“When people hear good music, it makes them homesick for something they never had and never will have” – Edgar Watson Howe.
Having been coaxed out of ‘self imposed exile’ by Dear Scotland, this was the first of many brilliant articles by Alec Downie on the joys of Scottish music .
Happy Birthday Alec.
This article was originally published on June 24, 2009. Dear Scotland is currently enjoying a winter break and will return to full service on January 3, 2010.
In the meantime, feel free to enjoy some of the most popular articles of 2009, watch the Dear Scotland Christmas video and vote in the Scotland’s Greatest Ever Vocalist Poll.
By the Time I Get To Greenock
Following our tragic national tradition that sees our brightest minds scattered like wilting heather around the globe, I recently put myself into self imposed exile in Didim Turkey and spent 21 months slowly weaning myself loose from the claws of the Scottish music industry, however alas as another Scots exile philosopher Dr Geddes MacGregor, once wrote “No one in Scotland can escape from the past. It is everywhere, haunting like a ghost”. In the space of the last couple of months I had a plethora of Scottish albums from young bands landing in my posta kutusu, (post box), from Found, Wake the President, My Latest Novel, popup, Viva Stereo and Iain Morrison and a Facebook message from another exile in NYC asking if I would be up for contributing some musings on Scottish music to a new website for ex-pats so I conceded 21 months was ample time to be cloistered and surfaced to exercise some of my own musical ghosts.
The articles I will be generating over the next wee while will take a random look at the history of Scottish music, who did what, when and in the greatest traditions of Scottish story telling many tales will verge on the grey tartan line between myth and reality, with the truth no doubt floating somewhere in the Scottish mist of time. Before we get into all that, I thought I would take on a ghost all us exiles need to deal with, “the ghoul of homesickness”, and how Scots music is intrinsically responsible for making us all feel like logging on to cheapflights.com and booking the first flight back to Scotland.
Personally I have only been homesick a few times in the past few years stimulated by music that connected with my soul on the most primeval level; the first being brutally induced whilst sitting in an Airstream trailer in Austin Texas and receiving a copy of the debut album, “Wolves” by “My Latest Novel” and the second instance when their new album arrived two weeks ago, and again a few weeks prior when “Skimming Stones… Sinking Boats” by “Iain Morrison” arrived courtesy of the artists. All the records I received are intrinsically different, though they related on a subconscious level, with the simplest and most heartwarming commonality being that all these young artists have dropped the fake American accents used by many previous Scots stars and are now singing with a modern honest Scottish dialect, and an ever growing number are bringing in traditional instruments like fiddles or using Celtic rhythms, which shows them at confident ease with “their Scotland”. There is a wonderful line in the Ian Morrison song, “Broken Off Car Door”, “and for my next trick I’ll jump from the 7th Floor and sail the Atlantic in a broken off car door”, refraining back to themes as ancient to Scots as “The Skye Boat Song”. And in “A Dear Green Place” by “My Latest Novel” the lyric tells of reading words written on bus shelters, “that is where the poets don’t disguise their accents” and if you want to know what it is like to be a modern Westend boy or girl in Glasgow, listen to popup or Wake the President’s latest albums and you will find a sense of realism more in keeping with Irvine Welsh, than Burns.
A few years ago Postcard Records were labelled, “The Sound of Young Scotland”, a marquee well deserved for producing innovative and captivating Scottish pop and while Alex Harvey, Frankie Miller or Lulu were inspired by the Isley Brothers, Buddy Holly, Elvis or American Rock n Roll, our current young musicians have found inspiration and leadership from Josef K, Orange Juice, Belle & Sebastian or the Chemikal Underground of The Delgados and Arab Strap. This schooling has nurtured a Scottish sound for a new generation. If you do a quick “listen again” to Vic Galloway’s BBC Scotland Radio show you will hear bands like, the massive Glasvegas, the mesmerizing Twilight Sad or the not so famous Galchen, French Wives, Broken Records, The Boy Who Trapped the Sun and Yahweh supporting my argument that the present crop of Scottish bands have more than earned the elevation of that Postcard mantel.
Born the son of Wesley Campbell a Borders farmer, Glen Campbell recently covered “Sing” by Travis for his 2008 album “Meet Glen Campbell” proclaiming to Sunday Mail’s Billy Sloan, “I love to visit Scotland because it was my family birthplace and my ancestors all come from there. Scotland gets in your bones – I can feel it every time I go there”. Campbell also once told of his own experience of how music can make you homesick, (even without a national affiliation), “I was in Studio 3 cutting a song with, I think, the Irish Rovers,… I saw a record on the wall in the hall by Johnny Rivers. It had this song ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix.’ And that made me curious. I wondered if it was about the city or the bird. So I listened to it, and I cried because it made me homesick”, “I’ve never forgotten those great nights topping the bill at the Glasgow Apollo in the 70s when I’d put on a kilt. I’d have run to the ends of the earth to play there”. Google just a little and you will find many artists like Joe Walsh of the Eagles professing love for their Scottish roots and even Dylan openly admits to gaining inspiration from themes and melodies of traditional Scots music or stories (in The Scotsman). I get the same feeling when I listen to New Zealand band, The Veils doing “Three Sisters”, you can almost feel the Celtic bloodline on New Scotland booming from the speakers, music being the emotional trigger for memories, and proving that you don’t need to speed like a bonny boat over purple heather or come from the Highlands to have a deeper subliminal connection with Scotland, as Howe says, “something they never had”.
You may have the impression that I am distancing myself from the traditional but I was never prouder as a band manager than when popup covered Dougie McLean’s Caledonia for a Peel Session (available on their myspace), I have danced badly with 80000 Tennents swilling sunburnt Scots to 500 Miles by the Proclaimers at T in the Park and Bridgeton by Robert Carlyle on the Frankie Miller Tribute is one of the most heart wrenching, “I wanna go home songs”, a city boy could have. My childhood was full of family gatherings where songs were sung and stories told so play “For my Ain Folk”, and a big lump will need to be suppressed by single malt.
Thankfully homesickness for me is a rare affliction and to date only ever induced by music, and my Scottish heart goes out to those struggling with their own ghosts. Robert Louis Stephenson stated, “There are no foreign lands just foreigners travelling to them”, and Frankie Miller wrote, “Mama said, the boy child’s got to roam, lord knows when I’ll wynd my way back home”, but I will leave the last words to Burns:
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Robert Burns, (1759 – 1796)
Alec’s Ten Songs Every Homesick Ex-Pat Scot should have on their iPod
Anthem – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Caledonia – popup
In a Remote part of Scottish Fiction – Idlewild
The Reputation of Ross Francis – My Latest Novel
Freedom Come All Ye – The McCluskey Brothers
Away With the Fairies – Iain Morrison
Chance – Big Country
Sorrows for clothes – Wake the President
The Shy Retirer – Arab Strap
The Sash My Father Wore – Ballboy
Suggest Your own: