Scotland’s Top 60: The Best Bands From North of the Border (60-51)
by Thomas Blake
Scotland’s big right now. The Commonwealth Games were a success. There’s a referendum on independence just around the corner, I’m told. Now, I know at this point in time we should all be debating the pros and cons of an economic and political split, or the suitability of the SNP for government. But what about the important things? Can Scotland’s musical heritage exist separately from the rest of the UK? Who will be the musical standard-bearers for a new musical Scotland? Is there more to life north of the border than Travis, the Proclaimers and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers?
A cursory scroll through the old iPod revealed a surprisingly Caledonian flavour I hadn’t previously noted. Sure, I’ve always known that my favourite band in the world ever are Scottish, but underneath that lie six decades of hidden treasures, chart favourites, drone-folk obscurity, tuneful indie pop and much much more. So here goes: welcome to part one of the sixty greatest musical acts from Scotland. And for what it’s worth, I’d vote Yes if I could.
60. Urusei Yatsura
Who knew that the missing link between Nirvana, Pavement and the Strokes was a bunch of Glaswegian students held together by the management talents of a young Alex Kapranos? To be fair, the manga-referencing layabouts never quite managed to perfect their sound, but that was the point of lo-fi, right? Anyway, they were a refreshing antidote to the more polished Britpop bands clogging up the charts in the mid-90s.
Part of the excellent Song, By Toad micro-label, Neil Pennycook’s distinctly Caledonian folktronica combo are named after Albert Camus’s most famous character. They’ve just announced their split, which is a shame, because in their own small way they were a bit epic.
Bassist Stuart David was an integral early cog in the Belle and Sebastian machine, but left just as indie superstardom beckoned for the band. Along with his wife he formed Looper as an experimental visual and musical extravaganza. These days they give their music away to fans for free, while funding their noble endeavours by offering up their output for use in ads, video games and films. As the name suggests, there are a lot of loops involved.
57. Lone Pigeon
By common consensus Gordon Anderson, aka Lone Pigeon, is to the Beta Band what Syd Barrett was to Pink Floyd. Responsible for some of their finest early material, he was forced by bad health to quit and return home and embark on a solo career. But unlike Syd, Anderson has managed to produce intriguing material for over a decade now, on his own or with the Aliens, much of it released by the Fence collective. It’s psychy, folky stuff, with hints of the Beatles and the absurd.
56. The Fire Engines
Godfathers of Edinburgh’s exciting post-punk/indie rock scene, The Fire Engines only existed for a couple of years before burning out (excuse the pun) in 1981. But their minimal sound and anti-image influenced bands like Josef K, while John Peel liked them enough to have them in for two sessions.
55. Django Django
Billed as a kind of Beta Band for the Spotify age, Django Django achieved a level of success with their debut that was perhaps unexpected, marrying insistent art-pop to electronic psychedelia. They’re welcome to make another one any time they like.
54. The Bluebells
The Bluebells are one of the great overlooked bands of the 80s. It might have been a case of one killer hit obliterating all trace of what went before – Young At Heart is rightly known all over the world, even in places with no electricity – but at their best they sounded like a cross between Aztec Camera and the Housemartins. True story: bassist Lawrence Donegan, who also played with Lloyd Cole’s Commotions, is now the Guardian’s golf correspondent.
53. Average White Band
A bunch of beardy bums from Dundee playing funk? You got it. In fact, AWB were more successful in the States than they were in Britain. Which puts them amongst such elevated company as Spacehog and Bush. But unlike those bands, these guys were serious musicians, equally adept at funk, jazzy blue-eyed soul, or disco. Incredibly, they’ve been around for forty-two years and they’re still going (and still being sampled).
52. Boards of Canada
IDM VIPs BoC produce some of the most enigmatic music around, exploring the odd spaces between technology and nature, a nostalgic past and a dystopian future. They would be higher on this list, but they let their music be used on Top Gear. Fuckers.
Basically, the sound that I would make if my dream-self broke into a recording studio and insufflated a cocktail of Ritalin, speed and Special Brew. At their best, V-Twin sounded like kids with more ideas than their brain-cells could handle. Signed to Domino, V-Twin should have been huge. But that happened to Franz Ferdinand instead. Bah.