2018 in Scottish Music

In what has been an eventful 2018, The Skinny takes a look back at the year in Scottish music with all its highs and lows

Feature by Tony Inglis | 23 Nov 2018

Looking back at the year 2018 in the world of Scottish music shouldn’t be difficult. It has been a stellar year – in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find the scene in richer health. Promising artists have kicked on, releasing some of the best work of their careers; the live music scene and festival circuit is expanding and thriving, even when it has been dealt a seemingly impossible hand; we have welcomed back old favourites, and said bittersweet goodbyes as others have stepped aside; new names have come to the fore; birthdays and anniversaries celebrated. This small, but ever influential country is a major player on a global scale, providing a fertile landscape to cultivate a range of bands and artists with important things to say and innovative ways of saying them. It has also been a year tinged with heartbreak, loss and devastation.

The year started in a celebratory mood for one of the country’s biggest and most revered bands. Frightened Rabbit marked the tenth anniversary of their album The Midnight Organ Fight with a tour, starting in the United States in February and culminating at Glasgow’s O2 Academy in mid-March. It’s not just an album beloved to fans, but a true crossover work – even those who don’t count themselves amongst Frightened Rabbit’s legion of supporters can attest to its power. In a piece written about its creation for The Skinny, Scott Hutchison summed up, in his own blackly comic way, the inherent inwardness of the songwriting and how it translated to listeners: “[It] was the equivalent of being sick on yourself then picking through the bits of carrot and sweetcorn to find interesting shapes and tiny colourful items that you didn’t know could exist in the bile and lining of a stomach.”

Devastatingly, tragedy was not far away. Not even two months later, after more than a day of appeals to come home safe, Hutchison’s body was found by police near South Queensferry. As people across communities – from fans and creatives, to politicians – rallied together in support upon the news he was missing, so they did upon hearing of his death. It was a moment in which the world of Scottish music gasped for breath, putting the spotlight on mental health, especially the fragile nature of men’s mental well-being and how it can often go unspoken, and reminding us to always do the best we can for our friends in need. Hutchison leaves behind a significant legacy, albeit one snatched away too soon. But his sombre words of his own struggles will continue to resonate, and ultimately bring joy to Frightened Rabbit’s loyal fans and those who discover his music in the future.

It wasn’t the only time 2018 was touched by death. We’ve also lost the unrelenting energy of Dale Barclay, best known as the frontman of The Amazing Snakeheads, to a struggle with brain cancer, and Patrick Doyle, most recently the drummer in Veronica Falls.

Pretty much anything pales in comparison to these losses, but it wasn’t to be the last time Scottish music would take a hit this year. On 15 June, the historic and hallowed rooms of the Glasgow School of Art once again went up in flames, just four years since a multi-million-pound restoration project had begun to repair the previous blaze which ravaged its foundations. This time, the destruction spread to the nearby ABC, an integral venue to Glasgow’s world-class live music scene, a place where young people from across the city had formative experiences. Months removed from the incident, passing by the iconic, but now hollowed out, front face of the building on Sauchiehall Street sends a shiver down the spine, and with other creative hubs like the CCA along the road also being affected (it only reopened in October), it is still unclear how much of a long-term impact its loss will have on live music in the city.

While in Glasgow the live music scene was mourning a loss, down the M8, authorities were actively trying to harm it. Amidst the gentrification of the area, Leith Depot had been earmarked for demolition, to be replaced by student housing and a hotel, but, as The Skinny reported in July, the campaigners behind Save Leith Walk were not going to stand by idly. The venue’s promoter, Ryan Drever, summed it up: “I know Glasgow is affected by gentrification too, but I think the city celebrates its music scene a little more. It seems weird to me that you'd take an existing popular place and put an unpopular thing in its place. It's just hard to see how their plans would benefit the community in any way.”

There’s no question that Scotland’s live music scene has been put under significant strain this year. But as the Managing Director of another Edinburgh venue, The Liquid Room’s John ‘Mick’ McWilliams, says: “The music scene is better now than it ever has been." That bright side comes in the form of a burgeoning run of festivals – from the slightly uninspired homogeneity of TRNSMT, to the increasingly eclectic Doune the Rabbit Hole and mainstays like Electric Fields and Belladrum, with The Skinny even curating its own stage at this year’s Kelburn Garden Party. And with the loss of one venue, so springs up others, mainly thanks to Synergy Concerts, who’ve turned a day care centre for the elderly into The Great Eastern in Glasgow’s West End. The country has continued to attract the biggest names (Kendrick Lamar played twice this year) and at Dundee’s freshly opened V&A, music was placed at the heart of this anticipated centre of culture, being opened by Primal Scream.

A slew of homegrown labels have hit milestones: two years for Last Night from Glasgow, five for Eigg-based Lost MapSong, by Toad announced that its tenth birthday was to be its last, while Glasgow gave birth to DIY label Possession Records, and Edinburgh to OK PAL Records. The year also provided an opportunity to take stock, whether that was in the form of the mammoth exhibition of Scottish pop music, Rip It Up, at Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland, or the Edinburgh International Festival's Light on the Shore series, which saw a jam-packed programme of Scottish talent taking over the stunning Leith Theatre: The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Vaselines, Mogwai, Anna Meredith, King Creosote and SOPHIE all played, with Carla J Easton and Blair Young's Since Yesterday, celebrating the unsung women of Scottish music, being a real highlight.

Most exciting has been the diverse and forward-thinking records released. Young Fathers have had an enviable year, releasing The Skinny's favourite album of 2018, supporting LCD Soundsystem at SWG3 Galvanizer's Yard, headlining the Barrowlands and deservedly being awarded Scottish Album of the Year. Not to mention the truly original sounds of SOPHIE, the haunting From When I Wake the Want Is by Kathryn Joseph, and returns, in one form or another, from CHVRCHES, The Twilight Sad, Franz Ferdinand, Garbage, and even The Proclaimers.

The tail end of 2018 brought reasons to be hopeful for the future: Edinburgh has a new radio station in EH-FM, Glasgow could have one too with LP Records. A staple of independent music writing, GoldFlakePaint went physical with their journal; The Cure are set to play their first show in Glasgow for 27 years and, rather surreally, Belle and Sebastian have organised a festival on a cruise ship called Boaty Weekender for next August. Rightly, it’s been a year of reflection, but as the years turn, we can admit that Scottish music is looking pretty great.

A Timeline of the year

Feb: Possession Records launches; Belle and Sebastian release the final EP in their How to Solve Our Human Problems series 

Mar: Be Charlotte signs worldwide record deal with Columbia / Sony Music; Young Fathers release Cocoa Sugar; Frightened Rabbit celebrate The Midnight Organ Fight 10th anniversary with tour, ending at O2 Academy; Last Night from Glasgow 2nd birthday

May: Scott Hutchison passes away; CHVRCHES release Love is Dead; Belle and Sebastian announce The Boaty Weekender cruise/festival for next year

Jun: Glasgow School of Art fire; electronic music producer SOPHIE releases OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES; Rip It Up – The Story of Scottish Pop exhibition launches at the National Museum of Scotland; Kelburn Garden Party; TRNSMT 

Jul: Leith Depot puts on Love Live Music Week raising awareness of the Save Leith Walk campaign; Doune the Rabbit Hole; EH-FM radio station launch

Aug: Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival; Light on the Shore at EIF; Kathryn Joseph releases From When I Wake the Want Is; Since Yesterday: The Unsung Women Pioneers of Scottish Pop is shown at Leith Theatre as part of Edinburgh International Festival’s Light on the Shore; Kendrick Lamar headlines Glasgow Summer Sessions; Electric Fields; Synergy Concerts launches new venue The Great Eastern in Glasgow’s West End; Mogwai soundtrack science fiction film Kin

Sep: Garbage play their 20 Years Paranoid anniversary tour at Edinburgh Festival Theatre; Independent music blog GoldFlakePaint releases first print edition; Young Fathers win SAY award; Lost Map’s 5th birthday; Dundee’s V&A opened by Primal Scream; Skye Live; The Amazing Snakeheads’ Dale Barclay passes away; Song, by Toad celebrates 10th and final birthday with show at Leith Depot

Oct: The Cure announce first Glasgow show in 27 years to be played at 2019 Glasgow Summer Sessions; Scottish Alternative Music Awards; Teenage Fanclub play their Creation Records material on three consecutive nights at the Barrowlands, saying farewell to founding member Gerard Love

Nov: LP Records announces establishment of new Glasgow-based radio station, LP Radio, with a Kickstarter campaign; The Twilight Sad play Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms ahead of the release of their fifth album