It seems more than a little surreal to be sitting in a Philadelphia coffee shop as I write this one year on. The city which played host to my first experience of seeing his band in the United States, something I will be forever grateful to have witnessed… but then there are so many things I am grateful for when it comes to Scott, tiny changes doesn’t quite cover it.
My fledgling foray into the “music industry” began with writing for this very magazine (when it was a magazine… halcyon days) and Stuart McHugh (editor) would send me a list of bands who were looking for coverage. I am not sure why but one day in early 2006 I decided to exhaust the full list he had sent over that month and one of the fifty or so bands was, hailing from Selkirk, Frightened Rabbit.
I was at first intrigued by the press shots on their myspace page (remember the year) two guys in homemade Lucho Libre masks wearing pants and sandals simulating wrestling moves in a park, then there was the music, I think ‘Be Less Rude’ ‘Yawns’ and ‘Square 9’ were the three on the player at the time and I would go as far as to say it was love at first listen. I immediately connected with them in a way that I didn’t even think was possible. Such was the wonder of myspace, I could immediately connect with the band and sent a message proclaiming such to them. It was Scott who responded and he was excited that I was involved with a magazine, it’s strange to say this but getting a message back from them (him) meant as much to me as getting one back from Paul McCartney or Johnny Marr, looking back now it means more.
I was soon sent a custom-made demo CD in a brown paper bag with a biscuit (a ‘Nice’ one) and my first live experience was to be just around the corner at the Arlington Bar in late May 2006. I remember that day vividly, the sun was shining as I boarded the train on my own to Glasgow, arriving at that unassuming bar on Woodlands Road as Jocky Venkataraman was on stage (I can’t recall if he was shirtless yet or not) and I stood at the back, not knowing anyone in the room at all. It definitely felt like everyone in the room knew the band though and they were not just there because they were friends or family of the band either, this small community of people were very much in the starstruck category as well, they knew, as I did, that we were extremely fortunate to be here.
I recognised Scott and approached him, immediately he offered to buy me a pint, I think it was Paulaner and we clicked straight away, there was no awkwardness like, for example a first Tinder date, we were on common ground from the off. I was then introduced very quickly to Ron and Marion, who had made Malteser Cake for the occasion (the launch of their debut record ‘Sing The Greys’). He said, and this is so clear in my memory, I can hear him saying it in that distinctive voice: “I really hope this isn’t the last time we see you at a gig”… there was absolutely no chance it was ever going to be.
After that show I penned my review for is this music? and I’d tell everyone I possibly could about how great they were, if there was a rooftop to shout about them from, I’d be trying to find one that was a few floors higher up. I was a fan of the band but I was just as much a fan of Scott, I just wanted people to see him or hear him because he was so fucking funny and so brilliant. He was nobody yet of course, they were still supporting bands at King Tut’s at this point, but I’ve never been so sure of someones talent and he had it in abundance.
I interviewed them for this magazine a few months later (what was their first ever printed interview) and in that, they talked about playing shows in Ireland, a year later I was in Ireland with them on a tour, my first time “on tour” and I loved every second of it. Masons Bar in Derry, The Hub in Dublin, Doyles Bar in Dublin The Underground in Carlow and finishing up with a late night drinking session at Eddie Murphys Bar in Thomastown where we first discovered the ‘jagerbomb’.
Around the same time, Scott had given me a copy of the (as yet unreleased) ‘Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters’ by a fellow Scottish band, The Twilight Sad – “the only band in Scotland better than us” were his words. He took me to see them at the Classic Grand and all of a sudden I had two people in my life who I was in awe of as he introduced me to James after the gig. We became close friends as well and he is the reason I am in this coffee shop in Philadelphia right now as six years ago James asked me to help the band out behind the scenes as things had gone a little off the beaten track for them. It’s fair to say my life without these two people in them would be vastly different.
That same year, as I was hosting a radio show on Leith FM and was playing Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad on repeat, also having Scott and James in as guests on several occasions. I then got to thinking that putting on a live gig for the station might be an idea so asked Scott if Frightened Rabbit would play, when he said yes, without doubt, that one moment changed my life forever, the excitement of putting on a band I was so besotted with and being able to tell everyone about it was a natural high that no narcotic could get near.
I ran about the call centre I worked in during the day, telling everyone to come and see this amazing band, in the end getting about 130 people along to the Dockers for the gig. I remember borrowing an idea from Gav Duvet (a promoter in Edinburgh) of writing the gig details in chalk on the ground in and around the venue so if you were to have been walking about Leith Links on the afternoon of April 5th 2007 you would have seen “Live Tonight! Frightened Rabbit! William Douglas and The Wheel! Y’all Is Fantasy Island! Leith Dockers Club! £5!” in my sketchy child-like scrawl.
It would be the first of three Frightened Rabbit shows I would promote with the second at the Bowery on April 3rd 2009, an Edinburgh show to accompany their acoustic rendition of ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ in its entirety at the Captain’s Rest. Again it was on my own steam that I decided to do this and despite the band now having an agent and management, Scott encouraged me to put them on, I didn’t realise at the time but all of this was raising my stock as someone in the music world and would ultimately contribute majorly to my getting a full-time job in a venue, booking and promoting bands, which was my dream.
This time, the band were on a whole other level and selling tickets for it were not going to be a problem, getting everyone in that wanted to be there was the new problem. I remember suggesting Meursault as the support as I thought they would be a great fit and was so happy when Scott said he liked them and indeed asked them to support when they played The Queens Hall later that year, a gig I massively regret not being at. I actually remember being on holiday in Turkey and people were texting me asking what time the band were on at! I know it was a special night and probably one that really showcased how incredible they were, everyone talks fondly of it and it will no doubt rank as one of Edinburgh’s finest and golden evenings of live music.
A year later and I was in a pretty bad way, I was unhappy in my job, desperate to find a way out and into music properly somehow. I was also broken hearted, probably on the same level that would lead someone to write an album like ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’, I clearly did not possess that skill but needed an escape of sorts. Scott was there to provide it; I saw that the band were playing in the US and he had long said “You need to come and see us over there, it’s pretty mad.” I knew the band had gathered a support over there that eclipsed what they even did in Scotland and were travelling with the luxury of a tourbus so I asked if there was space – he said yes and to come over for the second leg on the East Coast. I can hear him saying now: “Don’t just talk about it, book your flight now.” He knew I’d likely talk myself out of it so I just thought “fuck it” and booked a flight to New York and a return from Chicago.
Next thing I was on my way to the United States of America for the first time, because of him, it was to be the perfect tonic. I made my way to Philadelphia from New York on a Megabus (an actual Megabus) and sat outside the venue waiting for them; when they arrived and got off their tour bus which had made its way from Athens, Georgia, I swear it was one of the happiest moments of my life. The tour took in Boston, New York, Washington, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago and I was like a kid in a sweet shop – I took a slagging from him for being so excited at everything, there is video evidence of this too.
A year later and I finally made my escape from the bank and got a job at The Electric Circus booking shows and very early on in doing so, during a hungover breakfast with Scott, himself now living in Edinburgh too. I pointed out to him that it was going to be the 5th anniversary of ‘Sing The Greys’ the following month. They were by now a band who could play, and sell out, the Barrowland so we devised the idea of them playing under a pseudonym (Jonny B Grey) and revealed the secret via special golden tickets left around the city on the day of the show. So the billed Endor show on 26th May 2011 soon became Frightened Rabbit (Scott, Grant and Billy) with special guests Hawk and Animal (James and Andy from The Twilight Sad) and in further homage to that night in the Arlington, Jocky Venkataraman. There was even Malteser cake and a raffle, prizes included the original keyboard played on the record and a homemade replica Snake doorstop. It was, by some distance, the best night I have ever (or will ever) put on.
Frightened Rabbit went on to even greater things after that of course, selling out two nights at the Academy, then a few years later three nights at the Barrowland. The “tiny changes” he talked about making in 2008 now seemed more than a little modest as the list of people whose lives he touched grew in every city and every state. I am forever in debt to him that I was lucky to have been one of them. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, as my life, and the things I do in it, are a daily reminder of his impact.
I get mocked mercilessly for posting things on social media with a lot of detail, “synopsis posts’” as James likes to call them, but looking back over a few of them in years gone by, I had in several, spoken of how much Scott and his music meant to me and I know that he will have read those. I know that he will have known how much he, as a person, meant to me and that provides me with a crumb of comfort at this weird and reflective time of year.
Thank you to Stuart McHugh for sending him my way 13 years ago and for allowing me to write this, the wild thing is, I have only just scratched the surface.
Tiny Changes is the mental health charity set up by Scott Hutchison’s family along with his Frightened Rabbit bandmates – more at frightenedrabbit.com/tiny-changes.