Gary Flockhart: Old Edinburgh bands going for a song

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Evening News music critic Gary Flockhart recalls some forgotten Edinburgh bands

You just had to be there, I guess, at one of those rocking 1970s gigs. Fags and Matches, the winners of the Evening News Search for a Star competition in 1972, whose judges included Hughie Green, are following in the footsteps of so many rock greats by staging a reunion.

Wednesday’s gig at Finnegan’s Wake, 35 years after they last played together, is being eagerly anticipated by many fans who recall watching the local heroes in their heyday, while others are scratching their heads asking themselves how come they have never heard of them.

Of course, the fondly-remembered five-piece are just one of many almost-forgotten Edinburgh bands.

While the Bay City Rollers remain a household name decades after their heyday, there are plenty of better bands from the Capital’s musical past who have faded into near obscurity, often only cropping up on nostalgia-filled late-night telly shows like I Remember The [insert decade here].

Some bands were critically acclaimed but commercially ignored; others just ignored. Some made an impact in their day but have since called it quits; others gave up and got “proper jobs”, having found the music business a cut-throat world.

Rock band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, who formed in 1984, fall into the latter category.

One of the most acclaimed bands ever to rise through the ranks of the Edinburgh music scene, they spent a decade as contenders before abruptly ending a ten-year quest for stardom after being left without a label in the early 1990s. The final straw came when singer Shirley Manson left to join US band Garbage, with whom she raked up sales of more than 12 million albums worldwide.

“We were good but for some reason it just didn’t work out for us,” says founder member Martin Metcalfe, who now DJs for East Coast FM radio as well as playing in dark-edged indie outfit Isa & The Filthy Tongues alongside fellow former Mackenzies Fin Wilson and Derek Kelly.

“As soon as Shirley left for Garbage and we got dropped from the record label, that was it,” he adds.

One-time Melody Maker front cover stars, TV21 are another no-nonsense rock outfit who got no satisfaction first time around.

When Mick Jagger personally approved them as the official support for the Scottish leg of The Rolling Stones’ 1982 European Tour, it looked like they had booked their ticket to stardom. Bafflingly, however, backstage at the Playhouse and three nights into their coveted tour, the Edinburgh band took the decision to split.

“It may sound strange to some, but by the time we did the Stones shows we were pretty much on our last legs,” recalls lead singer Norman Rodger.

“We’d been dropped by our record company, were facing the dole and saw this as our last chance to generate some interest. The fact we couldn’t attract any record companies to those shows pretty much summed up the fact we weren’t going to get re-signed.”

TV21 put their differences aside to reform after a 24-year hiatus in 2006 and they are still going strong today.

Another Edinburgh act who went away for years before reforming are pop-punk legends The Rezillos.

The band had a top 20 hit, a world tour and a deal with a major label. They then split for 25 years, only to make an unexpected comeback in 2002, after their most notorious song, Somebody’s Gonna Get (Their Head Kicked In Tonite) was plucked from obscurity to be included on the massively successful Jackass: The Movie soundtrack.

For ex-Simple Minds manager Bruce Findlay, a veteran of Edinburgh music, there are many more Capital bands who have been sadly forgotten.

“The Athenians, below, The Boston Dexters, The Hipple People, The Incredible String Band, Writing on the Wall – all great bands from the 60s,” he offers. “The 70s was less fruitful but more commercial with The Bay City Rollers and Pilot, who although short-lived, had two classic hits with Magic and January.”

Unlike Glasgow, where punk bands were unofficially banned, Edinburgh venues like the Astoria in Abbeyhill and the Nite Club above the Playhouse were prepared to take the risk of promoting them. As a result, the city had a bustling music scene in the late 70s/early 80s, boasting quality bands like The Scars and The Valves. The former were favourites of the late, great John Peel and even managed to land a spread in Smash Hits; the latter released three singles, including Ain’t No Surf In Portobello, and then broke up in 1979.

The early 1980s saw the emergence of kindred spirits Josef K and The Fire Engines, two bands inspired by the artsy side of the 1970s New York scene. While neither outfit achieved any great commercial success, their influence has survived for much longer – just ask their biggest fans, Franz Ferdinand.

Josef K called it a day at the height of their creative peak in 1982, while Fire Engines split after 18 chaotic months, with some members going on to form pop band Win, who had a huge hit in 1989 after their song You Got The Power was used in a TV commercial for McEwan’s Lager.

A year earlier, The Love Decree, left, charted when their own song, Something So Real, was used by the brewer in its famous “Chinheads” series of adverts. The pop/soul duo were only together a short time, however, with Grant McIntosh going on to manage bands and Robin Gow now writing original music for film and television.

These bands may have never – or only briefly – touched the conscience of the nation, but they formed the soundtrack to the youth of generations of city music fans.