David Byrne, one of Scotland’s most famous expats, releases his latest unique album on Tartan Day next week. A collaboration with Fatboy Slim, “Here Lies Love” features the vocals of Cyndi Lauper and Santigold among others, and is just the latest stop on a fascinating musical journey that began in Dumbartonshire.

It can surely be no coincidence that “Here Lies Love” will be released on April 6, the date that has been recognized in the US as “Tartan Day” since 1998. And though, Film Director, Film Producer, Film Score Composer, Actor, Photgrapher, Writer, Album Creator and proud Scot David Byrne may no longer be found in the Dumbarton phone book, trips back and tour stop-overs are never given a miss when it comes to his homeland.

One such return back to Scotland occurred last year as part of the “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour” : a massive two legged affair spanning North America, Europe and Oceania spread out over a gruelling 11 month period. The tour was as far removed from a one-man-show as can be. The stage of each performance was swathed with the full gamut of percussionists, acrobatic dancers, bassers, drummists, rhythm sectioners, with the occasional marching brass band thrown in for good measure. And all in a kaleidoscope of brilliant white.

David Byrne – Strange Overtones


So for a man who once said “music and performing does not make sense”, how did the concert go given the risks involved in mixing wacky choreography with the music ?

Some of the concert reviews speak for themselves:

“Live music really doesn’t get any better than this. Breathlessly brilliant”
“He plays each of his songs as if they’re bursting forth for the first time”
“The choreographed spectacle was almost like watching a long artistic music video or a postmodern ballet with exceptionally good music”
“El cantante dejó en el auditorio de Oviedo su peculiar sello, mezcla de rock, músicas del mundo y baile” [translates roughly as “top gig”]

A year ago to the day, I attended the performance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. As the show kicked off, following a 5 minute standing ovation when the minstrels take to the stage with a slick no-nonsense rendition of “Strange Overtones” – I remember thinking to myself “when and why did the epic musical journey of this one David Byrne begin?”

Born in Dumbarton in 1952, David Byrne did not come from a musical family. However, after moving across the Atlantic at an early age, to a new country, to a new way of life, to a new way of living, music was always going to be the easiest form of escape. And escape he did, always taking the scenic route along the way.

According to his sister Celia, the whole family felt like outsiders. Their parents never assimilated to North America, and this rubbed off on the kids. According to a 2004 interview, Byrne’s parents held very different views to those of the other mums and dads who lived in the same blue- collar area:

“The Byrnes would sit around and discuss politics and social issues while listening to Scottish and Irish folk music; their home was a biosphere, a little bubble of post-war Scotland in the melting pot of Sixties America. The family regularly returned to Scotland to see grandparents; this again made them square pegs – most of the neighbourhood kids had never even been out of Maryland.

“I remember when I was young my dad taking me to the Gorbals before most of it was torn down,” says Byrne, “just kind of dragging me over and going ‘Look, look, look at this.’ I guess that was meant to be a political and economic lesson: Look at this, this is modern Europe. It’s a shame that people are living like this.” Sunday Herald

Byrne started his musical career in a Baltimore high school duo named Bizadi with Mark Kehoe. From there the journey really began:

1970: Byrne enrolls at Rhode Island School of Design, dropping out after the first year;

1974: Forms the post-punk art-house outfit Talking Heads;

1978-1982: Talking Heads record 3 blockbuster albums engineered by Brian Eno: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music and Remain in the Light;

1981: Once again with Eno, Byrne co-pioneers the age of sampling and loops via the album “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”;

1984: Talking Heads record the filmed concert “Stop Making Sense” directed by Jonathan Demme, with Byrne sporting the infamous over-sized suit ‘to make his head look small’;

1985: Released “Little Creatures”  with Talking Heads, containing the anthemic Road to Nowhere;

1987: Won Best Music Academy Award for Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”;

Talking Heads – Psycho Killer


As the list goes on until late 2008 with the follow-up record with Brian Eno entitled “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”; and now his new album with Fatboy Slim, it’s clear that this is a man who will seemingly never run out of energy or inspiration.

This collaboration with Fatboy Slim is once again a venture off the beaten path. “Here Lies Love” is a concept album that presents the former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, meditating on events in her life, from her childhood spent in poverty and her rise to power to her ultimate departure from the palace. In particular, the album looks at the relationship between Imelda and a servant from her childhood, Estrella Cumpas, who appeared at key moments in Imelda’s life.

The album features mostly female singers, including Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine), Allison Moorer, Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Martha Wainwright, Natalie Merchant, Santigold, Sia (Zero 7) and Kate Pierson (B 52s), among others and has already received glowing praise from critics.

So content is David Byrne with life as a solo artist that he is in no way looking to cash in on a comeback tour of Talking Heads, deeming it quite unnecessary. About the idea he quips “If I was completely broke and destitute, then I might consider it. I’m being very cynical, but that’s probably the truth.”

But retiring to a house in the sun doesn’t appear to be an option for Byrne either. As he glides contently from project to project, I doubt that he spends much time worrying about where this career will take him.

Regardless, wherever David Byrne’s road eventually goes, we’ll take that ride with him.


David Byrne – Road to Nowhere – Live in Cagliari


Photo Credit: Red Hand Records