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On gigging: with the wuzzy-fuzzies at Dunoon, and doing the slosh

As a singer-guitarist of no little repute (well, no repute at all, to be perfectly honest) I played a gig at the annual Swifts Creek race meeting the other week.

It went all right (thanks for asking) though it didn't get off to the best start, due to me setting up in a spot adjacent to the mounting yard.

At the opening twang of my first song, one of the runners got spooked, unceremoniously unsaddling the jockey, breenging up the straight the wrong way round, and thereby totally destroying its chances in the first race. It was a well fancied favourite, too.

Not exactly the ideal way to endear yourself to the punters, really. The jockey wasn't exactly chuffed either. I could clearly hear his well-enunciated assessment of my talents as he was conveyed into the on-track ambulance.

I won the audience over by the end though. Excess alcohol will do that a non-discerning crowd who only really want to have a good time.

I must be one of the few musicians who actually started playing music as a way of making money. Not for me - or us, as I was in lots of bands - the grind of playing in pubs for a fiver shared between four.

I completely eschewed doing it tough in a vain attempt to hit the big time by deliberately targeting gigs which paid well but offered not even a smidgeon of artistic credibility.

Working men's clubs, Masonic dos, bowling clubs, Orange halls, the Knights of St Columba, downmarket weddings where the fighting started before the buffet had been scoffed, we'd play anywhere if the money was right.

The Slosh, the Alley-cat, Ten Guitars, Y Viva Espana, no song or tune was bad enough for us to side-step, a policy which didn't in any way compromise our attractiveness to groupies, just as long as your tastes ran to pissed-up matrons in crimplene and blue eye shadow with a vocabulary range that'd mortify a merchant seaman.

I must have played hundreds of gigs over the years though, strangely enough, it's really only the truly horrific ones I can remember.

I think the high point - well, low point I suppose - was the night me and the boys played the American Polaris Navy base in Dunoon: submariners who had only arrived the day before after a mind-boggling six-month tour of sub-aquatic duty.

The enlisted men's club it was - 2000 half crazed, demob happy Yankee sailors, all blokes and about three local women, each of whom must have felt like Miss World contestants, such was the relentless attention they attracted.

Incidentally, these girls were known as the 'wuzzy-fuzzies' due to their being the polar opposite of the similarly named denizens of the Mahdist War in the Sudan, as recalled by Corporal Jones in Dad's Army.

The fuzzy-wuzzies, you'll remember, according to Jonesy, 'didn't like it up 'em'. The wuzzy-fuzzies, on the other hand, they (you've guessed it)....

Well, we got booed off. And I don't mean the odd catcall and derisive comment. To a man - and woman, all three of them - the ear-splitting cry went up: 'You suck, you suck, you suckā€¦'

Eventually the military police had to appear to provide us with an escort out of the base and back into the relative safety of a Dunoon Friday night. It didn't help that we were booked to play there again on the Saturday.

They do say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and that may well be true. It doesn't however make you any better.

Playing low rent musical venues in Australia isn't all that different from Scotland, to be honest. The pattern is pretty much always the same. Initially, audience reaction is pretty muted. Well, completely muted actually. If there's any applause or encouragement it invariably comes from a girlfriend or mate and then eventually, even they feel too self-conscious and shut up.

A couple of hours in though and it's a different story - everybody's well on the way to getting pissed by now, a condition which utterly changes their ability to critically assess what they're hearing. Plus, now they feel like dancing and all you need to dance is some sort of beat and a vaguely recognisable tune, the cheesier the better.

This is where we came into our own back in Scotland - as did the sloshers, most of which were women, with the odd (usually very odd) unco-ordinated masculine booze hound thrown in for good measure.

In case you don't remember the slosh, it was a sort of pre-line dance craze whereby the participants stood in designated rows and performed a number of pre-determined moves which weren't unlike the sort of thing Jack Douglas as Alf Hippytitimus executed as his shtick.

You clapped your hands, touched your elbow, then your heel, did a kind of spasm, jumped to your left and then did the whole thing again.

As a sexy, erogenous, terpsichorean pre-mating ritual, it wasn't exactly the Salsa.

But the punters loved it. And, so it seemed, they loved us for doing it.

Once the band responded positively to a request to 'Geeza slosh boys', you could do no wrong.

The crowd instantly warmed up, leading to one of them asking if it was all right for us to back them in doing 'a wee turn', which meant them singing a favourite song of their own choosing rather than having an embolic stroke. After that, it was a piece of cake.

These days, I don't play any slosh numbers - more's the pity - you could make them last for a good 20 minutes - because for some strange reason the craze has never hit Australia.

There's still time though.

And when it does, I'll be ready.

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