Political Spin: Elena Whitham
The SNP MSP for Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley shares her playlist
What was the first record you bought?
I have very, very vivid memories of this. We went to live in Canada in 1980 when I was six and came back a year and a half later for a family wedding. My papa gave me some pocket money and I was in Woolworths and bought Don’t You Want Me Baby by The Human League.
What music do you associate with your childhood?
Music was everything in my family. My mum and dad had me in their teens and they were rockers so I grew up in a house of music. I remember dancing around the living room with my mum and dad before we went to Canada to Let’s Stick Together by Bryan Ferry and The Jean Genie by David Bowie.
What music do you associate with that move to Canada?
Moving there felt like one endless picnic – it’s an integral part of the Canadian lifestyle. We were in Ontario and my mum and dad made pals with the local bikers so we had a lot of parties with a lot of drinking and loud music. We’d always had Led Zeppelin and AC/DC but Van Halen were introduced as well.
What was the first gig you went to?
I was 14 and it was the Deja Voodoo BBQ. Deja Voodoo were a punk band in Montreal and every year they had a concert with 10 or so local bands, and they would headline. I remember feeling like I’d discovered something magical. It was spectacular; I was in love.
When did you get into punk?
I was away at a youth camp when I was 13 and there was a guy there playing The Dead Kennedy’s Holiday in Cambodia and I was like, ‘I need to know what this is’. I came home a completely changed person and by the time I was 14 I had all sorts of different coloured hair and a leather jacket. Bata Motel by Crass is the reason I became a feminist.
Can you play an instrument?
No, I’m hopeless. I did sing backing vocals for my friend’s punk band, the Kitchen Kids. My whole life after school was doing my homework, getting on my bike and riding to their practice space, which was underneath a strip club. I lived and breathed the whole scene.
What was your first dance at your wedding?
At Last by Etta James. It was my second marriage, we were in our 30s and it just felt like at last we’d found the person we were meant to be with. We had a ceilidh band at the community hall, my mum and dad put four bottles of wine on every table and it was just the best night. My first wedding was a punk reception. We had Firestarter by The Prodigy as our first dance, but we were in our 20s.
What do you listen to during your commute to parliament?
If I’m gearing up for a debate, I probably will reach for heavy stuff like Blackened by Metallica, Closer by Nine Inch Nails, Walk by Pantera or maybe some Sepultura or Machine Head – stuff that really gets your blood going. If I’m decompressing I love The Smiths, Depeche Mode or early Sinead O’Connor.
What song is guaranteed to get you on the dance floor?
It doesn’t happen on many dancefloors now, but there was a pub in Irvine called The Attic where I’d dance to Killing in the Name Of by Rage Against the Machine. Equally, Insomnia by Faithless will get me up, or Proud Mary by Tina Turner if it’s a wedding.
Which song makes you cry?
When I was 17, I delivered newspapers and my mum would get up and we’d turn on the TV and get everything ready. One morning Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog came on and we just stopped. My mum gave me 20 bucks and said, “you need to get this album today”. Eight years ago she died suddenly of lung cancer. She was only 58 and if I hear that song now it always gets me.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
I don’t do karaoke but I sing all the time in the house. I love Elvis, so it would probably be Hound Dog. I sing at the top of my lungs in the car. Ball Tongue by Korn is one I’ll turn up really loud.
What was the last gig you went to?
It was pre-pandemic, The Doors Alive tribute band in Glasgow. As arts and entertainment editor for the student newspaper, I spent ‘93-’95 going to four concerts a week and interviewing everyone. The best was when Sony gave me passes to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, when Alive had just been released. I remember walking through backstage to meet the bands and the Chilis were doing their whole thing where they had nothing on except socks to cover their modesty. I was offered a job by Sony to be an A&R person. I agonised over it for a week. Every now and again I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d done it.