A Decade of Glasgow bands
To reflect on the last 10 years of music in Glasgow, we thought we’d put together a round-up of the best bands to come out of the city during those 120 months. So, as a fool proof way of sorting out the cream from the crap, we asked the people who’ve played a part in the city’s music scene during that period to give us their take on Glasgow’s best bands...
Arab Strap – Jenny Reeve, Strike the Colours
With a career spanning ten years, Arab Strap released six studio albums, three live albums, numerous EPs, singles, compilations and remixes. The quality of their work, the sheer volume of their output and the influence they have had over the music scene in Scotland cannot, in my humble opinion, be disputed. Their music is poetic without being affected, aggressive but also gentle. Aidan Moffat’s voice is as familiar to me now as that of a dear friend, a co-conspirator, or perhaps even my own father (is that creepy?) and takes the listener on a journey, in exactly the same way that traditional story-telling and folk song have been for centuries.
I’ve heard Arab Strap described as ‘Scots Folk miserabilists’ and while to an extent that might be true, I feel that it is also doing them a disservice. For example, listen to songs such as 'There Is No Ending' from The Last Romance and take my word on an unreleased song entitled 'Don’t Cry, It’s Only A Penis' for evidence to the contrary. Arab Strap are a band of ample wit and romanticism, it’s just that they don’t gloss over the mucky bits and talk candidly about the morning after. There’s no soft-focus or soft-soap with Arab Strap. But then if we wanted those things we’d probably be listening to Barry Manilow. Which is fine too, but he definitely isn’t from Glasgow.
Dead Caesar – Alun Woodward, Lord Cut Glass
My favourite band of the last 10 years never made a record and only lasted for a summer in 2004. They were called Dead Caesar and they played three gigs/ rehearsals.
I was there with one of my kids and I tried to get them to record in our studio, but the singer was deported before they came in and the other three who were from Scotland thought it was wrong to do it without him. They were a bit like Beefheart, but with a Somalian guy singing and a level of naivety and freedom that was infectious and invigorating.
The Delgados – Raindeer, Mitchell Museum
I first heard the Delgados on a free CD from the Big Issue magazine, the song was 13 Gliding Principles. It was the first time I really heard a Scottish band that really meant something to me and I could identify with. It had really strong melodies alongside mad distorted guitars. This was the sort of thing you had only ever really heard from American bands and led to a new obsession.
I went and got 'The Great Eastern' twice for my birthday and was really blown away by the arrangements and the production on it. The counterpoint melodies from Alun Woodward and Emma Pollack really struck and have probably had a big influence on the dual vocals that me and my brother [Cammy Macfarlane] do in our band.
My excitement for the band led to an embarrassing situation one night in Mono [a Glasgow drinking den], the first time I ever got very drunk. Some friends pointed out that The Delgados were sitting at the next table and after some Dutch drinks I went over and decided to be their new best friend. They passed me on from one to the other and Stewart Henderson was kind enough to sit and talk to me for the longest time. It may have been a struggle for him as I was a bit worse for wear and I told him that they were only my second favourite band as they weren't as good as the Flaming Lips.
Later on outside, they were all leaving together in a tiny red Ford Fiesta or something and i choose to breakdance for them to impress them. I can't breakdance. They weren't impressed.
Glasvegas – Jim Gellatly, DJ
It’s a struggle to pick one Glasgow band as my favourite from the past 10 years, but Glasvegas would certainly be high on my list - mainly because they've exceeded my expectations by such a long way.
Don't get me wrong, I liked what I heard from the start, but never could I have imagined they'd have hit records, let alone sign a major record deal. I think I was the first person to play them on the radio, and despite playing a lot of unsigned acts at the time on Beat 106 (which became Xfm Scotland), it was one of those rare occasions where I actually got some instant feedback. Dave McGeachan from King Tut's [Wah Wah Hut] was straight on the phone looking for more info.
That was 2004, and a full year before Caroline joined - which is when James Allan [sunglasses-adorning frontman] considers the band were formed. Further down the line I was at Tut's in 2006 when Alan McGee first saw them, and with Carl Barât by his side, he told me they would be the most important band to come out of Scotland for 20 years.
Life Without Buildings - Julian Corrie, Miaoux Miaoux
Too beautiful to be punk, and too technical to be ‘indie’, Life Without Buildings were truly a one-off. Formed from that wayward institution, Glasgow School of Art, they only ever made one album, and split up soon afterwards - not for attention, but simply because they had said what needed saying.
The trio of Will Bradley, Chris Evans, and Robert Johnston create guitar and bass lines that dive between each other over light and snappy drums, but it’s painter Sue Tompkin’s lyrics and delivery that defined the band and divided critics. Her words are sung, shouted, stuttered and repeated, tangling themselves into an aural collage that conjures images of late nights, isolation, lost love and forgotten identity.‘Any Other City is the perfect soundtrack to a confused young life in Glasgow, and, despite its title, couldn’t have been made anywhere else.
Mogwai – James Graham, The Twilight Sad
If I had to think of five of my favourite bands of all time there would be two Scottish bands in there and they would be Arab Strap and Mogwai. So since Arab Strap are from Falkirk I would say that Mogwai are my favourite band from Glasgow.
They are my favourite band for many reasons. The first is that they’re one of the best live acts I have ever seen. I must have seen them over 40 times over the two tours we've done with them and the gigs I've seen them play in Scotland. And still, I always get excited before a Mogwai gig.
The second reason is because of their own record label Rock Action. Some of my favourite records of recent years have been released on Rock Action, such as albums by Errors, Remember Remember, Desalvo, Part Chimp and Envy.
When you meet one of your favourite bands you always worry that they will be complete arsehole. Fortunately they weren’t and have been nothing but supportive of our band since day one. They also make great records too. So in conclusion, Mogwai = good music, good guys.
The Phantom Band – Dave Kerr, Music Editor of The Skinny
Speaking between songs during a recent radio session, an anonymous voice from the Phantom Band's corner lamented their poor manager’s struggle to tame the collective, likening his duty to ‘wrestling smoke’. You could say the same about their cosmic two-album catalogue so far (last year’s formidable Checkmate Savage, and impending follow-up The Wants) with an esoteric charm which frontman Rick Anthony accidentally alludes to on their latest when he rasps: "Everybody cranes their heads / To see my changin' shape." And so they should; fortuitously blessed with character and soul, Rick’s dark couplets and lyrical mantras don’t so much jump out as seep slowly into your skull – “I can’t see for the mountain’s silhouette / I left home for an empty space” – while his comrades, to put it more crudely than they probably deserve, throw down a daring marriage of harmonious ‘robo'-folk to a propulsive tempo.
I slept on the original release of their first single before they signed to Chemikal, and duly received a cautionary e-mail (again, from an anonymous band member) which rightly pointed out my idiocy. So the first Phantom Band track I heard was Throwing Bones, but the one that got me hooked was Left Hand Wave, and it was a revelation. I couldn’t understand the Beta Band comparisons at first because they sounded more like a tribe of unhinged shaman, but it’s obvious now that they were cut from the same peyote-doused cloth. Watching their story unfold has been heartening to watch and – as it goes in the north, or anywhere really – they’re a post-millennial rarity. But ‘wrestling smoke’ is right, and I defy any fucker to catch them.
Remember, Remember - Stephen Livingstone, Errors
I first became aware of Graeme Ronald’s music when I watched an early solo performance of his at stereo in Glasgow. Despite technical problems, I was impressed. There was definitely something interesting and captivating about what he was doing. The next time I saw him was with a full band. Combining live loops, classical instruments and electric guitars is not easy, but the group pulled it off confidently, adding a new dynamic to the Remember, Remember I had previously witnessed.
Every performance since then has been different. My favourite being this year at the 13th Note where they played a 'secret' show unveiling new material. I have never seen an audience of fellow musicians/friends so captivated and genuinely hanging on every note, anticipating the next section- never being right, always surprised by what came next. The amount of thought and consideration that goes into each bar of Remember, Remember's music is mind blowing. His music takes the listener on a journey - travelling to new worlds on roads that we never even knew existed.
The Twilight Sad - Nick Mitchell, Editor of radar.scotsman.com
New bands could learn a lot from The Twilight Sad. Rather than pushing themselves too fast, too soon, the Kilsyth group retreated from the Glasgow scene after a couple of experimental shows, honed a fully-formed sound built upon Andy MacFarlane's snarling guitar scree and James Graham's battering ram vocals. They quickly distilled this into a four-track demo and soon found themselves on the Fat Cat roster.
The widespread acclaim that greeted debut LP Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters then saw the band begin to establish themselves both in the UK and America. Triumphant tours with label mates Frightened Rabbit, a blazingly honest approach to media interviews and some pretty disturbing artwork also endeared The 'Sad with a particular kind of disaffected music fan.
Original bassist Craig Orzel quit the band earlier this year, but Graham, MacFarlane and, increasingly, drummer Mark Devine, have only added yet more steel and maturity to the Twilight Sad's signature barrage with second album Forget the Night Ahead and the recent Wrong Car EP. I wait with bated breath on where they go next.
Uncle John & Whitelock – Billy Hamilton
Thinking back, Uncle John & Whitelock (UJ&W) were never really meant to last. Born in the belly of the Glasgow art scene, the combustible quintet were a torrential storm in the Central Belt’s teacup, conjuring up just one LP, the bleakly titled There Is Nothing Else, before fizzling out at the end of 2006. If it sounds like an ineffective defeat, that’s because in many ways it was; UJ&W’s ragged, horror-rock wailing played out like Birthday Party in a Deep South cotton field, yet never found faith outside the M8.
But for those of us who stood jaws agape during their rafter rattling live shows, where heart pounding zombie-blues bludgeoned against the rolling hillbilly drawl of Jacob Yates, UJ&W’s corpse still haunts the memory. I’ve a friend who swears they’re the most exhilarating band Scotland’s ever produced. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to disagree – there really is nothing quite like them. That UJ&W remain so unknown outside Scotland is moot; they were always a band with more important things in mind.
DiScuss: Agree with these selections? Think someone has been criminally ignored? Let us know below.