IT is the 4th of July and he is wearing a hat and sunglasses, even though it's 11.20pm in Glasgow and earlier it had been drizzling, the disaffected mizzle of a cloud barely going through the motions. But he's famous and in a band and American so keep your parochial judgements.

I am so nervous my heart has escaped my chest and is spinning widdershins around my body. This could go either way: I could say what I've come to say.

But I am on the balls of my feet, my calves tensed. My dress is ankle length but split to the thigh so I am unrestricted and ready to run. I list towards bolting but I am not alone and my friend won't leave without a selfie. 

Anyway, that's not where it starts. This is where it starts.


THE sun must have shone once in Airdrie but it's grey in my mind. In the Airdrie of my memory it has rained for 20 years and will rain there forever. 

Any criticism of Airdrie shouldn't be taken personally, it is simply the backdrop to my school years and I yearned for it to live up to the backdrops enjoyed by my contemporaries on American television shows, which is to lay a challenging gauntlet before a North Lanarkshire market town still finding its feet in a post-industrial age.

Imagine the ease of the writer setting the scene of their American youth. The land does the heavy lifting – hot winds, sands shifting, tall grasses, glowering oceans, impossible mountains and devouring canyons.

Their native grasses are giant sacaton while whorled rosinweed grows along the river cobble bars. Even in the suburbs they might describe a garden scene, but they call their perennials Candytuft while we see dandelions and re-style them pee-the-beds.

Even in the suburbs there were proms and yearbooks and marching bands and cheerleaders and Hershey chocolate bars and you could drive a Jeep at the age of 14. 

The one thing in my favour was an escape every day from my school in Airdrie to my home in Coatbridge, where we at least had the Time Capsule leisure centre. Then, in 1996, the Showcase Cinema opened in time to tantalise us for a year or two until we were old enough to be allowed to go on our own.

It was only a few years since my mum and I had emigrated from Sydney's northern beaches to Coatbridge, near the cemetery, and I had a lament that in a parallel universe I was suntanned and popular and surfed after school, rather than the reality, which was that I was studious, played clarinet and endured double horror defects: braces and glasses. 

But then, I was just nearly a teenager and so all of life was lament.

Against this unlikely scenery came what? Came Eels.

I will tell you one of the chief frustrations of the young Eels fan. You say to people, in response to a query about your favourite music, "the Eels" and the questioner invariably replies, "the Eagles?"

My friend, I am a 13-year-old girl. I have never heard of the Eagles. "Eels", you say again. You know, Novocaine for the Soul. It was a relief when the Shrek franchise began using Eels. "That song from Shrek" usually cleared the confusion, though it pained me. Being an Eels fan was the only thing that gave me an edge, and Shrek blunted it.

The other girls are duelling over Boyzone vs Take That. I am saving my pocket money for Beautiful Freak, which will eventually be purchased upstairs in John Menzies on Airdrie Main Street. I remember quite clearly the anxiety of browsing the shelves, certain this backwater store in this backwater town was not going to have Beautiful Freak by Eels on cassette or CD. And then what?

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For once, my lament was misplaced. There it was, white backdrop and freak-eyed nightmare child crouched on the front, and it would alter my life. I carried it home on the bus like a totem. It was raining.


FIRSTS are mythologised. You might remember your first kiss or be able to recall instantly the first time you spoke to the man you went on to fall in love with. 

You make note of the first and then you start counting, each anniversary becoming yet more weighted with the poignancy of shared experience and time.

It is 25 years since Eels began performing live and more than 25 years since I bought that album. I don't remember the first time I heard them, an appalling lapse. I cannot fathom how I, a girl whose first cassette had been Rita MacNeil's Flying on Your Own, on which Rita is accompanied, I think, by a colliery band, came to pine after Eels. What a pivot.

From the first bar of the opening static crackle of Novocaine for the Soul, I was hooked, I was obsessed.

Eels, at that time, was a trio. Lead singer Mark Oliver Everett, who went by Mr E, a drummer called Butch and bass guitarist Tommy. Over the years the configuration has changed and Eels now is Everett and an assortment of session musicians.

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I don't remember the first time I heard them but I do remember the first time I saw them live. July 21, 2000, in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. I mind Butch doing a lengthy skit about Scotland's paltry faucets – why no mixer taps Britain? – and being overwhelmed that these heroes were real and alive and within licking distance.

My friends and I hung around the stage door afterwards but I was too scared to say anything, I merely gazed like a lovestruck wee creep. They, could you believe it, spoke to me and, no, really, can you believe it, were nice. Personable.

Imagine, then, my uneasy excitement the next day when I looked up from the till in my coffee shop job to see Butch in the queue. He sat, we chatted. He was buying presents for his kids, two boys. "Look everyone," I wanted to shake the store for attention, "It's Butch from Eels, talking to me."

The sun shone, but this was Glasgow and I had broken free. By now I had a driver's licence and a boyfriend and coolly made coffee for American rock stars I was in platonic love with. 


MARK Oliver Everett's USP was as a tragic figure. At the age of 19 he found his father, the quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, dead of a heart attack. His mother died of cancer, his sister Elizabeth killed herself. Around the time Elizabeth died, his cousin was killed in the Twin Tower attacks.

A man without God or luck on his side, Everett's eyesight was damaged when a special effects laser struck him in the eye at a The Who gig.

Teenage me thought: here is a man who can understand my pain. The self-absorbed arrogance of youth is magnificent, isn't it? Luxurious, the exquisite feelings of teenagehood. To be fair to me, I really was in significant and constant pain.

It would later emerge that I had a staghorn kidney stone but for years my GP was convinced I was at it. Around the time the pain became so bad I'd started fainting from it, Electro-Shock Blues was released, a masterpiece dealing with the suicide of Everett's sister and his various other losses.

The song Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor, with brutal sparsity, details her emotional anguish and fatalistic lethargy. This was my jam as I lay on the floor, sometimes shrieking as the pain ripped at my back and side and groin. Elizabeth did not want to get up. I wanted to get up but couldn't and no one would believe me.

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Eventually a different GP sent me for an x-ray and from there I was referred for an operation. By then Daisies of the Galaxy was out and it was a gift from my best friend, instead of flowers, when I came home from hospital.

I was a wastrel by that point. "Oh Catriona," she said, as she handed over the CD, "Your face is all clapped in." I listened to Mr E's Beautiful Blues on a good day and on a bad It's A Motherf*cker lifted me on a comforting thermal current of sound.


My workaday teenaged angst was compounded by this: I can’t remember how old I was when my father died. I realise that sounds unlikely.

I was in the upper stages of secondary school; I know because I went to the funeral in my blazer and tie. My aunt picked me up and I remember on the motorway she explained the purpose of each of the car's pedals, so I can’t have been driving yet. Was I 16? Just 17? 15? Memory is as slippery a fish as eels are. But 15 can’t be right because my paternal grandmother died when I was 15, which was a surprise as it hadn’t ever occurred to me I had one. I didn't know anything other than my mother's family.

At one of my primary schools in Sydney I remember hanging upside down from the monkey bars, the metal hot on the backs of my knees and the sun hot on my shins, and watching my mother walk down the hill towards the playground to fetch me.

A girl I didn’t know told me I didn’t look anything like my mother and said I must then take after my dad. I didn’t have a dad, I told her. Everyone has a dad, she said. She was wrong. Not me. Then the first time he was mentioned was when he died.

I had been sent to school on the morning of the funeral. I was only allowed time off for important events. The funeral turned out to be a memorial service because the body – as in life, as in death – was elsewhere. It was excruciating for many reasons but not least because I had understood the man’s name to be John yet the minister spoke of some other stranger, “Iain”.

My aunt eventually leaned along the pew and whispered some explanation about Highlanders. 

That day I learned I had another aunt and uncle but, disappointingly, no surprise siblings, nor even any first cousins, but by the time we reached the purvey I was too hysterical with confusion to take anything else in, and besides, it was time to get back to school. 

I returned to Beautiful Freak for a while around then, on repeat, as I needed its familiar comfort. Electro-shock Blues was too neat an embodiment of grief, and I wasn't sure what I was grieving.

I know lots of fatherless children and we all have our stories. The fathers become ciphers in these tales, they become who we need them to be in order to explain away our foibles and bad habits.

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We have lost them to alcohol and suicide and illness and accident, sometimes just plain fecklessness or even disinterest. And we think it makes us interesting but in fact it doesn't, it makes us common.


IS there a link, though, to a lack of male role model and the fact that my longest, steadiest relationship is with Mr E? Mark Oliver Everett. The great unrequited love, the decades-long devotion. We are many more albums down now, many live appearances and several absolutely mental meetings.

I'm writing this in a hotel room in Seattle at close to 4am and the Space Needle is stiff in a greyish green light outside my window. It is March 18, which makes it exactly 10 years since I last reviewed Eels at the O2 Academy in Glasgow.

Obsessed with the romance of America, I always forget how visible its homelessness and mental health issues are. On the light rail from the airport to the city centre I was initially alone in the carriage with three troubled looking chaps, one slumped over his knees under a blanket and two wearing monochrome plaid slippers.

At Westlake station downtown a guy with no shirt on was talking furiously to himself. He was topless, other than a sleeve of tattoos, and carrying a cordless drill, which he sat down on a ledge to free his hands for punching people at random as they walked by. There was little power behind the slugs so folk seemed to be taking the blows in even humoured relief as long as the drill remained at ease.

I always feel invisible when I travel alone so I stopped to take his photograph which, in hindsight, was perhaps a bit of a gamble.

Eels were touring a 10th studio album, Wonderful, Glorious, in March 2013. It was snowing, according to my review. I also reviewed them on September 5 that year, a double dip.

In 2011 they played at T in the Park at Balado. The following year my band will play at T in the Park and we will have the same stage manager as Beyonce. I suffer quite terribly from nerves, which manifest in extreme talkativeness which, if I'm very nervous, develop into a mild catatonia. I was so nervous before our T performance that I stood backstage frozen as though I'd been winked at by a Gorgon, and soundlessly weeping.

The stage manager later told my bandmate I'd been more trouble than Beyonce, which is a compliment I keep in my breast pocket as a comfort.

But in 2011 I was working at the festival for The Herald, the Sunday Herald and the Evening Times doing news, features, reviews and live online content as the only staffer up there. My choir was performing so I had a staff wristband and a performer wristband, a tantalising access to all areas.

By accident - and it really, really was the most happy mistake - I found myself backstage at Eels. That year Everett was performing with brass musicians, dressed identically and with beards. I was floating. I was exhausted and exhilarated but really mostly exhausted and unbelieving of my luck.

After the show I saw Everett standing by his tour bus and went to say hello, not expecting him to recognise or remember me. I had dyed my hair red and was a different person to the last time I'd seen them. "It's you," Everett said, throwing me. He called me by a nickname, and said I was part of Eels tour legend. He insisted I come and meet the other band members so they could put a face to a name.

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With hindsight, neither the nickname nor, I'm sure, the Eels interpretation of the story behind it, were kind. But in the moment I was exhilarated. I was part of Eels tour legend?

I met the other band members and then Everett and I stood chatting by his tour bus as the headliner finished on the Main Stage. I told him I was a journalist and I was on day three of an outrageous amount of coverage and running out of things to say. As is T in the Park tradition, the music ended and a fireworks display dazzled the navy Balado sky.

I'd just been saying that I'd performed for the first time with my choir and, gesturing to the fireworks, I said, "Well, it gives me something to write about."

I've said this before, but the maxim should be "never let your heroes meet you". It is far, far worse to meet someone you admire and have them think you're a clown than to be disappointed by someone you admire. The worst is for both these to occur at once.

Everett misunderstood what I'd said and chided me, harshly. He thought I meant I was going to write about The Nickname Incident. He stepped up and back into the tour bus and shut the door in my face. And I was distraught. It teased and taunted and rammed through my heart.


I CAN'T tell you how I got the nickname but it happened second time I saw Eels, this time at the Barrowlands.

My cousin and my friend and I went to the gig and, afterwards, met the band again. I went on the tour bus and I went back to the band's hotel. It was a new line up, new people to meet.

It felt, again, like a dream. And wholesome. Eels were not that sort of band and I was not that sort of fan - it was love of a platonic, grateful kind. It would simply never have occurred to me anything other. They were all family guys, decent. For both work and leisure I have met the other sorts of bands and, let me tell you, the difference is distinct.

If I was ever prey it was for an animal with no appetite.

Years later, at the Eels gig in 2018, at the 02 Academy, Everett mentioned that his in-laws were in the audience. He had, it turned out, married and had a child with a woman from Glasgow.

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But wait. My womb had been here all that time. It was beyond my comprehension that a famous American rock star might fill it. Might take any sort of credible interest in anyone from Glasgow. That was an option?

I have a famous pop star and a famous film star in my neighbourhood and I'm not keen on it. Famous people belong over there, not anywhere near here. I don't like seeing the pop star put his bins out or the actor queueing for coffee. It's not where they belong, being human, doing human things.

The Barrowlands, the tour bus, my teenage nonsense. I wouldn't divulge any further - and yet Everett had thought I might and was unhappy. This bothered me dreadfully, this misunderstanding.

It was worse than a pet peeve, it was a pet dismay. A pet wrong that had to be set right somehow, or every Eels album was ruined to me.


AND so. It's the 4th of July, 2018, and Mark Oliver Everett is wearing a hat and sunglasses, even though it's 11.20pm outside the O2 Academy. My heart's spinning has returned it to atoms. It has been replaced by some mechanised pump timed too fast. My stomach has dropped to my pelvis and a score of iced fingernails are plucking at my scalp.

I use my phone to take a photograph of Everett with my friend but my hands are shaking. This is my chance. T in the Park was seven years before. A normal person would let it go but the record shows I am not a normal person. It bothers me; I want to set it right. I use this moment of capture, in front of the camera, to say hey, this might sound weird but listen, that time at T in the Park, you totally picked me up wrong. I elaborate but keep it brief, light. My friend is clearly dying on my behalf. I have regrets, such strong regrets. I should have gone with bolting.

Everett looks at me. Jesus, he looks right at me. He looks and he says, "I don't remember".


I THINK it must be one of the worst things about being famous - that you meet people and instantly forget yet they protect and cherish their memory of you.

The pop star in my neighbourhood, I've actually interviewed him before. On one weird occasion I was eating an ice cream in a nightclub and he appeared, bizarrely, and licked it. These stick in the mind but I met him recently on the street and didn't mention either. What would you say? "Oh hey, you actually had an unsolicited lick of my cone a few years ago. That's not a euphemism." And watch him bolt.

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I love Eels and they do not have to love me back. Eels opened my musical tastes and gave me my love of music. I've written about music, I've travelled overseas to see many bands, I've had a rare string of adventures sprung from John Menzies in Airdrie Main Street. It's a wonder to be energised and thrilled by something for so long, to grow with a thing as it grows. To learn what will soothe and what will energise. To have made friendships. To be part of a collective, even if the collective hardly knows you're there.

Due to the pandemic, the last Eels tour was postponed. They have a new album out, Extreme Witchcraft, a name paying homage, of a sort, to another of my favourites, Beyonce, and they are touring their Lockdown Hurricane tour. Tomorrow they play Barrowlands and I have my two-year-old tickets out from under glass, ready for use.

In the audience I will be a teenager and a young woman and grown and then a teenager again. But all now, finally, at a safe distance.