Billy is about to step back in time

Billy Sloan is ready to relive the Scottish music scene of the 1980s.
Billy Sloan is ready to relive the Scottish music scene of the 1980s.

Scotland’s top music journalist Billy Sloan takes a trip down memory lane at Low Waters Museum in Hamilton this month.

To coincide with the current exhibition, What Presence! Rock Photography, by Harry Papadopoulos, on Wednesday, July 22, at 7.30pm Billy will talk about the 1980s music scene in Scotland.

He said: “I got a sneak peak of Harry’s exhibition and some of the photographs brought back so many memories that I started recalling lots of stories from that era which I am eager to share.”

Billy is now an institution when it comes to the Scottish music scene, but it wasn’t always that way.

He said: “I was working at a local newspaper in the north of Glasgow when I hit upon the idea of writing a music column.

“When I was a labourer on a building site I spent all my money on buying albums and going to gigs, so the opportunity to have record companies send me records was like a dream.”

It was while working the graveyard shift at Radio Clyde that Billy really started to find that he could influence the music scene.

He said: “Once a week I went into the studio in Clydebank and played records from midnight-2am.

“The good thing about being on at that time was I could basically just play what I liked, my theory being if I liked something then other people would too.

“At that time other than the John Peel there wasn’t really anyone who was playing music that wasn’t in the charts, but there I was playing Simple Minds, Siouxie and the Banshees, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and U2 long before they became famous.

“Back then there wasn’t the same instant feedback, but I started to get letters from people asking about a particular song or artist I had played so I knew people were out there listening.

“I had guys like Malcolm McLaren, Edwyn Collins and Jim Kerr on as there was nowhere else for them to promote themselves.

“Even today some people are grateful for the help I apparently gave their career, I met James Grant of Love and Money not too long ago and he gave me a big kiss.”

While not every band Billy introduced to the airwaves would become superstars, one who did sticks in the memory.

He said: “I remember one time at a gig an English guy came up to me and handed me a tape and told me his name was Lloyd Cole.

“At the time the band weren’t called Lloyd Cole and the Commotions , they were known as The Negatives.

“Technically we weren’t supposed to play cassettes on the air, as the sound quality wasn’t considered good enough, but I didn’t care and I told everyone they were going to be massive.

“On the strength of that they got signed up by Polydor and recorded their debut Rattlesnakes.

“I think the next time I saw Lloyd he was on Top of the Pops which was very gratifying.”

Billy still attends three gigs a week, 52 weeks a year, but for him the early 80s was a special time.

He said: “I am still a fan of music, and particularly a fan of live music, and there are some really great bands out there today.

“However, for me the early 80s was the greatest era for Scottish music, it was such an exciting time and the number of bands who made it big was staggering.”

While an admitted fan of the Rolling Stones, his favourite bands are a little more surprising.

Billy said: “It’s a tough question, but if I had to pick one ... okay two ... then it would be The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Simple Minds.

“To call your band “Sensational” takes a a lot of nerve, but I don’t think anyone would argue that they were just that.

“I was at Simple Minds’s first gig at the Apollo in Glasgow, I remember this nervous lad, who I would later learn was Jim Kerr, coming on stage with his nostrils flared.

“I’d never heard of them before that, but I thought they were really good and I still do.”

As well as telling stories Billy is also hoping to answer any questions the audience have about the various stars he has met over the years.

Tickets costing £7.50 (including refreshments) are available in person from Low Parks Museum or by calling 01698 452382.

Entry to What Presence - The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos is free and it runs until Sunday, September 20.