The Pearlfishers: Up With The Larks

WHEN I walked out of Shibuya Station in Tokyo for the first time, it’s no exaggeration to say the sight facing me was mind blowing. I felt like I was swimming against a tide of humanity as 3,000 commuters surged towards me.

In 2001, as a naïve tourist, I had no idea that the area – known as Shibuya Scramble Crossing – was the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection.

The zigzag pattern of zebra markings dissecting the vast traffic junction should have been a dead giveaway.

Five years later, Davie Scott of The Pearlfishers, had an identical heart-stopping experience to mine. His was made even more daunting by the pouring rain. Scott was so moved by what he saw that he wrote The Umbrellas Of Shibuya, a stunning song which helped colour the album he now regards as a career high.

“I was doing an acoustic tour of Japan along with Duglas T. Stewart of The BMX Bandits,” said Scott.

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“In Shibuya Station we both looked out over the plaza. It was raining and there were thousands of people carrying multi-coloured plastic umbrellas on the crossing. I was overwhelmed by the visual beauty of what was in front of me. It had a profound effect.

“The tour also coincided with a particularly happy period in my life.

“So writing the song became an exercise in saying: ‘What does this visual image mean to me?’

“There’s a line in the lyric where I sing: ‘Duglas, just think if we could bottle each drop of this feathered rain’. I’m talking to him in the song.

“When I recorded the track, sonically it was really saying: ‘How do you portray the extraordinary beauty that is Tokyo … or any part of Japan?’

“I’ve never forgotten it. The song is my love letter to the country itself.”

It’s a key track on Up With The Larks – released on German label, Marina Records – which is a musical masterpiece of evocative lyrics and beautiful melodies.

Scott has made no secret of his passion for writers such as Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb. Their craft is reflected in his own. The album was recorded in a studio at East Kilbride Arts Centre. The catalyst for the record was when Scott took part in Burnsong – a creative workshop staged in Croys, a country house in Castle Douglas – where a group of musicians were put together to write with each other for the first time.

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“I’d never done very much co-writing up until that point,” he revealed.

“But I really enjoyed it and wrote a bunch of songs I liked. Although none of them actually ended up on the album, I really got into a flow and from that point on the songs were coming steadily. Some of the energy for the album came from that event.”

Scott already had an impressive musical track record. Between 1993-2003, he’d released six albums and toured the UK.

His seventh record, Up With The Larks, evolved during a particularly fertile period.

“The songs on the record are probably the best I’ve ever written,” he said.

“They came at a time when I was busy on several different projects. But in the studio, I had vocal mics plus the piano and a drum kit set up permanently. So if I ever wanted to work on a new song, I literally just had to press ‘Play’ and ‘Record’.”

As ever, his lyrics were flavoured by experience. The first batch of songs included The Bluebells, Eco Schools, London’s In Love and Blue Riders On The Range. “The Bluebells was the first big song. It’s a love song for my wife Margaret,” revealed Davie.

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“It’s about perpetual love … so it almost wrote itself. When I had that, I thought, this is something worth building on.

“I’d also had a letter from a local primary school asking me to come and talk to the kids about having a career in the music business. It was an eco-school, where they had a real dedication to the environment, with an eco-council and eco-warriors, who do sustainable work. That also led to a song.”

Blue Riders On The Range – one of my favourite tracks on the album – channels the influence of Brian Wilson, and in particular, Paul McCartney.

“I was sitting at the piano improvising some chord ideas, and suddenly I got little bits I could work with … almost like doing a sculpture,” he recalled.

“The song came from a feeling of trying to escape your everyday life and find something magical. It’s that whole Brian Wilson approach. But, if there is a real sonic template for the track, it’s more Paul McCartney’s 1971 album, Ram. When I hear that song it’s really me trying to do Ram.”

It’s also one of four songs on the record produced by Scott’s close friend, Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub.

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“I wanted something a little bit different in the production process, so I asked Norman to work on a few tracks,” he said. “We just clicked, as we always have done. There’s a real bond. The thing that probably turned it into the song it is … is that big, but very simple chorus of three chords and four words, where I sing ‘Get on a feeling/Get on a feeling’.

“Norman was responsible for the extra choruses at the end. I’d had the song quite tight until he said: ‘You’ve GOT to repeat that chorus’.

“He wanted to hear it again and again. Norman was a real big part of those tracks. Even just down to the feeling in the room.” Other key songs include the autobiographical, Fighting Fire With Flowers. Scott said: “There are three verses in that song. The first is about something that happened at school when I got into a fight. The second is about my teenage years sitting in The Boulevard Café in Falkirk … and the third is more of a widescreen look at the way the world is always at war.”

Plus the sublime soul of Womack And Womack and I Just See The Rainbow, in which he composed a song for the late Karen Carpenter. “In my head, I was thinking of her voice … I was writing it for her,” revealed Scott.

“She was obviously lone gone by then. But if you listen to the song, just imagine that it’s Karen Carpenter who is singing it. When I recorded my vocal I was so focused on that. I don’t sound anything like her, but it does have a certain softness about it which was almost like me putting myself into a character.”

Up With The Larks was well received by both critics and fans alike. Scott has released a further two albums since then and is working on a new record scheduled for later in 2021. He is also currently the Head of Arts and Media at the University of the West Of Scotland.

Like all songwriters, he is optimistic that his best song has always got to be his next song. But he has a special affection for Up With The Larks as an accomplished body of work.

Scott said:“I’m now old enough to know that your existence doesn’t necessarily rest on your best work being ahead of you. I’m making a new record at the moment and think the songs on it are great. Naturally, you want it to be a brilliant album. But if it turns out not to be as good as Up With The Larks, I won’t cry because I know just how good that music is.

“It’s a very musical record … very melodic. The arrangements are super intricate. I didn’t used to think of it as being a particularly lyrical record. But talking about it now, I can see there’s loads of stuff that is very personal.”

However, the album’s continued success has given Scott an on-going problem. When The Pearlfishers play live, he’s got to cherry pick which tracks to perform … such is the sheer volume of his back catalogue of songs.

“Bear in mind that I’ve now been making records for 30 years, so you kind of have an overview of what you’ve done,” he said finally.

“I can look at every album I’ve made and feel happy with them. I’ve enjoyed writing and recording them all … and each has got things that I love.

“But Up With The Larks is the album I keep going back to.

THE Billy Sloan Show is on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10pm.


DAVIE Scott of The Pearlfishers has created his music in some of the world’s most famous recording studios. His songs have taken him to the hallowed ground of Abbey Road, where he followed in the footsteps of his hero Paul McCartney. He also worked on albums in live rooms where Pink Floyd and The Who made pop history.

But in a 30-year music career, Scott has made a little bit of magic of his own, in a home-grown studio which wasn’t a recording facility at all. He was the in-house producer, composer and general facilitator at East Kilbride Arts Centre.

“It was a medium sized office that I set up to record in,” recalled Davie. “It didn’t even have a control room and was very primitive. But we had good microphones, instruments and a piano I borrowed from the Village Theatre. So all the actual equipment to make great records was there.”

Scott recorded many of The Pearlfishers’ albums in the tiny studio. He worked there with Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue, The BMX Bandits, The Pastels and members of Teenage Fanclub.

Legendary US acts Alex Chilton, Chip Taylor, Evie Sands and Kim Fowley also made records in the unlikely setting of a converted office in East Kilbride.

“Think of a classic album like Sgt. Pepper’s … it sounds really epic,” said Davie.

“But it was made by lashing a couple of four-track recorders together. The point is to get the songs and arrangements right, and then make sure it’s recorded pretty faithfully. You can do that anywhere.

“We recorded very simply. There was no monkey business. It was a makeshift studio, but it lasted for 10 very successful years. We produced a ton of great records there.”

For Up With The Larks, Scott decided to give the album sleeve – a series of childlike drawings of birds – a real personal flavour.

“I made the artwork under the name of Oscar In Venice,” revealed Davie.

“Stefan Kassell, the designer at Marina Records, took these little scraps of paper I had – felt pen drawings – and organised them into this brilliant album package.

“There’s also a lovely wee postscript to the story. I was contacted by the producer of the hit American TV drama, Veronica Mars. He was a fan of the band and commissioned a full size painting of the front cover which I had shipped over to Los Angeles. It sits in his house to this day.”