A Song for Maggie

About 18 months ago, I lost a good friend. Maggie McDonald, or “Swampwino” to use one of her eponymous stage names, was an archetypal Glaswegian, simultaneously warm and welcoming, whilst also being scary as hell. Its hard to separate the natural elements of the accent  from the “lived in” version. Maggie’s was most definitely lived in- and oh how she lived!

She had finally succumbed to the liver cancer that was probably a sadly inevitable product of years of rock and roll excess and hard living.
It also, with the utmost irony, came at the time that Maggie had finally rid herself of the demons that precipitated that lifestyle, and was living her absolute best life.

I had got to know her a few years ago, our passion for music being the one major thing we had in common, although we had both dealt with our respective demons in different ways.
I was in awe of her musicianship as well as her ability to navigate Logic, the music producer’s dream production software.

When I wasn’t working, I would drive down to Peckham, the pre-hipsterised version that is, and spend a day both talking about and making music.
I would often get a message en route asking me for “Amber Leaf and coffee”, the only (well not quite) stimulants Maggie could cope with by this stage. 

Once I had navigated the kitchen, which had all the allure of a post-apocalyptic fasr food joint, to make coffee, I would sit there and listen to Maggie, her guitar skills, and talk about how we both survived Thatchher, only to be ruled by her idealogically illegitimate offspring.

I would occasionally bump into the lovely Irish lady who lived upstairs. Despite the constant thudding bass emanating from Maggie’s PA, which she had rigged up in her tiny first floor living room, that made Maggie the sort of neighbour that would have had the hipsters stuffing tofu in their ears, that lady, whose name I forget, always asked how Maggie was.

Maggie was a prolific writer of tunes, not all of which bore resemblance to the classic version of the term, and, when I met her, was in the latter stages of holding a band together as its bass player, even though she would have also been a better lead guitarist and drummer too for the band, had that been possible.

She also played some lovely gigs around London with a talented writer of witty songs, Lucy Lyrical, with whom she recorded a splendid EP, “Songs That Traitors Sing” as Maggie and Lucy Lyrical.

 Lucy is now also a published writer, and I have just finished her excellent first novel “Three Women”.

Maggie and Lucy were, I am pretty sure, London’s only Bouzoukele act, Maggie on the Bouzouki and Lucy the ukulele. Here’s a little sample of what made them such a great pairing.  “Sleazy Peazy”

Maggie and I never got to perform live together, although we spoke about it a lot, particularly when she was recuperating from bouts of treatment. Its something I will always be sad about, and it proves that we have to seize any opportunity we can to do the things we want to do.

Maggie was full of stories, mostly involving drink (or more), often in the company of musicians who were, or became, household names.

One thing she did, a few months before she passed away, was to send me some of her instrumental tracks with the instruction, “you’re a wordsmith, see if you want to write lyrics for any of these”.

I didn’t even make it to Maggie’s funeral; the incessant need to find income that we all have, prevented it.  Rubbish really.

Maggie had though, already seen some lyrics I had written for one of her tracks. she had called it “Sure Thing”, and it was a track that displayed Maggie’s guitar skills in their full glory. 

I only had an mp3 version, so the production possibilities were limited. Still, I wouldn’t have wanted to take any of Maggie away from the track, so I just wrote the lyrics and bolted on the vocals.

So Maggie, here it is, my little tribute to you.  Sure Thing

If enough people like it, I might release it to raise money for something that Maggie would have approved of.

Give ’em hell up there! 

4 thoughts on “A Song for Maggie”

  1. I Love this piece. I’ve known Maggie since we were teenage punks in Glasgow. Like a lot of people since, I once tried to get her to join my band. I wasn’t even insulted when we were told that we just weren’t good enough. We lost and re-established contact a couple of times over the years. Usually when the worst kind of demons were calling, at various points, down the years. We both lost mutual friends to the demons. I believe that her music ( which was her soul) saved Maggie and her music touched many who had known her. In the last few years, despite cancer, she seemed more at ease with herself than at several other points in life when we’d met up. Thank you Emma for sharing your Song For Maggie.

    1. Dear Frank, Thanks do much for getting in touch. It really is good to hear from people who knew Maggie from way back. In the time I knew her, she was still angry (and rightly so) at the world, but as you say, much more at peace with herself.
      I used to enjoy our chats so much, making plans for gigs and recording etc- even when we probably both knew it would never happen. You can’t keep that human spirit down.
      Wishing you all the very best Frank.

  2. Thank you for this . I was once manager of The Jangletties. Jake on bass and Maggie on guitar. Stuart Steele on vocals and a guy called Martin on drums. This was1980/83. We kept in contact over the years and she visited me in Bristol until recently. A sad loss and missed greatly.

    1. Thank you John. What a great band name too! Its criminal how much talent never gets the recognition it deserves. Yes, Maggie is greatly missed, but it is lovely to hear from her old friends.
      All the best

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