Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Female Vocalist?


Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Female Vocalist?

So we come to the last of our ‘greatest’ questions: Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Vocalist? Now if you’ve ever been to a football match or witnessed the pubs empty on a Friday night in Scotland, you’ll know that the Scots love to sing. And we’ve produced some of the best in the business.

To try and list them all in one article might have blown Alec Downie’s brain, never mind his fragile Turkish internet connection. So we have decided to take our time and do this over two weeks.

Today we are looking for suggestions as to Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Female Vocalist. Next week, we’ll do the gentlemen. And two weeks from today we will present a final list of 10 great Scottish vocalists for our readers to vote on over Christmas and New Year.

As always, your suggestions are welcome in the comments below and on our twitter, myspace and facebook pages. Here we go…

A Girl Like You – Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Female Vocalist?

You’ve made me acknowledge the devil in me.
I hope to God I’m talkin’ metaphorically.
Hope that I’m talkin’ allegorically.
Know that I’m talkin’ about the way I feel.
And I’ve never known a girl like you before.
Edwyn Collins – ‘A Girl Like You’

I’ve been listening with joy and fond memories to a plethora of tracks and trying to work out how to make sense of this task of comparing Scottish female vocalists in some sort of “Greatest” list. As I went along Edwyn’s lyrics came to mind. So I’ve decided to just wing it and talk allegorically about the way I feel and leave others to point out my omissions, positions and agree or disagree with the devil in me!

Lulu, OBE

A young Lulu went to the Barrowland Ballroom and watched The Alex Harvey Soul Band do a cover of The Isley Brother song “Shout”. As an uncomplicated 16 year old, the song stuck in her mind and she went on to record one of the greatest dance floor fillers of all time with her band Lulu &The Luvvers.

For a wee belter of a Dennistoun girl she has done no bad in life. She married a Bee Gee and has had hits in 4 decades. She also knows how to hang. In 1974 she did a cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” and shagged the Thin White Duke. In the 80’s she appeared in the video for Ant Rap alongside Adam and the Ants and got nominated for a Grammy. She missed out on the G but did win the “Rear of the Year Award” in 1983. She co-wrote “I Don’t Want to Fight” for Tina Turner and then went to No 1 with Take That with ‘Relight My Fire’. Lulu has been signed to more top labels than Graham Souness has had clubs and is still belting out tunes and looking sexy in her 60th year.

Recommended dose of schoolgirl diva “To Sir with Love” by Lulu


Annie Lennox

I first stumbled across Annie Lennox in the pop-punk band The Tourists. Back then she had an odd beauty, an unusual understated vocal and her intensity stood out as someone who was not there just to be eye candy. The Tourists came and went and Lennox resurfaced as a Ziggy clone dressed in a business suit and banging on a desk in a field of cows. The Eurythmics set the standards for an electro-pop generation and by the time they recorded Sex Crime for the movie 1984, her confidence and commitment meant that understatement was history.

If Scotland can lay claim to having one definitive “Diva” it is Annie Lennox. She performed at the ‘Freddie Mercury Tribute’ concert, singing ‘Under Pressure’ with David Bowie, and her solo career has seen her clutch an Oscar, numerous Brits and a glut of Grammys as she has effortlessly transitioned from being a pop-star into an international icon.

A thoughtful and forceful advocate of HIV and women’s issues, her 2007 album “Songs of Mass Destruction” features a song called “Sing”, a collaboration between Lennox and 23 prominent female artists: Anastacia, Isobel Campbell, Dido, Céline Dion, Melissa Etheridge, Fergie, Beth Gibbons, Faith Hill, Angelique Kidjo, Beverley Knight, Gladys Knight, K.D. Lang, Madonna, Sarah McLachlan, Beth Orton, Pink, Kelis, Bonnie Raitt, Shakira, Shingai Shoniwa, Joss Stone, Sugababes, KT Tunstall, and Martha Wainwright.

Recommended Drag Diva “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart” by the Eurhythmics


Shirley Manson

Rising from the ashes of Scotland’s lauded “Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie” and a hated job on a makeup counter, Shirley Manson headed west and began her new life as a solo artist. Fate took hold and when her track “Suffocate Me” was aired on MTV’s 120 Minutes, producer and musician Steve Marker saw the performance and thought Manson would be a great singer for his band, Garbage.

The band’s debut album Garbage was released in August 1995 and included the massive singles “Only Happy When It Rains” and “Stupid Girl”, selling over 4 million copies. Garbage recorded the theme song to the James Bond movie ‘The World Is Not Enough’, making Mansun the third Scotswoman to sing a Bond theme, after Lulu and Sheena Easton. Two more albums followed before the band decided to take a break, which has seen Shirley given time to do some cool work with Chris Connelly, Gavin Rossdale, Queens of the Stone Age and Bear McCreary and become an actress in the current US Terminator series.

Recommended Trash Diva track, “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage


Sharleen Spiteri

I was living in Germany in the early 90s I and was on holiday in the US when I picked up a copy of the American version of the Texas album ‘Rick’s Road’, which contained the Al Green song, “I’m So Tired of Being Alone” as a bonus track. It wasn’t available in the UK and so I was gutted when some tube stole it from my car and I had to order another cd from the US just for that track.

Anyway, ‘Rick’s Road’ was arguably the sound of a great band in decline and they survived largely due to a massive French fan base. Roll forward 3 years to 1996 and I am driving in Scotland and the track, “Say What You Want”, comes on the radio echoing Al Green. I remember turning to my wife, who hated Texas, and saying, “That is going to be massive, provided Motown don’t sue”. I got a shrug in return, leaving me wondering if it was only me and Chris Evans who got this. With a wee smug ITYS, ‘White on Blonde’ shifted 1.8 Million copies for 4 simple reasons: great production, great songs, a vocalist that can really sing and the fact that Sharleen finally dumped her Southern fried tom-boy look and became sexy.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a wee aside, I was backstage at a Texas gig at the Barrowland Ballroom once and got chatting to a mature but funky lady, who I innocently asked, “are you Sharleen’s mum?” to which I got the terse reply of, “No, I am Rita Rusk”, (hairdresser to Glasgow’s elite and Sharleen’s ex-boss). Oops!

Recommended Glasgow Motown – ‘Tired of Being Alone’


Dot Allison

If who you have worked with is a prerequisite to cool, Dot surely must be the coolest singer in this list. Lead singer of the acclaimed band One Dove in the early 1990s, Allison’s career in electro, trip-hop and dance music is nothing short of astonishing. She has collaborated with Death in Vegas, Hal David, Arab Strap, Scottish dance duo Slam, Kevin Shields, Pete Doherty / Babyshambles, Gary Mounfield, and Massive Attack.

Recommended Dance Diva “Diving Horses” from Death in Vegas album “Scorpio Rising”


Eddi Reader

Best known for the song “Perfect” by Fairground Attraction, (a song I have to admit to hating with a passion), there is genuinely a more subtle and vulnerable side to Eddi Reader to be found in her solo work. Her interpretations of Boo Hewerdine songs ‘Patience of Angels’ and ‘Joke (I’m Laughing)’ are beautiful and heartbreaking. Reader also contributed haunting vocals to one of Big Country’s final singles before Stuart Adamson’s death, “Fragile Thing.”

She is the recipient of three Brit Awards and recently showcased the works of Robert Burns for his 250th Anniversary.

Recommended Delicate Diva track, “Joke (I’m Only Laughing)”.


Isobel Campbell

Former vocalist and cello player with Belle & Sebastian, Isobel left the band in 2002 to pursue her solo career. In April 2004, one of the most unlikely collaborations mutated out of Scotland when Campbell released an EP with former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, titled ‘Time Is Just the Same’. They would later release a single of Hank William’s “Ramblin’ Man” and record the album ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas’, which was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Prize

Recommended Dirtying of a Twee Diva, “Keep me in mind, Sweetheart” Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan


KT Tunstall

I was once organising a gig to support The Big Issue in Scotland at The Universal in Glasgow and KT, who had just returned from filming Jools Holland, did a late shift. It was a rowdy, fun night, but sadly I had to intervene and tell the rather drunk audience, who had only paid a fiver each, to “shut the feck up”. That same audience is now rightly paying 40 quid to see her in the Royal Concert Hall. Since 2005 the tracks “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” are never off the radio no matter where I drive in the US or UK.

KT is a unique talent and her delivery and humbleness is grafted from understanding the toil of many a toilet tour with the Fence Collective. On a personal note, I was once at CMJ in NYC partaking in 6 or 7 too many free cocktails at some swanky fashion thing in the East Village, when I staggered over to see KT perform to a gaggle of US industry folk. At the end of the performance she walked off the stage ignoring the suits and quite rightly said to me in a motherly way, “Alec, you’re too drunk and need to go back to your hotel”.  Sent to bed by KT, a moment to cherish!

Recommended On the Other Side of the Fence Diva track, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”


Adele Bethel

I was putting a CD together for delegates attending the MTV EMAs in Edinburgh and, though now hard to comprehend, I went to Stereo in the West End see if Franz Ferdinand were good enough to be included. I and the 30 people in the room agreed they were but I went home not raving about Franz, but about the opening act and the song, “Johnny Cash” being belted out by a breast bashing banshee of a wee girl, singing with more conviction than I had seen in years. Her name was Adele and the band was the wonderful, Sons & Daughters.

Best Breast Bashing Diva track, “Johnny Cash” by Sons and Daughters


Lorraine McIntosh

Even if you are not a fan, if you pick up a copy of Deacon Blue’s Greatest Hits and play it, you will quickly be saying, “Feck they had a shite load of hits”. Lorraine’s vocals provided a unique foil to that of husband Ricky Ross and is integral to why the band are loved by many fans and why they are still filling halls around the UK.

Recommended Ooh Oo Oh Oo Oh Oo Diva track “Real Gone Kid” by Deacon Blue



Not content to pander to orthodoxy, Horse has pushed the artistic boundaries over the years embracing strings, world and dance music. She has consciously chosen the pursuit of art over commercial success. Extraordinary in her delivery, her songs are often brutally personal and her vocal range bravura.

Recommended “Careful” from “The Same Sky” by Horse


Clare Grogan

Clare Grogan will never compete with other singers like Lulu or Sharleen as a belter, but her charm is infectious. My favourite moment from the whole Frankie Miller Tribute album and gig was watching Clare and Ken McCluskey waltzing together on the Barrowland stage as, with every smile and step, the room got brighter.

Recommended darling Diva track ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ from The Frankie Miller Tribute Album

Emma Pollock

A founding member of The Delgados, she signed a solo recording contract with British independent record label 4AD in 2005 and remains one of Scotland’s most compelling indie artists.

Recommended Chemikal Diva track, “Pull The Wires From The Wall” by The Delgados


Carol Laula

“Clarity of voice and vision marks the work of the finest singer/songwriters, and the music of Scotland’s Carol Laula shows those in abundance.” (Billboard)

Recommended Acoustic Diva track, “Gypsy” by Carol Laula


Karine Polwart

Winner of three awards at the BBC Folk Awards in 2005, Karine was previously a member of Malinky and Battlefield Band. She writes and performs music with a strong roots feel, her songs dealing with a variety of issues from alcoholism to genocide.

Recommended Folk Diva track “The Sun’s Comin’ Over the Hill”


Elizabeth Fraser

Listening to The Cocteau Twins is like discovering an ancient alien Celtic vampire language set to music. Wikipedia says, “Her melismatic vocal stylings and abstract, indecipherable lyrics have generated much debate over the years”, and like them I do not have a clue what she is on about 90% of the time. But what I do know is that it challenges and compels me to listen in a different way!

Recommended new Moon Diva track, Music for Vampires by “The Cocteau Twins”


Tippi Hedron

According to drummer Soup, one thing’s for sure, “For four girls, we make one hell of a noise”. If you are a music snob, leave your pretentious ego in the corner; these girls are Scotland’s answer to The Runaways and a heap of fun to watch!

Recommended punk Diva track, “Heat Seeker” By The Hedrons


Roz Davies

Possibly the coolest, funkiest and sexiest lady ever to strap on a bass and front a band in Scotland and a band much loved by John Peel. Sadly Josephine is no more but we do now have Roz fronting the dazzling Miss the Occupier.

Recommended 13th Note Diva “My Name is Red” by Josephine

Josephine www.myspace.com/josephineglasgow
Miss the Occupier www.myspace.com/misstheoccupier

Rose McDowall

I put a comment on my Facebook a wee while ago asking, “Whatever happened to Strawberry Switchblade”. The response was amazing given their short career and it seems Rose is still making cool music.

Recommended “we thought of it first White Stripes”, Dolly Parton Diva cover, “Jolene” by Strawberry Switchblade


Maggie Bell

Regarded by some as Britain’s answer to Janis Joplin but probably best know for singing the theme song to Taggart.

Recommended, “There’s Been a Murrrder Jim”, Diva track “No Mean City” by Maggie Bell

Frances McKee

Frances is a singer and songwriter known best for her work in the Scottish indie band The Vaselines, who were perhaps most famously covered by Nirvana in their MTV Unplugged set.

Recommended Grunge Diva track, “Molly’s Lips” by The Vaselines



Next week: Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Male Vocalist?

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53 Responses to “Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Female Vocalist?”
  1. What no Lena Zavaroni Ma! He’s Making Eyes At Me, Sandi Thom or Sheena Easton?????? “SCANDAL!!!!!!!

    by Alec
    on 09 Dec, 2009 2:06am

  2. Fay Fife?

    by Colin Campbell
    on 09 Dec, 2009 2:31am

  3. Ehh, Manda Rin obviously.

    by Mark
    on 09 Dec, 2009 5:15am

  4. Even after throwing the kitchen sink at it, I knew I would make some massive omission and even worse when I had her pencilled in on my first scribbled list before I started to write, eejit. Fay indeed should be included in the list of many funky, punky gals http://www.rezillos.com

    by Alec
    on 09 Dec, 2009 5:15am

  5. Liz Fraser. Hands Down.

    by Bjorn
    on 09 Dec, 2009 7:02am

  6. no mention o the boiler? SUBO FTW

    by ipumpedsubo
    on 09 Dec, 2009 7:31am

  7. Lulu is the obvious choice.

    Sharleen Spiteri has been extremely successful in recent times.

    Maggie Bell has a voice like no-one else (in a good way)

    As does Liz Fraser

    ANd Manda Rin is a good shout for a contemporary artist who utilises her vocals to full effect

    by murray
    on 09 Dec, 2009 7:36am

  8. Jo McCafferty is always a good bet and she’s got a new album out now, not the best known but a stunning vocal.

    by John W
    on 09 Dec, 2009 8:01am

  9. Susan Boyle?
    I hope this “Anonymous” thing works…

    by Anonymous
    on 09 Dec, 2009 12:39pm

  10. Please ban that last commenter at 12.39pm!!!!!

    by JBJ
    on 09 Dec, 2009 12:48pm

  11. Lulu, KT Tunstall, Shirley Manson , Annie Lennox, Moira Anderson in that order

    by Anonymous
    on 09 Dec, 2009 1:58pm

  12. I have a suspicion that the editors of this veritable site are purely trying to goad me into writing this… how else to explain the inexplicable… where is the one-and-only, Paisley’s finest, Ms Kelly Marie!!!?


    I also have it on good authority that Amy McDonald was only excluded due to her involvement with a Falkirk Bairn. Outrageous club loyalties creeping into DearScotland.

    by Kenny
    on 09 Dec, 2009 3:29pm

  13. Interesting interview with Liz Fraser from the other day:
    Not exactly what you’d call cheery. But she gets my vote.

    by Wee Jimmy
    on 09 Dec, 2009 3:33pm

  14. Thanks Mark and Murray! Think I was just missed out…. :(
    I’d vote for Jane Amphetameanies, Jane Fangs and Roz Davies.

    by Manda Rin
    on 09 Dec, 2009 3:39pm

  15. Liz Fraser …or Emma Pollock.

    by Wan Clan Dan
    on 09 Dec, 2009 6:33pm

  16. looking back, that was a shite! 4 line description of Liz Fraser you gave – completely overlooking the fact that she is an indie Super-heroine, who was born out of Punk and stole New Wave from her Grangemouth basis. She was going out with Jeff Buckley when he jumped in the Mississippi, she delivered Massive Attack’s finest moment and turned Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ into a national anthem. unintelligable wailing or not, her voice is the voice of angels singing in your dreams (vampires, wtf!)

    by Wan Clan Dan
    on 09 Dec, 2009 7:08pm

  17. This Mortal Coil – ‘Song To The Siren’


    by Wan Clan Dan
    on 09 Dec, 2009 7:57pm

  18. Wan Clan has a point. Liz Frazer gets by vote.

    by Anonymous
    on 09 Dec, 2009 8:10pm

  19. Thanks for your input wang clan dan, and exactly why we do this, i.e.s the idea is to stimulate debate and get your memories, and thoughts and other than exceeding my word limit by Fife mile I refer you to my first paragraph, “I’ve decided to just wing it and talk allegorically about the way I feel and leave others to point out my omissions, positions and agree or disagree with the devil in me!”

    by Alec
    on 10 Dec, 2009 2:26am

  20. Good choices! and im more than happy that the dirge mistress that is sandi Thom isnt on the list…one novelty hit single doesnt make for a nomination onto the “greatest” list

    by Anonymous
    on 10 Dec, 2009 7:32am

  21. What about the big enormous girl from the Hour?

    by Anonymous
    on 10 Dec, 2009 8:01am

  22. by Anonymous
    on 10 Dec, 2009 8:04am

  23. I would walk over thosands of miles of broken glass to hear the sublime heavenly tones of the one and Elizabeth (my dear) Fraser. Think she gets my vote !

    by Mero aloyl 16
    on 10 Dec, 2009 8:20am

  24. Surely a mention for Barbara Dickinson – she was always the highlight of our show.

    by Eddie Large
    on 10 Dec, 2009 8:58am

  25. I’m more of an Isobel Campbell man myself

    by Sid Little
    on 10 Dec, 2009 8:58am

  26. Dorothy Paul?

    by William it was really nothing
    on 10 Dec, 2009 10:22am

  27. Michele McMammoth…’You’re Enormous’

    by Anonymous
    on 10 Dec, 2009 11:04am

  28. If Lorraine MacKintosh is in this poll, as a ‘vocalist’, then surely Jane Button from fourgoodmen and the Skids should be in with a proper shout. At least Jane takes the lead vocal from time to time, and does a bloody good job of it too…

    by I.D.
    on 10 Dec, 2009 3:10pm

  29. Wan Clan Dan !! That was some post mate! We sing from the same hymsheet ! Hell,we could almost be related!!! Bang bang…

    by Mero aloyl 16
    on 10 Dec, 2009 6:35pm

  30. I’m torn between Isobel Campbell, Tracyanne Campbell and Frances McKee.

    by Pheasants Feather
    on 10 Dec, 2009 6:58pm

  31. Monica Queen – Thrum. Wee lady. Massive Voice.

    by Anonymous
    on 10 Dec, 2009 7:43pm

  32. same hymn-sheet…Mero Aloyl!

    by WanClanDan
    on 10 Dec, 2009 8:27pm

  33. The dulcet tones of Karen Matheson.

    by Anonymous
    on 11 Dec, 2009 9:35am

  34. “Next week: Who is Scotland’s Greatest Ever Male Vocalist?”
    To preempt the Rod Stewart debate. I vote he gets in.

    by Ron Would
    on 11 Dec, 2009 11:03am

  35. I vote he doesn’t. Never a Scotsman, more Irish I would say.

    by Anonymous
    on 11 Dec, 2009 11:17am

  36. Liz Fraser for the Top spot

    by Anonymous
    on 11 Dec, 2009 11:20am

  37. Chris Glen surely.

    by Anonymous
    on 11 Dec, 2009 12:24pm

  38. Annie Lennox or liz fraser

    by Anonymous
    on 14 Dec, 2009 3:03pm

  39. A second vote for Monica Queen. Quite possibly better than everyone on the list – even Liz Fraser and Adele Bethel and Dot Allison (thanks for mentioning Dot though! Her album from this year is gorgeous). Monica’s Ten Sorrowful Mysteries from 2002 is one of the most beautiful albums ever.

    by Blue Straggler
    on 14 Dec, 2009 5:39pm

  40. Annieeeeee! Yes please!

    by Taryn
    on 16 Dec, 2009 1:42am

  41. Less known but probably the most prolific of the entire lot is Mae McKenna who has had a limited carrer in her own name but as a session vocalist she is No1 http://www.myspace.com/maemckenna

    by Gav Robertson
    on 16 Dec, 2009 4:37am

  42. No mention of Maggie Reilly? Two Top 10 hits with Mike Oldfield and still going strong.

    by Anonymous
    on 16 Dec, 2009 7:45am

  43. Manda Rin, Fay Fife and Tracyanne Campbell are the obvious glaring omissions here.
    Otherwise a list to be proud of (with one or two exceptions who I won’t name..!)

    by Jim Brady
    on 16 Dec, 2009 9:49am

  44. Margaret Doyle, she was on opportunity knocks in the 80’s. Whit a voice!!

    by Anonymous
    on 18 Dec, 2009 4:30pm

  45. Amy Macdonald?

    by Marko
    on 30 Dec, 2009 6:28pm

  46. Is this list a joke.Really stretching the term “singer” here and i’m including the bob dylan interesting voice category.Some of these choices can only be explained by personal interest.
    And no Monica Queen.Get a life!!!!

    by Anonymous
    on 05 Jan, 2010 6:36am

  47. Debbie Kerr when’s shes in bed with me!

    by Lostboy!
    on 06 Jan, 2010 5:44pm

  48. http://www.myspace.com/bonniemccallum

    Bonnie is the next Maggie Bell

    by debbie
    on 03 Feb, 2010 7:11pm

  49. Liz Fraser all the way!

    by Anonymous
    on 25 Feb, 2010 3:44pm

  50. the delectable Dot who else is even worthy….

    by Anonymous
    on 25 Feb, 2010 4:16pm

  51. Maggie Bell!

    Maggie Bell!

    Maggie Bell!

    Maggie Bell!

    by SanFranciscoBayArea
    on 14 Jun, 2010 9:25pm

  52. VOCLIST??does that mean singer. Some of the list could not be described as singers.
    Liz Fraser is the King of Scottish singers
    Monica is the Queen.

    by EXPat
    on 13 Sep, 2010 4:02am

  53. by Anonymous
    on 07 Sep, 2014 3:18pm

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