Scotland is a very small country.
Five million people.
It really only has one city worthy of the name and that’s the sprawling, vibrant, mess and mass of contradictions that is Glasgow, which makes up over a fifth of the countries population on its own. Out of that population has come more creativity, art, music, style, literature and more than many other cities with much larger numbers.
Skip through any record collection and you will find something from a band made up of Glaswegians or formed by people who met in the city. Altered Images, Aztec Camera, Belle & Sebastian, The Bluebells, The Blue Nile, Chvrches, Del Amitri, Franz Ferdinand, Horse, Jesus and Mary Chain, Love and Money, Mogwai, Orange Juice, The Pastels, Primal Scream, The Silencers, Simple Minds, Travis…I’m scratching the surface.
One name is missing from that list.
A band who are adored by those who know the name.
A band with more soul, heart, pop and style than any one of their contemporaries.
A band responsible for, arguably, one of the finest albums ever released by a Scottish band.
In 1986 they released their eponymous debut album and crashed into the consciousness of listeners both here and the USA. They were formed by former Altered Images bassist Johnny McElhone (who later went on to form Texas) but were really the love child of frontman Graham Skinner and guitarist Pim Jones.
The single “The Honeythief” was a top 20 hit both here and in the U.S. which is quite the achievement when one considers how many much better known bands have never “cracked” the American market.
That initial burst of success didn’t last and by the time they managed to release the follow up to “Hipsway” in 1989, “Scratch the Surface”, the band were over. Few people would even have noticed at the time. But as the years passed the power of that debut record began to reveal itself…
I was given a copy of “Hipsway” on a tape in 1989. I was 16 and by the time I popped it into my tape deck the people responsible for what I was listening to were no longer a band. I listened to that album over and over and over again. Truthfully I’ve never stopped listening to it. First that tape, then a CD and now, as a middle aged man in the middle of a middle class mid-life crisis, I own it on vinyl and listen to it the way it was originally intended to be.
On the 30th anniversary of its release a deluxe reissue was presented to the world. The renewal of interest planted a thought in the minds of Skinner and Pim; “Could we? Should we?” They decided that they could and that they should. A few sold out live shows in sold out venues confirmed that this was a band that still had followers and suggested that while they had a past, they might also have a future.
A year after those shows and I’m inside the Queens Hall in Edinburgh waiting for a moment I never really believed would come, the chance to see Hipsway in concert. The crowd is full of people like me, people who fell in love with a band and never fell out of love with them. Hairlines have receded…waistlines have expanded, at least for the men. The women look exactly the same, some great haircuts, lots of Glasgow indie girl/woman chic.
It is easily one of the best concerts I’ve attended. Skinner has a voice that comes straight from his soul and forces itself deep into your heart. It is deep, rich, pure and true. Pim provides the sort of licks, grooves and riffs that would have Niles Rodgers looking nervously over his shoulder.
The set provides everything you would want to hear from “Hipsway” with “The Honeythief”, “Tinder”, “Ask the Lord” and “The Broken Years” just some of the songs that have the audience dancing, clapping, singing and roaring with delight. Cuts from “Scratch the Surface”, Skinners other project Witness and a glorious cover version of The Blue Nile classic “Tinseltown in the Rain” make it a night that will live long in the memory. However, what really sets this day apart is the presence of a new song…”New York Days”, which sounds exactly like Hipsway and suggests that this is not just a celebration of the past but a stepping stone to the future.