Top 20 of the Best Scottish Indie Rock Bands of the 1990s
It's the end of the century as we know it, someone might have sung back then. The Rock 'n' Roll century, maybe the American century, as it was certainly called.
The music of the USA dominated popular culture for the second half of those 100 years. But a little nation of only 5 million people attached to an island off northwest Europe gave it a go and produced many great bands.
Although always in the shade of their bigger neighbour down south there were many Scottish diamonds that cut the vinyl and made their mark on musical history. Here are 20 from that last decade of the last century.
1. Arab Strap
Originating from Falkirk in Central Scotland in 1995, Arab Strap was founded by Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton. They released the album The Week Never Starts Round Here in 1996 and were joined by Gary Millar and David Gow to form a four-piece band.
They were an influential band that specialised in colloquial story-telling through music. Moffat sang in a Scottish accent about personal themes with frank and sometimes unsettling lyrics, laced with dark humour.
Their peak years were in the late 1990s, when they were at the fore of the fertile Glasgow music scene. Releasing six albums in total, their final disc, The Last Romance, came out in 2005.
They split up in 2006, playing their farewell gig in Japan. However, they reformed in 2016 for some anniversary gigs and have begun touring again. According to Aidan Moffat, "We wanted to celebrate it while we’re still relatively young and don’t look too embarrassing."
2. Country Teasers
Formed in 1993 in Edinburgh, this band unleashed their visceral attack on any and every musical genre in the business. Led by Ben Wallers, their original target was Country and Western music, but then they spread their net much more widely.
Their sound has been compared to that of Joy Division and The Fall, and their lyrics to anything from Jonathan Swift to Bill Hicks. They released Satan Is Real Again in 1996 and Destroy All Human Life in 1999, demonstrating their deliberately offensive approach to song-writing. They faced accusations of racism, sexism, and general misanthropy.
But the band would always insist they were on the harder edge of satire lampooning politics, society, and whatever else deserved to be in their sights. More releases followed in the new century, with the last full album The Empire Strikes Back coming out in 2006.
3. The Delgados
A Lanarkshire band formed in 1994 in the town of Motherwell, The Delgados consisted of Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock, both on vocals and guitar, with bassist Stewart Henderson and drummer Paul Savage.
At an early stage, they decided not to bother chasing a record deal, setting up their own company instead. Thus the Chemikal Underground record label was born. Their debut album, Domestiques, came out in 1996. The label also helped bands like Bis, Mogwai, and Arab Strap.
They were a favourite of BBC DJ John Peel and were invited to record sessions for his show on seven different occasions.
They brought out another two albums under their own steam before the fourth, called Hate, was released in 2002 under the Mantra label. Unfortunately, they decided to break up in 2005, after struggling to make the breakthrough that their music surely deserved.
4. 18 Wheeler
18 Wheeler's founding members were Sean Jackson on vocals and guitar, David Keenan, also on guitar and vocals, Chris Stewart on bass, and Alan Hake on drums. After some personnel changes, their first album Twin Action came out in 1994.
This was followed by Formanka in 1995 and Year Zero in 1997. The latter album featured their most successful single, "Stay," which had moderate success in the UK charts. But riding on the wave of the 1990s Cool Britannia, they were introduced by Tony Blair at the 1996 Labour Party Conference.
Prior to that they actually appeared on the same bill as Oasis in 1993 at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. On that fateful night, Oasis was signed up by Alan McGee. 18 Wheeler was also signed up by McGee's Creation Records, which released their first three albums.
Incredibly, they were actually dropped by the label after almost completing the recording of their planned fourth album. They subsequently split and went their separate ways.
Formed in Glasgow in 1995 by Stuart Henderson and Graham Gavin, Ganger featured guitarist Lucy McKenzie, drummer James Young, and Steven Clark on drums and keyboards.
Described as a mixture of alternative and electronic rock, their sound was clearly influenced by the German Krautrock movement of the 1970s, with long instrumental passages in their music.
Their first recorded work was an EP entitled "Half Nelson" that came out in 1996. It was followed by another, the sardonically named "The Cat's in the Bag .. the Bag's in the River." The following year saw their debut album Fore hit the shelves.
After a big change of personnel, they released two more albums: Hammock Style in 1998 and Canopy in 1999, in a short but prolific period in the mid- to late-'90s. They were not to survive the new millennium, however, as they broke up in the year 2000.
An outfit from Aberdeen, Geneva was formed in 1992 by singer Andrew Montgomery and guitarist Steven Dora. They took on three more members: guitarist Stuart Evans, bassist Keith Graham, and drummer Craig Brown.
They had previously been known as Sunfish and then Garland before settling on the name Geneva in 1996. That year marked their contract with record label Nude and their first single "No One Speaks."
This led to a place on an NME-sponsored tour of the UK in 1997 for young and upcoming bands, as well as their debut album Further that summer. It was a successful first disc, as it reached No.20 on the UK album charts and produced four singles, all of which made the Top 40.
Their second album, Weather Underground, was released in 2000. It didn't perform so well and neither did its singles. The group folded that same year.
7. The Gyres
A group from Blantyre, Lanarkshire, The Gyres were created in 1994 by Andy McLinden on vocals, Paul McLinden and Peter Lyons on guitars, Mark McGill on bass, and Paddy Flaherty on drums
They hit the ground running with notable support slots from Brit-Rock heroes Oasis, Reef, Echobelly, and Cast, as well as a chance to open for US giants Bon Jovi and the immortal Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie.
They also appeared in a BBC Scotland documentary in their hometown, featuring music, conversation, and liberal a quaffing of Buckfast while hanging around street corners.
Their debut album, which eventually appeared in 1997, was appropriately titled First, but garnered no single success, as the tunes lifted from the album failed to dent the UK charts.
The Gyres finally decided to call it a day in 1999, and a new band called Point Blank emerged from the remains.
Horse is the unusual stage name of Sheena Mary McDonald, born in 1958 in Newport-on-Tay in Fife. It is also the name given to her band. Gifted with a rich and textured singing voice, she came to prominence in the late 1980s as a great singer but also as an intelligent songwriter.
She and her band have toured with international superstars, opening for the likes of Bryan Ferry, Burt Bacharach, and Tina Turner. She is noted for her outstanding live performances where her range, subtlety, and emotional expression bring her music to life and captivate audiences wherever she plays.
A record deal with Capitol Records was secured in 1990, and since Horse has released nine albums, although none of them have scaled the heights of chart success. Horse consolidated a strong and steady back-catalogue of material and a loyal fan-base.
They are also well-revered in Continental Europe, especially in Germany. Sheena has come a long way after fleeing the anti-gay prejudice of the small town of Lanark where she lived as a youngster and where she returned defiantly in 2013 to marry in a civil ceremony.
9. The Kevin McDermott Orchestra
A grandly entitled band, The Kevin McDermott Orchestra was founded in 1984 in Glasgow by McDermott himself. Initially Kevin strummed away on his own and released a solo mini-album before deciding to form a band. He was joined by his brother Jim on drums, Stephen Greer on bass, and Marco Rossi on guitar.
They were signed by the prestigious Island Records. Their first album Mother Nature's Kitchen' was released in 1989, but a lack of singles success led to them being dropped by the label.
Subsequently, the Kevin McDermott Orchestra have always considered a very underrated act that deserved more recognition beyond the Scottish shores. As Kevin once bemoaned, ''It's partly to do with the Scottish disease we all suffer from. Certain people would prefer me to come from Athens, Georgia and be really terrible than to come from their own backyard...."
Undeterred by this, they continued to record music and brought out well-received albums: Bedazzled in 1991 and The Last Supper in 1994. They are still on the go, making creative and interesting music for a loyal following of fans.
10. The Kaisers
Formed in Edinburgh in 1992, The Kaisers were a garage beat band with music that stepped straight out of the early 1960s-era of the northern Merseybeat. Originally consisting of both vocalist George Miller and Matt Armstrong on guitars, with bassist John Gibbs and drummer Johnny Maben, they underwent several line-up changes over their decade-long career.
But they were also prolific in their output, recording a total of six albums with their debut being Squarehead Stomp! in 1993. This was followed by useful exposure on Scottish TV and radio.
The next album, In Step With The Kaisers, came out in 1994, but their third release is generally regarded as their best: Beat It Up (1996) won them new fans and even led to a tour of the USA.
They produced three more albums, recorded a John Peel session for BBC Radio 1, and had another tour of the USA. But in the late 1990s, the momentum of the band slowed down, with more personnel changes and band members delving into side-projects.
After their last album Shake Me (2002), The Kaisers broke up. However, they resurfaced again in 2015 and are back on the road, playing gigs to enthusiastic audiences.
11. The Nectarine No. 9
The Nectarine No. 9 was formed in Edinburgh in 1991 by serial band creator Davy Henderson. He had previously been at the head of the bands The Fire Engines, Heartbeat, and Win through the '80s before setting up The Nectarine No.9.
He was joined by Simon Smeeton on guitar and keyboards, Iain Holford on bass, and John Thompson on drums. Over a very prolific career, the band released nine albums in only 13 years, beginning with A Sea With Three Stars in 1992 and ending with I Love Total Destruction in 2004.
They were also featured on seven John Peel sessions at BBC Radio. Described as "dark, moody and brilliant" with a dissonance enlivened by "quirky rhythms," their music was likened to the likes of Lou Reed and Captain Beefheart.
They attracted a loyal following of fans with a discernment for their experimentation, hard-hitting lyrics, and uproarious stage shows. So it was a popular move in 2014 when they got together again to play live and perform their best album Saint Jack in full.
12. Primal Scream
A very successful band from Glasgow, Primal Scream came kicking and screaming onto the musical scene in 1982. Created by vocalist Bobby Gillespie and Jim Beattie, the band has undergone multiple line-up changes over the years but are still going strong.
Their first two albums, Sonic Flower Groove (1987) and Primal Scream (1989) were well-received, but it was 1991 when they really hit the big time.
Their third album, Screamadelica went to the Top 10 in the UK, won a Mercury Music Prize, and eventually achieved Platinum status. Memorable songs included the epic and hypnotic "Loaded," plus "Moving on Up," and "Come Together."
Since then, they've hardly been out of the Top 10 on the album charts and have a had a string of hit singles, including "Rocks," "Kowalski," and "Country Girl," which became their biggest hit, peaking at No.6 in the UK in 2006.
They have also been very popular and commercially successful in Japan and are still recording and touring around the globe. But Primal Scream certainly had their heyday in the 1990s.
13. The River Detectives
A Folk Rock band from Wishaw in North Lanarkshire, The River Detectives was comprised of duo of Sam Corry and Dan O'Neill. They started up in 1985 and began playing pub gigs in their local area. They then expanded into touring around Scotland in 1988 and built up a healthy following.
They even attracted the interest of the Warner Brothers record label, which signed them. Their first album, Saturday Night Sunday Morning came out in 1989. It achieved silver status in the UK and featured the Top 40 single "Chains."
They went on their travels in the 1990s, relocating to Ireland after their second album Elvis Has Left the Building was released in 1992. In 1996, after two of their songs went Top 10 in South Africa, they moved to Durban and stayed for a year among a receptive audience.
After a short hiatus, they decided to take a break in 2000. Five years later, for their third album, King of the Ghost Train Ride to come out. However, the band eventually split up after a farewell show in Glasgow in 2009.
14. The Secret Goldfish
A Glasgow band spawned in 1994, The Secret Goldfish sprang from the remains of two earlier bands, The Fizzbombs, and The MacKenzies. The line-up included singer Katy McCullars, guitarist John Morose, bassist Steven McSeveney, and drummer Paul Turnbull.
Taking their name from The Catcher in the Rye novel, they released their first album Aqua Pet . . . You Make Me in 1996, which was followed the next year by Jet Streams and then Mink Riots in 1999. Their catchy and eclectic sound was described by writer Martin Strong as "sounding much like The Jesus and Mary Chain locked in a public toilet with Jefferson Airplane and The New York Dolls".
They had the honour of recording a session for John Peel on BBC Radio 1. Peel also invited them to appear at the Meltdown Festival in London in 1999. This would be one of their last performances for a long time.
They disappeared from the music scene at the turn of the new century and were not seen again until 2016 when they started playing live again. A new album, Petal Split, surfaced the following year, although the initial recordings had actually started back in 2000.
15. The Supernaturals
A Glasgow 5-piece band founded in 1991, The Supernaturals featured singer and guitarist James McColl, Derek McManus on guitar, Mark Guthrie on bass, Ken McAlpine on keyboards, and Gavin Crawford on drums. After plying their trade for a few years, things started to move when they secured a deal with Parlophone in 1996.
Their debut album, It Doesn't Matter Anymore, was released in 1997, reaching No. 9 on the UK charts and they enjoyed the limelight, touring with Robbie Williams around the UK and Europe.
Their second album, A Tune a Day, was also a respectable hit, reaching No. 21 in 1998. Their singles performed well, with several of them reaching the UK Top 40 but a higher placing proved elusive.
After their third album, What We Did Last Summer (2002), and a tour with The Proclaimers, the band disappeared from the scene. They didn't re-emerge until 2012. Then in 2015, after a long process of writing and recording, they released their long-awaited fourth album, 360.
16. Teenage Fanclub
A much-admired band from Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Teenage Fanclub formed in 1989. They were Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, Gerard Love, Francis MacDonald, and Dave McGowan.
With three vocalists, their sound was clearly influenced by The Byrds of the 1960s, but with their own distinctive touch of melodic and gentle Indie Rock. However, originally their music was coarser, more chaotic, and inspired by Punk.
It was their fifth album, Grand Prix, released in 1995 through Alan McGee's Creation Records, that brought them success. It went to the Top 10 in the UK with some minor hit singles sprouting from the disc.
But it was the next album, Songs From Northern Britain that would prove to be their definitive classic and most successful album to date. Released in 1997, it went to No. 3 on the UK Charts and spawned a Top 20 single, "Ain't That Enough."
Their later albums maintained the quality and performed well commercially but were not huge smashes, with no more hit singles. Then in 2016, their eleventh disc Here rose to No.10 in the UK, proving they were still as popular as ever.
This band quickly lost the "Indie" label and effortlessly slipped into the mainstream not long after they were established. It all began in 1986, when Johhny McElhone, ex-bassist with both Altered Images and Hipsway, teamed up with singer Sharleen Spiteri in Glasgow. They were joined by Ally McErlaine on guitar and Stuart Kerr on drums
Named after the movie Paris, Texas, the film's influence was evident on their first album Southside (1989), which was marked by elements of Ry Cooder's guitar style on their smash hit, "I Don't Want a Lover" reaching No. 8 in the UK singles charts.
They stuttered commercially with their second album, Mother's Heaven, but fared a little better with their third, Rick's Road, and then came back with a bang.
Their 1997 album White on Blonde was a No. 1 hit that produced five Top 10 singles including, "Say What You Want," "Halo," and "Black-Eyed Boy," with a sound inspired by the soul music of the Sixties.
That was the peak for Texas, but the hits kept on coming across the new millennium, especially "Carnival Girl," "Getaway," and "Sleep." The group is still in action, touring to large crowds, and making quality albums.
A band from the fertile musical ground of Bellshill in Lanarkshire, Thrum started in 1992 as a four-piece. They had a female vocalist, Monica Queen, backed up by Johnny Smillie on guitar, Dave McGowan on bass, and Gary Johnston on drums.
They quickly secured a deal, signing with Fire Records in 1993, and the following year released their first album Rifferama, which was actually recorded in San Francisco, so they had literally come a long way. But the band split up in 1995.
Monica Queen went on to be a guest vocalist for other acts and had her own solo career, resulting in two albums. She still continues her solo career, but in tandem with Thrum, as the band reformed in 2011 after a long absence of 16 years.
A new album Elettrorama came out the same year and they also made an appearance at the T-in-the-Park Festival. Nowadays they continue to make occasional appearances on stage.
A Glasgow band formed in 1990 under the name of Glass Onion, after the Beatles' song, this band featured singer Fran Healy, Andy Dunlop on guitar, Dougie Payne on bass, and Neil Primrose on drums.
Like some of the best bands, it took time for Glass Onion's talents to come to fruition. Their first album, Good Feeling, didn't appear until 1997 but it was worth the wait as it went to the Top 10 in the UK and resulted in five Top 40 singles.
They really hit the big time with their classic second album, The Man Who, which came out in 1999 and spawned the memorable songs "Driftwood," "Why Does it Always Rain on Me?," and "Turn."
The turn of the century saw them continue their great success with the next three albums going platinum and also doing well in the USA.
The single hits kept on coming too, with several Top 10 smashes in Britain. Since their last hit song, "Selfish Jean" in 2007, the single success has dried up, but their albums continued to sell big and they remain a very popular live act.
20. The Yummy Fur
A Glasgow band founded in 1992, The Yummy Fur took their name from a famous comic book by Chester Brown. Singer and guitarist John McKeown was the leader and main creative force in the band, as they had a lot of changing personnel over the years. These actually included two future members of the group Franz Ferdinand: Alex Kapranos and Paul Thomson.
After a couple of years finding their feet on the scene, they started to record some singles with bizarre names like Music by Walt Disney Played by Yuri Gagarin Thus a Political Record and "Kodak Nancy Europe EP," both released in 1995. Their first album, Night Club went on to the shelves the following year.
They were also featured on two sessions of John Peel's BBC Radio 1, which was a useful boost to their profile. A second album arrived in 1998 entitled Sexy World, but after a year the band had broken up. Tragically, ex-keyboard player Mark Gibbons committed suicide in 1999.
After the band split, John McKeown went on to create the band 1990s, although The Yummy Fur briefly reformed in 2010 for a short US tour to promote a greatest hits album.
You can't stop Rock n' Roll, as someone else did indeed say and it didn't stop there in the 1990s for Scotland.
After the anti-climax of the Y2K's non-existent apocalypse and Mayan Armageddon, the Scots just kept rocking into the new millennium. Established bands continued to hit the charts and the concert halls of the world and new bands burst onto the scene.
With the advent of streaming in the download generation, the new 21st century boys and girls of Old Caledonia brought even more of that tartan ingenuity to music fans everywhere. Seek and ye shall find, it's all out there if you want to check out more of what Scotland has to offer.
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