I was one of the very first 164 undergraduates in 1967 (Student 47), although my first contact with the University was earlier that year when there was little to see, other than an unspoilt view across the loch. At that time, the University was being run by Tom Cottrell and Matilda Mitchell from Garden Cottages, at the back of Airthrey beside Logie Kirk. The University opened in September with Pathfoot only half completed; such was the pace of development.
Starting a university from scratch meant that there were many tasks and too few people, so we all had to muck in with students co-opted to various committees to help them run. We were told at the time we had all been selected for some background of endeavour within society prior to University so that we could all assist with the construction of the new campus, which certainly seemed to be the case at the time.
When doors opened in September 1967, there were more lectures, professors and administrators than students, with only around 150 students actually registering on the first day. The background of both staff and students at that time was interesting - the expansion of the new universities had allowed many academics who had only found university employment abroad to return to the UK for employment of the first time in a UK university. Many had been educated in the UK system of the '40s and the '50s and their ideas were not only from abroad but also from their earlier experiences in more traditional settings. Students were untouched by these experiences having mainly come directly from school, with exceptions like myself who had been elsewhere before pursuing a university education.
It was educational working with the people who now have buildings named after them, such as Cottrell, (Principal) Donnelly (Secretary) Beaumont (Accountant), Davidson (local politician) and so on. A staff student club also helped integration with willingness on both sides to create something genuinely new in a new university without relying on traditions imported from other academic institutions. We all wanted to put Stirling on the map and that meant inviting people to visit, including Jean Monnet, Lord Snow, George Brown, Jo Grimond and Tam Dalyell on the political front.
We soon also realised that by utilising university facilities, we could lay on sufficient facilities for up to 1,000 people attending a single concert. This kind of firepower at even £1.00 per ticket allowed us to consider booking bands that would otherwise not consider the student circuit. Our first booking was Elton John. As a teenager, I was friendly with his drummer, Nigel Olson, who lived near me and I took an interest in his career. When I saw he was playing with Elton John, I wondered what the music was like and was impressed when I heard the first album. We were also fortunate in that we booked him prior to any publicity or chart recognition for his first hit single ‘Your Song’. In fact our booking preceded a quite famous headline in the Melody Maker which was ‘Dylan digs Elton’ after he appeared at a club in New York. We paid him and his band £350 for the concert and sold 1,100 tickets for what was at the time his only concert in Scotland.
The lack of a stage for him was realised at the point of booking, when his contract specified a full stage AND a grand piano. The piano was no hassle as we hired one from Glasgow but lacking the stage, we simply borrowed some new chemistry tables from the University plus a saluting podium from the Army and lashed them all together with ropes and covered the whole with tarpaulin. There were a few anxious moments when Elton did his Jerry Lee Lewis act jumping up and down at his grand piano. Fortunately, the stage held and J corridor canteen had a wildly successful night with the future mega-star.
Emboldened by this successful venture, we moved quickly back into the booking field to book YES, again a band not yet fully broken and available to us at about £450. This was the complete line up of the original YES who had just recorded their seminal third album and had returned from America where they had been touring with Iron Butterfly. After that, with some funds in the bank, we then hired Pink Floyd on May 3rd 1971 who performed ‘Atom Heart Mother’ (AHM) in its entirety. We paid them £1,000 pounds exactly for their performance with two £500 pound notes which they said they were using as pocket money for a golfing holiday in Scotland. The line up was David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason; they were mixed by a Scottish artist Ron Geesin, who had produced AHM, and he also did a short set on the night.
The same time as running the large-scale musical concerts, we also supported a small number of concerts involving timeless artists such as John Martyn, the Humblebums (Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly), and following the break of the Humblebums, Billy Connolly on his own. He was a regular visitor to the campus. I remember paying him £30 for one appearance and can testify to the fact that he was an unhappy adult by his reactions. Other bands that we hired included Hawkwind, at the time of their hit single ‘Silver Machine'.
We also booked Junior's Eyes, who were one of the more well-known unknowns of the late-'60s British psychedelic scene. Most people who have seen any reference to them at all are apt to know them only as an act that served as David Bowie's backup group briefly in the late '60s. Mick Wayne, Junior's Eyes' lead guitarist and songwriter, played guitar on Bowie's Space Oddity and some of his other recordings. He also played acoustic guitar on the earliest albums recorded by James Taylor, on the Apple label owned by the Beatles. At the time of their gig, they were in disagreement with their agents and insisted on being paid on the night, when we were contracted to pay directly to the agent. In the end we gave them a cheque to shut them up but stopped the cheque the very next day. We also booked the Roy Young Band. Young, along with Tony Sheridan and Ringo Starr formed The Beat Brothers at the Top Ten Club Hamburg to become the house band. We also booked Leo Kottke, an American guitarist who developed a large following of fellow guitarists and fans from his recording and performing.
Our biggest coup would have been The Rolling Stones who we could have had for £3,000. The idea was to have an outdoor concert on the Airthrey estate and we would deal with security issues when they arose. We were that close to getting them too but they pulled at the last moment due to another booking on the same day so we lost the chance. At that time we were probably doing them a favour because they were on a downward dip and not selling.
Leaving music - the University had other famous visitors. Susannah York and Robert Shaw filmed part of James Kennoway's 'Country Dance' at Airthrey and I remember Michael Caine came on campus but refused to stay in a student flat while filming 'Kidnapped' in the Ochils (not up to his standard). Roman Polanski came looking for 'faces' when he was filming 'Macbeth' and part of 'A Very British Coup' was filmed just outside the MacRobert, where Tim 'Spamalot' Currie did Midsummer Night's Dream. The football pitch was opened in 1968 with a game against Celtic reserves, featuring a young Kenny Dalglish.
My own memories are about being SUSA President in 1969 and starting Brig at about the same time. I was delighted to see that Brig is still going under a title dreamt up by student Jim Monan all those years ago (Brig for the old Stirling Bridge but also a bridge between students, staff and the community). Motherwell Steel already had a publication called ‘Bridge’ so we were delighted to revert to the more appropriate Brig, a free newspaper decades before Metro was thought of.