THE MONOLITHIC BLUE TOWER OF Ravenscraig steclworks no longer scrapes the sky over Motherwell, but bands from Scotland‘s west coast are currently reaching for the stars with some of the most startlingly inventive music of the decade. According to John Peel. the two events are not unrelated.
‘lt’s heartening that in the midst of massive unemployment. The Delgados can create their own cottage industry. launching a record label from their own front room and then signing a handful of Scottish bands who, frankly. do a lot more for me than truckloads of Britpop ninnies.’ says the veteran Radio 1 DJ, who has championed alternative music on the airwaves for almost 40 years.
Peel is taking to Britain’s backroads and byways for Sound ()fT/ze Suburbs, a new eight-week Channel 4 series which suggests that the best new music is being made far away from the self- consciously ‘cool’ scenes of cities.
The first programme finds Peel in Lanarkshire where, instead of heading straight for Glasgow and worshipping in indie Meccas like Nice ’n’ Sleazy or The l3th Note, he goes talentspotting in the grassroots of Motherwell, Bellshill, New Lanark and East Kilbride. Helping Peel in his fruitful investigations are envoys from local acts including The High Fidelity, Radio Sweethearts and BMX Bandits.
Peel believes that the bands from Scotland’s suburbs and satellite town took advantage of their neutral status in the Britpop wars to steal a march on their southern contemporaries. While Blur and Oasis slugged it out at the
18 THE "ST 18 Feb—4 Mar 1999
Far away from the champagne and charlie of the London scene, small pockets of creativity are producing astonishing music. In the first of a new series exploring the cool sounds emerging outwith the big cities, JOHN PEEL pops into Lanarkshire.
\«Vomis: Peter Ross
Suburban legends: (top to bottom) The High Fidelity, The Delgados and Mogwai
top of the charts, The Delgados, Mogwai, Urusei Yatsura et al were working to a personal agenda which had more to do with creating good music than aping prevailing trends.
‘What was called Britpop was in actual fact Engpop, but that’s not as catchy. Luckily, Scotland seemed largely to escape its horrors,‘ murmurs Peel in that famous half apologetic, half sarcastic voice which will perpetually be associated with Fall records played at the wrong speed. ‘This series is about places that are not especially fashionable but where it’s still possible to get a band together, find rehearsal space, make records and live an amusing and reasonably fulﬁlling life.’
According to Peel, Scotland’s indie bands should count themselves lucky that, following the Scotpop boom of the late 80s when every major label scrabbled around for their own Texas or Deacon Blue, the London—based record executives seemed to lose all interest in signing acts north of Hadrian’s Wall.
‘They probably don’t feel this way themselves, but being ignored by the majors has been to the advantage of Scottish bands,‘ he says. ‘Plus, the music papers take bands on and then abandon them very shortly afterwards. Look at someone like Bis, who are one of the few bands from your part of the world who were taken up by the fashionable end of the music business. They had a year of being seen as wonderful and then they suddenly became an example of all that was wrong and wicked and awful in the world.’
called Britpop was in actual fact Engpop, but that's not as catchy. Luckily, Scotland seemed largely to escape its horrors.’
Sound Of The Suburbs makes a significant link between the decline in Scotland’s heavy industries and the ascension of the DIY music scene. but Peel is not simply claiming that. in the absence ofjobs in mines or mills. young people are finding meaning and purpose in guitars and sequencers. He suggests that the Scottish scene. with its emphasis on altruism and community. is an expression of the natural socialism inherent in the west coast mindset for generations. As an example. Peel cites The Delgados who. as the independent Chemikal Underground label. have released seemingly uncommercial material from Scottish acts including Bis. Mogwai and Arab Strap.
‘The Delgados are working collectively. supporting other local bands and putting money back into the local economy. This has echoes that go far back into Lanarkshire’s history.‘ says Peel when the programme takes him to New Lanark. the l9th century village set up by mill owner Robert ()wen as a socialist utopia for his workers. ‘You could say that what Robert Owen was trying to achieve is not a million miles away from what The Delgados are doing with their independent record label. although they've yet to build a village for their soundman. road crews and the people who glue their sleeves together.‘
John Peel’s Sound Of The Suburbs begins on Channel 4, Sat 27 Feb, 11.40pm.