Thursday 24 September 2020

Guest Post Thursday #12: A Tour of Scotland in Ten Songs

At last! I guilt-tripped Alyson into writing a guest post! And what a guest post it is too. One of my favourites. I almost feel like my work here is done...

As a frequent visitor to Rol’s blog, and as someone who had been pressing Lynchie to offer up a guest post for many years (which he did with aplomb and kick-started this series I think*), it was inevitable the pressure would be on to come up with something myself. Blind panic set in, as although I don’t mind sharing some dubious song choices over at my place, the thought of doing so here was more than a tad disconcerting**.

(*Actually, it was JC who kicked us off... although Lynchie's post arrived synchronously to that. - Rol.)

(** I don't see why. Rarely a post goes by in which I don't share a dubious song choice. - Rol.)

After a few false starts I decided to get back to the host himself and ask for an idea…, a prompt. If it all went horribly wrong, I could blame him (no not really). A few years back I started writing an American Odyssey in Song, a series which was great fun to put together but by the time I reached Delaware I was stumped, and so ended the journey. Rol reminded me of that series and suggested a Scottish Odyssey instead as a guest post idea. As our travelling habits have been seriously curtailed this year by the pesky pandemic, and staycations are now the order of the day, let’s get our kilts on and journey the length and breadth of this country I call home, in song. (The songs are listed in no particular order.)

1. Deacon Blue – Dignity

And I’ll sail her up the west coast
Through villages and towns…

Oh yes, Ricky, having seen many boats yesterday on the Caledonian Canal, it seems that’s just what many of us are doing at the moment and they may well be on their way to the west coast. On a technicality they won’t “pass through” many villages and towns but they may well stop off at places like Ullapool which is as far as I’ve travelled out of Inverness this year. Their Seafood Shack serves up award-winning street food and if you want to try Lobster Thermidor for less than 18 quid, that’s where you’d head. Their annual music festival called Loopallu (see what they did there) was cancelled this year but let’s hope it will return in 2021.

2. Gerry Cinnamon – Belter

I think I love her
She gets underneath my skin
But I’ve been stung a few times, so I don’t let no one in
No even belters!

DD returned from Glasgow recently after spending a year down there working/having her heart broken. She generally fits into any situation pretty well but during her first week she was seriously struggling. Why? The banter in her new workplace was in the local dialect, and it took her a while to tune in.

Gerry Cinnamon is a recent discovery for me but if you want to hear someone sing with a Glaswegian accent, this is your man. The girl in the song is a belter, different from the rest but he’s scared to let down his guard for fear of being hurt. Indeed Gerry, we’ve all been there.

3. Andy Stewart – Donald Where’s Your Troosers?

Anyone familiar with 1960s television schedules will remember we were inflicted with The White Heather Show on a weekly basis. All very stereotypically Scottish what with the tartan and the traditional songs. A bit before my time but the host was a favourite son of Scotland, Andy Stewart from Arbroath, famous for its “smokies”. These fishy delicacies are now geographically protected foodstuffs, with production limited to within 4 km of Arbroath.

By some strange quirk of fate, breakfast DJ Simon Mayo discovered Andy’s novelty song Donald Where’s Your Troosers in 1989 and helped it get to the top of the charts.This could be a difficult listen I grant you, but bear with it, as Andy was a great impressionist as well as a singer/comedian and his attempt at mimicking Elvis (at 1:45) is still really funny. For any true Scotsman, falling at a ball in a slippery hall could be quite dangerous.

A lassie took me to a ball
And it was slippery in the hall
And I was feared that I would fall
For I had nae on my troosers

4. Altered Images – I Could Be Happy

Most of us of a certain age will remember the film Gregory’s Girl. It was set in and around a state secondary school in Cumbernauld. The New Town (designated in 1955) featured heavily in the film and during my only visit to Cumbernauld, I spotted the big clock in the local shopping centre where Gregory was due to meet his date for the evening. In a roundabout way the date ends up being with Susan, played by pop pixie Claire Grogan from the band Altered Images. She was definitely on a roll that year and her character Susan even ended up with the boy of her dreams, the awkward and gangly Gregory, much to the envy of his socially inept friends. For them the die was cast, it was Caracas or bust.

I would like to climb high in a tree
I could be happy, I could be happy

5. Runrig – Loch Lomond

My first visit to Loch Lomond was last year when we went to visit DD in her new abode. It was a bit of a shock to the system as unlike our own Loch Ness, which is on my doorstep, it is serviced by giant carparks and shopping malls. Understandable I suppose it being so close to Glasgow, but just hadn’t expected it.

Celtic rock band Runrig hail from the Isle of Skye (also mentioned in Claire and Andy’s songs) but back in 1991 they performed a massive concert at Loch Lomond in front of a crowd of biblical proportions. They had a bit of a cult following back then and when they sang the traditional song Loch Lomond, interspersed with lines in their native Gaelic, it sent shivers down the spine.

Ho, ho mo leannan
Ho mo leannan bhoidheach

Lead singer of the time Donnie Munro taught my husband art at school in the 1970s and when he’d told the class he was involved with a band that played a kind of Gaelic/Celtic rock, they were highly sceptical. He certainly proved them all wrong.

6. Danny Wilson – Aberdeen

Should you go to Aberdeen
Tell me what you find
A girl I know in Aberdeen
Who left her heart behind

We’re off to Aberdeen now, a city I am really familiar with as I spent nearly half my life there or thereabouts. It probably still is the Oil Capital of Europe but with the black stuff being bad news nowadays, it will have to reinvent itself in the next decade or so I imagine. I still feel bad when people talk about the awfulness of the 1980s, what with high unemployment and social unrest – In Aberdeen we’d never had it so good and it did feel as if the streets were paved with gold. Our football team even won the European Cup Winners Cup (it’s painful on the ears but there was even a song about it.

As for Danny Wilson, they were short-lived but left us with some great songs (Mary's Prayer). Their lead singer Gary Clark often used to head up to Aberdeen from his home in Dundee which is how this song came about. It seems we had people we knew in common and I feel sure I must have been in his company at some point during my student years. Of course, back then he wasn’t Gary Clark from Danny Wilson but simply that guy from Dundee who was up for the weekend. How it goes.

7. The Waterboys – Whole Of The Moon

It’s not even a real place but back in 1985, son of Edinburgh Mike Scott wrote these fine lyrics. Brigadoon is a miraculously blessed village that rises out of the mists every hundred years, for only a day – An MGM, Gene Kelly/Cyd Charisse version of Scotland, but whenever I’m feeling a bit negative I try to remember Mike’s words. It sums up how we’d all like to be in life, but not always easy to get into that mindset, especially at the moment. Note to self: Must try harder.

I saw the rain dirty valley
You saw, “Brigadoon”
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

8. Associates – Party Fears Two

I had really enjoyable wee holiday in Dundee a couple of years back and now think of it fondly as the city of Jam, Jute, Journalism and the Party Fears Two. We sampled the jam, visited an old jute mill, and took in a DC Thomson exhibition showcasing those great characters Dennis the Menace, Oor Wullie and Desperate Dan.

So what if this party fears two?
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me

Another great character from Dundee was the sadly-taken-too-young Billy MacKenzie of the Associates. Once seen never forgotten and those soaring high tenor vocals were a joy to listen to. The lyrics apparently came about after watching two girls trying to get into a party – they were smashing windows and attempting to kick the door in with their stiletto heels, so were christened the Party Fears Two!

9. The Bay City Rollers – Shang-A-Lang

There is a large park in Edinburgh to the south of the city centre called The Meadows and last time we were there I noticed a hospital bordering it on one side. It’s called Simpsons and I remembered that all five Bay City Rollers had been born there (too much time spent reading teen mags in the 1970s). Was there ever a group of lads less well equipped to become tartan teen sensations? It is well documented that despite their global success they ended up with none of the spondulicks. The Beatles had a mania, and so did these five boys from Edinburgh – Who would have thought it possible?

Yeah, we sang shang-a-lang
And we ran with the gang
Doin’ doo-op-dooby-doo-i

You might think we all prance around in full highland dress up here, showcasing our very best versions of the Gay Gordons or the Dashing White Sergeant, but you’d be wrong. Last time I was at a wedding it was Shang-A-Lang that got everyone up on the dance floor, and why not.

10. Sunshine On Leith – The Proclaimers

The Proclaimers have written some great songs but this one is still my favourite, their love letter to Leith, a now very gentrified district in the north of Edinburgh, and the place of their birth. I’m certainly not a fan of Hibernian FC but seeing the crowd on the terraces sing this song is something that always brings a tear to my eye.

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth

Where’s that box of tissues?

Thanks again, Alyson. A lot of time and effort went into that. I just feel bad that it stopped you writing your own blog for a couple of weeks.

The doors are still open on this feature, folks. Let me know if you'd like to contribute.


  1. Good stuff Alyson
    Then of course there is the band Aberfeldy with the song Tom Weir

    1. There is indeed. This Odyssey could certainly take in many more places on the map.

  2. What a great post, Alyson. I thoroughly enjoyed your American Odyssey in Song so this one is a perfect complement to it, like a lovely road trip, and a little closer to home (although as you know I have yet to cross the border! I feel like getting a camper van and driving round the places mentioned with these songs as our soundtrack. If only...
    By the way, your mention of the local dialect in Glasgow reminded me of something I heard on the radio the other day - about Aberdeen University have a course now teaching Doric.

    1. I would maybe give Cumbernauld a miss C!

    2. Thanks - It's random and not following a particular route but you know you are welcome any time.

      As for the course in Doric, my dad would have been delighted to hear of this. I'm from Doric country and we were bilingual, only speaking 'proper English' when we had to. Once you leave home and move about the country more the Doric leaves you as you meet more and more people who wouldn't understand it. My dad was a firm believer it was a language however and used to get really cross with the American Oil Men who came to Aberdeen and asked him to speak English - As far as he was concerned it was up to them to learn Doric.

  3. Good stuff, Alyson. And I like the positive slant on Dundee.

    1. I loved my wee holiday in Dundee. We were there just before the new V&A opened so missed it but the DC Thomson exhibition at the McManus (McMenace) was great.

  4. Great list Alyson. My favourite line about Andy Stewart came from the Aberdeen comedy trio "Scotland The What". It was "Some say Andy Stewart is the finest entertainer ever to come out of Arbroath......we wouldn't go quite as far as that!"

    I was sent to interview him at HMT Aberdeen and my photographer took a pic of him onstage during rehearsal. He went ballistic when the camera flash went off, demanding my photographer's film because Mr Stewart was wearing spectacles. His reaction seemed a bit OTT to me but we never used the photo.

    Love that you included Danny Wilson's "Aberdeen". As far as I'm concerned Gary Clark is one of Britain's most underrated singer/songwriters.

    His live version of The Blue Nile's "Saturday Night" is one of the most beautiful covers ever. If you don't love it, you have a hole in your soul.

    1. Reckon it's time for another Lynchie guest posyt, surely?

  5. Thanks. Lynchie, the man who's interviewed everyone, including Andy Stewart (who seems to have been a bit of a diva). I have fond memories of the "Scotland The What?" team - They captured Aberdeen humour perfectly.

    I love Gary Clark's voice so thanks for sharing he clip. He is a wonderful songwriter.

  6. Thanks Rol for allowing me to peddle my nonsense here this week, and sorry it took so long. The idea of doing a guest post has always terrified me so thanks for being kind about it.

  7. That was a very good time. Loved everything about it. Thanks for taking us on a trip, Alyson.

    1. Thanks Brian - All being well, let's hope you can come back over for a visit in the not too distant future.

  8. A fine musical tour, and a cracker to finish too.
    Personally, I'd have found room for Frankie Miller's Caledonia
    (but that's just me)

    A musical tour of Berkshire may not be so great.
    Mike Oldfield, Will Young, and ... a couple of other low ranking Indie bands from the 90s. Oh,and Ricky Gervais will doubtless put in an appearance

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Glad you enjoyed. Ironically Caledonia was in the mix as I've written about the song over at my place but not about a specific town or city so let it go.

      We have friends in Berkshire who live not too far from Ricky Gervais. Think they had a Spice Girl living quite near at one point too, so it could be an interesting tour.

  9. With the ongoing pandemic preventing travel, a ‘blog holiday’ to various parts of Scotland is most welcome. Yes, Whole Of The Moon is a great pick-me-up. My favorite Scottish singers are Elizabeth Fraser and Shirley Manson, your post showed me a different perspective, so thanks Alyson for sharing the music, stories and food tips. That Proclaimers tune is going on the playlist


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