On Sunday 28 August a host of friends and fellow travellers come together for a special speakeasy shindig celebrating the life and work of Edinburgh's poet and scholar <strong>Paul Reekie</strong>, who died last year. Here novelist <strong>Irvine Welsh</strong> and the Subway Sect's <strong>Vic Godard</strong> pay tribute to the memory of a friend, while <strong>Gordon Legge</strong> shares a new piece of writing in honour of Scotland's most maverick man of letters
EDINBURGH without Reekie is a strange experience for me, and it certainly made my permanent move to America easier. It’s ironic, yet sadly appropriate, given his relatively meagre output and ambivalence to ceremony, that Paul is to be celebrated posthumously at The Edinburgh International Book Festival. Paul Reekie is definitely seen as the ‘one that got away’, probably the biggest talent in a gifted group of Edinburgh writers that emerged in the 90s, but the least known, and one whose influence on the others has only become more apparent through his absence.
It’s easy enough to trawl through stories of exuberant depravity over the years (one of my first close encounters with Paul involved me loading him into an ambulance at the Foot of Leith Walk one balmy summer's night), and over the last three decades we shared everything, from the dregs of some intoxicants to dance floor space, to football stadiums to a police cell, but it’s not the plethora of colourful incidents that form my abiding memories of him. Instead I think of this monstrously creative, intellectual force, a brilliant mind whose speed and energy hopelessly outstripped any mechanism he had for the delivery of those ideas and insights. So the best times with Reekie involved sitting with him drinking tea in his Leith Walk flat, as he expounded on everything with wisdom and wit, always unveiling a new, idiosyncratic side to the subject, be it the films of Kenneth Anger, or the properties of mushrooms.
Right now Paul is remembered as someone more famous for facilitating the creativity of others. This deserves to change, and hopefully it will, when the copious material he left behind is finally edited and published. A gregarious and happy soul, Paul was also a stubborn man and a perfectionist. Even excellence was a compromise that he was unable to accept: only flawlessness was permissible. The real mystery was not why he published so little, but how Kevin Williamson of Rebel Inc was able to drag some poems and a novella out of him. I think the continuing reticence of his friends to look at the material Paul's left behind is partly due to acknowledging his inhibitions about publishing.
It was about the only set of inhibitions he did have. Paul drew people in and won them over, from intellectuals to football thugs to jakeys. I remember introducing him to a nutter of my acquaintance, fresh out of the jail. This guy was brutalised and alienated by his experience and could barely string a sentence together. I felt his brooding resentment to the outlandish, effusive diatribes that spilled from Paul’s mouth, and was relieved when he left the company. The next time I saw the guy in question, he told me that he had bumped into "your mate Reekie" and they’d taken off on a drinking session. He had the light of love in his eye, and couldn’t stop singing Paul’s praises. What happened on that jaunt was that the boy saw that although they were chalk and cheese, Paul, like him, was definitely not a phoney. He never talked down to anyone, and treated everybody in exactly the same manner.
It’s never easy to talk about the death of somebody who took their own life, and it’s possibly a self-justifying mechanism (the demise of someone close always makes the rest of us feel we could have done more) but I’d prefer to think his last dramatic act was concieved by a stubborn, pig-headed Paul, who had decided on his set course of action, rather than a depressed one, beaten by the world and not really knowing what he was doing. But whatever his motivations, he was wrong. And how I wish he was here so I could tell him that to his face.
IRVINE WELSH is an acclaimed writer of novels, stories, stage- and screenplays including the books Trainspotting and Porno
I FIRST met Paul Reekie some time in the early 90s when I became aware of his heckling every time we played a gig in Edinburgh or Glasgow. He would be standing right at the front in the centre – the same position occupied by Sid at all the early Sex Pistols gigs in London. It would enliven the proceedings no end, and was not the usual brainless fare we had come to expect from a rock audience. It was more what I would call useful advice delivered in a sneering tone. In fact I can remember some of the group members being mildly irritated by him, but he seemed to have an insight into what I was attempting that went beyond that of anyone in the group. I think he was slightly disappointed with the first group he saw me with back in those days; his reaction was “nice little beat group”. After one gig on a snowy night down by the Clyde his reaction was to throw the entire contents of his pint over me, causing me to use my pullover as an improvised pair of trousers by forcing my fat legs down its puny arms. This he loved and from that moment on his would be the first friendly face I would be searching for in the crowd. If for some reason he couldn’t make it, it would feel to me as if I hadn’t really played in Scotland at all.
Subsequently, he invited me to his place on Leith Walk where he told me about playing bass in The Thursdays back in '77, and played me their version of an old Television song (Poor Circulation I think). He also told me about seeing Subway Sect in early '77, and the effect it had, and for a time we corresponded. A few more years passed, and several Sects later I think he was finally quite impressed by what we did.
The last time we spoke was in December ’09 on Grindlay Street in Edinburgh after a gig, when we arranged to meet up round the corner at Henry's Cellar Bar in an hour. There were roadworks all about the place and as he watched me reverse out he just said “nice wheels man.” Scotland will never be the same for the Sect now that he has gone.
VIC GODARD was the post-punk existential crooner of the Subway Sect and is now a solo artist.
THE process boy shows Gil through. “And this, Mister Scott Heron, is Paul. Paul’s been waiting for you.”
Paul’s got the papers.
Gil looks at Paul. He looks at himself. Not so much as a stitch between them. “What the...?”
“‘Imagine no possessions’. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Town’s nuts for it. What about me? One minute stood outside The Arty with fifty-six layers, next thing here freezing my ’nads off. Try complaining to that.” (Process boy.) “See if he listens to you.”
Paul lets rip the expletives.
The process boy shakes his head.
Gil says, “Hold on, what, everybody’s here, yeah? Everybody? And they’re all... naked?”
“Sans poverty dodgers, porkers and erstwhile employees of the BBC.”
Paul sparks up and passes it over. “Don’t know what that’s about.
You think it’s going to be all Berryman and Bukowski, but no, it’s all spooky strangers, nipping you: ‘Paul, what you doing?’ ‘What you done to yourself?’ ‘You alright?’” Paul whispers, “‘but no, really, you alright?’”
Gil picks up The Observer. “Hey, what did they say about you, man?”
Gil asks again.
“Don’t know. Never bothered. Who’s wanting to hear folk going on about them? Never wanted it when I was thirteen, don’t want it now.”
Paul lets rip the expletives.
“Man, you put too much work into being you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” ?“Nothing. Just saying, that’s all. So, help me out here, what d’you do all day?”
“Arse about. Duck the ear-benders. Watch folk.”
Paul shows Gil how to “watch folk”, folk back home.
“Wow,” says Gil. “Sure do like to tug the tadger.”
“Have a wank then watch The Sweeney.” Paul cackles. “Then watch The Sweeney and have a wank. Come on, I’ll show you round.”
They head off.
“Man,” says Gil, “the music.”
“Aye, but most of it’s all just Two-way Family Favourites shite. You need to know. I’ll keep you right.” Paul whispers. “Just don’t mention new material.” Paul touches his nose.
“I’ve got so many ideas,” says Gil. “Always had ideas. Just never... ”
“Tell me about it.”
Eventually, they head back to processing.
“Wow,” says Gil. “That is one fine looking woman.”
“Flick Colby,” says Paul. “What d’you reckon? Fancy a dip?”
“No possessions. Tell you what, though, I get the arse.”
The process boy shakes his head. Town used to be so quiet, too.
GORDON LEGGE grew up in Falkirk. His collection of short stories, In Between Talking About The Football, won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award.
Love's Rebellious Joy: A Party For Paul Reekie, Sun 28 Aug, 9pm, the Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square Gardens, free
Part of Unbound, the Edinburgh International Book Festival's programme of late night, free events
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