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One Singer, One Song

Way back in 1990, when Glasgow was declared the European City of Culture, it was good news for me on a couple of levels. 

Firstly, it meant the pubs and clubs opened earlier and longer. But more importantly, as a comedy writer working on the BBC Scotland show Naked Radio, it gave me tons of opportunities for making cheap, "Glasgow, Culture?" jokes.

Like the two culturally enlightened Glasgow neds who had a barney about who best interpreted the intricate aria Di Quella Pira from the opera Il Trovatore – Placido Domingo or Luciano Pavarotti.

Unable to agree, one eventually banjoes the other with a wine bottle. "That's no' very cultural Tam," says the stricken one.  "Aw come on," says the other, "that bottle was a Nuits-Saint George 67..."

Culture, jokes aside, is definitely a good thing.  I defy anyone not to be deeply, emotionally moved by a visit to Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum, especially as the light fades on a frosty winter's afternoon. 

Some of the stuff they have there can scare the hell out of you: the creepy stuffed animals, the evocative organ music, Dali's painting Christ of St John of the Cross and of course, having to pay a fiver for a fruit scone in the cafe.

But when it comes to museums, my all-time favourite is the People's Palace in Glasgow Green.  I think this is because the PP displays stuff which is culturally important even though it has no real financial value.

Culture to my mind is not only about great works of art and music but should also encapsulate a nation or people's history, behaviour, beliefs and struggles. So for me, Dali's magnificent painting is no more or less culturally valid than the re-creation of the 1950s Glasgow tenement kitchen exhibited in the People's Palace.

One of the great sneering criticisms of Australia is that, as a "new" country, it has no inherent culture.  This is bogus since the culture of the original Australians, the indigenous peoples, is among the oldest, most spiritual, diverse and profound in the history of the world.

Modern Australian culture on the other hand, sucks. 

No doubt you're one the many millions in Scotland who's currently tuning into The Voice, the latest TV talent show which offers the opportunity of a lifetime to half-decent chanters across the country.

Guess what?  It's pulling in the viewers in Oz too, beating the bejesus out of Australia's Got Talent on the other side. Which is a good thing, but only in the same perverse way that even non-violent individuals like myself would derive intense pleasure from seeing the execrable Ant and Dec engaged in a prolonged fight to the death using electronic cattle prods.

The Voice is a definite step up from most of the other talent shows.  Almost everybody on it is reasonably good for a start and, unlike the X Factor and Talent, its primary purpose isn't wholesale national humiliation of any halfwit or attention seeker daft or deluded enough to want to audition.

But it's cheap, second-rate telly nonetheless.  Frankly, if I wanted to listen to someone singing You Send Me, I’d put on a record by the incomparable Sam Cooke and if I was of a mind to hear over emoting vocalisation a la Whitney Houston (which hopefully, this side of senility I never will be) I'd play the original version.  (PS – feel free to administer me the lethal injection if I ever do).

Fact is, there are thousands – probably million of decent singers around – and whilst no doubt they all think they are THE Voice, experience tells us that to actually make the grade, originality in style, interpretation and/or material is far more important than a decent pair of tonsils and a professional musical arrangement.

Not that I don't like singing.  On the contrary, I love it.  And not just me, we – us – The Scots – we love it.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of family parties where everyone would sit in an improvised circle, taking turns to belt out songs. 

How good was that? - all the patter – ""an singer, wan song", "Bestuvorder", "Gaun yersel’", I loved all that.

New Year parties in Springboig, Riddrie and Balornock, all the adults dressed up, the men in shirt and tie, the women in smart frocks, plenty of booze but nobody ever got too blootered because there was always a responsible bloke – a de facto barman - in the kitchen who ensured the supply of drink was moderated in order that things never ever got "ootta haun".

Unaccompanied singing of course – guitars and suchlike were frowned upon – and an arbitrary criterion applied as far as choice of song was concerned – arbitrary in the sense that you could sing what you liked, but taking yourself too seriously (or being too good) was likely to result in you being taken down a peg or two.

And anyone who sang a number regarded as being self righteous or pompous – tartan shortbread tin type songs were top of this list – would get short shrift.  For example, well meaning pullovers who sang The Wild Rover, could expect the chorus of "And it's no, no, never..." to be followed by the rest of the party bellowing merrily – "Right up yer kilt!"

Upbeat, cool, jazzy numbers were popular at our parties: The Summer Wind, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, and there was always a country fan who'd chuck in a bit of Hank Williams or Patsy Cline – Your Cheating Heart, Crazy, or my Auntie Betty's fave - the incredibly heart-wrenching Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray.

I realise that people of a certain age become ridiculously misty eyed about the past and maybe I'm rapidly becoming one of them. But frankly as far as cultural significance is concerned,  the Glasgow parties of the 1960s and 70s whup the pants off both high art and cheesy 21st century homogeneity combined.

And people who do that Whitney Houston "I can make this note last a fortnight" thing?  Wouldn't have lasted five minutes at a Ne'erday party in Riddrie.

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