Cities have a sound, in the popular imagination at least – Paris skips to gypsy Jazz, New York to the boom bap of Biggie, Manchester to Factory Record’s baggy swagger. Received wisdom says that Glasgow jangles to tuned-up Rickenbackers and naive harmonies; an image we’re often happy to embrace, and more than one bright young thing has been drawn to the city by the twin Pied Pipers of Norman Blake and Stuart Murdoch. Of course you, sitting with your copy of SNACK mag in whichever amazing arts venue you’ve picked it up in, know better, right? The rich musical history of the UNESCO City of Music lies like an auditory smorgasbord in front of your face, all its subtleties as plain as the tartan-wrapped loaf in your breadbin.
For the less knowledgeable, though, we asked writer Chris Queen – a man who was once told at knifepoint that he was no longer welcome to use the jukebox – to pick through some of the Glasgow scene and provide a five-album cheat sheet for the more esoteric edges of the Gulf Stream-soaked streets of the Atlantic West Coast.
- The Bathers – Kelvingrove Baby
‘Sometimes I used to fly away at night on the wings of an old love song’. Someday, sadly, your heart is going to get broken. Maybe a few times, if you’re doing it right. Some beautiful creature will stomp a well-shod foot on your heart and in that moment, you’re going to need The Bathers. Chris Thompson took all the longing and passion of Scott Walker and Jacques Brel and made it a little darker, and rainier, and just more Glaswegian. Operatic vocals and soaring strings accompany these tales of missed connections and Cold War European yearning that serve as the ideal partner to a windswept midnight walk round the West End.
- Ganger – Fore
There’s a book to be written – maybe one day I’ll do it – on the split-single scene of the 90s, the pre-Soundcloud days, when in order to get their music into people’s ears bands would chip in to pay for their song to be a side of a 7” single pressed somewhere in Czechia, with hand-drawn art photocopied in the local library and sold upstairs from a bookshop on Byres Road. Glasgow was bursting with these bands in the early 90s, many of them going on to form the bones of an infrastructure that we’re building on to this day. John Peel favourites, Ganger, were one of the big names in the 13th Note/Sleazy’s circuit, equal parts Neu! and Sonic Youth, all metronomic rhythms and interlaced guitars. Fore and follow-up Hammock Style remain touchstones for anyone pushing adventures in atonality, their influence evident in GLARC luminaries Still House Plants or anyone scraping a cymbal in The Old Hairdresser’s.
3. Lapsus Linguae – You Got Me Fraiche
Post-rock, math-rock, whatever you want to call the branch of guitar-led music that pushed complexity of rhythm and dynamics over bourgeois concepts like ‘choruses’: this city has a surfeit of it, from the incredible cinematics of Aerogramme and Mogwai to the more beat-driven end of Errors (whose 2010 album Come Down with Me was a difficult cut from this here list) or Remember Remember. Lapsus Linguae brought a genuine love of 80s metal to the chin-stroking mix, pushing the quiet/loud dynamics to an often punishing peak, but backing it up with a real musical talent that at times pushed into free jazz. No Glasgow music bar in the early 2000s was complete without someone in a black-and-silver Lapsus shirt cut off at the sleeves and a thick coating of eyeliner.
4. Optimo – Live at West Runton Pavilion
Like the notorious Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall, if all the people who claim to have been at the early days of Optimo were really there it would have been the busiest club in the country. It’s hard to overstate the influence that Keith and Johnny have had on the musical make-up of the city – by caring very, very deeply about great music and not one iota about fashion or genre, they carved out an authentic voice for a club that could mix Nitzer Ebb into Nina Simone and make it feel like part of a continuum. They’ve had plenty of official releases and anything on their own Optimo Music label is always worth investigation, but their best stuff always sat on the series of not-entirely legal mix CDs that were given out at their Hogmanay parties.
5. TAAHLIAH – Angelica
As Chumbawamba found in the 90s, it’s much easier to be righteous when it comes with a catchy hook. TAAHLIAH is an unapologetically radical artist who brings an outspoken sexuality to her music, soaked in pitched-up hyperpop and New Orleans bass but with a direct and very Scottish sense of the M8 hardcore scene of Q-Tex and N-Trance. As her recent Boiler Room set proved, she can destroy a dance floor while leading the revolution from the front – stick this on for the radical credentials; keep it on for the pounding bass triplets. Just maybe not while your granny’s over.
These are a toe in the water, an entirely subjective sample of a city that is bristling with incredible creativity. Get out there, find a revolution happening in a black-painted pub basement, go see bands based on their name or their logo or the bass player’s haircut. You might be at the first small steps of the next big thing. At the very least you’ll have some stories to tell.