Och The Week: Scottish Music is Stronger Than Ever

[In this week’s Sunday Supplement, we have a very personal view of the current Scottish music scene from one of its most authoritative correspondants; Milo McLaughlin]

Note: It’s true that the appallingly-named ‘Och the Week’ hasn’t become a weekly occurrence over on my own blog as yet, with this only the 2nd installment ever. But as I was writing this I thought it might work as part of Matthew’s Sunday Supplement especially as it has a similar theme to his excellent recent article for Drowned in Sound.

This week I’ve been reflecting, after another brilliant Homegame Festival, of just how strong the local scene is at the moment. I’ve been writing about Scottish music for the last five years for various publications and for my own blog, and I can honestly say I have never been interested in covering what’s popular. Instead, I’ve tried to champion the underdogs, the interesting, sometimes shambolic, sometimes wilfully obscure artists that no-one else really gave a fuck about.

But now I find myself in the strange position of seeing my favourite artists actually enjoy a modicum of success – with heaps of coverage both in print and online, radio play, decent record sales and sold out gigs. Ok, so Homegame this year was a much smaller capacity affair than last year, but selling out a few hundred tickets in an hour is still impressive. And the integral presence of the Edinburgh bands I have come to know and love over the last few years, in particular Found, eagleowl, Meursault & Withered Hand makes it all the better.

Seeing King Creosote, Pictish Trail and Adem play Withered Hand’s No Cigarettes for the BBC nearly brought a tear to my eye, being both a spellbinding performance and a testament to how far that particular songwriter has come in the last year, with the talent of all involved only denied by the curmudgeonly and cloth-eared.

Then only a couple of days later, on Wednesday evening, we had Meursault doing a session for Marc Riley on 6Music, with Riley also playing a track from Edinburgh band North Atlantic Oscillation’s excellent new album on the same show. If I wasn’t so knackered after the Anstruther shenanigans, I could have enjoyed gigs by two excellent local artists during this week, The Japanese War Effort and The Gothenburg Address.

And Panda Su, who like almost all of the artists I’ve mentioned above, I championed on my I Hear a New World podcasts for the Skinny Magazine over a year ago, had her song Eric is Dead played on the season finale of Skins on E4. Whatever you think of the programme itself, that’s some accomplishment for a formerly unknown Fife-based singer/songwriter. Something is clearly in the air/water/beer/fudge doughnuts around here at the moment.

Back to Homegame, and I was chatting to Mr Toad himself after Findo Gask’s gig in Legends (his first words to me were ‘you sweaty little bastard’ as I had danced my arse off to their set whilst wearing a large seafaring style jumper) and we discussed just how great it is that the current crop of bloggers from Edinburgh and Glasgow are completely unconcerned with the old bullshit about rivalry between the two central belt cities. People are up for collaborating, for interacting, and just generally being really positive.

Jim from Aye Tunes says in a recent interview with fellow weegie blogger Peenko that it was the explosion of new Scottish music blogs that inspired him to start writing more regularly, and it’s hard not to be inspired to greater things when there’s so many talented people around you doing creative things. As well as bloggers, that goes for podcasters like Glasgow Podcart and We Sink Ships, photographers like that Dylan bloke from Blueback Hotrod who has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, Lisa-Marie Ferla (also a fine blogger), the multi-talented We Sink Ships (yes, them again), promoters like Trampoline and the Gentle Invasion and of course the musicians themselves.

Matthew and pals have of course been performing inhuman feats of sleeplessness in order to put their ambitious plans for Song, By Toad Records into action, with some highly impressive results so far. I bought the Cold Seeds LP from the clammy hands of Mr Gummi Bako at the Hew Scott Hall merchandise stall and spend a blissful afternoon soaking up its ethereal charms on my return, and I recommend you do the same (and no I’m not on commission, the record really is great).

And things don’t show any signs of letting up as more new musical ventures seem to be popping up all the time round here. Alongside exciting releases planned by 17 Seconds Records and mini50 Records this year, new label Gerry Loves Records, set up by Andy Lobban who also does Off the Beaten Tracks (and designed this very site under the guise of his nonimage persona) are releasing a split single from Conquering Animal Sound and Debutant, released on 5th April 2010, and there’s even something called Leith Records which has popped up recently and looks like it might put out some interesting stuff. And that’s not to mention Ten Tracks, where (coughs as throws in deeply unsubtle plug) you can buy my own bundle of weird and wonderful tunes under the name of I Hear a New World (look out for the clanger).

So there’s a lot happening, and I for one am grateful. But as a very small, peripheral part of things, I’m in two minds whether to do a Sam from Quantum Leap and say ‘my work is done here’ as I vanish in an unconvincing flash of electric blue to another underlooked musical arena, or to dig deeper in the crevices of the local music scene to discover the next bunch of unlikely underdogs..