Obituary: Jock Scot, punk poet

Jock Scot

Jock Scot

Jock Scot, punk poet. Born: Leith 21 September 1952 in Edinburgh. Died: 13 April 2016 in London, aged 63

Jock Scot was known mainly as a performance poet of a certain grimy, worldly wisdom which established him as a forebear to a distinctively Scottish style of literature which emerged in the 1990s. By turns amusingly thoughtful, unflinchingly honest and raw in its visceral nature, his work was a direct influence on the ‘Children of Albion Rovers’ era of Scots poets and writers, on Aidan Moffat of the group Arab Strap, and most famously on the author of Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh. The latter was reputed to have first introduced himself to Scot at a party in the 90s by claiming the elder writer as one of his three greatest heroes alongside Iggy Pop and the Hibs player Pat Stanton.

Around the time of Trainspotting’s success – specifically that of the 1996 film adaptation, released three years after Welsh’s book – was also the period of Scot’s greatest fame. He was heralded as an undiscovered cult icon upon the release of his first spoken world album, 1997’s excellently titled My Personal Culloden, which was set to a moody musical backing by Scot’s old friend Davey Henderson of the cult Edinburgh groups Fire Engines, Win and the Nectarine No.9.

It was the last record released on the seminal Scottish label Postcard, and was re-released in 2014 by Heavenly Recordings. It revealed Scot as a laconic but vaguely sinister talent, who wrote of partners as washed-up as he (Just Another F***ed Up Little Druggy), misanthropic romance (Someone’s Yearning) and a vivid sense of tarnished hope (A Certain Beauty, introduced on record as “another t*** from the sewer of my mind”). The Mod Poem was one of a batch of poems broadcast by MTV, with a sharp-suited Scot declaring “I’m a mod / I’ve always been a mod / my father was a mod before me / my coat is a Crombie / my boots are Ben Sherman.”

For anyone who never experienced one of his readings in person, from the west London scene of the 1980s around the Warwick Castle pub on Portobello Road to recent appearances at Edinburgh’s Neu! Reekie! night, Scot’s work can also be experienced in the debut printed collection Where is My Heroine? (1993) and a further words-and-music collection named The Caledonian Blues, created in 2006 with Gareth Sager, sometime guitarist with the Nectarine No.9, the Pop Group and 80s punk-pop collective Rip, Rig & Panic.Yet to describe Scot in terms of his work and its influence is to tell only one part of the story; before he ever took to the stage he moved in influential creative circles. Attending an Ian Dury and the Blockheads gig in Edinburgh at the tail end of the 1970s, he made his way into the dressing room and hit it off with Dury, accompanying the group to London and eventually talking his way into a job at the famed Stiff Records label. It was “the grooviest job going,” he told the Idler many years later. “Nothing drove me, it was happenstance. I think it’s just luck, I’ve always been lucky. But it wasn’t really a job, it was a doddle.”

He carried on in the same view, doing what the Idler described as “avoid(ing) conventional employment, more or less, for thirty years.” Through Stiff he made acquaintances and often solidly enduring friendships with artists like Joe Strummer of the Clash, Shane McGowan of the Pogues, Madness and Elvis Costello.

Through Sager, a fellow Edinburgh man, he dated Rip, Rig & Panic singer Neneh Cherry, and was in a half-decade relationship with the actor Anna Chancellor, 13 years his junior, who went on to appear in Four Weddings & A Funeral; the pair had a daughter named Poppy together. Candid about his struggles with heroin in the 1990s, in the following decade Scot went on to perform with young artists who he had influenced like the Libertines and British Sea Power.

Although based in London for the best part of four decades, Scot was still refreshingly, articulately Scottish whenever he spoke and appeared onstage, peppering his speech and poetry with black wit and slang. The lifelong Hibs fan had started performing in an environment where only John Cooper Clarke offered an outsider’s take on poetry, but towards the end of his life was embraced by a new proliferation of spoken word nights, particularly when making appearances in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Even from afar, he remained aware of what went on culturally in his home city, whether it was reviewing Neu! Reekie!’s Michael Pedersen, also a poet, for the Leither magazine (“could be a long wait till we hear frae anither yin near as guid. Jist what Leith needs, another f***in’ poet.”) or rejoicing in Welsh’s gritty remodelling of Edinburgh. “I’m glad he altered the outside world’s view of Edinburgh as Disneyland, unchanged since Greyfriars Bobby… Irvine’s saved me a lot of work,” he told the Herald, in the same interview neatly encapsulating his view of his own success. “I’ve used my intelligence to get by on the bare minimum,” he said. “I don’t want a big house, I can’t drive. If I’ve enough for four or five pints, a packet of fags, a meal in a cafe, I’m OK.”

Born John Leslie in Leith in 1952 and raised in Musselburgh, Jock Scot was the only boy of five children. His father was in the army and latterly construction, and died young of cancer; he was also a musician, and the young John tried to follow him by playing banjo, ukulele and guitar, but he didn’t believe his hand/eye coordination was good enough and gave up in his teens.

Diagnosed with cancer in 2014, Scot chose not to opt for chemotherapy after speaking to the musician Wilko Johnson, whose wife had died from the disease and who was suffering from it himself (Johnson later underwent experimental surgery and made a full recovery). Scot outlived his doctor’s life expectation for him by some way, and is now survived by his wife Helen, their daughter Iris and his two adult daughters from previous relationships Poppy and Tara.

David Pollock

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