Classic Scottish Albums: How We Made It

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about Scottish music, particularly over the last 10 years. And while doing it I’ve managed to get 30 documentaries made, all on the topic of Classic Scottish Albums and all with the direction and vision of some of the finest radio producers in the land. Take a bow Fiona Croall, Elizabeth Clark, Carol Purcell, Victoria McArthur and Esme Kennedy. The docs are now available as a Herculean podcast series that might endanger those of you prone to a binge. The best way to listen is to open your podcast app of choice, search for Classic Scottish Albums then hit the subscribe button. It’s totally free and easy and it means that new episodes will automatically download to your phone or tablet every week. And please also subscribe and like in iTunes. Or you can just click through from the red text above…

Classic Scottish Albums started life as an eight-part radio documentary series in 2008 but really originated much earlier in the 5-minute segments I presented (originally devised by brother Duglas T Stewart) for comedian Fred MacAulay’s radio show. Producer Fiona Croall would typically call and say ‘hey, love, Henry Mancini is 78 years old this Wednesday. I’ll put a couple of archive clips together if you can do a bit on his story and sing 2 minutes of The Days of Wine and Roses’. Just like that. Those segments grew into Silverscreen Beats, three full series of radio docs where we looked at movie soundtracks by genre, cramming in, for example, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Wicker Man and Halloween into one half hour on horror. The shows, beautifully cut together by Fiona and sound engineer Graham Knowles, wove together interviews, archive and film clips and at-the-piano expertise (moi) at breakneck speed. So when we later turned our attention to Scottish music we decided to stretch out a bit. One show: One Classic Scottish Album. The first batch was chosen scientifically, by thinking about what we fancied doing first. Bert Jansch, The Blue Nile, Orange Juice and Deacon Blue were among early names out of the hat, most of the resulting shows helped by great new interviews with the main protagonists. Some exceptions of course: I bumped into the excellent Paul Buchanan in Glasgow and babbled about how excited I was about doing a full doc on A Walk Across The Rooftops, how beautiful it would be to really get in depth about that music and did he fancy nipping in for a quick interview at Queen Margaret Drive? ‘Eh, not really’ came the brief reply. Others, you couldn’t shut up. ‘I’m a Celtic mystic from Maryhill, Glasgow, Davie!’ piped the magnificent Donovan, ‘We’re like Fran and Anna’ mused Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill. Once all the interviews were done I’d receive a CD (yes, this show started a while back) with all of the chat and music cut together, with gaps for my script and I had the joy of wandering about in those spaces, siting in my little box room studio in East Kilbride listening to stories pouring out in magical celestial colour. And I do mean stories – one of the biggest tests for our Classic Scottish Albums was what had the yarn. So while Be Bop Moptop might for some pip Meet Danny Wilson to the post, the story of Meet has some bigger set pieces. Feel free to argue amongst yourselves below this post or on Facebook, Twitter etc.

It is interesting to think that Scottish music might be classic in its own way, to be recognisably distinctive from others, and although we don’t always directly address that question in the podcast it certainly kept coming up in my head over the long period of production. Across the canon there’s a wealth of great melody, epic storytelling, humour, self-deprecation, more melody and more storytelling. There’s a certain warm Celtic harmony, a gentle humanism, at times a wacky surrealism. And there’s yet more melody, more storytelling, a lot of gallus characters and the odd bam. Non-Scottish readers will have fun looking these terms up.

The first four podcasts are available now and look at Orange Juice: You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Texas: White On Blonde, The Proclaimers: This Is The Story and Deacon Blue’s Raintown. The latter has a special place in my heart, not only because the band are lifelong pals, but also because those songs are so widescreen, so full of those qualities I mentioned earlier, particularly that ability to spin epic narrative. Sometime in 1987 I was recording in Britannia Row studios in London when A&R ace Annie Roseberry dropped by with a promo copy of the album. Over the next few days I dived in when breaks allowed, marvelling at the sheen and depth of the work; audio movies like the title track nestled next to novella songs – Chocolate Girl – and miniatures like Love’s Great Fears and Born In A Storm. I remember my producer at the time coming into the green room and being a little sniffy about it. You’re rattled, pal, I thought.

The other big common element across lots of the Classic Scottish Albums is soul music. Out of the first four podcasts you might not automatically group together Orange Juice and Deacon Blue, but listen to those scratchy, itchy Chic-influenced geetars, folks; Nile Rogers was and remains the man to many Scottish slingers, OJ’s James Kirk and the late, great Graeme Kelling included. Al Green and Marvin Gaye can be found smoochin’ with Sharleen all the way through White On Blonde, and legends like Jackie Wilson, Geno Washington and Wilson Pickett can be found screechin’ and hollerin’ in the margins of This Is The Story, via The Proclaimers obsession with Dexys Midnight Runners.

And we’ve not got to The Average White Band yet.

Four episodes up now with a new treat every Thursday until Christmas. Please subscribe, rate and share away. And most importantly keep your thoughts coming right here for future episodes.

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3 comments

  1. Brian Barry

    Looking forward to the next one already!

  2. Tony barone

    Anything you can tell us about a new pearlfishers album? I was listening to you on a podcast and thought I heard you mention a new song called something like rainy day in Glasgow,which sounds like a wonderful song title! will the new album be as lush as your last one open up your coloring book? will it have as many tracks? cripes sake it had like 16 which is AWESOME because on any given new album my favorite new songs of yours always rotate around as days and months go by and it give the album more “legs” than most albums because so many of my other fav bands put out albums and I am lucky to get 10 songs sometimes.
    anyways sooooo excited to get a new album and I swear I hope it doesn’t take me long but my dream is to fly to scotland and see you live someday.
    also speaking of open up your coloring book its little things I love such as on “you’ll never steal my spirit”, that last chorus part where you sing ” you want me you want me back ” and you have a high string part playing the melody..,BUT the second half of it where you sing “you push me, you paint me black” the high string part stops and the strings sort of just play the low chord and you hear just the slightest essence of vibes underneath…LOVE IT. masterful idea. you have a way with string parts on your albums! anyways I hope it isnt too much longer! thanks David!

    Tony

  3. Tony – thanks for your wonderful comments. It’s always gratifying as an arranger when somebody notices the big ideas 🙂 I’m in the closing stages of finishing a new Pearlfishers album. The song you mention – ‘Sometimes It Rains In Glasgow’ will be on there. Not as many as 16 tracks this time but hopefully worth the wait.

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