I’ve deliberately taken my time with this one. I hope you don’t mind that it has turned out so lengthy.
It was Aldo who dropped me an e-mail at work last Wednesday morning with the news that Scott Hutchison had been reported missing with his family expressing real concern about his state of mind. I was really distressed about this for two reasons.
Firstly, it is very unusual for the authorities to officially declare someone as a ‘missing person’ a matter of hours after the disappearance has been reported and that just didn’t bode well. Secondly, I had read an on-line interview on an American site just a few days earlier in which Scott had been really frank about his continuing battles with his mental health, saying he was 6/10 most days and 7/10 on good days; he also referred to the 10th anniversary shows of The Midnight Organ Fight taking place throughout 2018 and how it wasn’t always easy to revisit many of the songs – and in particular he referenced Floating In The Forth which, if you weren’t aware, is the album closer in which the protagonist, having considered suicide by plunging hundreds of feet down from a bridge into the icy water below, changes his mind.
Scott’s last sighting had been in a hotel lobby just a few yards from the Forth Road Bridge. I couldn’t help but fear the worst.
The other thing disturbing me was, just the fact that some two hours before the news of the disappearance had been made public, I had put a post on Facebook in which I had listed The Midnight Organ Fight as the latest entry in a daily series in which I was responding to the challenge of naming ten albums that had been very influential on release and which were still listened to many years later.
I emailed Rachel to give her the news….we might not have too much in common musically nowadays, but Frightened Rabbit were a band we had seen on many occasions, going back to the early days and taking in, along the way, a gig in Berlin on my 50th birthday (when we only found about on the day of said show thanks to a text from Aldo!) and a performance with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Paisley Abbey just last year. Rachel works in the field of employee support, particularly in the area of trauma management, and is familiar with the complexities of how folk react to and cope differently with stress and mental illness. Deep down, I was hoping she might be able to offer something to cling on to, but her instincts and training said otherwise.
Other close friends were contacted, always by text or email as I just couldn’t trust myself to talk about it without my voice breaking up and my emotions to get the better of me. Even the text conversations became difficult to carry on with as they degenerated into one word responses of either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the most sympathetic of questions. Social media was beginning to buzz with the news – some folk held out hope, but the vast majority of us were fearing a tragic outcome to the search.
And so it proved, with the discovery of a body in the water overnight on Thursday and the formal announcement on Friday morning.
It’s still hard to take in.
I fell for Frightened Rabbit in a big way when they first burst onto the scene. Be Less Rude was the real introduction and although it was less than a year since its release, I had it in my 45 45s at 45 rundown to mark that birthday in 2008. It actually appeared in the rundown just days before the band began the interviews to promote The Midnight Organ Fight, an album which blew me away on first hearing and even more so with the live renditions when the band got out on the road. The official launch took place with a free show at a packed Monorail in Glasgow to a very lucky and grateful audience; it was immediately clear that playing these very personal songs in the live setting was bringing out something very special in Scott Hutchison. Not for the last time, tears were shed when his band mates temporarily took their leave of him to enable this heart-breaker to be performed:-
mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Poke
The shows over the course of the next year or so just got better and better….sadly, I couldn’t snare a ticket for the one at the tiny Captain’s Rest in Glasgow where the band would give an acoustic performance , featuring a guest appearance by James Graham of The Twilight Sad, that was later released as the album Liver! Lung! FR!, although my dear friend Drew of From Across The Kitchen Table was there.
A small consolation came in April 2009 when Matthew of Song by Toad Records put me on the guest list for a sold-out show at the now-closed The Bowery in Edinburgh at which Frightened Rabbit were bringing down the curtain on The Midnight Organ Fight in a very deliberately understated way as support act to Meursault who were on SbT (and thus, providing me with an opportunity to blag my way in!) This was the night when I first spoke directly to Scott; I took the opportunity to mention the blog and to my surprise he said he knew of it and had been really pleased to come across the positive reviews I had given to the records and shows. On the spot, he offered me an interview about the work that was about to get underway writing songs for a new album and passed me his personal e-mail address on the basis that it was easier to communicate in that way than going through the record label or publicists.
This was just typical of him. He was incredibly helpful and generous with his time to those of us who were fans and felt that a humble blogger was every bit as worthy as a feature in the biggest and glossiest of publications. He was also incredibly popular among his peers throughout the industry. If I ever managed to have a conversation with another musician, I’d do my best to mention Scott to them and the reaction was always the same – top bloke, incredible talent and sure to be a star who would attract a bigger audience.
These predictions did turn out to be true in that the band moved from Brighton-based Fat Cat Records to sign with one of the big majors in the shape of Atlantic. There was never quite the mega-beakthrough that maybe the label had hoped for, but the subsequent albums did go Top 20 in the UK and #1 in Scotland where the fan base had expanded to a stage where tours of large-sized venues would sell out very quickly.
I have often said that the band didn’t ever quite hit the heights of The Midnight Organ Fight, but then again that was an impossible task. The later works, LPs and EPs alike, all contained many gems but I couldn’t quite bring myself to give them five-star ratings. I still enjoyed going to see the band albeit it had seemed preferable when it wasn’t quite such an audience sing-a-long; in saying that, I was rightly put in my place by the singer who made it clear, as we chatted briefly in a bar after an acoustic gig in the small town of Gourock on the west coast of Scotland, that he was delighted when this happened as it provided incredible proof that he had connected in a way with people he never thought possible when he was putting the words and music together. Here’s some examples of the crowd-pleasers.
It transpired that the final time I would see him perform was that gig at Paisley Abbey last year where a number of the songs were raised to a whole new level thanks to the orchestration. The gig wasn’t filmed professionally, but some folk have loaded their own clips to you tube and the likes….I’ve unashamedly pinched this from allroyforprez….and I welled up as I watched it.
I’ve reflected a fair bit on things these past few days. From the very outset, there was a brutally honest vulnerability about Scott’s lyrics which resonated with me.
We live in a world where the pressure is on us to be constantly happy and upbeat – we all fall into the trap of posting stuff on social media about how great things are, how enjoyable a particular experience is, how handsome or beautiful we are looking or feeling and how being surrounded by like-minded people is just the bee’s knees. We’re not so keen to post about the more common times when are in solitude, feeling disappointed, bored, sad or even just ambivalent as it’s not the done thing. It’s amazing how easy it is to create an artificial existence these days.
Scott Hutchison wasn’t scared or embarrassed to write about shit things in life, but he did so in a way which was self-deprecating and often laced with good humour; it’s a trait shared by the boys from the Arab Strap which is why I love so much of their collective and solo material.
His underlying message, to my ears, was that things will knock you for six but there will always be a way to eventually bounce back. He emerged at a time when I was struggling with a few things, particularly at work where, out of nowhere, my career hit the skids through no fault of my own. It was a turn of events which gave me a lot more time to devote to music, such as an increased attendance at gigs now that I wasn’t keeping stupid hours in the office and, crucially as things would turn out, led to the decision to start a blog in September 2006 as a way of ensuring the creative juices kept flowing and that I didn’t stumble into a very dark and painful place.
It’s a period with which I associate a great many cyberspace friends, a number of whom have become flesh-and-blood mainstays over the years. It’s also a period with which I associate Frightened Rabbit….and I find it incredibly sad, and indeed somewhat ironic, to think that someone who helped me immensely through a tough time in my life was unable to help himself when he was at his most troubled.
Thanks for everything Scott. The memories of many nights watching you and your band mates put on spellbinding shows, together with those few times I was lucky enough to talk to you, will stay with me for a very very long time. I’m going to miss you. RIP.