Andy Sykes witnessed Frightened Rabbit’s last tour before the tragic death of its lead singer this week. Here he gives a fan’s view of how it unfolded, and why Scott Hutchison will be remembered as a great.
Some of you may not have heard of Scott Hutchison or Frightened Rabbit until last week.
Scott who? Frightened what?
Briefly on Friday his was the most viewed story on the BBC website. It was trending on Twitter all day.
A hashtag from hell. It seems only in death mainstream fame is realised.
Hutchison, 36, was the lead singer of the Scottish band which had enjoyed limited commercial success.
But while five studio albums had only achieved them one Top 10 placing, his brutally open lyrics and ear for a captivating melody had secured the band in the hearts of many, both here and across the pond.
Painting of a Panic Attack would be Hutchison’s last - his life extinguished in Port Edgar marina in South Queensferry just hours after he posted tweets suggesting he was in a dark place.
It would prove to be his darkest. Fans knew of his battles with depression.
But few were prepared for his untimely demise. For me, it started the same as many others - a text message.
Those who bought into his music and his soul will cling to the joy he brought with his Scottish burr and six, humble strings
‘Have you seen Scott from Frightened Rabbit has been reported missing?’ a friend quizzed. It was the morning after those two cryptic tweets.
“Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones,” typed Hutchison.
The reaction was instant, offers of help filling his timeline. But then four little words. “I’m away now. Thanks.”
He’d sparked concern back in 2016 when he called time on the band, only to row back admitting he’d learnt a salutory lesson of mixing depression with booze and social media.
Surely this was just another slip and all would end well. But a police appeal revealed he was last seen at the Dakota hotel, a stone’s throw from the Forth Road Bridge.
The seriousness of it soon dawned. The media, respectfully and not wanting to cause undue alarm, ignored the obvious.
Hutchison had previously written about ending it all from that very bridge on ‘Floating in the Forth’.
“And fully clothed, I float away. Down the Forth, into the sea.
“I think I’ll save suicide for another day.”
Was this that day?
We hoped against hope he was just on a massive bender and would turn up, after a night drinking and playing guitar in a flat somewhere, apologising for all the fuss.
Thumbs became sore refreshing social media for news, anything.
Just a sighting. Anything. But it was not forthcoming. At 6am on Friday morning, we woke to the news we had dreaded.
A body had been found and while not yet identified, police had informed his family of the discovery. Those who know how these things are relayed to the public will have read between the lines.
It was him. It felt like a punch to the gut. He had chronicled his own death - just 12 years previously.
It was just two months since an unforgettable night with 1,500 others as he and the band rattled through their breakthrough album, The Midnight Organ Fight, on a brief 10-year annniversary jaunt around the UK.
It was perfect, the crowd immersing themselves in his catharsis, soaring with the opening chords of Modern Leper and staying pin-drop silent during acoustic Poke.
He had a pre-occupation with sadness and mortality but his lyrics were camouflaged by tunes that defied their subject matter. It was melancholy at its most triumphant.
He seemed happy, touched by the acclaim. Playing those songs night after night may have stirred up old troubles. We may never know.
As the sad news spread at dawn on Friday, almost immediately the stories emerged online.
The female fan who told how she had been comforted by Modern Leper (“I’ve got this disease, I’m just rattling through life”) when her son had been diagnosed with cancer. The student distraught at his own failed relationship, but stirred by the optimism of Head Rolls Off.
The dad-of-two saved from the brink by Break. Yet it felt strange grieving for someone we didn’t know. Hutchison had an ability to articulate his most inner feelings to strangers and provide salvation to so many who simply didn’t possess such a talent.
We sought clues in his lyrics - the most recent album Painting of a Panic Attack had seen his focus shift from a lost love to his struggle to beat his demons. “I woke up hurting...though I can’t quite say why”, he sang on Woke Up Hurting, another brutally open heart-on-the-sleeve ode shielded by a radio-friendly chorus.
It was a gripping, crippling contrast. From the outside he had everything to live for.
But no one truly knows the extent which depression consumed him.
A friend, one of the strongest I know, was paralysed by anxiety. No-one quite understood.
What did they have to be depressed about? That person had it all. Or so it looked.
But something deep inside wasn’t right.
Hutchison hid his pain with kindness and no less humour - during a gig in a cathedral a few years ago he spoke with a glint in his eye and a wry smile about singing the line ‘Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name’, presumably awaiting damnation from above.
This talent, humour and warmth has been recounted a thousand times already - from Frank Turner, who broke down during his London Roundhouse show on Friday night, to radio DJ Edith Bowman and even First Minister Nicola Strurgeon. Bigger name artists with bigger bank balances lauded him as a poet.
They knew he was from a higher plane.
He recently said in a wonderful interview that he was “a solid six out of 10 - if I get a couple of days week at 7, it’s great.”
Six would have done us just fine. It’s an utterly tragic irony that for all the help he unwittingly offered others, he could find no such salvation to spare himself.
So we were left with five albums, an unfinished sixth and many unanswered questions.
One scribe said listening to his songs now is like being an ‘emotional vampire’ - sucking on his art knowing full well the pain he was in.
But that connection was unshakeable a long time ago and as Turner said, fighting back tears, keeping his epic songs going is the only legacy in our control.
Somewhat perversely the fame garnered by his death may open up his music to an audience previously unaware of his impact, and that can only be a good thing.
Those last two tweets will be unbearably frozen in time, haunting and comforting in equal measure. Or at least until his family decide what to do with his Twitter account. 2,858 tweets...and out.
In the penultimate message, he told us to hug those we love.
Had he reached out in the same way, he would have had enough arms to reach from his hometown of Selkirk all the way to San Francisco.
Instead he found his ultimate peace beneath the roar of the Forth Road Bridge. He will be remembered by many for the manner of his death, but that would do him a disservice.
Those who bought into his music and his soul will cling to the joy he brought with his Scottish burr and six, humble strings. ‘And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth’. He did, more than he will ever know.
If you need help the The Samaritans can be contacted in the UK for free on 116 123. Or go to www.time-to-change.org.uk
This article first appeared on our sister site the Lancashire Evening Post.