In The DJ Booth With … Willie Morgan

In The DJ Booth With … Willie Morgan

This issue it’s former United and Scotland star Willie Morgan who has the dubious pleasure of meeting Boyley, over a coffee or two at a posh Cheshire golf club. Willie shares tales of enough musical ligging to leave even Pete in the shade.

What were your earliest musical memories growing up?

“I was and still am a big Elvis Presley fan – he was undoubtedly The King. I think probably when Blue Suede Shoes came out, that was a eureka! moment. From then on, like many, I was hooked on him. A lot of it was the look he had. We didn’t have the vast amounts of hair products like they do nowadays so we used to improvise and we’d use margarine or Vaseline to style our hair. We loved Bill Haley but we didn’t want to look like him but Elvis we did.”

What got you into him?

“We lived in a little Scottish mining village where nobody had a TV, phone or even a car. Your choice was to become a priest or go down the pit with your Dad, brothers and uncles – it was a proper mining community. My Dad actually wanted me to be a priest but I was destined to go down the mines. Then the Teddy Boys arrived and me and my mates really took notice of this new look. At the time we had one barber in the village and you just went for a haircut, he cut everybody’s hair exactly the same. Then Elvis came along with what was known as a DA (duck’s arse) style haircut which, although attributed to Elvis, was in fact first modelled by the actor Tony Curtis but it had been far too rebellious and outrageous for our village and we weren’t allowed one. Elvis came along and he literally changed the world. We heard him on the radio and then his films started coming out. The first film I actually saw wasn’t actually an Elvis one but Bill Haley in Rock Around The Clock.”

 Did you ever meet Elvis?

“Sadly not but a couple of times I had made arrangements through mutual friends to do so. One time when I was playing in the US a film crew arranged to come with me but he was ill and it never happened.”

Did you and Martin Buchan ever compete in the Elvis stakes?

“No, haha. Martin liked Elvis too but I think all the lads liked Elvis to some extent. When I first went to Graceland in 1977 I brought oil paintings and all sorts back for Frank Worthington and Peter Reid who were my colleagues at Bolton.”

Apart from Elvis, who else do you like?

“Well I used to go to a load of gigs with Rod [Stewart] I’ve seen him all over. We spent some really good times together and though I don’t see him as much, when he visits Manchester I usually pop along and catch up.”

How did you first meet him?

“He came up on a visit to Old Trafford around 1970 and we hit it off. He came around for dinner and we stayed mates from then. Johnny Mathis is a really good friend and was actually my best man when I got married to Kay in Vegas two years ago, and another close friend who was at the wedding is Don Felder from the Eagles.”

So you’ve done a bit of backstage ligging then?

“I haven’t with the Eagles but have been backstage loads with Johnny and Rod and seen some sights.”

Do you play any instruments yourself?

“I would have liked to have played the piano but I don’t play anything.”

Any more rock star mates?

 “Rick Wakeman is another old and good friend.”

Hasn’t he got some sort of City passion?

“Yeah, he’s a City fan but I don’t know why. I met the likes of Tom Jones and Freddie Garritty in the Sixties. The latter used to perform at dancehalls and when I was Burnley we were welcomed into such places. When I joined the club they had just won the league title in 1960 and were a big draw – playing for them was very glamorous. The Nelson Imperial Hall was run by a guy called Bob Cain and he put on some very big names and was more than happy for me and my team-mates to come along and mingle in the VIP area. The likes of the Beatles, Stones and PJ Proby all played there.”

Did your profile rise a lot after you moved to Old Trafford?

“No, because I was already established by playing at Burnley. In those days Burnley got over 40,000 at home compared to United getting over 50,000 so not a massive difference in home crowds. The difference I suppose was that everywhere United played they had a massive away support that no other team had and they also got so much more coverage in the press, even then. I was actually the first footballer in history to have an official fan club. The Brunskill sisters from Nelson approached me when I was at Burnley and I let them. I still have a copy of the first photo they sent out. They used to do a newsletter every month and send out little badges.”

Did they carry it on when you joined United?

“Oh yes they carried it on. Burnley was a great place, they had the Locarno and all the stars of the Sixties came and appeared there, it was a regular venue on the tour circuit. Being at United was more glamorous, they had just won the European Cup and we went to play in the World Club championship and here I was as the then record signing, I felt great. I actually got an agent when I joined United although I didn’t previously know what one was. Next thing I had all sorts of endorsements.”

Where did you go out in Manchester?

“The main two places we went were Time and Place and Phonograph which later became Blinkers [now The 39 Steps] and was run by the Demmy brothers. There were loads of other bars and clubs like FooFoo’s. I was married when at United so I generally went out with Denis [Law], Paddy [Crerand], David [Sadler] and their respective wives and also my very good friends the late Alan and Lesley Ball who lived in Worsley. We’d generally go to places such as Blinkers on a Saturday night and then the Playboy Club opened and we’d go there too.”

Did you ever get any grief on nights out?

“I’ve never had any problems in Manchester whatsoever, people were great. The United and City players actually got on really well off the pitch.”

Who were the characters? Anybody grabbing the mic on a night out?

“We didn’t have mics in those days, haha. We used to go to Arturo’s Italian restaurant with Sir Matt on many a Saturday night. When Sir Matt had a few whiskies down him “I belong to Glasgow” would be sung by him a good few times, a real party piece. We were like a family, it was a great feeling around the club.”

Who was the best dressed team-mate, or thought they were?

“We all wore the big loud flowery ties with big knots. I used to wear purple suits but I wasn’t alone. The actor-singer Adam Faith starred in a famous TV show called Budgie and in it he wore this really standout style of suit which became known as ‘the Budgie suit’. A company in Manchester called Barry Paul made them and one of the contracts my agent got me was to model these. This Budgie look was massive and sold loads.”

How did you end up owning your own sportswear shop in Altrincham? (I bought two United kits and a tracksuit there in 1982. Fortunately Willie doesn’t remember this encounter with a chubby bucktoothed kid.)

“I had stopped playing although I never actually announced I was retiring. I got offered a few jobs in management like one in America, Blackpool and a couple of others but it meant I would have had to move and uproot my family and I didn’t want to do that. I had about a year off and to be honest was totally bored. A friend owned a block of shops in Altrincham and suggested I run my own sportswear shop. Initially he got a manager in with a view to show me the ropes. I liked it for a while but in the end I really didn’t enjoy dealing with certain members of the public and one day I had an incident with a couple of irritating customers. I realized I didn’t want to carry on doing it, so I didn’t.”

At the end of the 1970s when you played in America there were some big names out there…

“I didn’t really play alongside any household names but played against many of the world’s greats like Pele, Beckenbauer, Eusebio and George Best, as well as top players like Charlie George, Alan Ball, Frank Worthington, Rodney Marsh and Denis Tueart. It was a memorable time, absolutely fantastic.”

Did you sample much of the nightlife out there?

“It’s where I first met Don Felder (lead singer with the Eagles) and we’ve remained good friends ever since. I also became friendly with the actor and singer Howard Keel who starred in a load of famous musicals such as Carousel and Oklahoma. He also appeared in films such as Calamity Jane and Kiss Me Kate and in TV shows such as The Love Boat and Dallas. I met him through golf days organized in his name which I used to run. He became a good friend until his death in 2004. Some of his ashes were even scattered here (Mere Golf Club) because he loved coming here so often.”

Any encounters with the Bee Gees?

“I met the Bee Gees but that was Old Trafford. I met Brian Johnson (ACDC’s Geordie lead singer) and although that sort of music isn’t my cup of tea he’s a great bloke and a friend. He played Manchester a few years ago and invited me and a few pals along. I was genuinely really pleasantly surprised they were actually fantastic but I still couldn’t tell you a song by them. Brian is a top bloke.”

When you moved back to England was it a big culture shock?

“I didn’t ever move lock stock and smoking barrel, I just went for the summers. I basically overlapped the seasons so I had no holiday. I just played football all year. Over four years I averaged around a hundred games per year and in the end I just got tired of playing football.”

When you came back did you have any other offers?

“Yes, I got offered a contract to play for both Leeds and City. Leeds would have meant I had to move the family again because I didn’t fancy that M62 commute every day and I just couldn’t go to City.”

Why not?

“Because I still loved United too much.”

That’s a breath of fresh air compared to many ex-Reds who join the club whose fans refer to us as Munichs

“I just couldn’t do it, John Bond was keen but it just wasn’t me.”

You have one of the coolest, most famous songs ever about a United player. How does that feel?

“It was a good song yeah. It evolved from the crowd’s chant to Gin Gan Goolie which was written by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement. From this chant Graham Gouldman from Manchester band 10cc wrote about five versions of Willie Morgan On The Wing and I chose my favourite, although I think the George Formby sound-alike vocals were a bit naff. That’s just how many London record company people viewed us up north back then. My biggest and proudest claim to fame was that it was on RCA records, so I was labels mate with Elvis, how cool is that?

“It’s been re recorded many times since and appeared on various compilation albums over the years. 10cc themselves recorded a version of the song but Tristar Airbus released it and apparently it did very well and made some good money. The boys at the famous Kennedy Street enterprise still get royalties in from time to time, and I met one of them twenty years ago who told me somebody in Argentina had bought a copy the week before.”

 Did you see any of the proceeds?

“No, not a penny. My agent got me all sorts of endorsements and the record was one of many. I called him one week but got no answer. I went to his office a few times and still no answer. He had just disappeared and done a runner. I’ve had plenty of people look for him over the years but nobody has ever found him.”

Was he always dodgy?

“When I joined United I got an accountant and an agent, previously I didn’t know what either was. He was coming in with this contract and that contract and some were for big money. This was 1968 and the deal with the Budgie suits was set to get me £150,000; you can imagine how big that was then. I called into the offices of Barry Paul [tailors] and had a general chat. I asked if they had seen Steve [the missing agent] because his offices were closed. I asked how the orders were going and they said the pre-orders were phenomenal and we were on a percentage which meant they were going to make a lot of money. Then they looked at me and mentioned the settlement deal. It turned out Steve had been in and said give me £25,000 and we’ll call it quits which was saving them a lot of money because orders were a few hundred thousand already. That’s where the cash went, with all the other cash I was owed.”

I read somewhere that your family was friendly with Michael Jackson…

“No, that’s not true. Johnny Mathis has a ranch down in Santa Barbara and we were playing golf one day when John said, ‘Do you want to come and meet Michael, he only lives down the road, or do you want to come back to Sherwood for a game of golf?’ I opted for the golf as I usually do. When I got home I asked my daughter Gaynor if her son Alex would like to visit Michael Jackson at Neverland. He was keen and we were sorting out the logistics when the story broke about all the alleged misdemeanour’s so obviously he never went. In a nutshell I didn’t know Michael but it was a heartbreaking for many reasons when he died because the guy was basically a kid still who never really had a childhood.”

Do you get to Old Trafford nowadays?

“No, not really, it’s a rarity. I had a box for many years until about seven years ago but there were lots of issues and the prices went up a lot in a short space of time.”

What do you think of modern crowds compared to the ones you played in front of?

“Everything about the game is different. We used to park in the car park opposite the Busby statue. We’d walk in with the fans chatting about the game. We knew loads of regulars and it was a normal way of life. It was a fantastic feeling and the fans genuinely loved the club, I know fans still love the club but I think there was more of a connection in those days between the fans and club. The biggest change has probably been behind the scenes at the club.”

To finish, what’s your favourite single?

“The Cascades – Rhythm Of The Rain.”

Favourite album?

“I got hundreds of vinyl albums, it’s so hard but I’d go with Elvis Presley’s Something For Everybody.”

 Best gig you’ve been to?

“I think Rod at the NEC around 1982 during the Blondes Have More Fun tour. It was a fun place to be with Rod backstage.”

And if the following Scottish artists were playing on the same night which gig would you go to?

  • Aztec Camera or Bay City Rollers? – “Bay City Rollers.”
  • Wet Wet Wet or Franz Ferdinand? – “Wet Wet Wet.”
  • Ultravox or Travis? – “Travis. I saw Ultravox at the Apollo and they were so poor.”
  • Simple Minds or the Fratellis? – Fratellis, on the basis of not liking Simple Minds.”
  • Belle And Sebastian or the Bluebells? – “The Bluebells.”
  • Primal Scream or Altered Images? – “Altered Images.”
  • Snow Patrol or Jesus And Mary Chain? – “Snow Patrol.”
  • The Proclaimers or Orange Juice? – “The Proclaimers.”
  • Del Amitri or Teenage Fan Club? – “Del Amitri.”
  • Runrig or The View? “Runrig.

*Thanks a lot to Willie and Scott Morgan.

This article was first published by Pete Boyle in Red Issue magazine


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Written by Pete Boyle

I’m an ordinary Manchester United fan who loves singing (usually badly) and having a few drinks with mates at United games home and away. I never personally label myself as anything else and get embarrassed (ok maybe not) when I get labelled a ‘super fan’ etc.

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