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Cosla's Steven Heddle on growing up punk in Orkney and changing the Scottish national anthem

Independent Orkney Islands councillor and Cosla vice-president Steven Heddle playing in his band

Cosla's Steven Heddle on growing up punk in Orkney and changing the Scottish national anthem

What’s the first record you ever bought? It was The Beatles single, Help. The second was All You Need is Love. The Beatles singles were being reissued at the time and the first album was some weird Dutch import of The Beatles greatest hits from Woollies in Kirkwall. I was a big Beatles fan as a kid. I loved the films.

Can you play an instrument? I play guitar in a punk covers band. We’re called The Dirty Røtters and for Scandanavian effect we’ve got the slash through the O. if you’re looking for us on YouTube put in “Orkney” because there’s another The Dirty Rotters in Brighton. We’ve become friends now – they got in touch on Facebook.

What music do you associate with your student days? I used to travel back from university with a ghetto blaster and a stack of cassettes. I went to Aberdeen for my degree and Edinburgh to do a PhD in physics. I’ve got a varied selection of mixtapes with REM, The Smiths, Simple Minds, The Psychedelic Furs and a lot of Neil Young, Pixies, Voice of the Beehive, things like that. I was a regular subscriber to Sounds and the NME when I was 11 or 12 and I used to run down to the news agents to get it every week, but of course we always got the papers late.

What was the first gig you went to? I went to see a lot of local bands in Orkney playing punk and post-punk stuff like Joy Division covers. I got into punk when I was 12, 13, 14. I was never a lifestyle punk and when Elena Whitham was a councillor at Cosla she was a more committed lifestyle punk than me and I always felt like a charlatan compared to her. My first “proper” gig was probably James King and the Lone Wolves in Aberdeen.

What was the last gig you went to? Gang of Four at La Belle Angele. I’m a big fan and I’ve been trying to convert folk to them since I got into them. Entertainment is one of the best things I have ever heard. I try to go to more gigs now I’m down in Edinburgh so often. I stay with my son in Gorgie and I’ve tried to foist my entire record collection on him and indoctrinate him.

What music do you associate with your childhood? Cheesy early 70s stuff that would be on the radio and Saturday night entertainment stuff like Cilla Black. There are slim pickings there, but I did like Cilla’s Step Inside Love, which I later found was a Paul McCartney song. There wasn’t much music in the house when I was a kid because my folks didn’t have a record player til I was about 10. When they did, it was things like Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean.

What was your first dance at your wedding? It was a special piece written for the occasion as a gift from our friend, composer Colin Lochhead. We had a ceilidh with the Marwick Brothers Band, who were acquaintances of ours. My wife and I were both members of the Edinburgh University Highland Society, which is where we met.

What’s your go-to karaoke track? I’m a rotten singer so I don’t sing in the band. If there’s a microphone in front of me I might do an “oo” or “aah” and if I could sing, I would give MacArthur Park loads. It’s melodramatic nonsense and if there’s cake melting in the rain, I’m going to be there.

What music would you be embarrassed for people to know you have in your collection? The Dave Clark Five’s 25 Thumping Greatest Hits. Only a few of the thumping hits are quite good. Or The Amazing Darts by The Darts. Everything on there is execrable apart from The Boy from New York City, which is actually quite jolly.

What song do you want played at your funeral? I’m not quite that morbid yet.

So what song will always get you on the dance floor? At university I always got up for Hue and Cry’s Labour of Love and things like I Travel by Simple Minds, The Eighties by Killing Joke or Heaven 17, We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thing. I’d give it a go if it came on now. I also like euphoric trance like The Shamen, Utah Saints and Mary Kiani, When I Call Your Name. I like the shiny synths. 

What song always makes you cry? The Ark by Gerry Rafferty is such a beautiful, flowing kind of song and you’re swept away by the production. You feel like this man should have lived forever.

What song would you replace the Scottish national anthem with? The John Maclean March. It’s a good, positive, socialist message and a rollicking tune as well.

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