I was going to tell you today about some interesting and surprising links between Scotland and America. But since I’ve been back in The Olde Country, I’ve been thinking about Scottish music.
Edwyn Collins, stroke survivor and friend of the blog, brought out a new album in March. The new album by occasional subject of the blog and adopted Scotsman, Lloyd Cole, came out last month. The new Franz Ferdinand (friends of friend of the blog, Edwyn Collins) album hits next month. We recently thoroughly enjoyed our friend Steph Manns‘s gig at The Roxy 171, supported by a couple of well-judged sets by young, Scottish singer-songwriters. My cockles have been warmed by passing Avalanche Records, indie record store of my youth, at the west end of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. My original Avalanche was a handy bus and walk away from my home and school, and just round the corner from the faculty of law. I remember the two clerks, one of whom had a lazy eye. You’d be asking him about how to go about getting a copy of the first Birthday Party album, and he’d look like Mad-Eye Moody, getting ready to place a curse on the kid in the corner slipping the latest Curve EP into his jacket. Nice fella. I mean, there’s a reason I was there so often.
Much more interesting than boring old strokes, right? (No, actually. Strokes are very exciting.) Nevertheless, all this Scottish musical activity has put me in mind of Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs (in the US, Songbook). It collects a number of pieces (31, natch) about particular songs, what those songs mean to him, and related thoughts and stories. While I recharge my stroke batteries, I’m interested to see where Scottish songs might take us. So, in part one of apoplectic.me’s occasional series, let’s look at my first few songs. Notwithstanding popular convention, let’s start at #1. Because, what if I start at 31, count down to 1, and realize I’ve missed Dick Gaughan’s Handful Of Earth (h/t to Kirk)? I know, right? What happens if we all get bored when I’ve only counted down from 31 to… 30? So…
- i hate scotland — ballboy
ah, the mystery revealed. it’s a brave choice for a second single, “i hate [insert country of origin here]”. Might have worked for public enemy, but a schoolteacher from edinburgh? if you’ve ever read a tweet by ricky_ballboy, or received an email from ricky.ballboy, this is why. i first heard ballboy on a tape of John Peel’s Festive 50 that my dad made for me at the end of 2000. the track in question was i hate scotland. i won’t waste time describing the track; if you’re interested, you can listen yourself, or you’ve heard it already. in any event, the track left an impression on me like an iron on tom cat. so when the time came to join facebook with next to no knowledge of what that meant, i adopted an alias while i figured out how it all worked. ricky ballboy was born. (the absence of capitals is a nod to the typography apparently favoured by gordon mcintyre, ballboy’s songwriter, guitarist and singer.)
When it was time to move into the 21st century and get a gmail account, no combination of Ricky/Richard and the fourth most common surname in the United States was going to get me a unique address without the additional of various numbers, and that didn’t appeal. Similar issues gave rise to my twitter handle. Beth’s never entirely approved of the name, and Neal thinks it’s a bit porn-y. But I’ve grown fond of it, and ballboy and stroke bloke are going to co-headline the filthiest buddy movie of 2014, so….
… let’s move on.
- I Hung My Harp Upon The Willows — The Trashcan Sinatras
Quite early on in our relationship, Beth and I went to see The Trashcan Sinatras at the Bowery Ballroom. Unbeknownst to me, they’d hit on a degree of success on college radio in the early 90s, so there was quite a crowd. Frank Reader’s understated humour matched his band’s… melodic jangle pop… perfectly. The company was new, funny and exciting. The fella selling the merchandise could carry on an informed discussion about Auchinleck Talbot and Scottish juniors fitba generally, an unusual skill in lower Manhattan. After the gig was done, we passed an open sidewalk basement door and a bloke invited us in. Feeling young, happy and up for anything, we descended into a thrift store/art space/informal club where the two members of staff clearly were glad for the company, and happily forced on us as much of their — very decent — tequila as they could. Beth got some cool shoes, and I got a tweed jacket and a cowboy shirt. A pattern of fun, optimism and adventurousness was being established. The good omens had been tied up when the band played this song, with the lyric “Richard Brown, I bow to thee” rang through the venue. A right good singalong.
- I Didn’t See It Coming — Belle & Sebastian
Still, when I first met Beth, the omens weren’t as good. It was in a quiet bar for professional drinkers. I went there, sitting at the far left of the bar, because I didn’t want to worry about complicating my already unhappy life by running into temptations of the flesh. Beth sat at the far right for similar reasons; she didn’t want to deal with being hit on when she just wanted a Guinness and some time with her book. She didn’t have anything to worry about from me. Her “don’t bother me” vibes didn’t have to work too hard to discourage a burned guy in his mid-thirties from Scotland’s famously repressed capital. Then Andy, our friend and bartender, suggested that we move to the same end of the bar. Primarily to save him having to walk around as much, I think.Not too long after, and a couple of months after the Trashcan Sinatras, we were at the B&S gig on the Williamsburg Waterfront (where else?). They previewed this number, from their forthcoming “Write About Love” album. I remember dancing happily to it. Life was getting better.I was listening to this song on the flight across, having that warm, self-indulgent feeling you get when it sounds like a band has written a song just for you. “We’ve been going transcontinental…. We don’t have the money (Money makes the wheels and the world go round.) Forget about it honey…. Make me dance, I want to surrender.”But, sitting looking out on Corstorphine Hill, writing a stroke survivor’s blog while Beth taps away at a game on lumosity, I’d be lying if I said I could see this coming. But “we’re following the right line.”