"Down the Forth, into the sea". Scottish Identity in Contemporary Pop Music and Poetry

Examination Thesis, 2012

97 Pages, Grade: 1,0



[1] A. Intro - “What is the Nation? Who is the Nation?”

B. Scottish Identity in Contemporary Pop Music and Poetry
B.l. “This is my House, this is my Home” - Scotland andthe Scottish inthe 2T‘Century
B.2. “Waverley Steps” - The Evolution ofMusic and Poetry
B.3. “Protect and Survive” - Traditional Scottish Music today
B.4. “Who's got a Match?” - Devolution and Economy during the Thatcher years and thereafter

B.4.1. Scotland the Brave?
B.5. “Say this to the quick stream: I am” - Identity and Scotland
B.6. “Cap in Hand”- Politics, Poetry and Music
B.7. “Why do Songs have Words?” - Contemporary Pop Music
B.7.1. Pop Music in Scotland
B.8. Muir/MacDiarmid/Morgan - The Evolution of Scottish 20th Century Poetry
B.9. “Throw the 'R' away” - Language and Dialect
B.10. “The Modem Leper” - Existence, Loneliness, Alienation, Home
B.ll. “I came infrom the Mountain - City vs. Countryside
B.ll.l. “The Glesga that I used to know”
B.11.2. “Taste the Coast”
B.12. “Why does it always rain on me?” - Scottish Weather
B.13. The State of the Nation - The Poetry of Douglas Dunn and Kathleen Jamie
B.14. Please explain your Poetry
B. 15. “Ballads of the Book” - The Collaboration of Music and Poetry

C. Outro - “Scottish Winds”



At the time I started working on a first version of this thesis in 2009, Scotland's political position in the United Kingdom was unaltered. Historical steps had been taken during the last few decades with the hitherto climax of devolution, the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, but Scotland's status as a member of the UK and its being politically bound to it was not put into question. The country had not yet been severely affected by the European economic crisis and there was no discussion on any further steps towards Scottish independence, even though the issue had never entirely disappeared from the country's agenda. Three years from then, however, the situation has changed fundamentally.

A referendum will be held in Scotland in 2014, promoted by the Scottish National Party SNP and its leader and First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. This has lead to a growing inquietude on the part of the British government as to whether the union will withstand from 2014 on (Carrell 2012). “I believe in the United Kingdom. I am a unionist head, heart and soul”, stressed David Cameron, the acting British Prime Minister, in a speech in the Scottish Parliament on the 16th of February 2012, and added: “Something very special is in danger, the ties that bind us in the place that we call home” (Cameron 2012). The reason for Cameron's rather emotional words in the Scottish Parliament show, how seriously the referendum is taken by the British government and how determined Britain's Prime Minister is to avoid Scottish independence. This development exemplifies the controversial role that Scotland has played ever since the Union Treaty in 1707, which unified the parliaments of Scotland and England. According to T.C. Smout, History Professor at St. Andrews University, this is why Scotland has become a “[...] famous enigma to students of nationalism” (Smout 1994).

The word 'devolution' seems to be on everyone's lips these days. Although the majority of the Scottish is not thoroughly determined to support Scottish independence, the SNP campaign could eventually bring absolute independence to Scotland. It is not a chimaera of a few traditionalists any more but an idea that could gain popularity and radically change Great Britain's and Europe's topology. As if to illustrate the wholeheartedness of Alex Salmond's endeavour, the British newspaper The Guardian launched an article on the 29th of February 2012, questioning the further existence of one of the most dignified British institutions with the headline: “How would the BBC be divided if Scotland became independent?” (Carrell 2012).

There is, however, another reason why David Cameron's speech is highly interesting. The prime minister quoted Scotland's greatest poet Robert Burns. Cameron is aware of the importance of Burns for the Scottish people. His song “For a' That, and a' That” was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and his poems are read and his songs are sung every 25th of January on Burns Supper throughout the whole country (Dickson 2009). Robert Burns, born in Ayrshire in 1759, is still worshipped by the Scottish people and poems like “Tam O' Shanter” and songs like “Auld Lang Syne” show how both poems and songs contextualise this country as much as hardly any other western nation. His work is entwined with Scotland to an extent that no poet before or after has managed to achieve and Cameron tried to convince the Scottish people to support the union by showing respect and appreciation for their greatest poet.

Eventually, the Scottish might say 'No' to full political independence in 2014 and remain within the union, but the referendum illustrates once more, that the struggle for identity and homerule will never entirely disappear from Scotland's political agenda. “Scotland is a political fiction, it has its varieties of place, people, temperaments, languages, its cities, landscapes, its business, its industry, its employed and unemployed, its rich and poor - it has everything except citizenship” (Dosa 2009, 66). The author Douglas Dunn highlights the dilemma Scotland has been facing ever since the union. Naturally, Scotland's political situation has an impact on how its citizens feel and it might be this notion of incompleteness that keeps driving Scottish artists on to create and perform.

In almost any Scottish poetry anthology, Scottish identity is highlighted and emphasised. In innumerable introductions, writers comment on this omnipresent leitmotif. Scotland's status as a nation struggling towards being a country in its own right has inspired them to comment and elaborate on how Scotland's political situation corresponds to its people and, hence, to its art. Especially poetry is constantly being observed towards its being a mirror of Scotland, whereas popular music has very seldom been the target of critics searching for Scottishness. The country is home to many of the most talented and successful bands and musicians of 20th century and 21st century pop music, like Midge Ure, Mark Knopfler, Annie Lennox, Simply Red, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Wet Wet Wet or Belle and Sebastian. I find it therefore worthwhile to extend the discussion on identity in Scottish art to include pop music and its lyrics as it contextualises Scotland just as much as poems do. Let us take, for instance, an excerpt from Biffy Clyro's song “Mountains”:

I am the mountain I am the sea

You can't take that away from me (Biffy Clyro 2009)[3]

and compare it to the lines of Claire Askew, one of the youngest voices in Scottish poetry, who wrote in her poem “I am the moon, and you are the man on me”:

Tonight, I am white and full. You are the man on me, and I am the moon.


We can hardly tell the difference between poem and song, for both of these extracts are graphic, tuneful and could either be written as poetry or song lyrics. There naturally are differences though. “Poems and novels address us in ways that demand identification, and identification works to create identity [...]”, says literary theorist Jonathan Culler (Culler 1997, 113). So by reading literature, we identify in some way with what we read, which eventually shapes our perception of the world. It does not imply though, that we identify with the author of that text. I can read and enjoy a poem by Robert Frost without knowing anything about the poet and even if I knew his biography in every detail, it would not necessarily mean that by identifying with his poem, I would have to identify with the person Robert Frost. The perception of poetry is therefore, in the majority of cases, different from the perception of music. Reading a poem means focusing on nothing but the words, their sound, their rhythm, their order. Listening to a song, however, is receiving already performed literature. The music, the voice, the arrangement, the intonation, the duration, all these elements have already been decided upon and are there to be perceived, thus nothing can be altered. Reading poetry, however, is to recreate words. There are exceptions of performed poetry in the increasingly popular Poetry Slams, but the voice of the poem, unlike in music, is the voice of the recipient and not the voice of the creator, because we, as recipients, are meant to recreate.

Music generally, pop music even more so, is therefore closely connected to the ones who perform it. Especially pop musicians are not artists only but they represent a genre, a style, and in that, in some cases, an attitude of a generation. We are attracted by music not only by the music itself, but also by the personalities of the ones performing. Adolescents tend to dress just like their idols do, for instance. Nevertheless, the message of pop and rock lyrics should not be underestimated. People want to be entertained and pop music is fulfilling this purpose. But it is certainly true that there have been pop songs with profound messages, songs like U2's “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” about the death of unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, or The Cranberries' antiwar hit “Zombie”, released in the turmoil of the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In this thesis, I am not going to draw clear boundaries between the two genres. I will deal with rock and pop lyrics as genuine pieces of literature and will try to analyse them in the same way as poems. Poetic schemes and structures are, however, occasionally not as important to pop songs as they are to poetry. But songs tell stories, stories of personal tragedies, joy, loneliness, alienation, home and love. And of course they also do so in Scottish pop and rock lyrics. It is therefore also within these songs, that we can find Scottishness. Pop songs mirror Scottish society and reflect its anxieties and spirit.

This thesis is meant to illustrate and discover Scotland within contemporary poems and songs, and show how Scotland is portrayed today. There can not be a holistic view on Scottish poetry and music. Every day artists contribute to this vibrant art scene. The poems and songs in this thesis can therefore only be a tiny part of what is literature and music in Scotland. They are a small piece in a puzzle which is too big and everchanging to be fully completed. I have chosen these texts and this decision can only be subjective. I have also mainly relied on short excerpts for reasons of length and extent, in some cases, however, I have studied texts as a whole. For their understanding I find it important and inevitable to also have a look at the whole picture of Scotland because poems and songs shape the nation, but Scotland also shapes those creative pieces of art in the first place. Bearing this in mind, Scotland's current situation - politically, socioculturally, and geographically - is worth to be taken into consideration. A more detailed analysis of contemporary poems and songs will be provided thereafter. In order to be able to approach and define certain patterns and leitmotifs, it is important to also have a look at Scotland's history because after all, Scotland's current situation is shaped by the Scotland of the past.

B. “AS YOU ARE” - Scottish Identity in Contemporary Pop Music and Poetry

B.l. “THIS IS MY HOUSE, THIS IS MY HOME” Scotland and the Scottish in the 21st Century

[4] [5] Scotland is a country forming the northernmost part of Great Britain with “[...] roughly five million inhabitants [...]” (Houston 2008, 75). The discrepancy between the northern part of Scotland and the southern part is tremendous and the gap between these two areas has widened due to industrialisation and the extension of the urban areas of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.

The development of towns and cities is a universal phenomenon; the extent of the resulting division between urban and rural areas and populations, a specific feature of a country. In Scotland, there is an extreme contrast between the Central Lowlands as the heartland of an urban belt crowded together, and, those 'extensive areas...with one person to the square mile' which prevail in almost any other part of the land (Malzahn 1984, 30).

The diversity of Scotland can be seen in its variety of languages and its structural and sociocultural differences. It is no wonder then that a great number of poems and songs deal with city life or rural Scotland and their contrast. The perception of Scotland as a whole, however, is controversial, even among the Scots, as an anecdote of writer Alan Bissett shows: “When I was growing up, I didn’t even realize I lived in Scotland. At the age of four, I asked my dad if he would take me and my brother on holiday there” (Bissett 2002, 21-23). The Scotland Bisset knew as a child did not have anything to do with the Scotland of kilts and bagpipes, a romantic image of the country, that did not seem to correspond to what it was actually like. “What would people coming to see the Loch Ness Monster think when they found this!”, adds Bissett. However, the Scottish people still seem to inherit some kind of national pride and belonging, which is forthrightly connected to Scotland.

“In 2004, around threequarters of Scots felt 'exclusively' or 'mainly' Scottish, a significantly higher proportion than the equivalent measures in England and Wales. These 'Scottish' loyalties are especially common among the younger generation” (Devine 2006, 661). This does not necessarily mean that the majority of Scots want political independence, but it shows to what extent the Scottish identify with Scotland rather than Great Britain. Kevin Williamson depicts how many people feel today about the situation of their country: “I grit my teeth with resentment whenever I’m forced to put the letters U and K into any little box beside the word ‘Nationality’” (Williamson 2002, 284-286).

Scotland is a complex country in many aspects of society. “Religion is an identity, that has, in its day, powerfully united and powerfully divided Scots” (Smout 1994), and to this day, sectarianism divides and unites the Scottish. This can be best seen at the 'Old Firm', the football match between Celtic Glasgow and Glasgow Rangers. Their rivalry is not only based on their being the best teams in Scotland, but also because Celtic Glasgow is the team founded by Catholic immigrants from Ireland, whereas Glasgow Rangers is traditionally the team of Protestant Unionists. There is a special atmosphere in Glasgow whenever there is an 'Old Firm' match and every game is started with eleven players on each side, but hardly ever ended with just as many which exemplifies how fervid this derby is - almost always, one of the players gets sent off. Wearing an orange football shirt from the Netherlands can become a political statement in Scotland due to William of Orange and the Battle of the Boyne which dates back more than two hundred years. When it comes to the Scottish national team, however, things look different and Scottish teams in rugby or football are passionately supported as well as any team playing against England. T.C. Smout, Professor of History, explains the meaning of sports in Scotland and that, in spite of all the rivalry within Scotland, when it comes to representing the country in the world, it serves “[...] to reinforce a national Scottish identity and to distinguish it from, and oppose it to, a British identity” (Smout 1994).

Let our threevoiced country sing out in a new world, are the lines of poet and writer Ian Crichton Smith, which he exclusively wrote for the inauguration of the

Scottish Parliament, and which are now engraved into the pavement in front of the Writer's Museum in Edinburgh. Scotland is not only a country of different dialects but first and foremost of three different languages, Scot, English and Gaelic. This means that when Scotland's society is multilingual, this is also true for its literature. Although there still seems to exist a notion that “[...] to be a Gaelic Scot is to be quintessentially Scottish” (Smout 1994), the weakening status of Scots and Gaelic as spoken languages in 21st century Scotland is clearly visible. Pop music today is hardly ever sung in a different language than English. And so is the majority of modern Scottish poetry, although one should not underestimate the meaning of poetry in Gaelic and Scots. Hugh MacDiarmid and Robert Burns were two very important poets to promote Scots in literature. The success of Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting, written in the 1990s, is an example for Scots language in modern literature and for the will of the Scottish people to preserve it. Every poetry anthology contains both poems in Gaelic and in Scots for they represent the country just as much as English poems. Today, BBC Alba is a TV channel whose entire programme is in Gaelic. Many poems are still published in Scots or Gaelic. But it is also true that the dominating language in all the artistic endeavours in Scotland is English and I shall therefore mainly focus on poems and songs written in English.


[6] The Evolution of Music and Poetry

“A ballad does not exist unless and until it is performed” stressed Joshua Dickson, Head of Scottish Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, when I met him in Glasgow to talk with him about Scottish music (Dickson 2011). This seems to count for both poetry and music. It also points back to the very beginning of poetry and music at a time, where stories were passed on by being sung, and when a song must have meant the world to the people of a rural country like Scotland. According to Norman Blake, singer of one of the most popular Scottish bands Teenage Fanclub, Scotland's being a country of such great music today, is because of the ballads and songs of the past, which were recollected and passed on: “[...] That's down to storytelling and illiteracy. The only way of telling a story was singing, so that they could remember it, and then singing it to somebody else. Pass it on. This is partly the reason why Scotland has a musical history” (Blake 2011). The passing on of poetry and music to the following generation started many centuries ago. If we trace Scottish music and poetry back to the 12th century, Dickson speaks about the “[...] functionality [...]” of music, when weavers, crofters and fishermen got together and sang songs about “[...] epic themes oflove and treachery and labour, but also to do with the sheer hard grind of life”, and that is why Dickson speaks of the songs as “[...] historical records [...]” and “[...] artefacts [...]”. They tell us something about the life of the people from Scotland in past times. “The music is there to tell a story, to express a voice that would not otherwise ordinarily be heard”, adds Dickson. Today many contemporary artists approach music in just the same way, to express themselves and speak out, but also to perform and allow people to join their music. A modern pop or rock concert still means that people gather to share and enjoy music together.

“In generations past, one's experience of traditional music would have been very participatory. If you weren't telling a story, or singing a song or playing a tune, then you were listening to the story or dancing to the music”, is how Dickson explains, why music has gained such an importance throughout the centuries (Dickson 2011). There has always been a story worth being told. Robert Burns plays a role in this context again. “In 1787 he travelled in the Highlands and the Borders, collecting tunes and words. He viewed these contributions as his patriotic duty and so accepted no fee, although he continued to publish work of his own” (Introduction anon. [1946] 1996). So Burns helped saving those ballads from being lost and forgotten and led the way, among others, to an enduring appreciation for music and poetry in this country. The musical and literary history can be seen as an important reason for why artistic endeavour is still valued in Scotland.


[7] Traditional Scottish Music today

There have always been new trends and different movements in music and poetry, which have altered the face of art in Scotland.

Traditional music, however, has always played a very important role and is likely to survive current trends as well as developments in the future. Traditional music, very often considered as 'folk', is still popular in the country. The band Scocha for example create their own sound by mixing traditional style with modern rock influences. Among the most wellknown performers of this genre is the band Runrig, who are popular for “[...] their intense, vibrant songs, many in Gaelic” (Houston 2008, 144).

Not only long established bands are expressing themselves through traditional music, but young musicians like Roddy Woomble or Kris Drever have revived this genre. Only through young musicians, who follow opened paths, a genre can survive. According to Joshua Dickson, “[...] the current popularity of what many call 'folk music' or 'folk song' in Scotland stems in large part from the emergence of the folk song revival of the 1950s, the father of which was Hamish Henderson [...]” (Dickson 2009). This obviously led to the popularity of a great amount of musicians and bands from the 1970s onward.

“Traditional music has a place in contemporary Scotland but its functions have ever so slightly changed to suit modern tastes and lifestyles” (Dickson 2011). Idlewild for example create modern rock and pop music. As a solo artist, Roddy Woomble the singer, however, lays his emphasis on traditional music:

My solo work and work with Idlewild always has Scotland at it's core, in terms of being honest. I'm interested in the truth, and truthful descriptions in songs. With the band I tend to work in a more vague territory, but on my own I like to write songs about fishing boats, and beachcombers in the 17th century. Things that an Idlewild fan might not necessarily enjoy! (Woomble 2009).

So traditional Scottish music has not only managed to survive in Ceilidhs, as events for traditional singing and dancing are called throughout the country.

“[...] Music is seen in Scotland as, in the main, a unifying and communifying force says Joshua Dickson, mentioning Sheena Wellington’s contribution at the inauguration of the parliament at which she sang Robert Bums' song: “[...] it was a statement on the common experience and values shared by a people” (Dickson 2009). The history of Scotland has supported the meaning of music and the tradition of music and poetry builds the framework for contemporary and future poems and songs.


[8] Devolution and Economy during the Thatcher years and thereafter Scotland has, for centuries, been politically dependent on England, but has always maintained certain traits which define Scottish culture, separating and distinguishing the Scottish from the rest of the United Kingdom. The controversy of a nation with its own traditions, languages and customs, which is at the same time politically and economically dependent on another country, can also be spotted in the attitude of Scots towards the English and vice versa.

Scotland has to break out of this straitjacket and speak to the world with its authentic voice. For this to happen we need more mature relationship with the English. It is true, no matter how unpalatable it is to some, that as Scotland has become more Scottish, it has also become more anti- English (Hassan 2002, 94-96).

This is an interesting point of writer Gerry Hassan and it shows that Scotland has to be aware that promoting Scottish independence may have the side effect of a growing anti-English atmosphere among the Scots or similar feelings of the English towards the Scottish.

The controversial and complicated relationship with England has shaped Scottish politics ever since. After the disastrous Second World War, Britain’s population had to face severe problems and the economy was in decline. Scotland, although not having had to suffer such ferocious attacks as many English cities, was also facing troubled times after the war. It was in the 1960s and 1970s, when Scottish politics changed profoundly and led the way to turbulent years. In the elections in 1970, the Scottish National Party managed to double their vote and impressively showed the whole population of the UK that devolution and Scottish independence were sooner or later going to play an important role in Scottish politics again. Voting for the SNP, however, did not always signify voting for independence.

A vote for the SNP came to be regarded as an act of protest, a manifestation of Scottish discontent about government policy rather than a commitment to Scottish independence. All the opinion polls confirmed that only a small minority of those who actually supported the party in elections wished to see Scotland separated from the United Kingdom (Devine 2006, 575).

The Scottish expressed their anger and frustration at the polling stations, but independence was far away from being realised. “Few Scots, even at the height of the party’s electoral popularity in 1974, wished to break the union but sought to improve it to Scottish advantage” (Devine 2006, 577). On the one hand many Scots may have wished for an independent Scotland but on the other hand, economic crisis and instability did not increase the people’s trust in politicians, let alone political independence for a fairly small nation in times ofinconsistency and doubt. In 1971, Scotland had the highest unemployment rate in western Europe (Devine 2006, 585). By the end of the 1970s, Scottish nationalist sought to let the Scots decide whether they wanted devolution to be pushed forward which led to a historic referendum in 1979, known as The Scotland Act. The referendum, however, turned out to be a backlash for the supporters of Scottish independence. The Scotland Act showed how “[...] hopelessly divided [...]” Scots were on this issue, as even “[...]less than a third of the electorate had actually voted for the most important constitutional change in Scotland’s history since the union of 1707 [...]” (Devine 2006, 587f.). Yet Westminster had controversially required, that the approval should be at least by 40% of the total registered electorate, instead of a mere majority, which upset the supporters. In the following years, “Scottish opposition to Thatcherism went much deeper than simple hostility to an unpopular government”, which was intensified by a centralisation of power and the poll tax riots in the 1980s (Devine 2006, 606). Douglas Gifford summarizes the consequences of the stranded referendum for Scotland's art:

Something changed in contemporary Scottish literature. Somewhere in the '80s a new mood, and a new perspective, entered into the work of novelists, poets and dramatists^..]. By thethe '90sthe moods and possibilities of the fiction had changed profoundly. An eclectic restlessness was linked to the need to find a fresh startingpoint, or to find different aspects of Scottish tradition as inspiration (McGuire. 2009, 18).

Scotland's economy was facing profound changes, branches like shipbuilding and other industries lost their importance, and jobs were created in other sectors. Scotland's economic revolution cut in half the number of people working in the manufacturing sector from the 1980s to the 1990s, whereas tourism and the service sector became increasingly important (Devine 2006, 594). It also led to a widening of the gap between the poorer north and the industrial south.

The disappointment due to the political development in Scotland, however, “[...] helped energise writers, intellectuals, artists and critics through the 1980s and 1990s in producing work which took as its emphatic gravitational centre the various locations and identities that comprise the nation of Scotland” (Riach 2009, 8-21).

Eventually, the reopening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 was a new milestone in Scottish history as the first devolved parliament in Scotland since 1707. One has to bear in mind though, that the ongoing debate on Scottish independence is based on the fact that it can “[...] not legislate on 'reserved matters' like defence or any aspect of foreign policy, including formal relationships with the EU. These are for Westminster alone” (Houston 2008, 37). It goes without saying that the Thatcher years, the economic transition and the inauguration of the parliament at last, have had huge influence on Scotland and are likely to shape the country for decades to come in its surface, but most profoundly through the people's memories and experiences.

B.4.1. Scotland the Brave?

The history of the country has formed the Scotland of today, politically and socioculturally.

All the key myths involve clash with England or 'English' values; all but one are tragedies and defeats from the Scottish side; Scotland is, however, always Scotland the brave. It is a tale operating to infuse a sense of Scottish pride with a concomitant sense of the inevitability of Scottish political failure (Smout 1994).

It is a romantic image, however, of the ever oppressed people, the underdogs, who just want to run their own business and live peacefully without having to suffer from their allegedly overpowering neighbour England. But there are more sides to Scotland today, it is an immigration country, facing severe problems such as unemployment, racism and poverty. “Scotland for too long viewed itself as the ‘victim’ and collectively has denied its past, its roots, its exploitative history as part and parcel of the British Empire”, Selma Rahman explains when remembering her own childhood in Scotland (Rahman 2002, 220-222). Another Scottish woman, Robina Qureshi, born and brought up in Glasgow to Pakistani immigrants, explains the situation immigrants have to face in Scotland: “Things have not really changed and nowhere is this more evident than with the way refugee communities are being treated, being segregated into housing that absolutely no one else wants to live in, facing epidemic levels of racist attacks and then being criminalised by society“ (Qureshi 2002, 217-219). So to see the country just as the romantic and brave Scotland, conjured up by writers like Sir Walter Scott, is to deny the different problems the nation is facing as a 21st century country and to deny Scotland's past as an active part of the British Empire. It is needless to say that Scotland has benefited from the union, its financial and economic strength, and it has been protected by its political force. It is therefore not clear at all, whether independence would actually improve Scotland's situation from a mere practical and economic point of view. It is very often through the artists' lense that we can see a different Scotland.

B.5. “SAY THIS TO THE QUICK STREAM: I AM” Identity and Scotland

[9] What is national identity? What is cultural identity? How do the Scottish really think about their country then?

Of course, national and cultural identity is shaped by a unification of many different factors such as the history of a country, its language, its traditions and its religions.

There are, of course, those who would deny there is any common identity possible in Scotland, a small country of quite exceptional regional and cultural diversity. How can a person in the Outer Hebrides, speaking Gaelic, crofting, a member of the Free Church, have a common identity with a person in Glasgow, speaking a Lowland dialect, working as a software engineer, a follower of no religion save Rangers football club? That is to misunderstand the point, and to assume that we have but one identity (Smout 1994).

The quest for the Scottish identity in music, poetry or in any other artistic endeavour whatsoever is therefore in vain. If we widen our perspective and try to look at a bigger picture of Scottish art, however, there are certain traits and patterns that speak for the existence of Scottishness in many different kinds of ways.

‘Scottishness’, ‘Frenchness’, or ‘Germanness’, are seen as subliminal entities, beyond geography and history, immanent yet compelling, demanding realization in concrete political and cultural terms. Musicians and artists, but especially writers, carry out their function adequately in so far as they manage to give expression to that entity (Whyte 2004, 10).

Whyte speaks of the function of writers and one might feel tempted to raise the question: Is there a function of writers? Whyte's statement does show, though, that artists give expression to that entity in some kind of way. T.S. Eliot, one of the most important poets of 20th century poetry in the English language, wrote in his famous essay The Social Function of Poetry, that poetry is always “[...] the communication of some new experience, or some fresh understanding of the familiar, or the expression of something we have experienced but have no words for, which enlarges our consciousness or refines our responsibility”, claiming that poetry “[...] actually makes a difference to the society as a whole” (Eliot [1943] 1945, 18). As a matter of fact, a poet like Eliot is unlikely to be eagerly trying to diminish the meaning of poetry. But it seems true that Scottish poetry is fundamental to the Scottish people. Scotland as a nation with a turbulent history, a nation with problems of sectarianism, a former emigration now immigration country with three different languages, that carries the question of identity within its soul, has been the home of innumerable writers and musicians. Is it presumptuous then, to assume that there is a connection between the productivity of Scotland's writers and musicians and the circumstances they are encountering in their home country? Scotland's legacy of music and poetry is astonishing, regardless of what may have been their inspiration. The country is globally famous for its energetic poetry and acclaimed music. Robert Burns, Hugh MacDiarmid, John Burnside, Liz Lochhead, Carol Ann Duffy, Edwin Morgan are poets who are read and recited worldwide and so have bands and musicians such as Franz Ferdinand, Annie Lennox, Amy MacDonald, Paolo Nutini, Travis, Del Amitri or Belle and Sebastian managed to tour the world and promote their music successfully.

“Of all the collective identities in which human beings share today, national identity is perhaps the most fundamental and inclusive”, says Anthony Smith in his work National Identity, later describing national identity as being “[...] pervasive [...]” (Smith 1991, 143). So according to his view, there is no way to escape national identity or to say that it does not affect oneself. We all carry national identity within ourselves and so do poets and musicians. So when it comes to selfexpression in art and the writing of verses and lyrics, no other way of approaching a blank sheet of paper could be more likely than to start from how we perceive the world and that is, in the vast majority of cases, what we have experienced in our home country. The land that brought you up taught you the most sing Admiral Fallow quite tellingly in their song “Taste the Coast”. This seems like a good starting point to me.

To get further insights into Scottish popular music, I met Louis Abbott at the King's Rest, a pub in the westend of Glasgow. The reason why we met on this September evening is because I want to find out why Scottish music has become so influential, why Scotland seems to produce bands and musicians on an almost daily basis and why this comparatively small country seems to have the finger on the pulse on contemporary music and poetry as hardly any other European nation has.

Abbott is the singer and songwriter of one of those many examples for Scottish talent in today's music. His band Admiral Fallow has earned praises of many critics, their first album was funded by the Scottish Arts Council and at the time of our conversation in autumn 2011, Admiral Fallow had just come back from a tour in the United States. I confront him with my rather ambitious questions about Scottish music. “Well, let me ask you to help me answer these questions. How did you get word of so many Scottish bands?”, Abbott answers. He stirs his coffee. In the cellar of this very pub, bands like Glasvegas, Frightened Rabbit and other now famous Scottish bands have played some of their first gigs. It is a small venue, perfect for young bands that want to try their luck in one of Europe's cultural metropolises .Admiral Fallow have played here before, of course.

I tell Abbott about my personal motivation to write this thesis. Of the incredibly interesting poetry in Scotland, which I had come across during my studies at university, of the affluent music in Scotland and of my mp3-player which contains many Scottish bands, a nation of roughly 5 million inhabitants, and no band whatsoever from where I am from, Bavaria, South Germany, with roughly 12 million inhabitants.

Louis Abbott hesitates a bit as if he is not quite sure where this interview will lead to and what exactly that German student in front of him is actually trying to achieve with this conversation. “We're not a big band even in our own country but the fact that we have been able to tour with some other Scottish bands has perhaps helped people realize that we exist” (Abbott 2011). Abbott grew up in Edinburgh and moved to Glasgow when he was 18 years old. He speaks with a broad Scottish accent. I wonder why so many Scottish bands feel free to sing with a broad Scottish accent and think about bands that I used to listen to in the 1990s : Travis, Belle and Sebastian, Del Amitri, Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet - no Scottish accent. “[...] In terms of the accent thing: that is quite a relatively new thing, but there have been folk doing it”, says Abbott, “[...] People realized it's OK to do that and are feeling comfortable to do it and a lot of the newer Scottish bands do do it and some of them kind of overdo it [...]. For me it was something that felt really natural, just when I started writing songs”. And it seems true that today, it is perfectly natural for young bands to sing with a strong Scottish accent as bands like We Were Promised Jetpacks, Glasvegas, The Twilight Sad or There 'Will Be Fireworks show. It seems as if times have changed fundamentally during the last two or three decades in which bands like The Proclaimers were one of the very few who refused to change the way they speak in order to have mass appeal and dedicated their song “Throw the 'R' away” to their Scottish dialect.

Louis Abbott is lead singer, songwriter, guitarist, he writes the lyrics of Admiral Fallow and although his voice tells you right after the first lines that his band must be Scottish, it seems as if he was not too bothered by Scotland and its situation.

In an article published in The Guardian, former Belle and Sebastian member Isobel Campbell states: “To be honest, I really don't care about Scottish music - only good music. That is my passion. That is what moves and inspires and heals. And I never feel especially Scottish. I feel more like a citizen of the world“ (Campbell 2008).


10 Politics, Poetry and Music

It is true then, that there are many artists in Scotland who just want to express themselves and create and contribute something to the Scottish art's scene while at the same time trying not to become an instrument of some kind of movement. Many young artists just want to 'do their own thing' without carrying any second thoughts on Scottish politics. It is also true though, that Scotland is a huge influence for contemporary artists.

Should we assume that the poetry written during the same period will automatically fall into a coherent narrative pattern echoing that process? That individual poems will act like iron filings, leaping into place when the appropriate magnet (the appropriate historical or political narrative) is applied beneath the paper they are scattered across? How realistic is it to expect that, if we were to bring together the most significant works of Scottish poetry from the last sixty years, they would dutifully reflect a growing desire for and progress towards national autonomy? (Whyte 2004, 7).

What writer Christopher Whyte mentions here is essential for the search for identity in all kinds of artistic production. It is quite tempting to break Scottish literature or music down to the expression of identity or its very absence. According to Whyte, the relation between political incidents and poetry written at the time, however, should be seen as “[...] agnostic [...]” (Whyte 2004, 8). This means that every poem written during a time of profound changes of the poet’s environment can, but does not necessarily foreground political events.

No poet or musician would deny that he or she is, in composing, somehow influenced by his or her national background, but it is a different thing to actually verbalise this relation in art. How can we find genuine Scottishness then?

Poetry is often cryptic and hardly accessible in its meaning and poets play with expectations of the recipients and to read a poem in but one way is to underestimate the power of poetry. Edwin Morgan, one of the most influential Scottish poets of the 20th century claims, that apparently “[...] you do certain things because you are Scottish” (Walker 1977, 20). Morgan admits that Scotland is a popular muse for artists, which influences and inspires them, and wonders whether

[...] someone who is living in an unsatisfactory and unfinished environment will feel pressure within himself to keep writing about it in some kind of way, but hopefully not in ways that force him to write against his own grain. My own grain is much more open and flexible (Walker 1977, 21).

It is, however, important to say that Morgan uttered these lines in the 1970s and would not necessarily agree with it today if he was still alive. Nevertheless, Morgan says that Scotland is an important element of poems and songs. It is however also true that what artists actually want to produce is art. This might sound oversimplified but it just lays the focus on art itself, rather than its message, 'Art for art's sake', as it were. The poet Robert Crawford explains the very quintessence of this issue: “You are undeniably a Scottish poet but you may or may not choose or be chosen to write about Scotland” (Dosa 2009, 89).

In fine, it is in many cases comprehensible and truly advisable to have a look at poems within their cultural and social background, but it has to be made clear that poems are meant to speak for themselves. In an article on Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, Leah Fritz beautifully depicts: “Indeed, whatever pressures society imposes on artists to compete, the work of art itself, although influenced by its context in time and space, is ultimately as indifferent as a natural object to its putative place in a cultural hierarchy” (Fritz 2002). There are those artists who want to portray Scotland in some kind of way and there are those who use their art as a tool. Many artists feel the urge to promote independence through their work.

Ricky Ross is one of these musicians who clearly show their attitude towards political issues. He participates in a movement called Artists for Independence. Ross, member of the very popular Scottish pop band Deacon Blue, wants to “[...] get some energy back into what is a key issue in Scottish life at the moment. Basically, people at the moment are thinking of independence, are thinking of some kind of home rule for the country”. In Ross’ eyes, people should “[...] start talking [...]” and no longer leave political issues to politicians only. Ricky Ross overtly shows what he stands for, a musician who wants independence and who is willing to promote that idea (Ross 1992).

Popular artists are very much welcomed by politicians to promote independence because they reach many people and if people listen to their music, so the idea, they also listen to what they have to say on politics. Pat Kane, another Scottish musician, even claims that artists “[...] have become representatives of people’s feelings on Scottishness, perhaps in a more profound way than politicians have been representative” (Kane 1992). The Proclaimers have produced a world pop hit with their song "I'm gonna Be (500 miles)". They are also known for their strong connection to Scotland which can be seen in various songs of the band, mostly sung with a strong Scottish accent. "Cap in Hand" is probably the most overt reference to Scotland and the union.

But I can't understand why we let someone else rule our land We're Cap in Hand

We fight - when they ask us We boast - then we cower We beg For a piece of Whats already ours Although England is never explicitly mentioned, it becomes quite clear that the song is referring to Scotland's situation within the union. The repetition of We in nearly every line of this excerpt functions,just like an anaphora in poetry verse, as a means of intensifying and emphasising. In this case, it is there to create a sense of unity. This is an example of the sometimes straightforward commitment to political, or rather national issues. Of course many poets support the idea of an independent Scotland too, and refer to it in their works, like Douglas Dunn in "Empires":


[1] Quotation in the title taken from “Floating in the Forth” by Frightened Rabbit.

[2] Freely adapted fromSmith,1991.

[3] Further quotations in this paper will be justified, extracts from poems and songs, however, leftjustified in order to maintain the original form.

[4] Songtitle on TheMan Who by Travis.

[5] Songtitle on These Four Walls by We Were Promised Jetpacks.

[6] Extract of Don Paterson's poem “Being” (SPL)

[7] Songtitle on Cutter and the Clan by Runring.

[8] Songtitle on Puzzle by Biffy Clyro

[9] Extect of Don Paterson's poem "Being" (SPL)

[10] Songtitle on Sunshine on Leith by The Proclaimers.

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"Down the Forth, into the sea". Scottish Identity in Contemporary Pop Music and Poetry
LMU Munich  (Anglistik)
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poetry, pop, scotland, identity, devolution, independence
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Sebastian Inderst (Author), 2012, "Down the Forth, into the sea". Scottish Identity in Contemporary Pop Music and Poetry, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/207172


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