“I’m Scottish. I can complain about things.” So said Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who on seeing the face and hearing the voice of his latest regeneration. For many centuries, my people, the Scots, have complained loudly and bitterly. Mostly about the English, about being stuck on top of a country that oppresses and ignores them. And after centuries of complaining, we finally get a chance to do something about it. The race is shockingly tight, so much so that my nation has been belatedly turned into the homely girl suddenly regarded as pretty, with the leaders of all three parties desperate for her attention and approval. Although I’m many thousands of miles away, my ill-educated and indefensible vote would be Yes. We wanted this for so long. Now let’s see what happens when we get it. The following songs aren’t particularly rousing, rebellious or patriotic. But if the vote is a yes, this is what Scottish radio eighties flashback shows will sound like.
“Celebrate,” Simple Minds
Before they were deliberately anthemic, before everything they did was tailored to fit the demands of a stadium audience, this was Simple Minds starting to find themselves.
“From Pillar To Post,” Aztec Camera
The great thing about Roddy Frame’s songwriting circa 1982: the more he tried to write an out-and-out commercial pop song, the more he imbued his lyrics and delivery with out-and-out contempt.
“Blue Boy,” Orange Juice
Simple Minds were a big deal even in their formative years but Orange Juice and Postcard Records put Glasgow on the map in terms of the musically-inclined-but-directionless suddenly finding steely resolve and starting their own jangly bands, in terms of the music press belatedly bestowing regional hotness on Glasgow and in terms of record companies indiscriminately signing up Scots of varying degrees of talent.
“Tell Me Easter’s On Friday,” Associates
My co-author’s been on a well-received music-now-is-empty-and-crude rant. I semi-agree but my main complaint about contemporary pop is that the chances of us ever hearing another voice like Billy Mackenzie’s in a context where it’s on the radio and on TV and high on the charts is not even unlikely. It just couldn’t happen. People rapping about their butts doesn’t make me particularly annoyed; living in a talent vacuum does.
“Bring Me Closer,” Altered Images
Gary Kemp talks in Mad World: The Book about his courtly semi-romance with Clare Grogan. For a brief period, the entire country shared his infatuation. The double-whammy of her “Gregory’s Girl” role, coy pop star persona and tremulous vocals made crushing on Clare Grogan a national pastime. Journalists, producers and DJs old enough to know better, actors and fellow pop stars all made clowns of themselves over her. Ironically, the two men flanking her in this clip went on to greater post-Images success than she did, the guy on the left produced, among others, “Mmmmbop” for Hanson, the other guy founded Texas. The band, not the state.
“Candy Skin,” Fire Engines
LOVE this. Love it. Short, sneering Velvet Underground-adjacent single with sawing violin from the great short-lived Edinburgh band who shed their indie skin and remade themselves into a Heaven 17-style ironic corporation.
“You’ve Got The Power,” WIN
And that is that self-same ironic corporation. “You’ve Got The Power”, although never a huge hit, was inescapable due to it’s widespread use in a beer commercial.
“Never Understand,” Jesus & Mary Chain
They played fifteen-minute sets that climaxed in the band half-heartedly smashing up their equipment. Their songs were drenched in feedback to the extent that they sounded like a ride on an out-of-control ghost train. The sets got longer, they dropped the distortion and stopped destroying the equipment. They were still great.
Try not to think less of me as I admit I barely know this song. I was aware of Secession as a Scottish synthpop outfit of little import. Many years later, I came to understand that this particular song had way bigger impact in American cities with new wave stations and dance club than it ever did in it’s ungrateful homeland. On behalf of all the other Scots who gave you the cold shoulder back when it counted, I’m sorry, Secession.
“Waiting For Another Chance,” Endgames
No apologies here but Endgames were a band that received a fair amount of mockery on their home turf but were hailed as giants across Europe.
“Tell Me Why,” Bronski Beat
Glasgow was and is a notoriously tough town but Glasgow audiences also had a love of gay disco to the degree that when records like (“You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real”) by Sylvester and “Funky Town” by Lipps Inc became hits they were propelled into the charts by the huge sales emanating from Glasgow. Bronski Beat were the product of the citywide love of that sound but they were also the product of the city wide love of beating people up because they looked or acted different.
“Abandon Ship,” April Showers
Yeah, I know. Totally indulgent. Whatever. It’s my song. I’m Scottish. I wrote it in the eighties.