Kev’s debut novel ‘Here Be Apples’ will be released simultaneously with his forthcoming solo album and has been edited by a senior editor at Canongate books.
Read an excerpt from Here Be Apples below.
“We will find the flotsam and jetsam of history that has washed onto the shores of the present day. And we will understand it for what it truly is. Beautiful detritus.”
Ignatius St Clare, Loch Lomond, April 1990
“I’m so assholic, you’re so assholic, this modern world will make asses of all us.”
‘Assholic’ by Low Fruit, limited edition single, Prism Records, 2013
The first year I toured the world as a rock star was the same year I got myself brainwashed. I take full responsibility for my actions although I cannot speak for the rest of the band. They will have to make peace with their own consciences. I freely admit that at the time my head was a mess. I use that not as a justification, but only as one of many reasons for my selfish and appalling conduct. I suppose if I was to apportion blame, I could blame my parents for dying and leaving me scarred and alone – although that is rather a cheap shot. I think that on some level I really want to blame Ignatius because, well, he was the first ‘superstar’ I ever knew. He was the first person who made us all believe we could be living better lives in a better world.
I was four years old when my parents fell under his spell. A former Jesuit priest turned itinerant hippy, Ignatius St Clare had spent the late 1960s travelling across Africa and the sub-continent, exploring a spiritual rebirth inspired by the works of Carl Jung, Aleister Crowley and Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s dictum, to follow your bliss, led the Scottish expat on a long quest of wrong turns and minor revelations that took him to the very edge of his sanity… and, truth be told, probably mine as well.
In India he studied under Hindu yogis Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He claims at this point to have met The Beatles during their own brief flirtation with the Maharishi’s philosophy of transcendental meditation. In the Himalayan mountain camp at Rishikesh, Ignatius would sit by the Bodhi tree on a cool summer night as Paul improvised the melody for Blackbird and Ringo heated his Heinz beans over the campfire.
After three years spent living at the foot of the Himalayas, Ignatius once again became restless. It was a restlessness that was to afflict him throughout his life.
In 1975 he moved to Berkeley, California, where he had heard about the experiments of a young scientist by the name of Terence McKenna. He met and fell in with McKenna’s troop of psychedelic pioneers, joining them on a trip to the Amazon basin in 1976. The expedition was an attempt to locate a legendary shamanic witchdoctor who might be willing to share the secret of Ayahuasca – a mind-altering concoction used by local tribes to communicate with their dead ancestors. McKenna theorised that this potion allowed the witchdoctor’s consciousness to move out of the realm of four dimensions. Here they would commune with higher dimensional entities on a plane of existence that might point towards the next stage of human evolution.
After weeks of ploughing through remote jungle with their unreliable local guides, the camp suffered a bout of dysentery so bad that, as the virus ravaged their innards, even the mosquitoes that had plagued them from the beginning began to turn away from the taste of their pale flesh. McKenna returned to California empty handed but St Clare remained. By 1980 he was presumed dead, or forever lost amongst the hidden tribes of the Amazon rainforest.
In 1986, a man claiming to be Ignatius St Clare turned up one April morning at the British Consulate in Moscow seeking asylum. The story he gave to the startled secretary read like something from an adventure comic book. For the past three years, Ignatius claimed to have been living and studying in a remote monastery high in the Caucasus Mountains. The monastery was one of the last surviving outposts for a secret sect within the Russian Orthodox Church known as the Khlyst Monks. The sect worshipped the ‘mad monk’ and mystic Grigori Rasputin, the spiritual advisor who was rumoured to have betrayed the Russian royal family as the communist revolution swept the country in 1917. St Clare claimed that Rasputin’s secret cult, long thought to have been extinct, had survived in a lone monastery in a forlorn region of the Caucasus. This was, even then, an isolated part of the world rife with superstition, bandits, and nomad herds.
St Clare hoped to gain access to the fabled Scrolls of Rasputin – an ancient parchment the mad monk had acquired in his wilderness years. The scrolls, should they actually exist, contained a hereditary list which linked all the prophets across every major religion for the past six millennia. After becoming frustrated by the monks insistence that only a senior Abbot could even look at the manuscript, the ever resourceful St Clare opted to break into the vault and purloin the sacred text. Unfortunately he was caught in the act but managed to escape his captors and legged it to Moscow, in fear of his life but without the scrolls.
Now, if the kind lady taking down his particulars could only see her way to booking him on the first flight back to Britain he would be forever in her debt. After two days of waiting, during which time the consulate was attempting to establish his identity, he was placed on a plane home to Britain.
In the year that followed, he found his way back to Scotland and set up a commune on the banks of Loch Lomond. Here he began to put into practice the spiritual lessons he’d accrued throughout his fifty-odd years on earth. His fusion of Catholic mysticism, counter-culture psychedelia, and ancient conspiracy theories was both captivating and unnerving in equal measure. What Ignatius had, above all the other cranks and would-be-prophets of the day, was an ability to communicate a wide-eyed honesty and love of life. He was an enthusiastic, rational, and passionate speaker. Although near the end of his time at Loch Lomond he would come to be demonised as an unstable cult leader, Ignatius lived what he preached and was an active, grassroots political voice joining in the clamour for social justice and the battle against the Thatcher government of 1980’s Britain.
My parents were amongst his earliest converts. Being idealistic and inquisitive young people, they were happy to stop and talk to the older man who was helping to organise a Ban The Bomb protest in Glasgow’s George Square. This was Scotland in 1989, and that meant Poll Tax demonstrations, anti-apartheid rallies and monthly CND marches through the city. Even as a four-year-old, I could feel the air electrically charged with political action and a hatred of the authorities whoever they might be.
As lapsed Catholics but firm believers in the spiritual world, my Mum and Dad became fascinated by St Clare’s unorthodox teachings. I have sketchy memories of weekend trips to Loch Lomond, playing with other kids in the forest while the group of young, passionate adults sat on the shore with Ignatius, listening to his theories and debating spirituality and its place in this fiercely politicised country.
Within the year, my parents decided to move out of Glasgow and set up home in the commune. My early childhood memories include a sense of sudden dislocation, as the modest west end flat I knew as my entire world dissolved into a one-roomed caravan, filled with the clutter of a young family and the wild spark of a new adventure.
I would have to wait a good couple of decades for my own life to start living up to my parents’ youthful exploits.
Press pause. Rewind a bit. Back a bit further. How did we come to the big hooks so quickly? We haven’t even had the chorus yet, let alone the opening verse. And all that aside, you need a cool intro first. Hit ‘em with a big hook that sinks deep and won’t let go. That’s what Robbie always said.
I checked the bins at the back of the hotel first, sort of looking more for a story than Robbie. Front page of the tabloids! Nah. Mind wandering as a signpost of boredom.
I got close enough to the overflowing trade bins for the smell of rotting food to kick in my gag reflex and the cloud of flies to rise up and swarm my head, a Valencian Luftwaffe gone miniature. The Spanish morning was already claustrophobic – the heat inflating the oxygen, taking up too much space.
Gina, arriving earlier that morning, an accident and emergency last minute flight from London when the extent of Kim Kardashian’s embezzlement and abandonment had become clear, swore us to silence.
“We can not, will not, tell Prism about this. We can’t afford to appear weak.”
Swooping down to rescue us proper Black Hawk Down style, she had woken me with a foot to the accelerator kind of phone call, cutting through my haze of morning gunk.
“He’s not in the hotel. Where is he? Can you remember the last time you saw him?”
I told her I had no idea where the somnambulant little bastard was. The dry, brittle voice that responded didn’t sound anything like my own.
“Maybe at the after-show?” I offered by way of being helpful.
“He has a phone interview with a magazine in twenty minutes. What do you suggest I do?”
I had a choice: sarcastic response or denial of responsibility. Neither was appealing.
“Tried phoning him?”
A pause, “…Yes.”
“When did you get in?”
“I’ve been here since eight a.m. Up at four am to leave London.”
Even before Kim Kardashian made off with all our travelling money, you couldn’t say things had been progressing well.
“We thought he was on the flight.”
I knew how feeble my excuse sounded. When we arrived in Mallorca it was a shock to us all that Kim never got off the plane. I suppose it should have rung alarm bells when he gave us our passports back earlier that day, but I was never the suspicious type.
From the bed I looked around at the dirty walls and faded Picasso print that hung above the broken television, hoping for verbal inspiration, something witty and urbane. Instead I was very practical and reasonable.
“I’ll go find Robbie. He’ll be nearby.”
We had an hour before the bus was due to leave for Barcelona. Before exiting the hotel I splashed water on my face in the toilet then became distracted by the magazine cover in the basket by the sink. There I was, staring out in all my own photoshopped glory, Robbie and the rest of the band by my side. It was hardly the most accurate depiction of my life at that moment. The cover didn’t show my aggressive athlete’s foot from innumerable badly cleaned hotel showers, the acid reflux from an unending stream of after-show parties, a singing voice cracking at the edges and an almost bristleless toothbrush that for some inexplicable reason I couldn’t bring myself to replace. My pose on the magazine cover was trying to say serious artist. An artist maybe, a piss artist most certainly. But I was only trying to paint my life into a picture I could bear to look at.
I wanted to write songs the world would sing along with. Ignatius once said that we were all great men and women writing our own stories, and that the people who became famous for doing so were the least interesting because we could all see shades of ourselves in their work. They were painting in broad strokes at the expense of detail. It’s a thought that has long troubled me, though not as much as Ignatius has troubled me throughout my life.
He was all about the unconventional. Right up to the unique way he vanished one Scottish winter morning and left his flock in a state of confusion and shame. He picked me up once when my little feet slipped off the rock I was balancing on and I plunged into the cold waters of Loch Lomond. He handed me to blurry remembrances of my parent’s faces, faces that become increasingly faint as the years pass. They took me back to our cold caravan and I remember my dad vigorously drying my hair. I don’t remember his face, only his big hands over the towel, scrunching and rubbing against my wet hair as I bobbled from side to side, giggling where only five minutes before I had been crying. I remember Ignatius. I remember people following a dream.
I abandoned my back alley search and walked out to the main street in front of the hotel. At the little café across the road, the only people left eating were Franny and Ronan, our soundman and roadie. Bearded, bulky and in their late forties, these two veterans of the road could easily have passed for twins. Hired by Gina for their years of experience, they had themselves been signed in the mid-1980s when their ska band Jockstrap looked like it was picking up a sizable audience in Japan. Unfortunately, success never happened for them. They viewed the members of our band as naïve, if occasionally amusing, children, but kept to themselves for the most part, as people tended to do on the road.
I asked them if they’d seen Robbie but Franny only shrugged his shoulders and kept eating. The sun was hot even under the café canopy. I moved my sandaled feet out of the stream of heat and safely into the shade. I always felt so exposed wearing sandals or flip-flops. I was used to thick boots to keep out the rain and the cold, usually cheap things that split at the seams and stealthily soaked my feet after four months of Scottish winter. I was only beginning to appreciate the loose open feeling of the soft wind on my toes.
Like the view from a car window as the rain moves from a torrent to a light drizzle, my recollections of last night coalesced in flashes of splattered, scuzzy images. Robbie, slamming a chair repeatedly against a concrete wall as four Spanish acolytes watched wide-eyed and perplexed. Troubled footsteps from the other side of the corridor. Two security guards catch him in the act and he scarpers.
I left my bag with Franny and Ronan and braving the heat, told myself I was going in search of my missing friend because that’s what good people do.
I could see palm trees at the far end of the street. I knew the chances of me finding him were remote and I was really hoping to wash away the last vestiges of my own hangover and get some personal time, my morning having been disrupted by Gina. I took out my phone and moving into the shade of a tree, tried to get something down before I completely lost the vibe. It had been almost four days of silence. They’d be waiting for me and my next glorious proclamation.