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‘Gary Glitter hated me’: Dundee musician Mick’s ‘rebel’ nature shines through in new ‘oary’ dialect novel

Mick McCluskey opens up on growing up in St Mary's, defending the Dundee dialect from cruel teachers, and the time he stole Gary Glitter's spotlight.

Mick McCluskey next to his name on the Dundee Walk of Fame behind the Overgate. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.
Mick McCluskey next to his name on the Dundee Walk of Fame behind the Overgate. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

One thing about Mick McCluskey is he won’t be told ‘no’.

The Dundee author and musician, whose long career in the music industry saw him working closely with the likes of Michael Marra and Simple Minds legend Ged Grimes, has been a rebel since childhood.

Now he’s released his debut novel aged 66, and he’s staying true to form.

“There’s a real rebel in me,” laughs Mick, who grew up in the St Mary’s area of Dundee in the 1960s and previously released popular non-fiction book Dundonian For Beginners.

“When you’re born and raised in the schemes, you learn that fear is nothing, it’s just something you give to yourself.

“I never had anybody to fight my battles for me so I had to learn to toughen myself up mentally.”

‘Cruel’ teacher hit Mick for speaking broad Dundonian

One of Mick’s lifelong rebellions began at age 10, when he was “hit right across the back of the head” by a teacher for speaking “oary Dundonian”, i.e. in Dundee dialect.

“I just saw this big flash,” he recalls. “When a teacher hits you just because you’ve said a Dundonian word, that’s a cruel world.

“But when you’re born in these areas, it doesn’t matter that it’s just a few houses, two pubs and a school. It’s like: that’s my land, my area. And people from outside are coming in and trying to force me to change things? No.

“I think half of my non-conformist natures stems from that teacher lifting his hand to me.”

Mick McCluskey at his writing desk. Image: Alan Wilson/DC Thomson.

It was this incident which inspired fellow Dundee poet Gary Robertson’s viral spoken word poem, Mick McCluskey’s Oary Topia.

And for Mick, his “cruel” teacher only made him double down on Dundee dialect – not only speaking in it, but writing in it too.

Long letters to late Groucho’s owner Breeks kept Dundee dialect alive

After moving to London in the early 80s to pursue his music career alongside the likes of Ged Grimes and Gary Clark, Mick discovered his “sense of humour was going” amid the Big Smoke.

“When you move, it’s difficult,” he admits. “I was a Dundonian, with Dundonian sensibilities and a Dundonian sense of humour. And moving to London, there was a whole upside down world to do with language – they’d say ‘bye’, where we’d say ‘cheerio’.”

To keep his Dundonian sense of humour alive, Mick began spending his Friday nights “buying a pile of postcards” and writing to his Dundee friends in “broad Dundonian”.

He’d also write “long letters” to close pal Alastair ‘Breeks’ Brodie, the late owner of iconic Dundee record shop Groucho’s.

Breeks Brodie, the late owner of former Dundee record shop Groucho’s. Image: DC Thomson.

“They were all encouraging me to keep doing it,” he recalls. “And that’s how I kept my Dundonian alive.”

In the early 1990s, Mick moved back up the road to Glen Ogilvie, where he still lives.

“To me, it’s like coming home,” he says. “I was born on the other side of the hill outside my living room window.”

It was then that he released the now well-known Dundonian For Beginners.

Now, more than 30 years later, Mick is still keeping his Dundonian alive with his fiction debut, Jock Tamson’s Legacy.

New novel released on ‘lucky’ Leap Day

The book, which he describes as “a tragic comedy of errors” is a series of interlinked short stories, and flips between English and a broad Dundee dialect.

It was inspired, Mick reveals, by his grandfather’s comical readings of The Courier on Saturday mornings at Doc Stewart’s pub.

“The oldest person in the pub would always get the chair by the fire and the first read of the paper,” he recalls.

Mafia entertain the residents of Heron Rise in Dundee, 1999. Image: DC Thomson.

“My granddad would go to meet his cousins, and he’d read The Courier in such a way where he’d say: ‘I bet this person in this story knew that other person in that story’.

“He’d link the stories together, in that ‘we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ kind of way. So I had that in my mind when I was writing it.”

The novel was released this week on Leap Day – a ‘lucky’ day for Mick.

“Anomalies can be lucky if you let them,” he muses. “I would’ve loved to have been born on February 29. I admire people who have that birthday, there’s humour in it.”

He reveals that he bought his first every saxophone on Leap Day before being catapulted to musical success with Dundee band Mafia just six months later.

“How lucky can you get?” he laughs.

‘Michael Marra used to sleep in my room when I went on holiday’

Growing up in a bedroom “stuffed with mouth organs, penny whistles, accordions, guitars – and the piano when we ran out of space in the living room,” Mick admits it was “inevitable” he’d be a musician.

And he now has his own inscription on the Dundee Walk of Fame.

Mick McCluskey’s name on the Dundee Music Hall of Fame plaque.  Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

Five years his senior, Dundee music legend Michael Marra became Mick’s firm friend when they were young, and they went on to work together for decades.

“I’d always known Michael, since I was about nine,” Mick says fondly. “His cousins lived a few doors away – they were a house full of boys and I was the kid in a house full of girls, so I got to know them.

“When I would go on holiday, Michael would sleep in my bed and take full advantage of having the piano to himself. He was always in my life, right up until the end.”

Dundee musician Michael Marra. Image: DC Thomson.

And Mick’s rebellious nature wasn’t just confined to the page – he admits that it came out on stage throughout his music career.

‘I saw Gary Glitter for what he was’

On one memorable occasion, he recalls making an enemy out of now-disgraced singer Paul Gadd, AKA Gary Glitter.

“Gary Glitter hated me!” he chuckles. “I was playing in Aberdeen with Mafia one time in the early 1980s, and we were supporting Gary Glitter.

Gary Glitter recently lost a bid for parole. Image: PA.

“He started his show by going up on this riser, with the whole place being in darkness. He’d go up on stage with his back to the audience, and it would start with a tiny little spotlight on the back of his head. It would grow and grow to reveal Gary Glitter with his fists in the air.

“Well, on this particular night during our support set, I went up on his big riser and was playing my saxophone into the overhead microphones for the drums, and the crowd loved it.

“We went offstage and got changed, and we were waiting for Gary Glitter to come on. Half an hour later, still no Gary Glitter.

“He was sitting in his dressing room, in a huff! He went scatty because I’d done the riser thing. And he really was like a child. He said Mafia would never support him again.

Mick McCluskey playing baritone saxophone in Mafia, 1980. Image: Supplied.

“But what I knew, that he didn’t know, was that the next night, he was playing in the Mains Hall at Dundee University – and I was playing in the support band then too, which was St Andrew and the Woollen Mill!

“So I just did the exact same thing the next night, and he absolutely hated it, he really did. And I saw Gary Glitter for what he was.”

Expelled from Dundee College – but no worries for rebel Mick

After becoming ill with chronic pancreatitis around 20 years ago, Mick was forced to give up gigging – but his bold nature and motto of “aim as high as you can” meant he found passion in other places.

Not content with mastering Dundonian, he turned his attention to coding languages and has built several online resources for musicians over the years.

Also a keen photographer and videographer who learned to develop photos “in a cupboard under the stairs when I was a wee boy”, he spent some time lecturing in film and media at Dundee and Angus College – the same college he once was expelled from.

Mick McCluskey, second from left, with his ‘lucky’ saxophone in Polly and the Parrots. Image: Supplied.

But ultimately left after being faced with “30 students, two cameras and one working battery between them”.

“I honestly couldn’t stand it,” he admits. “Most of the people were in the job just because they wanted a steady wage and I never really cared about money.

“I find the more you think about money, the more you worry about it, and the less you think about money, the less you worry about it.

“So I don’t think about it at all.”

Spoken like a true rebel.

Jock Tamson’s Legacy by Mick McCluskey, RRP £9.99, is out now on Amazon