As part of the on-line build-up to last Simply Thrilled night, members of the Facebook group were asked to reminisce on the first Scottish act they had seen live. There’s a fair range of ages among the group and the replies were fascinating, not least that provided by Basil Pieroni, the guitarist with Butcher Boy who said:-

I don’t remember them but I must have been the Cuban Heels supporting the Stranglers at the Apollo in 1978. The reason for this occurred to me was that, walking home from town yesterday, we passed the Academy. The marquee said The Cuban Heels and that rang a bell. A quick google later and we paid in. They were playing in the bar not the main theatre….

The years have been fairly kind to them. The bass player in particular looked magnificent – full quiff, skinny, dressed in black, great face. The music was of its time – kind of proto Simple Minds (according to wiki one of them was in Johnny & The Self Abusers with Jim Kerr). Anyway, was a good diversion.

I know I must have seen them at the Apollo, because I remember queuing, the doors opening and everyone starting to run up the stairs as soon as your ticket was checked. I said to my pal – why are we running? – and he said – I don’t know.

I laughed out loud as I’d forgotten that running up the stairs and into the stalls was part of the ritual in going to the Apollo. Forget the fact that you had a specified seat on your ticket as these tended to be completely ignored by those attending the gig and by the notorious bouncers, especially at the post-punk/new wave gigs where it was just mayhem from the word go,

Basil was right in that John Milarky, the singer with Johnny & The Self Abusers, would quickly team up with Paul Armour (bass), Davie Duncan (guitar) and Laurie Cuff (guitar) who had already formed a trio called The Cuban Heels and, through a friendship with an Edinburgh entrepreneur who wanted to set up a record label, they recorded and released, on Housewives’ Choice, this before 1978 was out:-

mp3 : The Cuban Heels – Downtown

Yup, it’s a cover of the song made famous by Petula Clark. And it proved to the only 45 the label would issue!

The b-side was a Laurie Cuff number:-

mp3 : The Cuban Heels – Do The Smok Walk

I do remember The Cuban Heels getting a fair bit of local media coverage back in the day and I have memories also of them getting at a couple of sessions for the John Peel show on Radio 1. It therefore seems strange that it took two years to release a follow-up single:-

mp3 : The Cuban Heels – Walk On Water

The single was the first to be issued by a new local label, Cuba Libre, which had been set up by Ali Mackenzie (ex The Subs) and who also began drumming for The Cuban Heels. Paul Armour had also left and had been replaced on bass by Nick Clark (I’m wondering he’s the same bloke who so impressed Basil a while back).

I think it’s fair to say that this new 45 was heavily influenced by Talking Heads, albeit the pace was just a bit more frantic and less posing was involved.

Some A&R folk were liking what they were hearing and next thing was that Cuba Libre did a deal with Virgin Records for joint releases on the next material by the band, which turned out to be two singles and an album in 1981 in which production duties were shared by John Leckie and Steve Hillage. The band must have toured in support of these releases, including Glasgow gigs, and while it is possible that I would have been present at one or more of such events, like Basil, I don’t remember them.

It’s interesting that, after all these years, the band has come back together again and playing gigs in the Glasgow area but it is hard to see what sort of audience they will be attracting beyond the die-hard fans who will now be approaching pensionable age.



  1. Ah, The Cuban Heels. They were very much part of my adolescene. I always tuned in because I really liked the band name but I doubt I’d recall a song title. Hold that: I listened to Walk on Water and it all came, ahem, flooding back. I thought then and do now that the vocals run very close to the melody to Bowie’s Golden Years. I’m a fan of the original Downtown and while I don’t recall this version I really like it – an enjoyable way to spend 1.43 seconds.

    My abidng memories of the Apollo are: the chaos, no-one on their seat (I’m a stickler for such things) and the almost comedic height of the stage – it seemed so incredibly high back then. My first visit involved two large ‘plastic’ punks notice me and my friend walk in and comment “oh, they’re really young”. Was there an age restriction? We were approx. 15 and 14 at the time, and no, no-one supervised us.

    For the record … as the goverment continues to raise the pension age I’m currently nowhere near it. Sigh.

  2. I saw The Cuban Heels around the time of Walk On Water, but it wasn’t an ordinary gig. It must have been some kind of warm-up, but someone working beside my mate told me they’d be playing at the Angus Hotel in Dundee – never a place for that sort of thing, and when we managed to get in it was someone’s party. The guy who’d told us introduced us and it was The Cuban Heels. Suffice to say, between us we might have made up the majority of people there that night who had ever heard of them, and I was probably the only one who owned a copy of ‘Downtown’, so they didn’t go down too well.

  3. FMO….apologies that, for some unknown reason, your comment ended up in the spam folder. I found it earlier tonight and have put it in its rightful place. Must take a look at said drama….one I remember from back in the day but can’t recall the scene in the bar.

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