How Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly made old ladies faint on the streets of Glasgow

Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly
(Image credit: Brian Shuel/Getty)

Back in the late 60s, comedian Billy Connolly and promising singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, got together to form folk band The Humblebums. 

Connolly already had the larger-than-life personality that got him nicknamed The Big Yin, and in many ways he was entirely opposite in character to Rafferty.

“He was a raging extrovert and I was the sensitive singer-songwriter,” said Rafferty. “Yet we each shared a sense of the absurd and a way of looking at life, so that we did a lot of laughing."

In an interview with Louder, Rafferty's former manager Jon Brewer recalled the kind of thing they would get up to: “Billy Connolly told me this story," says Brewer. "Gerry was a joker – he used to joke all the time, an absolute nutter, and him and Billy used to play a game. 

"Do you remember how old ladies used to have those little baskets on wheels they used to push around the shops? Well, in Glasgow it was always raining and they’d go down Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday and play this game. 

"Gerry had a glass eye – I didn’t know that until Billy told me this story – and they’d wait until it was really pouring down and they’d go out and all the old girls would put up their umbrellas. 

"And Gerry would barge into their umbrella, shout ‘Oh my god!’, and as he hit the ground he’d take his glass eye out and let it roll on the pavement.

“Some of these old ladies used to pass out. Billy said, ‘We got 10 points if they passed out, 5 points if they screamed…’ Gerry was a wonderful character in those days.”

In 2012, Connolly told a tale about how, when Rafferty was in his death bed, he reminded the singer of the time they both "smoked The Bible". 

In his new TV series, Billy Connolly Does (opens in new tab), Connolly tells another tale of mischief.

“People don’t realise Gerry was funny,” Connolly says. “He was extremely funny. He was a nutter. Did I ever tell you about the escaping snakes? We were playing in Gourock, and the guy who booked us for the night was called Alastair McSwan. He was a 'kilty'. He always wore the kilt and he was a great pusher of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

“And we stayed after and got kind of drunk. He lived in Johnstone, just outside Paisley. We’re driving back and we said, ‘What’s that on top of your car?’

“It was two big loudhailers. ‘Vote SNP. Listen to me. I know better,’ right? And Gerry said, ‘What do you speak into?’ He said, ‘That microphone over there.’ Gerry went, ‘Oh aye?’

“We were at Johnstone and it was three in the morning. Gerry got on the mic. ‘Hello, this is Alastair McSwan here. People of Johnstone, you’re in great trouble tonight. A truck bearing a load of snakes has crashed just outside Johnstone. We last heard they were heading into Johnstone.’

“‘Leave your house! Assemble on the steps of the town hall! Old people can be carried on your shoulders. Don’t bother with your valuables. They’ll be brought to you later.’

“Gerry was a scream. He used to have me on the floor. Any time anybody saw Gerry, he was straight-faced, playing these beautiful songs, great melodies he’d composed. They’d never think he was capable of this. I miss him terribly.”

The Humblebums split in 1971, with Connolly pursuing a comedy career and Gerry Rafferty scoring international hits with Stealer's Wheel as well as solo. The Humblebums' song Her Father Didn't Like me Anyway was later covered by Shane MacGowan And The Popes.

Gerry Rafferty’s first posthumous album, Rest In Blue, was released on vinyl on 15th April, to celebrate what would’ve been his 75th birthday on the 16th. Classic Rock's David Quantick called  it, "A suitable memorial to a much-missed talent."

Scott Rowley
Content Director, Music

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy of online and print brands like Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar etc. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine for 10 years and Editor of Total Guitar for 4 years and has contributed to The Big Issue, Esquire and more. Scott wrote chapters for two of legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's books (For The Love Of Vinyl (opens in new tab), 2009, and Gathering Storm (opens in new tab), 2015). He regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club (opens in new tab), and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie (opens in new tab)