The Scottish Borders town of Galashiels, which is 18 miles and 45 minutes by bus along the road from my own town of Peebles, has been in the news recently. The regional council has announced it will inscribe the lyrics of a popular 1980s song in the paving stones at Galashiels’ Market Square. The lyrics make mention of some ‘cherry blossoms’ and these, supposedly, were inspired by the cherry trees that used to grow in that particular square, before the trees became diseased and had to be cut down.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Galashiels. Among the towns of the Borders, it was never pretty enough to become a big tourist attraction (unlike, say, neighbouring Melrose), but it always seemed to me a solid, business-like town during the day and, afterwards, a fun place for a night out.
I hazily remember being there on the evening of December 31st, 1990. After joining the throng that’d gathered at the town centre to hear the bells and drink to the beginning of 1991 — something that never happened in Peebles, where communal New Year festivities were non-existent — I found myself wandering into a variety of houses and wandering through a variety of raucous Hogmanay parties that were seemingly open to all-comers.
The final party I ended up at was hosted by an eccentric group of guys who would later launch a music magazine, edited in Galashiels but distributed nationally, called Sun Zoom Spark. (I have fond memories of Sun Zoom Spark because I contributed a couple of music articles to it – those were the days when I saw no reason why I shouldn’t become the Borders’ answer to Lester Bangs or Nick Kent. My stuff was fairly overheated but the editors kindly published it.) Later, the same crew, still based in Galashiels, decided to stop writing about music and start making it, and formed a marvellously off-the-wall indie band called Dawn of the Replicants, who were championed by Britain’s most influential disc jockey, the late John Peel.
Unfortunately, recent years haven’t been kind to the town. A lot of what gave Galashiels its individuality has disappeared. The approach to the town centre from Peebles used to take you past several mills, but these have been torn down and replaced by ugly retailing blocks, so that now you run the gauntlet between the likes of B and Q, Curry’s, Comet and McDonald’s. In the centre itself, the main shopping artery, Channel Street, has become a typical clone-town eyesore consisting of the usual suspects – Carphone Warehouse, Dorothy Perkins, Ladbroke’s, Boots, W.H. Smith, etc. Meanwhile, the ultimate act of vandalism against Galashiels was commited in 2006 by Tesco, who demolished the historic textile college building in Green Street and stuck up one of their unlovely supermarkets in its place.
Yes, I know, the public gets what the public wants. And if the public wants to shop till the public drops, every day, in two dozen soulless, identikit chain stores, supermarkets and fast-food outlets, so be it. But the presence of so many retailing big shots has brutalised the look of the town, as well as making it well-nigh impossible for a local entrepreneur to open a private shop and compete.
With so much damage done in the past decade, I should welcome the decision to enshrine those song lyrics in Market Square. This at least shows a little creativity by the town planners. However, the lyrics in question come from a certain song that reached number two in the British charts in the summer of 1985. Yes, it’s bloody Kayleigh. By bloody Marillion.
Marillion were – are – a band of English musicians, though back then they were fronted by a Scottish singer, the giant-sized Derek Dick, who was more commonly known as ‘Fish’. They specialised in progressive rock and turned out grandiose concept albums with titles like Script for a Jester’s Tear. Although by the 1980s, progressive rock was a genre that was generally considered as fashionable and socially acceptable as crucifying thieves and burning witches, Marillion did manage to win a loyal following. Actually, it was commonly and cruelly believed that Marillion fans were to a man (‘man’ being the operative word) engineering students who had beards and didn’t have any friends, though I can testify from my 1980s experiences that this stereotype wasn’t accurate. I knew an accountancy student at that time who had a Script for a Jester’s Tear poster on his bedroom wall, and he didn’t have a beard. Though as far I could tell, he didn’t have any friends, so that part of it might be true.
By 1985, however, Marillion had obviously had enough of being considered a ‘niche’ band and they unleashed the unrepentantly mainstream and sentimental Kayleigh on the nation’s airwaves. The song consisted of Fish apologising to an ex-girlfriend about messing up their relationship, whilst also reminiscing in maudlin drunkard-crying-into-his-beer fashion about past good times where they’d danced in the snow and watched cherry blossoms in a certain market square. Yes, Fish got that bit from the cherry trees in the middle of Galashiels.
But to be fair, Kayleigh was by no means the worst thing in the British charts that year. 1985, after all, was when this was released: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp4CR2HcHLQ. The horror! The horror!
I should mention that when I lived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne several years ago, I noticed how most of the girls in their late teens working at the supermarket checkouts there seemed to have ‘Kayleigh’ on their name-tags. So I guess that was the song of choice for Geordie couples to make out to in the mid-1980s.
Marillion are still on the go, though they have long since parted company with Fish. I read somewhere that these days they hire out Butlin’s holiday camps for whole weekends and give weekend-long concerts in them. The Marillion fans book into the chalets, so that for two or three days and nights at a time they do nothing but eat, drink, sleep and watch their favourite band perform. Now I don’t want to sound nasty. All credit to the band for showing such consideration for their followers. And I admire any music fan who doggedly sticks by a favourite band for decades, long after their popularity and street credibility — if they ever had such things in the first place — have waned. (I’ve stuck by a couple of bands like that myself, for instance, Hawkwind and the Groundhogs.) But spending a weekend in Butlin’s with Marillion and a crowd of middle-aged, bearded and possibly-still friendless engineers (with the odd middle-aged accountant thrown into the mix) seems uncannily like how I imagine hell to be.
Anyway, the news that Fish’s romantic doggerel is going to be immortalised at Market Square in Galashiels will no doubt be welcomed by any middle-aged engineers living in the town, and possibly too by a couple of checkout girls called Kayleigh working in the Tesco on Green Street. However, I’m disappointed that the planners didn’t use some song-lyrics with a stronger local connection. Why couldn’t they, for example, have chosen a song by Dawn of the Replicants, whom I mentioned earlier in this entry? Unlike Marillion, they’ve actually lived in Galashiels.
Yes, in my opinion, a few lines from a Dawn of the Replicants masterpiece, like, say, Hogwash Farm (“I did use to be a priest… but all my good deeds are done…”) would be much more appropriate to engrave into some Galashiels paving stones. What do you think? Here’s Kayleigh by Marillion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dphpDdfZUGw. And here’s Hogwash Farm by Dawn of the Replicants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hVXjG4eJ9g.
Hold on. Admit it. You all prefer Kayleigh. Don’t you?