My favorite things Scotland

by on July 17, 2013 at 2:16 am in Books, Film, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

And so the journey continues.

Let’s put the Scottish Enlightenment aside and turn to some more recent creations.  Here goes:

1. Novel: Alasdair Gray, Lanark.  Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod deserve notice as well.  I don’t relate to Trainspotting.  I understand the case for Robert Louis Stevenson and would wish to jump on board, but usually I lose interest before the end of his books.

2. Painter: Henry Raeburn was part of the Scottish Enlightenment I think.  So where to turn?  Ken Currie?  Scotland is not strong in this category.

3. Classical music: Umm…William Primrose was a strong violist.

4. Architect: Charles Rennie MacIntosh, especially the library.

5. Inventor: James Watt, but there is lots and lots of competition here.

6. Actor: How about Sean Connery?  Don’t forget Zardoz.

7. Movie: Gregory’s Girl.

8. Movie, set in Scotland: The Queen.

9. Popular music: David Byrne was born in Scotland.  I know the Cocteau Twins, Boards of Canada, Franz Ferdinand, and others, they are OK but I do not love them.  Dire Straits and Annie Lennox deserve mention, but overall I suspect many of you rate this group higher than I do.  Jesus and Mary Chain?  While we’re at it, there is Ewan McLennan and Bert Jansch, both of whom I enjoy.

The bottom line: These are people of intellect (remember the Enlightenment!) and also people of action.  For explorers and inventors the record is extremely strong.  Yet for music and some of the arts the contributions are rather faint.

1 Hackneyed Jockstrap July 17, 2013 at 2:28 am

You forgot to mention tartan and haggis.

2 Brandon July 17, 2013 at 2:29 am

I don’t know what it is about them, but Jesus and Mary Chain, along with Velvet Underground, were two bands that I was supposed to get into but never could.

You forgot Mogwai!

3 Go Kings, Go! July 17, 2013 at 2:45 am

I’ll take Ewan McGregor as actor, especially because of The Long Way Around. Highlander was shot and set in Scotland and Braveheart natch.

It’s a pity you’ll avoid Scotland’s most notable international product- uisce beatha, water of life, Scotch, whisky. Every smart person worthy of making historical decisions knows,

Oh whiskey is the life of man
Always was since the world began

I once made Haggis for a block party, boiled the stomach for 3 days and it tasted horrible. Evidently it violates some law to sell heart and some other organs, so it wasn’t even traditional horrible. Haggis, like much ethnic specialities, seems to contain ingredients the locals don’t want and therefore serve to numbskull visitors as a “specialty”.

4 Ryan July 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I am seconding Scotch. IMHO Scotch offers a far better synaesthetic experience than any other alcohol.

I don’t think Tyler drinks booze…. hence the omission.

5 Andreas Moser July 17, 2013 at 3:07 am

The Scotland scenes from “Skyfall” are also great. I was hiking through Scotland last week and came to the exact spot of the shooting:

6 M. Cole Chilton July 17, 2013 at 3:09 am

Frightened Rabbit for rock music a tad more indie than Franz.

7 Timothy Friese July 17, 2013 at 3:26 am

Another popular music group to consider is Belle & Sebastian!

8 Paul Fisher July 17, 2013 at 8:27 am

Yes, Belle and Sebastian. Just saw them last week in Pittsburgh and they blew me away.

9 Nicholas Marsh July 17, 2013 at 3:31 am

I can’t believe that no one has yet mentioned that Dire Straits aren’t Scottish. They are from south of the border in North East England. For some great Scottish pop try The Delgados.

10 James Reade July 17, 2013 at 3:54 am

Glad someone pointed out this gross inaccuracy! Was forced to Wikipedia them in case Tyler knew something I didn’t. Mainly from the Newcastle area, many of their songs refer to places in the North East, e.g. the Spanish City amusement arcade in Whitley Bay…

11 Luis Enrique July 17, 2013 at 4:53 am

The Delgados are great. Peleton my favourite album

12 Steve-O July 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm

How in the hell am I just now learning that Dire Straits aren’t American?

13 Smithens53 July 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Mark and David Knopfler were both born in Glascow. Doesn’t that make the band at least part Scottish?

14 Smithens53 July 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm


15 Hoover July 18, 2013 at 6:38 am

The Knopflers were born in Glasgy. So technically…

16 Al July 17, 2013 at 3:46 am

Ewan McGregor
James McAvoy
Brian Cox

More popular music choices?:
Biffy Clyro
Paolo Nutini
Amy MacDonald

17 Matt Harmon July 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I was fortunate enough to see Paolo Nutini at a tent concert in Ullapool (NW Scotland). He almost sounded more Jamaican than Scottish due to the vibe of his latest album. Good stuff though!

18 Attila Smith July 17, 2013 at 3:46 am

Ever heard of my ancestor Adam Smith, dear Tyler?

19 DK July 17, 2013 at 4:26 am

Obviously, not Cowen’s favorite thing.

20 Ricardo July 17, 2013 at 9:43 am

He specifically disclaimed the Scottish Enlightenment.

(But why?)

21 de Broglie July 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

Leo Strauss.

22 Nick July 17, 2013 at 3:54 am

Tyler – what about J.M. Barrie? Surely he’d have a shot under authors?

23 James July 17, 2013 at 4:13 am


Deacon Blue, Simple Minds, Travis, Runrig, Big Country, Nazareth, Average White Band, Bronski Beat, Biffy Clyro, Gerry Rafferty, Aztec Camera, Altered Images, Belle and Sebastian, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions*, Orange Juice, Texas. There’s masses of decent Scottish bands.

24 Axa July 17, 2013 at 6:29 am

Yeah, just wondered why Tyler admires My Bloody Valentine and forgot about Belle and Sebastian.

25 Steve Bags July 17, 2013 at 4:18 am

Yes. Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain is a near perfect album. I didn’t hear it until about 1998. Thanks for the book recommendation.

26 jeremy July 17, 2013 at 4:49 am

Orange Juice!!!

27 David Ong July 17, 2013 at 4:58 am

Frankie Boyle!

28 Andreas Moser July 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Susan Boyle.

29 GC July 17, 2013 at 5:15 am

Music: well, wet wet wet were catchy back in the days (and before heroin caught up with the lead singer)

Painters: Allan Ramsay?

Novels: Walter Scott, com’on!

30 GC July 17, 2013 at 5:16 am

Ok, I went to the list without reading the very first like.. Ramsay and Scott won’t qualify then

31 Little Tripoli July 17, 2013 at 5:27 am
32 Pearl Y July 17, 2013 at 7:50 pm

I agree, Idlewild – The Remote Part (2002) is one of my favorite albums. Pop perfection.

33 Asher July 17, 2013 at 5:35 am

I like Attila was disappointed by the absence of Smith. But like Hume he is part of the Enlightenment and hence disqualified by TC.

Samuel Johnson once pointed out that the Scots have an unusually low variance of learning, which means that the lack of standouts in any particular category need not point to a low level of overall achievement. Could be they still maintain a high mean, low variance in various fields of endeavor.

Here is one version of the Johnson quote: “Knowledge was divided among the Scots, like bread in a besieged town, to every man a mouthful, to no man a bellyful.” There are other versions as well, probably not variants but rather distinct pronouncements.

34 Axa July 17, 2013 at 6:34 am

No one mentioned the band Aerogramme =(

35 Insecure Sinecure July 17, 2013 at 6:43 am

The Beta Band. Boards of Canada only OK?

36 Paul July 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

Agreed, Boards of Canada are wonderful. And give the Cocteau Twins another try!

37 ryan July 17, 2013 at 6:44 am

best album of the 90s- scottish

38 dearieme July 17, 2013 at 6:52 am

#1 If you haven’t read Hogg’s “Confessions of a Justified Sinner” do so immediately.

P.S. Why no category for poetry?

39 Jamie McHale July 17, 2013 at 7:03 am

Danny MacAskill – Bike tricks and videos.

40 Henz July 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

And another cyclist “The Flying Scotsman”: Graeme Obree!

41 Todd July 17, 2013 at 7:14 am

Fiction: A. Conan Doyle

Film: Local Hero

42 mkt July 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I second the recommendation of “Local Hero”, both as best Scottish film and best film set in Scotland. Forsyth’s best film, and as another commenter noted, it even has a business/economics theme. Actually so does “Comfort and Joy”.

43 David July 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Forsyth’s best film is That Sinking Feeling. Which also has a business/economics theme.

44 Charles Young July 17, 2013 at 8:03 am

The greatest Scottish composer was probably Gaetano Donizetti, whose grandfather, a Mr Izett, was a weaver from Perthshire before becoming a solider, being captured by the French army, ending up in Bergamo and changing his name to Donizetti. A few of his operas – Maria Stuarda and Lucia di Lammermoor – may recall Gaetano’s origins.

45 Alan Gunn July 17, 2013 at 8:10 am

Re your bottom line: This was true once. Today, Scotland is a country in which most of the people either work for the government or are on the dole. The things you notice there (scenery aside) are poverty and drunkenness. Those who push for Scottish independence hope that the country will live of North Sea oil revenues. What happened to turn a once-great country into this?

46 CBBB July 17, 2013 at 8:21 am

I feel like you could say the same thing about most of the United Kingdom outside of The City and Canary Warf.

47 FC July 18, 2013 at 1:05 am

“What happened to turn a once-great country into this?”

Thatcher. Or so they like to say.

48 Roy July 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

Scottish painting: you really should visit the Scottish National Gallery which is a very pleasant museum. Scottish painting is not exactly exciting but it has a long tradition and a high aesthetic level. It just depends on how much you like landscapes and pictures of livestock, personally I am fond of both of these no longer fashionable genres. Scotland compares rather well with most other countries of its size and, relative isolation. Other than Munch, Scotland has generally exceeded the level of painting of Scandanavia or Ireland, and I say that as a person of Irish and Swedish ancestry whose mother has a guest room filled with Carl Larsson and Peter Eskilsson reproductions.

49 Roy July 17, 2013 at 8:22 am

You left out favorite scientist, economist, and philosopher. There is real competition here.

50 CBBB July 17, 2013 at 8:22 am

Favourite Entrepreneur: Scrooge McDuck?

51 Nick_L July 17, 2013 at 9:44 am

I’ll nominate John Law, and that’s the unusual combination (at the time) of economist, banker and entrepreneur.

52 Further or Alternatively July 17, 2013 at 8:23 am

For classical music performers, how about Evelyn Glennie?

53 loveactuary July 17, 2013 at 8:37 am

Was the Favorite Economist too rhetorical I guess?

54 lermontov, mcdonald July 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

Lermontov – wrote in Russian, father was a Scottish Learmont
George McDonald – Lilith, Phantastes, kaleyard novels, major inspiration for Narnia, and to a lesser extent Middle Earth

55 James B. July 17, 2013 at 9:05 am

Sheena Easton?

56 James H July 17, 2013 at 9:16 am

No love for the Bay City Rollers? Despite being named after a U.S. city, they were Scottish.

57 meicate July 17, 2013 at 9:21 am

James Kelman.

58 Nattering Nabob July 17, 2013 at 9:23 am

James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late is a good novel.

While we’re not mentioning the Enlightenment (and hence Hume), let’s not
mention Kant (Scottish grandfather) too.

I’ll second Belle and Sebastian and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Teenage Fanclub
are often fun.

59 ricardo July 17, 2013 at 9:26 am

Movie: Ratcatcher.

60 Duncan July 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

Novels: Muriel Spark, maybe William McIlvanney
Movie: Ratcatcher, The Eagle (a bit clichéd but great photography)
Movie, set in Scotland: Tavernier’s Death Watch
Actor: Peter Mullan is always pretty good
Popular Music: The Blue Nile. The Proclaimers are worth a mention for being distinctively Scottish
Folk Music: The Corries, Alasdair Roberts (contemporary)

I’m Scottish and I’m underwhelmed by almost everything, but this is maybe mostly jealousy.

61 ricardo July 17, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Yes, Alasdair Roberts. Forgot him. Nice one.

62 Tom Jackson July 17, 2013 at 9:40 am

James MacMillan is considered a pretty good modern composer, although I couldn’t truthfully claim I listen to his music very often.

63 Stuart Williams July 17, 2013 at 11:06 am

And there’s Robert Carver (c1485 – c1570).

64 Scott Miles July 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

No discussion of Scotland is complete without mention of the football. Very possibly the most passionate fans in the world – in a sport that generates a lot of passion. ‘Mon the Hoops!

65 o. nate July 17, 2013 at 11:17 am

Some more good Scottish bands: Camera Obscura, the Rezillos, Dog Faced Hermans

66 ricardo July 17, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Camera Obscura seconded!

67 David Silver July 17, 2013 at 11:23 am

Any list of superlative Scots would have to include Robbie Burns.

I am also partial to Amy Macdonald.

68 It's Over July 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

Written by Mendelssohn, but his Scottish Symphony and Hebrides Overture “Fingall’s Cave” are not bad IMHO.

DId not know Donizetti was of Scottish origins, thanks for the info Charles Young.

69 Duncan July 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Didn’t know that either, thank you, Charles. Don’t think I’d have guessed it in a million years, though I might just about have guessed that Edvard Grieg’s great-grandfather was a Scotsman named Greig.
Incidentally, the Scottish media play this game all the time: claiming quasi-, semi- and hemidemisemi-Scots as Scottish. David Byrne is always referred to as “Dumbarton-born David Byrne”. Michael Crichton’s death was deemed newsworthy mostly because of his Scottish surname. It smacks a bit of an insecurity we wouldn’t have if we had more recent achievements to boast about. Or maybe we’re a small country and the press has acres of blank space to fill every day.
Oh boy, I appear to be bitter about something. Or maybe I’ve been shaped more than I thought by Todd McEwen’s excellent novel, McX. McEwen is a Californian living in Scotland.

70 Rory Sutherland July 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Immanuel Kant’s family name was originally Cant. Scottish grandfather. Two genuinely Scottish American musicians are Johnny Cash and Eminem. (I’m not being partisan here – I am more Welsh than Scottish).

71 Doug M July 17, 2013 at 11:38 am

It seem to me that the most fameous living Scotsman is Gordon Ramsey. I am not sure what that signifies. But the greatest contribution from the Scotts to the world of food is not Ramsey, or Haggis. Scotland is the brithplace of the deep fried Twinkie.

72 Bernard Guerrero July 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm


73 AyeJay July 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

For painting I nominate the, er, inimitable Jack Vettriano.

74 somethingblue July 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Ian Hamilton Finlay surely belongs on this list, despite (or because of) not fitting clearly into any of the categories.

75 wufnik July 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

You seem to not know very much about Scotland, sadly. Music–dozens of great fiddlers, particularly from Shetland and the Orkneys. Aly Bain, Christ Stout, loads of others. Which means lots of great fiddle bands–Fiddlers Bid, Lau, Filska for a start. What’s with the rock and roll instead of traditiional Scottish music? Weird. Also, Julie Fowlis and Catriona Mackay.

Painters–(1) The Scottish Colorists. (2) The Glasgow Boys. Look them up.

Writers–everything by George Mackay Brown–also from the Orkneys, where much of his fiction is set. The Big Music, by Kirsty Gunn. Glad to see Iain Banks and Ken Macleod–Charles Stross probably belongs in ths group as well.

76 Jsmith July 17, 2013 at 12:42 pm

In addition to the lack of mention of whisky, what about golf?

Music-Close Lobsters

Movies-Whisky Galore, Chariots of Fire, Comfort and Joy (and was disturbed to learn I’ve misremembered The Commitments as set in Scotland–where is the memory going?)

77 Jsmith July 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Don’t know how I forgot–Old Blind Dogs and Shooglenifty.

78 Thomas July 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Gregory’s Girl is an excellent movie, but I slightly prefer Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s later firm Local Hero. Plus, I seem to recall that the latter story illustrates some lessons about rent seeking, if you think about it.

79 Hoosier July 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Breaking the Waves is set in Scotland. The setting of that movie, in a dark, depressing, Calvinist town in the highlands was for a long time the only image I had in my head of Scotland. Thankfully I met some actual Scots down the road and my image of the country now is much more positive.

80 Peter Schaeffer July 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

“My favorite things Scotland” and no mention of soldiers?

How about countries founded (more or less) by Scots?

United States
New Zealand

81 Kitty_T July 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Painters – I’m partial to the romantics like Raeburn and Nasmyth.

Actors – how about Kelly McDonald?

Movies – I am partial to The Wicker Man, but I’d have to go with the 39 Steps. Shallow Grave should get a mention, as well.

82 Bradley Gardner July 17, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Belle and Sebastian & Glenfiddich

83 JohnC July 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Invention: The border collie. Hyper, smart, obsessive, territorial…. and weird.

84 Pshrnk July 17, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Al Stewart

85 David July 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Singer: Karine Polwart (who often touches on questions of economics and public policy)

Tennis player: There must be a good one, surely?

86 Douglas July 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm

The Bill Douglas Trilogy for the film(s)
Kelman already got a mention. His short stories can be spectacular. Lindsey’s Voyage to Arcturus deserves more love.
The colourists, such as Peploe, were mentioned. For someone recent try Douglas Gordon.

87 Nattering Nabob July 17, 2013 at 8:38 pm

How about countries founded (more or less) by Scots? …New Zealand…

I feel that it’s time for Scotland to claim the Dunedin Sound as its own. Rise and be a nation again!

PS The Clean, The Verlaines
Tall Dwarfs – yowsa!

88 JOHN BYRNE July 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm


89 Eric H July 17, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Does AC/DC count? Both Young brothers and Bon Scott were Scots. They apparently would no longer support the whiskey nomination, but I will.

90 Rachmananon July 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Edinburgh’s Dunedin Consort, thanks to their music director (an Englishman with the superb name of John Butt), have attained greatness in performing Handel and Bach. The best example of their Bach on record is the St. John Passion (on Linn, though I also recommend their B Minor Mass); in Handel, their Messiah and also their Acis and Galatea. As for Scottish composers, I’ve been looking forward to immersing myself in the work of Sally Beamish – don’t know how I’ll respond to her music yet, but the free association with fine Irish Stout can’t hurt.

91 FC July 18, 2013 at 1:12 am

Popular music that’s actually popular: AC/DC was formed by Scottish emigrants.

92 Steve Sailer July 18, 2013 at 1:22 am

As the founder of American golf course architecture, Charles Blair MacDonald, entitled his autobiography: “Scotland’s Gift: Golf.”

93 Walt G July 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

Please, let’s forget Zardoz.

94 Bruce July 19, 2013 at 1:04 am

What, no Boswell?

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