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
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.