This month, Discopolis and Bwani Junction were tipped to be big in 2012 by the NME. It’s kudos rarely given to Edinburgh bands but, even allowing for hyperbole, it shows that the Capital’s music scene is finally rising from its slumber, writes Gary Flockhart
SITTING comfortably? Ready for a little pop quiz? Great, here goes – name the last Edinburgh band to have a Top 10 hit.
The right answer, which only those with long memories will have worked out, is indie rockers Idlewild, who hit the No 9 spot with You Held The World In Your Arms way back in April 2002.
Given that it’s been almost 12 years since a band from the Capital bothered the charts in a big way, it’s no wonder that, until recently, so few people gave any credence to the Edinburgh music scene. Our city, it was said with depressing regularity, had a dearth of decent venues and a load of un-noteworthy bands wanting to use them.
With the exception of 70 million records- selling teen sensations the Bay City Rollers, Edinburgh has always had an unwanted knack for producing bands that earned plenty of critical acclaim without attendant commercial success – The Fire Engines, Josef K, Goodbye Mr McKenzie et al.
However, that could all be about to change. In the last year or so, the Capital has stirred from its slumber and is casually emerging as a city with a burgeoning music scene and a plenty of emerging home-grown talent.
That’s the view of Olaf Furniss, co-organiser of Born To Be Wide, a monthly social night set up in the Capital nearly eight years ago as a networking opportunity for bands, DJs, promoters and others on the local music scene.
“I think one of the things that’s helped the city’s musical growth is that, for a start, there are more venues now,” he says. “There are some really great promoters doing things really well, and all of them committed to great new talent.
“Having more places to play is definitely a bonus, but I don’t think it’s the only thing. You’ve got to look at the broader picture, and you can see that there’s good bloggers out there, there’s magazines like The List and The Skinny covering good music and there’s generally been a sense of a ‘scene’ over the past few years.
“People come along to our night and that brings together the scene. It’s the same at [weekly music night] Limbo. If you go there you’re going to bump into a lot of journalists and promoters and people from the music scene. Bands support each other as well, which never happened in the past.
“If you go to a gig in Glasgow, you’ll find that half the audience is made up of bands, and I think you’re starting to see that in Edinburgh as well. You see lots of musicians mingling and there’s cross-fertilisation going on now. If you look at the likes of Withered Hand, you’ve got the likes of Neil [Pennycook] from Meursault playing guitar and backing vocals, and I think that’s where it gets really healthy.
“When we started Born To Be Wide, the idea was to bring together all the different musicians in the scene and have them co-operating and have them play together. You’re seeing that happening more and more now.”
With the musical community finally uniting towards the same goal, the local music scene is in its rudest health for years – so it’s surely only a matter of time before the city produces another name of international repute.
Music mogul Bruce Findlay, who steered Simple Minds to worldwide domination in the mid-80s, echoes that view. “We have a supportive music press and radio stations, better venues, and promoters who know the score,” he says. “These things, which we didn’t have in the past, are so important. It encourages a music scene to flourish, and that’s what’s happening. When a music scene is flourishing it’s only a matter of time until the quality bands start to come through.”
That time could be sooner than expected with British music bible NME recently naming two Capital acts among its 100 bands to watch in 2012.
The bands in question are youngsters Bwani Junction – who take their name from a 1956 film set in an Indian railway town prior to independence – and Discopolis, a trio out of the City of Edinburgh Music School.
“All it takes is for one of these bands to breakthrough, for everything to explode,” says Furniss. “That could mean a steady stream of A&R men coming here looking for more. We saw that in the mid-90s with Franz Ferdinand – Glasgow was suddenly the place to be if you were in a band.”
If things pan out the way NME is predicting, the musical spotlight could be about to shine on Edinburgh for the first time in years.
NME’S EDINBURGH BANDS TO WATCH IN 2012
Queensferry band Bwani Junction are going places fast. They’ve been invited to play festivals like T in the Park and Wickerman, they made the short-list for the Scottish Alternative Music Awards, and they were awarded a grant from Creative Scotland to record their first album with award-winning producer Paul Savage. Made up of former Merchiston Castle pupils Fergus Robson, Jack Fotheringham, Rory Fairweather and Dan Muir, the band have been described as “one of Scotland’s most promising new acts” by DF Concerts boss Dave Corbet, who is tipping them to be one of the breakthrough bands of 2012.
This young band out of City of Edinburgh Music School have only released one single in the UK so far, the utterly infectious Lofty Ambitions, which earned them airplay on BBC Radio 1 and was dubbed “tasty” by influential DJ Pete Tong. But there’s clearly a lot more to come from Discopolis. Formed from the ashes of Capital outfit Ryan’s Mothership, the trio of Fergus Cook, Laurie Corlett-Donald and Dave Lloyd have already played T in the Park, released an album in Japan, where they have built a healthy fanbase, and wowed the crowd at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party.
Capital’s successes past and present
BAY CITY ROLLERS
The original boy band who made tartan trendy, meaningless songs meaningful and spawned a worldwide madness known as Rollermania. At their peak the Rollers sold more than 70 million records and had Top Ten hits with classic 70s blockbusters such as Saturday Night and Keep On Dancing before they self-destructed in 1978.
Pilot had a short-lived career, but nevertheless were behind two classic hits. Magic climbed to No 5 in the UK charts and No 3 in the US, while the song January held the No 1 slot for three weeks in 1975. Sadly, they never made the pop charts again, and by 1977 the band had crashed and burned.
When the late Paula Yates first introduced the world to the delights of the Leith-born duo during an episode of Channel 4’s The Tube back in 1987 with the words, “And now for something really weird”, Craig and Charlie Reid were hoping that their music “could get us off the dole” and see them “scrape a living”. Scrape a living? They’ve sold millions of records around the world; had their songs turned into a hit musical; been asked to play their biggest tune before a Champions League Final at Hampden; and made musical appearances in Hollywood blockbusters.