Melody Lives in Scotland

Vitriola Music Shambles by Michael Legge

In his first post of his new blog for the CSN, Michael Legge reflects on his love affair with Scottish rock and pop music.

I have never liked patriotism for two very good reasons. 1) I’m from Northern Ireland. You might feel the same about patriotism because you’re from somewhere equally embarrassing like England or America or somewhere else with a terrible past and a horrible present. And 2), and I think this is the most important reason why I’m not patriotic, I’m not Scottish.

If I was Scottish, I would spend a lot of my time winking at myself in the mirror and stroking my beautiful bright red beard. Not that every Scottish person has a bright red beard, no. But their reflections do, such is the joy and strength of the pride they rightfully have in their country. Scotland is (culturally and emotionally) the warmest country on Earth, it looks really nice (I love what Charles Rennie Mackintosh did with the place) and lots of my heroes come from there. Mainly musical ones.

The first Scottish band I saw live as a young teenager was probably The Ulster Scots Protestant Lambeg Boys but they weren’t as sensitive with melody and emotion as the Scottish bands I’d liked from TV. Bands like Altered Images, The Associates and Simple Minds who all looked like they had less money than vitamin D but were happy to joyfully sing of dumping dickhead lovers by running away to a holiday in Skye, smashing cups or desperately wanting the attention of a girl who lived in Chelsea. All of which interested me. I’d loved to have gone out with someone so I could dump them and go to Skye plus I’ve smashed loads of cups due to being deeply melancholy and clumsy. But what I liked most from these and other Scottish bands was the comradery. They were in a gang. They were in a band. And they were part of a huge scene.

I thought I’d start weeping when I went to The National Museum of Scotland’s absolutely superb Rip It Up: The History of Scottish Pop exhibition last month. As important as Lonnie Donegan and Lulu were in Scottish music, it was the indie music explosion of the 80’s that got to me. It was a small explosion, not that many got hurt, but its fallout is evident in the DIY ethos of Scottish indie today. Nowhere does indie better than Scotland. Whether it’s 1979 and “The Sound of Young Scotland” is coming out in limited edition 7” vinyl from the preposterous and glorious Postcard Records label or it’s 2018 and a live indie festival is inconveniently and brilliantly being held on the Isle of Eigg by Pictish Trail, the thought process is exactly the same: Let’s make some really beautiful music because why wouldn’t you make really beautiful music?

Nothing will make you feel older and like you’ve wasted your life (and by not being Scottish or in a band, you have) than seeing the happiness and excitement of a music scene. Rip it Up will tease out your inner fanziner with every homemade, independent, didn’t-chart record on display. It will make you despair for the likes of U2 and David Bowie. What were they thinking? Why be famous in the stadiums of America or Japan when you and your mates can bring joy, ACTUAL JOY, to a student pub in Aberdeen? Plus, in the indie section of Rip It Up, you get to see the bass player from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s shoes. His ACTUAL shoes.

You also get to see Billy Mackenzie’s beret, Annie Lennox’s tartan suit and all of Marti Pellow’s old needles and spoons (you don’t), and all that memorabilia in one room is actually much more touching than I expected. I never thought I’d ever get a bit emotional about Wet Wet Wet but I did. I bought their first album by attempting to con Britannia Music Club but the resulting having to pay £15 for every terrible album they threw at me every month for a year was worth it and watching the display video of really old people (some of them as old as 5 years younger than me. Ugh!) singing along to Wishing I Was Lucky gave me a nostalgic glow. Either that or I was having a stroke. Hard to tell when you’re a Wet Wet Wet fan of my age.

I saw The Proclaimers in 1986. They were supporting The Housemartins and somehow they shouted and spat out their songs and yet still sounded as harmonious as The Beach Boys. Melody, I’m convinced, lives in Scotland. Belle & Sebastian, The Delgados, King Creosote are all swirling melodically around the final room. Teenage Fanclub might as well own the rights to melody. Even the absolutely wonderful Arab Strap bring a perfect wounded melody for all our nights mixed with romance and Carlsberg. And as we near the end, the very best is kept practically to last. That’s right: Fish.

Fish was my very first rock idol. Literally no one came close when I was a teenager and I still love him to this day (you always have a soft spot for your first). And on display is not only the original artwork for mega-hit Kayleigh but also Fish’s Grendel mask that he wore every night of the Script For a Jester’s Tear tour in 1983 with Marillion, England’s greatest neo-progressive rock band ever. Yep, England’s greatest neo-progressive rock band ever is Scottish. Stupid England.

And the cyclic and exciting Scottish music scene starts up again even as we leave with thoughts of where Withered Hand, Young Fathers and a host of others might take us to in the future. God, it’s SO UNFAIR to not be in a Scottish band. It will always be my lifelong regret that I never sang Shang-A-Lang as I ran with the band doing doo wop de dooby do ay. Don’t make the same mistake as me. If you’re Scottish and can form a band, then it’s your patriotic duty to do so.

As we leave, we rightly say goodbye to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson and we go on our way with just one thought: Where the hell where the Cocteau Twins?

Fish just put out a brand new EP last week called A Parley With Angels and, my very favourite Scottish songwriter, Malcolm Middleton has a brand new album called Bananas out this Friday 28th September. So that’s me taken care of. Also, Rip It Up: The History of Scottish Pop is on at The National Museum of Scotland until 25th November and you should not miss it. 

And here is my carefully curated playlist to accompany this post.

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Michael Legge is a stand up comedian and writer who has performed all around the world. He is a previous winner of a Chortle Award for best blog and is a team captain on the popular podcast ‘Do the Right Thing’. His 2017 live show Jerk was recently released accompanied by the EP Jerk:The Musical. Michael can often be found both on The Cosmic Shambles Network and Vitriola yelling about music with Robin Ince. He is @michaellegge on Twitter.

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