My first awareness of Scotland's contribution to world culture was via Big Country, a guitar band known for their bagpipe-like solos, who twanged their way into the early 80s charts. Sure, Scotland has given the world Adam Smith, haggis and the steam engine, but none of them got much airplay on regional Australian radio, so Big Country was my first moment of Scottish enlightenment. Big Country scored chart supremacy around the world with their song In a Big Country from the album Big Country. What they lacked in creativity of titles they made up for with exuberance and big hair, but not longevity. Like the best of 80s bands, they pretty much disappeared.
Glasgow is the capital of Scotland's music scene, having spawned a rollcall of bands like Orange Juice, Travis, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian; a thistle in the side of official capital Edinburgh. Franz Ferdinand have been the latest stars to light up Glasgow's grey skies. The fact that their bass player was once a live model at the Glasgow School of Art has seen enrolments booming.
So I'm in Glasgow, at the legendary King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, sneaking along to the T Break
showcases. This huge event gives Scotland's unsigned bands a chance to score an even bigger audience. I settle into a pint of Tennents to watch some lads from Skye called Injuns
play a jazzy set that artfully rocks. Like more than a thousand bands across Scotland, Injuns sent in a demo and won a spot in the T Break showcases that play in Edinburgh and Glasgow to capacity crowds. All the bands that play tonight - from the three-piece Futuro
to the orchestral-sized How to Swim
- have their eyes on the ultimate prize of playing at T in the Park
, one of the UK's premier music festivals. T Break is more than a national battle of the bands, it's the reason people start bands in Scotland. Well, that and the groupies.
I get to play groupie myself by doing some backstage interviews for an upcoming Lonely Planet podcast, and observing a strange transformation of bands from onstage rock gods to shy kids lugging their equipment into a beat-up ex-postal van. I talk to the band Some Young Pedro, who seem like sweet young charmers you'd take home to meet your mother. Once they strap on their guitars, it's a different story. They punch out fierce punk complete with duels across the stage and a hell of a lot of shouting. Not the kind of thing my mum is into, but the crowd loved them. At the end of each 20-minute set the bands barely have time for a 'Thank ye very much' before scurrying to unplug their gear and make way for the next lot. Partly this is fear of the magnificently mohawked stage manager, but it's also about giving each band their turn in the spotlight, their 20 minutes of fame even if they're not picked to play at T in the Park. This supportive scene - whether it's a Tennents sponsorship pouring in the cash or loaning your drum kit to the next act - means Glasgow can keep producing bands like Franz Ferdinand and maybe even another Big Country.Och-o-meter
: 5 - I asked a guy about fishing and in a classic Dr Seuss moment he inadvertently rhymed 'och' and 'private loch'.Tourist Insight of the Day
: While perusing a bar, one tourist remarked 'My, they have a lot of whiskies don't they?'Scottish English in a Jiffy
: 'Folk' - not just a wholemeal music style, up here it's used to refer to anyone, though usually he general populace, eg 'Folk like their pints with a stoush.'