Books

This Is Memorial Device

As a music fan, I came of age in the 90s, growing up in Airdrie, a provincial, post-industrial, ex-mining town in the west of Scotland.

Grunge, Britpop, American indie rock, and most importantly, the Scottish indie scene had taken over my life.

Chemikal Underground was monumental for me – a direct catalyst for my starting too many fireworks – and was a label that brought The Delgados, Bis, Mogwai, Arab Strap, (and later) Aereogramme, and Sluts of Trust, among others, to my ears. Chemikal was based out of Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, as were The Delgados and Mogwai (though was someone not from Motherwell?). That was just a couple of towns over.

Then there was Bellshill. That sleepy wee Maternity Hospital town; its name printed on the birth certificates of most from the surrounding areas. Bellshill had spawned Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits, The Soup Dragons, and Joe McAlinden from Superstar (now of Linden) – there was something in the water, it seemed – or maybe it was just the Buckfast. Still, that really was just down the road.

This was all catnip to a young music-loving Airdrieonian obsessed with sugar-melodies, sunshine-harmonies, and pop songs about love, and heartbreak; none of the bands came from Airdrie, though. I mean, even Coatbridge had Hue and Cry!

The best Airdrie had, I discovered, was The Big Dish, featuring Steven Lindsay (whose mum and dad lived up the road from us on Staffa Drive), but back then, I didn’t appreciate that for what it was. I could only take heart from being a budding Lanarkshire musician, not one from Airdrie.

Years passed, and through Brendan O’Hare (ex-Teenage Fanclub / Mogwai), I discovered Telstar Ponies (a band I came to love), and knew that the main guy was a bloke named David Keenan. The ‘Voices From the New Music’ record on Fire was astonishing but later, the ‘Farewell Farewell’ single on Geographic was to become my favourite from the band.

Decades later, and for reasons I won’t dwell on here, I’m now a Scottish Varsovian, having moved to the banks of the Wisła from the banks of the Calder. When asked if I’m a Rangers or Celtic fan, I take pleasure in explaining just who Airdrieonians FC are, much to the bewlderment of the enquirer.

These days, my home town, despite being a run-down shadow of its former self – the town centre, a congregation of boarded-up windows, pound-shops, and charity stores – is even more important to me, from a distance. For years, when Poles might ask, I would answer, “I’m from Glasgow”. No-one had heard of a town midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. And worse still, they might confuse it with Ayr – perish the thought. These days, I’m guaranteed to answer, “I’m from Airdrie” – occasionally offering that the town was home to Emily Gerard, the writer who coined the term ‘Nosferatu’ to describe the undead. She married a Pole, don’t you know?

And so to David Keenan’s first novel, ‘This Is Memorial Device’. I bought it for the same reason I had bought Stuart David’s ‘Nalda Said’ – A fan of the music, a fan of the novel? And so it goes. (Morrissey, later, disabused me of that notion).

Revelation number 1 fell hard. David Keenan was a fellow Airdrieonian. How had that passed me by for so many years?

Revelation 2 was that ‘This Is Memorial Device’ was a fictional memoir of the post-punk scene in Airdrie in the early 80s. Wait, what?

And it is glorious. Occasionally gallows-dark, sometimes touching, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and often chimeric. It is written as a collection of essays by, and interviews with characters from the scene back in the day, reminiscing on the short 3 year period when the band, Memorial Device, were the best band in the world – or, at least, Lanarkshire.

To most it will be a hugely enjoyable, occasionally salacious read with weird fantastical outsiders, punks, porn actors, performance artists, and musicians. There are so many fictional bands, subcultures, shows, and intricately described scenes that rang true, even a decade later, in the 90s. For me it was undeniably, unquestionably nostalgic – and has been a joy to read.

I was 7 years old in 1986, but much of the Airdrie described in the book was my Airdrie. Petersburn, Katherine Park, Clarkston, Gartness, Benny’s chip shop, the barbers in Clarkston that could surely only be Peter’s. Airdrie Arts Centre. The Library. The Airdrie Savings Bank. The Staging Post – where I had my first, and last, lager – and where I spent some of the Millennium New Year’s celebrations.

Before I’d even taken the book to the Waterstones sales assistant, I excitedly flicked the book to the index. Was Staffa Drive mentioned? Was Caldervale School? Sadly, neither, though the one omission I felt was unforgivable – not even a cursory mention (given that it’s no longer there) – was Broomfield Park. Alas.

A final note, as I think of a way to finish these thoughts, is that having read the book and enjoyed it enough to give the publishers a quote for the cover; it has occurred to me that while I’m sure she’ll never visit, Kim Gordon, now – at least – knows of a place called Craigneuk. “I wanted to live in this book”, she says. I’m not sure she’d ever have wanted to live on Howletnest Road.

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