2018: The Year in Pop

Late Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison PIC: Shutterstock
Late Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison PIC: Shutterstock
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It has been a year in which Justin Timberlake and Kylie Minogue discovered they were a little bit country and Arctic Monkeys went a little bit lounge; in which Roy Orbison was reanimated as a hologram and the hottest new pop property was Korean boy band BTS; in which Jack White banned phones from his gigs and Roger Waters recreated Battersea Power Station out of some strategically placed girders, screens and projections; in which some of the biggest songs of the year came from film musicals The Greatest Showman and A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody introduced Queen’s music to a whole new generation. And 2018 in music has also been a time of:

Proud celebrations

The biggest Scottish music success story of the year was an exhibition. Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop at the National Museum of Scotland did a plum job of encapsulating a mere 70 years or so of the nation’s popular music, corralling instruments, costumes and curiosities from a pretty comprehensive cross-section of artists and record labels. Emotional highlights included a Runrig CD recovered from the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Columbia and a piece of carpet from the late, lamented, loved Apollo venue in Glasgow, but there were also prize items from the likes of Lulu and Jack Bruce, iconic outfits from the Bay City Rollers and The Rezillos and an overall sense of how Scottish musicians have excelled equally at the big, hearty statements (Simple Minds, Proclaimers) and at a grassroots DIY level (Postcard and Fast Product Records).

Bringing the story up to the present moment were Young Fathers, who this year became the first act to win the Scottish Album of the Year Award twice, taking home the trophy for their widely acclaimed third album, Cocoa Sugar.

In tandem with the exhibition, the Edinburgh International Festival celebrated the richness of Scottish pop endeavour with a curated series of concerts, Light on the Shore, at Leith Theatre, ranging from indie veterans such as the Jesus & Mary Chain to the bright and ballsy rap trio The Honey Farm, who could well be a Young Fathers (Mothers?) in waiting.

Karine Polwart delved into the Scottish Songbook and Carla J Easton and an array of special guests celebrated the unsung sheroes of Scottish pop from the McKinley Sisters to Strawberry Switchblade. Arguably the biggest star of the season was Leith Theatre itself, whose redevelopment continues despite funding setbacks for the Hidden Door festival, which has spearheaded the comeback of this cherished venue.

Sad commiserations

On the subject of cherished venues, there was far-reaching devastation around Sauchiehall Street in June when a second fire ripped through the Glasgow School of Art’s peerless Mackintosh Building, reducing it to an unstable shell. Grimmer news for music fans was the spread of the blaze to the adjacent ABC and the continuing radio silence over its future. While neighbouring venues such as the CCA and the Art School Union have happily reopened, the knock-on effect to the area’s nightlife, from the brilliant, bijou new jazz venue The Blue Arrow to Sauchiehall Street stalwarts Nice’n’Sleazy and Broadcast should not be underestimated. #SupportSauchiehallStreet indeed.

Dynamic duos

Chas & Dave may have gone to the pub rock singalong in the sky but there was no shortage of weird and/or wonderful partnerships forged this year from the sublime Tracyanne (Campbell) & Danny (Coughlan) to the ridiculous Sting & Shaggy. Trainspotting soundtrack stars Underworld and Iggy Pop teamed up for a suitably freewheeling EP, while Aidan Moffat found his ideal musical match in guitarist RM Hubbert and Kathryn Joseph made bittersweet, spectral music with Theatre Cryptic.

Happy returns

Lauryn Hill and The The toured for the first time in almost 20 years, Damon Albarn revived his supergroup The Good, The Bad & the Queen for the first time in a decade, there were fresh faces in Franz Ferdinand in the shape of guitarist Dino Bardot and keyboard player Julian Corrie and long awaited new albums from 90s contemporaries The Breeders and Belly, the same old from Snow Patrol, stomping releases from Scottish veterans Nazareth and The Skids and an unexpectedly underwhelming first new album in a quarter of a century from Nile Rodgers & Chic.

Fond farewells

Runrig bowed out jubilantly after 45 years at the Celt rock coalface, taking 50,000 partners for The Last Dance

in Stirling City Park this summer. Paul Simon retired from touring with his exquisite Homeward Bound farewell concerts. Bassist Gerry Love played his final shows with Teenage Fanclub, celebrating their classic albums of the Creation years, and the ace Edinburgh indie label Song, By

Toad wound down operations this autumn. The deaths of Aretha Franklin, Mark E Smith, Dolores O’Riordan and Avicii were all mourned but there was particular outpouring of grief in Scotland for much loved Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison whose bandmates paid tribute to his generous spirit at the Glasgow leg of Sleep in the Park earlier this month. - Fiona Shepherd