The Kilmarnock Music Scene

Then and Now

By Robert Neil

Long before we all had PCs and mobile phones, how did the youth fill their time? Well, if I had a Tardis I
would take you back to Kilmarnock in the mid 1980s.

I, myself, grew up in Galston which was a bit rural. A good few occasions when I opened the curtains at the back of the living room, there would be a cow staring at me. When I was brave enough to venture out of the sticks, a whole new world of vibrant and colourful characters opened up to me.

Thanks to the Punk and New Wave explosion and the Monday to Thursday night ritual of listening to John Peel, the youth had found a voice.

I met up with Kilmarnock local legend and musician, Davy Orr, who along with Davie Kirk and filmmaker Barry Lewis, has made an excellent, informative and heart-warming documentary which you can find on YouTube called ‘A Walk Through The Kilmarnock Music Scene’. I asked him to tell me how he got into music.

“It was through my friend, John Bayne, whose brother, Spike, started up Sirocco Studios along with others, and I used to watch Spike’s band rehearse. From then I said I want to be in a band. That would be around 1978 when I was getting into The Sex Pistols and The Clash.”

Davy recalls how seasoned local rockers, The Penetrations, mentored his band, The Legion, that soon morphed into one of the best known Kilmarnock bands, Southern Approach.

“At that time there was a plethora of bands, Longhorns, Blind Jeffersons, In The Plughole, Midnight Buskers, The Badger Brothers, Disaster For Penguins. And younger bands like The Termites, Flowers To Burn and Blood Red Roses. There was also many wide and varied types of music, often on the same night.”

Talk about being spoiled for choice!

For a brief moment I am transported back to Kilmarnock in the 1980s and recall the feeling of the great community spirit, where the bands and the audience looked after each other. Davy brings me back to the present when he tells me how much he enjoyed the atmosphere too.

“Yes, the amount of gigs I played or attended, there was scarcely any trouble.”
Davy has particularly fond memories of The Gateway Cafe which was under the multi-story car park, near where the iconic Parkers nightclub was.

“It was great, you paid 50p, got your roll and burger, however, there was no alcohol. Everything was there for the bands: amps, cables, microphones and PA. It was a great space that held a couple of hundred people and sometimes you would fill it, sometimes there would be fifty or so. Most Sunday nights there were around one hundred and fifty people there. As well as local bands, there were some names the people may know that played at The Hunting Lodge, a local pub with a great function suite upstairs and another good venue, Vicky’s nightclub. Some of the bands, especially at Vicky’s, which Jim Monaghan and Mark Gilroy put on, were phenomenal.”

Jim Monaghan was at one time manager of the successful Ayrshire band, The Trashcan Sinatras, who owned Shabby Road Studios (formally Sirocco Studios).

Davy’s face lights up when I ask if he saw The Proclaimers at Vicky’s back in the 1980s.

“That was just crazy there that night. It was sold out plus more. It was absolutely packed and everything and everyone was dripping with sweat.”

I mention to Davy that there were some big names of the alternative indie music scene that also played Vicky’s.

“That’s right, Primal Scream, BMX Bandits and The Shamen. My own band Southern Approach supported Flesh for Lulu there.”

We have a chat about some of the bigger acts that played the Grand Hall in Kilmarnock such as The Cult, The Alarm, The Housemartins and The Pogues and Davy fondly talks of the time he was at the bar in a local pub before a gig. He begins to laugh as he recalls the time he met a certain frontman from a well-known band.

“I remember seeing Shane McGowan at the bar in the Kay Park Tavern and wondering if he could actually manage to do the gig.”

I get the feeling there seems to be a full resurgence of live music at the moment and I ask Davy if he is still involved as much in the local music scene. He is quite animated at this point which leads me to believe I am going to hear some exciting news.

“At the present time, David Kirk (aka Kirky), Big Scott Walley, Steven White and his wife Suzanne and myself have formed The Westway Music Collective which is linked to the Facebook page, The Westway Kilmarnock Music Scene. This is to help young bands starting out to get gigs. We are also hopeful of getting a festival together in Kilmarnock to showcase new acts alongside some more established ones.”
I ask him if there are any bands locally that have caught his ear recently.

“Yes, local bands San Jose, Grange Street and Stepping On Violets all seem to be gathering interest. San Jose in particular. There is also a new Kilmarnock record label started by John Grant and Ewin Murray (ex Termites members). 13 Deluxe has been set up and they specialise in Punk, Indie, Goth, New Wave… anything decent, loud and fresh to the ears.”

After thanking Davy and feeling that the future of music is looking quite healthy, I get to reminisce a bit about my own musical journey and come to the conclusion that like things often do, they have come full circle. Many of the movers and shakers from the mid 1980s are involved in helping out the fresh new talent.

I recall many years ago whilst walking through Howard Park

I was approached by a young couple who told me they were from Japan. They asked me if I knew where Shabby Road was as they were big fans of Ayrshire-based band, The Trashcan Sinatras. I told them I knew Jim Monaghan, their first manager and how his brother Kirk worked there as well. I walked with them to show them exactly where it was and to my delight, they handed me a camera and asked me to take photos of them on the fire escape staircase. This was where the group photograph of the band was taken for the ‘I’ve Seen Everything’ album. It made me feel proud that all the way on the other side of the world, music which was recorded in Kilmarnock had such an impact on this young couple.

To this day I can’t look at the Abbey Road zebra crossing without thinking of the Shabby Road staircase. As things stand just now it looks like the Kilmarnock music scene is in safe hands. Who knows what local landmarks may become iconic in the future?

In the meantime, check out A Walk Through The Kilmarnock Music Scene on YouTube, The Westway Kilmarnock Music Scene on Facebook, and visit 13