Jan. 25, the day that I pen (keyboard, of course) this, is Rabbie Burns Day — the birthday of the 18th Century Scottish poet Robert Burns.
For those not familiar with Burns, he is considered to be the national poet of Scotland, and had a huge influence on the culture and music of that country. His birthday is celebrated by Scots and people of that ancestry throughout the world, with Burns dinners that feature his poetry, Scottish music and food — and, of course, whisky, without which, much of nothing Scottish happens. So, in honor of the day, I offer you a menu for a Scottish musical meal. The poetry of Rabbie Burns doesn’t seem to have had much impact on The Music; poems of the Romantic movement apparently aren’t adaptable to a 12-bar blues foremat.
However, there is a punk rock version of his most famous song, “Auld Lang Syne” — yes, the New Year’s Eve chestnut — by the band So What!, off their album “Drunkmas.” That would be more appropriate to Hogmanay, the Scottish end-of-the-year celebration, rather than Burns Day.
So, we need to look for Scottish influence in rock and roll, which begins with the fact that the Scots invented the modern world (you can read Arthur Herman’s book to find how they did it). There were a number of Scottish bands that made a dent in The Music, among them hard-rockers Nazareth, the Average White Band (who knew?), and Simple Minds (“Don’t You Forget about Me” was a No. 1 and the theme to the movie “The Breakfast Club”).
The Bay City Rollers verged on Bubblegum, but they seem to have done as much for tartan as Queen Vic and Sir Walter Scott combined. Big Country had some ’80s hits, the Proclaimers said they’d walk 500 miles and the Incredible String Band charted new territory in psychedelic folk rock. Or maybe had the field to themselves.
Donovan (last name Leitch) was perhaps the biggest solo artist to come out of Scotland, even if he wasn’t quite the U.K.’s answer to Dylan. And there were plenty of Scottish artists who performed with bands that were identified as British or English. Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson was Scottish born, and the Knopfler brothers of Dire Straits were, too, although they were Hungarian on their dad’s side and raised in England, where there mother was born. Alexander, Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC were all Scots.
David Paton was one of the founding members of the Alan Parsons Project. Gerry Rafferty had hits with Stealers Wheel and on his own, most notably the wonderful “Baker Street.”
Stuart Sutcliffe was the original bassist for the Beatles, and who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t died of an aneurysm in 1962. Andy White sat in for Ringo Starr on the Beatles’ first single. Maggie Bell just ripped it up with Stone the Crows, other groups and on her own.
The bagpipe is perhaps the most distinctive instruments in Scottish music, and it has shown up in rock on occasion. Most notably in AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” “Mull of Kintyre” by Paul McCartney and Wings and “Shout” by Tears for Fears.
There are also a number of rock-oriented bands that use the pipes as part of their regular instrumental lineup, prominent among them the Red Hot Chili Pipers, but also Runrig and the Dropkick Murphys. And more traditional Scottish music outfits like the Battlefield Band (saw them in Eau Claire a few years back) and Scottish Mayhem (which I was listening to when I started writing this).
Anyway, if you found something on the menu you like, then cue up some music, heap some haggis on your plate, and have a shot of “the water of life.” And remember the Scotsman who wrote lines like — and I can’t believe this didn’t make it into a popular song — “O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” Which, translated from the Braid Scots, is “And would some Power give us the gift/To see ourselves as others see us!” (From “To a Louse.”)