To best appreciate what Scottish indie-rock band Frightened Rabbit and their late singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison meant to people was simply to stand among the crowd at one of their semi-regular pre-Christmas homecoming concerts at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom.
I can objectively say that those shows were among the most wildly emotional outpourings of fandom I have ever witnessed in that famous room. Joy, laughter, sadness, rage and more, all shaken up and sprayed at the Barras’ vaulted stars-clad ceiling like foaming cheap lager. People crying with joy, howling with abandon, belting every lyric back at their author from the bottom of their lungs. Tears, beers, deafening foot-stomping cheers. A righteous seasonal celebration of community, togetherness and making it through another rotten year, set to rousing music and the Scottishly cathartic wonder of a good fucking swear (he loved a good swear, did Hutchison).
Fans will be feeling a lot of emotion now as they reflect on Hutchison’s tragic suicide at the age of just 36. They might take some small comfort from knowing that last time I interviewed him, last year ahead of Frightened Rabbit’s both first and ultimately final major festival headline appearance at Electric Fields, he reflected on those Barrowlands shows and noisily communing with the band’s deeply invested followers thusly. “It still sends a tingle up a spine to think about those nights. But it’s not really our doing, it’s those that come and see us and continue to show that level of commitment to Frightened Rabbit, and we don’t take that for granted at all.”
What a gifted songwriter Hutchison was. Passionate, clever, eloquent, skewed, bleak, macabre, rude and laugh-out-loud funny, all in measured proportion. His lyrics cut through the bullshit of toxic masculinity by couching self-lacerating confessionals in humour and crudity and so much arse-naked humanity you were almost a bit embarrassed to listen. Following a step up from an indie to a major label a few years ago, Frightened Rabbit felt like they were just one suitably anthemic record away from breaking into arenas. It’s no cliché to say that they had so much more to give – indeed another album had apparently been completed not long before Hutchison’s death.
Suicide among young people is drastically on the rise. Suicide among young male musicians seems to be becoming a particular problem. Not a few weeks ago I wrote another heavy-hearted tribute like this to another Scottish indie musician who had taken his own life, Veronica Falls drummer Patrick Doyle. Since then it’s become known that multi-million selling Swedish EDM producer and DJ Avicii killed himself. In a business of soaring peaks of adulation followed by plummeting crashes of boredom and repetition, irregular sleep patterns and free and easy access to intoxicants – basically the worst possible situation for someone with mental health issues – little wonder it can happen to musicians at all levels of fame and success. Musicians give us so much, and in the streaming age, increasingly for free; in turn the least we owe them and other troubled young people like them is freely accessible and adequately resourced professional mental health support.
Hutchison did an enormous amount to try and help other vulnerable individuals – be it through working with mental health charities or simply reaching out directly to fans on social media or through handwritten notes. It’s not uncommon to hear people say that his songs “saved” them. Ultimately the one person he couldn’t save was himself. Many I’m sure tried – he was loved by his family, not least his brother and bandmate drummer Grant Hutchison, and his countless friends and peers within the music world.
If there’s a song by which I’ll remember him best, then it’s one from Frightened Rabbit’s defining album, 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight. Head Rolls Off begins its smilingly irreverent musing on death, faith and the basic agnostic tangibles of human existence with the exquisite opening lyric “Jesus was just a Spanish boys name,” before going on to mock the absurdity of God in heaven “with all his dead friends round”, and tie-up each sublime chorus with the self-effacingly humble line “while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to the earth”. I hope that Hutchison left us understanding how wonderfully significant those tiny changes he made really were – they will long outlast him.
Main image: Bruce/Flickr