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Top 20 of the Best Scottish Indie Pop Bands of the 1980s

A personal account of a visit during my time spent on Lake Garda where I lived and worked for 6 months.


The Caledonian Tartan Beat

Scotland enjoyed a fruitful ten years of pop classics after punk left the mainstream. Here was a more polished, urbane and definitely more smartly-dressed collection of talented songwriters and musicians.

Some of the best tunes of the 1980s came from that small corner of North-Western Europe taking the charts by storm and delighting discerning audiences of good taste in all the places where good music with a touch of class is always appreciated.

Enjoy these reminiscences through this A-Z selection of the Caledonian tartan beat of the 1980s pop world from the little-known minstrels of the road to the household names of TV and mainstream radio.

1. Altered Images

A band from Glasgow that started out in 1979 as part of the post-Punk New Wave scene sweeping the UK at that time. They were former school friends Clare Grogan, Gerard McInulty, Tony McDaid, Johnny McElhone and Michael Anderson, After a couple of failed singles they quickly changed to a more Pop-oriented sound and it was to bring great success in the early 1980s.

With the energetic Grogan on vocals, their exuberant and catchy singles hit the charts. Songs like 'Happy Birthday', 'I Could be Happy' and 'See Those Eyes' all rode high in the UK charts.

Their first two albums 'Happy Birthday' in 1981 and 'Pinky Blue' in the following year both went silver. Their third disc 'Bite' also sold well and spawned the hit single 'Don't Talk to Me About Love'. However, after this album, the band decided to break up and go their separate ways.

Bassist Johnny McElhone immediately found some short-term success with the band Hipsway and in 1986 even greater acclaim with Texas. Clare Grogan became an actress and a Music TV presenter as well as occasional radio DJ. She has featured in Scottish movies like 'Gregory's Girl' and TV shows such as 'Eastenders', 'Red Dwarf' and 'Father Ted'.

2. The Associates

This band came from Dundee and sprung into life in 1979. In effect, they were really a duo who consisted of singer Billy McKenzie and guitarist Alan Rankin.

Success came quickly for the band with their debut album 'The Affectionate Punch' followed in 1982 by 'Sulk' with the latter producing the legendary Top-Ten single 'Party Fears Two' as well as 'Club Country' and '18 Carat Love Affair' which also charted.

However, Rankin left before they were ready to tour with the album and McKenzie continued as a studio artist under the band name. In 1990 he decided to throw off the veneer and continue as a solo artist as well as collaborating with Swiss band 'Yello' on several songs.

Tragically Billy McKenzie committed suicide in 1997 after suffering from clinical depression and the death of his mother. He was much admired in the music business for his vocal dexterity and range and was cited as a creative influence by the likes of U2 singer Bono and Icelandic superstar Bjork.

3. Aztec Camera

Formed in 1980 in East Kilbride by Roddy Frame who would be the only continuous thread in their ever-changing line-up. He was only 16 at the time and his precocious talents wouldn't take long to shine in the limelight.

The band's first hit single 'Oblivious', from their debut album 'High Land, Hard Rain', hit the UK. Top 20 in 1983. Thereafter their output was of consistent quality and although not setting the charts on fire they kept progressing and building a popular following,

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It was 1988 when they hit their artistic and commercial peak with the album 'Love' which was nominated for a Brit award. It also spawned the smash hit 'Somewhere in my Heart' which reached No.3 in the UK and is probably their most recognisable tune.

After six albums and many accolades Frame decided to fold the band in 1995. Occasionally however he has brought Aztec Camera back for some live performances taking a musical trip down memory lane.

4. The Big Dish

A band from the town of Airdrie in Lanarkshire formed in 1983 by Steven Lindsay on vocal and guitar, Mark Ryce on guitar and John Harper on keyboards.

Others came and went during early changes of line-up but then with a contract secured with Virgin Records they released their first album 'Swimmer' in 1986. The following album 'Creeping up on Jesus' in 1988 was a commercial disappointment and the band were dropped by Virgin.

Their last album 'Satellites' came out in 1991 and as with the previous album there was just a rump of the band remaining with session musicians filling the gaps. Steven Lindsay was the only permanent member from beginning to end.

The album was well received by critics and included the single 'Miss America' which made the Top 40 in the UK but surprisingly the band folded soon after. A compilation album, 'Rich Man's Wardrobe' was ironically released by Virgin in 1994.

Apart from a brief reformation in 2012 at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow and the Darvel Music Festival The Big Dish remain consigned to history.

5. The Blow Monkeys

A group formed in 1981 and led by Bruce Howard AKA 'Dr Robert'. Bruce comes from Haddington in East Lothian but spent his youth in Australia. He teamed up in London with Mick Anker on bass, saxophonist Neville Henry and Tony Kiley on drums.

Strictly speaking, they are classified as a British band as the personnel came from all over the country. But there is no doubting that Dr Robert dominated the group with song-writing and the direction that they took.

Their debut album 'Limping for a Generation' arrived in 1984 but they came to public attention with their first hit single 'Digging Your Scene' in 1986 which reached No 12 in the UK and an astonishing No.14 in the Billboard charts.

Their biggest UK hit and most identifiable tune was 'It Doesn't Have to be This Way' released in 1987. Their first four albums in the 1980s all sold well but after the fifth, 'Springtime for the World' released in 1990, they broke up.

However, a long-awaited reformation eventually came in 2007 and The Blow Monkeys are still active on the music scene making records and playing shows.

6. The Blue Nile

An enigmatic force from Glasgow formed in 1981. Since then they have only released four albums and may, or may not, have disbanded in 2004. Such is the modus operandi of The Blue Nile who have never been slow to shun publicity.

They started life as a student band comprising Paul Buchanan, Rober Bell and Paul Moore. After securing a record deal their first album 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' saw the light in 1984 and it contained the classic single 'Tinseltown in the Rain' which is still their most recognisable song.

Their second album 'Hats' in 1989 was critically well-received and even made a small dent in the Billboard charts. This attention in the USA led to Paul Buchanan living in Los Angeles and collaborating with American artists such as Michael McDonald and Robbie Robertson.

He and Bell have since toured the UK with a Blue Nile setlist without the presence of Moore who had departed in 2004 but since then they have refused to officially appear as the band.

7. The Bluebells

A band forever associated with their smash No.1 single 'Young at Heart' which took a strange route to the top of the charts.

Originally a Bananarama song co-written by Bobby Bluebell, AKA Robert Hodgens, with his then paramour, singer Siobhan Fahey of the girl band. It was later recorded by The Bluebells and released in 1984 reaching No.8 in the charts.

But after being used for a TV advert for Volkswagen cars in 1993 the song was re-released and hit the top. The band had actually split up in 1986 but got back together to enjoy the unexpected success. However a permanent reunion wasn't on the cards despite the new-found fame and 'Top of the Pops' appearance.

But since then they have briefly reformed on occasion for concerts playing that famous tune but also other hits such as 'Cath' and 'I'm Falling'. Bobby Bluebell has also lent his song-writing talents to various acts such as Bon Jovi, Sinead O'Connor, Brian Wilson and fellow Scots band Texas..

8. Bronski Beat

A trio founded in 1983 with two members from Glasgow, keyboardist Steve Bronski and singer Jimmy Somerville. Another keyboard man Larry Steinbachek made up the triumvirate. All three members were gay and particularly wanted to raise gender politics in their music.

After several live shows they secured a record contract and their first single 'Smalltown Boy' was a massive hit. It reached No.3 on the UK charts and topped the classifications in Holland and Belgium. It also broke into the Top 50 singles charts in the USA.

They enjoyed a great deal of success with more hit singles including a cover of 'I Feel Love' and 'Hit That Perfect Beat' both of which also landed at the No.3 spot in the UK.
Their first album 'The Age of Consent' in 1984 went platinum with their second 'Truthdare Doubledare' in 1986 also selling well. The second album featured John Foster on vocals as Jimmy Somerville had left to form The Communards.

After recruiting several more singers through the years the band eventually broke up in 1995 with their parting shot the album 'Rainbow Nation'. A reunion eventually came but it took until 2016 with a new line-up of Bronski and Ian Donaldson on keyboards/percussion with singer Stephen Granville.

9. Danny Wilson

A Dundee band formed in 1984 and named after the protagonist of the 1952 Frank Sinatra movie 'Meet Danny Wilson'. They had previously been named Spencer Tracy but the estate of the late Hollywood great took exception and threatened to sue.

So their first album 'Meet Danny Wilson' came out under the new name in 1987 and was a moderate success. However, it was the single 'Mary's Prayer' which pop lovers remember. Released the following year it was a huge smash hit in the UK reaching No.3 in the charts and even charted in the US Top 30.

Their second album in 1989 called 'Bebop Moptop' sold more than their debut and produced another top single with 'The Second Summer of Love' which reached a respectable No.23 in the Hit Parade.

Friction within the band and frustration at the lack of success and airplay, despite valuable promotion from Virgin Records, led to their demise. Despite writing and recording demos for a third album they broke up in 1991 with a greatest hits compilation surfacing in 1993.

However, they have on occasion reformed for one-off performances but with no indication of a permanent return. Nevertheless, they will forever be remembered as belonging to that purple patch of Scottish bands like Deacon Blue, Texas and Aztec Camera that had flowered in the late '80s and early '90s.

10. Deacon Blue

Formed in Glasgow in 1985 they were a sophisticated mixture of 1980s pop merged with 1960’s Soul making them one of the most stylish and classy bands around.

Calling themselves after a Steely Dan song they were Ricky Ross, Lorraine McIntosh, James Prime, Dougie Vipond, Ewen Vernal and Graeme Kelling. They had massive success in the UK and Europe with songs like ‘Dignity’, 'Chocolate Girl', ‘Loaded’, ‘Real Gone Kid’ and ‘Fergus Sings the Blues’.

Dundonian singer Ricky Ross proved a superb songwriter and the band's 1987 debut album 'Raintown' remains a classic. The follow-up 'When the World Knows Your Name' in 1989 went double platinum in the UK.

The band split in 1994 with Ross pursuing a solo career. Fellow singer Lorraine McIntosh became a successful actress in Scotland appearing as a regular in TV soap ‘River City' and drummer Dougie Vipond became a BBC sports presenter.

They reformed in 1999 and remained a popular headline act albeit in sporadic phases through the first decade of the new century as they also continued to work on individual projects. Sadly Graham Kelling died of cancer in 2004.

However, since 2010, they have been back in the studio recording new albums although fresh single success has eluded them. But they are still a popular attraction on the live circuit and held in great affection by Scottish music fans.

11. Fiction Factory

A New Wave band from Perth who were formed in 1983 after some of them had previously played in a Ska band called The Rude Boys.

The new band comprised Kevin Patterson, Chic Medley, Eddie Jordan, Grant Taylor, Graham McGregor and Mike Ogletree.

Success came immediately in the shape of their first single 'Feels Like Heaven' which soared to No.6 in the UK charts and was also a big hit around Europe.

However they were destined to be one-hit-wonders as they never built on that initial momentum. In fact both albums that they made, 'Throw the Warped Wheel Out' and 'Another Story' failed to break into the charts but were worthy efforts all the same.

The band subsequently broke up in 1987. There was a brief reunion however in 2011 when some former members reformed for the Rewind Festival in their native Perthshire.

12. Hue and Cry

A brotherly combo from Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire who hit the musical trail in 1983.

Pat and Greg Kane were signed up by the Circa label in 1986 and the following year came their most famous hit 'Labour of Love' which reached No.6 in the UK charts and the album from which it came 'Seduced and Abandoned' was also relatively successful.

Another memorable song was 'Looking for Linda' from their 1988 follow-up album 'Remote', the former reached No.15, the latter No.10. The late 80's and 90's were the peak years for the band enjoying the popularity of their soulful Pop with hints of Jazz.

In 1991 they diversified into traditional Folk, Country and Latin influences with their third album 'Stars Crash Down'. The change of direction did them no harm as the album hit Top 10 although the singles were only minor hits.

They have never scaled such heights again but they have never gone away either and have averaged an album almost every two years since their debut. They have also toured regularly and appeared at festivals, charity shows and on mainstream TV programmes throughout their long career.

13. H2O

A New Wave band with a prominent synthesiser sound formed in Glasgow in 1978. Among their earlier members was Alan McGhee who later became famous for signing-up and managing the fledgling Oasis as head of Creation Records.

They built a domestic following in Scotland with airplay on the radio and an independent single 'Hollywood Dream' in 1981. The next year they were snapped up by RCA and toured with Kajagoogoo who were hot property at the time.

But H2O made their own mark in 1983 with a hit single 'I Dream to Sleep' which reached No.17 in the UK charts. The title of the follow-up single 'Just Outside of Heaven' was prophetic as it just sneaked inside the Top 40.

Their only studio album named 'Faith came out in 1984 but they struggled to build on their success and somewhat prematurely they split up in 1985.

However they weren't away for long as their was a reformation in 1987 with a new line-up. It was short lived and since then they have appeared sporadically for one-off gigs for charity or just sheer nostalgia.

14. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

Although Lloyd Cole is English, the rest of the band were all Scottish and formed when Cole was a student at Glasgow University.

That was back in 1982 and they soon got a deal with Polydor to get them off the ground running and they didn't have to wait long for success to come knocking at their door.

Their 1984 single 'Perfect Skin' reached the UK Top 30 and the band went onwards and upwards from there with their debut album 'Rattlesnakes' going Top 20 and their next album 'Easy Pieces' outdoing after reaching No.5 in the charts.

The singles from the second album also reflected their rise with 'Brand New Friend' and 'Lost Weekend' both making the Top 20. Their third album 'Mainstream', released in 1987, was also a commercial success and included the single 'Jennifer She Said' which made the UK Top 40.

However they decided to break up on a high in 1989 with the release of a greatest hits album and like all the other discs it went gold in Britain. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions certainly enjoyed a short but very sweet golden era in the 1980's.

15. Love and Money

A Glasgow band pressed into action in 1985 comprising members of a previous band called Friends Again. They were James Grant, Paul McGeechan and Stuart Kerr who brought in a new friend in the guise of Bobby Paterson.

Their particular brand of Pop Rock also forayed into Soul and Funk in a rich repertoire of mid-80's tartan chic. This was exemplified on their debut album 'All You Need is ....Love and Money' which was released in 1986 to moderate success.

Two years later their second album 'Strange Kind of Love' came out and gave them success in Europe and beyond without making a huge mark in the UK. But the accompanying tour took in the USA and Japan. They also opened for acts like Tina Turner, Simply Red and BB King. The album had been produced by Gary Katz with contributions from Rick Derringer and Donald Fagen so it seems the band were in good company.

More albums appeared in the 1990's and into the 2000's singles which never quite hit the UK Top 40 but which kept them on the radar. So although massive chart success has eluded them Love and Money have never stopped going and have always produced good music.

16. Orange Juice

A Glasgow band from the affluent suburb of Bearsden who were formed in 1979. Their most famous member was Edwyn Collins with other original musicians being Alan Duncan, James Kirk and Steven Daly,

After a few single releases their first album was 'You Can't Hide Your Love Forever' in 1982. Later that year they managed to churn out another album called 'Rip it Up' and the single of the same name became their biggest hit with a placing at No.8 in the UK Charts.

They were busy again in 1984 with another two albums 'Texas Fever' in March and 'The Orange Juice' in November. By then they had undergone line-up changes in their short career in the business and Edwyn Collins was the only original member.

Ironically their last single was called 'Lean Period' reflecting the lack of any more big hits. In 1985 the band broke up after problems with their record label's frustration at the lack of commercial success. Collins continued to have a successful solo career after their demise.

17. The Silencers

A band of exiles originally as they were formed in London in 1987 by Scots Jimmie O'Neill and the late Cha Burns. O'Neill had had written songs for Paul Young and Lena Lovich while Burns had been more in the limelight playing with Adam Ant.

Although never storming the national charts they produced quality songs, often catchy and accessible especially 'The Real McCoy' in 1988 and a wonderful version of the traditional song 'Wild Mountain Thyme' in 1995.

The peak of their recording career was undoubtedly their third album 'Dance to the Holy Man' released in 1991 and which reached the Top 40 in the UK charts. With the onset of the new decade tastes had changed in the mainstream and The Silencers never built on that success.

Nevertheless they continued to record albums and singles and are still a popular band, not only in Scotland but also across Europe. They still go on tour around the country to healthy audiences and appear at music festivals.

18. Strawberry Switchblade

A female duo who started up in Glasgow in 1981 comprising Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall who, in keeping with the New Romantic era at that time dressed in flamboyant clothing,

Originally a 4-piece they recorded a demo and played some local gigs. They also recorded a session for John Peel on his BBC Radio show in 1982. Scottish musician Bill Drummond became their manager and got them signed to the record label Korovia.

Their first single, "Trees and Flowers" came out the following year but it was in 1984 when they scored that one-hit wonder when their second single 'Since Yesterday' went to No.5 in the UK charts. The song sampled a well-known classical work with the opening fanfare taken from Sibelius's 5th Symphony.

The ladies released their first and only studio album 'Strawberry Switchblade' in 1985 but they didn't build on their success in the UK and Europe with no more hit singles.

However for a while they still maintained a strong following in Japan. But it all ended in tears and after an acrimonious split the band officially broke up in 1986

19. Wet Wet Wet

Originally called Vortex Motion this band was formed by schoolmates in Clydebank next to Glasgow in 1982. Bassist Graeme Clark and drummer Tommy Cunningham set the ball rolling and were joined by keyboardist Neil Mitchell.

All they needed was a singer and a trainee painter and decorator named Mark McLachlan was taken on by the band. He is, of course, better known by his adopted stage name of Marti Pellow, one of the best singers in the business.

It took a few years for success to come their way launched them from underground into the stratosphere. They signed with Polygram in 1985 and this gave them the boost they needed for commercial success. But even they must have been astonished at how successful they would become.

Their first single 'Wishing I Was Lucky' hit the UK Top 10 and was a minor hit in the USA. The subsequent album 'Popped In Souled Out' was a massive UK No.1 hit eventually going quintuple platinum in Britain.

They had a string of hit singles in the late '80s such as 'Angel Eyes', 'Temptation', 'Sweet Surrender' and a 1988 UK No.1 cover of The Beatles' 'With a Little Help From My Friends'.

They shaded a little commercially in the 1990s in the single charts with the exception of their second chart-topper 'Goodnight Girl' and their famous cover of 'Love is All Around' which spent an incredible 15 weeks at No.1 in 1994.

Although less prolific in the 2000's they held their own in the record stores and on the stages of the world. Eventually however in 2017 Marti Pelllow, who had previously branched out on his own in stage musicals, announced he was quitting the band to concentrate on solo work, writing and acting.

20. Win

Formed in 1983 from the ashes of a Punk band called The Fire Engines the new line-up of Win led by Davy Henderson decided on a new Pop-leaning direction to their music.

Coming from Edinburgh they were well-known and successful in Scotland but remained obscure elsewhere. The strangely entitled 'Uh! Tears Baby' was their first album in 1987 and it enjoyed some success.

Primarily this was due to their 1986 single 'You've Got the Power' which, although a fantastic piece of catchy Pop Music in its own right, gained household fame in the country.

Not only was it used for a legendary advert for McEwans lager but it appeared during commercial breaks during the World Cup in Mexico that summer. With high viewing figures guaranteed and with many thirsty football fans this brought them to the wide attention of the public.

Their music was inventive and eccentric and you couldn't fault them for imagination and thinking out of the musical box. They signed to Virgin Records and released their second album 'Freaky Trigger' in 1989 but it never took off and the band eventually split in 1990.

The members went on to other projects, most notably Davy Henderson with his new band The Nectarine No.9.

More Scottish Pop Music

A quality assortment of songs and bands glowing with creative sophistication and unbridled ingenuity. Perhaps some you knew and some you didn't know.

Some you liked and hopefully none you didn't like, at least not many anyway. And these were from only one bright decade in the history of Scottish popular music.

You can even go backward or forward, or both, and find many more great pop bands from Scotland. They were there back in the 1970s and 1960s and more were to come in the 1990s and onto the new millennium. Enjoy your internet searching for these musical jewels in the heather.

Questions & Answers

Question: What Scottish band had a #3 hit in 1983? The song is also the bands' name.

Answer: Do you mean "In a Big Country"?


Jason Howell on May 29, 2020:

The Associates, what a band with Billy Mckenzie up front, Party Fears Two What a song mint

Terry MaCann on July 05, 2018:

A song I had on vinyl in the 80s it was on a live lp double ska fest first song on side 1 was called paranoid I can't member nothin bout the lp or the band

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