Book review: TOM RUSSELL – The Godfather of Rock by Martin Kielty

Published by Beard Books

Tom Russell will be a familiar name to many, he has been a leading figure in the Scottish rock scene for many years and has broadcast on radio across the UK on occasion. It is in Glasgow and across the central belt of Scotland in particular though that Tom is, and has been, the leading light in the rock scene for the past 40 plus years.

As a young teen in the early 80’s my Friday night routine was listening to Tommy Vance on Radio 1 from 10pm until midnight. The dial was then quickly reset to Radio Clyde for the Tom Russell Rockshow between midnight and 2am. Tom’s show was the one I never missed as it was one of the few ways of getting to hear about local upcoming gigs, hearing new local bands and, on occasion, live recordings of gigs you had attended. This book collects together Tom’s memories and stories from throughout his life and whilst it may not bother the Booker Prize list, it is a great collection of tales.

The book is written in a loose chronological fashion and flits from one story to another covering all aspects of Tom’s varied career, from being a metal worker to interviewing metal bands. At one point a young Tom was working in the Newcastle area and one night, when walking back to his digs, he passed a pub with a band hammering away inside.

The bouncer said it was just a practise and it was free to enter so he ventured in. Onstage was a three piece playing some cracking blues rock fronted by a left handed guitarist by the name of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi hadn’t been in the country long and it was an early rehearsal with the ‘Experience’, not bad for a free gig!

Tom’s musical experience led him to open a chain of record stores around the Glasgow area which brought him many record label contacts and led to him becoming a well known face and name in rock circles. It wasn’t just rock artists who came to his shops though, his story of the Nolan Sister’s toilet incident is well worth a read…

It is the tales of his time with Radio Clyde in the 80’s which really struck a chord with me. Many of the tales I either remember from the radio broadcasts or was witness to them at gigs and festivals around Glasgow.

One in particular involved Ritchie Blackmore backstage at the Edinburgh Playhouse. It was on the Deep Purple ‘Slaves and Masters’ tour and Purple had played a good set but didn’t play any encores much to the crowd’s dismay. I was standing backstage after the show waiting to get into the aftershow meet and greet, that night hosted by a slightly tipsy Roger Glover, when the ‘Man In Black’ appeared with his manager discussing how to exit the Playhouse without meeting any fans!

Tom, who was there with a competition winner, took the opportunity to lay into Ritchie about the lack of encores. Ritchie protested that they had played the full set just without the usual breaks but Tom was having none of it. The look on Mr Blackmore’s face at being challenged was priceless and still amuses me to this day!

Another tale involved a one-off festival in East Kilbride which featured Nazareth, Pallas and Frankie Millar amongst others. It is still one of the best festivals I have attended purely down to it being bloody good fun from start to finish. The bands were great and Tom, as compere, came up with between band entertainment including wet t-shirt and wet Y-front competitions, very non PC but what a day.

During the 80’s Tom interviewed hundreds of bands and was lucky enough to be whisked around the world by record companies to help promote up and coming bands like Guns N’ Roses, wonder whatever happened to them?

After his Clyde stint finished Tom went through a tough time job wise, being self employed in rock media does not bring untold riches, so when he got the call to ask if he fancied a slot on the newly formed Rock Radio in Glasgow, he jumped at the chance.

The station went from strength to strength and was a must listen for all discerning rock fans in Central Scotland. Eventually though the corporate machine that ran the show decided that Rock music was not saleable to advertisers and as such the station folded. Again Tom found himself in the wilderness and contemplating retirement.

The book ends with Tom and a new team awaiting word on whether they would be granted a radio licence to bring Rock Radio back to the airwaves. Thankfully, with a lot of public backing, the licence was granted and Tom should be back on the airwaves in 2017 and not a moment too soon.

This book is a great read, tales from a man who has lived and breathed rock for the past 40 plus years. He may not be as well known outside of the Glasgow area but his stories will bring back memories to anyone who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s with a love of rock.

This book could have had a few different titles including ‘The Beard Of Doom’ or ‘Baldy’ (sorry Tom!) but they plumped for ‘The Godfather Of Rock’ and for me that perfectly sums up the man who has provided the soundtrack to my life for more years than I care to remember. Here’s to the next chapter…  *****

Review and photo by Dave Wilson

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