Day 6: Largs Hum

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Largs Hum was the song that always opened Swimmer One‘s live shows, on the grounds that a recorded voice suddenly saying ‘Tobermory!’ quite loudly in a Scottish accent is a very effective way of grabbing an audience’s attention (as well as testing whether the sound levels are right before the song actually starts). The voice belongs to Rodney Relax, an Edinburgh poet (and, at the time, Hamish’s postman) whose claims to fame include the fact that there is a statue of him – as a young punk with a mohican – in Edinburgh’s People’s Story Museum.

It’s probably Swimmer One’s signature song. It is, as far as I know, the only one of our songs to have its own spoof (Scotland the Brave by London novelty punk band The New Royal Family). It also led to my one and only appearance on the Fred Macaulay show on Radio Scotland; they were doing a feature on the actual Largs hum – a constant, oppressive noise whose cause has eluded experts for years – and, inevitably, their producer ended up Googling our song.

Disappointingly for Fred, the song doesn’t have much to say about the real Largs hum. More significant sources of inspiration were The X-Files and It’s Grim Up North by the KLF, as well as my love of various Pet Shop Boys songs in which Chris Lowe reads out lists of things. The idea, loosely, is that the person singing the song is convinced that the Largs hum is evidence of some sort of dastardly conspiracy (‘does the government know? do the churches know?’), and that the fact that he can hear it makes him a target, so he is travelling around the coastline of Scotland to find out the truth before it’s too late. In the middle eight he has a moment of clarity/psychosis, where he ends up in something resembling Brigadoon (‘a village appears as the mist clears’) before he sets off on his way again, eventually ending up back where he started. The lyric grew out of Hamish’s original rough recording – the rhythmic pulse that opens the song, plus a bit of guitar – which I loved from the first moment I heard it. It felt oppressive, a bit overwhelming at times, and yet you could dance to it. It was also oddly Scottish, as if Massive Attack were trying to make ceilidh music (now there’s a review quote I wish someone had written). If hearing it for the first time hadn’t coincided with me reading a newspaper article about the Largs hum, the song might well have ended up being about a rave in an abandoned tea cake factory / cargo ship on the Firth of Forth.

Largs Hum might be our best song actually, and has given me lots of fond memories. There was the single review that weirdly but flatteringly praised my ‘Scots Bowie’ accent (probably the only time anyone has decided my singing sounds Scottish – maybe my voice’s proximity to Rodney’s created some sort of magical audio illusion). And I always loved the audience’s reaction when ‘TOBERMORY’ suddenly boomed out of the speakers without warning. Sometimes they would nearly spill their drinks. Sometimes they’d laugh (nervously or derisively – either was fine with me). But they certainly never ignored us. I think my favourite memory though is of  the gig we played in Islington when someone shouted ‘Stoneybridge!’ along to the music – a brilliant heckle.

 

 

 

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