I love lyrics, in fact I think they are my favourite aspect of music, a fact which could stem from my inability to really play the guitar well. Anyway, that aside, I want to say that the words of Born on the Other Side are a nothing short of nursery-rhyme infused magic.
They say that music can be atmospheric (who they are I don’t know), the kind of artistic expression that can makes you laugh, cry, repent, or feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
Scotland + Organised religion. To say that this storied double act has had a complicated relationship would be quite the understatement.
A while back, while a’wandering round the dormant volcano that sticks out the middle of Edinburgh, my gran, my girlfriend, and I stumbled across a strange iron contraption stuck to the wall of the local church. Shaped like a snare, with a length of chain to tether it to the kirk’s wall, it begged the question from my better half:
‘What the hell is that?’
Nonchalantly, my gran replied that the unknown piece of masonry attached to the church was in fact a ‘Scold’s Bridle’, a bleak concept in which women who dared to express opinion could be chained up in order to receive a dose of public humiliation; in this case ecclesiastically-sponsored public humiliation.
Here is a typically progressive pamphlet from the time.
Unbelievably, this ritual punishment continued until terrifyingly recently, with the Calvinistic notion of Scottish Presbyterianism fuelling the idea of the submissive women, bound to a life of grisly servitude. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Complaints to be addressed c/o the Witchfinder General.
Scotland + Organised religion. To say that this storied double act has had a complicated relationship would be quite the understatement. From the notions of church goers’ ‘come for the service, stay for the torture’, to the mob that destroyed Glasgow cit centre last weekend in the name of a Dutch monarch who died over 300 years ago, I think it would be safe to say that old Caledonia and the praying game has been a pretty volatile combo.
Maybe it was probably better before all this malarkey eh?
There’s always good in pain, that much I have learned
Lyrically the above line spoke to me, a blatant reminder of the wee figure of John Knox that appears on my shoulder every time I consider my path as a musician. My interiorised 16th century clergyman usually hits me at the low points (busking in a downpour, an empty gig venue, a friend’s wedding with loads of graduate trainees) to tell me to get a real job, or that enjoying what you do is fundamentally wrong and sinful or something. Is this just me? Is there more to it? A bigger picture? Should I set up a helpline for artists plagued by a constant feeling of inadequacy and shame due to a deep-rooted history of Calvinistic brainwashing?
Well in the meantime, there’s probably no need, as Jack Hinks’ lyrics sound out the frustrations felt by many:
God damn these eyes, these eyes that prove me blind God damn these eyes, they fail me by design. God damn this mind, this mind that knows me best God damn this time, I’ve pinned it to my chest
God, Jack Hinks
From an artistic point of view, I think Scotland has a really weird relationship with creativity, given that it is arguably one of the most creative nations on earth. The idea that we are blessed with all this talent and ability; the eye to see, the mind to imagine, and the time to do it (especially now!), yet we have this bizarre sense of self-discipline and fundamental shame, is a really Scottish concept. Like having an abundance of something great but not being able to really use it properly, a bit like trying to play Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney in the same starting XI.
I might be miles off the mark here, my music writing usually is, but that’s what I got out of Jack Hinks’ latest piece.
I ask God what they mean She says they’re both the same I say you’re no god to me.
God, Jack Hinks
Great lyrics, god as ‘she’ too, ace. Get those words sent to the Church of Scotland General Assembly laddie! See what they make of them! Turns of phrase that once may have left the author chained up outside the wee church by Arthur’s Seat, but now represent a move away from the superstition and pointless discipline of the path towards a more progressive future perhaps.
I eagerly await the next instalment of the song cycle.
Hold up. I set out to write this blog to avoid just spinning out the same clichés of music writing worldwide. ‘Dark, broody, full of soul and body’ could describe anything from Oscar nominations, to craft beer, to a fucking Audi commercial. So let’s steer clear of that pish.
I’ve committed the blogger’s cardinal sin; not posting for a while. So many great blogs lie in stasis, or worse, in the hellish limbo of having no recognised domain. Derelict and directionless, these former fountains of opinion, ill-informed or otherwise, now lie at the mercy of the cruel Internet, an online society that devours content at an alarming rate.
Well, that’s a cheery picture of the future, but here at Scotland’s #586 most popular music blog I say:
As for spending your life doing something you despise. Well for any born and bred millenial, the line isn’t so much a statement of fact, but a mantra.
I was thinking back to primary school the other day, a bunch of annoying wee pricks crammed into a hall and forced to sing along to songs that were supposed to be non-denominational, but usually featured some kind of bigging up of the Bible etc. There was the usual turgid fair of musical parables of some of the Old Testaments’s greatest hits (Jonah, Noah) plus a smattering of so-called ‘new religiously-themed tunes’. Whichever vacuous, loveless human, void of all imagination could come up with such guff music as ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ or ‘Think of a world without…’, will one day reap the collected ire of a generation.
I (naively) always thought that in an age of such readily available technology, just throwing together a wee video would be ridiculously easy.
As a musician, plugging my trade in the modern music industry, the importance of a visual presence quickly became evident. Sadly for dinosaurs such as myself, the emphasis on aesthetics has some sort of relevance to most music in this day and age. With this in mind, I reluctantly signed up to Instagram about 3 years ago.
Frankly, I really appreciate an LP that can go from paying homage to one of the defining social movements of the current age to a song about mistakenly drinking a cup a magic mushroom-infused tea. It is a rare ability to offset the relevance of global affairs with the opening of the doors of perception via a psilocybe brew.
Today’s post is brought to you in association with:
Felix and the Sunsets will be familiar to yous from last month’s single ‘This Will Change’, an introspective voyage through the #BLM protests in Scotland last year. You can listen to that here. It’s pretty to the point, and certainly preaches a hopeful message, one in which musicians can still reflect the spirit of the times.
Nukular, by Gefahrgeist. A post-apocalyptic vision of live music (unless you live on the Isle of Man).
I like the way that music amplifies (no pun intended) and provides a window onto society, allowing future generations the opportunity to gauge the mood of times gone by. Should we make it to 30 years from now, no doubt future generations of android-children will look back on this period and think,
Scottish musical culture transcends language and history, from Hebridean Gaelic to Indian rhythms, through to the frank wordsmith that is Spee Six Nine. This is, for me, a fuller picture of contemporary Scotland.
The teacher told us to shut up and listen, glaring over the top of the electric piano, harpsichord setting, his eyes alive with a total obsessiveness of a man unused to not being listened too. He’d wire into fugues by Bach or variations by Mozart, occasionally adding his own unbearable falsetto voice to the clunky, same-y melodies that we would listen to in stony silence. Then we would be lectured on how one fella in 18th century Germany influenced another in 19th century Austria or vice versa. Variation #12 Opus 32. Music by numbers.
The Gaelic part of the course was equally as tenuous, as if the SQA in all their desire to make Scottish culture as monochrome and one-dimensional as possible, sought to somehow find the relevance of the traditional Puirt à beul (mouth music), or Òrain Luaidh (Waulking Songs) in suburban Edinburgh. Though we were spared the grey days of falsetto-heavy baroque and classical, the historical and cultural significance of Gaelic culture sadly fell on deaf ears. That is until in an act of academic sabotage, our once demur teacher broke rank and put on ‘Chanter’ by Martyn Bennett, and in one moment of glory that only exposure to music can provide, the world of sampling was thrown open to me.
Why we study Orwell but not Burns. An ill-informed rant from an ill-informed ranter.
Note: The following is a personal take on Robert Burns’ work with reference to collective action and an egalitarian future. If you don’t agree with it, then please vent all frustrations towards your nearest haggis.
Around the 25th of January every year at school we would do a Burns poem, usually a last ditch effort of guilt-ridden tokenism for my Scottish school in which ‘English’ literature at exam level gave no mention to a man who is revered as a national bard. Though things may have changed, I assure you that back in the golden age of 2005, Burns was unavailable to us.
Is there for honest Poverty That hings his head, an’ a’ that; The coward-slave, we pass him by, We dare be poor for a’ that! For a’ that, an’ a’ that. Our toils obscure an’ a’ that, The rank is but the guinea’s stamp, The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.
In an age in which schooling has come to propagate the merits of capitalism and individualism, the idea of status as a result of money or possessions being inferior to the simple human existence, is downright subversive in the eyes of many for whom privilege is status. The line being that the superiority and inherent good in mankind won’t get you on any graduate trainee schemes and it certainly isn’t worth any UCAS points.
Telling people from outside of Scotland that you are Scottish is always a fine line to be walked. Though, mercifully, the reaction to Scottishness, or Caledonianity or whatever is usually positive worldwide, there always remains this glint in the eye of the listener, this somewhat romanticised vision that in order to divulge my national identity, one in which I had to travel through the glens, evading redcoats, playing soulful laments on my pipes, before being able to explain my clan history to some bonnie maiden etc.