WITH a casual ‘I met David Bowie, you know’, Tam Dean Burn – ex-River City gangster, renowned stage actor, poet, community activist and now post-punk band frontman – is up and running.
The star, who has also appeared in Outlander, Fortitude and Taggart, is gearing up to perform with The Scars at the CCA on May 6, and he is very excited.
“I was invited to do a couple of songs with Paul and John [the Mackie brothers, who founded The Scars] at the launch of the Hungry Beat book, which is all about the post-punk period in Scottish music,” he explains. “It was pretty mindblowing for me to be up there. The decades just fell away.”
He grins: “I mean, I’m nearly 65…. life can take some strange turns.”
Back to Bowie, though, and Tam’s meeting with the legendary pop star at the Half Moon Theatre in London in 1986.
“I never saw him live, but HE saw ME live,” he jokes. “I was appearing in Steven Berkoff’s Sink the Belgrano! and Berkoff and Bowie knew each other well, so he came to see the play and afterwards we all met up.
“He was really fun, a great guy.”
Tam’s musical roots go back to the late 70s when he was in bands with his brother, Russell Burn (later of The Fire Engines).
Around the same time, The Scars were exploding on to the scene with the cult classic debut single Adult/ery and Horrorshow, on the legendary Fast Product label. Their one and only album, Author! Author! is still highly regarded.
A performance at the launch of Hungry Beat, Douglas MacIntyre and Grant McPhee’s book about the Scottish underground pop scene, brought Paul (known as Paul Research) and John back together with drummer Calumn Mackay, and Tam on vocals.
The band will now play their first ‘proper’ live gig since 2010 at the CCA on May 6, part of the Frets Concerts series.
Paul says The Scars have always been “music business outsiders”.
“Our goal, when we were just setting out, was to get a record deal, because that was what gave you credibility,” he explains.
“Now the whole industry has been decentralised. You don’t need to rely on borrowing a lot of money to get your music out there.
“It’s magical, really. When we were starting out, studios were so expensive, so you were under pressure to make things perfect. That could lead to a stifling of creativity, of being afraid to take risks.”
After the band’s first single, Paul explains, they “were at a fork in the road.”
Paul says: “We gave in to the temptation to grow our followers by anticipating what we thought they wanted to listen to.”
He grins. “So if you imagine how we might have gone, had we taken the other fork, had we gone harder, darker, faster….that’s what you’ll hear at Frets at the CCA.”
For Tam Dean Burn, the gig is part of a welcome new celebration of the Scottish post-punk scene.
“We were all learning on our feet back then, because we had nothing else to go on,” he says. “We were rejecting the whole music scene, as it was.”
He pauses. “Everything was being re-invented by a bunch of really young, enthusiastic, fearless teenagers,” he grins.
“It’s great it’s all coming back. It needs to be celebrated, because it was important, not just for us, but for what came after.
“It’s not a moneymaking exercise, or a pure nostalgia trip.”
He breaks off, with a smile: “We’re all far too arty for that. We treat that kind of thing with the disdain we once had for everything. We were sort of snobs, really.”
He adds, more seriously: “It’s about creating special moments, that really mean something.”
As his brother forged ahead in the music business, Tam concentrated on acting, winning a string of roles on stage and screen. In Glasgow, he is probably best known as Thomas McCabe, River City gangster.
“I was a snob about that too, once upon a time,” he acknowledges, adding with mock outrage: “River City? But I’m a SERIOUS actor…
“But I loved it. I realised pretty quickly why the show meant something to people, and it still does. I was a gay gangster with a daughter who had Down Syndrome. No other soap on telly at the time would have dared do that.”
Soaps seep into the consciousness, agrees Tam.
“It’s 12 years since I was in River City and not a day goes by without someone shouting, ‘oi! McCabe’ at me on the street,” he laughs. “The newspapers at the time called me ‘Scotland’s scariest actor’.”
Tam lives in the West End with his partner and their 12-year-old daughter. He regularly campaigns on community issues – currently, he is involved in the battle to keep the Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens free, following plans to introduce an entrance fee.
“When I first came back to Glasgow after working in London, I got involved in the Save the Children’s Wood campaign with author Julia Donaldson,” says Tam. “Then I ended up cycling around Scotland with me reading Julia’s books as part of the Commonwealth Games legacy…”
He laughs: “So I went from ‘Scotland’s scariest actor’ to children’s entertainer. And now I’m frontman of a post-punk band…..
“It’s surreal, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.”
The Scars play Frets at the CCA on May 6, supported by Port Sulphur.