Being a teenager in Hamilton in the seventies involved quite a bit of drinking. There wasn’t a lot to do and it seemed like one of the ways to get out at the time though it was really only a path further into itself.
I could never get into bars because of my young face but there were plenty of ways around it. Playing club football there was always a big piss-up after the games on Saturdays and the older players didn’t mind us schoolboys having a drink with them. They were mainly English, Scottish or Irish and it was part of the culture for everyone to share a drink. Then that would turn to Saturday night and we’d go looking for parties.
In my circle of friends we had two guys whose parents went away a lot over the weekends and we had Harry and Geordie who looked old enough to buy the beer so it was a party every week. It was a sort of coming of age and by the time we finished high school and left home the party was getting longer and larger.
When I extracted myself off to write songs and form romantic relationships I found the booze didn’t really help with either so I cut right back. I remember the night it happened in a little flat with a six-pack and a bottle of whisky attempting to write in a slow-motion sludge – it was a lousy fuel for what I wanted to do.
Not that I stopped altogether for a while – in the eighties we played in pubs and being in a band is a very social thing. Art gallery openings and the theatre world but I never kept alcohol at home or in my studio.
Then I rediscovered it – in 2002 when my long-term love-life crashed.
Then I found I could be creative and still be a drinker – there was an honesty to be tapped and a mirror to some unknown self inside. A bit difficult to find true love perhaps though it is possible with another drinker and that can be doubly fraught. Relationships and barstools are not good soulmates.
Work pressure too – doing it tough all day then drinking all night to wash it away for months on end. I started getting the shakes in the mornings and it was a bad look. I asked a friend who had been a drinker for years and she said to simply skull a beer before work.
I don’t do that anymore, I haven’t for a long time but I still like to drink. The bars have nearly priced themselves out being much fun and I don’t gallivant around the town very much these days. There are still band and family related opportunities for a drink with my friends but I don’t wake up on my doorstep with blood all over my face and I hope I haven’t burned too many bridges…
The Ghost of Electricity – War Stories by Jon McLeary is a new initiative at Off The Tracks, a series of stories and reflections from painter, writer and musician Jon McLeary