It was sometime around the mid eighties, that I began to notice how many of my favorite groups were Scottish in nature. Considering that the nation has a population of just a few million, the number of Scot acts I cherish is somewhat disproportional to their size as a nation. Let’s take a look at the first salvo of Scot acts I collect.
I first heard Altered Images when I bought an issue of Flexipop [issue 14] with some Altered Images rarities; demo versions of “Real Toys” and “Leave Me Alone” from their debut album “Happy Birthday.” I later got the first Altered Images album, which was mostly produced by Steve Severin of Siouxsie & The Banshees, and not surprisingly, most of the album ended up sounding like that band. I liked the juxtaposition of vocalist Clare Grogan, who was still a teenager, with the rather dark music. The last single from the album was produced by Martin Rushent, fresh from his Human League triumph and it was more of the Roland Microcomposer/Linn drum sound that he gave the League, abetted with guitars. Their 12″ singles were not terribly far from the sound of the singles from “Dare.” He produced their sophomore album, “Pinky Blue” and it was full of dark sentiments butting against implausibly cheerful “ginch pop” as we called it back in the day. The contrast was the sound of the band hitting their stride.
This Post-Punk supergroup were 75% Scottish. Russell Webb and Richard Jobson were from The Skids and John McGeoch and John Doyle hailed from Magazine. All but Doyle were Scottish. It seems like it was an attempt by Jobson to mine the sort of blustery rock sound popularized by his former bandmate Stuart Adamson in Big Country, or perhaps U2. By 1985 other Scots like Simple Minds were falling over themselves to do the same, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part. Well, I don’t like U2 or Big Country, and I really got depressed when Simple Minds went down this well-trod road. Against all odds, this similar attempt manages to catch my ears and give me something back that I can wrap my head around. There were probably two reasons for this. One, Richard Jobson is much smarter than Jim Kerr or Bono. The second and most likely reason, is that John McGeoch is a world class guitarist who never made a bad move in his entire career, as I see it. His talent is rock-solid and it’s gratifying to see that he’s getting a posthumous reputation that feel more in line to how I considered him over the last 30 years.
This Scot duo managed to make some of the most adventurous and exciting music in their heyday. Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine achieved so much on their first three albums that some bands built whole careers out of various aspects they explored and moved on from. Singer MacKenzie had an operatic range and absolutely no shame in using it. Instrumentalist Rankine was the most textural of guitarists who, along with Robin Simon, laid the groundwork for lesser lights to pick up and run with in the decade that followed. I’m ashamed that I never heard this band in their heyday – I only heard of them. Their records were scarce where I was living. Only a compilation issued in 1990 finally made its way to my curious hands and I was blown away with what it delivered to me. I have to admit; the revelation of what I’d missed a decade earlier had a profound effect on me in that it [along with the reduced caliber of contemporary music by 1990] alerted me to the fact that there were bands from the past that I hadn’t explored at the time that were potentially colossal to me and that I should begin to expend the energy to find them.
To be continued…