10 Oct 2014

John McGarrigle Remembered

On Friday 29 November 2013, the police Eurocopter EC 135 came down on the Clutha Bar in Glasgow. All three people on board and seven others in the pub were killed.  One of those fatalities was Glasgow writer John McGarrigle, who is here remembered by friend and fellow writer Jim Ferguson.

John McGarrigle was a fine man, a fine poet and a fine writer. He was brought up in Castlemilk, one of the large housing schemes that surround Glasgow. The first time I met him was at a meeting of The Worker’s City Group in Tommy Kayes’ print shop on the High Street, Glasgow, in 1987. It was primarily as a poet and short story writer that I knew John. I’d already read his work in the anthology Mud and Stars, (and possibly in his own Glasgow’s McGarrigle) before I met him in person. And though I liked his poetry on the page I liked the actual John a whole lot more. We shared a similar political outlook, a socialist outlook, and had very similar ideas about writing.
John’s poetry was and always will be an inspiration.  He was uncompromisingly working-class, passionate, compassionate, funny, thoughtful, intelligent and angry. We were aw angry in those days: mainly because of Tory government policies and Margaret Thatcher’s belligerence.  John, like a lot of other folk here in Scotland and elsewhere really didny like the Tories.  His stories were on the gothic side, with a crazy dark humour that merged everyday Glaswegian life with mythology, violence, and classical figures, in a very original way.
From around 1988 until about 1993 John, writers Karen Thomson and Bobby Christie, and myself, were very close friends. We argued and debated, and drank and laughed a lot together.  On a good few occasions we aw ended up back at Karen’s house in Castlemilk listening to country music, chatting and singing until we zonked oot.
John and I did a lot of live readings together. I particularly remember, in 1990, doing a series of cabaret-night readings in the Glasgow Puppet Theatre on Otago Street, with John and Leslie Crook.  Around the same time John and I did a reading at a place on Edinburgh High Street. It was my birthday and after a few whiskies I walked too far forwards whilst reciting, fell off the stage and landed on the folk sitting in the front row.  John, for reasons known only to himself, spoke in a Fife accent and pretended he was Fifer throughout the entire evening. It was all a bit surreal: but not as surreal as a helicopter falling out of the sky to land on a Glasgow pub killing John and nine others, and injuring over thirty. As happened at the Clutha Vaults on the night of Friday 29 November 2013. 

On another day, back in the 1990s, I was walking down King Street to do a reading at Transmission Gallery, I could see a policeman standing outside the door and it was only when I got up close I realised it was McGarrigle dressed as a polis.  He was playing a part in a sketch with David Mackay and Gary Lewis. I was feeling quite miserable on my way there and it turned out to be a great night, much better than I had thought it was gonny be.
And while John was funny, and angry, he was also a sensitive man, though this sensitivity was perhaps complicated by his involvement with some very hard characters. However this complication was a side of his life I didn’t really witness, but it did land John in the jail.  

We did a lot of drinking together, mainly in the Scotia Bar and the Clutha Vaults. We had wee spells of visiting other pubs.  I mind meeting John and his daughters in the Toll Booth one night.  But somehow we always seemed to return to the Scotia or the Clutha.
I am thankful that I met and spent a lot of time with John over the years.  And we were lucky that Brendan McLaughlan created two good pubs for people like us to meet in.  We laughed a lot and sometimes we had our share of troubles too. In more recent years Graham Brodie published John’s work in the pamphlets Dark Afore Nine and Fugitive Bullets. Rodney Relax and Nicky Melville were also involved in those publications.
What is so sad is that given all we’d been through over the years John and I agreed (in a conversation just over a week before he was killed) that it was time for us noo to calm doon a bit and enjoy life. Sadly this has been snatched away from John but he’ll live on in his writing, which remains strong and defiant and alive.  John was a Celtic fan which reflected his Irish Catholic heritage.  He was also a father and is survived by his son John and his daughters Linda and Marie.