Posted by Michael in September's Magazine
May I introduce you to Tom Buchan (1931 -1995) – poet, playwright, mammoth of a man. A man brimful of extraordinary achievements, nearly all of which are inadequately anointed. As you’ll notice from the above, this is a posthumous introduction – heck, how I wish it wasn’t. Along with lamenting my inability to see Syd Barrett, Nick Drake or Jim Morrison shamble, totter or tear to stage, I bemoan missing the opportunity to experience a Tom Buchan reading.
Now this piece can only hope to cover a spattering of his musings – with a little bit of luck it’ll galvanise a steam train of successes with many a reader attaching something I’ve missed out.
Tom erupted onto the Scottish literary scene in the seventies brushing shoulders with the likes of John McGrath, Alasdair Gray, Tom Leonard and Edwin Morgan – described in a Scotsman obituary as, ‘a giant among men, both physically and intellectually. A literary figure who was archetypally Scottish, but totally beyond definition, pigeonholing, or even reckoning’.
His poetry works included: Ikons (1958); Dolphins at Cochin (1969); Makes you Feel Great (1971); Exorcism (1972) and Poems 1969-72. It was the final of these packages that I first stumbled upon as a twelve-year-old Portobello pup – the inscription read Happy Christmas Janis 1972 – supplemented by a note in the contents which detailed; this book incorporates Mediocraps Rule! Soapflakes & The End of the World Show. On that note, I was awwwf on a voyage of poetic discovery.
The Buchan format
In theatre Tom was described as ‘total and prolific’. He wrote the play Happy Landings, performed at the Traverse Theatre, and worked with an up and coming Billy Connolly in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show – a 1973 comedy rave which they co-wrote. Other pieces included Bunker (a fabulous piece of theatre which had one performance only at Findhorn’s Little Theatre during the early Eighties); and King Brude of the Picts – deemed too expensive and too complicated to perform by Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. Later the Welly Boot Show was performed at the Edinburgh Festival by a co-operative company. It received great acclaimand was held to be an inspiration for many. It was in fact John McGrath, with 7:84 Theatre Company, who went on to use ‘the Buchan format’ to ‘further legendary effect’.
Tom Buchan was born and university educated in Glasgow and taught in both Scotland and India. Reading of Tom’s teachings in India (on the back of his pamphlet Forwords) was one of my many impetus for turning down a host of (in some cases funded) spots on various Creative Writing Masters Courses and taking to Cambodia – teaching English as grammatical practice whilst covertly substituting traditional tense based exercises for more expressive and/or fantastical elements of language. I take full credit for the poetic prattle of a new generation of Khmer tourist guides – yes Angkor Wat does look like a gold-plated jigsaw puzzle! – Anyhow, I digress. TOM BUCHAN!
A couple of other Toms (and Marianna) on Tom:
Tom Bryan (a frighteningly prolific figure on the literary scene himself) notes:
“I met Tom Buchan a few times and his spirit was unforgettable. I had the impression that if he was in torment, he also had the means to deal with it. Humour. His humour was probably as colossal as the man. He wrote a piece on death for Cencrastus magazine many years ago which is the most powerful piece of writing on the human condition I have ever seen. It is a painfully honest account of what we all face. Forget the troubles of his later life. Go back to his poems for the true measure of the man. It is his poems where you really find him. His general volatile unpredictability in his last years prevented him from being invited for the usual readings and workshops his work merited.”
“It might be said that Tom Buchan launched Billy Connolly’s career, that he created a style of theatre which he never received credit for, and that he was an underrated literary talent and genius whose time will come for recognition of his contribution. But for all that, Tom
Buchan was a powerful man of great spirit, great humour, and great literary skills.” Marianna Lines
In his later years Tom Buchan was left a little idle. Often commercial theatre steered clear on account of his mercurial, mischievous and meandering nature – he thus ventured off into experiments with psychedelics and UFO mysticism.
In a note to Tom McGrath, Buchan stated:
‘Baldy, 60, grandpa Buchan still has a great (mainly theoretical) fondness for sex, drugs and live, state-of-the-art, rock ‘n’ roll! To tell you the honest truth, Tom, I‘ve never been so bouncy. Findhorn keeps me up to scratch in all departments and when I get pissed off with it I head for the hills as always’.
Tom Buchan died on 18 October 1995 – how is not important, it’s more a case of why.
Tom Buchan (1931-1995)
Tom wrote poems like fantastic pointing fingers
‘straight, strong and complex’ as Glasgow;
wrote pulsing prose with pursed lips,
served verities caked in salt, bent rules masterfully;
captain of a body well lived in chipped teeth,
fractured bone, but enough about his vessel.
Buchan brewed an eastern-western blend,
so like comets flew he spoke,
through the heydays and the greydays;
moved as a great touring caravan,
compass pointing alpine north.
7 foot they say, a strident mammoth,
a turtle-necked warrior.
It’s possible we were, at some point,
synched in time and place,
tectonically on the promenade Pittville Street, Portobello,
perhaps too shared insights on a story,
spotted the same flying kite, rogue seagull
or submarine emerge from the Firth.
It bends wits, brooding over what forces
lobbied night sky to swallow up a brightest star.
As to how such verve came to plunge
like a rusty anchor into fierce waters, the mind boggles. ␣
This poem is from Part-Truths, available from www.koopress.co.uk. Michael’s latest chapbook, The Basic Algebra of Buttering Bread is available from www.word-power.co.uk (key in book title on homepage). Tom Buchan’s books are notoriously hard to find…second-hand bookshops and ebay I’m afraid!
Painting: Tom Buchan in Limbo by John Mikietyn