From the archives of the Edinburgh Evening News, 27 October 2017:-

Scars were a post-punk quartet who briefly kissed the canopy of British pop at the dawn of the eighties. They formed in early ‘77, the brainchild of guitarist and bassist brothers Paul and John Mackie. A window ad in Hot Licks on Cockburn Street helped complete the line-up, with vocalist Robert King and original drummer Calumn Mackay entering the fray.

Intensive rehearsals followed and by autumn the teenage punks were ready to greet an audience. The gig took place at Balerno Scout Hall, close to where the Mackie brothers grew up.

“We performed in the place we rehearsed. We just put tickets on the door – that was the only difference,” explains King, now 56.

After their Balerno baptism the band explored Edinburgh’s gig circuit extensively. Paul Mackie – stage name Paul Research – recalls some of the venues:

“We played the Wig & Pen, The White Hart, The Nite Club, but Clouds in Tollcross was THE place at that time,” says Research, 57. “We played there with The Buzzcocks, Penetration, The Rezillos, The Skids

“Our defining moment, though, was at Craigmillar Castle Park for the Rock Against Racism gig, where we took our underground, glamish, punk stuff to the biggest possible audience you could imagine in Edinburgh.”

Scars eventually signed for fabled local indie label, Fast Product, notable for issuing early releases by the likes of The Human League, The Gang of Four, The Mekons and Joy Division.

The group cut their first single in 1979, “Adult/ery” backed by “Horrorshow”. The latter would later be described as “Scotland’s Anarchy In The UK”.

Following their 7” success, the band signed for PRE Records, a subsidiary of UK major Charisma. Their debut album, the outstanding “Author! Author!”, arrived in 1981. The album earned five stars in Sounds magazine and a rave review from the NME’s Paul Morley.

“The whole purpose of our lives at that moment was that album,” says Robert, wistfully. “Paul Morley called it ‘probably the greatest ever debut album ever made’, so how much can you fail?”

The album was classic Scars but with a noticeably more commercial edge than previous efforts. It was the sound of a band on the up and hungry for success. It was post-punk.

“I was never that idiotic that I thought punk rock was gonnae be the be all and end all of everything,” explains Robert, “I got into music because of Marc Bolan and David Bowie. They taught you to be yourself.”

And being yourself was vital to Robert King.

“I used to slag Davy (Henderson) from the Fire Engines because he sang in a fake American accent. That doesnae work for me. People think New York is cool, why can’t Leith be cool? Why should it be any different? I never got that.”

Side A begins with “Leave Me In Autumn”. Three minutes of post-punk perfection driven by John Mackie’s ballistic bass lines and some expert lead work from Paul Research are accompanied by some of the most beautifully-bleak lyrics ever written.

“I won the St Anne’s Jesuit prize for poetry for that when I was twelve,” Robert tells me, “I got eight pounds or something, bought me loads of books.”

Arguably the most cross-over track on “Author! Author!” is the single “All About You”, one of British music’s forgotten gems. Drummer Steve McLaughlin, replacement for Calumn Mackay, made the Scars danceable with his discotheque beats. And the song’s video – shot in Edinburgh in 1981 – has since become a fascinating artefact of the Capital as it was.

“We came out with this chorus and really nailed it with that rousing, anthemic kind of thing,” reveals Research. “The video cost a lot of money to make but at that time there was no MTV, no internet, or anything, so we made a promo film that no-one could see. We really did step up and out of the mould and everything like that but at the same time it was stupid because it was a waste of money. That said, it’s legendary within my family. If ever there’s a family wedding, or anything like that, it’s always the last song of the night.”

Robert King’s take on the track isn’t quite so positive.

“We had a gap in the album and they wanted a single. So Paul came up with the idea of a single. So I thought: ‘well, what’s a single? Sortae like The Beatles and s**** like that?’. So I wrote a song like The Beatles. Done in five minutes. It didnae make any sense either but it sounded like a pop song so we did it. People think it’s a love song. It’s not. It was written on the spot, so it’s unfair to even call it a Scars song.”

The album catapulted Scars into the mainstream. An appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test, a brace of Peel Sessions and a slot on the cover of the NME marked their zenith.

But sadly, in spite of the very title “Author! Author!”, there would be no encore. Frontman Robert King quit, and, despite their best attempts to soldier on without him, the Scars disbanded in 1982. But their efforts had not been in vain. They had successfully bridged the gap between punk and new wave, and, crucially, inspired others.

“Without us there would be no Fire Engines or Josef K, Orange Juice, etc.,” asserts King, “None of that would’ve happened the way it happened. It never got to where it should have got,” he continues, “We could have been famous, but fame is not really important.”

Paul Research agrees the band never reached its full potential, nonetheless, he appears to be happy with his lot.

“Scars seems to be bigger now than it ever was back in the day. There’s more interest from a wider group of people than there ever was. I attribute that entirely to the rise of the internet and social media.”

The last few years have indeed witnessed Scars’ music undergo something of a renaissance. In 2007 “Author! Author!” was released on CD for the first time. The album sold out its first pressing in just three months.

Then came the moment an entire generation of fans had been aching for.

On December 29, 2010, Scars, boasting their original 1977 line-up, joined TV21, Malcolm Ross and special guests for a benefit gig at the HMV Picturehouse on Lothian Road.

It was quickly followed by an intimate show at nearby Citrus Club the same night.

The reunion would never be repeated, but, for a brief moment, there they were: the four of them on stage together in the city where the buzz began all those years ago.

Scars: Where are they now?

• Scars guitarist Paul Research continues to play music in Edinburgh and further afield as bassist for the UK’s fastest rising punk outfit The Heavy Drapes

• Robert King fronts two bands, Opium Kitchen and Groucho Handjob. A doctor of ancient languages, he lives in France but returns to Edinburgh regularly.

• John Mackie works as an artist in retail design and has his own band Bitter Moon

• Calumn Mackay lives in France where he works in hi-tech. He plays drums for a band called Garvin

• Steve McLaughlin lives in London as a film music producer

JC adds…..

Maybe it was a subconscious Glasgow/Edinburgh thing for me back in the day, but I never found Scars to my liking.  I did buy the debut album in 1981 but gave it away soon after in a swap with an old schoolmate for his copy of The Modern World by The Jam as my own copy of that record was scratched and jumpy.

The reference in the above newspaper article doesn’t mention that the story of Scars featured prominently in the documentary Big Gold Dream, released back in 2015, and to which I had the great privilege of attending the world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as lovingly recounted in this blogpost.

I signed off with these words….

One thing the documentary did was make me realise and appreciate was just how important The Scars were to the development of the post-punk scene in Scotland. I’ve only ever been familiar with their one LP, Author Author, released in 1981 on Charisma Records and to be honest I’m not a fan of it. But it became quite clear from the film and the Q&A session afterwards that their one-off single for Fast Product back in March 1979 had lit the touch paper for many musicians, including the four boys that made up Josef K.

mp3: Scars – Adult-ery
mp3: Scars – Horror Show

It really was a classic 45 and more fool me for not acknowledging it for decades.

Feel free to make your mind upon the song on which the band members disagree…..

mp3: Scars – All About You



The next few days will be a bit chaotic round here as posts that had been planned get shifted around thanks in part to some more guest contributions that I don’t want lying around too long and also the fact that I want to pen a review of something a few hours after getting home.  Those of you who are fans of the CD86 series shouldn’t worry too much as the next instalment has merely been delayed by 24 hours.

It really had to be something quite remarkable and special to get me to spend my Saturday morning typing away instead of my usual chilling and relaxing and charging my batteries, but it is fair to say that the the sights and sounds in Edinburgh on the evening of Friday 19 June are covered by that description.

A little bit of background to begin with.

For almost a decade now, there have been efforts made to deliver a documentary entitled Sound of Young Scotland which endeavours to tell the full story of the independent music scene up here from the post-punk era through the 80s and into the early 90s.  The gathering of material by director Grant McPhee, including old footage and interviews with many of the protagonists, began back in 2006 but every time it seemed as if the project would come to full fruition something would get in the way of its completion, most often a lack of finance.  But at long last, things are ready and after all these years it has been revealed that the project is now a pair of documentaries titled The Big Gold Dream – Scottish Post Punk, DIY And infiltrating The Mainstream and Songs From Northern Britain – The Country That Invented Indie Music.

The first of them is named after a Fire Engines song and the second after a Teenage Fanclub album title. It would be easy but lazy to say that the first documentary is all about Edinburgh and documentary number two is all about Glasgow but given that is the way the story began and panned out it makes sense for Big Gold Dream to focus somewhat on the capital city and for its world premiere to be part of the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

I had given up any thoughts of getting along to this event when my dear mate Jacques the Kipper got in touch to say he had managed to get his hands on two tickets and that one of them had my name on it. I only found out less than 48 hours beforehand but the sense of anticipation and excitement kicked in immediately.  This was likely to be one of the events of 2015 and what a way to get things going after turning 52.

The actual documentary was a joy to watch and listen to and I have no doubt that when it receives its inevitable DVD release that I will rush out and buy it.  It comes in at just over 90 minutes but it felt as if we had only been sitting there for about half an hour as the time flew by.  Being a nostalgic look at the music scene from 1977 to around 1983 it certainly brought back loads of memories but it also, and this surprised this self-confessed fan boy and anorak, revealed a lot things I hadn’t previously an inkling of.

I’m just too young to have been part of the movement that was in the vanguard of embracing and celebrating punk rock.  I do know that my home city was forced to turn its back on it in the wake of what had been a ‘riot’ at a gig by The Stranglers in 1977 at a venue owned by the council with the outcome being that punk gigs from then on were refused licences.  This led to shows taking place just over the boundary in the town of Paisley (mainly at a venue called the Bungalow Bar which had a small almost incidental advert every week in the entertainment pages of one of Scotland’s biggest selling Sunday newspapers) but it also allowed the ‘rival’ city 45 miles to the east to steal a march on things as its council was happy to allow punk gigs.

And so it was that, in Scotland’s equivalent of The Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall that begat Factory and all that followed, on 7 May 1977 the White Riot tour, featuring The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Slits and Subway Sect hit the Edinburgh Playhouse and kickstarted a revolution.

One of the first things to happen was the formation of a new label called Fast Product. It was founded by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison and run from a tenement flat in Edinburgh that soon became one of two great hangouts for budding musicians inspired by the punk scene…….that and a nearby pub not far from the School of Art called The Tap Of Laurieston.

The story of Fast is told in great detail with contributions from a stellar cast of just about anyone who was every anyone in the Edinburgh and indeed Scottish music scenes as well as the likes of Paul Morley.  The label initially concentrated on releases by bands from the north of England – The Mekons, Gang of Four and Human League – but in March 1979 it released a single by local band The Scars followed by a number of sampler EPs that featured other Scottish acts such as The Flowers, The Prats and The Thursdays.

Fast was the first Scottish indie label of note and so the emphasis on its role within the film is ideal to highlight the essential contribution of who are, in general, lesser known bands and musicians – certainly in comparison to those associated with Postcard.  Big Gold Dream then takes the story forward into the dissolution of Fast and Bob Last’s formation of a new label called Pop Aural whose roster included The Fire Engines, the instigation and collapse of Postcard, the second coming of Alan Horne with Swampland Records and weaves in the stories of bands such as The Rezillos, Josef K, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Associates and a talented solo singer called Paul Quinn.  Oh and not forgetting the life and times of Davy Henderson (Fire Engines/Win/Nectraine No.9/The Sexual Objects) whose often funny and larger than life anecdotes are littered throughout the documentary.

But there was more to come….

Being part of a Film Festival and a world premiere, the screening was followed by a Q&A session featuring Jo Callis (Rezillos and Human League), Ken McCluskey (Bluebells) , Malcolm Ross (Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera) and Vic Godard before something truly special and unique in the shape of a one-off Big Gold Gig by Stool Pigeon who consisted of the afore-mentioned Messrs Goddard and Ross together with Russell Burn (Fire Engines and Win) on drums and under the direction of the two talents that are Mick Slaven and Douglas Macintyre who seem to turn up and get involved with any decent music revival in Scotland nowadays.

They played an energetic and enthusiastic set of songs that were relevant to the era covered by Big Gold Dream

Video 020

Set List

1. Holiday Hymn (Subway Sect/Orange Juice)
2. Falling and Laughing (Orange Juice)
3. Stool Pigeon (Subway Sect)
4. Ambition (Subway Sect)
5. It’s Kinda Funny (Josef K)
6. Be My Wife (David Bowie)
7. Nobody’s Scared (Subway Sect)
8. Born To Lose (Johnny Thunder & The Heartbreakers)
9. Candyskin (Fire Engines)
10. Sweet Jane (Velvet Underground)

The boys were joined for the closing half of Candyskin and all of Sweet Jane by a further co-vocalist:-

Video 030

That dear friends, is Fay Fife from The Rezillos (and who will be the subject of a re-posting later in the week as part of yet another late alteration to the blog!!)

One thing the documentary did was make me realise and appreciate was just how important The Scars were to the development of the post-punk scene in Scotland. I’ve only ever been familiar with their one LP, Author Author, released in 1981 on Charisma Records and to be honest I’m not a fan of it. But it became quite clear from the film and the Q&A session afterwards that their one-off single for Fast Product back in March 1979 had lit the touch paper for many musicians, including the four boys that made up Josef K.

mp3 : The Scars – Horrorshow
mp3 : The Scars – Adult-ery

Your humble scribe hangs his head in shame at never having featured these superb pieces of music before.