When it comes to the music industry, so often the music and talent is overshadowed by the ambitions and egos of the artists. It becomes a case of style over the substance, leaving many artists caught up in the dog eat dog world of show business. In particular, in a digital age of reality TV and disposable music, the concept of a star has been demystified and to stand out from the crowd and being original has become a more difficult task. Music has become even more focused on making money and lining the pockets of fat cats, rather than the sheer value and craftsmanship of music. Moreover, with a shortage of music programmes, music has become less disconnected with youth culture and more fragmented, which has stripped away its power and collective voice.
So when you watch Teenage Superstars, the brilliant documentary directed by Grant McPhee, about alternative 80’and 90’s Scottish bands, you remember all that is authentic and exciting about youth culture. You remember and empathise with all the bands out there who made music influenced by their socio-economic position in life, their environment and their surroundings. For anyone who has always wanted to be in a band, or is in a band, it will tap into your creative psyche and will resonate amongst all the dreamers, misfits, outsiders, poets and those wanting to rebel and escape from all the mundane realities of life. It’s a musical journey, which plays host to the homegrown Scottish bands such as Teenage Fanclub, The Shop Assistants, The Soup Dragons, The Pastels, BMX Bandits, The Vaselines, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Strawberry Switchblade and Primal Scream and provides a platform for the C86 generation. It’s a continuation of McPhee’s Big Gold Dream and bridges the gap between Fast Product, 53rd & 3rd and Postcard Records and joins forces with Creation Records. The documentary is narrated by Kim Deal and features members from the bands listed and guest appearances from Thurston Moore and Creation Godfather, Alan McGee. It’s an insightful documentary, which interconnects the punk spirit of the late 70s with the DIY ethos of every Indie kid wanting to make music and achieve against the odds. Whether you are a busker with their head in the clouds, practicing your Q Awards speech behind closed doors, an accomplished musician or just an avid music lover, this documentary will fill you with eternal optimism, make you feel like dreams can come true and that everything is possible in this world.
“I’m a teenage Jesus superstar without a mighty cross to bear
And when mom complains about my hair
I say hey mom I just don’t care
I’m in hell and the angels cry cause I’m trying to sell my soul
And when mom complains about my clothes
I say hey mom leave me alone
Come on little girl, it’s gonna be alright
Come on little girl, it’s gonna be alright
I got one thing on my mind girl
I got one thing on my mind and I don’t care
I’m a teenage Jesus superstar”
(Teenage Superstar by The Vaselines)
Ever since Teenage Fanclub emerged in 89, they have captured the gritty spirit and DIY ethos of Highland Indie rock, whilst drifting along a more dreamy and misty-eyed landscape. Founded by Norman Blake on vocals/guitar, Raymond McGinley vocals/ lead guitar and Gerard Love vocals/bass, Teenage Fanclub, have been the ever-lasting, unfazed, guitar-laden band. Following a succession of drummers throughout the years, and Love’s departure in 2018, the band’s current lineup consists of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, Francis MacDonald on drums and Dave McGowan on keyboard and guitar.
Through their catalogue of scuzz-garage, jangly riffs, hazy doey-eyed melodies, orchestral undertows and wistful harmonies, Teenage Fanclub have soaked up the sundrenched influences of power pop, psychedelica whilst remaining true to the melancholic rain of their Belshillic roots. A creative force, Teenage Fanclub have been galvanised by each member’s input, whose collective song writing skills have never been compromised by rock n roll cliches.
Having lived through the grunge and Brit-pop explosions, Teenage Fanclub were signed to Creation Records, have toured with Nirvana and Radiohead, yet have never followed the crowd and just quietly got on with making great records, whilst placing the poetry back into music. They are a timeless act, whose classic Indie riffs and low-fi vocals capture the authenticity and youthful artistry of the band.
Unlike many bands out there, Teenage Fanclub haven’t played the fame game or claimed to be the biggest band in the world, haven’t conformed to any expectations or produced music that belongs to a particular era but instead have produced music with a calm complacency and steadfast approach. Despite their romantic, lofty lyrics, Teenage Fan Club have remained refreshingly modest, with their feet firmly on the ground.
If you want to listen to a band which is zany, idiosyncratic, unpredictable, wayward, eclectic, humorous, with infectious melodies, and undertones of Kitschy campness, then BMX Bandits tick all the boxes. Experimental, uplifting and melancholic in equal measures, BMX Bandits are characterised by the quirky frontman Duglas T Stewart, whose child-like vulnerability and heart on the sleeve musings has led an ever-evolving, free-flowing line-up since 1985. Currently comprised of Duglas T Stewart on vocals, Jim McCulloch on lead guitar, Paul Kelly on bass, Jamie Gash on drums and Chloe Philip on vocals and keyboards. It’s through the partnership of Stewart and Philip that BMX Bandits remain a constant source of youthful romanticism and emotionally driven lyrics.
Despite the longevity of the band, BMX Bandits aren’t jaded and still sound original, bouncing off the walls with a contemporary backdrop of zany-folk-rock infused, abstract–Californian-esque psychedelic-pop. A close-knit family, BMX Bandits originated with Sean Dickson from The Soup Dragons, as well as Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub, Francis MacDonald from Teenage FanClub and Eugene Kelly from The Vaselines, who have all played at one point in The Pastels. Like The Vaselines, BMX Bandits have influenced the late Kurt Cobain, who once famously said: “If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits”.
Ever since their debut album, Up for a Bit with The Pastels, released January 1987, The Pastels have jangled amongst the stars in an off-kilter, unhinged skyline. Formed in 1981, The Pastels were launched into celestial heights by Stephen McRobbie (or Stephen Pastel), whose duality of deadpan and disjointed vocals have provided the emotional narrative for the band. Along with his youthful looks and duffle-coat chic, McRobbie is a post-punk poster–boy, a dreamy intellect, half kooky and half wanderous, singing about boy meets girl, steeped in nostalgia and frozen in time. Like many of his peers, McRobbie is a non-conformist, whose bittersweet lyrics have reinforced an outsider’s aesthetic, whilst attracting a cult following.
Although the line-up of the band has changed throughout the years, it is through the presence of McRobbie that The Pastels have stayed true to their visceral hues. The current line up for the band consists of Stephen McRobbie on vocals & guitar, Katrina Mitchell on vocals & drum kit, Gerard Love on bass guitar, John Hogarty on guitar, Tom Crossley on flute & keyboards and Alison Mitchell on trumpet. A creative force, The Pastels are a band who are effortlessly cool and who have ingeniously produced music which has subtly crossed over into an array of genres. From the rockabilly nuances, jangly riffs, bluesy swirls, psychedelic undertones, showgazing mesh, synth-pop ambience, noise-punk drones and orchestral grandeur, The Pastels are purveyors of Indie-rock, sketching their own path using an oblique and smudgy pallette.
We have all heard the story about Kurt Cobain being a massive fan to the point of covering “Molly’s Lips”, “Son of a Gun” and “Jesus Doesn’t Want me as a Sunbeam”, and him even naming his daughter after Frances McGee, but there is a whole lot more to The Vaselines than being famous by association. Originally a duo formed in 1986, with Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, The Vaselines later added Charlie Kelly on drums and James Seenan on bass.
Criminally underrated, The Vaselines are defined by undeniable chemistry between Kelly and McKee, and whose duality of vocals have provided the abstract child-like motif of the band. It’s through the nonchalant delivery of Kelly that The Vaselines dwell in the crevices of dark introspection, which is air-lifted by the angelic vocals of McKee, evoking a ethereal ambience.
Along with the intermix of stomping beats, scrapey riffs and interludes of riotous riffs, The Vaselines have kept the spirit of punk alive, thriving on chaos, with moments of quirky insanity and playful puerility. Masters of their own mayhem, The Vaselines are an fusion of raw post-punk, jangly-pop, art-rock, noise-pop, synth-pop and baroque-pop, with remnants of alt-folk and honky blues. They are a law to themselves, whose succinct and often provocative lyrics emit a sense of uber-cool and unhinged rebellion.
Shop Assistants were a post-punk, jangly, alternative rock band from Edinburgh, who consisted of lead vocalist Annabel Wright (Aggi, who later joined The Pastels), Alex Taylor on vocals, David Keegan on guitar, John Peutherer/Sarah Kneale on bass and Moray Crawford/Laura MacPhail/Ann Donald on drums. Formed in 1984, Shop Assistants were originally called Buba & The Shop Assistants, and were that bona fide Indie band you wished had made more music as you feel they had a lot more to give. After releasing only one album “Will Anything Happen” in 1986, with Chrysalis Records, sublabel Blue guitar, Shop Assistants gained cult status before splitting in 1987. Through the the cult classic single “Safety Net”, recorded for a John Peel session, the Shop Assistants received recognition, reaching no2 in the UK Independent charts and was voted the 8th best Indie song in The Festive Fifty in 1986. Featuring Alex Taylor on vocals, “Safety Net” is a brilliant track which effortlessly emits the grit and youthful zest of the band. Featured on the “Will Anything Happen” album, “Safety Net” is arguably the signature track on the album, which conveys the spirit of the band.
As an album, “Will Anything Happen” is an infectious and simultaneously upbeat and lovelorn album, whose bitter-sweet lyrics are obscured by the jangly riffs and garage fuzz. It’s an album which rattles and pulsates with youthful angst, and whose translucent harmonies create an ethereal breeze amongst the synth-pop ambience. Along with the horn-infused synths, aloof beats and subtle chimes,“Will Anything Happen” emits a mystical spark that glows amongst the fireflies and moonlight. It’s a much underrated album, whose intermix of gritty, bluesy post-punk tilts towards rockabilly, whilst shoe gazing in a haze of dream-pop.
Whilst the alternative music scene now appears to be fragmented, lacking definition, detached from any robust ethos and not residing in any zeitgeist zone, music back in the 80s was an exciting and colourful place, saturated in youth culture. It was a post-punk explosion, a new wave of synth-pop, new romantics, gender bending and a distorted celebration, of dark wave goth noise-pop, lost in a world of dream-pop, whilst wistfully shoegazing at the stars.
In the midst of the dry-ice sugar-pop were a band which came out on the back end of the Punk scene, while embracing the independent spirit of Glasgow. Whilst Glasgow gave us Postcard Records, it also gave us Strawberry Switchblade, whose blend of bittersweet, exotic and ethereal music was very much a hybrid of synth-pop and dark wave goth. Visually stunning, Strawberry Switchblade comprised of Rose McDowall on lead vocals and Jill Bryson on vocals and guitar, and whose bubble-gum geisha goth, polka dots, bows ribbons, flowers and Siren-esque appeal mirrored their offbeat, idiosyncratic and colourful musical palette.
Harmonic Goddesses, both McDowall and Bryson collectively produced some amazing songs, which delved deep into the goth psyche and conveyed a sensitivity, which was delicate and jubilant in equal measures. They were a band whose eponymous album, “Strawberry Switchblade”, was an intermix of dizzy, intricate and chaotic synths, which polga jumped and hopscotched on rainbows, amongst the unicorns and fairies whilst quietly dancing in the rain.
Released in April 1985, the album contained the hit song “Since Yesterday”, which reached number 5 in the UK charts. Along with “Let Her Go” and “Who Knows What Love Is”, Strawberry Switchblade’s appeal stretched out further afield, proving to be very popular in Japan. In view of this, Strawberry Switchblade released a Japanese edition of the album in 1997, containing B-sides, remixes and previously unreleased songs, which included “Trees and Flowers” and a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.
The Soup Dragons
Named after a character from the children’s TV show Clangers, The Soup Dragons were formed in 1985 before ending in 1995. The line up was Sean Dickson on vocals/lead, Ian Whitehall on guitar/vocals (later replaced by Jim McCulloch), Sushik K Dade on bass and Ross A Sinclair on drums (later replaced by Paul Quinn). A versatile alternative rock band, The Soup Dragons were a musical “Jack of all trades”, whose musical template was multi-faceted, revealing just how accomplished and progressive they were as artists.
From their Buzzcocks-esque inspired “Whole Wide World” debut single to the post-punk, upbeat “Hang Ten”, to the more jangly riffs and synth-piano throbs of “Head Gone Astray”, to the Damned-esque, shrieky, punk fuzz of “Can’t Take Much More”, to the orchestral sweeps and crashing riffs of “Soft as Your Face”, The Soup Dragons were very much an 80s gritty, baroque infused-post-punk band, whose guitar loops, shrieks and drones synchronised with the dark flowery vocals of Dickson.
However, it was through the serendipity of having no drummer on the release of their first non-compilation album “This is Our Art” that The Soup Dragons invested in a drum machine, which was a catalyst for their new rock-dance crossover. A band with their finger on the pulse, The Soup Dragons progressed further with their “Love God” album, which catapulted the band to a wider audience. Released in 1990, “Love God” was fuelled by the trippy zeitgeist vibes of the Indie summer of love, which saw the release of The Rolling Stones’ cover of “I’m free”, which would become the band’s most successful hit single. Featuring an over-dub interlude by Reggae artist Junior Reid, “I’m Free” made it to number five in the charts and became the bands anthemic track, and an Indie club favourite for all the ravers across the UK, which along with Primal Scream, The Beloved, The Mock Turtles, The Farm and Candy Flip created a “Indie-dance” soundtrack of 1990, outside the prevalent Madchester scene. Along with the hit single “Mother Universe”, The Soup Dragons embraced the digital beats, garage-blues riffs, neo-psychedelic wahs of the new era, creating a gospeldelic celebratory sound. After two more albums, Hot Wired (1992) and Hydroponic (1994), The Soup Dragons called it a day in 1995, leading Sean Dickson to form the band The High Fidelity, and later become a successful International DJ touring across the globe.
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Ever since their debut single “Upside Down”, with the B-side cover of Syd Barrett’s “Vegetable Man” in 1985, The Jesus and Mary Chain have shuck up and challenged the perception of alternative rock, throwing their guitars out of the cosy cradle of mainstream music and unchaining its restraints. A radical and revolutionary band, The Jesus and Mary Chain have long had a reputation for noisemakers, whose early stage performances where fuelled by a lethal mix of nihilistic angst, amphetamines, youthful rebellion and punk ethos. It was during their infamous performances at the North London Poly on the 15th March 1985, and later at 9th September 1985, that carnage broke out, with sights of bottles thrown on stage and members of the audience fighting and wandering on stage, which fast-tracked their popularity and quickly gained them a love-hate relationship with the British press. Starting out with brothers Jim Reid on lead vocals/guitar, William Reid on guitar, Douglas Hart on bass and Murray Dalglish on drums, The Jesus and Mary Chain would later recruit Bobby Gillespie on drums, whose beats were introduced on the bands debut album Psychocandy. Released in 1985, Psychocandy was the perfect antidote to big haired rock and cheesy pop which was popular at the time and is still considered today as a seminal album and very much an Indie classic. Through the incendiary formula, distorted riffs, shrieks, garage fuzz, murky ambience and melancholic lyrics, Pschocandy is a tumultuous riot, a law to itself, an album which made waves, creating a seismic shift in the world of alternative rock.
As an album, Psychocandy benchmarks the raw rebellion, dark introspection, contrary protests, anti-social obstinance of the band, creating a stream of noise-punk, shoegazing, industrial, experimental rock that incorporated the influences of Einsturzende Neubauten, The Velvet Underground, The Ronettes and The Shangri- Las, whilst producing a unique and visceral carthasis. Although Gillespie’s contribution to Psychocandy proved invaluable, he left The Jesus and Mary Chain in 1986 to work on Primal Scream and was replaced on drums by John Moore in 1986, who then left in 1988 to form a variety of solo projects. Despite many a line–up change within The Jesus and Mary Chain, what has been consistent with the group has been the presence of Jim and William Reid, whose antagonistic and complex relationship has paradoxically been the driving force behind the band. Through their collective song writing, vocal contributions and innovative guitar reverberations, both Jim and William Reid have defined the distorted, authentic and raw sound of the band.
Despite the transition from Creation Records to Warner Music Group, and splitting up in 1999, The Jesus and Mary Chain reunited in 2007 and went on to make their seventh studio album, “Damage and Joy”, which was released on 24th March 2017. Although they have now mellowed from the antics of the early 80s, they have been consistently true to themselves, in terms of making music that has exorcised their demons, and remaining in Punk purgatory, screaming from the throes of Heaven and Hell.
Originally formed in 1982, Primal Scream started out as very much the laid-back jangly, pop-folk infused band, whose debut album “Sonic Flower Groove”, released 5th October 1997, received lacklustre reviews and only charted at number 62 in the UK album chart. With such disappointing success, some of the original members of the band left, resulting in Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Innes and Robert “Throb” Young having to recruit new members and reorganise and rethink their musical direction. Now with Phil Toman, or later known as Toby Toman, on drums (previously with The Nosebleeds,The Durutti Column etc), became a real asset to the band. However, despite his presence, Primal Scream’s second album “Primal Scream”, released 4th September 1989, again received poor record sales. Now signed to Creation Records, Primal Scream opted for a rockier sound, whose track “Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”, was later remixed and used on the breakthrough album Screamadelica.
Released on 23rd September 1991, Screamadelica, saw Primal Scream incorporate blues, gospel, dance and neo-psychelica and create an album which defined the acid-house generation and arguably one of the best albums ever produced in the 1990s. An album which is a trippy excursion into the underworld of the drug fuelled club scene, Screamadelica is an intoxicating mix of euphoric highs, whizzing whirls and fleeting melancholy. It’s a celebratory fusion of an array of genres, which effortlessly over-lap against Gillespie’s languid vocals and awakened by the uplifting backing vocals of Denise Johnson. It’s a Technicolour masterpiece, which liberates and reunites its brothers and sisters in a fuzzy, cosmic haven, that transcends a sense of belonging, lifting our vibe to find our tribe.
Following the success of Screamadelica, Primal Scream have gone on to make 8 more studio albums, nomadically wandering in and out of musical genres, escaping through spacey-interludes into some faraway place. From the bluesy rock, to synth-pop, upbeat dance, to brassy sassy soul, to infused funky jazz, Primal Scream have been a fully-fledged, experimental band, steeped in grass-root influences and whose multi-use of instruments from trumpets to horns, synths to farista organs, sitars to harmonica, have provided the eclectic backdrop for Gillespie’s unhinged vocals. Often emotionally raw, it’s through the vocals of Gillespie that Primal Scream convey its melancholy, and a portal into their hedonistic underworld. Along with the contributions of Denise Johnson, Kate Moss, George Clinton, Sky Ferreira and Haim, Primal Scream have been a consistent mix of nostalgic class and contemporary cool.
(R.I.P Robert “Throb” Young -19th November 1964 – 9th September 2014).
Teenage Superstars can be purchased via :