SCOTLAND’S traditional anthems are well known – but they don’t always nail what it means to be Scottish. These songs do, argues Chris McCall
Ask someone to name songs that are quintessentially Scottish and chances are their answers will resemble a Hampden Park DJ’s playlist.
Attend a Scotland match and you’ll hear the same predictable choices played time and time again; Runrig’s version of Loch Lomond will usually top the bill.
The country’s songwriters have been inspired by the people and places around them for centuries, creating thousands of unique and often humorous takes on their homeland.
These songs share a particular melancholy; a sharp awareness of the past and its relevance to the present. It’s a trait shared by many living north of the border, and it’s why these songs are every bit as Scottish as, say, Flower of Scotland.
Edinburgh songwriter Gordon McIntyre has performed as Ballboy since the mid-1990s, winning a loyal following for his emotionally honest and often sardonic lyrics. This 2000 single is not a rant against his homeland, but rather an exasperated critique of individuals overly willing to apportion blame. “Maybe Scotland’s got nothing to do with it,” McIntyre admits in the song. “Maybe all this has got nothing to do with anything.” A typically Scottish admission.
Like his contemporary Robert Burns, Tannahill was a Scots poet born in modest circumstances in the late 18th century. The Braes of Balquither, first published in 1824, was reworked by Belfast songwriter Francis McPeake in 1957 as Wild Mountain Thyme, otherwise known as Will Ye Go, Lassie Go? The distinctive melody written by Tannahill is likely based on a much older Scottish air. It was once again used to great effect by The Pogues in 1985 for A Pair Of Brown Eyes.
Winner of the 2015 Scottish Album of the Year award, Aberdeenshire-based singer-songwriter Joseph uses animal analogies on this piano-driven song about our sometimes strange relationships with loved ones. “You bring me dead birds and then you go,” sings Joseph. Our place in nature is common in Scottish songs throughout the ages, particulary in rural areas, and Joseph continues this trend.
The house band of Glasgow’s West End, this is one of the stand-out tracks from B&S’ 1996 masterpiece If You’re Feeling Sinister. In the Movies explains the fear of walking alone through Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park after dark, given its former reputation as a meeting place for illicit liaisons, and implores: “Don’t look back”.
Known for singing in their Fife-meets-Leith accents, the brothers Reid are responsible for one of the finest rhyming couplets ever committed to tape on this album track from 1988. While describing an initial lack of success with women, comes the memorable line “Cause even with ones up the back of a bus / There was always the risk of a slap in the puss.” While 500 Miles is the terrace classic, Oh Jean shades it for marrying a Scots word with a pop hit.
Tom and Molly Weir were familiar faces on Scottish television for years. The former was best-known for presenting Weir’s Way, which saw him hiking across Scotland in his trademark bobble hat, while his sister was an accomplished actress known to a generation of children for her role in Rentaghost. The Vaselines paid their own tribute with Molly’s Lips, which would famously be covered grunge icons Nirvana. Edinburgh songwriter Riley Briggs did a similar service with Tom Weir, a gentle reminisce about the man known for championing rural Scotland.