device for the first time at a party in one of these flats. They squeezed out onto the top balcony and began flirting with each other like crazy, much to the annoyance of Dom’s partner at the time. Dom had just posted an advert in Airdrie library looking for “secret deities” and “saintly 18 year olds”. Right then and there they decided to form their conceptual synth-pop performance art duo Relate, which Leigh Bowery totally ripped off, according to Dom. Relate released one 12" single, “Blood Is The Surgeon”, and supported Imagination at Zanzibar in Coatbridge, a gig that would come back to haunt Remy after he joined Memorial Device.

A secret path that runs behind the Tudor Hotel, just next to the train line, where people would hang out and smoke joints and where Scott McKenzie, in Chapter Three of This Is Memorial Device, “Daytime Hangovers That Can Only Be Remedied by a Session of Furious Masturbation”, smokes a joint with a pregnant woman he works with and claims that they both see fireflies dancing in the air and forming the shapes of actual constellations in the sky even though there are no fireflies in Airdrie. He also claims that when you kiss a pregnant woman it tastes saltier, so who knows.

This is the most beautiful house in Airdrie. I always fantasised about living here. It is sat right next to an estate of squat brutalist council flats. A real anomaly and very romantic to me. I used to dream of lying next to the windows upstairs and reading a book with the sun streaming in. I never saw a single person who lived here. I never saw anyone come in or out or even just appear at the window in all the time I’ve passed it. In This Is Memorial Device Remy Farr lived here with his mum and dad in the 1970s before his dad travelled to Sausalito to have his testicles removed by a ‘professional cock and ball torturer’ who lived in a houseboat in the bay.

Big Patty from Memorial Device’s family ran an Italian café on the main street. You would see his mum every night when she closed up, walking along the road with these boxes of cigarettes under her arms. She never left them there at night. It was too much of a temptation for burglars. They’ll kill you for a fag in Airdrie.

Forrest Street, Airdrie. If you looked like a punk in Airdrie then the chances are that someone would randomly throw something at you from a passing car. I was walking with Hamburger Lady once when someone threw an entire loaf of pan bread at us. But that might have been on Clark Street.

David Keenan's debut novel This Is Memorial Device will be published by Faber. A book launch will take place on 8 February at London The Social, 7pm.

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