It’s almost two years since Dundee street poet and playwright Gary Robertson brought his humorous tales about bin men to the stage.
Now, due to popular demand, the Fintry boy’s production of The Scaffies is making a return to Dundee Rep.
The Scaffies is set in 1978 and follows a group of Dundee cleansing workers against a backdrop of a Britain experiencing social and political turmoil with a strong threat of nationwide strikes.
Theirs is a sometimes thankless job of hard graft, sweat, grime and filth which they combat with serious bouts of heavy drinking and merciless exchanges of banter, mickey-taking and black humour.
It’s a project close to the heart of 49-year-old Gary, a former NCR worker, who has been working on the bins himself for around six years, and is proud to promote “working class humour at its raw best”.
“Working with the guys on the bins has definitely inspired me,” explains Gary after another shift working on a paper recycling collection lorry around Dundee.
“Hearing the stories and that from the old days was mental.
“The story is set in 1978 and whilst the names have been changed, just about everything in the play actually happened. The drink culture was crazy. They were different times. Some of the stories I’ve heard are hilarious!”
Gary says the “icing on the cake” of the 2015 production was the laughter from the audience and some of the older bin men who watched saying he had portrayed the 1970s culture “spot on”.
But because so many people didn’t see it first time round, he decided to put it on again.
This time, Gary is playing the lead role of Tam – the charge hand in the bin crew.
“Because the character is based on two of the characters I work with,” he explains, “I ken how I wanted them played – and the original guy I had couldn’t make it for health reasons. So I thought ‘I’ll have a go at it myself’.
“When I made that decision I thought ‘what the hell have I done?’,” he laughs. “It’s enjoyable though.”
Gary’s first play “The Berries”, met with critical acclaim when the first of three runs was performed in 2009 as it captured the essence of Dundee humour and language.
The diehard Dundee United fan and singer with cult Dundee band The Cundeez has also delved into the city’s more troubled side with a book exploring the complex gang culture that developed in the city in the 1960’s.
But growing up in the Dundee housing schemes at a time when gang culture had returned, former Fintry Primary and Linlathan High School pupil Gary, who came to prominence after winning the BBC reality TV show SAS: Are You Tough Enough? in 2001, did not follow a clear cut route into the arts.
He got into punk rock at 11 and used to “pogo” down at the community centre with his vinyl records.
But having left school at 16 without even passing English, he adds: “If you’d said to anyone from the housing schemes ‘I’m going to be a writer’, you’d have got a good kicking!”
Gary feels Dundee has had a “raw deal” over the years– and he loves promoting the city’s working class culture “from the streets”.
He’s got a “headful of ideas” – and tries to balance this with the love of his day job.
One idea for the future is ‘Skeem Life the Musical ‘- a Sunshine on Leith type production with some of the Cundeez music weaved through it.
“That idea is definitely there,” he laughs. “It’s time to sit down and get focused. I would just say watch this space for more nonsense coming!”
*The Scaffies, Dundee Rep, January 25 to February 2.