That Melodic *Thing* in Scottish Pop

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
A lot of Scottish Pop seems to treat melody in a similar and distinctive way. I've been toying with this theory for a while and I'm still not sure that I can explain what I hear, but I'll have a go, so bear with me.

There's often a reluctance to telegraph a big chorus, a sort of shy restraint which can often mean that a gorgeous melody takes time to uncover and fix in your memory. Examples would be Orange Juice -'Simply Thriled Honey', Marmalade - 'I See The Rain', Aztec Camera -'We Could Send Letters',The Poets - 'That's The Way It's Got to Be' Also various Blue Nile. This characteristic is even found in some of the more commercial stuff like Texas and Wet Wet Wet.

There's also a certain 'ringing' quality to many of the simpler melodies - Altered Images - 'See Those Eyes'/'Pinky Blue'/virtually any of their early stuff and the Fire Engines - 'Candyskin'. Is there a melodic element carried over from Scottish folk music here?

Does any of this strike a chord with anyone? I'd be interested to hear whether anyone has similar/more coherent thoughts on this. Alexander Blair's comments especially welcome!

Dr. C, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

yep, it does. It seems the three tracks that Nico appeared in the first velvets album had a huge influence on these people. I'm against this type of stuff on principle.

Julio Desouza, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Reluctance to telegraph chorus = marking our distance from the opportunistic capitalist songwriting of England.

Shy restraint = expressing our political marginality, aloofness.

Ringing quality = protestant church bells, the legacy of John Knox and Calvin.

Momus, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

**I'm against this type of stuff on principle**

Uh? Pls explain, Julio.

Dr. C, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Dr. C= This stuff is very resigned pop. It happens to be not very original, either.

Orange juice had other elements. Off this list I've heard Aztec camera and blue nile so I can't comment on everything.

I was thinking also abt Pastels and Belle and sebastian who are a continuation of what you were talking about.

Julio Desouza, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Badgewearer are/were (?) perhaps one of the best bands ever to have played instruments ever and they are/were SCOTSSishhCH

bob snoom, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

"Connect Closed By Remote Server"?!?!?

Old Fart!!!, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Dammit, I had a nice long(ish) message to post here, but the server doesn't seem to allow long messages so I think I'll just quickly sat that the above argument is compl

Old Fart!!!, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Julio, how can records from as early as c.1965 (The Poets) and 1967 (Marmalade) be dismissed as unoriginal. I can't think of a record since which had a bass and a six-string rhythm bass like the great 'I See The Rain'. It's a good point Dr C., and the thing which strikes me about all these examples is that none of the artists play 'genre' music, but instead simply play 'pop' in the original sense (i.e. that which emerges from a wide set of influences, without slavishly attempting to fit into any already extant category). Even Belle and Sebastian use Stax/Motown rhythms, sweeping strings and introspective lyrics/vocals without sounding remotely like Texas, who on paper, aren't very dissimilar. What about the fact that Scots don't sound chronically embarrassing when they sing in an American accent (intentionally or not), unlike the bluesmen of the South East of England?

Snotty Moore, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

''Even Belle and Sebastian use Stax/Motown rhythms, sweeping strings and introspective lyrics/vocals''

String arrangements on those records (like every record I ever heard by an indie band) are crap. They are designed to push the 'melancholia' button. Introspective lyrics/vocals= its actually just 'The world is so awful so I'll lock myself in the bedroom and wank' type stuff that has been done to death by other bands before.

I've never bought a stax/motown record (probably heard it on the radio but cvan't remember what it sounds like) BUT the other elements make B&S a waste of everybody's time.

''Julio, how can records from as early as c.1965 (The Poets) and 1967 (Marmalade) be dismissed as unoriginal.''

and this is what I said= ''Off this list I've heard Aztec camera and blue nile so I can't comment on everything.''

Julio Desouza, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

There is this quite strange programme on BBC Scotland at about 5pm on Sundays. It's on before the charts get going on Radio 1 and I only listen to it when I flick through the radio channels when I'm driving.

Its mainly modern recordings of tradtional Scottish based dance bands, and as such is terrible - evoking memories of 'learning to dance' at school and general Jimmy Shand type things... but it occasionally plays BBC archive recordings of music from the 20s, 30s and 40s.

These are usually very simple instumentation, a bagpipe, or an accordian. It sounds very strange to modern ears - the volume of the drone is much louder than in contemporary recordings. I actually once heard a 1930s Hebridean recording that sounded like Roxy Music's 'Sultanesque' - bagpipes are basically all drone (the three 'pipes' that rest on the shoulders are fixed pitch, only the hand held 'chanter' is playable (and it only has 8 notes).

Unlike modern 'drone rock' though there is always a fragile melody floating gently and gracefully above the drone - its not in the background, its in the foreground but small and quiet against a large background. I don't really understand this: 'foreground' and 'background' are surely volume based distinctions of parts of a piece of music. Yet Im saying this sounds like the opposite.

Is this a folk memory that seeps into all Scottish music? Not just bands that use the dynamic of pipes or accordians - Skids, Mogwai, Cocteaus, but Belle and Sebastian (when they are being good), Alex Harvey, AWB... this concept of making a small melody - sometimes nearly intangible- larger and clearer by some assumed relationship with the rest of the music. I dunno, I don't particularly like traditional Scotland, and would much rather it considered as a modern and outward looking culture

Oh as for the VU - Reed wrote bubble gum pop for Pickwick records and Cale did the drone. Fuckit, the VU were Scottish.

Alexander Blair, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Random thought: "Flowers in the Window" is Marmalade through and through, isn't it?

Momus pretty much OTM, I'd say. Possible subthread development: how to get from Momus to Del Amitri (and back) in two moves (I didn't actually realise until recently that the two Curries were brethren!).

Marcello Carlin, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

'the world is so awful so i'll lock myself in the bedroom and wank' = pinnacle of modern music.

ethan, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

"protestant church bells" oxymoron alert. It'll be dancing on the sabbath next.

Alexander Blair, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I can't believe anyone in the western world has never heard a Stax or Motown record, let alone someone who 'loves music'

Chewshabadoo, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

''I can't believe anyone in the western world has never heard a Stax or Motown record, let alone someone who 'loves music' ''

There are so many records that I don't have. But I'm not as interested in the song. I started buying discs with songs and guitars (though not many as I didn't have much cash). So now I have a job (of sorts) but my interests are mostly in other areas of music (i.e. not songs).

So things like motown, soul, etc. have got left behind.

Julio Desouza, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Alexander said : **... this concept of making a small melody - sometimes nearly intangible- larger and clearer by some assumed relationship with the rest of the music.**

Fantastic! This is what I meant by 'shy restraint', but expressed better.

Also Snotty said :

**and the thing which strikes me about all these examples is that none of the artists play 'genre' music, but instead simply play 'pop' in the original sense**

This is good and I hadn't thought of it that way.

Haven't got a clue what Julio's on about!

Dr. C, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Teenage Fanclub. Do they not fit this debate almost perfectly? Mind you, Primal Scream don't...

Nick Southall, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Ah, but what about "Velocity Girl"?

Ned Raggett, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

primal scream once did fit in here nicely, jim beattie still does.

keith, Monday, 8 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

TFC - no. I'd say they're, to quote Snotty, playing genre music first and foremost. Early TFC - grunge/pop. Later - Big Star.

Dr. C, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I am not so sure about classifying TFC in genre music. What is that supposed to mean anyway? TFC have the melodies and don't insist too much on the chorus. Their music is probably less understated than the bands you mentioned but still I think they have got this Scottish melodic thing. Even more so BMX Bandits I would guess. There is something modest and economic about the music of these bands.

alex in mainhattan, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

The only TFC albums I know are Bandwagonesque (most bafflingly over- praised album ever?) and Grand Prix, and I don't think they're doing the Scottish pop thing. On GP most of the songs are structured in a classic verse/big chorus/middle-8/solo way, with a conventional power- pop/american rock sound IIRC. I didn't hear much subtlety and melodic surprise. It's possible that Bandwagonesque is closer, the verses and choruses are not as clearly delineated as on GP, but on reflection it's more likely that they just hadn't yet learned how to write according to the textbook. I dislike TFC in the same way that I dislike Suede.

Other records I should have mentioned upthread : Jasmine Minks - 'Cold Heart' and Trash (late 60's post-Poets pop-progsters) - Trash Can (b-side of their Golden Slumbers cover minor hit).

Dr. C, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I dislike Suede too, Dr.C :-)
But not in the same was as TFC. As I like Teenage Fanclub a lot. I didn't in the beginning as I thought their music was shallow conventional indiepop but it isn't. The American connection for TFC can't be denied nevertheless. There you are right though I don't think it's a bad thing. I still think they have improved Big Star.

alex in mainhattan, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

typo: same was = same way

alex in mainhattan, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Sorry, but I'm going to completely disagree with this "Scottish Folk inspires Scottish Pop" thesis, which rears it's head every so often...

Why? As someone from Scotland, this widely held impression of what constitutes Scottish Pop really does get right my nose, as it appears to construct a direct lineage from a cliched version of Scottish Folk music to an equally cliched version of Scottish Pop, that's actually based on a small subset of the full range of Scottish Pop, who just happen to have "Scottish" references. Not only is this a patronising view of Scottish Folk, which at times could be quite radicial in it's politics, but ignores the rest of Scottish Pop, particularly from urban Central Scotland. What about The Sweet? Nazareth? The Incredible String Band? Alex Harvey? 1979-81 Simple Minds? Cocteau Twins? Kelly Marie? The Almighty? Primal Scream? Scott Brown? The entire 1990-1995 Scottish Rave scene? None of these ever feature in any pet theory about pop music from Scotland, but they're all pretty influential. (Scott Brown and the Scottish Rave scene in particular had a massive influence on the development of what we now call trance.) It's just there's no allusions to shortbread tin images of Scottish folksy past.

I might as well add here that the main culprits for this Scottish Folk/Pop theory are actually Scottish pop writers themselves, who are by and large completely hopeless, with an impenetrable aire of stereotypical studenty coolness, combined with a desire to ape London hacks, that leads to a fatal detachment from their subject. Most of them are pretty anti-pop too, except in a nauseatingly twee nostalgic manner. (Oh, it's okay to like the Proclaimers again- but only in a "Weren't we strange back then" type of way...) But you can guarantee reviews and interviews every time Gary Clark (of one hit wonders Danny Wilson) or Kevin McDermott release a record. And Belle & Sebastian always get 5 stars. The only reason this ridiculous situation exists is because the writers are sheilded within larger publications geared to non-pop audiences- the two broadsheet newspapers (Herald and Scotsman), and The List (Scotland's answer to Time Out).

It's worth noting that any attempt to actually create a successful magazine which reflects this style of writing has been a complete failure. Usually this has been blamed on the Scots not caring enough to buy the magazine, etc., ... But no one has suggested that this might be because the magazine is usually filled with sub-NME doggerel which simply does not cover what is actually going on in Scotland, preferring instead to pander to a myth of Scottish contemporary music which is actually hard to cover given that only so many bands can be shoe-horned into the myth. So coverage generally boils down to the usual Runrig/Wet Wet Wet/Travis triopoly, already covered far better in Q, etc. (Franny, watch out- it used to be Runrig/Wet Wet Wet/Del Amitri!)

On the other hand, look at the example of M8 magazine, which actually started out as another Scottish rock 'n' pop listings/reviews mag. But within 6 months it was dominated by the burgeoning Scottish Rave scene, and within another 6, it intiated a special "dance music issue", which has in effect lasted to this day. In the next 2-3 years, it became Scotlands most popular youth culture magazine, precisely because of it's fanzine style enthusiasm for the Scottish Rave scene, which was only really being covered by M8 whilst the rest of the rest of the Scottish media ignored or villified it. Of course, as the Scottish Rave scene died down M8 quickly realigned itself within the UK house and trace market, but the early 90s back issues of M8 are a fascinating historical record of a uniquely Scottish music that was hugely popular and influential amongst the young, (eg It invented Neds!) but owed little to traditional folksy myths of Scotland- which is probably why you won't see a thing about it in the mainstream Scottish press- and if the mainstream Scottish press won't cover it, why should the press elsewhere? Gah- sometimes we're our own worst enemies...

(I notice the mention above of the Radio Scotland programme featuring folk records. There has also been in the past an electronica and Peelie type show on Radio Scotland, although they seem to have been lost in Radio Scotland's Radio 4 style makeover recently. It must be mentioned here that Radio Scotland doesn't particularly cater towards a mainstream pop audience either.)

Old Fart!!!!, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Idlewild don't fit either.

Nick Southall, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

What's about the Jesus & Mary Chain? They have simple catchy tunes and they are Scottish. Probably too American again, no?

alex in mainhattan, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

As usual, I will pop in here and remind everyone that The Trash Can Sinatras are one of the all time greatest pop bands, and their Scottish too...

g, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

"they're" ...

g, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

But TCS are a little overproduced for the shy restrained slowly unfolding melody, aren't they? They are quite good BTW.

alex in mainhattan, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

actually i think they do let their melodies (or songs) unfold pretty slowly and in unexpected ways much of the time

g, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

i don't understand who old fart was annoyed at: no one had proposed the theory he so eloquently demolished

mark s, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

OK, Mark, I wasn't directly addressing Dr. C's theory, but it is near enough the "Scottish Folk => Scottish Pop" theory for me to do a little pre-emptive demolishing... :)

Also, with reference to the original post: "A lot of Scottish Pop [...]"- I would argue that the bands mentioned are actually not that representative of the diversity of Scottish pop, but of the usual suspects constantly drawn up by Scottish hacks as mentioned in my previous post, and this tends to colour the debate outside Scotland.

I suppose what I was trying to explain with my previous post was the reality behind the context in which this whole thread is taking place. As you do...

Old Fart!!!, Tuesday, 9 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

I don't have a theory - I was kind of stumbling around in the dark trying to find a way to describe this thing I've recognized for ages. I agree with you OF, that the folk/pop theory is lazy and convenient, but not necessarily totally invalid. It wasn't at all what I had in mind in the orig. question. The mention of folk was an aside - what I'm really hearing is this way of handling melody which Alexander Blair brilliantly described (**this concept of making a small melody - sometimes nearly intangible- larger and clearer by some assumed relationship with the rest of the music**).

Of the other folks you mention, Simple Minds especially circa 81/82, while outwardly making a *big* sound, create melodies which are often *small* in the way that Alexander suggested, or difficult to tease out of a veil of sound (dare I suggest a *drone*) as I tried to get at in the orig. question. Of course they spent a fair bit of time ripping off Magazine too ;)

This was never meant to be a grand unified theory of Scottish music, so as you say it leaves out much more than it includes.

Dr. C, Wednesday, 10 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Magazine? Scottish!

Alexander Blair, Wednesday, 10 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

What? Who said they wuz Jocks?

Dr. C, Wednesday, 10 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

McGeoch = rhyming slang.

Snotty Moore, Wednesday, 10 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Marcello pinpoints the precise reason why "Flowers In The Window" is the first Travis single I've actually quite liked.

Old Fart - fantastically eloquent post: from an English perspective I think the reason why the folk-pop connection gets made is that in England you're never that far away from a big city, and the population is much more evenly spread out, whereas the more rural parts of Scotland, geographically, *are* more isolated, and this leads to all sorts of lazy generalisations. Also the age-old English problem with reconciling modernity with their narrow idea of being Celtic: Celts generally don't see it as a contradiction, English people unfortunately tend to. I'm sure there *is* an urban / rural divide though - how else could the Scottish Labour Party have started calling the SNP "Tartan Tories" when the SNP's central principle is anathema to the Conservative and *Unionist* Party?

With early Simple Minds I could always sense an obsession with Europe and travel: the lazy critical line here is that this was a desire to escape and get away from English dominance. Am I right or is this another myth?

Robin Carmody, Thursday, 11 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

No, I suspect it's probably more of a desire to emulate their heroes, Berlin era Bowie, Kraftwerk and anything coming out of Conny Plank's studio.

Billy Dods, Thursday, 11 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

So more ill-judged politicisation then. Guilty as charged.

Robin Carmody, Thursday, 11 April 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

eight months pass...
What about Reindeer Section? They consist of members of Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian,Idlewild, Teenage Fanclub, Snow Patrol, Astrid, Mogwai, Mull Historical Society, V-Twin, Eva and Hercules. If there ever was a supergroup this would be it. And a song like You Are My Joy from their last album Son of Evil Reindeer is slowly unfolding and then leading to a minimal but very catchy chorus.

alex in mainhattan (alex63), Saturday, 14 December 2002 20:06 (seventeen years ago) link

scottish melodic pop = grebtest music EVAH!

Geir Hongro, Sunday, 15 December 2002 11:44 (seventeen years ago) link

**They consist of members of Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian,Idlewild, Teenage Fanclub, Snow Patrol, Astrid, Mogwai, Mull Historical Society, V-Twin, Eva and Hercules.**

Every single one of these bands should have their musical instruments taken away and thrown into the Firth of Forth.

Dr. C (Dr. C), Sunday, 15 December 2002 15:42 (seventeen years ago) link

I'll forgive Arab Strap, Mogwai and in a pinch Idlewild, but otherwise I find this a useful approach, Dr. C.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 15 December 2002 16:15 (seventeen years ago) link

Mogwai and Arab Strap are great. Idlewild, B&S and Snow Patrol are good. The others are average to crap.

Callum (Callum), Sunday, 15 December 2002 16:30 (seventeen years ago) link

Every single one of these bands should have their musical instruments taken away and thrown into the Firth of Forth.
I'd prefer to throw Blue Nile with or without instruments into the Nile to feed the crocodiles. I am not sure if the crocodiles would go for them when the lead singer would start to sing though...

alex in mainhattan (alex63), Sunday, 15 December 2002 20:24 (seventeen years ago) link

one year passes...
RC: With early Simple Minds I could always sense an obsession with Europe and travel: the lazy critical line here is that this was a desire to escape and get away from English dominance. Am I right or is this another myth?

BD: No, I suspect it's probably more of a desire to emulate their heroes, Berlin era Bowie, Kraftwerk and anything coming out of Conny Plank's studio.

are there any other bands which have come out of glasgow (??) which have an obsession with the 'berlin set'? I know yummy fur are big on it. (any others?) I'm curious as to what makes that era of music (roxy, eno, bowie, iggy, lou, nina hagen, liliput) seductive to glaswegians if it even does.

one of the reasons yummy fur never cut it fr me (and this harks back to the fiery furnaces thread and numerous smiths threads) was what seemed to me an almost puritanical approach to iconography and images. look at how delicious a range of 'influences' they have, it could have been put to so much more affect, which wd perhaps helped mobilise thr magic a bit more. I bet they wouldn't have sneered at video installations.

cozen (Cozen), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 13:56 (sixteen years ago) link

I guess I'm more interested in That Berlin *Thing* in Glaswegian Rock. but I really like the good doctor's question too.

cozen (Cozen), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 13:57 (sixteen years ago) link

There's also the Berlin Thing in Dublin, viz. THE DIRTY VICAR ON TOUR 2004.

the bellefox, Wednesday, 3 March 2004 15:46 (sixteen years ago) link

i wish Alexander Blair was still around

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 15:50 (sixteen years ago) link

I want to talk about Altered Images!

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 15:52 (sixteen years ago) link

Are they now THE BEST BAND OF ALL TIME?

the bellefox, Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:00 (sixteen years ago) link

I do hope not.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:01 (sixteen years ago) link

Not *quite*, PF.

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:23 (sixteen years ago) link

Don't you like AI, Tom?

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:24 (sixteen years ago) link

No. I only realised that I didn't a couple of days ago though, I always sort of assumed I did without listening to them.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:25 (sixteen years ago) link

Not buying the reissues then, Tom?

Billy Dods (Billy Dods), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 16:33 (sixteen years ago) link

I bought the first two AI reissues as part of the missus' Valentine's Day present. Bite's on the way.

Andy K (Andy K), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 17:05 (sixteen years ago) link

I'll stick with the vinyl - I think I have everything I need.

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 17:27 (sixteen years ago) link

Reluctance to telegraph chorus = marking our distance from the opportunistic capitalist songwriting of England.

"We Could Send Letters" clearly has a chorus, and a great one at that.

Geir Hongro (GeirHong), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 22:57 (sixteen years ago) link

hang on hang on, Altered Images reissues?! i'd love a proper reish of "Pinky Blue"

the surface noise (electricsound), Wednesday, 3 March 2004 23:00 (sixteen years ago) link


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.