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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