Jim Duffy: Three bands that help give Scotland a good name overseas

People in other countries often smile when you say you're Scottish and one reason is our music, says Jim Duffy.
Simple Minds are one of Scotland's most popular musical exports (Picture: Wattie Cheung)Simple Minds are one of Scotland's most popular musical exports (Picture: Wattie Cheung)
Simple Minds are one of Scotland's most popular musical exports (Picture: Wattie Cheung)

It’s interesting when travelling abroad to watch people’s reactions when you tell them you are Scottish.

Nine times out of ten, they smile and one can tell from their reactions that they kind of like the Scots. Although we are part of the United Kingdom, we never seem to be classed alongside England, when it comes to our identity as a grouping of people.

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Foreigners, for want of a better descriptor, perceive us be that bit different from our neighbours down south and across the Irish Sea. And when there is a drink involved, the discussion will always come round to football or music. Yes, it seems we Scots have made it into global stardom because of the bands we have produced. So, who is your favourite?

To keep it simple here, we are talking about bands, not individual musicians. Some of you may class this as unfair as you adore the likes of Rod Stewart. But, while Sir Rod is undoubtedly a mega star, there are smaller bands who have had great success and are just as well known internationally.

Many moons ago, I was an air steward working for British Airways. I was 21 and operating on 747s out of Heathrow. It was halcyon days for BA when Lord King and Sir Colin Marshall were at the helm. I was rostered on an 18-day trip to Australia. On boarding and completing my pre-flight checks with the crew “doon the back” in economy, one of the Club Class crew ran down and asked, “Anyone Scottish here?”

The surprise she had was that Deacon Blue were travelling in business class for gigs in Australia. Well, you can imagine just how fast I legged it to door two left, where I saw the band board and take their seats. It was surreal and fabulous. Suffice to say, the band members were great fun with the crew and I thoroughly enjoyed chinwagging with Dougie Vipond and James Prime, two guys who play a big part in the song Dignity. And I just loved singing along to this when I eventually went to see them at the Armadillo in Glasgow.

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I guess you can tell from that little anecdote that Deacon Blue rate very highly in my top three Scottish bands. The album Raintown is a classic and I still have it in my playlist on Spotify. But, while Deacon Blue are a very strong candidate for the number one spot, there are others that stand out.

How about Simple Minds? When it comes to demonstrating international presence, these guys have shown they have got what it takes. No doubt, having the theme song in the movie The Breakfast Club catapulted them into the USA in a big way. Crack the US and you’ve made it!

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But, Simple Minds are more than just a band who penned decent music. They were very much involved in politics, which did them no harm in selling records. The album Street Fighting Years – with its emphasis on the troubles in South Africa – was a cracker. Released in May 1989, the album reached the top of the UK album charts.

Selling out big venues across the globe, Simple Minds must feature in my top three Scottish bands. I eventually managed to see them perform live in Birmingham. They were good ...

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While on the subject of Scottish bands I have seen perform live, Travis are next up. I was lucky enough to catch them perform in Boston in one of their last gigs as part of their US tour. Again, they were terrific and packed the venue. Great lyrics, fantastic melodies and real personality on stage. Fran Healy, the front man, was excellent in the way he handled the crowd. I have a story for another day on this one.

So, there you go, my top three Scottish bands, but in no particular order. So what about the others that you may like and that have had impact here and overseas?

How about Texas with the lead singer Charlene Spiteri? Texas could rock a venue and had some great hits, notably for me, Halo, which is just great to pop on in my headphones. Texas were strong, but I’m not sure if they were just as big as the others, despite a loyal following, who may be pretty upset that I have not grouped them in my top three. Other groups come to mind such as Del Amitri, The Fratellis, Altered Images, Capercaillie and The Skids. But, the last couple of paragraphs have to go to bands who are pretty awesome, but not in my top three.

Many of you will be shouting out: what about the Bay City Rollers? And quite right too. The tartan-clad heart throbs of the Seventies are a Scottish institution, albeit, they were gone as quick as they arrived. The whirlwind that was the Bay City Rollers in the 1970s still has some puff, despite them going though hell. So, while not having the staying power of many other great Scottish groups, they deserve a mention.

Wet Wet Wet will also feature for many of you as band that produced brilliant songs and had a terrific sound. There is no doubt that Marti Pellow could chant and entertain. And Wet Wet Wet had one of the best-selling singles of all time in the UK, Love is all around. I believe the group actually pulled it from the charts after 15 weeks at the top.

But, I cannot end this piece without paying tribute to a wee band that always get talked about abroad as one song they belted out always gets everyone up singing. Yes, The Proclaimers and 500 miles. It never fails to cheer up a night out anywhere in the world.

Time to get your headphones on and get some Scottish bands filling your ear canals.

“And I would walk 500 ...” That will set you up for the day now!