Eddie Trayner: How To See Far

I wrote this piece in 2008 after my friend Eddie Trayner passed away. It was written partly (mostly) in tribute, partly (mostly) as catharsis. The plan was to save this for a Hearts & Minds project that may still come to fruition. However I don’t want Eddie to slip from my memory so I post it now. Hope you enjoy.

I got some sad news recently about the passing of one of my oldest friends, Eddie Trayner; record label owner, publisher, snack bar king, artist manager and latterly college lecturer. I thought it might be appropriate to share some thoughts here. As well as being a fantastic character and a true and loyal friend, Eddie was largely responsible for getting me started in the music industry and steered me safely past many monsters. I’d love to try and thank him by painting a little picture for you.

I met Eddie through a record producer named Bobby Henry in 1984; they were incorporating a record label called Shift between bases in Coatbridge and Cumbernauld, hoping to emulate some of that Sound-Of-Young-Scotland Postcard Records magic. Early in the year I had passed Bobby a rough home demo in the hope he might produce a couple of tracks in a “proper” studio, in return for my meagre savings. Bobby quickly got back to me:

“Spend your money on a decent guitar”, he said. “The label is licensing a compilation to Phonogram in London, you’re going to be on it and they’re paying the studio bill”.

When I eventually met Bobby’s partner in the venture I knew I wasn’t dealing with what I imagined to be regular music industry types. Eddie Trayner lived in grey Cumbernauld, fifteen minutes along the motorway from me and seemed to epitomise the brave new worldishness of that new town. An internationalist latter-day prospector full of just think and what if, he lived with beautiful wife Liz and cats (always mentioned in dispatches) in a duplex apartment in an area called “Seafar”. To this day when I think of Eddie I imagine the linguistic possibilities of the name “Seafar”: a distant ocean, perhaps, a slang description of some grizzled old tar, or the simple ability to see far. The latter is very appropriate to Edward Trayner, and I hope those of you who didn’t know him will take that, the ability to see far, as a first simple thumbnail of a great man.

At Eddie’s funeral, a number of speakers alluded to the fact that he always held down at least two jobs at any given time. This is generally true in my recollection, however when I first met him he was in the early throes of music industry obsession and only had time for a coalface which offered the glittering prize of a Grammy™, a gold record or, just to start things rolling, a major recording contract for one or more of his Shift label charges. While Eddie crammed on synchronisation rights, Liz was bringing home the veggie bacon. Within months of our first meeting Eddie had set up a UK package tour for his Shift label (I didn’t make the grade, having turned up for audition without the crucial element of musicians who had actually met each other), opened a rehearsal / recording facility nearby the Cumbernauld Plaza where Gregory is stood-up in Gregory’s Girl, and landed yours truly the latter part of that wish list – a full-blown record deal at Phonogram. In our early talks at Eddie’s little home office where he tried to appraise me (and probably himself) of the possibilities ahead, the phone and the doorbell would constantly be ringing, other Shift recording artistes wondering if their personal ship was likely to come in, say in the next 24 hours or so. The competitive devil on my shoulder would be wishing them to cease, desist, bugger off, while the kindly uncle on Eddie’s shoulder would offer what words of encouragement he could, without the word of a dirty lie or forked-tongue indulgence. Bobby Henry and the Shift label were all but gone by early 85 and Eddie became my manager. At his insistence, we formalised our new relationship with sausage rolls, tuna pasta and posh crisps at his studio. The man had an innate working class appreciation of the symbolic power of a purvey and, although our friendship was already fondly established, a lifelong bond was soon scribbled in inkblots and pastry crumbs.

Our first forays together in the London music industry were at the offices of Phonogram Records in Old Bond Street, London. We’d have coffee at a nearby Italian restaurant, watch the odd celebrity pass by, then go to the front door at Phonogram, and watch gleefully as the doorman flicked through poly-pocketed photographs of Elton John, Vangelis, Randy California and Dire Straits before alighting on Chewy Raccoon (me) and ushering us inside. Over meetings in A&R offices, vista-opening meals in Chinatown, gigs at the Wag Club, sessions in The Who’s Ramport studios, I watched Eddie disarm all before him with a little used weapon in the entertainment industry – honesty. All around were people who knew, who had the keys to the kingdom, who could see, hear and feel what was coming next, and in the middle was Eddie, at times unsure and happy to say so; his method of rock and roll management was to build alliances, put together a group of people who actually liked each other, actually liked music and were equally excited about the unknown. Many music industry apparatchiks were more excited about the kill, the double cross, the nod, the wink, the frown – just for the sport. So nice-guy-Eddie was sometimes out on a limb and I for one was happy to be there with him – just for the honour. He could surprise though – I’ll never forget Eddie setting one publishing company up against another, sitting in his Cumbernauld office on the telephone to one then the other then the other, with butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-the-mouth bonhomie as our price went up and up and up. He’d look round and say:

“I think we should ask Virgin to add in a car. What do you fancy”?

Later, when a hitherto Doubting Thomas of a journalist posted a positive review of one of my shows, Eddie spat out, “the worm turns, Davie, the worm fucking turns” with real venom. He craftily negotiated a percentage of profits from The Girl In The Picture when I contributed a song, and at the film’s Royal Premiere in the Glasgow Odeon we sat smirking at Prince Charles’ bald spot, rubbing our hands just imagining the money about to flood in. Then we saw the picture. Twenty-two years later when statements come through with news that the film still hasn’t made a bean, I glance at the fine details and see that the percentage Eddie negotiated for my one little tune was bigger than anyone else’s including Gordon John Sinclair and Irina Brook.

By 1986 our first adventure was over, Phonogram said a fond-ish farewell and without a word of rancour Eddie was back to three jobs, bringing up beautiful baby Naomi, looking after this forlorn little songwriter and driving a cab. At Glasgow Airport he picked up a guy called Lincoln Elias, an A&R scout from CBS Records, in town to watch some new band, who were the current talk of the steamie:

“I wouldn’t get too excited” Eddie told him, “When you do get bored come down to The Rock Garden and see a real group, Hearts And Minds”.

Within a couple of months we were back in business and this time we felt we really had something worth talking about – some real shared history, good songs, a great band, and the might of CBS. It was the first time I felt I had something substantial to offer, and Eddie kept pushing – he wanted to hear more artistry, more creativity, and more depth. We’d meet at my little home studio and he’d enthuse over new songs – the more expressive the better. I’m sure he sometimes turned a deaf ear to callow lapses in artistic taste to avoid inhibiting experimentation. People started coming to Hearts And Minds shows, real people who maybe recognised something a little special in the making. Truly the artist’s friend, Eddie felt we should be creating something timeless, above and beyond what the current group was groping itself over. As it turned out we didn’t get the chance and I’ll spare you the grisly details of the disaster that our stay within the CBS “music family” became. Suffice to say, when I drove along the motorway one more time to tell Eddie that maybe I should try another manager, maybe someone fresh in the frame might be able to pull the whole thing out of the fire, maybe we needed to change the band a bit, all the usual empty platitudes, I knew in my heart I was beyond saving.

Thanks to his good grace, Eddie and I stayed friends, and I watched from a vantage point on the dole queue as he turned The River Detectives into contenders, wheeling and dealing with more of that blue-collar warmth and honesty. Now and then we’d meet and he’d help me out a bit, but his new charges were, how should I put this, quirkily demanding, and I’d often find Eddie laughing in exasperation, grinding his teeth but all the while proudly playing the group’s series of lovely acoustic releases – a concept he’d floated years before, now presented in gorgeous monochrome sepia on 10-inch vinyl. Back at the funeral the humanist minister recalled that Eddie eventually left the music business in 1990, feeling a bit burnt out. For me the truth is slightly different; although he’d never say so he was too good for the music industry, too fair, too honest and he ultimately realised it. Humility will get you nowhere in this business, boy, but Eddie’s humility and honesty got some of us over the fence and out into the world.

In the following years we’d talk on the phone sporadically, he’d rap about business ideas, a renewed tilt at an engineering degree, his legendary snack bar, Naomi, Liz, old friends, Falkirk College where he created fantastic work. We’d bump into each other in car parks, supermarkets and he watched on like a proud uncle as I continued my own musical journey. Last time I saw him was in Tesco’s car park in Cumbernauld, not far from the spot where his studio once stood, still sporting the Tom-Selleck-on-acid moustache and the same boyish grin which always gave him away on the odd occasion he tried to come over all Don Arden. When he told me how ill he’d been I think I might have been a bit casual about it – frankly I never entertained the possibility Eddie wouldn’t prevail.

Back in the day, when we started our friendship, I noticed that simple ability in Eddie to see far, to imagine the ways the world could change and the ways that people could change with the world. He taught me that things matter, then they don’t matter, then they matter again, that you just grow and bend and hopefully come out the other end with a slideshow of the world in your head and some people you loved and who loved you. His love made it possible for music to be made, better still he made people feel great.

One more revealing thumbnail to close; Eddie’s funeral was book-ended by half an hour of intense, headily seductive chanting to deliver him into the arms of “thousands of Buddhas”, and the equally heady chanting of 60,000 Celtic Football Club devotees in that other Paradise, Parkhead, singing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

David Scott 2008


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6 comments

  1. Mick

    I met Eddie a couple of times through the River Detective guys Davie and your portrait is both wonderfully accurate and very touching. Having heard the Colour Wheel one night Eddie approached me and without a moments hesitation said ” you bastards sound like the Strawbs !!”. Not a comment I was ever likely to forget. Haha still makes me smile.

    • Eddie LOVED the Strawbs. He had all their records. He would occasionally tell me something I did sounded like The Strawbs too. To this day I can’t think of anyone else who has The Strawbs as a reference point. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  2. Davey, … that’s a really touching, and quite moving, tribute to Eddie … a man I knew well, at one period in my own involvement in the Cumbernauld live music scene.

    I always had a certain respect and fondness for him, and was probably the diametrically opposite of Eddie in my non-commercial, non-establishment stance and attitude with the bands I played with … that, however, never stopped Eddie and I getting on famously on a personal level, and worked with him on loads of projects over the years

    His energy and twinkle-in-the-eye mentality always made him a mover & shaker … constantly there with a plan, a project, a new idea, a fresh approach … and never fazed or flummoxed … Eddie always had a “cunning plan”, and I dearly loved that aspect of the man

    Like yourself, I bumped into Eddie in Cumbernauld Town Centre, and heard the news of his illness without realing the full severity of it, or that I’d never see him again

    I never even knew of his passing ’till some years later …. so sad.

    Reading your fine eloquence brought him back to me, in my heart and my mind, for a few fine minutes again, and I smiled more than once at the warm memories you evoked, and the cherished moments you rekindled

    A big thanks for that, Davey

    Eddie Trayner – Rock In Peace

    • Stu, I was out and about in Cumbernauld taking photographs for this piece and I went down to Eddie’s old rehearsal place The Unit, to take a photograph of the door. I thought twice about it as I felt the current residents, Cosy Cabs (or whatever they’re called) might have thought, hello, Cumbernauld News Expose coming. I did remember all the activity around that wee place, some of your recordings with Itai Itai and Whiiit? (too many ‘i’s?) among them. It takes a lot of energy, time and as you point out unflappability to support, sustain and energise music scenes and it strikes me that the bulk of people who drive them probably go unnoticed in the grand scheme. I talked with a writer recently who was telling me I should be careful about promising people to teach them how to write ‘hits’ as part of the new MA Songwriting & Performance (I wasn’t promising that of course) and we both agreed that songwriting, and the music business in general, rather than being a get-rich-quick scheme is more often than not a get-rich-never scheme, so the love of music and music people becomes paramount. At their best music people are…the best. Glad the piece evoked something good.

  3. Eddies initial foray in Cumbernauld was to create the “Rock Club” which moved frpm Venue to Venue and allowed Cumbernauld’s numerous bands a stage for the evening and an audience of friends, fans and peers which nurtured many talented individuals. For this venture alone Eddie was worthy of great praise as without his vision many people today with a true love and appreciation of music would never have been able to develop their talents any further than their bedroom.

    • Diiligaf you are totally right. Eddie was definitely able to see that people from a provincial background – me included – were capable of developing their music given a platform – that was what the Shift thing was all about too, always a healthy dash of altruism.

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