This one got sparked off by a recent discussion at work about SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s choices on Desert Island Discs. Mostly Scottish, but that turned out to be quite wide-ranging, many not exactly Scottish. It got me thinking about all the Scottish artists and bands I really like. There are loads. I narrowed them down to twenty for this list, but I had to leave quite a few out with a heavy heart and there will, no doubt, be some I have forgotten!
So here is my Scottish Top Twenty. With nary a bagpipe in sight!
1. Old England – The Waterboys
So I start my Scottish top twenty with a song about England! So typically English, a Scotsman might say. But Mike Scott is a Scotsman and this song is one of the great anthems. Old England is dying, he cries. And it is magnificent, with saxophones blaring. My love for the Waterboys is rooted in their Irish phase – Fisherman’s Blues and Room to Roam – but Old England and Whole of the Moon were the great precursors.
2. Tether – Chvrches
Anyone who reads my blog will know I love Chvrches! The combination of 80s electropop, an indie sensibility and, if you strip the songs down to the melodies and words, a celtic soul. With Lauren Mayberry’s beautiful voice – and look – fronting things up. Thether is one of their many great tunes: it builds and builds and bursts into a magnificent electro peak half way through. A true anthem. Scottish to the core – that combination of melancholy and anthem.
3. The Faith Healer – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
SAHB were my favourite band for a period in the mid-70s, before punk took over. I never lost faith in them even when punk did prevail. Alex Harvey was an extraordinary performer and his band were characters too, especially guitarist Zal Cleminson. I saw them at Leicester de Montford Hall, one of my first gigs. For a while it was the best concert ever. Awesome music and sheer theatre. Faith Healer was one of the classics.
4. Maggie May – Rod Stewart
Rod is a great soul singer, and in the early seventies he combined the wistful celebrations of a song like Maggie May with the raucous rock’n’roll of The Faces. I forgive him everything since because of these amazing few years!
5. Party Fears Two – The Associates
All angst and hyperbole, the Associates took that early 80s grandiloquence and turned it into something sharp and very moving. On the edge.
6. Daddy’s Gone – Glasvegas
I had high hopes for Glasvegas for a moment in the 2000s. The power, the emotion, the look, the layers of sound, made me think that they were The Clash meets Phil Spector, or even Bruce. The next really big thing. It didn’t happen, but this was one of their finest songs. As a father myself, I knew what the words were all about – I kept having those games of football in the park…
7. Just Like Honey – Jesus and Mary Chain
What a great song this is! Featured in one of my favourite ever films, Lost in Translation. The JMC were all about distortion, feedback, over Beach Boys melodies; but this one eschewed the feedback and headed for a languid Velvet Underground style groove. Entrancing.
8. Can’t Stand My Baby – The Rezillos
A wonderful punk thrash, with a Scottish accent, singing about being uncool!
9. I Never Wanted – Idlewild
Epic guitar, in sequence with the melody. A beautiful song which simply soars.
10. One World – John Martyn
John Martyn started in a kind of folk music, but always had guitars which took the songs some place else. That really came together on the album One World in late ’77, and the title track was the epitome. The slurred voice, the echoing guitars, the sweet melody… music with few parallels.
11. Sugar Hiccup – Cocteau Twins
Cocteau Twins came to the fore in the mid-80s. Shimmering sounds, and Elisabeth Fraser’s beautiful, fragile voice. This track was the best example, for me. Heavenly!
12. I Don’t Want a Lover – Texas
I’ve always had a soft spot for Texas since I saw them play brilliantly in Paris, probably in 1990. Their first album, Southside, came out in 1989, and I Don’t Want a Lover was the leading track. A soulful, urgent piece, with Charlene Spiteri singing with real heart and a touch of the blues.
13. I Travel – Simple Minds
Simple Minds went on to great stadium things like Don’t You Forget About me, but this relentless electro-pop piece from the early 80s remains my favourite.
14. Woke up this Morning – Nazareth
Nazareth were a rasping, rock’n’rolling sort-of-metal band from the early 70s. They had a few hits like Bad Bad Boy and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight. (I heard the Nazareth version first!). My favourite track is this rocking tune that involves dead dogs, and hogs! It has warped my sense of the blues…
15. Pick up the Pieces – Average White Band
A mid-80s Scottish soul combo who came up with one of the funkiest instrumentals ever. Even metal fans loved it! Totally irresistible.
16. Neil Jung – Teenage Fanclub
Some of the best indie melodies you could ever wish to hear – from the 90s. This one was off Grand Prix, their best album. Fantastic tune, and a guitar solo which sounded like… Neil Young of course.
17. Rip it Up – Orange Juice
An important song in the development of indie in the 80s. But a funky wonder in its own right. A great example of the growing fusion of black and white sounds and rhythms at that time.
18. Stuka – Primal Scream
I could have picked any number of Primal Scream tracks to illustrate their importance. Screamadelica was the album that symbolised the Indie move into psychedelia and dance. But I love this one off the album Vanishing Point, which is infused with a crazy reggae dub.
19. Into the Valley – The Skids
A punky anthem with a big Scottish sound!
20. The Other Side of the World – KT Tunstall
A heartfelt, soulful, folky sound. Just a song I always come back to. Lovely.
There’s a variety of sounds in this list, but the unifying theme might be something big and heartfelt in the music. Something sincere and often challenging. Something that fits in with that thing I call celtic soul.