By chance I had some time to spare in Dundee last weekend. It was an odd conglomeration of circumstances which involved waiting for my son to arrive by train and realising I had two hours alone to follow my nose around some old haunts. I was surprised to realise I hadn’t walked certain streets properly since leaving the city 37 years ago.
I found myself on The Perth Road. I’d walked this particular street in many different stages of life. In my early years with my grandparents. We’d walk along the parallel Hawkhill where they lived near The Sinderins to stand gazing for hours at trains being shunted in and out of the depot beside Magdalene Green. Stopping by walls where iron railings had been cut down, my grandmother would tell me about their requisition during the first World War. ‘Why wouldn’t they have simply used the railings to make spears?’ I’d ask her.
In later years I’d come from the east side of the city to spend valuable hours searching for bargains in Groucho’s on The Perth Road. The possibility that we could own records at a fraction of their usual price because they were preowned changed everything I listened to and in turn, my life. Eventually I lived not far from the house my grandparents had occupied and I’d walk each morning to my work along The Perth Road – a stretch of Dundee described by a friend with his tongue firmly in his cheek as ‘the Latin Quarter.’ But there was a certain logic. The University and Art school provided the city with a bohemian edge not visible in the less fashionable districts. In the late sixties it was in this part of town where the hair grew longer and the jeans more flared. Like the party Randy Newman‘s Mama told him not to attend it was here strange smelling cigarettes ‘scared me half to death.’ Here I first bumped into Dundee’s greatest ever songwriter, Michael Marra and just around the corner came face to face with Billy McKenzie in his pre Associate youth.
The two spare hours passed easily but it churned up within me such a strong sense of nostalgia I wanted to stop innocent passers by and explain what had been lost. Like Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey I felt as if I needed to explain to anyone who would listen that these streets weren’t always like this…it used to be so different. Then I realised what generations before had experienced and keep experiencing. Change is hard and you can’t go home again. It’s at this point we resort to memory and warm nostalgia. We seem to be able to block out the negative and a warm glow of the past takes over. I’m grateful for that as the real truth of what life once felt like might well be much less attractive.
So it is with records too. Going back to music we enjoyed in our youth allows us to experience something more than a memory. The music takes you to the place where you heard it first and how you felt. The joy, the disappointment, alienation, love, loneliness…all of that is brought back within a few bars. On Tuesday night we’ll hopefully create some of these moments for you as we bring you some musical nostalgia and also something to chime in the future. Listen out for George Strait, Solomon Burke and John Prine and have your ears opened to the new sounds of Jessica Pratt, Kaia Kater and Olivia Lane. We’re live on BBC Radio Scotland from five past nine. Join me if you can.