Central characters in Electric Eden, Rob Young’s epic history of British folk music, the Incredible String Band were hippy princelings Clive Palmer, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron who were at the forefront of psychedelia. Their music was a trippy, roiling reinvention of what folk music could do. Paul McCartney was a big fan. They cut their teeth in Edinburgh folk clubs before retreating to live a communal existence in cottages in Balmore, where they practiced archery among other things.

Best For: Those who find the smell of patchouli transporting

Avoid if: You don’t believe in peace and love and understanding.


Listen. Set aside the sibling antagonism, the leather trousers, the conspicuous drugtaking, the feedback ... Actually, no, don’t set aside the feedback. It’s the savory edge that cuts through the sweetness that lies beneath. Jim and William Reid were (are?) awkward men who wear black and like the Velvet Underground and who make records that are really telling us how sad they are. Psychocandy is the best album Alan McGee’s Creation Records ever released, whatever Primal Scream might say.

Best for: alt-rock types who have a surprisingly soft centre

Avoid if: You have tinnitus.


Punk with a smile. Edinburgh’s The Rezillos were more interested in being anarchic than triggering anarchy. Formed in the mid-1970s, they offered a day-glo absurdist take on beat group sonics that had more in line with America’s The B-52s than any of their British contemporaries.

Their high point came when they performed their Top of the Pops baiting single Top of the Pops on the TV show on which it was named. Rezillo Jo Callis went on to join The Human League as the Sheffield synthsters began their ascent to Smash Hits favourites. In 2001, appropriately enough for a band obsessed with space, Faye Fife and Eugene Reynolds reformed the band and they’re gigging to this day.

Best for: Lovers of pop bands as live action cartoon figures

Avoid if: You are a punk purist.


Signed by the legendary Postcard Records in 1981 and packaged as the “Sound of Young Scotland”, Aztec Camera were always destined to outgrow their indie roots. Prodigious frontman Roddy Frame seemed to burst out of his native East Kilbride fully-formed - Walk Out to Winter and We Could Send Letters were written when he was just 17 - though it wasn’t until the band’s third album, 1987’s Love, which contains the iconic “From Westwood to Hollywood” line on Somewhere In My Heart, that fame came his way. For a while it looked like Frame might become a bona fide superstar. Instead, fate decided he must content himself with being one of the best and most underrated singer songwriters of his generation. Ach well.

Best for: Lovers of intelligent, shimmering, melodic pop.

Avoid if: You don’t like jangly guitars.


It ended messily and their only album, 1993’s Morning Dove White, sent out mixed messages (due to production duties being shared between Andrew Weatherall and the more mainstream Stephen Hague). But at their best, One Dove, aka Dot Allison, Ian Carmichael and Jim McKinven, offered a swoonsome, beatific take on club music. And Allison’s breathy vocals are very moreish.

Best for: Those who like their chill-out vibes with a Scottish accent.

Avoid if: You want to put a donk on that.


THAT debut album, released in 2008, still astonishes: 10 irresistible tracks about contemporary life, hovering over subjects as diverse as a mother realising her son has just been murdered; a young man fleeing from the Baltic Fleeto gang ("I'm gonna get stabbed); a bitter assault on absentee dads; and an attentive social worker named Geraldine. Their Christmas album that year was also sprinkled with great songs, such as Cruel Moon, about a homeless young man. The songs developed against a musical backdrop influenced by The Jesus and Mary Chain, with the lyrics sung by frontman James Allan in a Scottish brogue. Subsequent albums, EUPHORIC///HEARTBREAK\\ (2011) and Later... When the TV Turns to Static (2013) were a progression, though not always rapturously received by the critics.

Best for: Those who like powerhouse indie rock with a Scottish accent.

Avoid if: You like gentle acoustic music with lyrics that don't reflect the rawness of much modern life.


The late, great Tam White was arguably Scotland's greatest blues vocalist. Fittingly for a qualified stonemason, he had a gravel voice you could strike a match on. The man who provided the vocals for Robbie Coltrane in Tutti Frutti, he was backed by a band with great guitar work and a full-on horn section that invariably had audiences at Edinburgh's Preservation Hall – now sadly no more – partying the night away. Always the highlight of the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival.

Best for: Anyone who loves jazz and the blues.

Avoid if: You're into Crosby-style crooning.


Short-lived band consisting of Glasgow’s Ross Middleton (formerly of Positive Noise) and sax player Gary Barnacle. Their 1982 debut single Love Cascade manages to be both rather silly and sweetly sublime.

Best for: New Romantic fans who are bored of Vienna.

Avoid if: You don’t like sax. Or stentorian vocals.


Scotland's "Kings of Rock" (Tutti Frutti, Dream, Dream, Dream, Love Hurts) briefly flickered into life 25 years after their halcyon Ready Steady Go days with a reunion tour that ended not so much in a blaze of glory as a rocky horror show.

Danny McGlone (filling the shoes of tragically-deceased elder sibling Big Jazza), doom-laden Vince Diver, bombastic Bomba MacAteer, Fud O'Donnell (sobriquet self-explanatory) and sizzling Suzi Kettles had them swinging in the aisles in such entertainment hotspots as Methil and Buckie (the town, not the beverage). The Majestics put the bam into A Wop-Boppa Loo-Bop A Wop-Bam Boom.

Best for: Rock and roll with a rumbustious radgeness.

Avoid if: You're into happy endings.


The best bands make you laugh and, goodness, FFS are a hoot. For a start, we know what the F and the F and the S stand for. The band - made up of Scottish swaggerers Franz Ferdinand and American brothers Sparks – also collaborated on a song called Collaborations Don’t Work: “Mozart didn’t need a little hack to chart, Warhol didn’t need to ask De Kooning about art.” Sadly, they have only produced one album so far but it’s operatic, electric, eclectic and weird and we want more. Collaborations Do Work.

Best for: Boys that can’t get the girl (or the boy): “Though I want you/I know I haven't a chance/paging Mr Delusional/You're wanted at the desk”

Avoid if: you’re disturbed by Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael (the third famous man, after Chaplin and Hitler, to sport a moustache like that). But we love creepy pop. Creepy is good.


SAHB, as their fans know them, were glam with a Glasgow edge with the edge highlighted in pitch-black eye-liner. The guitarist Zal Cleminson would dress as a white-faced mime, while Alex Harvey (who came from one of the richest sources of great pop music: working-class Glasgow) looked like a fop fallen on hard times, a fop you wouldn’t mess with though. Sadly, the influence of their unconventional look and sound is sometimes neglected, but remember: they were there at the end of glam and they were there at the beginning of punk, leading the way from something good to something greater.

Best for: the guttural joy of live glam rock. SAHB have long since split up, but you can still get a taste of what they were like: Zal Cleminson still tours with his band Sin’Dogs and has gigs in Scotland over the summer.

Avoid if: you don’t like men in make-up, in which case: what is your problem?


First they were Tiger Lily, then they were Ultravox!, then they were Ultravox, then Midge Ure from Glasgow took over from John Foxx and they recorded Vienna. It’s still their most famous track obviously but listen to Mr X instead, which sounds like a bit of metal that’s fallen off Kraftwerk: synth in all its pretentious, marvellous glory. It’s fair to say that Ultravox probably took themselves far too seriously (Midge Ure said every track they recorded was for a movie that didn’t exist), but they were one of the currents of new wave and an important part of a future that happened long ago in the 1980s.

Best for: Planning for a nuclear apocalypse (see the video for Dancing with Tears in My Eyes). If you only have four minutes left to live, go for a drive, play an LP in an upright record player, make love to your beautiful girlfriend and stare into the eyes of your doomed baby son. Then: oblivion.

Avoid if: you think the British have good taste in pop music (Vienna was denied the number one spot in 1981 by Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce)


As the Madchester scene gave way to grunge in the early ‘90s, it brought a welcome twist of fate for a blossoming Scottish indie quartet. Teenage Fanclub came into the orbit of Nirvana shortly before Kurt Cobain’s power trio went stratospheric, playing support slots to the Seattle band before they released the critically-acclaimed Nevermind. It was an association which did the Bellshill group no harm following their 1991 release of Bandwagonesque, the album setting out a manifesto of sun-kissed melodies, soaring harmonies and bitter sweet lyrics they would go on to perfect. It is a rich canon which I will forever have the need to return to.

Best for: Sun-kissed, California-tinged guitars and melodies.

Avoid if: Miserabilism is your thing.


The Beta Band memorably hated their debut album. In fact, they told me as much. Dispatched as a wannabe music writer in 1999 to interview the band shortly after its release, frontman Steve Mason made his dissatisfaction with the end product clear in the bluntest terms. It is true the album failed to capture the spirit of the Three EPs, the collection of early releases that defined their shuffling blend of funk, blues and electronica. But what they failed to nail down on that album was brought to glorious life on stage. Hours after the interview, at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, The Beta Band went on to perform what might still be the best gig I have ever seen.

Best for: Ramshackle funk rock.

Avoid if: Languid grooves are not for you.


As a soundtrack to make the heart soar, Big Country has to be in there. Formed by the late Stuart Adamson in 1981 following the demise of the Skids, the band’s trademark sound was electric guitars engineered to evoke bagpipes (think a Caledonian Bruce Springsteen).

Their third studio album Seer – featuring a Kate Bush duet with Adamson on the title song – is one that stokes powerful, often patriot, feelings with its rich references to Scottish history including the Highland Clearances and 1752 Appin Murder.

Songs such as One Great Thing and In A Big Country have featured on everything from a Tennent’s Lager ad and political campaigns to an episode of the hit US sitcom The Goldbergs.

Best for: Anyone who likes their rock with a side of skirling bagpipes.

Avoid if: You have an aversion to musicians in checked shirts and matching neckerchiefs.


Forget Bros. If you were Scottish and growing up in the 1980s, there was really only one set of musically-minded twins worth bothering about: The Proclaimers.

Leith-born siblings Charlie and Craig Reid released their debut album, This Is The Story, in 1987. The seminal track Letter From America was a cry of solidarity for beleaguered working class communities across Scotland.

Sunshine on Leith followed a year later with classics such as I'm On My Way and I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), the latter ubiquitous on the playlist of any major sporting event.

There’s nine further studio albums including 2018 offering Angry Cyclist. Yet, perhaps the biggest mark of success was when the stage musical Sunshine on Leith, featuring their songs, was created in 2007 for Dundee Rep and adapted as a film in 2013 bearing the same title.

Best for: Toe-tapping joy.

Avoid if: You suffer from Scottish cringe.


It was with the break-up anthem I Don't Want a Lover that Texas burst onto the music scene back in 1989. The band’s co-founders Johnny McElhone (formerly of Altered Images and Hipsway fame) and smoky-voiced vocal powerhouse Sharleen Spiteri make a formidable double act.

Early offerings such as Southside, Mothers Heaven and Ricks Road were all low key favourites but it was with White on Blonde in 1997 that Texas really punched a hole in the public consciousness doling out a run of hits with Say What You Want, Halo and Black Eyed Boy.

The Hush followed in 1999 – In Our Lifetime and Summer Son – cementing Texas’s status as one of Scotland’s greatest bands. Their trademark brand of soulful pop rock has aged well with a ninth studio album, Jump on Board, released in 2017.

Best for: A road trip mix tape.

Avoid if: You prefer to wallow in existential angst


VETERAN rockers from Dunfermline, who over their long career have turned out brilliant covers (Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight; Love Hurts; My White Bicycle; Cocaine), compelling, hard-rocking chart hits, adventurous offerings (Telegram Parts 1-4, Mexico) and soulful ‘ballads’ (Carry Out Feelings, Heart’s Grown Cold, Dream On, Moonlight Eyes). Their recent three-disc anthology, Loud & Proud!, is a persuasive reminder of what they were capable of – and, indeed, still are, despite several line-up changes over the years. Singer Dan McCafferty, guitarist Manny Charlton, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet – the original line-up, back in the early 70s, were one of the most popular bands to emerge from the Scottish scene.

Best for: Lots of great songs, tight musicianship, a willingness to go beyond the boundaries of hard rock.

Avoid if: You prefer your hard rock unsullied by soulful ballads and a willingness to experiment.


Back in the mid-nineties it really did seem as if Britpop and grunge had made music all about the lads, then came along Garbage – two American musicians fronted by Shirley Manson, a Scotswoman from Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, who was sexy, in-your-face, oozed alt-rock, grrrl attitude. The single Stupid Girl was what got them noticed, but it was Push It – “I was angry when I met you. I think I’m angry still” – that seemed to channel the real Manson. Look back at tracks like Androgyny and Sex Is Not The Enemy and you can see how Manson, now a #MeToo-era icon, was early to so many of the big issues of today, and still is. The older she gets the more female rocker vibe she exudes.

Best for: Days when you know the world is out to get you.

Avoid if: Strong women make you quiver.


Call it Big Music, call it an endlessly varied and eccentric career, you don’t have to have seen the whole of Mike Scott’s moon to know that the man who is really The Waterboys delivered something special unto this world. There may have been other band members – many of them - but The Waterboys was really all about Scott and his personal journey, from the wonder of The Whole Of The Moon, whose chart impact when it was released in 1985 was surprisingly small, through his conversion to folk in Fisherman’s Blues, and the Japanese culture and hip-hop that infuses his latest album. The sound changes, but Scott is always there, countercultural, melodic, an ever-evolving rocker who keeps punching out addictive melodies.

Best for: End-of-the-night, drunken sing-songs, or wolf-howling on the way home.

Avoid if: You like your music small and monotonous.


Eurythmics-star Dave Stewart had this idea that Lauren Mayberry, frontwoman of CHVRCHES, should be the punk Joan of Arc of pop, and just needed to push it a bit harder. When he told her this, she has said, she was offended, but still went for it. But truth is Mayberry didn’t need much pushing. She might not be the Joan Of Arc, but she is consistently subversive, both in her song-writing and also the way she has called out misogyny. Mayberry mesmerises, delivering the dark angst-ridden lyrics with a cool, calm alt-pop style. All this while seeming mainstream enough to have been the launch act of the new BBC Scotland channel.

Best for: Helping you through a cathartic, Millennial anxiety session.

Avoid if: You only like happy pop.


Last year’s documentary Almost Fashionable, in which music critic Wyndham Wallace, a long-term disliker of Travis follows the band on their Mexico tour, tuned into the love-hate that always seems to have clustered around Travis. I’m in the love camp. Ever since, late 1990s, I was sent to interview Fran, Dougie, Andy and Neil, I’ve had a soft spot for their achingly-sweet, wide-eyed, smell-the-roses songs. Flowers In The Window never fails to make me feel the world is blooming, and Why Does It Always Rain On Me, for all is depressiveness, chases away the clouds. Reputedly they even made Liam Gallagher cry. Coldplay? Pah! Travis were always hit that mainstream sweet-spot better.

Best for: Wet weekends and washing dishes.

Avoid if: Winsome gives you heartburn


The Blue Nile were never cut out to be pop stars. The trio made only four albums in 20 years, never had a hit single and avoided the limelight. But, oh, those albums. The first two, A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats, quietly changed what electronic music could be, creating a lush, sophisticated, soulful, cinematic sound that had no business coming out of 1980s Glasgow, all brought together by the alchemy of Paul Buchanan’s extraordinary vocals. No Scottish band has ever sounded this heartbreakingly sublime.

Best for: Spacious, soaring love songs.

Avoid if: Death metal is your thing.


Perfectly straddling the line between punk and pop, Strawberry Switchblade – arguably the best band name ever - inspired a generation of wee girls to form bands. Glaswegian pals Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson created a memorable look somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux and Madonna to go along with their mid-1980s girl-group sound, ensuring the world went mad for polka dots, heavy eye make-up and bows. The supremely catchy Since Yesterday, their only hit, became a phenomenon and still stands up today.

Best for: Goths who secretly like The Ronettes.

Avoid if: Big hair and black eye-liner turn you off.


Formed from the ashes of cult Glasgow band The Starlets in 2013, A New International followed a different, more eclectic musical path that takes in carnival and cabaret, chanson, flamenco, folk and fifties rock ‘n’ roll, resulting in an ambitious and thoroughly joyous sound that has been blowing fans away ever since. Accordion-playing frontman Biff Smith embraces the theatricality of the music, which recently found the perfect platform in the form of the Dark Carnival, a wonderful play/gig/musical extravaganza conceived in collaboration with the multi-award Vanishing Point theatre company.

Best for: Fans of accordion, trumpet and violin solos.

Avoid if: You like your frontmen quiet and shoe-gazing.


Twenty years old, just back at the flat after a (quiet) night at the pub and settling down to listen to music. There was only one band to choose.

Thirty years on and The Silencers still take pride of place in that wee stack of special CDs in the kitchen.

The first two albums – A Letter From St Paul and A Blues For Buddha – are pure genius. From the phenomenal Bullets and Blues Eyes and Sacred Child to the haunting beauty of A Blues For Buddha, every single song is a masterpiece.

The band recorded more albums, but never quite reached the astounding heights of this debut pair.

Best for: Just listening to (in a comfy chair, with a dram. Headphones optional).

Avoid if: You’re into a boogie.


Back in the mid-1990s when Oasis and Blur had become big, arrogant and boring, Scots bands were ripping things up in the most unexpected ways. None more so than Arab Strap, the Falkirk duo that mixed indie, folk and the occasional dance beat to magical effect. Aidan Moffat's spiky, sometimes moving, often hilarious spoken word poetry about life, love and good times with your pals proved nothing short of revolutionary, all but dispelling the Scottish cringe for a whole new generation and influencing countless bedroom troubadours. There are some who would like to see their 1996 masterpiece The First Big Weekend replace Flower Of Scotland as the national anthem. No arguments here.

Best for: Showcasing the Scottish dialect

Avoid if: Profanity offends you.


How does frontman James Grant do it? One minute all soulful and melancholy, and in the next breath, full-on, cranked-up funkmaster? Edgy, clever, brilliant and bold, Love and Money were an antidote to the bland pop of the wider 80s chart scene. This was a band which was always difficult to stick in a box because there was so much – pop, country, rock, funk and even a wee bit gospel – going on. A revival seven years ago, with an impressive tour and the marvellous album, Devil’s Debt, already feels like much too long ago.

Best for: Those who don’t like their music prettily packaged up.

Avoid if: Bold makes you scared.


Mon the Biff. Kilmarnock’s hardest rockers are bona fide stadium fillers with more than 1,200,000 albums sold. An old school band in many ways they had three albums before they hit the motherlode 10 years after they formed with the album Puzzle and then Only Revolutions in 2003. Soaring singles such as Mountains cemented their reputation. All together now: I am the mountain/I am the sea/You can't take that away from me/I am the mountain/I am the sea/ You can't take that away from me

Best for: Anthems.

Avoid if: You are the type that always prefers a band’s early stuff.


Over five albums between 2006 and 2016, Selkirk’s finest indie band always offered a more nuanced take on Scottish masculinity than the alpha male rock stereotype. Scott Hutchison’s lyrics were open about heartbreak, anxiety and even suicidal feelings. That openness was their gift to their fans. In the end, tragically, it wasn’t enough to stop Hutchison taking his own life last year.

Best For: Those who love big, open-hearted anthems.

Avoid if: You are an emotionally closed Scottish bloke.

What no Bay City Rollers or Hipsway, Gun, Bis, The Pastels or The Bluebells? Tell us who we've missed off the list and why at

Compiled by Teddy Jamieson, Susan Swarbrick, Vicky Allan, Martin Williams, Barry Didcock, Russell Leadbetter, Marianne Taylor, Drew Allan, Andy Clark, Brian Beacom, Scott Wright, Neil Cameron, Ann Fotheringham, Garry Scott, and Mark Smith