.. or experience or whatever you want to call it. A man will be making quiet contemplative looping sounds with one guitar, four sets of pedals, two amplifiers, two hands and two feet at the Salisbury Centre on Friday night at 8pm.
I find it hard to align myself with New Age, crystals, tarot and astrology and all that. Why, then, perform at the Salisbury? Firstly because after hearing a demo they were kind enough to invite me; secondly because it’s one of the few places I know in Edinburgh where this kind of music, where not a lot happens but what happens happens again, might attract the kind of ears that could enjoy it. But thirdly I have a strong connection with the Centre through one of its founders. I won’t name him here but I do name him in the credits to Roadblock. At the time I met him I was a teenager attracted to all things esoteric but particularly, through my adulation of the Incredible String Band and my lack of confidence in my own powers of bullshit detection, to Scientology. I found its literature crass and gradually learned bits about its unsavoury side, but at the same time thought that for Williamson and Heron to be into it, there must be something. But I’d also seen a TV programme called ‘Eastern Promise’ about various groups and belief systems settling in Britain. One of them was a Sufi group centred on a farm in England which they called Beshara. The people came over as warm and intelligent and with the ability to be deeply serious but still laugh at themselves.
I had just left home and was living in Glasgow but I heard there was a Sufi group meeting in Edinburgh, at the University Chaplaincy. One night I decided to go over. It was a freezing night. I found the Chaplaincy and there were small notices for the group but no group. Someone who worked at the Chaplaincy said they were having a fortnight off because the leader was on holiday. I started to trudge back through the University, then realised I’d left something – a notepad, I think – there. I got back as the person I’d spoken to was locking up, but with another man, thin and heavily bearded, with a large fur hat. My host said this was the leader of the Sufi group, who’d just come to collect some letters. His name was Ruhani. He smiled broadly and apologised for not being there earlier. He then said he and his wife had just returned from honeymoon. Their flat was nearby – did I want to come and have some wedding cake and a cup of tea? I went with him over to West Preston Street and met his beautiful wife, no older than me and, I think, a social worker (Ruhani, a computer programmer, was only in his early 20s himself but looked older because of the beard). We talked deep into the night. There was no attempt to convert me, indeed he said his path wasn’t for everyone, and they didn’t attempt to recruit people at all, just said where they were meeting and left it at that. At one point, he put on an album that had just been released called If Man But Knew by the Habibiyya, a group of English and American followers of another Sufi order. For all the years I’d read about so-called ‘spiritual’ stuff I’d never actually done anything. Now he put on the first track Two Shakuhachis which he described as the soul’s yearning for God (which was in some way mutual) and said, don’t listen with your ears, listen with your heart – listen in the centre of your chest. I did and experienced a sublime and never-forgotten feeling – a kind of awe, joy and desperate sadness all at once.
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This wasn’t the whole tone of the evening – there were laughs too. He explained the Arabic pendant he wore as a sacred word ‘Ya Hu’ – so sacred even cowboys knew it! I never looked back at Mr Hubbard’s output.
That wasn’t the end of the story – I was instrumental in setting up a Glasgow group which he came over weekly to teach. He stopped eventually as he had to give his time to a new project, opening a centre in Salisbury Street ‘between the pub and the synagogue’ open to all kinds of religious and meditational and therapeutic practice, the first of its kind in Scotland, earlier (I think) and more down-to-earth than Findhorn. I saw him occasionally over the years and when I moved back to Edinburgh in 1990 had a coffee or two with him – he’d left the Sufis long ago, dropped the Arabic name, and now made a living as a therapist. The beard was gone but the smile and warmth remained.
If Man But Knew has been rereleased with bonus tracks. WaveForms on Friday starts at 8.