The greatest Scottish indie bands – ranked!

With five beloved Teenage Fanclub albums coming back around on vinyl this summer, we look at the best of the band’s Scottish indie brethren

10 Primal Scream

Primal Scream have variously been a post-industrial noise band, 60s traditionalists, beatific, ecstasy-fuelled dance-pop pioneers, belligerently political experimentalists, Rolling Stones imitators and dub enthusiasts. Their oeuvre ranges from the sublime to the catastrophic and all points in between; a compilation of their best moments would be both baffling and fantastic.

9 Life Without Buildings

A band out of time, Life Without Buildings split just before the noughties post-punk revival, during which they might have slotted in, although they weren’t so much inspired by the sound of the early 80s as its exploratory spirit: the oblique sprechgesang vocals of singer Sue Tompkins rested on quietly simmering guitar riffs to spellbinding effect.

8 Fire Engines

They could write pop songs – the brilliant 1981 single Candyskin even featured a string arrangement – but the real legacy of Edinburgh’s Fire Engines was in their nervy, hyper-kinetic funk rhythms and abrasive guitar clang, a sound streamlined and taken to the top of the charts 20 years later by Franz Ferdinand.

7 Mogwai

In the late 90s, the great Chemikal Underground label suggested a Scottish indie renaissance at odds with then-current alt-rock trends, involving the smart, folky Delgados, Arab Strap’s scuzzy spoken word and Mogwai, whose distinctive, intense, witty, constantly evolving brand of post-rock proved the most lasting and impactful of all.

6 The Associates

A band that literally sounded like no other, the Associates shifted from wiry, idiosyncratic post-punk to the sumptuous art-pop of 1982’s peerless Sulk, their disparate sound bound together by the late Billy Mackenzie’s astonishing vocals: everyone knows their hit single Party Fears Two, but a whole world of remarkable music bears their name.

5 Belle and Sebastian

Emerging at Britpop’s height, Belle and Sebastian were its antithesis: thoughtful, bookish, hushed, in thrall to 60s and 70s singer-songwriters and the kind of indie music the vaulting commercial ambitions of mid-90s alt-rock was supposed to have rendered obsolete. Clearly it hadn’t, at least not if you could write songs as strong and touching as those on 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister.

4 Josef K

On the slender roster of the legendary Postcard label, Josef K were the dark, literary, angular Edinburgh counterpoint to Orange Juice: they alternately sounded brooding and frenzied, released a string of fantastic singles – of which the insistent Radio Drill Time might be the pick – and never fully realised their potential. Nonetheless, there was a point in the early noughties where the music press was packed with bands – such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, the Futureheads and the Rapture – who clearly bore their influence.

3 Teenage Fanclub

If you held a poll to find the most beloved of Scottish indie bands, Teenage Fanclub might well win: affiliates of perennial Glasgow scenesters the Pastels, something about the warmth of their sound – west coast harmonies, chiming guitars, iridescent songwriting, all honed to perfection on 1996’s Grand Prix – seemed to find a place deep within people’s hearts.

2 The Jesus and Mary Chain

In the context of mid-80s rock, the early Jesus and Mary Chain sounded like a bomb that wouldn’t stop going off: they subsequently made a string of great records, but it’s their tumultuous initial cocktail of Beach Boys melodies, lyrical ennui and rage and chaotic, incendiary noise that remains the most impactful.

1 Orange Juice

Orange Juice – Malcolm Ross, Edwyn Collins, Zeke Manyika and David McClymont – in 1983.
Orange Juice – Malcolm Ross, Edwyn Collins, Zeke Manyika and David McClymont – in 1983. Photograph: Getty

It would be exaggerating to say that Orange Juice singlehandedly invented what came to be known as “indie” music, but only slightly: for decades, the term was virtually defined by the influence of their trebly guitars, their defiantly anti-rock and un-macho stance, even their haircuts. Frontman Edwyn Collins often professed to be horrified by what they inadvertently spawned, and you can see why. As much in love with disco and soul as the Velvet Underground, Orange Juice were richer, wittier and more daring than any of their imitators: their records – whether the chaotic, life-affirming rush of 1980’s Blueboy, their sparkling hit Rip It Up or 1984’s gorgeous ballad A Sad Lament – are still as fresh as new paint.

Teenage Fanclub’s albums Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, Grand Prix, Songs From Northern Britain and Howdy! will be reissued on vinyl on 10 August, via Sony Music


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Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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