Derek McLuckie was a contemporary of mine in the fabulous Paisley Writers’ Group of the 1990s. This was a weekly meeting of some of the most talented writers I’ve ever worked with, including Suhayl Saadi (a good friend whose “Psychoraag” is one of the most imaginative Scottish novels of the last 15 years), Graham Fulton (more of him later), Margaret Fulton Cook, Marion Arnott (A Silver Dagger winner) and Alasdair MacKinnon (one of the most elegant poets I’ve read).
Led by Agnes Owens, Gerrie Fellows, Kathryn Heyman and, finally, Ajay Close, it was an absolute hot-house of intense productivity. Work was torn apart, fought over, picked to pieces – and always came out the other end of that process at least twice as good. I’d never have written what I have written if it wasn’t for their influence, and I’ve never found a group like it since. Truly exciting times.
Derek appeared in the mid-90’s. He brought a different twist to the group perspective, which was pretty much embedded in a brutalist realism. Derek’s was a world of violence and sweat and sex that was unflinching and vivid. It was so out there, so in your face, and Derek’s dramatic core simply emphasised that. Gay orgies, casual sex followed by casual beatings, grubby rites of passage, industrial quantities of illegal substances: nothing was beyond him. I always thought I was an honest, frank writer: Derek took the biscuit, shoved it into his gob, chewed it up and spat it back out at you. He was a fantastically promising talent.
I haven’t seen him for over ten years, so it was with huge interest I accidentally discovered this performance at the Tron. It covers many of the issues he dealt with in his writing back then, developed into a powerhouse monologue that was his trademark style when I was on the same bill as him. Nowadays, every writer who can read from a sheet of paper advertises themselves as a “performer”: I’ve always considered myself a pretty good reader, and Derek, as a trained actor, just wiped the floor with me because he knows what performance is all about.
This is a terrific hallucinogenic roller-coaster ride, full of wild buzzing involving Greek myths, religious iconography and a fair dash of Barbie. The adolescent pull of glue is really well done, not so much an escape as a heightening. There are lots of real laughs that point to real truths, as well as blood in bucketfuls. Of course, though, it’s all about sex, the gay teen tortured by desire for his pals; it’s not the glue that woos the narrator away from the Evangelical religion of his family, it’s the boys.
That is the source of the greatest poignancy in the performance. A teenage pyjamaed fumbling with the one pal he truly loves is genuinely touching, while the other – more dangerous and full of testosterone – attempts to rape him using Germoline as a lubricant. The final minutes of the performance, as the narrator sits torn and bleeding in a bus shelter and invokes the spirit of Judy Garland as his saviour, are quite something.
Good to see Derek in fine form, as ever.