ON Wednesday evening of this past week, I was at the University of Glasgow at the invitation of the music department's Professor Martin Cloonan. He had asked me to referee an encounter between his esteemed colleague, the Gardiner Chair of Music at the university, Professor John Butt, and the garage rock duo The Vaselines. Although the senior person on the platform – Frances McKee, Eugene Kelly and John Butt must all be about the same age and five years or more younger than myself – I recognised that this was not a straightforward assignment, and it would be fair to say that I have had easier gigs in the panel discussion chairmanship line in the past. But the lecture theatre attracted a healthy audience and I think we just about got away with it.

Professor Cloonan's idea was sparked by a newspaper interview in which John Butt had revealed an enthusiasm for the Glasgow band, whose music is at something of a remove from his own practice. Beyond his academic life, Butt is of course a highly respected conductor and keyboard player, with few peers in the sphere of early music, and music director of the Edinburgh-based Dunedin Consort. Under his artistic leadership, the chamber choir and instrumental ensemble has picked up a whole slew of awards, beginning with a Gramophone award a decade ago for his reconstruction and recording on Glasgow's Linn label of the first performance in Dublin of Handel's Messiah. From being an admired choir in a national context, under Butt the Dunedins have earned international renown.

The work of Handel and JS Bach has little obvious affinity with the three-chord rock songs of The Vaselines, whose music first appeared on Scotland's legendary 53rd and 3rd label in the mid-1980s and who had called it a day before the end of that decade but have returned to the stage and the studio during the past ten years. Characteristically, however, Butt was being astute in his choice of an unlikely taste. Famously, the early recordings of The Vaselines were praised by the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who recorded his own versions of three of their songs and named his daughter Frances after McKee. At the time of Nirvana's ascendency to stardom, Butt was teaching in California where his students introduced him to the music of both groups. Fifteen years or so later, by coincidence a neighbour and friend where he now lives in Helensburgh directed a video for the reborn Vaselines, bringing them to his attention again. It is part of Professor Butt's shtick to appear to be rather more out-of-touch with contemporary culture that he assuredly is, and he supplied the comic highlights of the evening with his supposed mishearing of Vaselines' lyrics as well as being the only one bold enough to make the joke of the names brought together for the encounter (particularly as the group has often sung about sex). However, I think we all recognised that the good professor knew he was making a cool choice of rock'n'roll band to champion.

Even better, however, he had a very nice explanation for why his knowledge of rock'n'roll appeared to stretch no further than the back catalogue of The Vaselines, describing himself as an obsessive character who developed particular enthusiasms and immersed himself thoroughly in something with blinkered enthusiasm. He could, of course, have been analysing the very nature of teenage fandom, as it was recognised by many of the same vintage in the room. And that, of course, is an enviable advantage that rock'n'roll still has over the early music brigade.