In memory of Demis Roussos who died today.RIP.
What follows is a true story by Northern upstart, anarchist, activist, journalist, and lawyer – John McGuffin (RIP)
I am a great fan of poor old mad Billy Blake. Indeed, today, as I was reading my Guardian newspaper, I chanced on an article about a visit to London of the immensely fat and untalented Demis Roussos and I was reminded of Blake’s maxim – ‘if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite’. ‘True, Billy,’ I mused, ‘too fucking true’. But what is truth quoth jesting Pilate. What is real and what is not real? But this is not the place for metaphysical meanderings. According to Demis the greasy Greek, he was once a preacher in ancient Egypt and a Jewish rabbi at the end of the last century. He is Greek Orthodox but loves reading the Koran. He also was, as he modestly admits, ‘a love God in the 1970s in Britain’. The unforgettable ‘Forever and Forever’ is ‘one of the top ten songs of all time’, he proudly proclaims. He denies that he wore oversized maternity dresses, masquerading as ‘kaftans’ because there was an Albanian dwarf secreted underneath licking his balls so he could hit the high notes which drove many a man to drink, my good self included.
In 1985, either as a publicity stunt because his career was floundering or because the Shiites are exceptionally stupid, Demis was allegedly kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists. He ‘sang’ his way to freedom by subjecting his captors to a few bars of one of his more popular tonsil-torturing oeuvres, causing them to flee in search of the nearest exorcist thus facilitating his escape from durance vile. And it must have been vile for his idiot guards. Demis denies that he ‘ever gave them the pleasure’ of his vocal range and, for all I know, he may be telling the truth. After a lifetime as a serious investigative journalist, I accept that ‘truth is a black cat in a darkened room and justice is a blind bat’, as the late lamented Bert Brecht so aptly put it. But I think the wanker warbled. But enough of this persiflage and enough of cheap shots at one of Europe’s greatest songbirds. What the article triggered off in my few remaining brain synapses was the recollection that although Demis may once have been an Egyptian priest and/or Jewish rabbi, he had never claimed to be a McGuffin and I had once been Demis Roussos.
The late John McGuffin
It all happened in Dublin way back in 1976. Now, I may have mentioned this before, but I do not like Dublin. I am a Blefuscu man, as Wolfie Tonie would have said, and I don’t know of any Belfast or Derry man who does like Dublin. To many of us black Northerners the ‘Celtic Tiger’ resembles nothing more than old Buck Alec’s mangy toothless lion with which he used to scare the weans on the Custom House steps. It’s not just because of W.T. Cosgrave and Mulcahy and Ernie Blythe and Kevin O’Higgins and them freestaters who sold us out in 1922. It’s not just because they don’t know how to make a decent glass of porter, even though the Guinness factory to this day pollutes the Liffey. It’s not just because of the tawdry, plastic, pseudo America ‘Kultur’ and omnipresent Turd Burger franchises. It’s not even, though God knows this would be reason enough, the chi-chi ’boutiques’ and ‘restaurants’ and ‘nite clubs’ that have spread like the bubonic plague through the pestilential place. It’s not just the trendy ‘arts’ community with the likes of Colm Toibin and Rose Mary Doorli et al., and their shameless denial of their history in the ruthless search for the almighty Euro/Yank gravy train.
It’s not just because of their sleazy politicians, their Jack Lynchs and Chuckie Haugheys and their Garrett FitzGeralds and their Smurfits and Reillys. It’s not just because of their shameless hacks like Kevin Myers and Eamonn Dunphy and Eoghan Harris and Ruth Dudley Edwards and the Forsterite revisionists. It’s not just because of the stale buns with begging bowls in the streets. It’s not just because of the heroin junkies vomiting on your feet as they wave Stanley knives in your face. It’s because the banana Republic with no bananas, in the aftermath of the senile Spanish/American mathematician who wanted the boys and girls to dance at the cross roads, was allowed to become infected with the feculent presence and all pervading influence of the anti-Christ himself, Gay Byrne. So I suppose this tale is about Gaybo, and Demis Roussos.
It was the usual damp dark night in Blefuscu when the phone call came to Cobweb Castle, my mean abode off the Malone Road. There were a group of us sitting in front of the fire and using an LP cover (Migod! Could it have been by Demis Roussos – nay, too much synchronicity, get back Jung man) to skin up a joint. The reason for our bonhomie was that I had just published a modest book entitled In Praise of Poitin and we were planning our appearance on Nationwide Television tomorrow afternoon, the 17th of March, the day of sanctified Patrick, where we were to be interviewed by none other than the blessed Valerie Singleton. Why, if one of us played his cards right he might even get onto Blue Peter and have some incontinent wombat piss all over us or learn how to make a totally useless artefact out of used condoms and a string. The ‘hook’ we had sold to the TV was that I, as the first author to a book exclusively on moonshine whiskey in Ireland, aka poitin, had been running all year the great All Ireland Poitin championship which would be decided on air direct from the BBC studios in Blefescu. My co-conspirators were to appear, suitably masked, and be introduced live on air the winner of the title ‘Best Poitin Maker of 1975’. I had procured eight bottles of the finest illegal uisge beatha and labelled them 1-8. My masked experts (masked because poitin is still illegal) would blind taste them (and after tasting them go blind) and pronounce the Island’s winner to a bemused British public. And then the phone rang. It was my publisher, whose name shall never be mentioned in polite company unless accompanied by large ingestions of mouthwash. (Oh all right, since this is the era of name and shame, it was John D. Murphy). He was phoning to tell me that RTE, Potato TV, had just called and wanted me on the Gaybo Late Late Show tomorrow evening to promote my book. Happy days. Fame at last.
The hospitality was splendid. The programme was pre-recorded in mid-afternoon and went without a hitch. Valerie Singleton, over the line from London, was her ineffable charming self. She giggled girlishly and asked us to assure the viewers that ‘we weren’t really drinking that illegal ‘cratur’’ as she called it. Tee hee! What a romp Val. Isn’t this a great St. Patrick’s Day show. Sure aren’t those natives quaint and loveable when they’re not blowing the fuck out of us. Uisge beatha was consumed in immoderate quantities and the masked experts and my good self were wafted out on a cushion and into a motor with a sober driver whose task was to convey us 100 miles down the road to dear old dirty Dublin, there to mix with the Gaybo glitterati on The Late Late Show, which, in those dark days all rural Ireland watched since they couldn’t get the filthy BBC channels.
I seem to recollect a fleeting thought as we wheeled into Dubh linn, the black pool, that all had been going too well. Were we mocking fate? Lumberjacks, as we were, usually don’t get away with having a good time unpunished. That’s why God created Puritans. Still, as the good book says ‘wine is a mocker’ (Proverbs 20:1). Whether this is Aramaic for ‘motherfucker’ I don’t know, my linguistic skills in Essene have been shot to hell since John Allegro gave me those mushrooms. Nonetheless, the journey down had been splendid. More poitin had been consumed, herbal remedies were flowering and flowing, the driver was sober and we even managed to stop just outside Dublin and watch ourselves on TV in the local pub. Not only that, the locals had recognised us as ‘celebrities’ in their midst as they watched bemusedly us appearing in their physical presence and also on the flickering TV screen (the concept of ‘pre-recording’ had apparently not percolated as far south as Balbriggan). Their hospitality was a tribute to Munster. I had, vainly, thought that the locals had recognised me, the only unmasked participant in the programme from my vivacious good looks but this misplaced vanity was banished from my mind when McIlvogue pointed out that McKeown, ever security conscious, had still not removed his balaclava mask.
I have little recollection of my drive to the studio, with TT and the troops unconscious in the back. I had asked the taximan to drive but he just laughed and made a suggestion that was not only extremely vulgar but anatomically impossible, especially for a fat bastard like myself. Fortune favours the bold however, and, 15 minutes before airtime I was ensconced in the Green Room in the Entertainment facility off stage in RTE 1’s flagship. The troops had been shovelled into seats in the audience, which seemed to consist mainly of a cross between Dublin 4’s finest and tweedy culchie ladies with a sprinkling of bespectacled Far Easts and Stale Buns. (Why do most clerics appear to be myopic? Is it the rosary beads?) I was still hoping that Auntie Rita and the troops would arrive and had left tickets for them at the box office. But for now, all I could do was grin, bear it and meet my fellow guests.
In the Green Room we made a merry crew. (Secretly I was hoping for Frankie Vaughan to emerge from behind the shamrock, but, alas, it was not to be.) As I was the last arrival, my fellow panellists all made a point of approaching me and introducing themselves. The first was, not surprisingly, one of God’s anointed. He was not your traditional Far East however. He didn’t offer me a Jehovah sarnie as so many do but warmly shook hands and told me that although he was a priest he was also heavy into Zen Buddhism and had pole vaulted for Ireland at the latest European games. He was dressed in mulfi and glowed with health. He refused my offer of liquid refreshment from the bottle of poitin I had smuggled in. Generously, he offered to help me if I felt overwhelmed by this kosmic karmic moment. As he patronisingly groped my shoulder, he whispered “Just call me Terence, I’m an old stager at this game.” Yeah, Terry baby, later for you, you smug parasitical cocksucker. Next up in the welcome line was a fresh faced forty-something-year-old lady. She had a blank, helpless sort of face – rather like a rose before it is sprayed with pesticide. “Hello, I’m a missionary’s wife. This is the third time I’ve been on the programme. I’ve recently changed my medication….” “Thank you for sharing that, Deirdre,” I responded, discerning her name from the badge pinned upon her ample bosom. Chemical relief of any kind was clearly essential. Ostentatiously I took a slug from the unlabelled bottle. “Got any more of that, Paddy?” It was the third guest. The American. A six foot six long haired hippie. Not only that, and remember that this is well over twenty years ago, he rather startled us by having a pierced nose and an earring. No big deal these days, but back then if the Provos had done it to him they’d have clearly been in breach of any ceasefire. Before we were summoned onto the stage the American, who turned out to be Walter Bowart, former editor of the East Village Other and author of Operation Mind Control, the ultimate conspiracy ‘cryptocracy’ book in those days was happily pissed. But first we had to be welcomed by God himself. Gaybo oozed into the room and smarmed his way through.
To be continued…
Taken from the uproariously irreverent, ‘Last Orders, Please!’ by John McGuffin