OCCUPYING a back booth in Edinburgh’s City Café, the American-themed diner which has been a go-to spot for the cool set since the mid-1980s, is a man whose backstory covers a similar period of time and who, like the City Caff, has survived the decades to become something of a fixture in the capital. He is Martin Metcalfe, once the lead singer with cult band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, later of Angelfish, and currently frontman in both his own group, The Fornicators, and The Filthy Tongues, a collaboration with former Goodbye Mr Mackenzie bandmates Fin Wilson and Derek Kelly.

There was no deep intent behind the choice of this venue as a meeting place. But now we’re here it seems oddly appropriate because as well as reminiscing we’re here to celebrate the present and to mull over the future.

Let's start with the present. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Good Deeds And Dirty Rags, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie’s debut and the album which contains their best known song, The Rattler, a bona fide classic in the Scottish rock canon. And, although the 57-year-old winces slightly when I quote that line from The Blues Brothers about “getting the band back together”, Metcalfe has marked the occasion by doing just that. The band reformed in the spring, there was a rash of well-received dates in the early summer and the year closes with a Scottish tour which hits Glasgow Barrowland on Friday and culminates in what’s bound to be an equally raucous hometown gig in Edinburgh on December 29. More than that, the shows will feature Goodbye Mr Mackenzie playing Good Deeds And Dirty Rags in its entirety.

In person, Metcalfe is amiable and unassuming, a stark contrast to the icy cool rocker who stares out of the publicity shots from the band’s late 1980s heyday, usually wearing a suit. So it’s probably typical of him to have thought there might not be much take-up for such a venture – which explains why he initially planned doing the album on his own.

“It happened by accident,” he says. “Me, trying to make a crust, had decided to try to do the album in its entirety as a solo gig. But the response I got was so incredible that I thought I can’t do this without at least asking if Fin and Kelly want to do it.”

To his surprise, both Wilson and Kelly agreed, which meant doing the rounds of the other former members: guitarist John Duncan, keyboard player Rona Scobie and, on backing vocals, a certain Shirley Manson, now resident in Los Angeles where she’s the singer with Grammy-nominated rockers Garbage.

Scobie said yes but it was a harder sell where Duncan was concerned. Like Manson, he has serious rock pedigree outwith Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. Formerly the guitarist in late 1970s Edinburgh punk band The Exploited he went on to perform with Nirvana, for whom he worked as a guitar technician until Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. None of that precluded him re-joining his former bandmates, of course. What did was the fact that Duncan, or Big John as he’s widely known, lives in Amsterdam and suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. It makes guitar-playing difficult – though not, as it turns out, impossible.

Duncan and Metcalfe met in a bar in Leith, Duncan initially saying no. But after a series of “angsty” emails, one arrived giving Metcalfe the answer he had hoped for. “He just popped and said: ‘I think I can do it but don’t expect too much of me’.” To help out, Metcalfe has also recruited former Rezillos guitarist Jim Brady, a friend of Duncan’s.

And Manson?

“We did ask her but she couldn’t, and possibly wouldn’t,” says Metcalfe. “She was touring during the summer and, you know, she’s lead singer in a world-famous band that tours everywhere in the world, so the idea of her coming in to do backing vocals is probably a bit ridiculous anyway.”

The singer did visit Duncan in Amsterdam when Garbage played there recently – she even managed to crash his mobility scooter, which is an image to conjure with – and she gave him a shout-out from the stage at a venue from which The Exploited had been banned decades earlier. But, adds Metcalfe, “there’s a lot of mixed emotions come along with this sort of thing. We all went through ups and downs and fall-outs. Part of her might think she really should do it, and part of her might think ‘Well f*** that. I’m not going to be a backing vocalist, I’m a lead singer’.”

Replacing Manson in the line-up is singer Marie-Claire White, a sometime collaborator with The Filthy Tongues who records as Seil Lien. Backing the venture with his promotional muscle is Mark Mackie of Edinburgh-based Regular Music.

“Mark just about had kittens when we said we were going to try to do it,” says Metcalfe. “I think his expression was ‘Jeepers’, which I’ve never heard him say before. I don’t think he thought it was an easy sell, he just thought it was fun, excitement.”

For the warm-up dates in the early summer it was Mackie’s idea to book the band into The Garage in Glasgow which, as The Mayfair, was where Goodbye Mr Mackenzie played their farewell gig.

“He said: ‘Let’s do it for the sake of history and significance’. We said: ‘It’s 700 people, how the hell are we going to fill that?’ We just didn’t realise the demand there was going to be. When the tickets went on sale they just went” – he makes the sound of an explosion. “When Mark phoned me to tell me, I was dumbstruck”.

As for Friday’s Barrowland date, it has long been sold out and Metcalfe is relishing the prospect of stepping onto the famous stage again. “I’ve heard so many times it’s the best gig in the world and it’s always been the best gig I’ve ever played.”

Goodbye Mr Mackenzie last played there in 1991 though Metcalfe himself has less happy memories of a show supporting Stiff Little Fingers there for their traditional St Patrick’s Day gig in the city sometime in the mid-1990s. Celtic had lost, the mood in the room was ugly and objects were thrown. Mind you, he adds cheerfully, “even at its worst it’s an interesting experience.”

For Metcalfe, returning to Good Deeds And Dirty Rags wasn’t quite the stretch it was for the others. A song like The Rattler is still a fixture of his live sets, though it’s with reluctance that his bandmates in The Filthy Tongues return to the old material. “Fin’s very purist about things,” he laughs. “He doesn’t like going backwards.”

But the process of dusting down old live favourites such as Goodwill City and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, obviously requires a backwards look. So how did the band enjoy being back in the rehearsal room together and revisiting their classic material?

“I suppose we look back at that album, or that period, as a bit of a clunky 1980s pop-rock thing but in a way human beings tend to focus on the negatives. But there are a lot of positives, lyrically and musically. Even if you think [the song] Goodbye Mr Mackenzie is a bit of a Duran Duran track, it is really well arranged. There’s a key change at the beginning, it’s got a guitar riff then it moves up two and a half tones suddenly. It’s really quite sophisticated … we obviously had an element of talent – I wouldn’t call it anything but talent – for composition and arrangement that was innate”.

The lyrics aren’t bad, either. Revisiting Goodwill City, a song about Edinburgh’s AIDS crisis, I’m struck by its continued power and poignancy. “It’s about the privilege in Edinburgh versus the disaster that was AIDS in the 1980s,” says Metcalfe. “I had friends and almost-lovers who died. I had other friends who shared needles with those people and who didn’t die, which is inexplicable. I never went there [heroin], although it was around me.”

So is there a chance that new Goodbye Mr Mackenzie material will come out of this reunion?

“We’re not the sort of band that would knock it up,” he says. “We’d have to approach it the way we approached everything else, which is to try to make it the best possible. Some of those albums we made later on are lacking because of whatever – funding or sanity or focus. But if we did it, it would have to be a major thing. So rehearsal has been very business-like. We did a bit of jamming but not much of it.”

Of course 2019 marks another 30th anniversary. At first glance the fall of the Berlin Wall and a rock band from Edinburgh may not have much to connect them, but through a quirk of history Metcalfe and his bandmates were in Berlin in November 1989. They were recording their second album, Hammer And Tongs, at Berlin’s famous Hansa Tonstudio, best known as the place David Bowie made his seminal albums Low and “Heroes”. Which is how Martin Metcalfe, the lad from Bathgate, ended up at Checkpoint Charlie watching disbelieving East Berliners flood through the gates on the night the wall fell.

“Our manager rang up and said, 'The Wall’s coming down today'. This was about 6pm. We went up to the main office in the studio and the German guys there were saying, ‘No, it’s not happening’. But I thought I’d just go and have a look and see if anything was going on. As I was staying up until nine in the morning at that point it meant that 11pm was kind of my lunchtime, so I took a little trip up to Checkpoint Charlie. It was just bizarre.”

He even found his way into a celebrated photograph of the event, a photograph which subsequently ended up on a billboard.

“We have a photograph of it [the billboard]. There’s all these people looking towards Checkpoint Charlie and I’m in the middle of that. So, yes, I was there, and it’s documented. It’s sort of unbelievable. A bit of a dream. It certainly was a dream the next day and the next day and the next day, because the place filled with people from all over the world. It just became wall-to-wall people. We couldn’t get to the studio on the tram because there was so many people, they were just bursting, We had to walk to the studio. We went out and talked to the East Germans, did the peace sign with them and all that.”

Later we touch on his immediate post-Mackenzie career, when he formed Angelfish with Manson, Wilson and Kelly and found himself in Connecticut in 1993 recording with Talking Heads pair Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. “It was an odd fit, really. Tina was on our wavelength whereas Chris liked happy music. He didn’t like down or dark music at all. Because he’d done so much acid he couldn’t go there.” Creatively, Metcalfe is more in the down and dark camp. “I like the darkness,” he says simply. “I think it’s just in me, really.”

When I ask him where he thinks Goodbye Mr Mackenzie sit in the pantheon of Scottish rock acts he says this: “What we occupy in Scottish music is really this weird East Coast denial of emotion thing”. Then he expounds at length on his theory about the difference between Scottish bands from the East and the West. The latter, he thinks, are more in touch with their Celtic, Highland and Brythonic roots and that sense of passion and emotion finds its way into the music. In the East, however, things are different.

“Over here we’ve had The Associates [from Dundee], The Skids [Dunfermline], Cocteau Twins [Grangemouth], even the Rezillos [Edinburgh]. There’s an avoidance of love songs and basic emotion. There’s quite a move away from that. The Rezillos did sing 1960s boy-girl songs but it was over-the-top and kitsch. It wasn’t taking itself seriously. All our songs are about social issues but in a non-tub-thumping way. If you got politics in the West it would be more like following The Clash model but our stuff was more like social statement and observation and it was slightly detached. So we don’t go for florid statements of emotion.”

Musically, however, he is (and always has been) a guitars and drums and bass man at heart, and the rougher sounding the better. Even 30 years on from Good Deeds And Dirty Rags Metcalfe doesn’t feel he knows an awful lot more about the art of making music than he learned from punk. “Maybe my outlook is a little bit more sophisticated than it was as far as details and performance go, but as far as musical structure and composition I learned everything I needed to from the Jam, The Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. I was listening to the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop the other day and I thought, ‘What a brilliant sort of primary school class in creating a song’. They were just a brilliant way to start learning.”

And if he has regrets it’s that this ethos wasn’t always to the front in the music. When the band formed what he calls its “attack plan” in the early 1980s, it was a time when producers held sway – and producers, like engineers, “always want to clean up. That’s their job, they’re cleaners. Really a producer or engineer is a cleaner. And we were seduced by technology, to a degree … and I think we went in a direction that was cleaner than it should have been.”

Perhaps now is the time to remedy that, to get dirty, to bring Goodbye Mr Mackenzie snarling into the limelight once more – and this time, perhaps, in a form better suited to the tastes of its amiable frontman. “My spirit,” he says finally, “is full of the guitar, the tribalism of the drums – the guitar as an instrument of death.”

And he means it. Look out Barrowland, it’s going to be quite a show.

Goodbye Mr Mackenzie play Dundee Beat Generator tonight, Glasgow Barrowland on Friday, and Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms on December 29 (with The Filthy Tongues)