This morning I found a check (spelled “cheque” for Europeans) that I could not cash from 15 years ago. It was from a lovely man called Mr. Alan Oates. Alan was touching 40, about 5,5 in feet with ginger hair that was curly on top and short on the sides but not shaven. He wore some indie clothes with a simple black and grey checkered shirt that matched his black framed rectangle glasses giving him a 1960s nerdy image.
I was basically homeless in Edinburgh for a month. One night I visited Whistle Binkies on the Royal mile where there was an open Mic night. I got up and sang a set of songs I had written. After being told I sounded like a Bob Dylan (that could sing) or a Tom Petty Alan approached me. He asked if I would be interested in doing a half hour set in a club called the village and it would be a paid gig.
I agreed to do it considering I had no money. I was paid £19.50 by check in an envelope. I couldn’t get anyone to cash it because I had no Bank of Scotland or any bank account and he made it out to “Steve Elliott”. With my name being Stephen Mc Elligott it made it impossible to cash. I remember just losing my brain at the sight of it and lo and behold I still have it. The ink was smudged in certain places due to it being in my cold wet pocket. Living in a damp and cold country like Scotland you got used to having wetness in every part of you even your psyche.
That night towards the end of the gig, I had not realized it was actually a bar popular with liberals and lots of gay people. I was quite surprised as it didn’t feel like a gay bar at all. Before departing from Alan for the last time, I told him of my plans to busk on Rose street because I had no permit to busk on the posh side of the city known as the Royal mile.
His eyes widened and in a cautious tone of voice instructed me to “be careful“. “There are many homeless junkies there who guard their pitches with violence. Some are known to have gotten stabbed” he explained. Needing the money I didn’t allow this to deter me. The next morning I walked through the city for an hour only to arrive at Rose Street. By the time I got to the end of the street so many homeless asked me for a cigarette that I found myself with none by the time I had picked a spot.
To my surprise I never got into trouble. In fact, I made a lot of money that day enough to keep me going for a week. Looking back I saw it as Gods reward for being so charitable with my cigarettes.
The end of the month finally arrived. Feeling the financial pinch, I headed North hiding on the train so I would not have to pay the fair for a three hour journey into the highlands. My train was delayed as it had broken down. An entrepreneur with a Scottish record label waited at table for me in a fancy Italian restaurant. I never showed because my train was so late. By this time he had already vacated the restaurant. Once again I was left frustrated, jobless and penniless as my feet crunched through the snow at my final stop on the Scottish merry go round .
One day shortly afterwards, I wrote a song about my experience of the homeless in Edinburgh. I met one man who I include in my lyrics of a song called “This is a prison”. He sold a “Big issue” magazine popular with the homeless who sell them at traffic lights. I always remember his eyes were thick with the crust of sleep. I include this in my lyrics also. It’s basically a song about him, but also my own subconscious plea for help.
Those were the days. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years. I was only 20 years old when I received that check on the 18th of November 2005. When I think about it, it doesn’t feel like 15 years ago but something that happened only yesterday.
A further two or three years living in Scotland and I’d finally had enough. My interest in music and the life I was leading began to dissolve like a packet of Aspirin in a glass of water. It was at this moment Jesus stepped in and gave me a few nudges leading me to where I am today.