Scott Hutchison

The BBC website put up a list of the Notable Deaths of 2018 on 30th December.
It was missing Scott Hutchison. Maybe that is a good thing. The list doesn’t seem to be in any order and he could have appeared between Kofi Annan and Geoffrey from Rainbow. Or between Barbara Bush and Barry Chuckle. Maybe he would have liked that. The listing of deaths is pretty crass really. What were your top five records of the year? Top five celebrity deaths? Top five moisturisers? Maybe he wasn’t famous enough for the list of Notable Deaths 2018 although a guy called Lord Heywood of Whitehall was on there. Perhaps they weren’t sure about publishing a photo of someone that took their own life as there are some guidelines regarding that.

But I do think that one is lucky to live a life worthy of an obituary and Scott certainly did so up yours to the BBC list.

A friend once told me he was surprised that when his granny died that it wasn’t on the news. We were in primary school and he was joking. He was my best friend and he died 20 years ago when he was just 21 by jumping from a tall monument. I’ve been trying to write something about what Scott meant to me for a long time but the words are mixed with the odd old feelings about my friend Murray but I will try to put something together that will hopefully make some sense.

A family was in the shop one day near the end of last year when I was in covering for Andy -which is rare these days. I overheard a mother say to a teenage son when she passed our FRIGHTENED RABBIT section. “Oh, that’s Frightened Rabbit; One of them died earlier this year”. She was greeted with a shrug from her son and they continued toward the door. It was just trivia. I felt equally sick and paralysed as they walked outside.

I wanted to say “actually his name was Scott! He’d tell you that at the start of one of his solo gigs even though we all knew it was him. He was the lead singer and the main songwriter of the band which is named after what someone said he looked like when he was wee. He was a song-writing genius! I’ve met him before donchaknow! He played outside the bloody shop to 100 or more people! There was a cat! I wanted to gush out what Scott’s music has meant to me over the years but there was simply too much to say to simply the wrong person.

A newspaper cutting of a photo of Scott appeared on my kitchen noticeboard in 2013 and it has stayed there over the years as clubcard vouchers and appointments have come and gone. Scott staring into the distance, looking all windswept and interesting. My wife is fan too.

We met only a handful of times. The Scottish music scene is compact and he stayed in Edinburgh for a while so that was perhaps inevitable. We weren’t friends as such, I didn’t have his phone number but I think he’d have stuck up for me if I was getting my head kicked in by a bunch of drunk kids on a night out in Selkirk. He would have done that anyway. Saying that, he was a best friend of many of my friends – musical and not and it feels like losing a classmate at school. He was admired. Respected and admired. There was no hint of a chip on the music scene’s shoulder when Frightened Rabbit were signed to the great indie label FatCat, or when they were signed to the major label Atlantic. You know, as he became more famous, lots of people wouldn’t ask him to do favours as they knew he would probably say yes and they knew he was busy.

I have stared at him playing on stage live exactly 12 times as I have counted them all and all the songs I have always loved. Over the years I was drawn in and well, I am basically a fan of Frightened Rabbit. I have met FR fans since that have never seen the band and I now feel especially privileged to have shared time in the same room as the man and the band. Once, when my wife and I couldn’t think of where to go on holiday, we went to Vienna for a few days as we knew Frightened Rabbit were playing a small festival there. Then up to a sweaty loft in Forres for the Highland Tour. The signed tour poster is on the wall of our hall.

Maybe they could do a hologram tour like they did with Roy Orbison. Hologram Scott taking the piss out of a heckler in the audience. I would pay heaps for that!

I am glad he touched my life with the music and THE WORDS. And what words Scott! They hit a deep, visceral place. Then he could just throw out some wonderful lines like “my trousers seem to love your floor” (from My Backwards Walk).

The few times we met, although brief, were special to me. I felt special that he even followed the shop on Twitter. Be careful what you type… Scott might be listening when you are up late at night. And he would probably be up late. He was good on twitter too.
“Woke up, felt like shit. Started doing a song, felt better. #WednesdayWisdom”

The hair on my neck was on end when he came to play on Record Store Day two years ago which happened a few years after a short twitter conversation we had. I had hoped he would join us for a few beers and a sing-along in VoxBox after closing but he had committed to another gig as a favour to someone later in the evening back in Glasgow. That was Scott. He had asked to play outside so his brother’s kids could see. Yep, that too.

I know it is very late but I did make a top ten list of 2018… It was of things I liked about being a fan of Scott Hutchison and Frightened Rabbit. And here they are.

1. The spontaneity. A message would appear on Facebook that Scott was doing a show that evening. We would get changed and go out to places like Sneaky Pete’s or The Electric Circus. His alter ego, Owl John, started appearing I think to bypass the booking agent. Later, Frightened Rabbit would play secret gigs as an unheard of band called Footshooters.

When you would watch Scott on stage the banter was (usually) good. You could see his mind working as his eyes would look up to the side and he would smile to himself. At times it felt like he was trying to make sense of the weirdness of being a performer. Or maybe he was thinking about something he could say but wouldn’t. He had a cheek.

2. I love the cheek. He was sharp and could prick a bubble. I thought he was always a step ahead of what everyone in the room was thinking. In Sneaky Pete’s once he was taking requests and there was a gap near the end of the gig and spotting my chance I called out for him to play The Twist. My throat was dry and it came out “tweeeiast!”. This was picked up on…

3. I love the feeling of calm. Like wearing a comfy pair of slippers in front of a bothy’s coal fire. He would hold his guitar with an easiness that said “you’re all fine, I’m not going to make a mistake and even if I do, I won’t let it bother me so don’t let it bother you”. When he was performing, I loved that assuredness. Call out a song! I’ll play it. They were all at the tips of his fingers. Someone would always call out Snake. He hated Snake but that was an in-joke from before I even knew the band. Here is the story about Snake.

4. I love the guitar playing. He was a lovely fingerpicker too and some of the songs are really quite intricate in terms of rhythm or just a few of the fiddly trills like Paul Simon does to start a song… He could really move around within one chord. There is a great version of him playing Get Out that I keep going back to. It is more than just a guy playing guitar; he keeps you engaged and sounds like he is all the members of a band.

5. I love the simplicity of the songs too. At least that they seem simple on the outside but they are far from that. They feel like songs that can never date. Some musicians can pluck the songs that have always existed out of the air and get them recorded quickly and seemingly effortlessly. He had that and he made the craft of songwriting look so easy. You hear more with every listen and the words set them off. What words Scott!

A few lines I thought I got were “give me the cloth and I’ll wipe my face”. There was a documentary about a relic years ago. A rag that was used to mop Jesus’ brow called the Veil of Veronica. I wondered if he saw that TV program.

A Spanish Boy’s Flannel?

The song Backyard Skulls reminds me of digging in the backyard while living in a council house in New Pitsligo when I was aged 6 or 7. There was a dog skull missing a few teeth. I was excited because I though I had found a fossil.

Swim Until You Can’t See Land reminds me of a scene in the film Gattica.

6. I love the singalong too. How can a song called The Loneliness and The Scream have such an uplifting and po-going sing along? Woah-oh-oh-oooh! I saw him with Frightened Rabbit at the HMV Picturehouse and he played the delicate Poke on his own. It sounded like only the women in the audience were singing. I think he started the song and the audience sang the whole thing with him. It was beautiful, delicate and feminine. No one flinched as 500 women sang the line “Should we kick its cunt in?”.
Ah, I’ve found it!

7. I love the swearing. Fuck this place. It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm. You’re the shit and I’m knee deep in it (that’s a compliment right?). There is a C bomb in Music Now that isn’t too obvious and that track has snuck onto BBC Radio. Here is Keep Yourself Warm from the Forres gig in 2012.

8. I love his dealing with hecklers. “Is this your first time?” “You’re not very good at this”.

9. I love his support of the scene. The support of art and poetry collective Neu! Reekie. More spontaneity. I saw him play Cheap Gold at the Leith Docker’s Club which was the venue for the Christmas Songwriter’s Club. Bring a song they said. So he wrote one for it. He was dripping with songs. Stick him in an old house alone or with a collaborator and there would be a mini masterpiece by the end of the day.

I though we had lost him to fame and success when he went to LA after being signed to Atlantic Records. Frightened Rabbit were soon selling out big venues quickly and it was hard to get tickets to home gigs if you weren’t quick. But before too long he was back and playing Tom Petty covers at a Neu! Reekie poetry inspired Christmas event in Edinburgh.

10. I loved his openness. In the songs themselves and the between song chat. The self-deprecating wit and the sense of absurdity. He talked about sitting in a room with some Billy Joel records and whisky at a later Christmas Songwriter’s at The Queen’s Hall. We had a surplus of Billy Joel at the shop and I asked a mutual friend to find out his favourite Billy Joel album. A few weeks later The Stranger.

11. (for there are many more than 10 things). I love the cover versions. I only started appreciating Born In The USA era Bruce Springsteen after hearing Scott’s version of I’m Going Down.

12. When he was getting into a song he did a head bobbing thing and he would usually say “cheers” at the end. I could go on and on for pages and ages until you shake me and say get a hold of yourself man!

But that is the person that I felt I knew. I knew him mostly only from the songs, the interviews, the look in the eye and the enigmatic stare into the distance… and by just being in the audience over the years – even just through that I felt I knew him well and he brought fun and warmth into my life. The gut punch of the news he was missing was familiar and upsetting and I know that this will lessen in time. He leaves a terrific legacy both in terms of creative output and in the tiny changes he continues to inspire in others. I miss him but I saw some people who really knew him last August at a poetry event that he would have been co-hosting. His mum came and spoke. That is something that put the grief that I have felt into perspective. Did you know she would buy Scott poetry books? “I never knew if he read them” she said (I’m sure he did) and she was a wee bit embarrassed at the swearing. What great swearing!

Going back to our first Record Store Day in 2012, I had loaded the car with the few boxes that we had and we headed down to the shop over the cobbled New Town streets and we had Living in Colour blaring on the car stereo. An ipod connected to an adapter cassette that was in the old car’s tape player. Terrified that no one would be there as we turned into St Stephen Street, I was chuffed to see a tiny queue. What a song! We can unpick the lyrics later but it is so uplifting. One of so many mini masterpieces written by Scott and the wonderful Frightened Rabbit.

That’s what I had wanted to say to the lady and her shrugging lad.

My first Frightened Rabbit gig was actually in Peebles in 2011 only a few weeks after I opened the shop and it was really my introduction to the Scottish music scene and I have been hooked ever since. I am so glad that somebody captured the energy of the performance.

Thank you Scott.

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