A this point in the proceedings, I am absolutely rigid with interest in the bobbing and weaving of the rubber-limbed drum major, which will help explain why I haven’t observed kitchen chairs being brought out from adjoining closes and placed in a kind of orchestral semi-circle. Magically, these chairs are occupied by four elderly men with accordions strapped to their chests. A younger man, mid-twenties, strokes a snare and high with brushes. A young woman, early twenties, wearing the scarf of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama rushes to join the group. She brings a trumpet to her lips. That someone from these decaying tenement buildings should aspire to graduation from such a prestigious establishment beggars belief. Suddenly, the singing starts. The drum major has a powerful singing voice. As the bass drum pounds out a heavy pulse the instrumentalists swing into a popular American song.
Led by the bendy man, the crowd, fifty strong at least, launches itself into the number.
“YOU CAN ROLL A SILVER DOLLAR
DOWN UPON THE GROUND
AND IT’LL ROLL, ROLL, ROLL
BECAUSE IT’S ROUND, ROUND, ROUND.”
Everyone, including me, is singing now.
“A WOMAN NEVER KNOWS
WHAT A GOOD MAN SHE’S GOT
UNTIL SHE TURNS HIM
DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN,
OH, LISTEN MY HONEY,
LISTEN TO ME
I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND
AS A SILVER DOLLAR
GOES FROM HAND TO HAND
A WOMAN GOES FROM MAN TO MAN . . .”
A young teenage girl, barefoot and dressed in high cut red cotton shorts and a yellow blouse, bursts out from a close on the far side and runs swiftly towards the tables at the nearside of the now packed street. She makes an agile leap onto a card table – unbelievable! – and begins to clap her hands above her head in time to the thudding bass drum.
Men, women and children who have poured out from every close on the street are shrieking, “Gaun yirsel’, hen! Gaun yirsel’, hen! Gaun yirsel’, hen!”
Then they all start to dance, all these poor people from adjoining tenements, all swaying and clapping at the top end of Blackburn Street where it meets with the passing traffic on Paisley Road West. They are all facing in the same direction, towards the main artery that leads to the rest of the city. All the men and women, boys and girls, the top half of the street full of them, follow the movements of the Queen of Chaos on the card table. They clap their hands in the air and thrust their hips this way and that on each BOOM! The whole street party, under the banner LOUSY BUT LOYAL is grinning and laughing at the passing traffic. It is undeniably exhilarating.
I raise my fists to the heavens and want to announce a new dawn. I am pulled in two directions. Part of me is proud that these people, classed as ‘disadvantaged’, do not hesitate for a moment to claim their own territory with an abandon I’ve never witnessed before. Another part of me says, “These are not your people, Norman. You’ll never take part in near Dionysian revels along with them because you belong to another tribe.”
In the middle of the number a chilling thought struck me: ‘Dè chanadh na daoine agam fhìn, nan cluinneadh iad mi an-dràsta? What would my people say, if they could hear me now?’
Slowly, I detach myself from the heaving mass of defiant humanity and walk westward toward my home half a mile away. A strange feeling is sweeping through my being. Despite being aware that the kind of behaviour I’ve just witnessed may not be approved by my Gaelic speaking extended family, deep inside the abandon and fearlessness of the LOUSY BUT LOYAL folk thrills me.
Dia bhith timcheall orm, God be round about me!