Skooshy Wee Number

It’s oft suggested that our other national drink here in Scotland is Irn-Bru, the mysteriously-flavoured bright orange beverage brewed by Barr’s. I’d like to argue the case for Red Kola though.

The crimson ‘sparkling fruit juice’ was concocted years ago by Curries of Auchinleck in deepest East Ayrshire. With a similarly closely-guarded secret recipe, and marketed as ‘Special Cola’, Red Kola has in recent times, I suspect, also undergone a slight recipe redesign. Unlike the hoo-ha created when Barr’s bowed to the combined pressures of the sugar tax and healthy eating campaigns by lowering the sugar in Irn-Bru (reducing both its flavour (bad thing) and waiting times in dentists across most of Scotland (good thing)), Red Kola’s subtle shift in taste seemed to bypass even the most sugar-fuelled soft drinkers. And unlike the Facebook racketeers and profiteers who advertise ‘original’ glass bottles of Irn-Bru at prices not too dissimilar to what you’d pay for a decent Jura malt, no one (as yet) has found a stockpile of Curries ‘Special Kola’ at the back of the cupboard just waiting to be ‘Pepsi Challenged’ against a just-off-the-shelf plastic-bottled Red Kola from the Spar. Trust me though, as the bottle I’m currently guzzling – for research purposes of course – proves, as with Irn-Bru, it’s still the same drink….just different.

Red Kola has been championed in song by another of East Ayrshire’s best-kept secrets, Nyah Fearties. Brothers Stephen and Davy Wiseman have a rare way with an arrangement; take an acoustic guitar and batter it furiously until it sounds like it’s being assaulted by a Brillo Pad then weld it on top of a backbeat held together with clanging pipes, hob nailed stomps and a wing and a prayer and play at 100 miles an hour until out of breath. The regularly likened-to Pogues might’ve had flowing Streams Of Whiskey but the ‘Fearties noisily and beautifully romanticised Red Kola.

Nyah FeartiesRed Kola

(Oor) guts are dyed wi’ Rid Kola.

That’s a line the equal of Burns, that is.

Nyah Fearties debut album, A Tasty Heidfu‘, was re-released after 30-odd years to little fanfare at the tail end of 2018. A clattering, caterwauling sound clash it is, like our national drink(s) an acquired taste. It’s also something that gets under your skin and flows through your veins, the very nectar of life itself. You should head here toute de suite and give them your hard-earned.

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Lugton Calling To The Faraway Towns

So I’m looking over my 19 year-old shoulders, keepin’ the edgy with one eye whilst scanning for decent pallets of wood with the other. After a minute or so a criteria-matching pallet is duly found (“sturdy“, “wan ye could stamp oan an’ it widnae brek“), carefully dismantled (“shhh! Security guards, furfucksakes!“) and folded into the boot of my pal’s mum’s Mini Maestro before being sped out of Hysters at top speed and delivered to the back door of The Attic, venue for that night’s Nyah Fearties gig.

Nyah Fearties (pronounced Nyah Fearties) were a brilliant, brilliant 2-man folk/punk band from Lugton in Ayrshire, a place so small and insignificant that Google are still looking for it on one of their own maps, even if The Fearties did their best to put their wee toun there. They had a sound that had obvious reference points in The Pogues and The Men They Couldn’t Hang, but there was a rough and raggedyarsedness to their sound, more no-fi than lo-fi, that made MacGowan and co. sound like a slick jazz funk band from 1982 by comparison. The Fearties were very parochial. Not for them a Scottishness that reeked of purple heather and proud images of Edinburgh Castle, they sang of what they knew. Lugton Junction. Bible John. Sawney Bean. Red Kola. A Sair Erse.

At The Attic, the two Wiseman Brothers, Davy and Steven, thrashed the daylights out of their acoustic 6 strings and bass guitars, not so much playing them as wrestling with them as though they were man-eating pythons. They kicked the shit out of that freshly-borrowed pallet and by then end of the gig it was in pieces smaller than we’d made when trying to get it into the car. They sounded like the apocalypse. Wild-eyed and feral, they participated in an hour and a half of non-stop call and response cris de guerre, sweating like boxers in the final round yet still standing upright, as if held vertical by magic. And so were we. Fuelled on £5 Bob Marleys – an ice bucket filled with a shot of every spirit and diluted to taste with fruit juice and so called because, as the barman helpfully pointed out, “you’ll wake up black and dead“, we thrashed about in the wee area in front of what loosely passed as the stage. Bang in the middle of this area was a spiral staircase. And bang! At one point or other I chicken-danced myself into it and split my head in two. Didn’t notice a thing until the next morning when I did indeed wake up black and dead and very hungover, just in time for the half 7 start in Safeway, dried blood crusted on my forehead and a splintered plank of wood from our pallet lying next to my bed. Really.

Red Kola (pronounced Rid Kola) is one of The Fearties best. Written as an anthem to Curries’ Special Kola (not brown, but red, and teeth-rottin’ tasty) as well as a tongue in cheek response to REM’s Orange Crush and as a metaphorical warning of the Americanisation of the UK, it’s a breathless, clatterin’ rant and a half:

Cop shows, burger bars and American Cream Soda

Take them oot an’ drown them in a sea of Pepsi Cola

They swallowed up oor land in the name o’ Geordie Bush

He couldnae keep his piggie little eyes aff oor skoosh!

Rid Kola! Rid Kola! Oor guts are dyed wi’ Rid Kola!

Lugton Junction (pronounced Lugton Junction) is a tirade against British Rail. From the opening scaffolding poles and found-sound bashing that apes the sound of ancient steamtrains passing at high speed, to the slide guitar as train whistle, to the we’re no’ standin’ fur this vocals, it’s what you could call one of The Fearties’ Greatest Hits;

There’s a train comin’, it’s no stoppin’ here

There’s a train comin’ doon the track, it’s no stoppin’ here,

There’s a train comin’ doon the track, it’s no stoppin’ here.

It husnae stopped here fur 20 bloody years!

Lugton Station, 1966

A year or so after The Attic gig and me and a pal are on the bus to Glasgow. It stops at Lugton and who gets on but none other than Davy Wisemen (he cannae get a train, remember?) “A’right boys!” He sits down and entertains us and everyone else on the bus (he has a rather volumatic burr to his voice) with stories about anything and everything. He draws us a map of Arran, showing us where The Fearties are playing in a week or so. Then we’re in Buchanan Street bus station and he’s off to who knows where with a genuinely cheery cheerio. “Did embdy ever chin you about that pallet?” No, Davy, but I couldnae explain to my mum how a broken plank of wood had ended up in my bedroom.