Sometimes it’s not surprising that many folk see coincidence as something more. I had just come home after talking to a friend about the importance of Scottish short story collections (more of which shortly), needed ‘a wee sit-doon’ and picked up this fortnight’s The List magazine, which I had already thumbed thoroughly. One article I had missed was about the death of Paul Reekie.
I had first encountered the man through his punk band the Thursdays. An old school friend’s older brother used to force various Scottish punk and new wave records from the likes of The Dirty Reds, The Jolt, The Rezillos and The Scars upon us as a form of education/torture/babysitting. So I knew the man’s music before I knew his name. The first time that he properly registered with me was as part of the six-a-side team who made up Children of Albion Rovers, one of the most important collections of short stories to be published in Scotland in the last 50 years.
If you think this claim extravagant then take a gander at the others involved; Alan Warner, Gordon Legge (see The Shoe…) Irvine Welsh, James Meek and Laura Hird and it was published by Kevin Williamson and Rebel Inc. These writers, and the periodicals and publishers who supported them, changed Scottish writing in a similar way to how Reekie’s beloved punk had shaken up music. One of punk’s famous rallying cries was ‘This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band’. This wouldn’t mean that everyone who picked up a guitar would be any good, just that any one could have access. And it’s the access that is important. The feeling that you are not excluded from joining in.
Before the success of Rebel Inc and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, being a writer in Scotland was still seen as an ‘academic’ pursuit. Even writers who wrote, at least partly, in ‘urban Scots’, such as James Kelman,Tom Leonard, Jeff Torrington and Liz Lochhead were linked to academia through their involvement with the Hobsbaum group. Here was fiction that at least felt as if it was written by and for those who many would have you believe never picked up a book never mind a pen. If Trainspotting was this new Scottish writing’s Never Mind the Bollocks, then Children of Albion Rovers showed readers that it was not a one off oddity and that here was a literate and artistic group of writers who had never before been allowed to have their voice heard. No one was listening so they had to do it for themselves. The collection was a compilation of some of the best writers out there and made readers aware that there was a real literary underground of new styles, language and attitude waiting to be discovered. It can be seen, with hindsight, as the point when what was a largely independent movement, with a few burgeoning ‘stars’, went mainstream. I’ll leave you to work out who’s who in this tortuous punk/writer analogy.
Obviously a few have gone on to become some of Scottish writing’s biggest names, but re-visiting such a collection makes you realise that doesn’t matter, and that some of the most interesting stuff in any artistic group or movement comes from the lesser known lights and one-hit wonders. Paul Reekie’s novella Submission is (along with Gordon Legge’s Pop Life) my favourite story in the book. There’s a line in it that has always stuck with me: ‘Novels are full of padding – they’re clearly objectionable.’ That’s the way I feel about most novels, and why I bang on about the importance of the short story form.
Paul Reekie continued to write and perform in and around Edinburgh well into the new century. I’m not going to say that I wished he had been published more widely. When a person is part of something as important and inspiring as Children of Albion Rovers, then it’s more than most of us will ever manage, and all you can do is thank them.