Beam 07 : Who’s This Guy Al Bacon

M I C H E L L E  D R AY T O N – H A R RO L D

cuddlesTwo years after putting Glasgow on the convention map with Faircon, local fans organised Albacon in the Albany Hotel. This was the first British National Eastercon to be held in Scotland and it was a wild weekend featuring guests of honour Colin Kapp & Jim Barker, an amazing banquet with entertainment by a terrible dance & music floorshow (I can’t remember the name but it’s not worth the brain trauma), a riotous number of room parties and an impressive fan room. Speaking of the latter, Jim Barker spent a lot of time there, wearing a sign that said “I absolutely refuse to say why I resigned from the BSFA”.alb01

The main halls had a tannoy system, utilised for major announcements but we hadn’t realised there was no way to switch off the feed to the main programme room, so some of the talks & panels were disrupted by overzealous announcements, many referring to Slartibartfast. The Nolan Sisters were constantly freaked out, as they were staying at the hotel during one of their tours, which was fun and air crews complained frequently about the noisy room parties. The fake Bob Shaw was abducted on the Sunday by The Friends of Kilgore Trout (and various other local fans), tied to a lamp post and doused in vibrant food dye before getting fire hosed! Unfortunately, I missed that as I had to leave early due to flu but fans lived off the anecdotes & photos for months.

The name of the convention stimulated a lot of debate and it became a running joke, “Who’s this guy, Al Bacon?” It was originally believed that because the first site was the Albany Hotel – now a big hole in the ground after being demolished about 10 years ago – that was the reason for the choice but in fact, it’s for the Gaelic name for Scotland: Alba.

Albacon II (Eastercon 1983) moved into the Central Hotel site, which became the spiritual home for Glasgow fandom. Albacon became the convention of choice in Scotland and was held annually until 1988; the hotel management eventually became less accommodating to this type of event (read money grabbing, facetious, proletariat bastards) and the core of fans who formed the various committees had totally burned out.

However, fans still managed to have a riotous time.

Anne McCaffrey came over from Ireland to see Harlan Ellison in 1984 but had not heard that he had cancelled, fairly close to the convention weekend, and had asked Norman Spinrad to be his replacement. Harlan did reach Glasgow the following year and Anne came back, graciously introducing his Guest of Honour speech. This was one of the first cons that used the biggest function room in the Central Hotel and was one of the only times that it was packed beyond capacity. It holds 700 seated people but fans were standing along the sides and in the back for Ellison and the person who was most happy about this was the con Treasurer! Inspired by the public announcements from the station, Harlan also wrote a short story whilst he was staying in the Central but for the life of me, I can’t remember which one.

Clive Barker outlined the hazards of horror writing in 1986 (another Eastercon year, by the way) and the strange viewpoint of editors: it was okay to have an explicitly graphic demon gang rape but the bit where the woman has a pee in the bushes had to come out!

Ian Sorensen was put on trial for ‘Crimes against Fandom’ in 1987. As well as being involved Sorensen picwith Glasgow fan films and “Elmer T. Hack: The Musical” (with Jim Barker), Ian was notorious for playing the piano in the hotel lounge at every opportunity: not just at Glasgow cons either. John Wilkes was the judge and the legal team included Bruce Saville and Jim Barker with fans from the audience randomly selected for jury duty. The Executioner was a conscripted Dalek, who had been brought along by the local Doctor Who group but unfortunately, his blaster malfunctioned.

Albacon 88 was the last of the ‘original’ events with special guests Terry Pratchett, C J Cherryh and Heinz Woolf. There was Martian theme which was reflected in con bar on Saturday night, when several fans dressed in period outfits as Orson Welles broadcast of The War of the Worlds was played in the background. Local fan Emma Fork turned up at the masquerade as a Mars bar and John Riddell entered as a Martian tourist.

For several years, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the infamous Custard Pie fights provided some of the messiest fun! The latter was helped by the highly motivated hotel staff taking on the convention attendees with chefs making real custard, dyed into incredible Day-Glo colours (Gobby Green, Yucky Yellow and Poxy Pink)! Damn that stuff was slippy: once the protective tarpaulin got ‘wet’ it was treacherous. Worst of all, it was always mingin’ (Glasgow slang for smelling really bad) and the task of disposing it was never pleasant. Eventually, it just got too messy and dangerous, so it was dropped from the programme around 1985. It did make another, brief appearance at one of the 90’s Albacons, but watching Omega bounce rather spectacularly (her score was 9, 10, 10, 9, 10 and 10 from the judges for artistic trauma) and injure her coccyx was the final straw.

Mingin’ at Albacon

I mentioned the fan movies earlier: ‘Faircon Strikes Back’, ‘Bar Trek’, ‘Conrunner’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Con’ were filmed and produced in Glasgow. Production culprits included Chris O’Kane, Ian Sorensen, Bruce Saville, John Allardice, Mark Meenan and Mike Molloy. During the filming of Conrunner at the Central Hotel, one of the antique glass doors in the Court Lounge, which overlooks the station concourse, got broken and that was a rather expensive outlay! The films have been transferred onto digital media but they still look dreadful! Just the kind of thing for the late night programme, when everyone is too pissed to notice. Ian Sorensen teamed up with Phil Raines and Jackie McRoberts in the early 90’s to form Reduction Absurdum. Their stand-up performances poked the fun at just about anything: Telly Tubbies, Bladerunner and eventually, culminated in Lucas Back In Anger at Interaction (63rd Worldcon in Glasgow 2005) took the Star Wars phenomenon to new (lower) levels: bigger cast, bigger props, huge performance arena and an attempt at the biggest public Kazoo playing performance for the Guinness Book of Records. Don’t think we did it, though!

Albacon returned to the Central Hotel in 1991 with a fairly new team, aiming to get Scottish fandom back on the map again. Alan Dean Foster, Chris Achilleos and Colin MacNeil were the guests and the con also hosted the forerunner to the highly successful Alien War. Up on the first floor, a small group of enthusiasts put together a dark, atmospheric walk through corridor complete with Space Marine escorts, haunting James Horner music, face huggers and a scary surprise waiting for all those brave enough to enter! Down in the main hall, you could faintly hear some of the music but there was sufficient distance and brick to muffle the screams!

Son et Lumiere presentations by the late Professor John Salthouse became one of the most popular programme items in the 90’s. His chemical explosions nearly brought the house down: special insurance dispensation had to be obtained, fire alarms & smoke detectors were turned off and Glasgow University’s Alchemy Club provided additional safety equipment. John loved coming along to Albacon, mainly because the audience was much more enthusiastic about blowing up digestive biscuits than most of his academics and he loved the social aspect of cons. He couldn’t attend in 1998 but recommended a friend, Professor Edwin Dawes, a member of The Magic Circle. Accompanied by his wife, Professor Dawes presented a very interesting lecture and demonstration about the history of performance magic. John Salthouse made one of his last convention appearances at 2Kon, the British National Eastercon in 2000 and sadly left this world in October 2008.

A Granny at AlbaconA cartoon provided by Colin MacNeil, Darth Vader and the Alien in Bermuda shorts, a surf board and a bucket & spade, quickly became the Albacon 94 logo and the night before the con, a press shoot was organised just outside the hotel entrance in the station concourse. A wedding party, watching from the Court Lounge, sent one of their guests to find out what was going on and the intrepid granny ended up in the photo! We got her contact details and forwarded a copy of the picture to her. That’s a weekend she’ll never forget!

Bob Asprin was our main guest and a fellow conspirator for setting up Pete Morwood with a birthday surprise during the masquerade. Whilst Pete was deliberating with the other judges, the audience was primed with banners, party poppers and instructed on their cue to sing Happy Birthday. When the judges came back, as Mistress of Ceremonies, I announced that a vital item had been found and needed to be returned to an attendee, “Is there a Peter Morwood in the room?” Once in the centre of the room, a little hat was placed on his head and the room burst into song. Bob also managed to drink the bar dry of Jamieson’s whiskey just about every night, despite advance warnings to the hotel (what’s new?). Pete Morwood certainly helped, as did Jannny Wurtz & Don Maitz, who were unexpected walk-in members and had a wedding anniversary that weekend! So, every evening at about 7pm, bar staff were seen bolting out to the local store for more bottles. We also had the wonderful Fangorn as our Artist guest and Douglas Hill, who had never been to a convention before and was completely overwhelmed when he got the invitation. However, he had a great time and made some enduring friendships. Sadly, he died in 2007 following a road traffic accident and The Last Legionary trilogy remains one of my favourite YA stories.

My husband, Ralph, entered the masquerade that year and won Best of Show as Sister Harrier (a costume inspired by an RPG “Nuns With Guns”) wearing a mini Habit, stockings, suspenders, thigh high boots with 3 inch stiletto heels and lots of guns, presented to the sound of Peter Gabriel’s Steam! With the exception of maybe two people, nobody had noticed the ring I was wearing (I got it the weekend before the con), so when we revealed the news after his victory walk it was a big surprise ,but we couldn’t have picked a better place to announce our engagement!

Albacon 98 was a bit of a strange fish because it incorporated a smaller event, “Homeland” (a Highlander TV series themed event). They had lost their venue at very short notice, so to avoid disappointment, Albacon ‘wiggled’ the programme to provide them with their own space. Seemed like a good idea at the time but didn’t work as well as we would have liked: areas like the bars were shared but generally, the two groups rarely mingled. However, for me, this was one of the best events I had ever organised. We had fantastic guests: Kim Newman, Terry Pratchett and Rodney Matthews. We also had Ray Harryhausen, making a rare public appearance, discussing his long career and demonstrating some of his remarkable models. It really was the jewel in the crown and of all the events I’ve been involved with over the years, this was THE ONE!

Albacon was Scotland’s Premier SF event presenting high profile guests, great programming and friendly, relaxed mayhem! Glasgow fandom remains proud of that heritage and anyone who has attended an Albacon event has some remarkable memories!

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