The written pieces in this publication from current students of Creative Writing have been inspired by the Art Collection, the Pathfoot Building and the exhibition ‘1967’ which celebrated the University of Stirling’s 50th anniversary.
The 1967 exhibitions included paintings, fashion, food and furnishing and highlighted the importance of music. It was the heyday of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, Aretha Franklin and many more, illustrated in our main gallery by a listening station, record sleeves, photographs, press cuttings and a description of 24 iconic releases in 1967, from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band and Hendrix’s Purple Haze through to Franklin’s Respect and the Velvet Underground’s Heroin. Youth was in the news as never before thanks to the year's Summer of Love, the hippy counterculture, civil rights marches and protests, and the revolution in popular music, with its pervading influence on media, fashion and youth lifestyles.
The students have provided distinctive, individual reflections on the world 50 years ago, sometimes nostalgic but many also recognise the seminal nature of 1967’s musical explosion.
Contemporary Art Curator
University of Stirling Art Collection
The writers in this pamphlet walk into the Pathfoot Building every day for classes, but the Pathfoot Project asks them to view their surroundings anew; through the eyes of a student arriving at Stirling University in 1967, the year of its opening.
Then, as now, the students had the boon of sharing space with the magnificent Art Collection. How could they fail to be inspired by the exhibitions and sculpture on show, by the beauty of the building itself? Sleek, modern architecture against the natural beauty of the campus, producing something vibrant and challenging, just as the University was intended to be. That context, that background, sharpens observation and stirs creativity.
That’s certainly been the case for our current cohort of writers. There’s some real talent and craft in the pages that follow; these writers have immersed themselves in the music, fashion, culture and artwork of the Sixties. And now, through their pieces, you can too. Whether it’s nostalgia, a tracing of influence or a first visit to that decade, I hope the pieces give you a flavour of what it meant – what it means – to write in an environment where the first thing you see when you walk through the door every morning is Barbara Hepworth’s bronze Figure (Archaean) in the courtyard to your left.
Dr Liam Murray Bell
Programme Director, MLitt in Creative Writing
The music of my childhood hangs on the walls. I walk past album covers and their songs play in my head like a jukebox. Donovan, sweet and syrupy, Mellow Yellow. I wore out the record on rainy afternoons, On a wagon, bound for market, Donna Donna Donna. The Monkees, Saturday morning favourites on the Banana Splitz show, and I’m a Believer sung at top volume in the school playground. The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper, and Love, Love, Love, but how to choose between John and Paul? What about George and Ringo? I loved them all. Simon and Garfunkel, folksy guitars and Hello darkness, my old friend. My father played Mrs Robinson on the reel-to-reel tape recorder as he worked, and I listened with my brother, sitting on the cold dusty floor outside the study.
I was born too late for 1967. My mother was born too early. For her, the Summer of Love was one of small children, nappies and a fourth pregnancy. Me. Ours was not a world of flower power and psychedelic drugs.
Not everything reached us in the white suburbs of southern England. I was a teenager before I heard Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Supremes. I missed out on Hendrix, and nobody let Lou Reed or Leonard Cohen into the house. For them, I had to wait for student days.
They say our early memories of music are the last to go, they are etched so deep. When I am white-haired and lost to dementia, I hope I will be singing Bar Bar Bar, Barbara Ann in my wheelchair, the Beach Boys still ringing in my head. I wonder who will help with the harmonies. I don’t think I’ll manage on my own.
I’m A Fresher Who’s Struggling To Fit In
Dear Cathy & Claire,
I know you don’t get many letters from boys, but I’ve recently moved to Scotland from Newcastle and I can’t think who else to ask for advice.
I’m studying journalism at Stirling University because I want to be a music critic. I chose Stirling because it’s new and it’s supposed to be ‘happening’, and I thought it would be different from Edinburgh, with its rich, poncey students. The trouble is, it’s not different at all. There’s no scene and the lads are boring; they’ve got rubbish taste in music and they ‘read’ science. I can’t get a girlfriend either; the lasses laugh behind my back and make fun of my long hair and platform boots. I don’t understand. I’m a great catch compared with the basin-cut boffins – I’m good looking and I always wear trendy gear. They’ve got a cheek being so fussy anyway; they’re fat and frumpy and talk with stupid accents – I can hardly understand a word they say.
What should I do?
Seriously, love, it’s charm school you need, not university. You have a real attitude problem, don’t you? What makes you think that long hair and high heels are more attractive than understated style and intelligence? Or that your Geordie accent is any easier to understand than the Scots one you’re knocking? You’re a shallow chauvinist and it’s no wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.
Just complaining about the lack of scene isn’t going to change anything either, is it? Get off your bum and arrange something yourself. If you’ve got such great taste in music why not talk to the student union about putting on a pop concert? If you persuade a decent band to play you might score higher in the popularity stakes, but we think you’re going to have to work harder at being a decent human being first.
‘There will be drugs.’
‘Not to mention … the rest.’
‘But why build it here? It’s not the place for a University.’
‘If it was a proper University. It won’t be like the real ones.’
‘Mrs Scott’s boy is at Glasgow.’
‘Yes, I mind him, a polite boy, lovely manners. A credit.’
‘That won’t be the sort of student they’ll get here though.’
‘I imagine it will be the ones that can’t get in anywhere else.’
‘But what on earth are they saying in Bridge of Allan, do you think?’
My mother and the neighbour are in the kitchen. I’m next door, in the living room flicking through this week’s Beano, waiting till the TV warms up and I can watch the Monkees TV show, home from a long day at Callander Primary School, P6, a day rich with a range of educational experiences, from grinding fruitlessly through Lomond arithmetic problems to ultra-modern project work, in groups.
Out here in the fields, on the Highland Boundary Fault Line, we couldn’t be further from 1967 if we were in Spitzbergen. I’m at the edge of everything: of teenage life - still three years away; of political consciousness – Vietnam on the TV looks quite thrilling; of my future – I can’t imagine my adult life with any kind of sharpness at all. But why should I? I’m ten. Sex, drugs and even rock and roll are like water glimpsed through trees, just catching the light.
But that’s all about to change, according to Mrs Smith and my mother. 1967 is about to pitch up, on a hillside in Bridge of Allan. Things will never be the same again.
(Inspired by The Velvet Underground & Nico)
scratch the gangrenous surface
peel back yellow rot
pierce the spiral groove
in my post-high cold shower
black banana bruises bubble up
weep beneath steeped skin
cloud pink flesh
conceal the pin punctures
erode my fruit from within
Hendrix at City Hall, Newcastle
As she tumbled out of the cubicle, Shelly caught a glimpse of herself in the dingy bathroom mirror, and her smile couldn’t have been bigger. How she’d managed to have to enough luck to actually pull this off she’d never know. An evening gig, in the city centre, on a Friday too. She’d been buttering her Mam up all week to let her go. “All my friends are going, I’ll be totally safe. It’s just The Walker Brother’s, nothing crazy.” She’d convinced herself it was okay to bend the truth. It wasn’t a total lie, they were playing, just with many other artists, and she was always safe with Michael. The lead guitarist in the band, and in her life, she thought they were forever, and wanted to have the night of her life with him.
“Shelly, get your arse out here man.” Michael popped his head into the ladies, and the ladies were shocked. He laughed at their reaction. Shelly rolled her eyes, picked up her bag and took his hand.
As they pushed their way to the front, Shelly could see the stage so clearly, the lights, the mic, it took everything in her not to jump up and give the people what they came for, the show of their life. She imagined what it would feel like, the heat of the spotlight on her face, the feeling of the microphone in her hand. She looked around at all the faces surrounding her and imagined all their eyes on her. The fantasy was short lived when she felt the presence take the stage; there he was, from the U.S to the North East of England, she couldn’t believe her eyes, and went to pinch herself. But then it began, the rough rattle of his guitar as he plucked the first note to “Hey Joe”. He was real, and he was here.
we are an ocean, powerful
swirling roaring breaking
we weave colour around us
refusing to be bland and shining
we dance and love to the music
pulsing through us and changing
everything by meaning nothing
we tell ourselves
the future is bright, it gets better
not for Everyone
Veins dry, cracked, blistering,
Blood scorching their insides, flailing,
Unable to scream, only in sweat,
Pouring, dripping, weeping,
Down sunken cheeks, eyes not shut,
But closed to the world, seeing only the dreams.
Head pounding, blood battling a beaten foe,
Heart pumping, hands shaking, a ghost rattling,
Around and around inside a hamster-wheel,
No stopping, no thrill, on and on,
Sleep just laughs, hides in corners,
Whispers with the voices of people long gone.
Alone, but for one, day breaks, or night,
Up, away, throat gargling, limbs leaden,
Running, gliding, in out, in out,
Bank notes, bracelets, no names just house numbers,
Sweet stinging needle, nectar for the veins,
Craving, panting, needing their
Vanquisher, healer, enemy, lover.
Alone no more, in the arms of nothing,
Bound in the overcrowded prison of freedom,
Eyes open, close, flicker, gone.
Veins dry, cracked, blistering.
The First of Us
8am. The relentless trill of my orange alarm clock. The creak of my bedframe. I trip on the uneven floorboards and curse the pound a week I pay for rent. Today, I will wear the new miniskirt the landlady has made me on her powder-blue Singer.
Breakfast is jam on toast, an exchange of good mornings, the buzzing of the Roberts Radio.
Outside, the sky is heavy with the promise of a September shower. It won’t do to be late. I focus on the quickening clicking of my heels against the pavement, the way each step carries me forward. There is Pathfoot, Airthrey Loch, and Dumyat in the misty distance.
Chaffinches are calling, rain pitter-patters against the path, buildings are booming into life.
In the coffee lounge, Gladys pours me a glass of lemon barley and I tell her she’s fab. The air is busy with the buzz of blethering, eager introductions all around. Staff and students stand together sharing small talk, a university just starting out.
She was like a bearded rainbow,
The devil; electric blue.
A kaleidoscopic freak show
That danced along with you.
Her hair, white powder pretty,
Her eyes, houdini green,
Her lips, like black tar, melted
Into a psychedelic dream.
Striking a match and watching it light the cigarette. A cigarette that could be smoked in public. The flame burns and you feel the cigarette warm up as you inhale that first puff of freedom.
You shake the matchstick to put out the flame, drop it and watch your heavy boot crush it. You turn to look at the view behind you and the early September Scottish breeze makes you reach for another puff. To keep your insides warm.
The Wallace monument, the castle and the stretch of hills in your sight. You let out the smoke and watch it mix with the air, creating patterns.
She’s standing by the door. Wearing that green coat, with brown hair down her back. You don't see her face, but you know she’s smiling. She’s always smiling. She waves to a friend and your heart skips a beat. You tell yourself that she’s just another girl. One just like you.
You could be friends with her and talk about whatever you want. You could even be a bridesmaid at her wedding. When she married that boy. The one who made you angry. Jealous, even. You could walk up to her now and shake her hand, pull her into a kiss, smell her hair, run your fingers through it as your tongues danced.
You could tell her you loved her. You could tell her.
You take in that last puff. The one that burns your fingers just a bit, savouring that last moment. You drop it. Crush it. Walk towards her.
You walk ahead. She's standing there, smiling.
Powder Blue Singer Sewing Machine model 348
I have almost forgotten the old exhilaration,
taut threads thrumming through my levers –
The quickening bobbin offering up its thread
To meet the downward loop from needle plunge.
I barely remember my repertoire of stitches –
Blindstitch, arrowhead, scallop, crescent, domino….
A faded sample lies like a slack tongue
Across my gleaming metal throat plate.
You, who see me, behind this pane of glass,
Who hold your lives like slack yarn in your hands –
See my empty needle, the stillness of my levers
Left my life as a standing stone
To be the recipient of cobwebs thrown.
Behind the glass, a big harpoon
Threatens the young lovers on honeymoon.
Under their muzzles, their whispers bark,
That I’m no stone, but a glorious harp.
A Different Angle
I saw above, not talked of, a metal sculpture:
reflecting tiles, angled in strange ways, to say what?
Abstracting the context of the time? I look
for sincerity, once draughtsmanship (or penmanship)
are clear. And here it seems to mirror that year,
by which I mean it renders the reverse.
The angles trick me if I let them, which I do,
standing in once one place, knowing that just to step
forward or back would reveal the truth. This
is explained, aside. Mary Martin started the work
in 1967, but died. She never saw the end;
the parties where the dream was shattered, and all
those ways of looking were lost.
Strawberry Fields Forever
“Let me take you down…”
Children laugh and play, zigzagging across a canvas of daylight and palm trees.
“Nothing is real…”
Bare feet on hot soil. Soles a rusted brown.
“Living is easy with eyes closed…”
Boats trawl the waters of the Mekong River. Fish pulled in. Mouths agape. You’ll eat well tonight.
“Misunderstanding all you see…”
Sweat on backs of necks. Farmers returning from a day’s work at the poppy fields.
“It’s getting hard to be someone…”
Camouflage helmets rise up from poppy stems, and sink back down.
“It doesn’t matter much to me…”
Medical tents hold strong in the hot summer breeze.
“Strawberry Fields forever…”
Soldiers congregate on the streets. Rifles over their shoulders, while children play football around UXO’s.
“No one I think is in my tree…”
Napalm sticks to the soles of their feet.
“It must be high or low…”
Wives peer out from shuttered windows. No husbands return.
“You know, tune in…”
Sons and daughters wait by the road. No fathers return.
“I think, it’s not too bad…”
It’s 1967, and the war is heating up.
“Strawberry Fields forever.”
Doogie hudnae expected to inherit guilt. Rummagin through a cardboard box that contained his father’s vinyl collection, he’d come across The Doors’ The Doors and minded somethin awful.
What Doogie minded was comin hame late one night. And he’d been warned. His father hud telt him twice afore tae. But he’d still come hame late again. When he walked in through the back door his father was sittin in the kitchen, a roll-up between his lips. The auld man never said a word. Just kept smokin. Doogie nipped upstairs, thinkin everythin was fine. But in his room, he found all the electricals hud nae plugs on their cables. And his father’s voice echoed up the staircase: “That’ll learn ye.”
“I’ll learn you,” thought Doogie. And with nothin tae dae but think, draw or write, he created revenge. The limitations imposed on him lit his crude wee artsy fire. An intertextual piece tae. The Doors became a relic ripe for re-inscription. But it wasnae art. It wasnae even original. He’d just lifted the words right fae the song, verbatim like. Words nae father would want tae hear.
Holdin the vinyl by the rim, Doogie could see the circle of letters carved into the second side around the final track: ‘The End’. His wish of patricide was noo a prophetic epitaph. Hud the auld man ever seen the inscription? No likely. But if he hud, maybe he would’ve just laughed; it would’ve minded him of his younger rebellious self. Doogie wanted tae believe that, to repress the guilt instead of feelin like that auld King fae Thebes. But he couldnae. And he couldnae make out the inscription anymore either. Blinded with tears, he rubbed his eyes till they were raw, till he could properly see again. Purging himself felt good.
The red case has been in the attic for twenty years or more, ever since Bill gave up his records for CDs. What a mistake that had been. He remembers watching Kieran Prendiville scratch a disc with a stone on Tomorrow’s World. Indestructible was the word used. The shiny silver disc looked like it belonged to a future of hover boards and robots.
But the promise of clearer and crisper sound didn’t satisfy. And, oh, how he missed the gravelly tones of his vinyl. Still, you need to keep up with the times.
Bill places the case on the kitchen table. It opens with a satisfying click and his eyes roam over the memories within. The records are sorted alphabetically by artist, and his arthritic fingers reach for the last one. The Velvet Underground.
His name is printed in black biro in the top right hand corner of the cover; the only way of making sure to get it back at the end of a party. He bought the album on a wet Saturday afternoon from Woolworths and carried it home in a white and red poly bag on the bus. Shut away in his room, he listened to the tracks over and over again until he was word perfect.
Bill slides the black vinyl from its sleeve and holds it between the flat palms of both hands. Andrew bought him the turntable for Christmas. ‘Everyone’s got one, Granddad,’ he said. ‘And Mum says you might still have some of your old vinyls.’
Flipping it over to side one, Bill places the LP on the turntable and selects a speed. The record spins and he watches the needle settle on the edge. The speakers hiss and click, and Lou Reed’s smooth voice transports him back to 1967.