I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Scottish Songbook concert at the Concert Hall in Glasgow last Saturday night (Thanks Chris!) I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but it was a grand evening. More contemporary than I was expecting. Performers included Karine Polwart, who was the director of the evening, Ricky Ross and his missus Lorraine MacIntosh, Emma Pollock, King Creosote, Kris Dever, Maeve Mackinnon and … B.A. Robertson!

B.A. was looking fit and rakish. To borrow from Chris, he looked like Andrew Neil’s healthier, younger brother, and the patter was back in full effect. When Ross came on to cue Robertson’s time to leave the stage he threatened not to leave, wanting to lead a chorus of We Have a Dream, or even Kool in the Kaftan (perish the thought).

Robertson was always the kind of pop performer that was never taken seriously, even by himself. He was quite popular in the primary playground because he was daft, lanky and deeply uncool, and young kids don’t care about such matters. He also wrote Scotland’s best World Cup Song (admittedly there is not strong competition) with the aforementioned We Have a Dream. Fronted by Gregory himself (John Gordon Sinclair) and backed by the 1982 squad, the song captured the optimism that used to accompany following Scotland. No chance of that these days.

Back to the Concert Hall. The form of the evening was that performers chose their favourite Scottish Songs to sing. It started with The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain morphing into Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy and finished with everyone coming back on for a rousing Sunshine on Leith. Highlights included Emma Pollock doing The Humblebums’ Everybody Knows That and Kenny Anderson doing Ronnie Clark and Carl McDougall’s Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice.

Emma Pollock


Kenny Anderson (King Creosote)


Emma Pollock and Kenny Anderson then gave themselves, what I considered to be, the biggest of challenges of the evening with two of their choices. Emma, backed by Karine Polwart, went for The Blue Nile’s Downtown Lights. They sang beautifully but missed the aching sadness, the effortless emotion, that is present in Paul Buchanan’s original vocal.

Kenny, even more courageously, plumped for The Associates Party Fears Two. Perhaps I am too close to these songs, they mean too much to me, but these were brave attempts that only made me pine for the originals. Billy Mackenzie’s soaring vocals in particular gives Party Fears Two a magical quality. Here are The Associates performing it on Belgian TV:


And here’s an old clip of B.A. Robertson interviewing Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine, who even gets in a wee dig about the World Cup song.


God I miss Billy Mackenzie. If I ever start hearing voices then I hope it’s his telling me to take out the queue at the post-office.


Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books are coming soon.