Growing up in Scotland in the 1970’s, draped in tartan, soaked in whisky, buried in shortbread and fearful of Nessie, it was probably inevitable that I’d be drawn to Big Country. After all, they were Scottish, weren’t they? If not exactly draped, they were certainly trimmed in tartan. In their music videos they could be seen standing on top of snowy mountains or fooling around on lowland farms. As for the whisky, well, I’m pretty sure it was in there somewhere too. The bread crumbs that led me to Big Country were trailed out long before I had any real idea what was going on. Some things never change.
Like all Scottish children of that time I had a Granny who’d rung the neck of her own Christmas goose, a mum whose dog had been named Jock and a dad and brother who both played in a pipe band. I’d been moved to tears when Scotland didn’t win the football world cup in 1978 in Argentina, as we’d all been convinced they would, and when I grew up I wanted to have sideburns like racing driver Jackie Stewart or be able to run as fast as Alan Wells, or both.
The soundtrack to all of this were people like the Alexander Brothers, friendly uncle types who looked marvellous in front of a roaring fire in their finest fitted kilts, hem lines bang centre of the knee so as not to appear too racy. Of course there had been the Bay City Rollers and Rod Stewart, he was Scottish – wasn’t he? I was too young for them and luckily managed to side-step. Instead I was beaten over the head by repeat plays of Mull of Kintyre and One Day at a Time.
As such, music was a background noise, a buzzing bonneted bee bumbling away in the distance. Even as a fledgling Scot I had to struggle hard not to be crushed by the combined weight of Scottish cliché. Even the skirl of the massed pipes and drums, though stirring in its own way, didn’t really connect me to the mains.
Then one night in a dark Orkney hall, dazzled by the lights of the mobile disco and the fizzing bubble of the cheap cola in my belly I was plugged into that invisible musical electricity system. I clearly remember feeling like I’d been shot through by a bolt of energy which had caused my usually reserved being to start careering around the hall like a calf with a cattle prod tied to its tail. It was the most electrifying thing I’d even heard.
Of course, this all comes under the heading of nostalgia now but so what? Even now, when all’s quiet and no one’s looking I find the song again, crank it right up and for a few happy moments I’m an electrified calf again.