‘The Great Western Road’ comes from one of the darker recesses of David Byrne’s lengthy and storied career as a songwriter and performer. Yet it is one of his finest creations with and has an obvious and strong Glasgow connection with its references to the titular road, Suachiehall Street and Kelvingrove Park.
It appears as the last track on the album, Lead Us Not Into Temptation, which was the soundtrack for the David Mackenzie film, Young Adam, in which the song plays over the closing credits.
Based on the Alexander Trocchi novel, the film starred Ewan McGregor, Emily Mortimer, Peter Mullan and Tilda Swinton and was filmed in Glasgow during 2002, before a theatrical release the following year.
With a budget of around £5million, it was Mackenzie’s first big budget film, and like his previous work (notably The Last Great Wilderness) and future work, the music was more than afterthought.
To this end, Byrne, whose previous soundtrack work for films, theatre and dance productions included The Catherine Wheel (1981), Music for the Knee Plays (1985), Sounds from True Stories (1986) and The Last Emperor (1987), was commssioned to write and produce the soundtrack for the film.
He did this by coming to Glasgow and recording with local musicians at CaVa Studios in the west end of the city. For Byrne, this was a sort of homecoming, given that he was born in Dumbarton and spent the first two years of his life there before moving to Canada and the USA. Spottings of Byrne at gigs and cafes around the city at the time suggested that he embraced the process.
Co-ordinated by Gill Mills, the soundtrack album, which with the exception of ‘The Great Western Road’ is entirely ambient/ instrumental, featured many local music luminaries from both indie and improvised music scenes. These included Ali Roberts, Barry Burns of Mogwai, Johnny Quinn of Snow Patrol and Richard Colburn of Belle and Sebastian. Raymond MacDonald, Stuart Brown, Una McGlone and George Lyle were among those associated with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra who also appeared; while the legendary Dick Gaughan is credited as ‘folk music consultant’ on the film.
On its release, the film attracted mixed reviews. Empire magazine declared it a ‘modern classic of Scottish cinema’, while other reviewers struggled with the bleakness of Trocchi’s story and its explicity sexuality. The Boston Globe called it ‘one of the least erotic films about shagging ever made’ and The New York Times noted that Byrne’s soundtrack made the ‘story seem more interesting than it is’.
Regardless of these complaints, the film is beautifully shot (mainly) in and around the west end and Forth and Clyde Canal and the soundtrack, for the most part, complementary and unobstrusive. ‘The Great Western Road’ is an excellent pay off for those who persevere.
The film is currently available on Amazon Prime.
The soundtrack is not available on streaming services, but vinyl and CD copies can be found on Discogs and elsewhere.
It is possibly not coincidental that Great Western Road is the main route connecting the filming and recording locations and Byrne’s place of birth.