Scottish Pop Exhibition

Scottish Pop Exhibition

Most people know the obvious Scottish pop bands that wore their tartan (literally) on their sleeves, but there are some surprises in store at the National Museum of Scotland’s stunning exhibition. Stewart McRobert fills us in.

Proclaimers exhibit, National Museum of ScotlandWhen Glasgow-born Lonnie Donegan recorded Rock Island Line in 1955 he helped start a movement that would see British rock and pop become a major cultural and commercial success across the globe.

And ever since that time, Scottish artists have been making music that’s rocked the world.

The country’s contribution is being celebrated in a spectacular exhibition entitled Rip It Up being held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

It’s a fascinating and enlightening series of displays that tell Scotland’s pop music story and includes a range of wonderful artefacts, from the Burberry raincoat worn by Midge Ure in the groundbreaking Vienna video to a unique Simple Minds guitar and stage outfits worn by the likes of Annie Lennox and Lulu.

A tour of the country would show that it’s not only the major cities that have made their mark. Here are some of the singers and groups from across Scotland who have created music to remember.

Glasgow and the west of Scotland

luluNine years after Lonnie Donegan’s breakthrough, in 1964, Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, otherwise known as Lulu, had a UK hit with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ Shout. Over 50 years and one international career later, she is still one of the UK’s most well-loved recording artists.

Lulu’s fellow Glaswegians, the bands Simple Minds and Texas have enjoyed global fame since their formation in 1977 and 1986 respectively.

Altered Images remain one of the UK’s favourite 80s acts, while Travis and Franz Ferdinand have been earning awards and entertaining audiences from Buenos Aires to Barcelona for many years.

More recently, the likes of Chvrches have gained an international profile.

CD/vinyl sales, downloads and streaming are one measure of success; so too is an artist or band’s musical legacy and influence. West of Scotland pioneers include the Sensational Alex Harvey Band who helped give birth to UK punk rock in the 70s.

A decade later, Orange Juice became one of the UK’s most important bands; their recordings include the single that gives the exhibition its title.

East Kilbride’s Jesus and Mary Chain have been a touchstone for countless bands, not least Primal Scream whose Bobby Gillespie was a one-time JAMC drummer.

Both Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub create music that’s acclaimed by critics, fellow artists and legions of faithful fans.

And, though they managed just four albums in 20 years, The Blue Nile achieved a reputation for pursuing–and often achieving–musical perfection.

Much lauded before his early death in 2011 at age 63, Gerry Rafferty was a native of Paisley near Glasgow. The same town is home to Paolo Nutini who has released three platinum selling albums since 2006.

South Scotland

Anyone who has attended a music festival in recent years has most likely been thrilled by a headline session from Kilmarnock’s Biffy Clyro. The shirtless trio have become extremely popular performers on the outdoor
summer circuit.

It’s a little incongruous that the Scottish artist with the highest current profile was born and raised in one of the unlikeliest locations.

Dumfries is a quiet market town in the south west of the country, but it’s also where Calvin Harris grew up and recorded his breakthrough album I Created Disco in 2007. Having topped Forbes’ list of highest earning DJs every year from 2013 to 2017, these days Calvin is a resident of Los Angeles.

Edinburgh and east of Scotland

bay city rollersFew, if any, Scottish bands have rivalled the Bay City Rollers for global popularity.

Originally formed in 1966, during their 70s pomp the Rollers inspired a fan phenomenon that stretched from the US to Japan.

The diversity of Scotland’s music scene is exemplified in artists who have emerged from Edinburgh.


In the 1960s, groundbreaking folk group The Incredible String Band made their name in Scotland’s capital. A few years later The Rezillos turned cartoon punk into an artform.


shirley mansonShirley Manson began her career with local indie outfit Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and is now the frontwoman for US, multi-million sellers Garbage.

The duo who celebrate their Scottishness like no others, The Proclaimers, recently revealed their affinity with the city through their song Streets of Edinburgh.

Reinforcing the capital’s reputation for variety, the trio Young Fathers is currently regarded as one of the UK’s most important hip hop bands.

Fife, Dundee and Aberdeen

For a comparatively small region of Scotland, Fife has an impressive musical pedigree. The country’s first ever successful heavy rock act, Nazareth, originated in Dunfermline.

The same town was home to The Skids, who in turn gave birth to Big Country. Though born in Edinburgh, singer/songwriter KT Tunstall grew up in Fife. There she was part of the Fence Collective, an influential group of indie folk artists that also included King Creosote.

KT wasn’t the first female from Fife to become a household name for the music she made. She was preceded by Barbara Dickson, who started out as a folk singer but became renowned as an interpreter of songs from musical theatre.

During the 70s no one could have predicted that a bunch of white musicians from Dundee and Glasgow would reach the peak of a musical genre dominated by black America. But that’s exactly what the Average White Band did.

Another Dundee/Glasgow combination who have enjoyed notable success from the 80s onwards are Deacon Blue.

Over the years Scotland has produced its fair share of distinctive voices. One of those belonged to Dundee’s Billy McKenzie of The Associates.

An even more celebrated vocalist–named as One of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine–is Annie Lennox, who was born and grew up in Aberdeen.

Nearby Alford in Aberdeenshire was the home of Emeli Sandé from the age of four. As well as a performer, Emeli is an in-demand composer who has written songs for everyone from Leona Lewis to Susan Boyle (whose home in West Lothian is in singing distance of Edinburgh Airport).

Beyond Scotland

The Scots diaspora has made its mark in every field of human activity and music is no exception. Though born in London, Rod Stewart is fiercely proud of his Scottish roots.

Meanwhile, when one of the biggest selling acts of all time, AC/DC, came to fame they had three Scots-born members in the line up: brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, and Bon Scott.

So, even if you travel outside the country you’ll find artists with strong Scottish roots filling the airwaves and ever present on music sites.

Scotland found its pop voice back in 1955 and it has no intention to turn down the volume. On the contrary, it’s always ready to Rip It Up.

Rip It Up: The story of Scottish pop has ended. 

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