THERE were so many great Scottish bands in the 1980s that we’re dividing the decade into two. This week, 1980-84; next week, 1986-1989. It’s a very loose arrangement, as you’ll see. Let us know who we missed out. And who should we include next week? Email

Here we go ...

Cocteau Twins

The Grangemouth band had an early supporter in John Peel. Their debut album, Garlands was an independent chart hit; the follow-up, Head Over Heels reached number 51 in the mainstream charts. The next three, increasingly assured, albums – Treasure, Victorialand and Blue Bell Knoll – all charted, the middle one getting to number 10. As the Guardian has said of them, the band “emerged fully formed from the post-punk shadows and developed a sound that would become the gold standard for enigmatic, ethereal indie-pop”. A key feature was Liz Fraser’s otherworldly voice, set against atmospheric guitars. And those dreamy, elusive, enigmatic song titles: For Phoebe Still a Baby, Cico Buff, A Kissed-out Red Floatboat …

Simple Minds

The Glasgow band had released their first two albums, Life in a Day and Real to Real Cacophony, in 1979. Their fourth album, Sons & Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (1981) brought them to widespread notice. The next two – New Gold Dream and the chart-topping Sparkle in the Rain – yielded some of their most powerful and impassioned songs, from Promised You a Miracle and Someone Somewhere (in Summertime) to Up on the Catwalk, Waterfront and Speed Your Love to Me. Once Upon a Time (1985) included another: Alive and Kicking. That year they played Live Aid, from Philadelphia. By then, they were on top of the world.


PERFECT Skin, Forest Fire, Are You Ready to be Heartbroken? Rattlesnakes (1984) was one of the best albums of the Eighties, merging “Byrds-like guitar figures to Cole’s languid, Lou Reed-inspired intonation”. Cole told the Guardian a few years back, “Many of the songs are based on a year I spent in London studying law, when I was 18 or 19. The landscape for the album was my imagination. I’d been to Europe once, but my romantic imagery was from books or films. I stumbled on a way of creating an image with very few words”.

The Blue Nile

Endlessly written about, endlessly enthused over. What is there left to say about this superlative trio? The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music is admirably succinct, referring to the band’s “gently emotive synthetics and an overall mood that seemed to revel in nocturnal atmospherics” that graced their 1984 debut, A Walk Across the Rooftops. The follow-up, Hats (1989), an undisputed masterpiece, “finally continued the shimmering legacy of its predecessor”. It was Scotland’s favourite album in a Herald poll in 2018. Mere words can’t do the justice to the Blue Nile’s exquisite, tender, emotional, observational music.


SULK, this post-punk duo’s 1982 album is, says Spotify, “the band’s definitive statement – a fascinating blend of lush, New Romantic popcraft and dark, surreal cabaret stylings”. The Guardian in 2007, said Sulk had a fair claim to the title of the most extraordinary album of the 1980s. Billy MacKenzie (he had the ‘voice of an angel’ with a prodigious multi-octave range, one obituary noted in 1997) and Alan Rankin came up with so many compelling songs: Party Fears Two, Club Country, Skipping, to name just three.


Considerable excitement greeted the release late last year of The Scottish Affair (Part Two), a lavishly-packaged recording of a 1981 Brussels gig by this influential group. That, and their solitary studio album, The Only Fun in Town, are forceful reminders of why so many continue to admire a band whose influences included Pere Ubu, Television and Talking Heads.


AS Uncut magazine observed a while back, in the late seventies a youthful Edwyn Collins met up with a crowd of like-minded Glaswegian musicians and formed a band who more or less defined the sound of indie music. The band was, of course, Orange Juice. On Postcard Records they released some of the best pop records of the early 1980s, says the Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music, before switching labels. There were great albums: You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Rip It Up, and AND, of course, we still haven’t mentioned (so far) Sheena Easton, Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville, H20, the Fire Engines, or Friends Again. Apologies.Orange Juice, and literate singles such as What Presence? and Rip It Up, a top 10 hit.


“FINE exponents of the ‘jangly pop’ produced by Scottish bands such as Orange Juice and Aztec Camera”, notes the Virgin Encyclopedia. Elvis Costello was an early admirer. The singles, Cath, and Sugar Bridge, mysteriously only reached the lower reaches of the charts, but I’m Falling was a hit, as was Young At Heart. Cath, revived, was a chart hit in 1984; and in 1993 Young at Heart spent four weeks at number one, courtesy of a car TV advert. There was a fine album, too, in Sisters (1984).


Roddy Frame’s excellent band were on Postcard Records before switching to Rough Trade and topping the indie album charts with High Land, Hard Rain (“a largely acoustic-based affair combining folkish flights of fancy, Latin/jazz rhythms and an incisive lyrical flair with stunning results”, says Martin Strong’s The Great Scots Discography). Its highlights included Oblivious, Walk Out to Winter, and We Could Send Letters. The centrepiece of the next album, Knife (1984), produced by Mark Knopfler, was the mesmerising, nine-minute-long title track. The band’s rich seam of form would continue.


Punk’s Not Dead was the title of this Edinburgh punk-rock band’s pulverising debut album, in 1981. It made enough of an impact to reach number 20 in the mainstream album charts. There was a nationwide tour with Discharge, a live album, a second studio album (Troops of Tomorrow, 1982, which reached number 17), and a barnstorming performance on ToTP (check it out on YouTube) of their 1981 single, Dead Cities. As the band’s website says, without the Exploited, Discharge and GBH, there would be no thrash metal.


The prolific Quinn had been part of a Glasgow band, the Jazzateers, who later became Bourgie Bourgie. As Quinn’s website says, they signed to MCA and were touted as the next big thing. Their debut single, Breaking Point, peaked at 48 in the charts; the follow-up, Careless, stalled at 96. Quinn recorded a couple of singles with Edwyn Collins, Pale Blue Eyes, and Ain’t That Always the Way. He also recorded a fine single, One Day, with Vince Clarke, of Yazoo.


YOUTUBE and Spotify are just two of the places where this intriguing post-punk/new wave band, formed by Norman Rodger (vocals, guitar) and Ally Palmer (guitar), can be enjoyed afresh. As Herald reader, Alan from Ayr, notes, they released “a string of glorious singles and a promising album – A Thin Red Line (1981) – before splitting”. Before doing so, however, they supported the Jam and, at a handful of Scottish gigs, the Rolling Stones. The Excavating the 80s website describes the album as a “powerful debut that more than holds its own alongside the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles and the Teardrops’ Kilimanjaro and should rightfully be hailed as a masterpiece of its time”.


The 1983 debut album, The Crossing, showcased Big Country’s compelling widescreen sound, gave rise to several great singles, and was nominated for three Grammies. It reached number three in the album charts but the follow-up, Steeltown, did even better, going straight to number one. Subsequent albums, The Seer and Peace In Our Time, were also big sellers. Their top-selling singles included In a Big Country, Chance and Wonderland.


HAPPY Birthday, the best-known song of the Clare Grogan-fronted Altered Images’ best-known song, may have made John Peel’s Festive 50 in 1981, but the album from which it comes (Happy Birthday, 1981) is laden with unsung gems: Legionaire, Faithless, Midnight, Real Toys, A Day’s Wait. Subsequent albums were Pinky Blue and Bite. Check out their early indie classic song, Dead Pop Stars.

AND, of course, we still haven’t mentioned (so far) Sheena Easton, Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville, H20, the Fire Engines, or Friends Again. Thanks to the readers who contributed.