My longest conversation with Scott Hutchison was not the smooth, poignant interaction I’d have liked it to be.
I spent most of it explaining a convoluted tale of revenge (that I’m still not sure is actually true) about a cafe where he’d just had breakfast. He politely humoured me. I was obviously nervous. I hadn’t been prepared to bump into one of my lyrical heroes in the street.
I didn’t know Scott, but I felt like I did. I’m not alone in that. He was friendly. He was funny. He would give sweaty hugs after gigs and reply to comments on social media like he was talking to a pal.
He shared such a stark, sometimes painfully truthful side of himself in his songs. We fans felt like he knew us, too. Because how could someone write down words that spoke to each listener so explicitly without knowing them? It was his superpower.
And his unexpected death hurt more than we could ever have imagined because of it.
Scott’s songwriting reflected his unpretentious outlook
I often think about Record Store Day 2017, when Edinburgh record shop, VoxBox Music, hosted lots of live acts to celebrate.
With his acoustic guitar, Scott performed solo outside in the street. There were far too many people there to hear him than would have fitted into one of the tiny basement bars along St Stephen Street, where the other bands were playing. Fans flooded the pavements and spilled into the road.
It was a phenomenal set, and I’m not just saying that. We were captivated. But, as good a showman as he was, Scott never really wanted the focus to be on him.
“The purpose is that you come here and then go around the corner and into the shop,” he reminded us all.
“And maybe, some days, just come here when I’m not here.”
Scott isn’t here anymore. It’s a fact that still knocks the wind out of me sometimes, even three years on.
When he lived in Edinburgh, it wasn’t uncommon to spot him in a pub or standing quietly at the back of the crowd at a gig, enraptured just like the rest of us.
He was a normal guy. He didn’t like fuss. As good as his manners were, he clearly didn’t want to be my lyrical hero. His songwriting reflected his unpretentious outlook. That was exactly what made it so remarkable.
Debauched dancefloors and grey days
Frightened Rabbit’s music is raw and real. The lines that first caught my attention and sucked me in were simple and frank, sometimes crass, usually littered with swear words: “Sit on your high horse and you’re spouting high horse sh*te.” They made me laugh. They shocked me. Then they stayed with me. Frightened Rabbit’s music carried me through some of my worst days.
Like Alex Turner and James Murphy, Scott Hutchison had the ability to capture the essence of a city, of a night out, of a drunken first meeting within a song – gritty and shameful, but exhilarating nonetheless. Unlike Arctic Monkeys and LCD Soundsystem, Scott was singing about Scottish places and pubs and clubs where most of us have been, in an accent we recognised. We might as well have been on those debauched dancefloors with him.
Scott Hutchison is my lyrical hero, and his songwriting legacy can’t be boiled down to one line. I want them all to get their moment
Of course, after the exhilarating highs come the brutal lows. The greys. Scott’s lows were well documented in his work. He disarmed me with his honest sadness like no one else. “I have fallen in the forest, did you hear me?”
After his death, it was too hard to listen to Frightened Rabbit for a while. Lyrics that used to make me smile wryly took on new meaning. I know many other fans felt the same. I know some haven’t been able to bring themselves to listen again.
‘There’s still hope, so I think we’ll be fine’
Even if you’ve never heard the band, there’s one lyric I’m sure you’ll recognise by now. From Head Rolls Off on The Midnight Organ Fight album: “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.”
It’s a great line. It’s such a great line that Scott’s family named the mental health charity they started in his memory after it. It has been printed on stickers and tattooed on limbs and graffitied on walls all over the world. It will never be forgotten.
But, whether he liked it or not, Scott Hutchison is my lyrical hero, and his songwriting legacy can’t be boiled down to one line. I want them all to get their moment.
Artist Michael Corr's mural tribute to Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison is to be displayed at next month's Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival. pic.twitter.com/GsaSqBX97U
— BBC Highlands (@BBCHighlands) July 16, 2018
I’ve started listening to Frightened Rabbit again. Sometimes I smile wryly. Sometimes I get a lump in my throat. The memories of people and places in time those songs dredge up aren’t all pleasant, but each one taught me something I don’t want to forget – just like the tracks themselves.
When I don’t have the strength to make changes – not even tiny ones – Scott’s lyrics remind me that I can be less rude, at the very least. He taught me that I might feel worse before I’ll feel better. That today’s crushing cross to bear probably won’t even phase me tomorrow. That even the greyest days are worth struggling through for the joy of seeing the world in beautiful, vivid colour again. To appreciate Scotland’s bracing winds and keep myself warm.
As he once wrote: “There’s still hope, so I think we’ll be fine.”
If your mental health is suffering, you can get help and support via the Tiny Changes website
Alex Watson is the Head of Comment for The Press & Journal and really misses gigs