Douglas MacIntyre, independent record company mogul, guitar gun for hire and enthusiastic advocate of the diverse attractions of his hometown of Strathaven, is waving in the general direction of a local ladies’ boutique, above which a small but significant piece of musical history was made.
This was the location of Emblem Sound, the studio where Scottish pop legends Orange Juice recorded their debut single Falling and Laughing in December 1979. Two months later, it became the first release on Postcard Records, Glasgow’s trailblazing independent record label which spawned a DIY music revolution in the city and beyond. So one could argue that the Scottish indie scene was born – or at least suckled – in a humble Strathaven studio run by local businessman John McLarty.
“He was the last person you would expect to have a studio, totally the antithesis of rock’n’roll,” says MacIntyre. “I think most of his business was country and western, but he also did psychedelic Christian records. He told me ‘those Orange Juice boys were very cheeky – did you know they skipped paying their fare when they got the bus out here?’” “Out here” is a historic market town nestled in the bucolic South Lanarkshire countryside 18 miles southeast of Glasgow. Seemingly sleepy Strathaven might appear to be an unlikely artistic hub but it is home to a number of bijou festivals and a dynamic community of creatives such as MacIntyre who, among other initiatives, has promoted a series of acoustic concerts in the town featuring his musical muckers Lloyd Cole, James Grant and Teenage Fanclub frontman Norman Blake.
That was back in the mythologised good old days of communal gatherings, however. When we meet it is one week before coronavirus lockdown suspends his plans for further shows by the likes of The Bluebells. Next on MacIntyre’s mini-tour of the town’s musical history is Emblem Sound’s second home, now an Indian restaurant, but once the studio stomping ground of Aztec Camera, a pre-Bluebells Ken and David McCluskey and MacIntyre’s first “proper” band Article 58, as well as the location for the recording scenes in the cherished TV show Tutti Frutti.
These are by no means the only musical connections in town. In the 1930s and 40s, Scottish music hall legend Harry Lauder, once the highest paid entertainer in the world, welcomed his celebrity chums Laurel and Hardy, Bob Hope and Winston Churchill to his gothic mansion, Lauder Ha’, on the outskirts of town. “I love the idea that they’d get the train into Strathaven and go up and spend some time with Harry Lauder,” says MacIntyre. In the 60s and 70s, Strathaven Folk Club was frequented by the big hitters of the Scottish folk revival – Matt McGinn, Hamish Imlach, Billy Connolly, Barbara Dickson – while the town’s famous musical sons include Mogwai frontman Stuart Braithwaite, Del Amitri’s Andy Alston, rockers The Almighty and MacIntyre himself, who has run the avowedly independent labour of love that is the Creeping Bent Organisation for the last 25 years, releasing music by post-punk gents Vic Godard and Gareth Sager and Glasgow favourites The Jazzateers and The Secret Goldfish among urbane others, while trading as art pop outfit Port Sulphur.
MacIntyre left Strathaven for the big city in his late teens, becoming a stalwart of the Glasgow music scene before moving back to his childhood patch in the early 2000s. “It wasn’t a magnetic calling but once we were back here I totally loved it,” he says. “Strathaven is really community-minded and one of the great things about moving back is you suddenly realise there’s loads of stuff going on. All these wee places have gala days – bizarre, pseudo-Wicker Man-type affairs, involving a whole bunch of stuff, like raft races down the river.”
Strathaven can claim Scotland’s only hot air balloon festival (est. 1999) as its own. The town also hosts its own folk, rock and jazz festivals across its various hostelries and boasts its own micro-brewery, Strathaven Ales, as well as photography and creative writing clubs – “all those things you would expect to find in cities,” notes MacIntyre. “There’s a real energy here, it would be great to harness some of it.” To that end, MacIntyre has set up FRETS Creative, a multi-arts organisation named after his school band, The Frets. The FRETS Acoustic concerts in the Strathaven Hotel were – and will be again – a companion venture “to draw attention to what’s happening socially and culturally in Strathaven,” he says. “It’s trying to do interesting things in the singer/songwriter vein. It’s almost post-cynicism. Nobody’s trying to get a record deal, nobody’s got their elbows sharpened. This is what’s good about society, people getting together, listening to great songwriters, that’s the kind of vibe I want to encourage.”
MacIntyre says his dream bookings would be Bill Callahan (“I know he’s very shy, but maybe he would do some readings”) and Jonathan Richman, who eschews all air travel and social media but has been known to respond to telegrams. MacIntyre is game. “If he does end up playing FRETS, that’s when I retire!”
Another musical hero, Go-Betweens frontman and Postcard Records alumnus Robert Forster, is due to play the only Scottish date of his forthcoming tour in Strathaven but, as things stand, the show may not go on. Plans to open FRETS Creative HQ in a new build unit tucked off the town’s main drag have also been paused, but MacIntyre shows off the three-room space, which he will share with fellow community arts organisation Creative Strathaven, and outlines his plans for an in-house gallery and record shop, with regular guitar lessons, songwriting and DJ workshops and bespoke events with writers and musicians.
“It’s trying to get everybody involved to encourage some of the kids that may feel disenfranchised,” he says. “Obviously, there’s more important things going on in the world right now but once normal service is resumed, everyone will want and need opportunities to start living a normal life again, so this will hopefully be a big part of helping people do that. It feels like it’s the beginning of something.”
More info at fretscreative.com. Compendium by Port Sulphur is released on Monday and available exclusively from creepingbent.net