01 Aug 1992
Reminiscences of a Fat Folk Singer
Mainstream Publishing, 1992 | ISBN 978-1851585120 (192 pages)
Gallus Publishing, 2010 | ISBN 978-0-9565990-1-8 (238 pages)
Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice was first published by Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, in 1992. It got a reprint in 2010 by Gallus Publishing. Three fragments in the biography have a direct connection to John Martyn. The third anecdote about a spontaneous jam with John Martyn and Eric Clapton was first unearthed by Lee Barry in his fanzine Well Kept Secret #2 (July 1997)
[The Prize Winning Ram]
Then there were two young hairy freaks, classic ex-public school boys from the best of families, who 'had gone to the bad' as they said in those days. They lived in Society Buildings in Edinburgh1, a great name for a hovel, a horrible tenement just across from Greyfriar's Bobby which had been posh 150 years earlier.
They rode around in a vintage convertible, wearing kilts, their sporrans stuffed with one pound deals of hash. I went to call on them in the middle of the winter. They had one room, the size of a tennis court, with a ceiling twenty foot high. They couldn't afford to heat such a room, so they had erected a tent, indoors, and huddled inside wrapped in blankets and heated by a paraffin heater. Their big hobby was poaching sheep for the pot. One time they shot a prize ram. There were wanted notices everywhere featuring this ram, which had already been stewed and eaten, and was apparently very tough and horrible. You ate what you could […].
Hamish does not specify who these two persons were. Or better said, he was advised to leave out the names of both 'freaks'. However, as late as 2000 John told his version of the story to Andy Robson of Classic Rock:
Martyn and [Clive] Palmer shared music, good times and bugger-all money. 'He had this flat in [Society] Buildings, Edinburgh,' recalls Martyn. 'We had no money for heating, so we pitched a tent in his front room. We went busking but it was too cold to play. Coming home, we took a short cut through the Royal Highland Show, this top agricultural show. And there's this big, fucking, top ram called 'The Pride Of Culloden'. And suddenly Clive's got this knife and kills it stone dead. So there's the two of us, like Burke and Hare, dragging this ram home. You want to try butchering a thing like that in the bath. Hamish Imlach, Archie Fisher, Josh Macrae - we all had ram chops for weeks!'
1 sitenote: Situated in Chambers Street.
[God's Sense Of Humour]
One agent who can be named is Theo Johnson, who managed John Martyn. John was starting out as a nineteen-year-old in London and stayed in Theo's flat. Theo had made the first album of Rugby Songs for Island records, for a set fee of a hundred pounds, and they made a fortune. Theo got John his first recording with Island.
Theo had a cocktail cabinet, in which was a bottle of Haig's Dimple deluxe whisky, purely for show. One day when skint and bored John and I managed to get the top off this bottle without damaging the seal, emptied the bottle and refilled it with cold tea.
Just weeks later I was booked at a club in the Strawberry Hill Catholic teacher training college in London. Jennifer - late of the Birkenhead panto, came in, along with A.L. Lloyd's daughter. The two of them, glamorous young women, came back to Theo's flat. Theo, in an effort to impress them, while making their gin and tonics reached for the bottle of Dimple Haig and offered it to John and me, saying, 'You're Scotsmen, you'll know what to do with this.'
We said, 'Can't we have gin and tonic? Don't open a special bottle just for us.' Once it was opened, I whispered to John, 'Do you realise we are going to have to finish this before we leave tonight?' The two of us had to sink this full bottle of cold tea and get drunk while Theo and the young ladies got genuinely drunk. Incidents like this make me believe in the possibility of there being a God. I don't think much of His sense of humour.
[The Brahms And Liszt Blues]
It was through drink that I met Eric Clapton in 1979. John Martyn was at the time still living in his rock star home in the south of England. John had just returned from doing a large North American tour where he was opening for Eric Clapton, and both of them were at the time drinking very heavily. John said it was awful. They would go from the airport to the hotel to the stadium, and at some gigs there would be men with shotguns and dogs between them and the audience. John had a hard time in some places where the audience were just there to see Clapton and were quite rude to John.
John and Eric spent some five or six weeks getting pissed on planes and hotels, and going on stage the worse for wear, and both were fans of Robert Johnson, an American bluesman of the twenties, so they tried to write together a drinking blues to be called The Brahms And Liszt Blues - Brahms and Liszt is Cockney rhyming slang for pissed.
When John told me this story I happened to mention that there was a strong ale called Brahms and Liszt, manufactured by a brewery in Selby, Yorkshire, and in Leeds was a pub called the Brahms and Liszt which featured this beer. At the time Eric Clapton's tipple was brandies and Carlsberg Specials, and the ale was the same sort of strength as Carlsberg Special.
John said, 'I'd love to give Elo (the name Eric Clapton is known to his friends by) some. Can you get me a case?' As it happened I was going up to do some gigs in the north, then back down to London for some more. When I went north I called at the pub and got a case of the ale, and arrived at John's place with it. He asked what I was doing next. 'I've got a gig in Dorking Folk Club tomorrow night. I've never been there before.'
'That's right next to where Eric lives!'
So midday the next day we set off to Eric Clapton's house. At the time he wasn't married to Patti Boyd, but they were living together. She was a very nice woman, who made us a meal. She said to me that Eric's favourite meal was egg and chips, and she would have to force him to have something like chops. We delivered the crate of Brahms and Liszt, all sampled it and went on to have a good few brandies. Eventually I had to say, 'I have to leave now, I've got this gig.'
'Where is it?'
'That's just near here. We'll come with you.'
My car was rather clapped out, so we took a big Mercedes 500 limousine, which Patti Boyd drove since she was sober. The folk club took place in a hospital social club, and I had a bit of trouble finding it. Finally we got the car quite close. I had a six-string and a twelve-string guitar with me, so I said to John, 'I'm pretty late, and I've never been here before. I'll run ahead to let them know I'm here, in case they're panicking. Could you bring the guitars once you've found somewhere to park?'
I had to go through the bar of the social club to a room at the back. A woman was sitting outside the door, selling admission tickets, and I could hear that the floor singing had started inside. I apologised for being late, and she answered, 'There's plenty of time, the floor singers have just started, you won't be on for another half hour.' Just then Patti Boyd, Eric Clapton and John Martyn came up, Eric carrying one guitar and John the other.
The woman said, 'Are your friends musicians?'
I was totally gobsmacked, and thought she was kidding, but she was totally serious. I asked why. 'Well, if they play, they can get in free.' I turned to John and said, 'What do you think?' He turned to Elo, who said, 'Fair enough, we'll play.'
During my sets I sang The Band Played Waltzing Matilda unaccompanied. Clapton thought of this as Irish singing, because the only place he had ever heard people getting up and singing that type of ballad was in Ireland. He told me he would go to Ireland quite often, because he could go into pubs there without getting mobbed.
At the end of the evening, I got John and Eric up -neither of them recognised by any member of the audience- and the two of them played as a duet on my guitars the old Blind Gary Davis favourite Cocaine. Then I borrowed a clapped-out Echo which was the only other guitar in the place, and as my final number I sang Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice, accompanied by Eric Clapton and John Martyn. The story. appeared in the Raver column of the Melody Maker music paper, who referred to me as 'Curry freak Hamish Imlach'. Only weeks before Eric Clapton had appeared nearby in a huge open-air concert with Bob Dylan, and he was highly chuffed that still at this little local folk club not one person recognised him.
We went back and stayed overnight at Clapton's place, staying up till all hours. There's a tape recording somewhere of me playing guitar there while Eric Clapton plays drums.
Hamish Imlach: 10 February 1940 - 1 January 1996.
A typical quote from the 300 pound singer: "I'd always joked about my drinking and smoking that I would hate to die with a heart attack and have a good liver, kidneys and brain. When I die I want everything to be knackered."
The book sold out quickly in Glasgow.
This picture was taken at Hamish's 50th birthday party at the Riverside Club in Glasgow, so 10 February 1990. John is greeting Phil Shackleton (who was a supporting act for him in 1997) and Hamish Imlach is sitting at the front. Phil Shackleton published the picture here.