Top of the pop Scots

Did you know that pianist Ian "Stu" Stewart, otherwise known as the sixth Rolling Stone, was born in Pittenweem? Or that Sir Sean Connery cut a record, warbling with Janet Munro, his co-star in Darby O’Gill and the Little People? Perhaps you remember 1960s group My Dear Watson, from the north-east metropolis of Buckie - they sported Victorian garb and their last, unreleased album featured session keyboards from one Reggie Dwight, later to make his name as Elton John.

Such are some of the more arcane gleanings from The Great Scots Musicography, the latest magnum opus from Martin C Strong, music buff and compiler of acclaimed mammoth discographies.

Twenty years ago, Strong was a dedicated rock music buff, labouring to make ends meet and keep the record collection topped up, when he saw a gap in the market for a properly researched, comprehensive discography of rock music. He approached Edinburgh’s Canongate Books and the result was The Great Rock Discography. Six editions and 200,000 sales later, along with such spin-offs as The Great Alternative & Indie Discography, Strong has come up with The Great Scots Musicography, in which he visits the realms of Scottish folk, traditional, jazz, classic and even Jimmy Shand and the Alexander Brothers.

With more than 1,000 entries, from Aly Bain to Annie Lennox, Mogwai to McNaughton’s Vale of Atholl Pipe Band, and encompassing record labels as well as music hall stars, children’s entertainers, and household-name celebs you never realised made a record, The Great Scots Musicography is this compulsive compiler’s grand gesture for his native land.

"No-one else would have tackled it," he says, sitting in his Falkirk flat. "Someone had to do something to put Scottish music on the map, because there was nothing out there. Who else would spend 3,000 doing it and not get paid for about another two years. Who else would sacrifice virtually everything - simply because I’m Scottish?"

The question is: who is qualified to be in it? David Byrne is, even though he grew up in America, because he was born in Dumbarton, as is Dire Straits’s Mark Knopfler, born in Glasgow. A large entry on Rod Stewart may raise eyebrows, though. "A lot of people say Rod Stewart shouldn’t be in it. He was brought up in London - but his parents were Scottish and he’s always flown the flag for Scotland. If I’d left out other folk on the same grounds as they said I ‘should’ have left out Rod Stewart, I’d have had to miss out a lot of people, particularly in the folk section: Hamish Imlach, for instance - he was born in India; John Martyn, born in Surrey; and Davey Graham, born in Leicester."

Strong himself, born in Musselburgh in 1960, was brought up by his divorced mother in Falkirk. Flitting between Falkirk and his father and cousins’ homes in Edinburgh broadened his musical interests from Black Sabbath and Deep Purple to include the Corries, Donovan and the Incredible String Band.

His all-time top ten includes both the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks and Yes’s Close to the Edge ("I always get slagged for that one"). But what was it that prompted him, more than two decades ago, to laboriously tap out the first Great Rock Discography? "The music books I saw were pretty suspect," he says. "The discographies were very basic, there seemed to be a gap in the market and I just decided to do one of my own."

The six editions of the Great Rock Discography have met with resounding acclaim, if not always vast financial rewards. On two occasions, in order to keep the wolf from the door, he has been forced to make the ultimate sacrifice - sell off his record collection.

Asked what drives Strong to compile these daunting compendiums, he replies, simply: "It has to be done. And I have to update them - the biogs and the discographies, and put in new bands."

Despite the success of the rock volumes, Canongate was reluctant to take on the Scottish book, claiming it wouldn’t sell, but it has been brought out by another Edinburgh-based publisher, Mercat Press. Venturing out of his familiar territory, Strong concedes there will be errors and omissions, in the same breath inviting readers to send in corrections and additions for the second print run.

Right to the bitter end, he was imploring the publishers to take last-minute additions and alterations. "I know there are mistakes but when do you stop? There’s no end to it."

The Great Scots Musicography is published by Mercat Press this week, 14.99.