Hits and misses

Craig McLean takes a stroll down the byways of Scottish rock history with Jim Wilkie, author ofa ' new book on the subject.

It’s an ambitious brief. ‘This, then, is a history of Scottish pop/rock/blues/ soul music,’ goes the introduction to Jim Wilkie’s Blue Suede Brogans a book seeking to illuminate and chart, in snapshot self-portraits and as-spoken recollections. the development and progression (and retrogression?) of Scottish music in most of its manifestations over the last 30-odd years. But as the telling coda to the above quote states, ‘it is not a conventional history. as l have not always felt compelled to follow charts or famous people, the usual rock indicators which are frequently neither reliable nor interesting (to me at least).‘

The words in brackets are the most telling bit. Blue Suede Brogans, for all the objective verbatim reporting of interviews, is ultimately one man’s subjective choice of suitable interviewees, and this qualified by the unavailability ofcertain targets, Ricky Ross and Jim Kerr among them. Hence the appearance of Ronnie Simpson (Lismor Records boss) but not Alan Horne (Postcard Records boss); Mae McKenna (Kylie’s backing singer) but not Eddi Reader (former Eurythmics’ backing singer); Hilary and Lorna Brooks (‘Women In Scottish Rock Music’) but not Clare Grogan nor Sharleen Spiteri (other women in Scottish rock music).

But for Wilkie’s personal overview ofthe ‘big picture‘. certain approaches had to be taken, choices had to be made.

‘lt’s easier to say what I decided not to do,’ he says, ‘and that was to follow the established journalistic pattern of pursuing famous names, Scottish artists who have had hits. Because the first thing that I understood was that although the papers were forever telling us that Scots had done well historically in pop music, statistically they haven’t

done very well at all . . . So my own instinct was not perverser to go for unknowns, but to go to the roots, go to the individuals, their families, their communities. their regions, 3 and see what made the music, and see if there was a Scottish pattern, if there were any particular strands. In that sense I was looking for a bigger cultural picture instead ofa “star celebration”.’

Detail from the cover of Blue Suede Brogan:

With this in mind, the book‘s sub-heading, ‘Scenes From The Secret Life Of Scottish Rock Music’, is instructive. That is, digestible chunks ofspiel from the movers and shakers providing the opportunities for the artists‘ art to enter the world. Hence the focus on hitherto largely neglected background figures like managers and promoters. Notable amongst the latter is Albert Bonici,


the north-eastern promoter who brought the Beatles to Elgin and Bridge Of Allan in the early 60$.

Couple this with a slight bias in favour of the more folkish byways of the Scottish musical heritage (it’s worth noting here that Wilkie himself has such a background, as a member of the Electric Ceilidh Band) and the attempt to argue that these same byways are the routes from which all other jock ’n’ roll highways have sprung, and the book will undoubtedly frustrate those with just a passing, consumerist interest in music. Maybe as a first base on an awareness-expanding trip? ‘I think it might be a good starting point,’ agrees Wilkie. ‘It gives some insight into people’s favourite bands and, I would hope, some insight into other people. But I’m at pains to point out that there has been a thriving scene in Scotland for 40 years.’

Given the many colourful and itinerant figures who crop up on the pages of the book, this can scarcely be denied. In yoking together all this history in one (slim) volume, Wilkie perforce has kept the individual treatments snappy and to the point, despite the axiomatic detailing of the minutiae, the nuts and bolts of the grass-roots scene from which Scottish rock music sprang. The downside of this being that the ‘bigger picture‘ tends to look more like a fragmented jigsaw. Then again, should the reader be provoked by these stimulating pieces into further investigation of their cultural and musical heritage? ‘I saw this as a primary source book,’ says Wilkie. ‘No one had tried for a national perspective on the whole thing. Let’s establish what the important trends are, who the important people are . . . It was an instinctive thing. not closely calculated.‘

Even with all this, the absence of modern heroes, Scottish artists who now seem on the verge of international acclaim beyond the ken ofone-nation (and one tiny nation at that), superstars like R‘nr‘g, is galling. What about bands like Teenage Fanclub and Primal Scream breaking through in transatlantic terms? ‘Good luck to them,’ says Wilkie, ‘and ifso, the musical and cultural background from which they come will maybe be better understood.’ The Celtic soul and R’n’B influences in ‘The Concept‘ and ‘Higher Than The Sun’

; anyone? Hmmm . . .

.' Blue Suede Brogans is published by

Mainstream at I 9. 99.


The List 6 -19 December 1991 79