For a small country, geographically and in terms of its population, Scotland has long punched way above its weight in popular culture…if you want artists, poets, designers, authors, film makers or any number of other creatives then the soil North of Hadrian’s Wall is fertile. But it is in the world of pop music that Scotland has really reached heights that transcend the narrow borders of the country itself…seriously, there are more incredible bands per head of population than any other country of comparable size.
Altered Images, Arab Strap, Average White Band, Aztec Camera, Belle and Sebastian, Big Dish, Bis, Beta Band, BMX Bandits, Blue Nile, Camera Obscura, Chvrches, Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice, Del Amitri, Delgados, Billy Drummond (KLF), Eugenius (Captain America), The Exploited, Fire Engines, Franz Ferdinand, Geneva, Gyres, Hipsway, Horse, Hue and Cry, Idlewild, Jesus and Mary Chain, Josef K, King Creosote, Annie Lennox, Love and Money, Lulu, Billy MacKenzie (The Associates), Shirley Manson (Garbage), Mogwai, Paulo Nutini, Pastels, Primal Scream, Monica Queen, Shamen, Shop Assistants, Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat/The Communards), Teenage Fanclub, Travis, Thrum, Twilight Sad, Ultravox, Urusei Yatsura, Vaselines, Wet Wet Wet, Young Fathers…and those two blokes in glasses who support the team from Edinburgh that I don’t.
That is quite the list.
Some of those you will know, some you won’t…some you will deem worthy of ridicule…but each of them has secured fame on a worldwide scale at some level or another and each of them has been responsible for music that has made people smile, dance, embrace one another and sing along in ways that the likes of you and I can only dream of.
Johnny McElhone was in two of the bands on that list in the first part of the eighties; Altered Images and Hipsway. Both of those bands sit comfortably in my list of favourite bands of all time. He is, to be blunt, a bit of a genius is Johnny. When he left Hipsway most people probably thought he was mad…they were on the verge, it seemed, of becoming a very big deal. Johnny though had other things on his mind. Specifically he had, what would become, Texas on his mind.
Sharleen Spiteri was working in the Irvine Rusk hairdressing salon when she first started to perform with McElhone as Texas. She was the perfect front woman…stylish, a roll call of influences that trumps any attempt you might craft to make yourself appear hipper than you really are with The Clash, Blondie, Prince and Diana Ross all high on hers. It helped that she could sing too…really sing, a rich, warm, sensual, soulful voice.
In 1989 they released their debut single “I Don’t Want a Lover”. It was a huge hit. The first time I heard it was when they appeared on Top of the Pops. I already knew who Johnny McElhone was because our upstairs neighbours, who was, like Spiteri, a hairdresser, had given me a couple of tapes with the first Hipsway album and “Pinky Blue” by Altered Images on them. I could hear Hipsway in this new venture but it wasn’t the music that grabbed the attention of the 16 year old me…it was Sharleen.
There was a girl, the big sister of my first girlfriend, from Glasgow who looked a bit like Spiteri…she had beautiful black hair, was never without red lipstick, pale skinned, impeccably dressed. Long before I fell for her little sister I had fallen for her from afar. You would see her at Church social events and be utterly mesmerised…she was the coolest person in the room and every boy there was besotted by her. Even after I fell for her little sister I would find myself feeling a bit peculiar whenever she walked into the room.
Watching her on Top of the Pops I fell head over heels in love.
The following Sunday I sat hunched over the record button on my tape deck…ready to capture “I Don’t Want a Lover” so that I could hear her whenever I wanted. That turned out to be almost constantly for about a fortnight. What was interesting about that was that soon enough the love (fine, lust/obsession) soon gave way to something else…admiration. This was pop music but it was more soulful, warmer, passionate than the usual Stock Aitken and Waterman fluff that was cluttering up the charts. Texas were a real band, playing real instruments, crafting real songs and they were doing all of that with no little style.
That Christmas I asked for their debut album, “Southside”, and played it incessantly for months afterwards. I could hear all sorts of things in the songs…country music, soul, blues and pop. Nearly thirty years later it is a record that still stands up to repeat listening. But it is “I Don’t Want a Lover” that captured my heart on that Thursday night in my parents sitting room…
It was Sharleen who captured my heart.