ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THURSDAY 1 MAY 2008
I’ve been lucky enough to live almost all of my life in a reasonable sized city – 40 years in Glasgow and 5 years in Edinburgh (updated now to 48 years in Glasgow!). Both are well-renowned in the visual and performing arts, with proud-roll calls of musicians, painters, novelists, entertainers and raconteurs. You wouldn’t expect anything different given both have more than 500,000 residents.
There is a town called Falkirk that is situated almost exactly halfway between Scotland’s two main cities. It is home to around 33,000 people which makes it the 20th largest settlement in Scotland (you would be surprised to find just how small in global terms our towns and cities are).
It is a fairly typical Central Scotland town in that it was formerly heavily dependant on heavy industry and engineering, much of which has disappeared in the last three or four decades. Nowadays, many of the local population take the commuter train west to Glasgow or east to Edinburgh for employment.
I think it’s not unfair to say that Falkirk is the sort of town where folk grow up and usually look to move elsewhere when they can.
And yet it is a place that has produced some incredibly talented folk over the past two decades in particular. A couple of my favourite authors Gordon Legge and Alan Bissett hail from the town – both fill their books with ordinary and recognisable characters who are often besotted with music, football, cars, drugs and alcohol. (Sadly, Gordon Legge last wrote a novel in 1998, but Alan Bissett is still going strong and his website is here)
(NB : Since 2008, I can add Adam Stafford as someone connected with Falkirk to the distinguished list. He was born in Sunderland but moved to Falkirk at a very young age….)
One of my favourite bands (now sadly no more), consisting of Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, hail from Falkirk. They were of course Arab Strap, a pair who filled their songs with recognisable characters who are often besotted with….well if the truth be told, sex and drugs.
The odds of a town such as Falkirk producing so many great artists in such a short timescale must be pretty high. There’s nothing about it that immediately grabs you as being inspirational – it’s a very ordinary, almost dull place. And yet each of these writers and musicians have taken their surroundings and produced narratives that grab your attention from the outset and keep hold of it until the last sentence on the last page or last note is struck on the single or album.
Arab Strap have often been accused of having been latent miserablists. Aidan Moffat as the principal songwriter has, by some folk, been labelled as misogynist. The evidence seems to be a lot of the songs are about failed relationships and that the protagonist often blames his other half for what happens rather than look at his own faults. He’s no misogynist, just a hopeless sad romantic….there’s no other explanation for song titles like The Girl I Loved Before I Fucked and Meanwhile, At The Bar, A Drunkard Muses. And have a listen to Where We Left Our Love if you still have doubts.
Aidan Moffat is probably the most unique songwriter to come out of Scotland in my lifetime. The characters in his songs are more often than not angst-ridden, lacking in self-belief, riddled with doubts and always in fear of failure. Almost all of his songs could be filmed as a short story. And when you dig a little bit below the surface, you will often find some fantastic examples of humour in his writing.
What makes the band so special however is that Malcolm Middleton was able to take these brilliant bits of narrative and set them to music that was equally as ground-breaking and imaginative.
(And before anyone pulls me up about how I’ve suggested the labour in the band was divided, I’m well aware that sometimes Aidan wrote music as well, and that Malcolm did contribute some lyrics.)
It’s true that Arab Strap are a bit of an acquired taste. But I think they were fantastic over the ten years they were together, and their break-up was a sad day for Scottish music. But at least we have the consolation of them both performing as solo artists now.
This single was released on the Glasgow-based label Chemikal Underground in 1998. It can also be found on the truly astonishing and jaw-dropping LP Philophobia, whose cover features drawings of a nude Aidan Moffat and his then girlfriend.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Here We Go
mp3 : Arab Strap – Trippy
Warning : Trippy is more than 12 minutes in length. It’s a short story about drug-taking that has got all sorts of sounds set to it. It’s quite unique.
Here’s the lyric:-
Ailidh phoned me at work at about half four. It’s funny I don’t even speak to her any more, she’s a fucking wee cow. Better than everybody, ken? Doesn’t speak to her mates or anything like that. Anyway, we got in at the time and she phones me up and asked me what I’m doing tonight. I was only going to sit in and watch the telly as usual, wondering where everybody else was. So she said, come round to Rab’s house and that, get some trips, ken? So I said I’d go round about six. I was about an hour late and I was knocking on the door and that, and nobody answered. And I thought, oh fucking brilliant they’re away out without me and that, they’ll be away up the town having a laugh. So I walk back round the road, ’cause I thought they were away out, and I phoned. Turns out they had still been there. They were that out of it, they couldn’t even get to the door.
So I went back round. Everybody was fleeing as usual and I got handed my half. And I thought I’d just take it, ken? I’m working the next day, I better not go too far. But two hours later, nothing was happening. so I thought , fuck it. And I took the rest, which I’d been warned about already. Everyone was jumping about the front room as usual, and we were sitting giggling, having a laugh and then Cheg came and took us to the pub in his car. We told Cheg he should be our anchor, that was a fucking laugh. He kept telling us to calm down, as though he was our mum and dad and that, ’cause we were acting like weans and giggling and looking at the table and dropping our drinks all over the place.
We made it back to his car, jumped in, and he took us back round to the house. Then he decided to pack it in and go home. So Malcolm and I get back in the house and suddenly someone’s going on about Rab and how he’s he’s no fucking there , and how he’s away outside and he looks like he’s in pain or something like that. He had to go and pick up some more stuff ’cause they’d used all this stuff for Glastonbury the next week. And somebody said he apparently took something when he was there, so he’s writhing about in pain outside. So Malcolm and I walked out and he’s was walking along the edge of road on the grass and that with his fucking stomach held in his hands and he’s screaming and that. And then we lost him. He disappeared into the park and we didn’t know where he was. So Malc and I were walking about and then we found him. But we decided we should stay back a bit, ken? In case he got a fright. So we followed him up into this park, as though that wasn’t going to scare him anyway!! And when we did find him, he was there doubled up in pain, fucking screaming his eyes out, going on about how his stomach was knotted and he shouldn’t have taken it, and it was a stupid thing to do. So he’s sitting there on the hill and that with Malc and I on either side and all we can do is sit and giggle and look at the grass and take the piss out of him.
So we get him up on his feet and we start walking him about and he says he’s alright. And we walk up to the garage and he’s going on about his stomach. Then he starts shouting about how we should get away from him and that, in case something happens, in case he fucking dies or something. So he says he thought it was that bad, that’s what was going to happen and he didn’t want us to be involved. He always looked out for everyone else, ken? So we take him to the garage and he wants a bottle of Irn Bru and he’s fuckin’ downing this bottle of Irn Bru, talking about his fucking stomach and everything and how he’s taken this thing and he has to get it out of his system and talking about how it’s all in his bile, and he’s desperately trying to make himself sick and he’s screaming all the fucking time as well. And Malc and I are still laughing – we don’t know what he’s up to. He could have taken anything, I wouldn’t know.
Nobody’s sure yet about what he took. Fuckin’, he could have injected something, he could have swallowed something, nobody knows. But he just stood there with this dirty fucking face, it’s all black and dirty and brown, ken? He’s halfway down his bottle of Irn Bru and he’s being sick all over the fucking place. And a car went by, slowing down the road but he’s just screaming all the time about how it was all in his fucking bile and how he wants to be sick. He keeps fucking screaming… then he threw up.
(LONG INSTRUMENTAL BREAK!!!!)
So we walked him back to the house after made us swear we wouldn’t tell anybody. So he goes back to the house and he fucking tells everybody. He locked himself in his room and started eating a bag of sugar or something like that, while everyone else was talking about what a dick he was. I ended up at the park that night. Sitting eating Pringles with Paula and watching the wildlife. And the next day when I went to work I was still out of my face. I was pacing about on the stairs talking to myself and writing things and he walked in and stressed the point about making sure that no one would find out.