Holywell Street have been trying to get a chin-wag with Nick Stewart for a good while. Some call him the original Mod-father; he certainly is an interesting chap: well cool with a music library to die for.
He is always turned out well and is Celtic to the core with stories of a generation. We caught up with him in McChuill’s Bar in the Merchant City where he’s normally spinning tracks from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Myself, Paul Kealy and Lee came along and after numerous pints of Moretti, it flowed well and we could have chatted all night but the VIP treatment could only last so long.
Oh, and it happens to be his 70th Birthday today, so let’s go …
Thanks for meeting us Nick and inviting us in. First, what’s your earliest memory of following Celtic?
What sticks in my mind most was the opening of the new floodlights, the big pylons, and we were playing Wolves who were probably the best team in England at the time. We got beat 2-0 and I’d say it was around 1959; I was 10 years-old. We deserved to get beat, they were a bloody good team, they had a couple of good Irish players who stood-out. I mean, Wolves are back in the top division now but they fell away dreadful for many years, they had this lovely gold strip that stood-out I’ll always remember that. I had been to games before this, but this is the one that sticks in my mind. I think I recall a young Stevie Chalmers that night as well.
When would you say you saw Celtic at their best?
Lisbon Lions no question! I’ve always said – and I quote Billy McNeill – was that every team we played, they were the Roundheads and we were the Cavaliers. I thought that was a great quote. I mean, we were swash-buckling but what a team! I always think the greatest ever game would have been the Celtic team of ’67 v Ajax ’73. Why I say that is, because when Celtic played Ajax in ’73 we were starting on a decline, we had very good players like Harry Hood and Tom Callaghan – great players, but I’m sorry, they just weren’t in the class as Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch. I think that would have been the greatest game, but I think the Celtic team of 1967 ‘very seriously’ would have wiped the floor with any teams in the world today, and as much as today’s footballer may seem fitter and healthier and everything else, the Lions also were fit, physical and extremely skilful. But who could not enjoy the 70s’ team or Martin O’Neil’s team, Neil Lennon’s and Brendan Rodgers’. I think we have been good in recent times, verging on very good, that could become a great team.
A question I’ve always wondered about and wanted to ask: do you think there could have been a mixed overlap with the Celtic teams of the 60s and 70s that would perhaps make a better team than the Lions?
No. The ’60s team were better, not even a debate on it! Bobby Murdoch was perhaps the best midfielder in the world for four years. Bertie Auld was personally my favourite player – he was shrewd, he could be devious, but he had great skills. I always think, where could all these players have played in the world? Jimmy Johnstone could be Spain or Italy; Bobby Murdoch was definitely an Italian type player, and Bertie Auld would have played for Argentina because of that rudeness and he had that nasty side to him. They were extremely fit and as I say would wipe the floor with any top teams today.
I would say Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert, and Johan Mjallby would have fitted in the’ 67 team; that’s not to say I’d replace the Lions though. By the way, we also played a European Cup Final without our best centre-forward, Joe McBride. He got injured before Christmas and was our top scorer, and he didn’t play for the rest of the season. I knew Joe; he would come into my Mum’s shop and was a lovely, lovely man – very humble. He was outrageously good as a player and you could argue we didn’t have our best centre-forward at the time. Stevie Chalmers was brilliant, but this was probably overlooked. John Fallen was a better goalkeeper than Ronnie Simpson, he wasn’t maybe as reliable, but he was steady, very steady.
On a Saturday night me and my brother and our wives would go to a certain restaurant and Bertie Auld was always there with his Mrs. Also Tommy Gemmell and Ronnie Simpsons with their wives, the six of them. I’d I recall Ian St John being up from Liverpool and he was sitting with some of the Rangers players, everyone used to say they were all great pals – no they weren’t, not at all. In fact, the Celtic players used to take the piss out of them, what a laugh it was. They were friendly with Jim Baxter, but I can tell you, no matter what anyone says, Jim Baxter was NOT a true blue, he certainly would have played for Celtic and he grew-up a Hibs fan, but trust me he was a good player though, bloody good.
Could Slim Jim have got into our ’67 team?
I don’t think he would have got in the Celtic ’67 team, it wouldn’t have suited his framework. He was a bit like George Connolly, who again was an excellent player.
As we know, we reached another European Cup Final in 1970?
Yes, and people seem to forget that. If we reached a European final now we wouldn’t stop talking about it. We were expected to win the final but Feyenoord were a very good unit. The year before Ajax were in the final and I remember my brother Davie (God rest him) saying they would beat Milan in the final. I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian football and I’m telling him, ‘I seriously don’t think so Davie!’ Ajax went in and beat them 4-0 or 4-1 if I recall; they totally wiped the floor with them! That was the start, as Feyenoord won it in ’70 and Ajax won it for the next three years; the Dutch team’s ascendancy to total football.
Do you think we underestimated Feyenoord?
Without a doubt. The Scottish/English football hype from the Leeds semi-final seemed to carry an arrogance that really didn’t do us any favours, thinking, ‘Job done, we’ve done the hard bit.’ I mean, Celtic played in a Scottish Cup final a few weeks before and lost to Aberdeen, so psychology is a massive part of the game.
Jock Stein, how did you view him?
He was a genius and he was a tough-nut! Alex Ferguson learnt everything from Stein. I watched Bobby Murdoch play for Celtic and he must have been one of the worst old inside-rights you could have witnessed: slow, stop and skiing the ball 20 yards over the cross bar and you were thinking ‘Bloody hell.’ Stein came in and moved him back 30 yards and he became the best midfielder in the world. Billy McNeil was there in the knowledge that John Clark was there and of course Tommy Gemmell could rampage because he knew he could be covered.
I think I read something from Archie McPherson that Stein was the first tracksuit manager, also first to get into people’s heads, whether that be media, authorities, refs and opposing teams?
Yes totally, all to do with psychology again, with having a siege mentality and not forgetting to get good players to become even better players. I always remember a quote from the late Brian Clough from Martin O’Neil. When Forest were about to play in the European Cup Final and O’Neil had been injured, he tells Clough he’s fit to which he says, ‘No you’re not, you’ll play in the reserves.’ He was another genius that you could only respect, he got players running through brick walls for him. But Stein; what we must remember when thinking back is that Rangers were a bloody good team as well, don’t kid yourself! They were probably top 12 in Europe back then while Celtic were probably in the top four, certainly always up there and of course that’s what we want: semi-finals, finals, and winners, it didn’t matter what team, they all feared Celtic.
Time to jump onto another passionate subject for us all and to pick yer brains: music and culture. Perhaps the 60s or which would be your era considering dressers, chaps, music? Can you recall the styles of 60s Glasgow for us? Going to the match with it, we grew up crowd watching the terraces in the 80s which was certainly a working-class catwalk if you like?
Well, that’s EXACTLY what it was: a working-class thing. But I think it perhaps spilled more in the 70s if we’re talking at the match. It wasn’t like Mods went to the football in the same way Casuals did, we were just what we were. Me and my four mates would meet and stand in the old enclosure and we were maybe a bit sharper dressed, but if you looked about: no. There were a few other lads that stood over from us, although they did look like something out the Rat Pack, they were maybe six or so years older than us and we were impressed by them.
I remember discussing it with my Dad on many times and everyone seem to wear suits, so fuckin’ cool!
Paul: If it wasn’t, I suppose, for those Mods, the original Mods, the older generation and the passion for the clothes, we wouldn’t know the concept of how to dress. My Mum and Dad were both Mods; yeah, original Mods as opposed to that 1979 revival one.
Yes, but I look back now and nobody really inspired us, we had no inspiration from anybody: none. My Mum and Dad were lovely dressers, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t want to dress like Rockers and we didn’t dress like Teddy Boys, although Teds were smart. But I recall Mods starting and we couldn’t believe our luck.
Paul: Zoot Suit by The High Numbers was a tune that perhaps could sum it up best?
Yes, I suppose so. We used to go down the Flamingo and we would walk past the 100 club in London at the top of Oxford Street and they would be wearing parkas with Union-Jacks. But they were an embarrassment to Mods, that wasn’t our thing to be honest. We liked to copy the black guys, those who wore the pork pie hats; we hadn’t seen anything like it and they were great dancers.
Those original Skinheads were like an off-cut Mod as well, they were very smart.
I suppose it was, but by that time it had been and gone. Mods were modernists, you moved on. Those Skinheads were smart in their Edwardian clothes though. I was lucky enough to experience and witness Otis Redding and I still listen to him, you never leave that behind, that is part of you. You have the rockabillies and they keep their scene alive.
Originally Mods weren’t fighters as such, that seemed to come later as well?
Correct! You see that picture there, (pointing to a pic of Mods and Rockers fighting on Brighton beach on the pub wall) I hate that! They were perhaps defending themselves against the Rockers but that wasn’t really us! We wanted to go out and dance, look smart, have a laugh, and have a good time with of course the best music. It’s again the working-class thing, dressing up, no doubt about it, with the chance for us to look smart.
What was your view on the punk scene when it arrived?
They had great musicians, perhaps not taste in scene. It was anti-establishment and probably anti certain bands, for example they would be against Yes, ELO and Genesis, like a rebellion thing.
You liked The Clash and met Joe Strummer?
I love The Clash. I knew Joe Strummer quite a bit and we ended up quite friendly; he was a lovely, lovely man and politically very left-wing. I got him along to a Celtic game, the Valentine’s massacre against Rangers – the two -nil game. I got six tickets and he asked if he could come along; he loved it and that night he sent us over two bottles of champagne. I’ll always remember that and that’s how nice a man he was.
I recall one night in the Marriot Hotel and his kids were down with him – lovely wee lassies – and the manager came over to say we can’t have kids down here in the bar. The Pogues were there also and it was them who were total gentlemen, but Joe Strummer took offence and Andrew Rankin set about the manager. He said he was a ‘weirdo’ for talking to the kids like that, so then he was papped out the Hotel and had to go and stay at the Beacons Hotel up in Woodlands. Then the Pogues decided, ‘Right then, we’re all going!’
You’re seen as the original Mods ’round these parts; we would agree, but what was the original Mod scene like in Glasgow?
Well, for me and my pal Jim it was very good, that’s because we just bought records and went to the Maryland Club, maybe on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That wasn’t every week we went out, and it was excellent, that’s where the Mods went. There were one or two other places, but we preferred the Maryland. We had Geno Washington, Herbie Goins, and The Night-Timers: cracking bands! The Graham Bond Organisation – they played regularly, we saw them a lot. The DJs were fantastic and there was never any hassle, it was a genuinely run place. Outwith the circle I really didn’t really know what it was like.
So, did you feel it was your scene?
Yes, absolutely. There was perhaps 40 of us to begin with, not all great pals as such, but we just spotted each other, it was, ‘How you are doing?’ We knew their names and strange as it may seem, back then guys would dance themselves or with other guys, you didn’t particularly dance with girls. To this day if I’m having a wee dance over there by the decks, I can’t be bothered dancing with anyone, just me in the zone. But the Maryland was a very good club.
Where was the Maryland in the City?
Scott’s Street next to the old Art school, I think it became the Cotton Club. There was a very decent Mod scene in Glasgow onwards from that. Glasgow Mods dressed well, none of this target patches with Union Jacks. Bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, and Manfred Mann, they were genuine Mod bands. The Stones and The Beatles were not Mod bands, but some Mods liked them. The London Mods were very cool, you would have to say, while the Manchester lads were sharp as a tack.
That brings us to the next question, when you visited London how did you find the scene down there?
I went down regularly, and it was certainly cooler, no shadow of a doubt. But I recall a year later, I wouldn’t say it was any cooler as we had all caught up of course, but it was always much bigger. We would have perhaps had one real genuine Mod club whereas they would have maybe twenty. It was always a case of the working class dressing up where we went. The Flamingo, Whisky-a-Go Go, and the Marquee, although the Marquee was more like a venue and they would have lots of good bands. Then Jimi Hendrix came along. Now, Jimi Hendrix was never a Mod, and you could possibly say he was a hippy, but he wasn’t happy either. But he was like Maradona: a bloody genius – something sent from God, that’s what he was, and he kind of changed everything again.
Lee: I suppose it takes you away the Mod music for a bit?
Yeah. Then I suppose you had someone like Jimmy Smith the organist, who the Mods caught onto quickly. I mean it was Jazz he was playing, it wasn’t Mod music, but we just twigged to it so that put things in a different direction and Jimi Hendrix put things in a different perspective. I would say to you that Mods weren’t particularly adventurous dressers; you would get a nice Italian V-Neck jumper, nice American shirts that had nice button-down collars you wore with a cool tie and suit.
In my opinion Mods kind of died out when it became ‘dandy’, for example ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, the frills etc. Now, don’t get me wrong it was a nice style and The Kinks wore it as did a few other bands, but it wasn’t bloody Mod, it was psychedelic. I saw John Lee Hooker, he was older than us, he was a black singer playing the blues and he was in the bar, beautiful cuff-links, dressed fabulous – he was a blues boy. Perhaps we were a bit snobbish when Mods, and much like casuals became widespread or mainstream, it kind of takes the cool bit away from it.
What was your take on the Mod revival in 1979?
Well, I remember it well because it was Paul Malloy and Mikey Collins, who I’m great friends with, came in and asked me about it. I decided to ask them a question regarding ‘Grow Your Own’ which was a B-side of a Small Faces record. I wasn’t trying to be smart-arse as such, but I was thinking if they would know it and they knew it! Then I thought, ‘These boys are serious.’ I could have chosen a hundred songs in fairness, now these guys are more Mod than me – they’ve immersed themselves in it.
I remember that Mod revival of ’79, it looked very one-dimensional from where I came from such as parkas, target or Union Jack patches, Sta-press and those bowling shoes?
Yes, but Mikey and Paul were certainly cut from the original Mod and would have certainly fitted in with the original – no question! Their taste in music is impeccable and they have kept it going: Lenny Harkins, Paul Malloy, Mikey Collins and Quinney, those four boys – they just love it.
Once Lenny was buying a shirt and he’s trying it on, we’re telling him to get a move on, his response was, ‘Hawd on a minute here, it’s a shirt I’m trying on!’ After twenty minutes he buys it – that’s just a real Mod attitude. We would buy records that we liked because it was a good record, not so it would be hopefully worth £100 one day! All those records I have are all scratched; I’ve given lots away and had some nicked.
Quadrophenia? It’s a classic movie for a lot of us. Do you see it the same? Would you pick any holes in it from it being set in the ’60s?
I couldn’t be bothered going to see it!
Eh? (laugh all round) No way?
No, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean I’ve seen bits or clips of it, I’m not being cheeky but, Sting? Are you kidding me on? Fuck that! It didn’t resonate with me and our older crowd I knew, so no I’ve never seen it. I’m not against it and I’m not going to run it down. Some might say it’s the greatest movie of all-time, but it just looked like blank English Mod, not like the cool guys that were doing something and trying to get good music out there. I didn’t even like the name of the movie and Sting and bloody Toyah? The photo for the film was enough to put me off.
Respect to that.
Some good films I did see involved Steve McQueen, he was super cool, very well turned out. He wasn’t a Mod as such, he had the look; that suede American thing, but the two stand-outs who were super cool were Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo, two French actors, that’s who you wanted to dress like – very handsome chaps. I believe Alain Delon was a bit of a right-wing nutter unfortunately, but there you go, and he was great friends with Jimmy Smith, the black Jazz musician, and they hung out in Paris. The other one, his ‘great friend’ Jean-Paul Belmondo was extremely left-wing and was until the day he died – so they were total polar opposites but great friends all the lives. They dressed great, especially Alain Delon.
Going back to that Mod revival I don’t recall seeing in Suede personally. I think I preferred the punks at that time. The parkas didn’t look smart.
Well it was a bit strange because a parka is very sensible if you have a scooter. I didn’t wear one; I had a 175 Lambretta and if there was a cloud in the sky it wouldn’t start! We used to have a joke in Glasgow that I was the coolest dude parked by the side of the road broken down – whilst every other drove by! I looked fuckin’ great, but I couldn’t get moving.
The Jam, again talking about the 79 Mod revival, would you have them as the real deal in your opinion?
Without a doubt! Paul Weller didn’t speak for me as a generation thing, but they were a great Mod band and they would have fitted in at any stage. Paul Weller knows exactly what he’s doing and one of the things I do like about him (forget anything to do with Mod) is the fact that he’s still making music today and he’s not a young man anymore. He’s taken a few gambles with some of them being not great and that doesn’t matter, just like Lou Reid, he is/was always trying to do something different – I have much admiration for the guy.
I don’t go out and buy all his stuff but by any means, but in the past I’ve bought a lot of the obvious ones. They could have been seen as a bit of a punk band in the early years as well as The Clash, who were much the same in a political sense, a rebellious band. Weller still retains his socialist views – I mean he’s millionaire two times over but remains dignified about things. Eton Rifles, Rock against Racism, and Red Wedge were all in amongst it.
Most good creative bands are very much left leaning I’d say …
Yes, but it can also be easy to say that, but I do think the right-wing blinkers you. It is too one-dimensional, so the left has more to say lyrically.
Ok, what would you consider your favourite three albums of all-time?
Well, I may disappoint, but …
1: Lou Reid – ‘Metal Machine Music’ and the reason I say that is, I’m quite obsessed with Lou Reid, I’ve never known anyone as dangerous and adventurous with music EVER, EVER! Nobody in the world.
2: The next one is probably an album by Lou Reid called ‘Lulu with Metallica’. Now, I don’t like heavy metal, I really don’t, but I went to see it live and it was outrageously good.
3: I would go for Gavin Byres – ‘Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet’. It’s just a piece of music from modern day classic musicians. I was interviewed outside a Lou Reid concert by an Italian TV channel, no idea why, but they asked me if you were to do any collaboration – what would you want? Well, I said, it’s a mute question because I don’t think Lou Reid does collaborations because he works with other people on his terms only, but if anyone it would be Gavin Byres and it went straight over their heads – they didn’t know what I was talking about, but I certainly would have liked it.
Paul: So, what would have been your biggest influence growing up?
Without a shadow of a doubt Lou Reid, but then again, in a moment it could be John Lee Hooker, because he can just turn you onto everything.
For us Celtic and good bands seem to be intertwined would you agree?
Absolutely. Again this probably comes to the left-wing thing where we find the best creativity.
Ok, what would be your all-time favourite band and how did it influence yourself?
What influenced me was John Lee Hooker because that opened my mind to everything, without a doubt. But anything by Lou Reid would be a favourite, especially the last four years. I remember it was the time around David Bowie and I recall hearing a Lou Reid track, I can’t even recall which one it was, and I just bought into it right away. I mean there’s Kraftwerk: fuckin excellent! I got right into that as well; I was very lucky I got to meet Karl Bartos and spoke with them.
I don’t see how you can’t jump from guitar music to electronic music, I don’t see why there can’t be a connection. I have a theory personally and I’ve spoken with other musicians, and I said Maradona has more in common with Jimi Hendrix, Picasso, David Lean, Robert Di Niro and Bruno Grande than he has with Peter Grant, a footballer, because they are in a world apart.
Now, not that I didn’t like Peter Grant but we’re taking genius and artists here, and Peter Grant is a great guy just getting on with the job. I think there’s a level. I had an argument in the past that Chuck Berry has more in common with Bob Marley; they can write something in four lines, something that would take you a book to try and explain. It’s the same with Shane McGowan, I mean have you heard the track ‘The old Main Drag’? That is poetic genius, listen to the words. I like to see all music and subcultures, the mix of different music and for myself I still have that broad range. With subcultures we can get a bit snobbish and say they weren’t as cool as us and could be Mods or the modern-day Casuals, but as least they’re keeping things going and doing something.
I would say the original Mods influenced styles and fashions, it certainly influenced the Casuals. This again may sound snobbish, but I think if it wasn’t for the Mods you wouldn’t be listening to global music because it was them that explored even things like black music in America and made it popular. I recall an interview by the Rolling Stones on Radio One; they had just come off the plane in Chicago and they were asked what their favourite bands/artists were. They all pitched in with the Isley Brothers, John Lee Hooker, Bobby Bland, and Solomon Burke; we then went searching for these artists. Mick Jagger mentioned Country and Western singers so we all went searching there.
Last one on Celtic. Are you still attending matches these days and are you confident of ten in a row?
Yes, I’m quite confident of ten in-a-row but I think everyone and anyone will pull out all the stops for us not to get it. I don’t think it’s a guarantee by any means, but we have the football muscle to do it, a lot will depend on Kieran Tierney actually. This side is a good team, but we can become a very good team.
Lastly, Paul Weller said he’ll always be a Mod, is this the same for yourself?
Thanks to Paul Kealy, Lee Foster for chipping in and Francie McCann (inspiration in everything) The bar staff at McChuills
McChuills Bar 40 High Street Glasgow (worth a visit).