How Covid has impacted Scotland's music scene - Dani Garavelli

APRIL 1, 8.50pm, and the audience at the Glasgow Barrowlands was all restless foot-shuffling and pent-up energy. The fans - some masked, most not - had already posted photos of the blinking neon sign, with messages like “Home At Last” and “Here We Fucking Go”. Now, they were downing pints and counting the seconds until they'd see The Twilight Sad again.

Then, suddenly: a blaze of lights, a rolling synth, and the band was there, playing 10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs to a crowd crying out for communal catharsis. Lead singer James Graham hurled himself across the stage, like a man both tormented and exalted, and the faithful responded; secular charismatics, unleashing two years’ of grief and frustration into the heady, sweaty air.

Between songs, Graham looked out onto tear-streaked faces. “It was humbling to see what it meant to people,” he says. “I could feel the release it gave them; the same release it was giving me.

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“I am a very anxious person - in the past I would be anxious before, during and after the gig. But this time the anxiety disappeared, because we have all been through so much, and it felt like a miracle it was happening at all.”

Carl Cox Riverside Festival 2022. Picture: Tim CraigCarl Cox Riverside Festival 2022. Picture: Tim Craig
Carl Cox Riverside Festival 2022. Picture: Tim Craig

For his fans, it was a quasi-religious experience, all the more heightened for being so long-awaited. The Twilight Sad concert, which was supposed to take place in April 2020, had been rescheduled then cancelled multiple times.

The same was true of many concerts. But this one had become freighted with significance, as if symbolic of all the live performances lost to the pandemic.

“Their music is dark, but there’s hope in that darkness. I think it resonated,” says Alan Bell who has seen them play many times. So, too, did the title of their last album: It Won/t Be Like This All The Time. Those words, and Graham's voice, thrummed like a prayer in my own head during the bleakest periods of lockdown. The Barrowlands gig felt like a prophecy fulfilled; a promise kept.

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Twilight Sad play at the Barrowlands. Picture: Calum Mackintosh @resoundonlineTwilight Sad play at the Barrowlands. Picture: Calum Mackintosh @resoundonline
Twilight Sad play at the Barrowlands. Picture: Calum Mackintosh @resoundonline

Music was a lifeline for many people during Covid-19. You could see that in the growth of virtual events, such as Tim Burgess’s Twitter Listening Parties and Zoom gigs. Unable to go out, people sought new forms of collective consumption. Amongst some demographics, it fed into the vinyl revival, too, with gig-goers spending freed-up cash on new releases and reissues, then sharing details of their purchases on social media.

During the pandemic, independent label Last Night From Glasgow saw record sales turnover rise by 300 per cent. Founded by Ian Smith, in 2016, LNFG had been run on a voluntary basis. Now, it employs four people including Smith and his wife, Julia.

Of course, those who had sought solace in new (and old) music were keen to hear it performed live as soon as lockdown was eased. When Mogwai played Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall in November, it was to an audience which had helped send their album As The Love Continues to the top of the charts. It was the first time the band had hit the Number One spot. Their achievement was the source of online celebrations at a time when there was little to be happy about.

“We had already played a couple of gigs in France, but it felt really special to be back in front of a home crowd,” says Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite. “As The Love Continues came out at a time no-one was allowed out of their houses so it was lovely to have that personal connection; to be finally playing those songs in a room full of the people who had been listening to them.”