Scotland’s Top 60: The Best Bands from North of the Border (50-41)
by Thomas Blake
50. Jessie Garon and the Desperadoes
Named slightly morbidly after Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin, this Edinburgh group were part of a whole raft of bands from that city intent on nailing the jangle-pop sound. Of all the C86-influenced bands popping up around Scotland at the time, they were amongst the least twee and the most direct.
49. Altered Images
Altered Images were another band overshadowed by their one hit single. So much more than a vehicle for Clare Grogan’s career, their early singles and first album brimmed with ideas and new wave attitude, aided by the production of Banshees bassist Steve Severin.
48. Rote Kapelle
Representing the darker side of the Edinburgh scene in the 80s, Rote Kapelle (named after the Nazi Party’s name of the Berlin Resistance movement) shared members with Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes, the Fizzbombs and the Shop Assistants. They blended noise and pop, their outlook was arty, their approach strictly DIY, and their USP was the distinctive male-female vocal interplay between Andrew Tully and Marguerite Vasquez-Ponte.
47. Trashcan Sinatras
A funny band. Funny in that they sounded a bit like Aztec Camera with punchlines. Or the Smiths without the depression. Intelligent and often absurd lyrics rubbed shoulders with that typically Scottish-sounding guitar, and there were hooks and harmonies galore. Formed in 1986 they are, as far as I’m aware, still going strong, although they haven’t released anything in a while.
46. Two Wings
Two Wings are a product of Glasgow’s fertile experimental folk scene. Former Trembling Bells guitarist Ben Reynolds and Nalle vocalist Hanna Tuulikki bond over a shared love of Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac, Richard and Linda Thompson, and Bjork, then proceed to infuse it with their own avant-folk sensibility.
45. Josef K
In recent years Josef K have acquired an almost mythological status. Decidedly ‘anti-rock’, they didn’t do drugs (or encores for that matter). Although musically they bore outward similarities to Postcard Records labelmates Orange Juice, in terms of lyricas and aesthetic they were closer to Joy Division or American bands like Pere Ubu.
44. Directing Hand
Wild and wonderful free jazz drumming, disconcerting, ululating vocal screeches, dadaist cut-ups of traditional folk songs: yep, it must be an Alex Neilson project. Directing Hand is Neilson at his most far-out. The only LP to date, Bells for Augustin Lesage, employed some of the freakiest talent Glasgow had to offer, including the Chris Hladowski, Aby Vuillamy, Isobel Campbell and the aforementioned Hanna Tuulikki.
43. Withered Hand
Fence Collective member Dan Willson is a kind of one-man Teenage Fanclub. He took a torturous route to music – his first recordings didn’t come until after his 30th birthday and his pithy, melodic songwriting is inspired by his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. The fact that he named his son after Eugene Kelly from the Vaselines gives you some indication of where he’s coming from. And it’s a good place.
I first heard about Aberfeldy when they toured in support of the Beautiful South. Must have been around 2006. Unfortunately the gig sold out and I missed them. But I bought the album – Young Forever – anyway. There was nothing ground-breaking about it. The melodies were saccharine, the lyrics cheesy. It had a picture of two humping lions on the front. But I couldn’t stop playing it, and I still occasionally play it now. Summery girl-boy indie-pop at its best. Like a cross between Belle and Sebastian and the Magic Numbers. The second album wasn’t quite as good. Then frontman Riley Briggs replaced the whole band with younger models (one of whom was his missus) and things, understandably, have never been the same.
Mogwai have built a long and successful career on a simple premise: lengthy songs, architecturally constructed with a quiet-loud-very loud-quiet dynamic. But they do it so well that they have created one of the most distinctive signature sounds in contemporary music. At their best they can be mindblowing. And they are responsible for possibly the best ever soundtrack to a film a footballer.