Far From Home: Revolver in Shetland 1980-1981

Far From Home: The Revolver in Shetland, October 1980 – January 1981

By Michael Anderson

Now available http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-She-Wants-Be-Revolver/dp/B00I6933IS/ref=sr_1_1?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1392222334&sr=1-1&keywords=What+She+Wants+to+Be

For Tony Green and myself, the summer of 1980 was a heady one of recording songs onto my mono cassette recorder, girls, pubs and live performances. We had come a long way in a short period of time. Later in adulthood, twelve months seem to pass in the blink of an eye; even birthdays come and go with little fuss. For the Revolver, however, the changes during that period of time had been almost seismic. From being almost completely unmusical for much of 1979, by the late summer of the following year I could play a quite decent rhythm guitar and Tony's musicianship had also progressed considerably. The results of our new found proficiency were powerful two to three-minute punk-pop songs, liberally spiced with melodic and concise guitar fills, riffs and solos.

It should be stated that at the start of 1979 I didn't actually have any musical taste at all, never mind ability. I only owned a couple of Beatles' cassettes, a few singles by various acts, and had a tendency to listen to bland – even boring – programmes on the radio. Tony was somewhat more advanced, and owned that rather exotic item (even in the late 1970s), a Bob Dylan LP. Plus he already had a guitar. He has dealt with our songs and recordings in greater detail in his Revolver history, From Far Away to Shetland, so I shall leave the bulk of our musical exploits with him, except to say that the following part of our story begins somewhere in the middle of this early musical period, at a time when we were neither inept nor particularly good, and concludes with the band's end.

My first foray to Shetland had been, for three quarters of my stay, a largely solitary and self contained one. For the first few weeks in February and March, I had been happy to work at Young's Seafoods in Lerwick Monday to Friday, living in a small room in the communal huts, and then get a lift or catch the bus out to Walls (pronounced "Waas") village to stay at my aunt Babsie's croft over the weekends with her and my mum. I had my own room out there, and so locked myself away with my radio-cassette and my electric guitar, and was left mostly undisturbed to work on my guitar playing and to listen to what was in those days a very eclectic Saturday and Sunday of BBC Radio One. These days, people seem to look back on the pre-Bannister years of Radio One and think of it as some bland malaise of 'poptastic' cheese, but in my experience that wasn't really how it was at all. Some of my warmest memories of these early months in Shetland revolve around shows by Annie Nightingale, John Peel and others of a more serious persuasion. There were also Saturday afternoon musical biographies (I think by Andy Peebles and other more cerebral presenters) of such influential figures as Eddie Cochran which I lapped up, and even recorded for posterity. I also spent these weekends writing long, meandering letters to Tony; a correspondence that I hugely enjoyed, and one which also helped focus my mind on returning to Grimsby. Back at Seafoods, I was forever checking the "mail tray" inside the factory doors in anticipation of his latest, often bulging, missive. As well as writing letters, I also drew cartoons depicting an alternate universe version of myself where I had gained about three stone in weight, had grown a moustache, and spent my days working with people such as Ronnie Corbett. It was fun, and helped me pass many an hour.

After about a month of the weekend journeys to Walls, I felt I needed to have more independence and have some proper time to myself and privacy. This, then, could really be called the time I 'left home', though with mine and my mum's nomadic existence because of her live-in housekeeping jobs, 'home' was always a quite temporary concept. I would return to Walls for the final time in August and September 1993, staying for a month to look after my aunt's croft while she attended to some business down in mainland Scotland. It was certainly quite poignant, in 1993, to be by now a thirty-one-year-old and to be seeing the place again for the first time since I was eighteen. My young self was almost tangible inside those walls, so little had changed. It was like the ghost of my former self was still in residence, feet up on the bed, scribbling away at a letter or drawing a cartoon while half listening to Noel Edmonds wittering on the radio.

And so, from some time in March, I stopped going out to the village and stayed in my room at Seafoods, replacing weekend walks by the sea, up and down hills and valleys, and alongside lochs with visits to the instrument shop, the Music Box. This was an excellent place for an aspiring musician to discover, and well stocked for such a small (but musical) community. I remember standing staring through the windows at their collection of smart looking guitars and dreaming of buying one of them. The one I had at the time was basic at best. And, indeed, the day eventually came when I had saved up the necessary £100- £150 for a beautiful unpainted Strat copy with a varnished wood finish, followed soon by a large 40 watt amplifier coming it at around £45. On a weekly wage of about £42 Net those acquisitions were not cheap. However, I hardly drank during this period, didn't smoke, and ate only sparingly, so even on such a limited wage, saving for these items didn't take particularly long. I could live off six or seven pounds a week. Credit was something I never even thought about in those days: if I wanted something I saved for it. These, then, were my first three months living in Shetland.

It was on one cool, dark night in early May that a knock came on my door. I'd heard voices outside my room and had ascertained that there wasn't an angry mob come to beat up the Sassenach, and so tentatively answered, perhaps expecting lost revellers which we had stumbling around occasionally. I wasn't far wrong. It was my cousin Karen and several of the following friends of hers: her best friend Maggie; another close friend Rosie; Lizzie, whom I'm not sure how Karen came to know; and Karen's sometime boyfriend and occasional Seafoods worker, Billy. They hadn't expressly come to see me, of course, Karen probably deciding that I was a reclusive weirdo as, despite us working at the same place, we'd barely exchanged a word since my arrival. I certainly was never to be seen out in the local pubs where we might have bumped into each other. When I'd pitched up in Shetland in February, that was the first I'd seen of her since we were both toddlers, and it was just to nod hello. Anyway, I believe Karen's first words that night were 'Have you seen Zacky?' referring to an older guy myself and Tony would later come to know. Apparently, Karen and her friends had been invited to a party (booze up) in one of the other rooms but didn't know which room it actually was, and knocking on other doors had proved fruitless. The long and the short of it was that I ended up tagging along with them, and – probably in Zacky's room – we all proceeded to get very drunk indeed. And so were formed friendships that proved, temporarily at least, life changing.

My final five weeks in Shetland during this period, then, were suddenly highly social. I would be invited around to Karen's room after work to sample her rhubarb crumbles and other culinary concoctions and, invariably, visits to the colourful local pubs would also feature. These included several hotels, and one of these, the Kveldsro, I took a particular shine too with its rather swish and slightly posh interior. It is just as well that I had already bought a new guitar, amplifier and clothes - as well as having put in the hours improving my musicianship - as these weeks proved to be hedonistic in the extreme, with barely a sober evening. Work was almost where I went to recover.

Karen's friend Maggie was the girl on whom I developed my first serious crush during this time. I found her to be not only pretty, but also bright and of an uncommonly outgoing and sunny disposition. Along with her mum, she ran the Red Top mobile burger bar which I started to go out of my way to visit. During my adolescent years I had perhaps so far viewed girls with a certain amount of suspicion, as few had entered my orbit whom I found to be particularly agreeable. There was a certain reserved attitude, even a surliness, I'd become used to and – without wanting to put too fine a point on it – a degree of "commonness" in many of the girls I'd known. Karen, Maggie and their friends weren't like that at all. They were open and friendly, plus relaxed and comfortable with themselves. This at once put me at my ease, so while I was rather reserved away from people like Tony whom I knew well (and there weren't many of these people), I became positively garrulous around Karen and company. Having spent the past three months cooped up in my room every night after work, and every weekend, to suddenly be hanging out with intelligent, social people my own age was exhilarating. Apart from all the nights in and nights out with various ensembles of the above, there were also weekend trips out to the village of Gulberwick where Karen's parents warmly welcomed even strangers like long lost friends. Then there were two very enjoyable camping trips, the first being a few miles away from the huts on Staney Hill where myself, Karen, Lizzie and Billy pitched our tents on a Saturday lunchtime, in the now much improved and sunny springtime weather, consuming Tennent's lager (with the pictures of "lovely ladies" on the can) and vodka, before staggering off down to a disco some distance away. The second such trip consisted of me, Karen and Maggie heading off up north to the remote islands of Yell and Unst. For me, this really was wonderful, and not only for the company. Walls apart, I'd never seen much of Shetland and its barren, but strangely beautiful landscapes. Treeless, windy, but also oddly romantic: gorgeous on a clear, bright and sunny day with the sea and lochs becoming a stunning turquoise. Once again, relations of Karen (and possibly of mine) were extremely hospitable, and we had barely set up tent and gone to pay them a visit than tumblers of vodka and lemonade were thrust into our hands. Later, a remote pub was visited, and the next day a famous Shetland landmark, the supposedly haunted 'Wind House' for a picnic lunch. Then there was a US Coastguard base one weekend, for a party and disco. All of this and more made for a hectic and invigourating few weeks, but by early June I was ready to return to Grimsby and to carry on with the music which, for Tony and I, was such a major part of my lives.

On Sunday 8th June 1980, I bade farewell to my new friends Karen, Lizzie, Billy and Maggie (and Maggie's mum), and set sail on the St Clair for Aberdeen, and then, the next day, the long train journey back to Grimsby.

Tony, in From Far Away to Shetland, has described much of that summer, but I also have a few recollections I'd like to share. As he rightly says, we have no idea now when it was first mooted that we both travel up to Shetland together, but with the summer having such momentum it now seems as if it must have been a quite long standing objective, perhaps going back to shortly after my return. In retrospect, I'm almost surprised we managed to wait till a chilly and darkening October for the big adventure to take place. Looking back, that summer seems like a very long one, perhaps extended by the visit we would receive in the September from Karen and Maggie, who called along Grimsby for a few days after one of their long holidays overseas in North Africa and continental Europe. I think that without our Big Move 1980 would still have been a hell of a year, but I do think that by the autumn we were in need of something pretty epic to keep us moving forward. Tony has said that the Revolver was about more than just the music, and central to it was our friendship and sharing new experiences. What better way to advance our ethos than to see what life held for us both elsewhere, with Shetland being a very obvious destination?

So, in early October, three weeks after Maggie's and Karen's visit, we packed clothes into cases, put our guitars into their carry bags, and lugged our amplifiers into a taxi bound for Grimsby Town train station. This was it. We were off. For me, the previous few days had been excruciating, with my nervous excitement at the forthcoming move being weighed against the boredom of having too many hours in the day. Tony was working at this time, in contrast to layabout me, so I had time to kill till the evenings of music and television at his house, with only my trusty cassette-radio and guitar for company. There had been a couple of months when the girls who lived where I rented a room would be in and out all day, either individually for a roll on the bed, or in twos and threes to sit and talk. By September, however, these "lasses" had all left. With that source of excitement gone, my final weeks in Grimsby consisted of getting up late, usually at around eleven, walking into town to get a pasty from the Baker's Oven, and listening to tapes and the radio while lying on my narrow single bed in my tiny, stuffy room, staring at the ceiling and daydreaming. I may have strummed my guitar a bit, too.

At 8:43pm, on Thursday 2nd October, the waiting was over, and we were pulling out of Grimsby Town station, trundling slowly beneath Deansgate Bridge, gathering speed as we carried on parallel to Cromwell Road, then clattering along through the outlying village of Great Coates. An hour later, we had passed through Scunthorpe and had arrived at Doncaster. The overnight train from Doncaster to Aberdeen, one I would become quite accustomed to over the next twenty years, was packed. This led to Tony and I spending a number of hours sitting and standing by the train doors with our luggage piled up around us, something which probably wouldn't be allowed today due to health and safety regulations. Tony remembers trying to listen to commentary of Larry Holmes versus Muhammad Ali on his tiny Elvis Presley radio, or to at least get word of the outcome, much to the consternation of grumpy fellow travellers. Tiring as the night was, being cold as well as uncomfortable, we really didn't mind too much. Why would we? We were heading off for a big, bold adventure, with plans to take Shetland by storm with our music. Lerwick was to be our Hamburg. I have a photo, still, of Tony sitting on the floor of the train, in near darkness, puffing on a cigarette as we wended our way onwards towards Edinburgh and the end of the line in Aberdeen.

Dishevelled and no doubt aching from the cramped conditions, we arrived in a cold, autumnal Aberdeen early the following morning, 3rd October. After securing our luggage, we then proceeded to get ourselves some breakfast, consuming our small meal (probably a sausage roll and a carton of milk) in a park, and then spent the next ten or eleven hours walking the streets, hanging around inside an art gallery, and generally killing time till the early evening departure of our boat, the P&O ferry St Clair. Eventually, at 6:15, we set sail. A couple of drinks at the bar were in order, after an initial shared bottle of QC sherry out on the windy decks, and I happily took myself off to the showers to wash away the accumulated grime and to defrost a little. Emerging twenty minutes later, my recent curly perm in tatters, I returned to the bar to be informed by Tony that he had got us a spot on stage before the evening's captive audience of North Sea carousers. This was an exciting bonus. It didn't go well. Not for the first time that year, an unfamiliar PA system made a mockery of our usual sound, and once again we stomped off in a huff having been booed off by an an audience expecting something a little more tuneful. As Tony has suggested, we wouldn't have been blameless in the debacle, more than likely not having our guitars in tune, with our drinking and subsequent carelessness doubtless also contributing to the untidy and brief set.

Early, though not necessarily brightly, the next morning, having watched the cliffs of Shetland and a few dotted house lights go by as we sailed in, we arrived in port and walked down the gangplank, our possessions weighing us down, to the ferry terminus building on the northern outskirts of Lerwick. At 8:00am, It felt strange knowing that elsewhere in this dark and listless town were the friends we'd last seen three weeks earlier on a sociable and intoxicated evening back home in Grimsby, and whom we'd been been looking forward to seeing again ever since. Despite the electric whir of luggage carts coming and going, and the chattering of fellow travellers, Lerwick looked still asleep as it nestled prior to sunrise in the shadows of the surrounding hills. To me, Staney Hill looked foreboding as it loomed darkly above the well lit and relatively modern P&O site. A far cry indeed from the events that had been playing out in my mind the previous weeks and months. Happily, we were made to feel at home by my aunt Babsie who had come to meet us: she was also responsible for getting us the jobs at Seafoods which had made our trip possible in the first place. Without this work, and the laid on accommodation, visiting Shetland then would have been all but impossible. We happily chatted as the three of us took a taxi to the Seafoods' huts, then, after cups of tea in my aunt's room, Tony and I made our excuses and walked over to our adjacent rooms in a hut on the other side of the factory complex. En route, we called along Karen's room, but after a late night she was still sleeping. Settling into our new accommodation, unpacking and putting a kettle on for more tea, Tony and I sat down and took stock. I'm not sure what he'd had in mind after all my months of Shetland propaganda, but sitting there on an old hospital bed in a tiny room in a wooden hut, I perhaps felt a little guilty that I'd over-egged the pudding.

Later that morning, myself, Tony and a now awake Karen boarded the bus out to Gulberwick, where we arrived to be warmly greeted by her ever hospitable parents, my mum's brother Billy and his wife Barbara. This was the moment when the weeks of killing time, endlessly singing our light hearted composition Shetland, then crouching in train corridors and spending all night propped up on the ferry's reclining seats slipped away and were replaced with the warm feeling of having arrived. As usual at Karen's house, we were engaged in cheerful conversations, plied with platefuls of good, solid home made food - probably consisting of mutton, boiled potatoes and vegetables – and most probably a drink or two of whisky, rum or vodka to further banish the already encroaching long Shetland winter. Maggie visited, too, which for me of course was extra special. Later, myself, Tony, Karen and Maggie drove in the latter's car back to Lerwick where we wandered around on Commercial Street, the town's, and indeed the whole island's, main shopping thoroughfare. That night, after TV in Karen's room, the four of us went out for a night on the town – our first of many over the forthcoming months – more than likely taking in such venues as the Douglas Arms (AKA the Marlex), the Lounge, the Excelsior (Excel) and the Grand Hotel disco.

The following day, a Sunday, was a more subdued and sober affair, though still enjoyable. Tony and I carried on settling into our rooms, and went out with Maggie to her family home for the afternoon, once again being made to feel welcome by friendly Shetlanders. Really, in retrospect, that first weekend was all that I could have hoped for.

All too soon, though, Monday morning rolled around, and the peace was shattered by first my alarm clock clanging into life, and then the rumbling of boots on bare floorboards as workers left their rooms to go to the canteen for breakfast and then work. Tony and I, once we had woken up, were in for an unpleasant shock. At the hut set aside for the distribution of overalls and wellingtons, we were informed by one of the humourless and grizzled foremen that there were no jobs for us. We would have to go. Get out, now. Vacate our rooms and get off Young's property. Not necessarily in those exact words, but what we were told amounted to the same thing. There were no jobs and thus we would have to also leave our rooms, with our still warm beds inside, take our possessions and head off up the steep road, quite probably straight back to Grimsby. In the foreman's blunt tones there was a hint of what we would come to see as the other side of life in Shetland's small community: an antipathy of some towards those who were not their own. To Shetlanders great and enduring credit, perhaps reflected in staunchly Liberal voting habits, truly anti-English sentiment is rare in that part of the world, and in my whole time on those islands I encountered Anglophobia from perhaps only one person: a drunkard from Peterhead and his mate with whom myself and Tony had a few fist-flailing night time encounters in the Grand. But, on that cold, bleak October morning, my aunt Babsie arrived to save the day. She gave the foreman such a good telling off that he almost ran back to the safety of the factory, after apologising profusely and saying that, well, actually, they could probably squeeze us into the Crab Factory a couple of miles down the road. Our immediate futures secured, then, Tony and I began work that morning at a place I'd hitherto never known to actually exist except, perhaps, as a doom laden myth, quietly whispered. To begin with, I spent my days outside in the wind and rain, carrying heavy bags of scallops, still in their shells, to a conveyor belt which started in a hut-like construction outside the factory doors, to a destination somewhere within. Inside, it was the job of workers to remove the scallops from their shells, while others used knives and fingers to tidy up the scallops prior to packing. Tony, I believe, got this latter job. Unpleasant conditions or not, I was just glad to be working, and to be staying in Shetland rather than being homeless and walking the streets which, had it not been for my aunt's perseverance and feistiness, would surely have been our fate. Being outside had its benefits, too, such as being left to work unsupervised as long as I kept up the pace, and because of this I was allowed to daydream in peace. Thoughts of Maggie were prevalent, as were mine and Tony's intended playing of local bars and clubs. On the rare occasions the sun broke through the clouds, I was even treated to fantastic views of the harbour, the hills, the nearby island of Bressay, and picturesque buildings dotted hither and thither. After a week or two of this, I was moved inside, to the relative warmth, and Tony and myself were able to work together cleaning the queen scallops. Occasionally, we would even set a crab or lobster free into the harbour. So began our routine for the forthcoming months.

For someone who had been so quietly content to sit in my room six months earlier, alone and rarely venturing out of an evening except perhaps to the fish and chip shop, I now found myself longing for the weekends and the chance to head out to Gulberwick for lunch ("dinner") and then to visit the local pubs and discos. Something of a change came over the both of us when we arrived and settled in Shetland. After a long, tiring day at work, we would sit in either my room or with Karen in hers, watching television and barely touching our guitars. I think we realised pretty quickly that, contrary to my earlier supposition, there really was no live music scene for anything except for traditional Shetland music. There certainly weren't the venues. Perhaps if we had had our erstwhile persistence we might have made something happen, but whether it was weariness from the work or a generally apathy, our instruments weren't getting played with anything like the enthusiasm of old, nor the frequency. A work colleague of sorts from another factory, Magda (a middle-class English socialist), came along quite often to jam on a song of ours, Breakaway, but that was about as far as our music went during this strangely indifferent time. What Tony and I really craved was to be out having a good time. This we most certainly did on Friday and Saturday nights. But, on getting back to our rooms after work, rather than being happy to be "home" and ready to relax with the guitars, we became more than a little restless, even despondent. We didn't want to stay in.

Weeks passed, autumn became winter, and we did settle down and become more content. Work, Monday to Friday, became a routine, and by getting to know the job better and become better at it, we were able to settle in. By becoming friendly with other workers, we slowly began to expand our circle of friends and acquaintances. We got into quite a nice groove of work coupled with seeing Karen, Magda and others in the evenings. A little bonus at this time, was the job of walking the twenty minutes or so to the canteen on the main site for the ten o'clock tea break rolls. Tony or I would go around the factory and take everyone's orders: egg roll; bacon roll; sausage bun; cheese bap; with or without sauce. Then off one of us would go, probably taking more time than was strictly necessary, enjoying being out of the factory for a while. I used to enjoy walking off the beaten track past the little businesses near the water set inside picturesque old buildings, and past the small fishing boats undergoing repairs. At the canteen, Nettie would make up the orders, wrap them all in foil to keep everything warm, then it would be time for the return leg. We could kill about an hour this way and it was a very agreeable way of breaking up the morning. I would be disappointed if someone else got the job, even if outside it was blowing a gale, raining or snowing, or thrashing it down with hail or freezing sleet.

Tony later recalled some of the oddballs who were always around the factory, people who seemed to visit for no apparent reason, or just kept returning there after retirement, unwilling to let the place go: 'I remember the strange guy who didn't actually work there any more, but still went in to hang around every day. I also remember "Mr Old" who worked in the Crab Factory. I couldn't understand a word he said.' We called him Mr Old due to him being old.

There was also a young guy of about our age from Birmingham who worked there with his girlfriend. He liked to go on about how he was a black belt at karate and was an expert in this, and was deadly in that. He considered himself a well tuned killing machine. One day, he got on the wrong side of a simple and harmless guy from the Hebrides, Kevin, resulting in the latter bypassing martial arts etiquette and throwing him all over the factory. It's strange, looking back, how violent life actually was in Shetland in those days. Maybe it still is. Being young, we tended to roll with the sometimes literal punches.

Weekends, of course, were still the highlight of the week, but no longer were they the only thing we had. A few weeks after our arrival I began to date Maggie, which really ought to have been a great highlight, and I suppose was. Having her stay over on one or two nights per weekend helped dispel some of my initial lingering feelings of emptiness.

We'd been in Shetland for little more than two months when, in the second week of December, we arrived at work as usual at just before eight, having walked the gloomy roads of Lerwick, street lights still lit and giving off their weak, yellowy glow. As was the norm, we got ourselves plastic fish boxes full of "queens" in icy water to clean. This particular morning was much like any other, and I was still sleepily working away when Tony came back with our second or third box from the pile in the chill room. I don't remember his exact words, or my precise response, but it was along the lines of:

Tony: 'Graham's just told me some bad news. John Lennon's been shot.'

Me: 'What, killed?'

Tony: 'Yeah.'

And it was true. It had been all over the radio and television that morning, of course, and in the newspapers, but as Tony and I weren't in the habit of putting on the radio first thing, and because newspapers didn't reach Shetland till at least midday, we'd not heard anything till this work colleague spoke up. As huge Beatles' fans this was terrible. Lennon had only recently released his first album in five years, Double Fantasy, and an accompanying first single was still in the charts. Now he was gone, permanently. The rest of the working day passed in a semi daze. Returning to the huts after work, we caught up with the latest news on the radio: the arrest of Mark Chapman, Lennon's assassin; the peculiar detail of Chapman being found by the New York police reading Catcher in the Rye at the scene; the tributes from the famous, including McCartney's strange response of 'It's a drag.' We drank it all in. There would never be a Beatles' reunion now, the world realised. Not one of four living members, anyway.

Soon enough the Christmas break arrived, and a week earlier than the factory had been expecting. I think it was a paid holiday, too. Because of a lack of orders, or perhaps because we got our orders packed and sent off ahead of schedule, we were able to break up for three weeks, commencing lunchtime on 12th December. We had been working in the cold, damp and almost remote Crab Factory for around nine weeks by now, and felt we had earned a good rest from it.

This, for me, was mine and Tony's best time in Shetland together. The mornings provided long lie-ins almost reminiscent of school holidays, and we and our gang of friends did all manner of things together. We would all walk out of town to the Jubilee 77 pub for lunchtime drinks – just having a couple, never getting drunk – or walk up Staney Hill to the small shop Maggie's mum had up there. We got the ferry over to Bressay where we would circumnavigate the island by road (on foot), and then play charades till our ferry back to Lerwick. I was particularly happy to spend a few nights just after Christmas at Maggie's house, in a nice bed, with crisp clean sheets, in a proper bedroom.

Christmas Day was particularly enjoyable with a posse of us setting off on foot in the crunching snow for the long walk to Gulberwick; taxis being very expensive at Christmas. En route, we stopped off at Lizzie's, which was about halfway there, to have reviving hot drinks and to have our tea leaves read by Lizzie's mum. We managed to get a lift some of the rest of the way, and at about 3 o'clock we all sat down to Karen's mum's Christmas dinner. Later, we piled into cars and drove down the road for an evening with Maggie's family, featuring parlour games, booze, more food and Parkinson and Fawlty Towers on TV. Other television highlights that day, which we may or may not have tuned into, were Top of the Pops 80 with Peter Powell and Jimmy Savile, The Paul Daniels Magic Show, Larry Grayson's Generation Game and Dallas. That night, back once more at Karen's parents', Tony and I stayed in a spare room, telling jokes well into the night.

All this was a far cry from standing in the cold that damp October morning when we were told there were no jobs for us. Being invited into other people's homes on Christmas Day is something I have never taken for granted: Tony's family were welcoming on such days, and so too were Karen's and Maggie's. It's surprising how many aren't.

Once Christmas Day and Boxing Day were over, it was back to the usual routine of hanging out in Karen's room; going on long walks to places such as the rocky cliff area known as the Knab; having lunchtime drinks in one of the pubs; guitar playing in my room; and nights out ending with the usual drinking and occasional dancing in the Grand. Of this time, I well remember a number of the songs that were routinely played while we were out on our rounds, whether that be late night discos, or having cups of tea in Commercial Street cafes like Solotti's: The Jam, Start!; AC/DC, You Shook Me all Night Long; Abba, Super Trouper; Blondie, The Tide is High; OMD, Enola Gay; Jona Lewie, Stop the Cavalry; Odyssey, Use It Up and Wear It Out; and, of course, several John Lennon's songs. If I hear these today, I'm taken straight back there.

This idyllic period, of course, came to an end, but not before a lively New Year, during which Tony and I saw in 1981 atop the "cross" of the Market Cross in Lerwick. Back at work in January, we recommenced our evenings of jamming with Magda, who had returned from Christmas in England, plus pubs, Grand Hotel discos and going out to Gulberwick.

It was in the midst of all this that, out of the blue, Tony dropped a sudden bombshell a week before my nineteenth birthday: he was going home to Grimsby. I think this came as a shock to everyone. We'd all got into a rather nice groove, myself, Tony, Karen, Maggie and then Lizzie. We enjoyed our weekday evening social lives, and we looked forward to and appreciated our weekends. I suppose it was sort of taken for granted that this would go on for some time. Young men, though, are – or at least were – notorious for not sharing their feelings, and as Tony now speculates, a number of things could have contributed to his decision: homesickness; a boring job; missing home comforts (Tony and I never had as much as a TV between us in Shetland); regular good food; despondency that Shetland hadn't turned out to be as I'd perhaps led him to believe. Loneliness even. Often one can feel lonely in a packed room, and I at least had Maggie's company once or twice a week. He reminds me that on his last night out there had been a huge fight, quite probably featuring the aforementioned character from Peterhead, "Ginger" Alex. I haven't previously mentioned that these fights were quite a regular feature of our nights out in Lerwick, purely because we shrugged them off quickly afterwards, often within minutes. Such things can probably grind one down, however.

The day Tony left, via the same ferry we had arrived on three and a half months earlier, was a very sad one for me. Obviously, brave faces were on display all round, but I was losing my best friend. The person I'd shared so much with for the last two years.

Tony's departure signalled the beginning of the end for our little gang, too. Maggie and I had never become particularly close. She almost never visited during the week, for example, and I was always keeping in mind her plans to go and live in New Zealand in the spring. I wasn't prepared to do all the running, either, so we never really got anywhere. Even though we saw each other for four months, it was a relief when, about five weeks after Tony left, after a less than stellar night together, I told her I wanted us to finish as she dropped me off at Seafoods. I'd got to know an older woman, Lorraine, who was the great age of twenty-four, and she had given me a glimpse of a more comfortable home life. Given the choice between Maggie, whom I adored but whose affection was ultimately unrequited, and someone who genuinely did covet my company, there was really little choice. And because I was no longer seeing Maggie, Karen and Magda drifted away too. There were still a few good times with Karen and Magda in evidence, including a chilly northern camping expedition in March, but things were never really the same again. During the rest of my time in Shetland, I came to see Karen increasingly rarely, and practically never saw Maggie, despite us finishing on good terms, even on her return from the southern hemisphere in 1982. Despite this, Maggie and Karen visited Tony and I years later in 1984 and then, separately, in 1988.

This disbanding and falling apart ought to have been the impetuous for me to pack up and head back to Grimsby myself, following Tony's lead. For whatever reasons, though, it didn't happen until two years down the line. Tony and I did have a great little holiday in London in 1981, but it wasn't until April of 1983 that we would pick up from where we left off in those exciting and wide-eyed days of the summer of 1980.





Browns Road, Lerwick, site of the main factory and huts:


Wind House, Shetland:


The Jubillee:

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Staney Hill:


Market Cross, Lerwick: