As Scotland’s men finally return to the finals of a major football tournament in summer 2021, Michael Alexander speaks to the Fife-ish punk/ska whippersnappers who have resurrected a 23 year-old song to inspire the Tartan Army.
It was the memorable afternoon when the streets emptied and football fever gripped the nation ahead of the opening match of the France 1998 World Cup between Scotland and Brazil.
Fife-raised chef and punkish musician Rod Drysdale was working as a junior chef at Edinburgh’s Commercial Quay that June day, and he remembers finishing his shift and having just 10 minutes to cycle up Constitution Street and Leith Walk to watch the game at the old Phoenix bar on Broughton Street.
“It was like there were tumbleweeds blowing through the streets,” the now 46-year-old former pupil of Auchmuty High School, Glenrothes, who grew up in Star of Markinch, recalls.
“Everyone was there. I knew a lot of people that were at the game in France but everyone else was in the house, in the pub, glued to the match.”
The game, of course, became the stuff of legend.
After a colourful opening ceremony in front of an 80,000 crowd at the Stade de France, Scotland went behind after just four minutes to a César Sampaio goal.
Both teams had chances in the second half before an unfortunate ricochet off Tommy Boyd on 73 minutes ended Scotland’s hopes of beating the champions.
The game left Rod, who played in famed Glenrothes punk band The Newtown Grunts at the time, feeling “quite emotional”.
Original 1998 version of Toepokes and Tragedies
Following Scotland’s early exits from both the 1996 Euros and ultimately the ‘98 World Cup where, after Brazil, Scotland drew with Norway and lost to Morocco, he was inspired to write a rousing song “in the bath after a few Tizers” called Toepokes and Tragedies.
“It was a loving lament for defeated heroes that struck a chord on the Scottish underground scene, where football songs usually die unloved”, laughs Rod.
The idea was that the song, which included a nod to Dundee United legend Dave Narey’s famous ‘toe poke’ against Brazil at the 1982 World Cup, would be rolled out every time Scotland qualified for the finals of a major football tournament.
Scotland manager Craig Brown even wrote to them to say it had been played to the team prior to Scotland’s games against England in the Euro 2000 qualifiers.
But as life took the band their separate ways, little could Rod and his fellow Tartan Army minded musicians have realised then that more than 20 years later, the Scotland men’s team would still be waiting for their next major football finals appearance.
That all changed of course in November 2020 when Scotland dramatically beat Serbia 4-5 on penalties to qualify for this summer’s rescheduled 2020 Euros.
In the giddy aftermath of that famous victory, the Grunts’ old drummer Adam Lawson, also from Glenrothes, demanded that Rod revisit the tune, knock all the past tense out of the lyrics and, with their new band Rudebeard, harness its mighty chorus with a new spirit of optimism – and maybe, just maybe, help add a bit to the breeze blowing up the pitch towards the opposition this summer.
2021 version of Toepokes and Tragedies
Now, as Scotland’s men finally return to the big stage in June 2021, the revamped song with its lyrics “Go and fight for your flag on the hallowed turf at Hampden, take it with you to Wembley-oh-ee-oh” has been released along with a rousing video filmed in Fife, Edinburgh and Glasgow during lockdown.
Adam doesn’t want to tempt fate, but if fans are allowed into stadiums as looks increasingly likely as Covid conditions improve, it’s his dream to be standing on the Hampden terracing with his boys and for the song to be played over the tannoy at half-time with Scotland perhaps a goal or two up.
“Adam and I have been playing in bands together for around 30 years,” says Rod, a father-of-three.
“Our first band was a combination of two Glenrothes punk bands. I was in a band called the Stinky Pinkies.
“Adam and his pals had a band called Vic Plastic and the Flick Knife Vasectomy!
“One of Adam’s pals heard our band rehearsing at Warout Primary School one night.
“We were murdering a Dead Kennedys song, and he walked in off the street and made pals with us.
“He also introduced me and my pal to Buckfast. So we still call him Uncle Buckie to this day!”
Former Glenrothes High School pupil Adam, 50, now a Glasgow-based software developer and Dundee United season ticket holder who plays drums, laughs when he recalls a “different side” to that story.
“I struggled to get a singer so we got Rod in,” he says.
“He was a bit younger which was a big deal at that age. He came in and he sang – we all thought he sounded like this guy from the Proclaimers singing in a broad Scottish accent, which is now actually quite normal, but at the time it was like ‘wow’!
“There was some debate – ‘he seems alright. He’s a bit quiet’. I actually gave Rod the nod!
“Now we can’t get rid of him!”
The story of Rudebeard
Having gone their separate ways, but with music never far from their lives, Rudebeard which mostly plays ska and is heavily influenced by two-tone, was formed in 2018.
In addition to Rod on vocals and Adam on drums, the band comprises Ali Hendry (Randolph’s Leap, Amphetameanies) on trumpet and backing vocals; Becky Verdon (Bulky Matron) on saxophone; Graeme Mearns (Joe Viterbo, Legendary Graeme Mearns Band) on guitar/vocals; John Macfarlane (From High Mountains, The Banditos) on guitar and Gordy Davidson (Amphetameanies, Capone and the Bullets) on bass.
In fact, Gordy once had a song played over the PA at Hampden. With the Amphetameanies, he did a song called The Hand of God about meeting an Argentinian in Holland. They played it at Hampden at a Scotland match –his very own “moment in the sun”!
But crucially its release was made possible by the “production genius” of guitarist Graeme who was able to record this and other music during lockdown at home.
“We invested in some kit and were managing to cobble together recordings from mobile phone rehearsal recordings and do samples,” says Rod who has been working as a head chef in Perth.
“We kind of built it up from there and Toepokes was one of the results!”
Making of the video during lockdown
An important part of the release is the video which was filmed “all over”.
“Becky’s bit is on the radioactive beach in Dalgety Bay,” laughs Adam.
Rod adds: “Me and Graeme met up in Edinburgh in Lochend park, round the corner from Easter Road.”
Adam continues: “We filmed some of it through in Glasgow where I am these days, not far from Hampden. We were filming in the car park outside Hampden and a wee mannie came out and said ‘you cannae film there’ and chased us away, but we’d already done it all!
“We then went to film up at Cathcart Park to finish that off.”
Realistically, the band don’t expect to make any money from the song, which subtly changes the original 1998 lyric references from Paris to Belgrade.
But they would love it to be in the hearts and minds of the Tartan Army when Scotland play.
“It’s impossible to make money off it,” says Rod who adds the band was always formed “with the idea to have as much fun as possible”.
“The industry has changed so much. Personally I would love for it to get played over the PA if there’s a crowd at Hampden. I’d love people to be singing it at Hampden and Wembley, it would be absolutely amazing.
“But just to get it out there, and get it into peoples’ hearts and minds really. That would be amazing.
“We’re not spring chickens anymore but it would also be great to have the song playing at festivals when things get back to normal.”
So what of Scotland’s chances?
“Throughout Covid, there has been some crazy results for the underdogs in football,” says Rod, “and I wouldn’t rule anything out when it comes to Scotland – there is no expectation for us so there is no reason that we couldn’t pull it out of the bag. I think we’ll finish second.
“We will be playing England at Wembley which will be a tough match, but we always turn up against them so everything is up for grabs.”
Adam goes a step further. “We need a party line here – I think we can win it!”
With a rousing song at their backs during these strange times, it’s a dream worth holding on to!
For more on Rudebeard go to rudebeard.com