Rip It Up: Where Does Scottish Music Fit on a Global Scale

Shirley Manson, Lauren Mayberry, Aidan Moffat and KT Tunstall among others tell us where they think Scottish music fits in on a global scale

Feature by Tallah Brash | 20 Jun 2018
  • Rip It Up: Talking Heads

To write the story of music in Scotland from the perspective of the people at the very heart of it, we contacted a few of Scotland's most celebrated musicians and behind-the-scenes influencers to ask them five questions.

Free to answer as few or as many as they wished, we're pleased to report that most of them responded (particularly Shirley Manson, we're really excited about Shirley Manson) answering all of our questions. To make this more manageable, we've broken this down into five features covering the following questions – the question in bold is the one covered here and you can click through to the others easily for continued reading:

1. What Scottish venue played an important and influential role in your musical career and why?
2. What is the most iconic gig you can remember attending in Scotland and what made it stand out?
3. Which Scottish band/artist has been really influential to you/ignited your passion for music and why?
4. What do you think have been the most significant changes in the Scottish music scene since the start of your career?
5. Where do you feel Scottish music fits in on a global scale?

"Scottish music has always occupied a unique place in global music culture. The influence in particular of Scottish folk music should never be underestimated, but neither too must we forget the enduring appeal and influence of seminal artists like The Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain. We mustn’t forget bands like Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines either, who went on to deeply influence Kurt Cobain and so, by default the sound of contemporary rock'n'roll." [Shirley Manson, Garbage]

"There's always been a touch of the Napoleon complex about Scotland's art – the small nation shouts the loudest. For a country with just a few million folk, we've always had a disproportionate reach around the world, not just with music, but literature and fine arts too. The most famous and instantly recognisable song in the world is Scottish – almost literally everyone's heard Auld Lang Syne. We seem to be an inherently creative nation, and a very successful one too." [Aidan Moffat, Arab Strap]

"I think music from Scotland has always had international influence and significance – folk, rock, electro. Scottish musicians have managed to tap into something old and new simultaneously. Scottish bands enter into life’s adventure and make it sound good!" [Roddy Woomble, Idlewild]

"I think Scotland has a knack of continuously producing truly original, amazing music that is loved and respected globally." [JD Twitch, Optimo]

"At the risk of upsetting some, it’s seen globally as music from the UK. I think there have been some attempts to brand the quiet, folky elements as especially Scottish or distinct but they’re not, really. In the end, I don’t give a fuck about attaching flags to pop music – it belongs to the international society of electronic music appreciators who keep the teenage flame of noise and dancing in their hearts wherever they are." [Tim London, Young Fathers co-producer]

"On a global scale Scottish music is and has always been a massive export. For such a small country, we produce so many amazing and groundbreaking artists from literally every single genre of music. Almost all of it original and ahead of it’s time, it’s fantastic. I mean just think about it, artists like Bert Jansch, Mogwai, Annie Lennox, Young Fathers, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Franz Ferdinand, Garbage, CHVRCHES, Calvin Harris, Max Richter, Craig Armstrong,  Belle & Sebastian... I could go on and on and on some more. It’s so amazing that people all over the world know it too. It’s such a wonderful thing." [Gráinne Braithwaite, Synergy Concerts]

"It fits everywhere – I’ve sung Scottish song in Japan, Australia, America, Spain, France, Italy, England, Ireland and Wales. If we bounced between the stars I’d try singing Scots song there too. Someone else will come after me who will be performing Scots songs near Venus in the future – I hope I get to come back and see it." [Eddi Reader, Fairground Attraction]

"I think so much Scottish music has made a big impact on fans and other music makers around the world that goes way beyond evidence from sales etc. Also, Scotland has always welcomed influences and artists from other countries and cultures so a lot of the Scottish musical community has a very global outward-looking attitude." [Dugas T. Stewart, BMX Bandits]

"Given our size, I think Scotland has always done pretty well. Over the course of rock’n’roll’s seven decades, we’ve spawned some of its most influential figures – from Lonnie Donegan to The Cocteau Twins, Bill Drummond to Hudson Mohawke.

"Honestly, I think it’s because we’re a nation of ardent, emotional music fans. It’s no surprise that Scotland has a global reputation for having some of the most responsive audiences – it’s because we are people who are very passionate about music. Even if it means we end up looking daft in our pursuit of having a good time. The same is true of those that make music. What I find really interesting is the way in which we adopt the music of other countries – ok, predominantly America – and do our own sort of shameless tribute to it. Stylistically, there’s an element of us pretending, playing up to the image of our heroes. That’s as true of Lonnie Donegan as it is of Mogwai, or whoever. And I think that’s a good thing!  Music is escapism, and as a nation, we're not embarrassed to surrender ourselves to it, both as fans and performers. Scotland’s gift is being able to convey its authenticity in its emotion." [Johnny Lynch, Pictish Trail & Lost Map Records]

"Well, I do feel that for the size of the country, there's a lot more music that comes out of [Scotland] that is of such a quality and of such ultimate creativity. I guess it's fun for us when we're away travelling and you see a poster with Mogwai on it or Belle & Sebastian, or you meet somebody that has a random vinyl copy of a Blue Nile record. That stuff doesn't happen every day but when it does happen, you're like 'oh, we're really doing well for a country that is much smaller than all these other big ones." [Lauren Mayberry, CHVRCHES]

"It has for decades now been a very well travelled country when it comes to music. When The Delgados used to tour the US, we’d introduce ourselves to people and they’d already know so much about the Scottish scene, often asking ‘What’s in the water over there?" [Emma Pollock, The Delgados & Chemikal Underground]

"I now live in America and still travel regularly all over the world, and I think there’s almost an expectation of great music to come out of Scotland, which is a good thing. It is held in really high esteem, and both the rock/contemporary and traditional worlds of music are being represented so strongly. I think the world has quite a romantic view of Scotland, and maybe Scotland has of itself a little too, which isn’t a criticism; there’s a confidence to its character, and I think that leads to a constant curiosity about it. I also think that crap weather makes for great bands!" [KT Tunstall]

"In terms of pop music, I think our country has produced some of the best artists in recent times with the likes of Calvin Harris and CHVRCHES doing it on a global scale. It's inspiring to see people from Scotland go on and have that level of success." [Charlotte Brimner, Be Charlotte]

"Scotland has an incredibly broad international musical pedigree which includes the Bay City Rollers, The Exploited, The Average White Band and Annie Lennox. However, there is still work to be done before the industry infrastructure exists to operate at international level, and far too often the business talent is still developed in London." [Olaf Furniss, Born to Be Wide & Wide Days & Under the Radar]

"When I hear the words 'punch,' 'above,' 'our' and 'weight' used together to produce a glib, lazy and ultimately vacuous overview of Scottish music and the arts in general, I feel like reaching for my revolver.

"To those who use such language and hold such an insular view – they are usually inept politicians, toadying civil servants and bad journalists. I’d point out that we’ve produced profoundly great music and artists over the years – still do – but so do loads of other places around the globe. We have also been responsible for some unseemly musical nonsense of no consequence or worth over the years so, in conclusion, I’d say, all things considered, we’re no' bad." [Ronnie Gurr, Music Industry Manager & Book Publisher & Rip It Up Exhibition Consultant]

"If you buy a Volvo every other car you see is a Volvo. If you are 'Scottish-spotting’ you’ll see plenty of Scottish artists making waves somewhere. But I don't really have a handle on how Scottish music fits into a bigger narrative. Maybe if you’re not from here our accents sound cute!" [Francis MacDonald, Teenage Fanclub]

"Scotland’s talent is incredibly important on a global scale. Our artists are extremely talented, determined and hardworking and some of them have managed to crack every corner of the globe – which for a tiny country is an amazing achievement! For me, being a tiny part of the industry that fuels that success is an incredibly rewarding feeling and there’s nothing else I would rather be doing!" [Aarti Joshi, DF Concerts]

"I can only say what musicians and DJs constantly tell me: Scottish crowds are the best!" [Nick Stewart, Sneaky Pete's]

"I think there's always certain bands that will be mentioned, but actually Scottish music is really varied. You couldn't say that Mogwai sound like Teenage Fanclub or The Cocteau Twins sound like Belle & Sebastian. In the US and Mexico especially, there's something that sets Scottish bands apart from English bands. It might be the pop sensibility, in my band's case." [Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura]

Click the numbers to continue reading the answers to Questions 1, 2, 3 and 4

Photo credits for lead image: Lauren Mayberry by Eoin Carey; Aidan Moffat by LUCUSj Photography; Johnny Lynch by Beth Chalmers; KT Tunstall by Piper Ferguson; Emma Pollock by Jannica Honey; Nick Stewart by Holly Brown; Tracyanne Campbell by Anna Isola Crolla