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Geesin still energised from Atom Heart Mother

Visitors to Stevenston may notice two blue plaques, bearing the names Alfred Nobel and Ron Geesin.

ROCKING: At 17, Ron Geesin joined a jazz band and vowed to get out of middle-class Lanarkshire pretty damn fast.
ROCKING: At 17, Ron Geesin joined a jazz band and vowed to get out of middle-class Lanarkshire pretty damn fast.

Stockholm-born Nobel is commemorated by North Ayrshire Heritage Trails thanks to his foundation of the British Dynamite Company at nearby Ardeer in 1870 and the massive effect the organisation, later becoming ICI, had on the area. Geesin, born down the road in Kilwinning, is a perennially innovative musician who spent his early years in Stevenston.

Both men are now known best for one thing, which is hardly representative of their lives. The annual Peace Prize was initiated on Nobel's death, the funding being willed by a man whose fortune was made in the armaments business. Geesin's name is most widely known amongst Pink Floyd fans. The collaborative suite he composed with the band provided one side - and the title - of their first number one album, 1970's Atom Heart Mother.

The strongest effect Nobel had on Geesin's life was that Ron's parents bought their house cheaply due to its proximity to the explosives factory. During the Second World War, if the factory was bombed, their home would have gone with it. Ron would later develop an incendiary reputation for his live shows, purely in performance, not pyrotechnics.

"The live performing thing definitely happened at school," says Geesin.

"I went to the very, very straight Hamilton Academy where they didn't want any kind of backchat, any kind of cheek. Six of the tawse... I used to get that a fair amount, but then that became a performance.

"It was a subconscious thing, a bit of needing to be noticed when I'd come out of a middle-class family with a father that says 'you'll never be any good at anything'. He used to introduce me with 'This is my scruffy son'. I joined a jazz band and got out of middle-class Lanarkshire pretty damn fast, when I was 17-and-a-half."

The Downtown Syncopators, with whom Ron stayed for over four years, were closely modelled on the authentic sounds of 1920s America, Jelly Roll Morton and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

During his time on the road, a live act began to develop, "to do for the public what it dare not do for itself". Geesin's performances became a volatile cocktail of blistering musicianship and performance art, which might include smashing the lightbulb above the stage to start his set or hauling the piano out from the wall and creating a show around the detritus of years found behind the instrument.

"Table tennis balls, old cartons, plastic gadgets, old spoons, you can do things with that - playing the environment, which is also a criticism about having posh instruments. I say you can do just as much and better with a £4 banjo out of a junk shop, if you have the right mind. All this is done without the aid of artificial stimulants, apart from the odd pint of beer, and if they put a pint of beer on top of a piano that I was playing, it usually fell off!"

Geesin appeared at London's celebrated Les Cousins folk venue, became a regular session guest on John Peel's Night Ride and Top Gear shows and caught the ear of one of rock's most flamboyant figures.

"Pete Townshend wanted me to do the half-hour opening show for The Who in a couple of venues, one was Reading University and I went down rather well. I got an encore! As an opener, that was a bit exceptional. I went backstage, quite proud of myself, and I got this lecture from Roger Daltrey about how not to go down so well, because he had more difficulty then, going out on stage. That gave me a very great insight into some of the motivations that lie behind so-called stars".

Through initial friendships with Pink Floyd members, Geesin was invited to collaborate on a lengthy piece, with the working title The Amazing Pudding. Geesin's rich orchestrations delivered the Atom Heart Mother suite which has subsequently cast a disproportionate shadow over the rest of his work.

His personal experience of this work is now documented in his 2013 book The Flaming Cow. The studio session for Atom Heart Mother wasn't a pleasant day for Geesin, as hard-boiled session brass players spotted his inexperience as a conductor and moved in for a face-off.

However recent years have brought a pleasant coda to the story. Students in France have been given Atom Heart Mother as part of their Baccalauréate studies and this has led to live performances from some of France's finest musicians, and rapturous receptions from audiences born long after the album was released.

To list the range of Geesin's output is beyond the scope of this feature. His commercial compositions began with a 1965 Trebor Glitter Mints TV ad and would later expand to TV and film scores, notably John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday and the documentary soundtrack collaboration with Roger Waters, The Body. Then there's Murray and Barbara Grigor's Scotch Myths, an alternative Hogmanay show first broadcast when Channel 4 had just opened. In addition to composing music for this extravaganza, Ron appeared as Bonnie Prince Charlie-cum-Liberace playing piano in the mouth of Fingal's Cave amidst rising waves.

"I had been doing a lot of swimming at that time, so was happy to get washed over, but they had a frogman installed in the sea for safety. The main problem for me was keeping up with the drinking of Alex Norton, Robbie Coltrane and John Bett."

The constant in Ron's life throughout over half a century is his wife, the artist Frances Geesin. Glasgow 1990 brought one of their collaborations to the MacLellan Galleries in the form of the Tune Tube.

This large-scale installation piece generated a unique sound/light experience as each person passed through it. At the time, I was so fond of the Tune Tube that I could happily have taken up residence within!

Ron's record output began with 1967's A Raise of Eyebrows.

A new album looks likely to follow his present preoccupations: a project involving recordings of blackbirds and another book, The Afflicted Adjuster, the definitive history of the spanner.

"I got more interested in the strange mechanisms and thinking why did industrial man, from about 1800 through to about 1950, develop so many outrageous methods of turning the humble nut?" The Geesin home's Spannerarium chronicles this story with specimens arrayed like an entomological collection. Like Ron himself, it is unique.

"I'm still trying to work out all the bits that I am. Maybe it's just as well because that's what gives me the drive to continue."

Pulse presents Ron Geesin at Glasgow City Halls tomorrow.

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