I don’t really know very much about Edinburgh, except that it has a comedy festival in August, is currently (perpetually?) drizzling, and I’ll be there in about twenty-one hours, all of which will either be spent sitting in stations or on various different kinds of transport. (I tried to talk an ex-Etonian friend into having dinner with me en route, but apparently he’s off ‘shooting grouse in Yorkshire, sorry bbz x’.) So far as popular music goes, Glasgow’s heritage is more obviously rich, although Edinburgh’s spoils have a certain niche charm. Least representative of this charm – and our starting point – are the Bay City Rollers, Edinburgh’s most successful musical export, about whom the less is said the better.
Identikit twinset the Proclaimers hail from Leith and have somehow managed to provide the backing track to virtually every inspirational ‘journey’ scene in family friendly films of the last decade (see also: ‘Send Me On My Way’, by Rusted Root, and ‘Walk of Life’, by Dire Straits. There’s definitely a compilation album in here somewhere). They aren’t cutting-edge cool, and I wouldn’t recommend their more rockabilly harmonies to anyone with a hangover, but I’m embarrassingly fond of them – and ‘Throw the ‘R’ Away’ seems a fitting contribution to this Caledonian compilation.
From hereon in, it all gets a bit more murky. Sharing virtually nothing with the Proclaimers other than a decade and a couple of key letters (R, E, S, I), eighties’ Fire Engines respond to an arty post-punk scene that seems to make more sense in Glasgow, and here sounds triumphantly abrasive. Their immediate predecessor is the strikingly more listenable Josef K, who sound not unlike Maximo Park, if a bit more Scottish. Edinburgh has also served as the early stomping ground for a few memorable frontmen, including well-read Scot Mike Scott of the Waterboys, and Garage’s inimitable Shirley Manson, who may have since emigrated to the sunnier shores of Los Angeles, but is of solid Presbyterian stock. Perhaps the coolest thing to come out of Edinburgh since ever, really – although with competition such as Tony Blair and the Bay City Rollers, this isn’t totally surprising.
And what of the last ten years? Edinburgh musicians have actually made themselves known through their placement in soundtracks of such iconic television programmes as Top Gear, where electronic soundscape duo Boards of Canada provide soothing synthy backdrops to almost unspeakably thrilling car sequences. Meanwhile, in California (on The OC), midway through the first season, Ryan and Marissa have a very exciting New Year’s snog to Finley Quaye’s trip-hop ‘Dice’, written in Edinburgh, recorded in London, and enjoyed by millions virtually everywhere. Two established Edinburgh bands worth a listen to are Swimmer One and Broken Records, both of whom still regularly play in their hometown. As for the future of Edinburgh’s music – well, it’s hard to say for sure, but Nina Nesbitt might be a name worth remembering, for bubblegum folk of Regina Spektor ilk.
It’s hard to come up with an overarching theme here other than varying degree of Scottish lilt – but all of these songs have something to recommend them, and most warrant a third – or even a thirteenth – additional listen. Only fourteen hours to Dùn Èideann to go.
You can check out the City Collection: Edinburgh playlist on Spotify.