Poetry in Scotland holds this sort of mythical status, mythical enough indeed for a bunch of geezers to get dressed up in the ‘Shortbread-tin/ Brigadoon Scottish’ way and recite lines to a piece of offal every January 25th ‘aw in the name eh the bard eh?‘
For an Ayrshire farming lad to elevate himself into the national consciousness through tricks of the tongue, observational humour, and still-relevant use of ‘how Scottish people actually talk’ shows how much we value poetry in this country. Got to say that these values were somewhat lost during the educational years, when Higher English resolutely missed the point about how poetry has extreme relevance, both in its observational qualities as well as its phenomenal use of ‘that which which sets us apart from the cat videos’, language.
Anyway, for all those out there who look on poetic expression as the preserve of all those tweed brigade, high-academic types, the kind of folk that pray to the alter of Hugh MacDiarmid, I direct you to the big, fuck-off elephant in the room; Scottish hip hop.
I will come back to the subject again and again in these posts, but the Scottish hip-hop scene is (Spoiler: Personal opinion approaching) the most powerful representation of Scottish musical culture, storytelling ability and linguistic expression at the moment. You think of Scottish music and the strong traditional storytelling theme. That’s where I started out, with the boys, the beards, the pits of bitter. Hirsute men in pubs singing about Jacobites are wonderful, but Bonnie Cherlie’s noo awa’ and other stuff has been going on in the intervening period since. Michael Marra was always my reference point for storytelling, but who has filled his shoes?
From a language point of view, the Scots language is starting to become more and more accepted in the mainstream, though I look on with trepidation at the studies that seek to standardise your Doric from your Lallans, putting that all-excluding academic sheen on something that’s already there.
We have storytellers. We have poets. They use dialect. They’re rappers.
I learned about Stanley Odd through Scots Whay Hae and Fiona Liddell’s Local Heroes list on Spotify. Both these channels have been totally instrumental in that the introductions that they have provided for me (someone who grew up playing alongside the aforementioned bearded guys singing about Jacobites) access to the world of Scottish hip-hop. It’s a testament to the parochial nature of my listening that I had never heard anything by Stanley Odd before. Going through their 10+ year old back catalogue brings back the same glorious feeling of unknown discovery that watching TOTP back in yon day or going to the headphone bit when there was the Virgin store on Princes Street (how times have changed…). ‘Son I Voted Yes’ is a better appraisal of the political situation here post 2014 than any diatribe from the corridors of power, while ‘She’s a Wee Witch’ is a joy of loops and canny rhyming.
The newest single, ‘Bill Oddy’, has everything. Self-deprecating humour on top of razor sharp critique. Storytelling numero uno of a rap group going against the grain in a country where rap and mainstream music don’t seem to flow in the same direction.
Dead beats for bouncing round people’s heids‘Bill Oddy’
So steal it if yi can’t get it legally
As a musician, I spend tons of time staring into the abyss of what the music industry means for me on a personal level; apathy to new compositions, impossibility of gaining momentum, personal supplication to the giants of streaming services, total promotion of individualism as opposed to the collective ideals that music should extol. This was way before the pandemic, by the way. Things were shite and got shiter, I’m not one to hark back to the halcyon days of 2019. Was it easier? Aye. Was the industry better? Absolutely not.
I craft these words and loops‘Bill Oddy’
For no-one to listen to
What audience? I don’t even listen to ma own raps
On ma bike like, “Look ma no fans”
So when a tune like this comes along and echoes these frustrations, the angst felt by every creative professional when the blood, sweat, and tears put into the artistic process is blown out in an instant by an industry that actively works against independent music because in our 5-minute consumer culture, it doesn’t make instant money for shareholders, then I am on board. That, plus it is more than catchy. I am not cool enough to use superlatives with regards to the loops and sampling, so I won’t try, all I can say is that, for me, the whole tune was really unique in the best way possible.
Protest music has always been the magnifier of social issues, seeking to highlight injustice or exploitation, indeed Nina Simone said something along the lines of it being a musician’s duty to do just that. However, rarely do we turn the magnifier back on ourselves. It is no secret that the music industry perpetuates the same injustice and exploitation that many songs rail against, an irony not lost on Stanley Odd. It’s hard to question the injustices of the world, but maybe harder still to turn that caustic eye over the injustices of our very own industry.
I love poems, I love lyrics, I love the trickery of words and the ability to weave a story. ‘Bill Oddy’ by Stanley Odd has absolutely all this and more. Narrative music at its very finest. Support artists directly and get it on Bandcamp here.
If you want me to write about your music click here.