Delving into the valley of musical heritage


Martin C Strong

Mercat Press, 14.99

MARTIN Strong is mad about music. The Scottish writer has already had success in the field of music reference books with his Great Rock Discography, now in its sixth edition, clocking up 150,000 sales for its publishers Canongate.

A handful of offshoot publications have further enhanced Strong’s reputation, with comprehensive guides to the genres of psychedelic, metal, alternative and indie all selling well around the globe. But, by his own admission, The Great Scots Musicography is his dream. Combining elements of discography and biography in roughly equal measure, The Great Scots Musicography attempts the gargantuan task of being a comprehensive guide to every music maker past and present born or bred in Scotland (or Scottish by assimilation or association).

Does he manage it? Well, yes and no. This is undoubtedly a superb book - but it isn’t perfect. Strong admits this right from the start, and throughout the 440 pages he regularly pleads for further information from readers to improve future editions.

Considering the author’s previous publications, it’s no real surprise where the strength of coverage lies. The rock and pop sections of The Great Scots Musicography are far and away the most comprehensively covered, especially the post-punk years.

But the author seems fairly even-handed in his approach, and admits to any gaps in knowledge rather than attempting to cover them up. Of the other sections outside rock and pop, folk definitely gets the most thorough coverage, with jazz next and classical sadly only totting up a few cursory pages. For those interested in novelty acts, there’s even a section on celebrities and child entertainers for a cheesy stroll down memory lane.

Throughout all the sections, the style is healthily irreverent and not at all po-faced like some reference books can be. Extracting information into a linear form from music scenes that thrive on collaboration can be a sticky business, but the author on the whole manages this onerous task exceptionally well.

And this devotion is most obviously for post-punk rock and pop. Quite how Strong has charted the Scottish rock scene over the last 20 years with such accuracy is somewhat mind-boggling.

Would anybody else be able to map out the intricate histories of Boards of Canada, Boots For Dancing and Botany 5 all in the same page? For that matter, would any other book contain entries for both Ronnie Corbett and the Jesus and Mary Chain? I think not.

The Great Scots Musicography is not without its flaws, but it’s a damn sight better than anything else kicking around - a superb source of reference and a great read to boot. Oh, and in case anyone’s interested, yours truly gets a tiny mention - page 289, top of the right hand column. I’ve never met this Strong character, so how does he know I left a band a few years ago to "become a journo"?