The Other Sound of Young Scotland (Glasgow 1980 – Part One)


Simple Minds & Berlin Blondes

Siren guitar. Absolutely granite bassline and phosphorescent synth. Bring on the drums. ‘Overground / Underground,’ a voice sings with a hint of the unhinged. ‘Pulsating through / Street Parade / Day arcade / No cloning you.’

I’m back in Scotland just in time for Hogmanay and New Year and it’s time for some fun. On my return, one song keeps getting played every time I go out dancing, whether I head up the hill on Scott Street to Maestro’s or end up in some dive selling watered down lager, where blootered neds love to get their fists flying over any flimsy excuse. ‘Are you lookin’ at ma burd?’*

Already available on their second album Reel To Reel Cacophony, Changeling comes out as a single in the early days of the new decade. Simple Minds have a wide range of supporters from John Peel and NME to Smash Hits, who even reviewed the album twice, firstly giving it 8/10 before awarding it 9 1/2. ‘Strong melodies, vivid imagination, intensive atmosphere and the unique stamp of Jim Kerr’s dark genius.’

That January, I see Peter Capaldi’s band The Dreamboys at the Third Eye Centre. According to a pal I see them again supporting Dexy’s at Glasgow Tech although I can’t remember much about that show, due to an excessive day on the booze. If only the last but one Doctor Who could transport me back in his Tardis to refresh my memory. I see a number of bands in the Countdown and, best of all, I see Simple Minds at Tiffany’s.

Changeling somehow fails to chart but anybody who sees them live that night at Tiffany’s knows it is only a matter of time before they will emerge as bona fide stars and chart regulars. Here they were a couple of months earlier at Hurrah (which I always thought was Hurrah’s) in New York:

Music is changing at an amazingly speedy rate as the 1970s moves into the 1980s. A punk-tinged version of ska has been pioneered by The Specials, and something called rap has just started appearing in the British singles chart with acts like The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow although some speculate that that’s a novelty that will never last. Another big trend is the rise of the synthesizer.

Tubeway Army demonstrated six or so months earlier that electronic pop had the potential to provide huge hits but success like Numan’s is still a real rarity for the synth brigade at this point. The Human League have yet to commercially take off and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and John Foxx haven’t yet dented the charts. But again, it is only a matter of time before they will.

In Glasgow, it wasn’t only Simple Mind Mick MacNeil who embraced the synth. There was Modern Man, who released a couple of Midge Ure produced singles and an album later in 1980; there was Teutonic Veneer, who in between practising and playing likely listened to Trans-Europe Express on repeat and visited the Glasgow Film Theatre whenever a Fritz Lang movie appeared. Then there was The Berlin Blondes.

Berlin Blondes

Orange Juice’s anti-macho image might not have endeared them to Glasgow’s more traditional rockers but with their lacquered hair, lippy, eyeliner, and perfectly contoured cheekbones, The Berlin Blondes made the Postcard boys look like a bunch of Possilpark brickies. And on the singles front they got out the starting blocks a fraction quicker. Snapped up by Britain’s biggest record company EMI, in January The Berlin Blondes released their debut 45 Science, a month before Falling and Laughing officially kicked off ‘The Sound of Young Scotland.’ I bet Alan Horne despised them.

The band did divide opinions. Some viewed them as bright young things with the vision to embrace the brave new world of the synthesizer and electronic pop music. Others judged them narcissistic poseurs and believed that Steve Bonomi’s highly mannered vocals made Gary Numan sound positively soulful.

Once signed, they decamped to London, where they recorded an album with Mike Thorne, a producer best known for his work on the first three long players by Wire.

By the time the album hit record shops, David Rudden had said ‘auf wiedersehen’, going off to help set up Endgames, while Jim Spender decided to try his luck elsewhere too, opting to join Altered Images and become Jim McKinven.

The album failed to sell in the quantities envisaged by EMI, who quickly dropped the Blondes. The band did recruit some new members and continued on but released only one more single, Marseille, on the Scratch label in the summer of 1981.

A crunching slice of futurism, in the early days of the 1980s, this was zeitgeisty as hell, with that glinting synth intro and those galloping basslines. Here is the track that kicks off the band’s self-titled album, their second single Framework:

*Glasgow, incidentally, has sometimes been compared to San Francisco. Obviously not for a famous flower power/peace ‘n’ love vibe but for the hilly terrain of both city centres. Glasgow even stood in briefly for the Californian city in Hollywood movie Cloud Atlas.

A 1981 Top Ten


It was the year that Bob Marley died. Malcolm McLaren witnessed Afrika Bambaata spinning discs at a block party in the South Bronx. John McEnroe beat Björn Borg to earn his first Wimbledon title and Shergar won the Derby (which earned me a few quid). Charles married Diana but they never seemed as well suited as Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and while I’m on the subject of vile evil, the Yorkshire Ripper was finally caught and jailed for life.

The Guardian lauded Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark as ‘one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction’ and, at that year’s Oscars, The Elephant Man and Raging Bull both earned eight nominations although Ordinary People was somehow voted Best Film.

The higher echelons of the British singles charts managed to feature everything from Euro accordion nonsense (The Birdie Song) to O Superman by avant-garde performance artist Laurie Anderson, although neither of those tracks made it all the way to the top.

Number ones are, of course, usually rank rotten and 1981 provided us with regular reminders of this general rule. As the bells sounded in the new year, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma sat at #1 and trash like Shaddap You Face and Japanese Boy followed on.

But it wasn’t all quite as hellish. The bestselling single of the year was Tainted Love, an imaginative synthpop stab at a northern soul classic spoiled by Marc Almond’s head-nipping vocals. The Christmas #1 was The Human League with Don’t You Want Me but even better was The Specials’ finest moment, Ghost Town, a track that could rightly take its place next to tracks like Paint It Black; Sunny Afternoon; Hot Love; God Save the Queen (unofficially anyway) and Going Underground as one of the greatest records to ever top the British singles charts.

If Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco was an anthem attempting to reflect the peace and love optimism of the Flower Power generation then Ghost Town was a state of the nation address along the more depressing lines of unemployment, police racism and poverty in powder-keg Britain and as you likely know already, its tenure at number coincided with riots raging in Toxteth and around England including The Specials’ home town of Coventry.

A visit north of the border, though, has been acknowledged by Jerry Dammers as his key inspiration when writing the song.

‘In Glasgow, there were these little old ladies on the streets selling all their household goods, their cups and saucers,’ Dammers explained to Alexis Petridis in the Guardian in 2002 while discussing Ghost Town. ‘It was unbelievable. It was clear that something was very, very wrong.’

There was something very, very wrong in Britain in 1981 but I certainly never witnessed any little old ladies selling their household goods on any street in the city around this time myself.

My theory is that Dammers probably strayed around the edges of the old Paddy’s Market in the Briggait and somehow failed to realise that it was a longstanding market place. Maybe his visit was early in the day, just as trading was being set up.

Paddy’s, it would have to be admitted, was a dump. To the extent that it made the Barras look positively swanky.

Cluttered with all kinds of junk, clothes were often arrayed on stalls, crates, deckchair loungers, palletts or even just on sheets laid out on the ground. I would visit many a Saturday morning in the late ’70s and early ’80s. There used to be a good barber and you could occasionally pick up the odd interesting old record or unusual item of clothing in among the general kitsch and crap. Actually I miss Paddy’s and still believe the town became a little more bland the day that it was forced to close.

With a video shot by graphic art genius Barney Bubbles – who also designed record sleeves for Ian Dury, Generation X and Elvis Costello – this is The Specials with Ghost Town:

The Specials might have sang of all the clubs having been closed down but luckily this wasn’t true throughout the land – although I can think of a few cattle markets in Glasgow that should have been shut down back then albeit I lived in England for the majority of the year.

Maestro’s on Scott Street was not one of these even though there was an annoyingly high percentage of posers there on any given night – you know, the kind of person that read in The Face that jazz and salsa were going to be the next big thing and so immediately started dressing like Blue Rondo à la Turk. On the plus side there were always plenty of good looking girls there and you would hear an amazingly eclectic mix of tracks from electronic, post-punk and New Pop through to mutant disco and early Rap and Hip Hop.

Floor-fillers at Maestro’s and the cooler end of the club spectrum in 1981 included ESG’s Moody; Pete Shelley’s Homosapien, Pigbag’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag; DAF’s Der Mussolini; Computer Love by Kraftwerk; The Magnificent Seven by The Clash and this epic and audacious audio collage of tracks spun on the Grandmaster Flash’s double decks featuring bits ‘n’ pieces of Chic’s Good Times; Blondie’s Rapture; The Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache and The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight.

Released on Sugar Hill Records, here is the Grandmaster with The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel:

I did promise some more Scritti Politti in my last post but failed to find a decent video for their 1981 single The “Sweetest Girl”.

A sumptuous production with a sinuous and soothing bassline, this track was one of the great surprises of the era. Lovers rock meets Messthetics, the track opened the Rough Trade compiled NME cassette tape C81 – a much better compilation of music than the more famous C86 incidentally.

Instead of Scritti, here’s one of the most infectious tracks that you could ever hope to dance your ass off to, this is Pigbag and Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag:

The Top Ten (in no particular order)

The Specials: Ghost Town
Grandmaster Flash: The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel
ESG: Moody
Pete Shelley: Homosapien
Pigbag: Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
DAF: Der Mussolini
Scritti Politti: The “Sweetest Girl”
Aztec Camera: We Could Send Letters
Simple Minds: Theme for Great Cities
Kraftwerk: Computer Love

Has 2016 produced as many notable tracks?

In a word? No.

Just Outside: Article 58 – Event To Come; The Passions – I’m In Love With A German Film Star; Vivien Goldman – Launderette; Laurie Anderson – O Superman; The Teardrop Explodes – Reward, Scars – All About You, Fire Engines – Candyskin; The Associates – White Car in Germany; New Order – Everything’s Gone Green.

I could go on.

And on.