I often do fieldwork with Mitch; he sketches, I ask questions. It’s a gentle, slightly shambolic approach that we’ve honed over many years and which works well for us. When I interview Iain Bryce, however, I am up in the Toonie with Chris. A different kettle of fish, altogether, not least because Mitch and I tend to work with both feet on the ground whereas Chris contorts himself into odd positions or lies flat on the floor in order to take his pictures. It gets results; I mean nothing derogatory.

It’s the dynamic that interests me about this particular interview; the equipment and paraphernalia that Chris brings with him, the instructions – where to stand, where to look – and what that might do to an interviewee and what it might bring to an interview.

First, I meet Iain in the Rooftop Cafe while Chris scouts the Town Centre for a good location to take his portrait. Iain and I talk about the Cumbernauld 70s Gang Facebook group which he formed in 2011, after a successful school reunion where he met up with many of his old Cumbernauld High school pals and discovered that they, like him, felt a deep attachment to the town. The tagline on the group’s Facebook page is Pictures, anecdotes, memories etc from a golden era in our lives.

The group has over six and a half thousand members from all over the world and, from the posts, it really does seem as if its thousands of members hold the town in great affection. There are photographic posts of landscapes (Cumbernauld is surrounded by the most beautiful countryside) and blazing sunsets over the Millcroft Road Flats and other buildings. There are newspaper articles, past and present, old photographs of the Town Centre, and snapshots of perm-haired boys and girls in football strips or their best going-out rig-outs. There are quirky questions: Do any of you remember the old Dip boutique in the Town Centre? and Who did YTS? Mine was forestry and landscape up at Carrick Stone Water Tower 1985. This last post received ninety-five comments and the former, ninety-seven.

Alison Irvine interviewing Iain Bryce – Cumbernauld Town Centre

Iain has a forensic memory. Dates, names, places are all recalled easily as we sip our drinks in the cafe and the waiter buzzes about with people’s orders. He gives thoughtful, detailed answers to my questions and I get the sense that he would happily talk without any prompts at all.

Iain spent all of his childhood and early adult life in Cumbernauld. He moved with his parents to the original Cumbernauld in 1953 and was pushed in his pram to witness the cutting of the first turf to commemorate the start of the New Town build. He grew up with Cumbernauld New Town forming around him. ‘It was amazing. The cranes and the columns, the piling,’ he says. As a boy he played in the workies’ huts, collected nails, melted tar and sailed boats on the puddles in the building sites, avoiding the watchies. As a young man he bought records from RS McColls, clothes from Edward Sir and travelled the length and breadth of the town. ‘I could walk from Abronhill to Ravenswood and I did frequently with my LPs under my arm to visit pals. And you could never touch a road. You didn’t need to touch a road. It was all safe. It was all clean. The footpaths were good.’ He says the lighting was a bit dodgy on the forest paths.

Iain’s first job was in the Town Centre in the Cumbernauld Development Corporation’s housing department (M6 51 Town Centre South for those who remember when the internal ‘streets’ were numbered not named) and for a time in his early working life, his days and weekends revolved around the Town Centre. Work, lunch (in the Kestrel) and socialising. Iain tells me about going to parties in the penthouses – two-apartment flats over five levels. You needed to be on fifteen hundred pounds a year to rent one of those. He was on four hundred and fifty.

Iain walks around the Town Centre with me and points out which shops used to be where while ‘Mull of Kintyre’ plays over the centre’s loudspeakers. ‘That was the Cumbernauld News in there.’ ‘This bit here was the SCAN bookshop.’ ‘And this was the Vineyard.’ ‘Back round there was a place called the Dip Boutique which was really cool.’ Ah, so Iain remembers the Dip Boutique.

On we go, Iain naming old shops and pointing out gaps where escalators and up-ramps used to be. He’s kept it all in his head. I ask him how he feels about the Town Centre now, with buckets out to catch the rain. He’s circumspect. ‘Well, I’ve seen that in every new centre I’ve been in. So it’s not unusual. It’s a bit sad. It’s been an amazing place, you know. It still is an amazing place. Just neglected.’

 

And then we go to find Chris who has found two suitable locations for a portrait and has set up his tripod in the first. Chris works quickly and with energy. He moves around his tripod, paces, even, checking his lighting, bits of equipment popping and whizzing. ‘Did you see a flash?’ he asks. We say yes. He gets me to hold a reflector sheet and tells me where to tilt it so that the light bounces off Iain’s face. I keep my Dictaphone on and ask more questions. Iain tells me about the Country and Western nights at the CDC club, about the nine-pin bowling which didn’t last for long and the chippy and the Chinese restaurant he ate at.

Chris looks at Iain through his camera lens. He makes a quick move to adjust the reflector sheet I’m holding and then goes back to his camera. ‘And you’re just looking here,’ he says to Iain. ‘Not smiling. Just looking.’

‘Are you ready?’ I ask Chris.

‘Nearly,’ he says. ‘Keep going. One more question. Make it a good one.’

So I ask Iain one last question: ‘If you were in charge, would you try and save the town centre or—?’ and he answers, immediately. ‘Oh, I’m a saver.’

When I ask him to elaborate, it seems that something about standing in front of the camera gives what he says a heightened, emotional edge. Nerves, maybe, excitement, perhaps, or maybe a slight pressure to perform in front of the camera. ‘I think it’s iconic. I think it’s the heart of Cumbernauld. I think they’ve demolished so much of Cumbernauld that’s given it its identity, from the high flats, pubs, buildings, cafes. This is basically the last bit. Once they take it away there’s no identity left for Cumbernauld.’

I ask another question: ‘What about your own identity? How would it affect your identity if they demolished the Town Centre?’

‘Well, it would be sad. It would be a big emptiness,’ Iain says.

‘Without putting words into your mouth, it feels like you belong here,’ I prompt.

‘Oh, aye, this is my roots. I come from Cumbernauld. This is where I grew up. And this is where I was formed.’ His words come out direct and strong and he stands strong as he says them.

Chris is ready to shoot and I watch him at his work, bending to look through the lens and straightening, and I watch Iain, just looking, not smiling. I see him as Chris sees him through his lens, framed by the pale sky behind the lattice window, with the orange floor and blue paint of the up-ramp rushing to present the man and his memories.

We move to the second location where Chris tell us the light is tricky. ‘Last picture,’ he promises. I can’t remember if he lies on the floor.

The interview with Iain is enlightening. I think of the baby in the pram when the first turf was cut growing up to become the man showing me around the Town Centre and pointing out where his memories intersect with the megastructure. ‘I’m a saver,’ he says in front of Chris’s camera. It wouldn’t matter if he was a saver or a knocker-downer. What matters is we get him, bare and honest and speaking his truth. And, on this occasion, the camera helps. ‘Oh, aye, this is my roots. Cumbernauld. This is where I grew up. This is where I was formed.’ Click. Flash.

 

Iain Bryce – Cumbernauld 70s Gang – Town Centre – photo by Chris Leslie

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