It started, in fact, 21 years ago.
Scottish alternative music has existed in many forms – from Lonnie Donegan through Donovan and Alex Harvey and past punk rock and the Skids and Simple Minds and the Fire Engines and Pastels and and Biffy Clyro and… I could go on and often do…
but there was a period in the late 80s where Wet Wet Wet and Deacon Blue were flying the Saltire, and I turned my attention to US grunge which, oddly, was affected by a small bunch of Scots bands like Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits and the Vaselines.
And then in 1996 Spare Snare had a single played by John Peel which caught my attention. A couple of months later I saw them and The Delgados at T in the Park of all places, and missed bis the following day. Around then, Radio Scotland’s Beat Patrol broke Belle and Sebastian, and Arab Strap were on Radio 1. The Secret Goldfish even had their own record label, Creeping Bent.
Something worthwhile was brewing and I resolved to let those Americans I was in touch with on a nascent internet all about it…
It wasn’t so hard convincing the Seattleites, as Urusei Yatsura’s electrifying, US-drenched noise pop actually hit the UK Top 40. Noise was still at the core of things.
Macrocosmica’s space metal – swirling guitar-driven noise – debuted around then, on a ‘stealth rock’ bill at Sleazy’s with angular guitar act Eska, plus Aereogramme – the first of a long line of bands who inexplicably fail to conquer the world.
Although labelmates Biffy Clyro did – eventually, though seeming far too abrasive for the ears of a post-Britpop nation at the time, with the odd local act such as Kasino still leaning towards stadium rock. An equally commercial proposition was Odeon Beatclub, whose insistent choruses would catch the ear of Pete Doherty, but inexplicably not those of the general public.
Another in this line of should-have-beens were Won Mississippi, from Berwick but welcomed into the Jockrock fold via the Scottish granny rule i.e. any band offering sparkling tunes and intricate lyrics could represent the nation.
And the same applied to bands like Josephine – who if they’d come from New York rather than Scotland’s north-east, would have been the darlings of the music press rather than the inferior Stokes. While they took on US rock, My Legendary Girlfriend’s wry lyrics harnessed a post-Britpop sound, while The Boy Cartographer offered a uniquely Scottish take on the – shhh! – slowcore genre.
Not all bands had this potential to conquer the world. Lapsus Linguae’s classical-metal hybrid was brilliant but unlikely to trouble daytime radio, though their chaotic live performances were unforgettable. The Hector Collectors similarly captured a niche market with their shows as surreal as their lyrics.
Meanwhile, the inspiration behind Scottish music in general, The Delgados, narrowly missed out on the Mercury Prize despite being on their own indie label – Chemikal Underground, responsible for early releases of Mogwai, bis and even US indie darlings Interpol.
Jockrock’s aim was to partly unite disparate scenes, via its messageboard, but Dundee in particular was a fertile ground for contrasting new talent, the noisy Magnetic North Pole and Mercury Tilt Switch contrasting wildly with the oh-so-quiet Yessa De Paso, but all delivering memorable performances at T in the Park.
Unsurprisingly Aberdeen was a magnet for bands across the Highlands, with the Alphabetty label putting out landmark teen pop releases from Purple Munkie and Nero, whose members are still active, most notably in Le Reno Amps and Yip Man.
It was these contrasts in style that marked Scottish music. Folk was rising thanks to the Fence Collective. Led by King Creosote along with The Pictish Trail their Homegame mini-festivals took on mythical status and these two main movers accordingly grew in stature. Meanwhile, and fitting in with nothing else on the scene, St Jude’s Infirmary’s brand of gothic pop found favour with the likes of Ian Rankine and Jack Vettriano – their lack of mainstream success again proving the maxim “it’s not who you know”…
On the folk fringes was Frog Pocket, who blended ceilidh music with scratchy electronica, and somehow bridged a gap between traditional and the burgeoning electronic pop scene which was on the rise – the poppy Electroluvs at the forefront, while Grnr and Germlin notable for their wild experimentation in glitchy samples.
And a bunch of electro bands in Luxury Car, Swimmer One, Squander Pilots and Flying Matchstick Men had all-too-minor success with their catchy electronic-based pop. And while Gaelic went largely unsung in alternative music, the remarkable Mouse Eat Mouse baffled and delighted many with their combination of electronic pop and spoken-word Scots prose.
Although Fence went from strength to strength there was another Fife-based festival. Long-running Edinburgh promoter Baby Tiger incorporated Dunfermline into its annual event and we eventually heard the likes of Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad’s distinctively Scottish brogues on the Carnegie Hall stage.
While the Proclaimers and Arab Strap before them had been proudly displaying their Scottish accents, there was a new wave of unashamedly accented vocals now being heard the world over.
Indeed, this much-complained-about (just by myself) lack of success was starting to become a thing of the past. Franz Ferdinand – first featured in Jockrock’s ‘sister’ publication is this music? – were on the main stage at another festival up that neck of the woods, while KT Tunstall’s star was similarly on the rise. Scottish pop was on the up.
However, the underground was happy to wish the big names well and turn its attention back to the underground. Jockrock had run an end-of-year poll for years, and Chemikal Underground – unexpectedly as the nation’s most influential record label – were more often than not responsible for the bulk of the top end.
Apart from the almost ever-present Emma Pollock, and labelmate The Phantom Band, The Unwinding Hours’ atmospheric post-rock was, as ever, as explicably absent from the ‘real’ charts as it was present in Jockrock’s tartan parallel universe. That incarnation of Aereogramme are sadly now defunct due to Iain Cooke’s Chvrches taking on the world. However, Craig B’s extraordinary vocals and songwriting can be heard, impressive as ever, as part of stripped-back duo A Mote of Dust.
The label also provided a home for Aidan Moffat whose enduring appeal saw him win a SAY award for his collaboration with Bill Wells. The award is useful in bringing new music to the attention of the public and seems unafraid to select unusual acts, with Adam Stafford’s loop-based epic songwriting getting some acclaim, as did is De Rosa, helmed one of the country’s finest songwriters in Martin John Henry. Again spanning the gap between experimental rock and more acoustic, almost folk-based sounds, they are one of the great constants in the Scottish scene.
Live music has seen a move towards bigger shows as sales of recorded work diminish, so while Mogwai will play the Hydro this year there’s also been the joy of seeing acts like 11-strong How To Swim and closer-to-20-piece Second Hand Marching Band crowd into a venue like the 13th Note.
DTHPDL’s Jockrock Album of the Year is called The Future and is a intriguing mess of bright forward thinking. Apt given the site somehow reaching the two decade mark.
And so we come up to date with a show which celebrates the past 20 years by calling upon some real veterans of the scene – Stoor have reemerged still sounding remarkably fresh despite forming longer ago than Jockrock itself, while ballboy have been an ever-present at the year-end charts. However, Mitchell Museum have only just completed their remarkable second album, while Kid Canaveral are still of the brightest hopes for Scottish indie. I thoroughly expect all four to be still delighting audiences in 2037!
(An abridged version of this piece originally appeared in the Daily Record)