Bobby Grierson- Fantastic Human
'Oh to be here where no dark stain interrupted our lives, we were unfettered and unleashed... young and free with no cares.'
(from one of Bobby's last fb posts)
I was aware of Bobby first in 1976. Because always, Bobby stood out in a crowd. It was matriculation day at Edinburgh College of Art 1976.
The aquiline nose and chin pushing the world out of its way was followed by a long mop of (sorry Bobby, mousey) Marc Bolan curls. Skin tight jeans to the knee flared to the floor, and a flowing coat. (Aye yi definitley hid flares - dinnae deny it)
Bobby had already had a working life before ECA as a lab technician in Cumnock. But like many of us from the small judgemental Scottish towns there was an exciting city world that beckoned. He went to FE college to get the entry qualifications for ECA and was thrown in with a mix of folk and hangers on that would change the cultural and political life of Scotland forever. Bobby was the catalyst for a massive amount of that. The working class cohort that made it through the Scottish Higher system and portfolio submission to art school were the power house of our current political landscape. Of this I have no doubt.
Born in Cumnock, the birth place of Keir Hardie, Bobby held fast to his working class roots, his socialist values and an unstinting passion for fairness and equality. He spoke his Ayrshire Scots in Edinburgh in the echoing sculpture court or the mike at a live gig or demo and used it to effect, with eloquence as well as with a levelling barb. It was a joy to listen to.
See folk dinnae believe me whan Ah say Ah wis stoned walkin doon the street – Ah mean I wis stoned. Folk stoned meh!!!
Said with the three exclamation marks denoted by a squint grin and fixed stary eyes.
He told that story and could laugh about it and allow us to laugh and of course as he would say too, today Cumnock has changed, pretty much because of Bobby.
In 1977 punk was revolutionising sugary pop and changing how music was made and by whom. It was a freedom that Bobby embraced and out went the curls and in came the Mohican, the black drainpipes, the bondage, safety pins and mohair. Vivenne Westwood, the Kings Road, it was Bobby’s element, the cross culture of music, revolution, design, and turning it all upside down... Bobby was never a follower, he observed, collected adapted and innovated.
The most powerful force to come out of ECA in the 70s was not future exhibitors to the RSA but the counter culture that Bobby and others drove. Bobby was a good organiser and knew how to phone people up, work the ECA Ents committee cheque book, book bands and run things. The sleepy SRC with its dolorous trots, (sorry trots) was booted into shape with the Ents committee run by Bobby that fired up the Art College Club in the Grassmarket. A dangerous and crumbling church building was where Bobby presided and was king, spinning the decks with the good dancing vinyl that got everybody on the floor, not least himself, leaping over the lager soaked cushions to get back to the decks to change the record. Soul Punk, Motown, and anything that was good and moved the gut was played on the Art College club disco nights. It was wholesale freedom of expression, thought, dress and energetic youth. The Art school was a bubble of acceptance especially for young gay men still meeting open hostility in the society outwith.
The Sex Pistols, The Dammed, David Bowie, Lou Reed.
He documented much of this time himself- He was already a photographer...
By second year the art school divide was between the fine art cohort and the design school. Fine Art was snottier. Bobby was a consummate draughtsman. His life-drawing skills were heart-moving in sensitivity and depth, he was clearly ‘fine art’ material and that’s where he went for a time. But the rarefied fine art studios were mostly a pretty precocious environment with laissez faire tuition and ego rubbing rather than generous teaching and it did not suit Bobby’s down to earth temperament.
He did not suffer fools or artifice.
He was in the midst of the campaigns of the day and at the forefront of Womens’ rights, Gay rights, Antic racism, Anti apartheid, Nicuraguan Solidarity, the Fire Brigades strike and latterly Miners Strike. Bobby’s politics was lived, gut politics not a prescription guide but underpinned by his own analytic intellect. He was an out gay man when it was extremely hard to be so, and he paved the way, fought and helped win that acceptance for today’s young people that he never had. I was in awe at Bobby’s grip on life, his capacity for fun, self deprecation, ability to laugh, be politically astute, break down ‘pish’ and expose it as that, translate the concept of socialist politics down to manageable chunks for the punter to understand.
His faith in people.
Bobby was a walking fashion guru. Fashion was an extension of self. Street fashion and experimentation was intrinsic to him but later in life when he could afford to buy hand tailored suits or shoes with a ‘label’ he cut a debonair figure all togged up for a posh do. Sartorial elegance and suave. Even his last lock-down fashion post in his jammies. He made his own clothes, clothes for others, scoured second hand shops, and in those days, art school was a mix between an ongoing fancy dress parade, multiple and variable band affiliations and memberships, setting the world to rights and copious amount of drink, drugs and parties.
The art school club and the College Canteen were venues for all the nascent indie bands of the time, the precursors of where music is now with Joseph K, Orange Juice, The fire Engines. And of course Bobby made clothes for the Rezillos, that stamped their sound and look so firmly and iconically on Scottish music culture. It was a zany can- do time and Bobby was there making it happen from bondage to drag, rubber pvc, silk and everything up, down and round about.
Bobby completed ECA with a fashion degree after a sabbatical as SRC president went on to work freelance in Edinburgh. He was never someone who could be pigeonholed. When the internet came along he embraced web design and set up his own company D4Digital.
He wrote poetry.
The clubs in the cavernous bowels of Edinburgh that Bobby ran and where he DJ’d were the places to be in Edinburgh for a generation – and his ability to engage a younger audience in recent years endured. He transcended the stuffy generational strictures of time and taste.
In the Thatcher 80s, the Art School bubble behind us, that generation of 76 hunkered down to survive the years as best we could. Many didn’t. Aids ravaged through everyone, losing friends, making life tenuous and precarious, long term unemployment, addiction and loss of hope blighted many forever. Lives diverged and children, mortgages, the drag-down of debt pinned us down into what might apparently be more subdued lives. In Edinburgh, working always to make the lives of others better and show them the power and pathways into the world of creativity, Bobby worked alongside the late Andy Arnott at the Print Resource in PIlton. He brought skills and creative hope to those who most needed and deserved it.
A generous teacher.
Round about 2006 a group of us who made little in artistic waves while at art school got together for a wee group show at Stromness Library. Bobby’s work as ever, gentle and beautiful, clever and with a steely core. We were never destined be famous artists. The world of Cork Street is not about our kind or art. From that time in Orkney there exists a photograph taken by Bobby of us looking like hobbits at the Ring of Brodgar.
The Indy ref galvanised us – many who had been stalwart Labour supporters were exasperated and Bobby like so many of us threw himself wholeheartedly into the Yes campaign. ‘Of course we can dae a fuckan better joab oorsells...’ And those of use that came through those Thatcher years felt a long pent up release of hope and excitement that this really might be the time we could change something big. We knew, and still do absolutely know, that we can ...dae a better job. He ,like so many was gutted with the result on 18th September 2014 and retreated to take stock and slowly get some energy and hope back.
Bobby had moved back to Cumnock to look after his mum, leaving his flat in Porty, it being Porty before it got hip. Bobby was always way ahead of the followers. He missed things about the city but it was the right time too – he said he was really a country boy at heart.
His responsibilities in Cumnock kept him there with less opportunity to travel and once his mum passed away he had her dog to take care of. And he doted on Lizzy. He became a fantastic gardener and took up local history, investigating and preserving much of Cumnock’s undiscovered history for future generations, in particular around the POW Camp at Pennywell. Inclusion and accessibility were Bobby, enabling the community to get involved and value its own history and itself. I remembering him squirming in frustrated rage at the well meant efforts to ‘clean’ the bust of Keir Hardy – removing the decades of patina which made it special.
All types of art and design mattered to Bobby, he loved the old masters, modern work, music, poetry, writing, DIY, garden design. He loved travel and nothing more than sitting with good friends in the sun in Northern Italy or Greece or his beautiful garden at Gemmel Drive.
A European and Internationalist.
In December 2019 he had massive open heart surgery. He had more surgery to go. He had stopped smoking. He showed me his ‘bucket of shame’ the last time I was in Cumnock, full to the brim with cigarette stubs. Oh Bobby...! As he would see it as the right thing to do to help the NHS, not make their job more difficult in re-plumbing his works. He was going to come to visit as soon as he could.
Did you hold back from calling them when you should have Bobby?
Did you hold back from calling them when you should have Bobby?
He leaves a loving and loved family of siblings, nieces and nephews and hundreds if not thousands of bereft friends.
Och Bobby - why did you have to leave us too soon...? Party on pal.
I have borrowed these photos from Bobby's face book- its a memoir so please forgive any inaccuracies.