I want to write about two specific categories of sound, the fugitives and the captives. This will make sense to obsessives (like me) who go outside with microphones to record ‘interesting’ sounds. First of all there are those sounds that are part and parcel of who I am, those that live with me, continue to revisit me, or me them, after many years, always fresh in my mind. These are undoubtedly coloured by a host of psychological and conditioning filters which have worked into my consciousness like grooves in vinyl. These are the fugitive sounds. I try very hard to avoid nostalgia when I indulge myself in these, to discriminate between memory and nostalgia, nostalgia being a particular king of sentimental yearning which, strong though it may be, requires the application of discrimination in order to maintain clarity.
Then there are the captive sounds, those much desired sounds successfully captured in the form of recordings.
The difference between the two is worth considering. I have easy access to the captives – with the flick of a switch I can revisit them any time I like. But the fugitives hold the most fascination and are consequently the more desirable, the loved ones forever out of reach.
When I say fugitive sounds, I mean of course more than just the impression on the ear. In most cases there would have been a strong visual accompaniment, added to the inescapable fact that ‘I was there’, embodied in the environment with the environment embodied equally inside me. And yet it is the sound that remains dominant in my reassembling of the original event.
I want to begin with an early one – the war cry of Glasgow Celtic Football Club supporters – Hampden, 29 Apr 1967 – Attendance 127,117.
Rising from a guttural growl to a threatening bass to a hysterical tenor to a bloodcurdling howl, it goes like this:-
Hampden was, and still is in its new incarnation, the home of Scotland’s national football team as well as the venue for cup finals. On this particular day Aberdeen and Celtic were preparing to slog it out for the Scottish Cup. Having cup finals in Glasgow is like a home game for the Old Firm (Celtic and Rangers) which would explain why they usually win. But in the ’60s and ’70s my home team, Aberdeen, usually gave as good as they got, against the odds. As a child I was told by my elders that bread and dripping for supper made Glaswegians suspect in the fitness and stamina department.
This was a society barely one decade out of the war. There was clearer sense of belonging to a working class than nowadays, close to what I imagine Marx had in mind. Typically one wore a cloth cap, drank heavily, smoked heavily, swore profusely and beat the shite out of one’s fellow man regularly. On the other hand I can paint you a picture of an excellent human being: kind, loving and highly cultured. Glasgow was an epicentre of such contrary behaviour in the ’60s.
I was only a very young boy, nervous but excited, protected (apparently) by two generations of living ancestors and thousands of other Aberdonians. The tableau that opened up on the approach to the ground that day was my earliest memory of experiencing the surreal, unfolding itself in an atmosphere laden with danger and the forbidden. I saw the streets around Hampden as the aftermath of a battlefield. This worried me greatly as the match hadn’t even started. Dozens of cloth caps pissing and vomiting against walls or undergoing near-death experiences on roads and pavements leading to the turnstiles. Grown men on their hands and knees, like Hindu pilgrims crawling towards the temple of their chosen deity. Volleys of ‘colourful’ language which I pretended not to understand.
To appreciate Glasgow and Glasgow Celtic fully you will need to look into the social and cultural history of the city – the movement of largely catholic Irish and Highland populations into the city, a largely Protestant establishment, and the resulting polarisation of two communities. The clubs, Celtic and Rangers, reflect, sustain and promote this polarisation across a range of activities and dispositions. The bitterness, hatred and sectarianism, rife across large numbers of both sets of supporters, is still promoted institutionally and is of course parasitised by the institutions of the media, though Scotland has fortunately been spared the extreme levels of violence that Northern Ireland had to endure. Yet, despite their overt and covert contempt for each other, both sides are bound together like fated heroes in a Greek tragedy, each defining itself in relation to the other’s identity and achievements, each unable to live the one without the other – what would they do without each other to hate?
So what we have here is no ordinary Saturday afternoon football team. As I remember them over several years, Glasgow Celtic supporters were (and still are) a proud tribe, spilling out of the East End in their thousands every Saturday, fanatics to a man.
The official figures state: Attendance 127,117. That’s a lot of people to be gathered together in one place. Most would have been Celtic supporters, wearing scarves and woolly hats of green and white (the hats no doubt worn on top of their cloth caps) all of which clashed beautifully with the red and white of Aberdeen. This was long before the day of the his-and-hers overpriced football top with an over-rated millionaire’s name on the back, stretched over a beer belly.
Apart from the fugitive sound which I’m coming to, I must openly confess that what I remember most about the game was my joy at seeing those legendary Celtic players, a.k.a. the Lisbon Lions, all born within 30 miles of Glasgow and who less than one month later would make history as the first ‘British’ team to win the European Cup.
In the end Celtic won 2-0, a deserved victory. As the game progressed I began to experience an odd feeling about the curved wall of green and white to my left. Something primeval must have stirred inside me – my clan was smaller in numbers than their clan and who was to stop them mashing us to pieces? It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the day – on the contrary I was alive to the possibility of physical threat allied to the sheer pleasure of a massive sonic experience. I’ve always found it to be the strangest phenomenon at a football match when the other team’s supporters roar and cheer (‘cheer’ is a bit lame for this lot) – strange because the opposing roars are more precisely localised than those of your own in which you are immersed and because your fellow supporters tend to fall silent when your team plays badly. As Celtic began to dominate the game and came close to scoring I had a direct experience of one or several waves of sound, actual waves with an analogue perfectly represented as a clearly visible physical waveform as the crowd on its feet (no seating in those days) lunged forward like a monstrous striking undulating serpent.
Massive, deafening, terrifying, exhilarating, all the joy and pain of tens of thousands of men (no women would dare) collectively celebrating their joy and solidarity:-
I’m sure that everyone has a store of equally memorable fugitive sounds tucked away somewhere.
This leads me to conclude on a couple of related topics. The first is simply an intention relating to the Old Firm rivalry. Such is the volume and intensity of sound at Celtic/Rangers games, the variety of chants and the controversy around incidents on the pitch, that this particular fixture is worthy of attention as a research topic in its own right. It’s on my ‘to do’ list for 2011.
The second is a long suppressed rant on national anthems and sound, in particular the Scottish national anthem and sound. Whether you like anthems or not is irrelevant as they seem to be fixed as a living part of sporting and cultural life. The functions of an anthem are several: to inspire your team, to intimidate or even to disgust the opponent, though an examination of the field will reveal numerous contradictions and apparent inconsistencies. Many Scottish people for example consider the English national anthem to be a bilious outpouring of triumphalism and xenophobia, the sonic equivalent of the Union Jack, (a.k.a. the butcher’s rag). Yet for decades now, Glasgow Rangers fans have adopted both flag and anthem, the latter in more restricted contexts, with great enthusiasm.
But let’s look at the Welsh or the French at rugby matches. Anyone would play well following a rendition of those stirring anthems. Then we have Flower of Scotland – as soon as the first bar strikes up, the heads go down and the headlines are on their way to the editor (‘Bravehearts in Defeat’). That’s why we’re rubbish at everything. The game is lost before the first kick. It’s a fucking dirge and I wasn’t consulted. We’re the only country in the world with an anthem by default. If Celtic and Rangers had been able to set aside their differences in the ’60s we could have mobilised the proletariat, crushed the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, had our Socialist revolution and commissioned a poet of the people to give us an anthem with some hope in it.
There are remedies, however. One possibility has emerged from my Hampden experience and from an intuitive realisation that intimidating people is something that Scots are good at, exemplified by Glaswegian football supporters of both cloths.
I propose an anthem which begins with a crescendo, a low guttural growl, a cross between a Tuvan throat singer warming up and a constipated bear, then builds to a plosive ooh (preferably not the Julian Clary version). Sopranos and altos of both genders can ullulate wildly. This gathers energy to become a frenzied iteration, culminating in a savage scream of rage and hatred directed at the opponent.
It is likely, however, that our post-Blairite political correctness would disapprove of such displays, so my plan B is that we adopt that national treasure Donald Where’s Yer Troosers which everyone in Scotland knows by heart. It’s happy, you can dance or jiggle around to the tune like a moron, and it even has a posh bit where the English can join in and feel assured that their human rights have not been compromised.
If even that is found to be offensive we might then select a female manager for the national football team. That would set an example of liberal minded-ness across Europe and would be the first step to eliminating the blazerati, those sordid patriarchal males who run the sport for their own benefit. An added b0nus – a female manager would have the lads singing all the verses heartily at anthem time instead of gobbing on the pitch.
What have we got to lose?