Iconic Scottish women in music

Published

Wikimedia Commons/Zach Klein

Elley Lovett
Writer

Celebrating Scotland’s musical legacy

As we recently saw with International Women’s Day, there is an exhaustive amount of big international female artists who are rightfully celebrated for their impact on the world; particularly feminist icons such as Cher, Queen B and Shania Twain. But we shouldn’t forget about talent a little closer to home. Scotland has produced a plethora of fabulous female musicians – whether rock, Celtic or pop – that have provided us with some amazing music over the years. I have narrowed it down to a selection of three artists who represent the best of their genres, but of course there are many, many more.

Shirley Manson

It seems sensible to start with Edinburgh-born Shirley Manson, who was recently awarded NME’s first ever Icon Award in February. The Garbage singer used her award speech to show her support for women in the music industry, demanding change: “If you’re any kind of decent person of any gender, you’ll be pretty keen to try and turn the tables to readdress what we’re coming to understand. There’s just a phenomenal imbalance – particularly within the arts, it’s insane”.

Manson’s outspoken, badass persona is what made 90s alt-rock band Garbage so distinctive. Before she joined, the band was pretty much unknown – but with the addition of her unapologetic authenticity, they were able to release their debut album in 1995 which sold over 4 million copies, quickly followed by a 174-date world tour. Pretty impressive.

Top Track – Milk (Garbage)

Karen Matheson

Although mainstream charts are not her territory, Gaelic-folk singer Karen Matheson – most recognised as the lead singer of Celtic-rock band Capercaillie – is a true icon in the world of traditional Scottish music. Sean Connery once expressed that “Karen Matheson has a throat that is surely touched by God’’, and upon hearing her silky, lilting vocals (not dissimilar to the late Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries), even an atheist would have to agree with that statement.

She performed to a televised audience of over one billion people with her version of Ae Fond Kiss at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and has previously collaborated with big names such as Emmylou Harris and James Taylor. Most importantly, Matheson has been a pioneer of bridging the gap between traditional Scottish music and popular music with her mixture of Gaelic and English songs, which I think really helps establish her as a culture icon.

Top Track – Skye Waulking Song (Capercaillie)

Annie Lennox

Last but not least, who could forget Annie Lennox? From pop darling to international activist, she has influenced women in countless ways. On 4 March, she performed a gig in London – notably for the first time in ten years – combining her artistic and campaigning talents to promote her charity The Circle, which aims to empower disadvantaged women around the globe.

It seems as if Lennox has totally moved on from the days of Eurhythmics, which gave us Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – the ultimate 80s pop anthem. The music video saw her become an LGBT icon with her androgynous look, consisting of a man’s suit and her iconic pixie crop – one thing she certainly hasn’t left behind. After the duo’s break up, she released her first solo album in 1992 (appropriately titled Diva) which reached No. 1 in the UK and went double platinum in the US. Since then, she has raised her two children, continued with music but primarily focused on her charity work in recent years. Although making music isn’t top of her agenda these days, she very much remains a dynamic icon that not only Scottish women can look up to, but every woman around the world.

Top Track – Walking on Broken Glass (Annie Lennox)

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