My feet are wet, almost as if I am barefooted walking in the Mersey in front of me. How did the Mersey end up in front of me? How did I end up here? There is menthol smoke blowing across my face and I become aware of a presence next to me. I slowly turn my head panicking at what I might find. As I turn, my eyes begin to make out a short man with a Beatles mop hair. He is wearing a black suit and overcoat with black, polished, pointy shoes. He blows more smoke in my direction and offers me a cigarette.
I don’t even get a chance to decline, when he says: “You look like you need a drink. Follow me.”
At that, he turns round and walks away towards some waste ground. He looks almost black-and-white, like a crumpled photograph and, even though I haven’t a clue where he is leading, I follow. I’m thinking what else can I do? I know now that I am in Liverpool, I haven’t got a clue how I got to Liverpool after the service station, I have no idea how long I have been in Liverpool and I am freezing. I look down and check my feet as I cross the muddy grass. I have my Timberland boots on and they are bone dry but my feet still feel wet.
We are heading towards a red-brick Victorian building with green facades. The weather-damaged sign swinging above has a picture of Queen Victoria and tells us in gold lettering that the pub is called The Ocean Reign.
The small man pushes open the dark-brown panelled door, turns right and takes a seat next to three similar-looking men round a circular table. The pub feels and smells of the 1970s. The orange-and-brown décor, formica tables, plastic seats. There is a long bar in front of me. All around the pub are pictures of Liverpool sides celebrating victories, and groups of fans holding up Union Jacks on various roadsides around Europe.
“The bar is there, son,” says the suited man.
The barman turns round. It’s Emlyn Hughes. He is wearing a red-and-blue checked jumper and the massive collar of a white shirt is poking out. Up next to the optics is a picture of him and Princess Anne on A Question of Sport. His smile is as wide as the Mersey I was staring at only five minutes ago.
“Pint of lager, son?”
He pours a pint that looks like a urine sample and places it on the bar.
“Are you looking for answers?”
I haven’t got a clue what I’m looking for so I just nod my head.
“The man you’re looking for is over there,” he says cocking his head to the right.
I slowly turn round, I still haven’t got a clue what is going on. I rub my face to make sure I can feel flesh and bone and I haven’t died. The smoke is hanging in the pub like an awkward conversation and I can just make out a slim, dark figure sitting at the end of the bar. I move over to him and, as I get closer, I can see that the smoke is billowing from him as he takes frequent short, sharp drags on a cigarette. He slips out of the smoke to introduce himself. He is all cheekbones, tall hair, and postbox red red lips.
Ian McCulloch is sitting in front of me with his hand outstretched. Ian McCulloch is sitting in front of me with his hand outstretched. Emlyn Hughes has just served me a pint of lager. A guy that looks like a Beatle found me staring into the Mersey. What is going on here?
“You looking for the answers, la?”
“I don’t know… well, yeah.”
“The Killing Moon has all the answers, la. The answers to your present, to your past and more importantly your future. That’s why you’re here. To give yourself to fate.”
“This is not making sense.”
“It’s not meant to, soft lad. The Killing Moon is why you are here and why you are going on a journey with me after you buy me an ale and a chaser.”
I buy him the drink, and he pulls over a barstool for me and tells me to sit down.Listen to COSMIC ROUGH RIDERS’ JAMES CLIFFORD with A Celtic State of Mind here:
“Celtic, came to me in 1967 and stayed with me ever since. Felt like they belonged in my life. Part of me, part of my family, part of my heritage. Same for you?”
I look at him for what feels like an age wondering if it would be wise to start a conversation with what is surely something that I am imagining. I decide to take a drink of my pint. It tastes like what I imagine warm sewage tastes like. If this is a dream, why can’t I make my lager taste better, I wonder? I start telling him my story. Families come across the water in the Great Famine, settle in Scotland and Celtic is passed down from generation to generation. He asks about my first game and I tell him that it was against Clydebank at Celtic Park. That feeling of the terracing beneath my feet has never left me and the perfection and symmetry of green-and-white hoops consume my life.
“You’re already under the spell of The Killing Moon. You’re already in its arms.”
I look at him blankly.
The bar clears of smoke and those in the bar freeze and blur like they are going out of focus as Ian, crystal clear begins to sing: “Under a blue moon I saw you, so soon you’ll take me, up in your arms, too late to beg you or cancel it, though I know it must be the killing time, unwillingly mine.”
As soon as he finishes singing, the bar unfreezes and comes back into focus and they carry on as if the voice of an angel hadn’t just dissolved them.
“You are already in the arms of a true love and you can’t cancel it but we can shape it. Come with me,” he says.
I notice that he seems to be hovering and not sitting on the barstool and when he goes to move there is not a lifting movement but just a move sidewards and a straightening of his legs. He puts on a long, leather raincoat and we leave the pub. I turn around as we get to the door and the suited man and Emlyn Hughes disappear behind us. When the door closes, the building evaporates and leaves just a rubbled waste ground behind.
I’m sure I’m in a dream but not like any dream I’ve ever had. I can feel the cold on my face. I can feel the back of Ian’s raincoat flap into my shins as I try to keep up with him and the pace he is setting. I still feel like I am walking barefoot. I’m feeling every crack, puddle, stone and texture that I walk across.
It’s hard to place what era we’re in. I have now accepted that I am in some sort of mad dream and that I am going to just have to ride it out. But I need some context. We are being passed by peeling old double-deckers, Vauxhall Vivas and old Ford Escorts. There seem to be loads of half-demolished buildings and we pass quite a few barrel-shaped women wearing headscarves and weighed down with shopping bags.
As we turn onto Matthew Street my thinking that this is some other time (and not 1994) is challenged. The street is full of Celtic fans showing typical boozy boisterous behaviour on a long away trip. Bottles of Buckfast are discarded everywhere; casualties sleep on the pavements and in doorways. Ian’s coat flaps like a cape and the crowds part like old-fashioned haircuts as he floats through. He is floating, I’m sure of it. As the bodies clear, I can see a grey painted building with young, spikey-haired, leather-jacket wearing punks in front of it. It is Eric’s and again, I seem to have slipped back into a timewarp as we get near and enter.
We are making our way through the crowd towards the bar. I look down to the stage and The Teardrop Explodes are playing Reward. Except it isn’t on the usual Eric’s stage; this seems to be the Top Of The Pops studio. The band are all in sheepskin, leather and headbands and the audience dancing behind them wear dayglo eighties and look out-of-place compared to the crowd of goths, punks and scallies we were walking through.
A small lad with black-box cords, Adidas kicks, a diamond peach Pringle jumper and a side wedge so heavy that his head should have been tilted constantly to the left, tries to front us up but Ian swishes a dismissive hand like a fish swimming in the sea in front of his face and he lets us past. I’m mumbling to myself “This can’t get any stranger” when it did. On a leather couch next to the bar Jim Kerr and Charlie Nicholas are sitting.
We join them. Jim Kerr is a Glasgow punk. He has Lou Reed wrap-around sunglasses, a bomber, leather jacket and a black pinstripe tie tied over an off-white tee-shirt. The coolest I’ve ever seen Jim Kerr. Charlie is 1982 Charlie. Perfectly cut hair, diamond earring sparkling off the lights, a leather suit jacket, a pure white tee-shirt, leather trousers and white Nike trainers and looking every inch the worldwide superstar-in-waiting that he was at that time. They continue a conversation obviously for our benefit.
“This could have all been yours, Charlie. Liverpool. The world.” says Jim.
“I didn’t want to leave Celtic; I was forced to. But I was blinded by bright lights and bad advice. Wrong club and wrong city. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.”
“What about you, Ian?,” asked Jim “You never became U2.”
“You’re saying that as if it’s a bad thing, Jim.”
All three of them begin to laugh. Ian gets some drinks and we sit for what seems like hours talking and smoking. When we leave and I find myself back on a deserted Matthew Street the conversations drain from my mind like water down a drain making my head feel like it’s swirling anti-clockwise towards the gutter as Ian says: “The Killing Moon predicts Charlie’s seduction and missed opportunity. All the answers are in The Killing Moon.”
And then he sings, “In starlit nights I saw you, so cruelly you kissed me, your lips a magic world, your sky all hung with jewels, the killing moon, will come too soon.”
There is that voice of a dawn chorus again. My head stops spinning and Ian is off, floating out of Matthew Street. I have to run to catch up with him. I turn a corner and a black cab is sitting in front of me with the door open. Ian is already in the back.
“The House of Shankly,” he tells the taxi driver and we are off.
Kevin GrahamWatch A Celtic State of Mind at the Stevie Chalmers Auction here: