Oscar Marzaroli ’Suspension bridge over the Clyde'
Strictly speaking it would be a lie to say that Postcard records were an influence on my life in 1981 yet in reality it is inescapably the truth. We should never, after all, let reality get in the way of the truth, or vice vera.
There is a lovely line in Simon Goddard’s ‘Preposterous Story of Postcard Records’ about Alan Horne and girls from Troon and their horses. I suspect I may have known these girls. Or at least their younger sisters. And when I say ‘known’ I mean of course glimpsed and admired (and ignored) from afar. Well, that’s Troon for you after all, where even the seagulls are toilet trained.
Also mentioned in Goddard’s book is a show in Troon’s Walker Hall by Horne’s band Oscar Wild. The veracity of this claim is somewhat unclear, but then that is a crucial element in the whole appeal of Postcard. Truth, fiction, reality, imagination. All and nothing with a gleam in the eye and a knowing wink. Step a gaily, on we go… no more rock and roll for you.
That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Right there. That line. No more rock and roll. The defining principal of Pop, eighties style. Or P!O!P! as it came to be later refined, but let’s not get ahead of and above ourselves.
There are Postcard singles that I love more than ‘Poor Old Soul’, but not many, and none seem to quite capture the spirit of the label, the place(s) or of the times quite so (in)elegantly. ‘Poor Old Soul’ is a record that might, in its imagination, be as funky as Chic, yet the failure to reach that reality is the key to its charm. Grand ambitions and technical inhibitions. Was there ever such a clamorous and captivating combination?
Kevin Pearce is to blame for my love of Postcard records and it is true to say that his words informed that passion more than words can say. Wasn’t it Kevin who pointed out that Sister Sledge were making better Pop singles than anyone else at this time? This truth has stayed with me and hang the inaccuracies of history. Truth be told I would rather listen to a contemporaneous Sister Sledge single now than an Aztec Camera one. Hang your hipster hat on that peg and see how it swings.
So Postcard certainly left some great Pop records for collectors to clamour after but more, much more importantly than this, they left a legacy of wicked humour and contrariness that still feels refreshing and revolutionary. Where would we be today without them? Nowhere and everywhere in between. Use your imagination.
There are many photographs in Oscar Marzaroli's ‘Shades of Grey’ collection that resonate strongly with my memories of time spent in Glasgow. A great shot of Christmas at Frasers in Buchanan Street from 1982 captures the cathedral like space of its vaulted central nave festooned in stars and pine trees. Whenever I see it I instantly yearn to watch Bill Forsyth’s ‘Comfort and Joy’ and that can be no bad thing. Also from Christmas time there is the atmospheric shot of the entrance to Central Station from 1964. Before I was even born and yet it is a timeless view. That arch, that criss-crossed roof and the low afternoon sun casting long shadows on the concourse. How many times have I walked through that arch? Too many to bear thinking about.
From the myriad of marvellous photographs though, the one I choose for this series is a 1981 shot of the South Portland Street suspension bridge, looking south into low sunlight after the rain. For like Depardon and Forsyth, Marzaroli here recognises the ubiquitous nature of rain in the West of Scotland. How could you not?
Now some of you might be familiar with the South Portland Street suspension bridge from the video for The Pastels’ ‘Crawl Babies’. Or, for a more contemporary reference, from the video for Spinning Coin’s exquisite ‘Albany’. You might be familiar with it too from the cover of the most recent paperback reprinting of William McIlvanney’s ‘Laidlaw’ novel. The McIlvanney connection is crucial too, for his words for the ‘Shades of Grey’ book are such a compelling and complimentary companion to Marzaroli’s photographs.
If you have not yet read McIlvanney’s ‘Laidlaw’ trilogy of novels then they come heartily recommended. No matter that I came ridiculously late to them, having finally picked them up only this year. One part of me hangs his head in shame for having avoided the books for so long whilst the other part delights in having read them only now. They are great books if you want to know about Glasgow, or about life in general, which perhaps is the same thing. The novels are as observational as Marzaroli’s photographs. They are simultaneously as documentary and as universal too. It’s a rare skill.
Reading the ‘Laidlaw’ novels certainly made me remember McIlvanney’s text in ’Shades of Grey’. There are set pieces and lines that sent me scurrying back. One particular key scenario in ‘The Papers of Tony Veitch’ is reconstructed as a remembered event, whilst there are some thoughts and lines that would crop up a few years later in the closing volume of the trilogy. Something about Troon being somewhere even the seagulls are toilet trained. Well it made me laugh.
Raymond Depardon’s magnificent photographs of Glasgow might have captured something of a spirit of Glasgow in 1980, yet they are, ultimately a tourists’ view of the city. A tourist with a certain sympathetique to be sure, but a tourist nonetheless. McIlvanney touches on this at the start of ’Shades of Grey’ too when he says that “the longer you are acquainted with a place the more you know you don’t know it”. It is a compelling thought. So whilst Oscar Marzaroli’s photographs carry a remarkable amount of knowledge of and love for the city they record there is too the unspoken depth of what remains unsaid; of what stays hidden and hoarded.