Neil Young Busking in Glasgow, 1976: The Story Behind the Footage

The day was April 2, 1976. Neil Young was fly­ing into Glas­gow, and a local cam­era crew was wait­ing at the air­port to meet him. Direc­tor Mur­ray Grig­or and cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er David Peat had been hired by Young through his record com­pa­ny. As they wait­ed there, at the air­port, they had no idea what to expect.

“The irony,” Peat told Open Cul­ture, “is that nei­ther Mur­ray or myself were par­tic­u­lar­ly knowl­edge­able about the rock world, and we knew lit­tle of this guy Neil Young. So we turned up at the air­port in sports jack­ets and ties to meet him!”

Young’s sched­uled flight from Lon­don arrived, but he was­n’t on it. When a sec­ond flight came in, Peat and Grig­or watched anx­ious­ly as all the pas­sen­gers cleared the ter­mi­nal. Still no Young. Final­ly, said Peat, “this tall bloke in a long coat came ambling down the cor­ri­dor.” The film­mak­ers intro­duced them­selves to Young and asked what he want­ed.

“Just give me some funky shit footage,” said Young.

Nae both­er, as we say in Scot­land,” Peat said. So the film­mak­ers tagged along as the musi­cian and his band, Crazy Horse, head­ed into the city. At this point Mur­ray Grig­or picks up the sto­ry: “Our film­ing got off to a tricky start. When Neil and the band final­ly made it to their lunch in the Albany Hotel’s pent­house, one of them set fire to the paper table dec­o­ra­tions, which we filmed. ‘Just like Nam,’ anoth­er one said as he warmed his hands over the small infer­no lap­ping up towards the inflam­ma­ble ceil­ing.”

At that moment, Peat added, “this very Scot­tish floor man­ag­er leapt in and com­plete­ly cowed them with her rage.” The woman turned to the near­est per­son and demand­ed to know what was going on. “That hap­pened to be our sound recordist, Louis Kramer,” said Grig­or. “She then shout­ed at them to get every­thing burn­ing into the bathroom–and gen­er­al­ly gave them all a dress­ing down.”

As Grig­or explained, “Neil and the band were all stoned out of their skulls.”

When the smoke had cleared at the Albany Hotel, the crew fol­lowed Young out onto the streets, where he began accost­ing passers­by. “Excuse me,” he said. “Could you tell me where the Bank of Scot­land is?” He soon set­tled on a dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tion. “It was entire­ly Neil’s idea,” Grig­or told us, “to flop down at the entrance to Glas­gow’s Cen­tral Sta­tion and then wait and see who would rec­og­nize him.”

With a scarf wrapped around his neck and a deer­stalk­er hat pulled down over his face, Young took out his ban­jo and har­mon­i­ca and sat on the pave­ment. Peat, whose forté is obser­va­tion­al film­mak­ing, panned his cam­era back and forth between the famous street musi­cian and the peo­ple pass­ing by. Kramer’s sound record­ing pro­vid­ed the con­ti­nu­ity that made it pos­si­ble for Peat to move around and cov­er the scene from dif­fer­ent angles. He noticed that Young was singing about an “Old Laugh­ing Lady,” so when he saw one, he filmed her. The whole thing last­ed only a few min­utes.

Lat­er that evening, Young and Crazy Horse opened their show at the Glas­gow Apol­lo with “The Old Laugh­ing Lady.” It was the last con­cert of their Euro­pean tour. The film crew doc­u­ment­ed the crowd going into the Apol­lo and the show itself. When it was over, Young asked Grig­or to syn­chro­nize the sound and film for lat­er edit­ing. Local edi­tor Bert Eeles did the synch work, Grig­or sent in the film, and that was about the last they ever heard of it. “I always under­stood Neil com­mis­sioned it for his own use as a kind of ‘home movie,’ ” said Peat.

The fire scene from the Albany Hotel resur­faced in Jim Jar­musch’s 1997 film, Year of the Horse: Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live. When the busk­ing scene at Cen­tral Sta­tion recent­ly appeared on the Inter­net, Peat was hap­py to see it, but dis­ap­point­ed with the state it was in (see above). “The qual­i­ty is poor and the sound appears to be slight­ly out of sync,” he said. “It looks as though the mate­r­i­al is in black and white, but I’m sure I shot it in col­or.”

Peat and Grig­or col­lab­o­rat­ed on a num­ber of oth­er projects, includ­ing the 1976 Bil­ly Con­nol­ly doc­u­men­tary Big Banana Feet, which was screened at the Glas­gow Film Fes­ti­val last Sun­day for the first time in decades, and the 1983 film, The Archi­tec­ture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Archi­tec­ture has been a major focus of Grig­or’s work. Last month he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his ser­vices to archi­tec­ture and film. Peat is the sub­ject of an upcom­ing spe­cial on BBC Two, A Life in Film: David Peat.

The strange assign­ment to shoot “funky shit footage” for a strung-out rock star was a minor foot­note in Peat’s long career, but he looks back on it with fond­ness. “The footage of Neil has achieved a sort of icon­ic sta­tus in Glas­gow,” he said. “I was in a music/video store recent­ly try­ing to find out if it exist­ed on any pub­lished DVD, and the guy behind the counter near­ly fell over when I revealed I had shot it. He prob­a­bly just saw an old bloke with a beard instead of the lithe young man who used to dance around with a cam­era!” H/T Dan­ger­ous Minds

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Comments (18)
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  • Armando Vezza says:

    Real­ly nice to see this video. I was born in Glas­gow and know Cen­tral Sta­tion very well. I was 21 in 1976 and I was even at the con­cert in the Apol­lo, but I had no idea he had been busk­ing in the street before. Thanks for post­ing this!

  • Stacey Flynn says:

    That was great! Thanks for post­ing this. As always, Neil has on a great hat.

  • Sam Tennent says:

    Great sto­ry — I was also at the gig that night but spent most of the day wan­der­ing about Glas­gow City Cen­tre going round the record shops as was my habit at that time. Can’t believe I missed Neil busk­ing. Pret­ty sure the copy of this I have is in colour — actu­al­ly I’ve got sev­er­al copies — VCas­sette, VCD, DVD but I’d need to check cos I haven’t watched it for a while. Would be awe­some to see the footage of the actu­al show — my first Neil con­cert of 18 and (hope­ful­ly) count­ing!

  • Richard H says:

    Sor­ry but the video looked like a fake to me. The ordi­nary peo­ple caught on cam­era were’nt react­ing to the fact that a cam­era was there. The Neil shown could eas­i­ly have been a look-alike ; the scarf, hat, beard all helped.

  • Johan Tewks says:

    How can Richard say it looks fake??? All those hun­dreds of peo­ple are actors? I saw quite a few glance ner­vous­ly right into the cam­era. And how can you not rec­og­nize Neil’s face espe­cial­ly when they get close? I think it’s one of the coolest videos ever!

  • MICHAEL A says:

    What great footage…CLASSIC NEIL. Incon­spic­u­ous at first but some in the crowd final­ly real­ized it was Ol’ Shakey, well, not so Ol’ back then.

  • Stewart says:

    David Peat sad­ly passed away recent­ly. If you’re in or near Glas­gow, a superb exhi­bi­tion of his pho­tos is cur­rent­ly on at Street Lev­el Pho­toworks. Can’t rec­om­mend it enough. The same obser­va­tion­al and human­ist qual­i­ties he brings to the film above shine through in his stills.

  • gus paton says:

    I spot­ted him at the sta­tion and told my old­er broth­er at the time but he thought it could­nt be. The con­cert was superb I was 17.

  • Shoib says:

    Total­ly LOVED this. What a leg­end. GREAT wee sto­ry. Boy Glas­gow of old was such a dif­fer­ent place. Would love to have seen the colour footage. Thanks for shar­ing. Won­der­ful.

  • Larry Klawiter says:

    I think Justin Ver­non must have heard this at some point in time, maybe a sub­lim­i­nal influ­ence.

  • gray ghostwriter says:

    It looks like that younger woman real­ized who she was lis­ten­ing to at about the 3:00 mark…

  • james mc laughlin says:

    For many years a young man in Dum­b­ar­ton ‑who liked a bit of a drink, and also a friend of mine told every­one in the town that he had busked with Neil Young at the cen­tral sta­tion and no one believed him until this video came to light to me via youtube and to my amaze­ment there he was. His name is Vin­cent McFar­lane who is now dead and who was a great har­mon­i­ca play­er. In the video he is try­ing to say to peo­ple who the unknown busker was. No one recog­nised Young apart from Vin­cent who knew his music. If you need any­more info let me know. James

  • alex mccord says:

    This video is huge! How kool would it be to do it again at his age today for S/G’s?

  • Stephen C Harvey says:

    First off that’s a gui­tar that looks like a ban­jo, but is played like a gui­tar (count the strings). This film is noth­ing like the tie Neil showed up at the local Pig­gy Wig­gly with his sitar. He played for half an hour and nobody gave a damn. Even­tu­al­ly the store man­ag­er grabbed Neil by the ear and make him stock cans for the rest of the shift. All footage was erased by an embar­rassed Neil.

  • Tony says:

    Hi Arman­do, as a kid I stayed two doors along from you on A.rd ‚I even­tu­al­ly worked with Lewis Kramer and I knew he had his own copy of the sound he cap­tured that day, I pestered him for a long time for a boot­leg but it wasn’t to be he wouldn’t part with it.

  • Bill Regan says:

    How cool…I was in the Army then, US, sta­tioned in Germany–saw Neil and The Horse in Frank­furt in March, then he went on to even­tu­al­ly clos­ing the tour out in Glasgow..imagine catch­ing him in a street performance–true fans would know just by the voice. Thanks for shar­ing.

  • Tam Marley says:

    James, the first time I saw this video I thought I rec­og­nized the young blonde ‘girl’ crouch­ing next to Neil. After watch­ing it a few times I real­ized it was Vin­cent! Vin­cent was my mate’s appren­tice when he was a print­er and I recall him telling us that he had seen Neil busk­ing in Glas­gow and like you said, nobody believed him, includ­ing I have learned, his old­er broth­er Mar­tin who was in my pri­ma­ry class­es.
    Sad that Vin­cent nev­er got to see this video him­self.
    I was at this show and remem­ber Neil falling off his stool and being helped up by a stage­hand. A ‘new’ band opened up for Neil, they were called the Eagles.

  • Tam Marley says:

    I have just been informed by a friend that the Neil Young con­cert I referred to when the Eagles opened for him actu­al­ly took place in Novem­ber 1973,

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