Thursday, 27 February 2020

3pm. Saturday, 21st May, 1977.

3pm. Saturday, 21st May, 1977.
I was twelve years old.
Thirteen soon in August.
A hot sunny day.
FA Cup Final day.
The Belfast streets were silent.
Everyone indoors.
TVs on.
Nothing else mattered apart from watching the battle for that famous silver trophy.
Life was that simple.

Wembley Stadium.
The site where legends are created.
The Twin Towers.
Wide open spaces.
Green grass reflecting glaring sunlight.
The light is good today.
Rizzla advertising boards.
One hundred thousand people.
Flat cardboard FA Cups covered in tin foil.
“Que sera, sera,
Whatever will be, will be,
We’re going to Wembley,
Que sera, sera...”
Life was that simple.

1 - Stepney
2 - Nicholl
3 - Albiston
4 - McIlroy
5 - Greenhoff B.
6 - Buchan
7 - Coppell
8 - Greenhoff J.
9 - Pearson
10 -Macari
11 -Hill
12 -McCreery

Number 11.
Gordon Hill.
The Magician.
Magical left foot.
I had sent a letter to him.
I told him how brilliant he was.
He sent me a small sheet of paper with his autograph on it.
Gordon Hill wrote to ME!
A boy in Belfast!
Life was that simple.

Stuart Pearson 51”
Jimmy Case 53”
Jimmy Greenhoff 55”
Three goals. Four minutes.
Magic was happening in the sunshine.

Bob Matthewson blew the final whistle at quarter to five. Time to get the tea on, after Martin Buchan proudly lifts and holds high that trophy, first played for in 1872. A prize that holds many memories and secrets.

Victorious Manchester United. The Young Ones had done it. Punk Rock football. 4-2-4, in your face football. Coppell on the right. Hill on the left. Bombarding.

Six days later, on 27 May 1977, the Sex Pistols would release the venomous ‘God Save The Queen’ to the world. The new generation were here and would be heard.The warning shots had been fired. The ripples were sent out into the Cosmos. We will not be ignored.

1977. The Year One. No turning back. The seeds were planted. The chaos of change ignited.

If you go outside and listen hard enough, on a quiet evening, you can still hear the snarl of 1977 coming from the aethyr — absorb it.
Life is that simple.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Time travel #2 (2019-1972)

The world is full of ‘lost boys’. I’m one of that unfortunate crowd. We drift through life, not feeling any real part of society, sometimes even the human race itself. Part of me has enjoyed being different from the average person, with all the quirks and eccentricity, but a huge part of me yearns for just plain old normality. A world not ruled by anxiety, depression and out-of-the-box thinking.

As I write this now, I long to go back and change the world that I grew up in. No longer do I want the pain of the past - the drunken, violent, abusive parents who destroyed all but tiny fragments of my confidence and self-worth. I want to go back and reassure the young ‘me’ that things will work out, and I will make it through the torturous times.

To do this I must travel back through time. Some say it’s impossible, but to us lost boys it’s a gift we have. Events of the past are not just memories, they are moments frozen in time that can be visited or tapped into, whenever we choose to do so. All that is needed is the individual key to each moment to allow entry into it.

This time, I choose to travel back from this point in time of writing, 2019, to visit my seven, going on eight year-old self, in the year 1972. I want to stand in front of that little boy, put my hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes and tell him that his future-self is right here, looking after him, guarding him, advising him - and that everything will work out. The presence that I knew and felt back then who was always with me was indeed my future-self, my guardian-angel if you like, trying to steer me in the right direction, away from harm. Many times I didn’t listen to the advice given, but through time I learnt that the entity I knew as “my strange companion” was real, tangible and was a genuine force for good.

Let’s do this. 1972 here we go…

I began the year 1972 aged seven and finished it aged eight. I was a gentle kid, frightened by the outside world. My parents had created such a hostile atmosphere in my own home that my logic turned to the perception that if it was as bad as this in the place where I should feel the safest, namely home, what horrors were out there in the world beyond the ‘safety’ of my own family unit?

I was in year four or ‘P4’ in Nettlefield Primary School, a small school with only a few hundred pupils which sat in a backstreet in east Belfast. Everybody knew each other. It was that kind of school - all kids from the local area who went to school together and came from the same streets.

By the age of seven I was discovering that I was a handy little football player, with a natural, fearless ability to make a ball do what I wanted. When I got my foot on the ball, I would be instantly transported to that other world of magical creativity, in which the only moment that mattered was NOW. I could carve my way through a bunch of opposing players with an ease that surprised me every time, even though I knew I could do it. Playing football to me was like an artistic dance of self-expression. Give me the ball and I was at one with the world. In later years playing football would be replaced by playing and composing music. The purpose and effect was the same - it gave me an escape from a world that I struggled so much to deal with on a mundane, everyday level.

1972 was also the year I was beaten in the school sports-day sprint final by Diane, a girl from my class. I was devastated. How could this happen? Beaten by a girl?! In front of a a packed playground full of kids and parents. As I stood, balling my eyes out, I want to take the opportunity now, to go back to that moment from this year, 2019, to that boy, and pull him to the side away from the crowded playground, to tell him, “It doesn’t really matter that you lost a sprint race to a girl. It’s all GOOD.”

To do this I need the keys to access 1972 from now.

Let’s got to directly to Saturday, 4th March 1972. It was the day of the Football League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Stoke City versus Chelsea. The match finished at 2-1 to Stoke City and the winning goal was scored by George Eastham. The sound of Brian Moore’s commentary on the game still rings around my head as he shouted “The Old Man Has Done It!”,  as Eastham, who was 34 years old at the time slid the ball into the net. I go back to seven year-old me, the boy lying on the floor, head resting on hands, watching this game on TV. I’m an invisible presence, sitting right beside him.

Let’s drift to another point in time, to Saturday 25th March 1972 and The New Seekers singing the song, ’Beg, Steal Or Borrow’ as part of the Eurovision Song Contest. I watched this show on television in our next-door neighbour, Mrs Nelson’s house. I’m guessing my parents were out on the lash and she was babysitting for me. I recall sitting beside the small fireplace watching as Luxembourg won the contest. From the year 2019, I sit invisible in that room in 1972, with Mrs Nelson, her son, Brian, and me. My presence is that of a Spiritual Guard.

Saturday, 6th May 1972. The FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. The biggest football match of the year. Leeds United versus Arsenal. It was a yearly thing to look forward to. It didn’t matter who was playing, the FA Cup Final was the football event of the year. Like the Super Bowl in the US, millions would be glued to the TV set. Leeds won the match 1-0 with an Allan Clarke diving header. I recall Mick Jones suffering a badly dislocated elbow in the last minute of the game that had me feeling squeamish, as the slow-motion would replay his awkward fall over and over again.In the football world that I was so absorbed in, Derby County won their first ever league championship, pipping Leeds United, Liverpool and Manchester City to the title, with just one point separating all four teams. I tell my over-excited seven year-old self to enjoy those precious moments - there will be many more.

As I delve further into 1972, I have to stop and consider how there are certain defining moments that happen in your life that stay with you, and go on to influence your future life in a major way. These beautiful foreshadowing events happen innocently at a particular moment, but their magic is cast out into your future universe to influence the you in the years to come. One such event happened on Thursday 6th July 1972 - Top Of The Pops was a Thursday night ritual all over the UK and Ireland.The show started in the year of my birth, 1964 and ran for many decades until 2006, when music itself had all but disappeared from the public psyche as being something that mattered, and had transformed into a digital, internet-based form of entertainment. Back in 1972, music was a vital thing in the lives of people and Top Of The Pops was a weekly fix of who was at the top of the singles chart in the UK.

On Thursday 6th July 1972 David Bowie appeared on Top Of The Pops singing his new single ‘Starman’. I watched, transfixed by this odd-looking guy with weird reddish hair wearing a multi-coloured cat-suit, playing a blue guitar. He sang and pointed to the camera “I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-hoo…”. That was me he was pointing at. I’m sure he was. He was confirming that he was like me, an odd,  not quite fitting in lost-boy. That was the moment that I wanted to be a musician, (preferably a Rock-Star), just like David Bowie. In the future I never made it to Rock-Star status, but I became a humble musician, continually inspired by Bowie and that moment I unwittingly experienced on an average Thursday evening in 32 Ravenhill Avenue, Belfast.
I go back to that moment now, and put my arms around that seven, soon to be eight year-old boy and tell him, “You’ll be playing guitar like that one day. Heck, you’ll be even writing your own music, just like that guy on the TV.”

See? Time-travel is real. Use the keys to gain access to moments from your past. Feel the feelings. Hear the sounds.Smell the smells, Touch and taste the days before. It’s easy. Just for 1972 alone, I’ve got loads of keys to moments built up and catalogued in my mind. The same with every other year.

The Wimbledon Mens’ Singles Final, played on Sunday 9th July 1972. Stan Smith versus Ilie Năstase, It was a five set marathon. I sat glued to the TV, cheering on the rebel, Năstase. He was the baddie, Smith was the straight-laced good-guy. Smith eventually wore down his opponent to win 4–6, 6–3, 6–3, 4–6, 7–5. I recall him jumping over the net to shake hands with Năstase. Back then Wimbledon winners often jumped over the net, like a tradition. It doesn’t happen any more. The world has moved on.

On Friday 21 July, 1972, Rod Stewart released his album ‘Never A Dull Moment’. My older brother brought a copy home and I played it until I knew every word and every nuance of the music. As the record played on the turntable, I would stare at and absorb the cover artwork, and the sleeve notes. Music allowed me to drift into another world in which nothing really mattered except what was happening right now. The past and future didn’t exist - there was only right here, right now, and Rod Stewart was singing “…and you wear it well…”. That’s all there was, and it was perfect.
I sit beside that seven year-old boy hugging my knees just like him, in a Belfast living-room that smells of tobacco smoke, with whitish, nicotine-stained wood-chip wallpaper and brown furniture. He can feel my presence. There’s no communication, just the two of us and Rod Stewart’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ playing. What more could a boy want?

You may read this and think it’s insanity to attempt to communicate with your past-self. The lost-boys know different. We, the not-quite-right folk of this world have the gift of secret keys, that the average mortal will never attain. This gift is the price of suffering. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Goodbye, love and blessings to 2019, all the way back from 1972, and vice-versa.


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Time Travelling #1 (1980-1940)

Post-major-surgery to remove cancer seems to have given me the ability to transport myself back to certain periods in time. I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2018, and went through a nine-hour operation to cut out the gnarled growths. I’m still here, writing from the edge of trauma, and this allows out-of-the-box thought. This adventure starts in 1980 and goes backwards to the 1940s, just before the days of rock and roll and gradually towards the end of an innocence.

Let’s start in 1980, in a world of restriction. The year the film, ‘Gregory's GIrl’ was made. It was a different realm of being. A world before the internet, in which three television channels existed; BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. A United Kingdom of social confinement. People lived and worked in their own ‘areas’. Outside of that area was terrifying. The baby-boomers were finding their raison d'être.

Those born in the 1940s, 50s and 60s were the foot-soldiers of significant post-world-war social change. By the time the creative work of these generations would come to fruition in the future that is the 21st century, they’d be riddled with cancer, dementia, and a host of other ailments. Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, said, “we are the dead”.
It’s then Winston’s girlfriend Julia reminds Winston, “Don't you enjoy being alive? Don't you like feeling: This is me, this is my hand, this is my leg, I'm real, I'm solid, I'm alive!” Julia speaks much wisdom at a time of despair.

I can feel the past as a tangible, visceral reality. They are the feelings, emotions, touch, smell, and taste of naivety and innocence. From the invincible days. When death was an impossible concept. When music mattered, back in a time when rock-stars couldn’t die. No one could’ve known that music would lose its soul to the cold-blooded claws of the internet algorithm. Controlled. Everything today is perfect and controlled. In the future, there’ll not be a glitch. There’ll be only a harmonised, controlled perfection.

I can hear ‘Win’ from David Bowie’s 1975 album ‘Young Americans’, and be instantly transported to a summer afternoon in 1978, when I first heard it aged 13, about to turn 14, one month later. I can feel the heat from the sun. I can smell the cardboard album cover. I can hear the quiet of a mid-July Belfast, when most people were away for their ‘twelfth-fortnight’ summer holiday. I can touch the stillness of our house as my mother and father sat drinking in some local pub. I was okay with that, as it meant I could play the album loud, while watching the rays of the sun come streaming through the blinds into my bedroom.

“What happened to a sense of wonder, on yonder hillside getting dim? Why didn't they leave us, alone...” once sang East Belfast’s Van Morrison.

From the old world to the new 21st century world. Sit in your chair and push the buttons. Stare at your 50” wide rectangle with trance-forming pictures and symbols.
“You are now in a controlled Alpha State”.
“You deserve it”.
“Leisure Audio For The Modern Ear”
*This is trademarked. Do NOT touch*

Somewhere there is a soul in a box. Frightened. Sad. Full of love, creativity, and a smile that hasn’t been smiled in many years. Once, it had a daring and creative rage. Now it’s hammered into submission. The repetitive rain of blows from the algorithm is always too much to bear. The inevitable surrender was held off by a young, rebel heart, kicking and pushing its own way against the tide. But experience will eventually scar that, one too many times. That last particular scar will weaken and change you from a game-changer to non-participant.

This when you need to FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT. 
Think of that little inner light, that soul trapped in a box, in a nook within you.
That thing was your dare and rage, your fire.
It’s still there.
Let it out of the box.
Free it.
It’s still there.
Build the tension.
Watch the fire get brighter.
Let your little light SHINE, SHINE, SHINE.

Or don’t. The choice is yours.


Friday, 29 June 2012

The Facts of Life


My group of mates would educate each other with second hand tales, myths and facts about the world. I was eight years old when I found out about the facts of life and making babies from my mate Jimmy-Rib. He came frantically running around the street corner towards us as we sat on Mrs Flanigan’s garden wall bored out of our minds. Jimmy-Rib stopped completely out of breath and dramatically declared;

"I know how you get a girl pregnant!”

"Tell us! Tell us!" we shouted back at him.

"Ya stick yer dick up her fanny and ya pump her up – and ya keep pumping and stop when she gets to about here!"

Jimmy-Rib gestured with his hands the desired amount of ballooning that should be applied to the girl's stomach area. That was it. You pumped the girl up like you would do with a punctured bicycle tyre.

We now knew THE secret!

Off we spread out in various directions to meet other kids to tell them "I know how you get a girl pregnant!" The jungle drums were now out…


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Video: 'Dusk' from 'belfastsongs'

'Dusk' - Track #1 from the album 'belfastsongs' by livingstone.
Film footage from East Belfast 1977 (Moorgate Street).
Used with kind permission of Ruth Girvan.
Music © Ian Livingstone 2012
Published by livingstonemusic


Saturday, 2 April 2011

On The Beak

1977-1980 - School never agreed with me and I was too much of a daydreamer to listen to teachers. I spun on my own orbit in a constant attempt to escape those who tried to tell me how I should be. I was thirteen years old when I gathered up the courage to mitch off school, once I had managed to talk my mate Marty into being my partner-in-crime – if I was going to get caught I wouldn’t be alone. ‘Beaking off’ school was a landmark event for me and Marty. It was like a Rite of Passage into the world of skipping school. This operation needed very careful planning…

Both of us carried out some prior reconnaissance work to source out a suitable place to hide from the outside world on our first day ‘on the beak’. There was a little area known as Chesham near to where we lived. Chesham was a strange batch of small, quiet streets and cul-de-sacs that was entirely different from the surrounding areas of red-brick terraces. The houses of Chesham built for ex-servicemen from World War I, had a quaint charm. Many of the houses were painted white and they resembled little Mediterranean villas. This peaceful area was perfect for me and Marty to hide from the dreaded ‘Beaky Board’, a team of men and women who by urban legend would wander around the streets looking for kids who were playing truant from school. Every school kid was terrified of the mysterious Beaky Board.

To make things better we found two huge hedgerows growing parallel to each other. The tops of the hedges grew over and into one another creating a roof of sorts. We climbed inside the two hedges to discover there was a three foot wide space running the length of the two bushes. It was our very own hidey-hole with loads of space and protection from the Belfast rain. The setting was perfect for our first day on the beak…

We met the next morning and set off for school as normal except his was no ordinary day - this was the day of reckoning. Nervously we walked to the local shop to stock up on sweets and comics to keep us occupied for the next six and a half hours. We walked to the Chesham area and to our leafy hedgerow sanctuary. With a quick glance along the street to make sure no one was watching we quickly disappeared into the security of a hedge, our hearts beating double-time. Marty and I sat inside the large hedgerow from half past eight in the morning until half past three in the afternoon. Even though we were trapped and living in fear of being caught it was exhilarating. Since we did not think to bring a watch we had no idea what time it was which meant that we had to venture out of the hedge once to ask an old lady the correct time. She told us “it’s a quarter to three – not time to go home yet”. She was onto what we were doing. The old lady’s comment made us paranoid that the Beaky Board would bust us in our leafy hiding place. However once it hit half past three we walked home in a state of triumph, like heroes after a battle. We did it! We beaked off school! This was to be the first of many days to come, each time it became easier and more tempting to simply not go to school.

Another friend Mark was also a partner I skipped school with. Mark’s house was empty during the day and the temptation of having yet another sneaky day off with nothing to do except listen to music, watch TV and smoke cigarettes, was much too great.
One day as we lounged in the comfort of Mark’s living room listening to David Bowie albums we decided that chicken soup and bread would be perfect for lunch. As we were stirring the pot we suddenly heard the front door opening. It was Mark’s ma’! We panicked and raced out to hide in the back yard leaving the pot of soup still boiling on the stove. Mark’s mother walked in to her kitchen to find a pot of creamy chicken soup heating itself up for her lunch. She screamed “Maarrrk!!” but no sound apart from the bubbling soup. When she came out to the back yard she found Mark hiding behind the rubbish bin and me hiding behind the coal bunker. We were caught red-handed. We both ran past her like whippets and out of the house, as she screamed obscenities at both of us. I hid for the rest of the day in Ormeau Park, terrified of going home in the fear of Mark’s mother telling my parents.

By the age of fourteen beaking off school had become a regular thing for me. I was becoming more confident and blasé about not going to school to the point that I now simply stayed in my own house – sod being outside in the cold. The routine was to leave the back door open and leave for school as normal. I would wait a few streets away until nine o’clock when I knew that both my parents would have left the house for work. When I knew they had gone I would sneak up the back alleyway and in through the back door. This would have to be done silently to avoid our next door neighbour hearing me going into the house. I had to spend the entire day basically in silence as I was convinced that my mother had assigned the neighbour to watch the house and listen for noise through the thin single brick walls. Playing truant can make one very paranoid.

In the quest to continually hide my tracks from the days I skipped school I had to master my father’s handwriting style in order to fake the absent notes I handed in to my teacher on the days I actually went to school – Dear Mr Gibson, please excuse Ian from not being at school as he was very sick. Yours sincerely, A. Livingstone.
There was a point in time that both my parents and school knew I was a regular ‘mitcher’. I saw a few letters from the school expressing concern at my lack of attendance, but they only read me the riot act once - after that they seemed to give up. In my father’s eyes an education wasn’t essential. He had set his sights on me becoming an apprentice and “getting a trade” in the construction industry. This was working-class Belfast, a place where a good day’s work involved getting your hands dirty and not being a pen-pushing desk-hugger.

I continued playing truant until I left school with no exam qualifications at all, but none of that seemed to matter, to me or anyone else.


Friday, 2 July 2010

Mr Connor's Three Thumbs

1973 - Mr Connor lived across the street from me. He had three thumbs. On one hand he had a second thumb growing out of the first. To me it looked both grotesque and fascinating. I used to tell my friends about Mr Connor and his three thumbs but they would never believe me no matter how much I tried to convince them.

To prove my point I would use some cunning. I kicked my football into Mr Connor's back garden and bring my mates with me to knock on his front door. I would ask for Mr Connor to retrieve my ball and apologise for disturbing him.

Mr Connor was a nice man who always obliged when I offered an apology. He would troop off to his back garden to look for the football. When he returned and held out the ball to me he revealed his three thumbs. I would yell in excitement "LOOK! Ah told ye! Th'ee Thumbs!!!" My mates would ogle at Mr Connor and his three thumbs like it was an atrocity exhibition from a freak-show.

"Eeeaauuuggghhh!!!" shouted one boy.
"No way, he HAS th'ee thumbs!!!" exclaimed another.

We would retreat with Mr Connor shaking his fist and shouting abuse at us. I was however, left with the satisfaction of saying to my disbelieving mates "I told ye’ so!"

In 1973 it didn't take much to make a nine year old feel on top of the world.