Tom Russell is a legend in the World of rock music, during his 40-year career as a rock DJ he has met more amazing musicians than most people even knew existed. So when my girlfriend Jo (who is definitely more rock n' roll than me) heard that Tom was coming to A.K. Bell library to give a talk to promote his book The Godfather of Rock, she immediately messaged me to see if I would go with her. She listens to his show on Rock Radio and has even seen him in the crowd at Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy gigs, where she said he was a lovely guy and always made time for people who approached him looking for a bit of a chat about music.
This welcoming side of Tom is very evident as he takes the stage clutching a bottle of Ossian ale from tonight's sponsor Inveralmond brewery and sits down moving the microphone stand out of the way. "We won't be needing that" he declares. He starts off explaining the title of the book The Godfather of Rock and how it came about. "It's a pretentious title that I'm not entirely comfortable with". He explains how the book was very nearly called Beard of Doom a tongue in cheek moniker he was given by a fellow DJ.
As well as his work in radio Tom has also pursued a second career as both a comedic (type Tom Russell Magazine Still Game into YouTube to see just how funny he is!) and serious actor. It was whilst shooting golfing biopic Tommy's Honour that he met a publisher that convinced him that he should write a book. He was advised that he should start his book at the very beginning with his childhood. "There was a little bit of debate as I thought people would only be interested in the partying and the music stuff".
Even Tom's stories of childhood are intricately linked to music. He tells a story of how his father came home from work with a set of tickets for a band and tries to convince his wife to go with him. "I've got Ironing to do. Why don't you take Tom?" That was the first gig that he ever attended and although he couldn't hear a single note that was played over the screaming, underwear throwing crowd, he knew straight away that music was what he wanted to do. The band was The Beatles, not bad as far as first gigs go!
As Tom continues to talk without notes (his book lays unopened on the table beside him) his passion and humour become more and more beguiling. He tells us about his stint in the Para's and followed by a short spell as a rhythm guitarist in a Newcastle rock band called Strange Brew, after which he returned to his hometown of Glasgow and opened up a series of record shops. It was in the early 1980's just after he opened his second shop in Shettleston that the store was visited by family pop act The Nolan Sisters to do a record signing. "It was all going great until one of the sisters asked to use the toilet. I showed her to the loo and waited outside to escort her back. I'd forgotten that the toilet, being in an old tenement had a tendency to blowback, soaking the unsuspecting occupant of the cubicle... and that is just what happened."
However, it is after Tom starts talking about his time at Clyde Radio that the stories start to really get interesting. It's clear that he has a huge amount of affection for Ozzy Osbourne, who he says is the funniest man he has ever met and who had an unnatural tolerance for alcohol. Tom goes on to tell how when he met Ozzy and his future wife Sharon at a restaurant in Glasgow he was amazed when Ozzy polished off a bottle of 5-star brandy like it was mere wine.
Another favourite of Tom's was Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant (who played at Perth Concert Hall just this week) who he says loved Scotland. During the height of Zeppelins fame when Plant couldn't walk down the street without getting mobbed he would take a few days off and drive with his wife to the Highlands of Scotland where they would have a bar lunch and check into a rural Bed & Breakfast without being bothered.
Russell even took Plant to a ZZ Top show at the Glasgow Apollo where the crowd tore off the roof calling for an encore. However, as all this was going on it became clear that a roadie was hanging on to the rigging above the stage with just one hand. Suddenly the atmosphere changed and the crowd went silent as he fell and hit the stage. Russell was devasted thinking he had just witnessed someone's death. Then Billy Gibbons and Rusty Hill of ZZ Top rushed back on the stage with a comedy stretcher and bundle what turned out to be a realistic looking dummy unto it before performing their encore.
Towards the end of the evening, Tom asked for questions from the audience and knowing that Jo was a little bit disappointed in the lack of Iron Maiden talk so far so I pipe up "You got any good Iron Maiden stories". He smiles before treating us to two great maiden stories, the second of which is the highlight of the evening. It involves the band and their manager celebrating the completion of their album at Wentworth with a game of golf. Their manager Rod was taking every hole very seriously concentrating hard on his puts only to be distracted by Maiden drummer noisily breaking wind at the vital moment.
After the talk, I queue up to buy a signed copy of Tom's book for Jo (although I've already "borrowed" it) and a quick chat and picture with Tom. It had been a really entertaining night and we were both looking forward to reading more of Tom's Rock n' Roll stories.
For more information about A.K. Bell Library including upcoming events click here
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