Alistair came to us a stranger. He was the one and only decent drummer we ever got by means of those endless ads pinned up on music shop walls. You know the sort of thing “drummer wanted for band playing blah, blah, blah type music”. I always used to put “No Motorhead” and of course the day inevitably dawned when a drummer pulled off his jumper at an “audition” to reveal Lemmy’s ugly puss emblazoned on his brawny chest. Eventually the ad used to read something like “Drummer Wanted – Must Be Willing To Play Anything.” This was after a series of demoralising encounters with burly sticksmen into the likes of Chaka Khan and Trad Jazz.
So along came Alistair. I remember when he first phoned me up he struck me as inordinately chatty, the drummers who called usually being a monosyllabic lot content to mumble about “havin their own transport” or “gigin regular”. Alistair on the other hand rabbited away like there was no tomorrow, a good sign I thought, and it wasn’t the usual skinthumper’s slaverings – no indeed, this fellow had travelled the world!
It transpired that Allyboy was an interpreter to trade. He spoke about fifty languages or something, his star turn being Russian. He was just back from Russia as I recall and had landed up in Glasgow with nae friends and nothing to do. He had some sort of job, was it with the University mebbes, and he was livin in a bedsit in Partick.
Well, he came to a rehearsal and within thirty seconds of him starting to warm up on the kit I knew that we had found our man. Alistair was a tremendous drummer, a tad on the metal side at times perhaps with the old tom rolls but nonetheless a tight rockin daddy-o. Alistair was also a terrific sport, boy did he take a slaggin. He was one of these folk who just bring down avalanches of put-downs upon themselves, some mystic undiscovered aura involved I suspect. Alistair would take the verbal shreddings in good grace, what a guy, what inner strength. He fitted in with the range of personalities in the band like no other drummer did, in fact I can’t think of Al without a beatific smile forming on my grisly chops.
Alistair was the drummer we spent most time working with. We used to rehearse twice a week with him and this went on for a couple of years I reckon. As you can imagine we were as tight as the proverbial gnat’s chuff. Alistair must have had some patience, we made him go over and over tiny bits of the songs until he was playing exactly as we wanted. This was one of my favourite periods in Charlies’ History. We recorded quite a lot with Alistair and I am particularly proud of a session we did at Sing Sing studios, we recorded eighteen songs live in three hours. It’s a fabulous recording, tight, driven and utterly uncompromising – it sounds like the Charlies. If you’ve ever recorded yourself you will know what a mean by that, things don’t often turn out the way you hear them.
Anyway Alistair being the globe-trotting wanderer, the time eventually came when he shot off to Italy. A sad day for Charlies’ fans the world over. We decided to split up when he left and in fact performed our “last gig” in Blackfriars, Glasgow in 1990. It was a rip-roaring success and another of my favourite Charlies’ recordings. I remember I thanked the audience of friends and supporters for sticking with us through “thin and thinner”.
Thus we were launched into our mid-life crisis which led to us becoming “The Hots”, “The Ruthvens” and “Handsome Hank” before realising in 1995 or so that we would always be -“The Charlies”!!!!
I phoned Alistair in 1998 at his mum’s house in Falkirk. I didn’t know if he would be there, I hadn’t spoken to him for about seven years. I was just calling on the off-chance, mebbe to get his address or something. Well, surprise surprise, it was the boy himself who answered the phone. Seems he was back in Scotland studying banking of all things. He had got married to a russian girl and had a young son. I invited him through to a party we were having and he came, hadn’t changed one iota, still the same endless fund of stories about russian corruption and heavy drinking.
So that’s Alistair, a swell guy, one of the best. Some bank in Russia got a damn fine drummer.