In March 2004 I was unhappily single again. I had no profession, no future, no money, and no purpose. I remember one day I was waiting to cross the street outside my office building at 15th and Congress and a girl approached me, walking in the opposite direction. She asked ‘Don’t I know you?’ I didn’t recognize her so I said ‘I don’t think so’. ‘Oh’ she replied, ‘maybe I’ve just seen you out with other scenesters’, and she walked off.
I didn’t really know what a ‘scenester’ was, but when I looked it up it wasn’t something I wanted to be known as. But really that’s all I was at the time. Just another slacker twenty-something, drifting from party to party in sleepy old Austin, Texas.
I was living by myself in an apartment on Bull Creek in North Austin. My friend Marc lived in the same complex. I’d never lived by myself before but I liked it. I wasn’t particularly proud of myself at that time, so for a while it was nice to be able to just close the door and not have to justify my existence to anyone.
It was in February 2004, six months after my first marriage ended, that I decided I was probably going out a bit too much. I’d read something about doing a detox to cleanse your body of toxins, and I thought I could probably use a bit of that. Aside from the odd day or two off the booze, I’d never considered doing anything like that before. You get some funny ideas when you live alone.
For two weeks I had no alcohol, no sugars, no breads, no processed foods, no booze, no beer, no caffeine, no dairy, no meat, no whisky, and no beer. Just salads and lots of water. Some things were easier than others to give up. Actually, the food constraints were easy. But it was the longest I’d gone without a drink since I was 16, and that was a challenge.
I did it though. The weekends were the hardest, but I genuinely started to feel better, and to think with more clarity. It was during those two weeks that I realized I am allergic to dairy. I’d eaten real butter and cheese and drank full fat milk every day of my life before then. All of a sudden I stopped having bad breath in the morning and my constantly runny nose cleared up. I’ve not had dairy since. I also did some serious thinking about who I was, and who I wanted to be.
SXSW 2004 was approaching, and most of my creative juices were still flowing into the band I managed – The Real Heroes. All of a sudden I felt like I had so much time on my hands because I wasn’t going out every night. When I’d finished with my detox, I decided I was ready to give them one last push.
About three or four weeks before SXSW 2004, I got an email from a girl in Austin called Amanda who worked with Caroline Distribution. She was friends with the guys in the much-loved Scottish band The Trashcan Sinatras. Apparently the band were looking for an intimate venue to play during SXSW, and Amanda had heard that I knew a thing or two about throwing SXSW parties.
Although the 2003 Vortex party had been a massive success, I was not planning on doing it again. But Amanda was very persuasive, and before I knew it, I’d agreed to put together a small show featuring The Real Heroes and The Trashcan Sinatras.
Then the word got out about the party, and I learned that there were going to be quite a few Scottish bands coming over for SXSW.
At the time I didn’t really know any of the people in the Scottish music industry. I’d only ever just been a fan. In 2003, the previous year, there had only been one Scottish band at SXSW – Idlewild – and I’d met Vic Galloway from BBC Scotland very briefly for an interview. But in the intervening 12 months, something had happened back in Scotland and there were now 16 Scottish bands lined up for SXSW 2004.
And not just any bands. This was the year of Franz Ferdinand. Also visiting for the first time were Sons & Daughters, and Malcolm Middleton, and The Delgados, and that well known Scottish band Snow Patrol.
So on February 24, 2004, just three weeks before SXSW, the Trashcans put me in touch with all the other Scottish artists and managers who were planning to attend the festival, and I pitched them all an idea for a late-night Scottish music festival at the Vortex Theater.
I decided to introduce myself to everyone as ‘Peej Reid’, Scottish manager of Austin musicians, and I told them what had happened in 2003. Well, they loved the idea and I got immediate responses. I hadn’t met any of them yet, but I was emailing with great people like Alec Downie, Tam Coyle, Ronnie Gurr, and Dougie Souness, and everyone came together to make it happen. They’d never heard of ‘Peej Reid’ but they put their faith in me and went along for the ride.
The party quickly went from just two bands (Real Heroes and Trashcan Sinatras) to four (with Tippi and the Grim Northern Social) to six (with Half Cousin and Real Shocks). Then I got confirmation from Franz Ferdinand’s manager that they would love to come along to DJ. Someone coined the term ‘The Scottish Invasion’ and all of a sudden it felt like I was part of something important.
I booked The Vortex for the Thursday night of SXSW and I had The Trashcan Sinatras kicking things off at 12.30pm and Real Shocks finishing up at 3.25am. Then about a week before the party, I got an email from some chancer asking to be added to the bill. Apparently the part-time keyboard player from the Trashcans fancied himself as a bit of a singer songwriter and asked if he could do some of his own half-baked songs before the real music started. I can’t remember his name. Oh wait, it was Roddy Hart.
So Roddy Hart is now a very successful musician in his own right who has recorded with Kris Kristofferson and played half a dozen times on Craig Ferguson’s The Late Late Show. In 2004 not many people knew who he was, but I did. Roddy’s Dad had been my Mum’s first boyfriend back in 1960’s Glasgow.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe Glasgow is just a small place, but when Roddy got in touch, I took it as a sign that I was doing something right. When he first emailed me, he didn’t know that ‘Peej Reid’ was actually me, so I’m pretty sure he raised a smile too. I told Roddy he could open the show at midnight and the party now had 8 bands on the line-up.
We got laminates and posters made like we had done in 2003 and we gave them out all over town again.
March 18, 2004, the night of the party, I remember being extremely nervous. Much more so than the previous year. I think I felt more pressure because for most of the Scottish bands, this was going to be their biggest show of the week. If no one showed up it would be a disaster and there would be no one to blame but me.
I’d met some of the guys in the Trashcans earlier in the week with Amanda and they were really nice. They got to the Vortex early in the night and they loved the intimacy of it, but they also had their own ideas about the lighting and sound. They got to work and were able to make the place look and sound amazing, but not without tripping every power line in the place several times.
As it was, Roddy went on a bit late and the Trashcans didn’t get started, in near darkness for fear of blowing the power, until after 1am. They were so good, and a tough act for everyone else to follow. They later wrote that it was their favorite show of the tour.
I was a total novice at putting on this sort of show and so, of course, every band took a little bit longer than I’d expected to set up and play, and we started to run very late. Also I didn’t have the confidence, or the desire to boot people off the stage. But we had a big crowd and loads of free beer, so no one seemed to mind. It didn’t get to the insane proportions of 2003, but we easily had more than 500 people through the doors.
All of the other Scots bands were there to show their support too, and The Real Heroes were superb as always. It was another awesome night, although Real Shocks were not too happy about having to wait until after 5am to play. The party went on long past sunrise and I was the last to leave.
The next day I was knackered. I had to take back the empty kegs myself and I also hadn’t budgeted for cleaners, so I had to go back to the venue and tidy everything myself, and pick up hundreds of cigarette butts, otherwise I would have lost my deposit.
I went out briefly on Friday night to see Roddy and the Trashcans play at the Fox and Hound but by Saturday I was ready to celebrate.
The Real Heroes had one last show on the Drag about 3pm and that’s when I had my first drink. At some point I met up with Vic Galloway and several margaritas later we were propping up a bar on 6th Street at 1am watching The Delgados play some of my favorite tunes to a packed room. It was the last showcase of the festival and a lot of the Scottish contingent had gathered back together to see it.
The Arts Council had printed out some huge ‘Scottish Invasion’ flyers on 3-foot square poster boards. I think it was Alec Downie or Ronnie Gurr who gifted them to me at the end of The Delgados. We all went off to an after party on the east side, and I paraded those giant signs around like trophies. Scotland had successfully invaded and I was really proud that I had played my part.
I’ll always remember that spirit of all the Scottish bands and their representatives working together with the Arts Council to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol were the runaway success stories of the week, but that first Scottish Invasion party set the foundation for the next decade of new Scottish musicians to come out and storm SXSW.
In 2016, for the first time since probably 2004, Creative Scotland (formerly The Arts Council), made the decision not to support any Scottish bands that came out.
I don’t know who made that decision, or if the decision was made for them, but I really hope they reconsider for 2017. Scotland’s image shouldn’t be all about haggis and castles and bagpipes. That’s not the Scotland I grew up in. The world doesn’t get to hear enough from contemporary Scotland.
And that’s why the Scottish Invasion party was such a big deal to me. Those bands represented the Scotland I knew. They were exciting and creative and cool. And that’s who I wanted to be.
Being with The Real Heroes was important too. They were young, talented, fun, and ambitious. And that was what I wanted to be too. I’d found a purpose to be in Austin. I’d found my identity. I’d also figured out my future too.
It was during the detox weeks that I had the idea to be an attorney in New York. I did my research and wrote to the State Bar in February 2004 to see if I would even be eligible to take the New York bar exam. I might never have had that idea or found the time to pull together the transcripts and references that week, if I hadn’t taken a break from the booze.
I gave myself another 18 months, until I turned 30, to make it in the music world. It was then that I decided that if I didn’t find success with The Real Heroes then I would put ‘Peej’ on hold for a while and become ‘Pete Reid, Esq., New York Attorney at Law’. Either way, I wasn’t going to be just another scenester.