If things had gone to plan, last weekend Kai Davidson would have been down at Edinburgh’s Citrus Club watching Vic Godard And Subway Sect, the first generation London punk band who were such a huge influence on the capital’s music scene. The band was supposed to be staying at 44-year-old Davidson’s Restalrig high rise flat, a friendlier alternative to decidedly un-rock and roll B&Bs.
As it was, an array of elder statesmen from a personal and professional network – some might call it an underground - that had grown out of punk were in attendance, though their suits and black ties were a giveaway. Because, that afternoon, after his body was discovered outside the flat where he lived alone earlier in the week, Davidson’s packed humanist funeral played host to a roll-call of friends and colleagues who fired off his passion for music, as well as his compassion as a care worker with disadvantaged young people and adults.
Whether as a tireless promoter, as a member of crucial but unsung bands such as The Cateran and The Joyriders, as manager of The Proclaimers during their formative years before they became international icons, or largely as a lifelong fan, music was a matter of life and death for Davidson. Not for nothing did his funeral open to the sounds of American gonzo punks The Ramones call to arms, Hey Ho Let’s Go, and close with Motorhead’s equally thrilling Ace Of Spades.
By the end of the weekend, Glasgow band The Beat Poets had dedicated a song to Davidson during their West End festival set, and other acts such as The Thanes had posted tributes to accompany the resounding praise from Craig and Charlie Reid, who as The Proclaimers had been guided by Davidson to some of their earliest successes.
It’s a shame that such recognition only occurred after such a tragedy, although the attention is something that Davidson, whose depression had been brought on by a debilitating lung disease, would never have courted, despite his in-built promoter’s penchant for good publicity. The secret gig by the late Seattle-born grunge star Kurt Cobain’s band Nirvana, who played Edinburgh’s Southern Bar in 1991 at the behest of Davidson and The Joyriders, is today regarded as legend.
Born in Lerwick, Shetland, in 1962, Davidson grew up in in Kingsmills, Inverness, where, despite being as far away from a metropolitan scene as possible, he latched onto a nascent punk scene when still in his early teens. In 1977, he formed his first band with friends from school. If London’s reaction to punk was one of horror by ‘decent’ society, The Hormones occasional gigs before a handful of like-minded souls ran the gauntlet of what was then a particularly puritanical back-water resistant to anything that looked and sounded different. It was this initial unleashing of creative energy during his formative years, though, that carried Davidson to the centre of things in later life.
Landing in Edinburgh in 1980, Davidson played in assorted bands, one of which, Reasons For Emotion, also featured Craig and Charlie Reid. When the band split up and the Reids formed The Proclaimers in 1983, Davidson became the band’s first manager during the period in the run up to the band’s debut TV appearance on Channel Four’s Friday tea-time music show, The Tube in January 1987, and the release of the band’s debut album, This Is The Story, later that year.
By the time he left The Proclaimers to their own world-conquering devices, Davidson was playing bass with The Cateran, a group of similarly styled Edinburgh based Invernessian ex-pats, who included life-long friend Murdo MacLeod alongside Sandy MacPherson, Cameron Fraser and Andy Milne. The Cateran played a form of hardcore punk that predated the grunge sounds that would crossover into the mainstream, and modelled their sound on Husker Du and The Dead Kennedys.
The Cateran’s coruscating guitar sound was first captured on their summer 1986 mini album, Little Circles, and 1987 single, Last Big Lie/Difficult Days. A full length album, Bite Deeper, saw light of day in March 1988, and was followed by The Black Album EP at the end of the year. In 1989, The Cateran were asked to support the then relatively unknown Nirvana alongside fellow American outfit Tad on their first UK tour. Chaos ensued, with the Scots more than holding their own both onstage and off with the future superstars, as they did too supporting Grant Hart, formerly of Husker Du, and with The Lemonheads’ Evan Dando. A final Cateran album, Ache, was released in May of that year, and a single, Die Tomorrow/Virgil’s Way, the following March, before the band split in 1991.
Davidson and MacLeod formed The Joyriders, who, despite being tipped for great things, over the next four years only managed to release two singles. While both were made NME singles of the week, The Joyriders most memorable moment came through their renewed association with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. By the end of 1991 Nirvana were touring their breakthrough album, Nevermind, whereupon a secret fundraising show for Edinburgh’s Sick Kids hospital was arranged in The Southern bar on the city’s south side. The night is still spoken of today in amazed but delighted tones.
For someone so clearly concerned about others, Davidson’s move into social work was an extension of this, and no-one who came into contact with Davidson ever found a bad word to say about him. The music industry’s crash and burn excesses may have taken their personal toll, but Davidson remained active, and planned to teach English abroad.
At a recent festival in Dingwall, The Proclaimers dedicated a song to Davidson, who was in attendance. As last weekend proved, it wouldn’t be the last song dedicated to a man who had given so much to so many. His four children, Katrin, Kai-Scott, Keira and Sonny, who survive him alongside his parents, two sisters and a brother, Calum, will know this most of all.
Kai Davidson, Born Lerwick, Shetland, September 8 1962; died Edinburgh, June 13 2007
The Herald, July 2007