By Cameron Gilmore
Let me present you with a thought-provoking question: what is Scottish music? Now, stop and consider it. What was the first image that popped into your head? Bagpipes? A fiddle? Jackie Bird and Alex Salmond doing the Gay Gordons together at yet another Hogmanay special? Well, maybe not, but the point I’m getting at is that it probably wasn’t Kassidy.
Scottish music, as a terminology, has become an interesting concept. Sure, you still get records from traditional artists like the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Runrig, and I’m sure the consistent musings about the Highlands and its beauty do brilliantly in gift shops, but the reality is that the classic idea of Scottish music seldom bears relevance to our country at all now. As on-trend as the pattern may be, the idea of Glasvegas donning tartan trews and ties seems nothing short of ridiculous, thank God.
So at what point did Scottish artists decide to up sticks and move us away from the traditional wailing of fiddles and bagpipes? Well, it’s important to acknowledge that in terms of the birth of popular music, Scotland quickly became part of that scene. There’s the famous story of how Elvis Presley landed in Prestwick, albeit for a very short period of time as it was only for an oil change, and of course the Beatles played some of their early gigs north of the border too. Perhaps it was from this that Scotland’s own outpouring of musical influence on the world blossomed. Pop groups like the Bay City Rollers and the Average White Band, the latter of which had a number one album in America, began to find success in the same vein as artists on the international scene.
However, Scotland’s grasp on lasting musical influence really started in the late seventies and eighties, when artists began to move from pop into more experimental and unknown territories. You could always argue that the hugely influential Talking Heads are a Scottish group- the singer David Byrne is from Dumbarton- but if you don’t want to clutch at straws there’s plenty more where he came from. Orange Juice, Del Amitri; these were two of just an outpouring of cult bands Scotland produced in the 1980s. Along with the art-rock symphonics they delivered, there was the new-wave offerings of Aztec Camera and the shoegaze, post-rock cascade that was The Jesus and Mary Chain.
The vital line of transition to draw here is that Scotland, in comparison to a lot of other countries, was a pioneer in the range of music style it was capable of producing. The nineties continued to provide substance, with Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai, Primal Scream and the boom of Creation Records, all left- field to an extent, and all successful. The aforementioned Teenage Fanclub won a poll in a 1991 issue of Spin magazine, where their album Bandwagonesque beat Nirvana’s Nevermind to the top spot. Yes, a band from Bellshill beat Nirvana to number one.
So what are we left with now, in 2013? Our thriving music scene largely consists of bands who have evolved from what has been before them; bands who continue to try and pioneer. We’ve swapped bagpipes for art rock, tartan for shoegaze and, somewhere along the line, traded a sporran for an Arab Strap. Today, with the likes of Frightened Rabbit and Biffy Clyro finding the same international success the Bay City Rollers found forty-odd years ago, Scottish music has never been in a better position.
Taken from the February Issue of Scotcampus