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Future plans (part one) – streaming and vinyl box sets not the answer

I was in Edinburgh several times this week and wherever I went seemed to bump into people wondering what I was up to. Most followed on social media and quite correctly felt there might be news soon. Truth is I had expected at least one big announcement this month but that will now be in November. With partners and support in place it is now not just in my hands deciding what can be said and when.

I’ve known for over 18 months that 2018 is going to be a big year for Scottish music both old and new. That was never in doubt. It is fair to say it is what I have been working to but I did expect to have much more in place by now. Having said that I’m constantly reminded by others that when dealing with councils and arts bodies taking three years to achieve something is positively speeding along. 

In terms of a vision there was little room for compromise but also I felt the aims were realistic. At the heart of the premise was that Avalanche’s reputation for supporting Scottish artists was no longer viable given artists own sales strategies. Having said that that is where our heart lay and I saw no future in selling vinyl reissues of Led Zeppelin albums and 5xLP vinyl box sets of “The Queen Is Dead” or more accurately if there was a future it wasn’t one I wanted to be a part of.  

Don’t get me wrong I’m more than happy selling old collectable vinyl and selling older releases but the current situation has gone way beyond that. It also became clear that even when trying to sell new releases by new bands it was rarely possible to offer the collectable versions fans wanted. Even an indies only vinyl would also be available from the label or band with a signed print I wouldn’t have.

However the one area everybody avoids in this direct to fan era is trying to sell new music to people who have never heard of a band. This is by no means easy but very rewarding especially when people get back to you to thank you for their discovery. It isn’t however impossible and with Avalanche’s reputation and the interest there is in Scottish music the Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre seemed a fantastic opportunity to promote new music within the context of what has gone before.

Those asking for recommendations would often be looking for a new band like Belle and Sebastian or Orange Juice or Mogwai or Frightened Rabbit and that is a good start in judging what other music they might like. 

This of course relies on people wanting to but physical product and certainly some people will go away and just listen to recommendations online. This was certain;y a major issue at Avalanche where a customer would buy maybe one album but type into their phone the names of many more I had suggested so they could listen more. However even this would not be a disaster for the centre if its main purpose was to promote Scottish music and not to sell it.

Streaming works for Taylor Swift and Kanye West but for small bands, as with downloads before, it provides neither income nor decent exposure. With the centre as a focus I still believed the aim had to be to put good music, well promoted in front of good footfall in other places too. Do that especially in front of people who may have an interest in discovering new music and I think a lot can be achieved.

Ambitious admittedly but I always felt it was achievable. A centre that focused on the artists, labels, venues, clubs and even shops that had helped Scotland achieve the worldwide reputation it has today for its music and exposure for Scottish artists old and new in key places with high footfall.

I’m not quite there yet but close enough and with enough commitment from others to confidently say it will only be a matter of time. 2018 will be the year Scottish music reaches a worldwide audience and the Scottish Pop Music exhibition Centre will be at the heart of it. 

Is a £45m concert hall really a priority ?

Picture: Ian Rutherford

With so many important arts related buildings needing refurbished or to relocate I do really wonder whether the money being spent on the new 1,000-capacity concert hall earmarked for a site behind the Royal Bank of Scotland’s historic head office on St Andrew Square is best use of the money.

Now originally when I heard about the new hall it was being financed by the Dunard Trust administered by Carol Colburn and given Carol’s background as a classically trained pianist she is clearly entitled to spend the money as she sees fit on a project of her choice. However then I later read the concert hall was to receive £20m from the City Deal in matching funding. Now it has been announced that there will be a public fundraising campaign to raise £10m for The Impact Centre as it will be known and the Dunard Trust has set aside a matching £10m.

So of a £45m project at least two thirds will come from public/government funding so that then raises the question whether this is the best use of the money. A lot of arts folk remind me of that time Derren Brown went to the greyhound racing. He would have a losing ticket but walk up to the cashier saying “I have a winning ticket” and somehow they would believe him and pay out.

Similarly these people tell you those fag packets picked up from the street and stuck on the wall are “art” or that horrible square looking building is a fabulous example of Brutalist architecture. People are just scared to be declared philistines and dutifully nod. In this case we are just told Edinburgh lacks “a purpose-designed, mid-sized venue which can provide a world-class acoustic experience” and nobody goes wait a minute what about ………….

Now there may not be something that exactly matches that description but Edinburgh is not short on buildings that many would argue mean a concert hall like this is not a priority. And that is the key word there a “priority”. Sure if there was enough money out there why not have such a building but truth be told there is a desperate shortage of funding for the upkeep, refurbishment and relocation of arts related buildings so maybe the funds could be better spent.

The King’s Theatre is also fundraising needing around half the amount being spent and while there was talk in 2014 of the Filmhouse moving to Fountainbridge nothing came of it with again £20m+ quoted as needing to facilitate the move. I’m sure there are many others but the Queen’s Hall could do wonders with much less than a quarter of that money being spent as would the Leith Theatre. Clearly several other projects could be achieved using the public money so I find it hard to justify the concert hall. Of course it was the one billion pound City Deal so maybe it has more money for these buildings on top of the £20m but I’ve heard nothing along those lines so far.

There is of course only so much money out there and the new concert hall raising funds can only impact on the ability of the other buildings to find donations and sponsors. A well-named centre indeed!

If the Dunard Trust want to build a concert hall then who are any of us to argue but once other funds are used then it is not so clear and certainly it appears to me that like Derren Brown they have simply stated the hall is needed and the money has been handed over.


Royal High project needs facts not scares

I was trying very hard not to mention the old Royal High again but was shocked to hear that there were fears it would become a budget hotel. Now I very much suspect that despite promises from the developer for the King’s Stables Road site the hotel there will suffer that fate so I wondered what new evidence had surfaced to cause such claims.

As it turned out the “couple battling to halt Edinburgh’s former Royal High School being handed over to hotel developers” were “former concert pianist Carol Colburn, one of Scotland’s leading arts philanthropists, and Murray Grigor, a former Edinburgh film festival director.” What there didn’t seem to be was any reason to believe that the six star hotel was to be ditched to be replaced by a “Travelodge or something” and what it did seem to be was simple scaremongering from those supporting the rival music school.

I do completely agree with the couple that it would be for the best if the council’s contract with the hotel developers was to be made public but it would be highly unusual for a confidential agreement to receive such treatment. It has been confirmed the developers have a lease for several more years and I think it would be safe to say without seeing it that breaking that contract would indeed cause the lawsuit Ms Colburn seems to fear.

Don’t get me wrong neither Duddingston House Properties nor Urbanist Hotels have covered themselves in glory handling what has become a lengthy process and their attitude to publicity would need to improve to be even called dysfunctional. They have adopted a siege mentality that while understandable is not acceptable.
As has been very well documented recently classical music already has a disproportionate amount of financial support so it is a real pity the rest of the arts in Edinburgh doesn’t have its own Carol Colburn as if they did most of their worries would disappear overnight.

It is totally understandable that Ms Colburn would support calls for a new concert hall and that St Mary’s music school be given the Royal High School site but decisions have to be based on facts not unfounded fears and guesswork. I think it is time for all sides to take a deep breath and move forward.


Sugar-coated reward on The Apprentice

While The Apprentice doesn’t seem to get the genuine characters it used to do I still always look forward to a new series and watching episode two this week the participants were starting to bed-in. It was a luxury hotel challenge and both sides were fairly dreadful but the girls won and Alan Sugar announced their prize – visiting the Rosewood London and its Scarfe’s Bar to meet internationally renowned cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe, to have their caricatures drawn.

Rosewood are of course the very hotel operators that will run the luxury hotel on Calton Hill should the developers ever be successful. Interestingly it had been claimed in that very same article on the threat of a budget hotel that “Rosewood don’t understand that their name is mud” which again seemed to be a claim that came completely out of left field. Apart from confirming their commitment to delivering a luxury hotel on Calton Hill they have had no role to play in the saga.

As has been said by others before such negativity towards a respected brand like Rosewood risks sending out the wrong message to other potential investors in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre needs a building !

It has become clear from recent discussions that now we have reached a point where nobody really doubts that the centre is a feasible proposition and that Scottish pop music deseves its place and recognition that the next step is to secure a building. Such was the quality of the items that were on display at the recent Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition that I’ve already agreed to loan items on the owners’ behalf to other museums and galleries for display next year. I already have so many possibilities at my disposal that I can afford to see some items on loan knowing there are equally impressive replacements.

Incredibly there are still many people I need to get in touch with that I know will have their own collections and archives never mind just the odd interesting item but I simply haven’t had time. Reaching this point has only been possible thanks to the help of bands, journalists, photographers and fans and I really am very grateful. 

Several years ago Edinburgh Council vowed to support music in the city centre and it was because of that I looked at spaces in council buildings and in particular their galleries. I was recently reassured this was still a possibility but as I say it is now clear securing a building or in fact just a defined space is now the priority. It helps enormously when trying to raise funds and find sponsors to have a building in mind. At the same time exactly what we will be looking to achieve will be defined by the space there is to work with.

There are still folk who feel that pop music lacks the gravitas of say the visual arts or more highbrow music and while they are in a small minority I don’t underestimate their influence within the arts community. However I’m confident that the interest shown byv other institutions for next year can only help both with getting a building and bringing sponsors on board.

The Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre

As the time approaches to come up with a definitive name for the centre I’ve currently settled on THE SCOTTISH POP MUSIC EXHIBITION CENTRE. Things are by no means done and dusted, in fact far from it, but they will come to a head over the next couple of months so I need to make sure we have a name.

While this may be the overall name I would certainly expect to have a rolling number of exhibitions each with their own name as we had with “The Only Fun In Town”. What can be done will clearly depend on funds and the building but the centre in all its glory would have a shop, a label, distribution for Scottish music, an advice drop-in centre, a venue or instore space, a website promoting Scottish music and possibly the ubiquitous cafe. While this may seem a little ambitious it is actually a response to what has been identified as needed and plans are in an advanced stage on all fronts.

A large part of what the centre would be about would be promoting new music, giving sensible and realistic advice to young bands and encouraging young people to get out to see small gigs but I am incredibly cynical of  the music industry’s targeting of young people to get funding. The idea that some 26 year old comes in for help and is refused because we are in a scheme for 16 to 25 year olds for instance is never going to happen. 

Scottish distribution has long been identified as needed and will be essential if I am to capitalise on interest that has been shown. There are many out there who would like to support Scottish artists but understandably do not want to deal with dozens of different bands and labels. There is overwhelming evidence that if you put good music that is well promoted in front of a good footfall then it will sell. What is needed is a well curated selection of artists old and new.

There are many more people I need to contact who if they choose to will be a great help with future exhibitions but I’m happy that we are now able to comprehensively cover all eras from the early sixties to the modern day. It goes without saying that Avalanche has a worldwide network of shops, labels and individuals that are fans of Scottish bands and will use those connections  to their full potential along with its extensive social media presence.

I have had some very useful expert advice and support for which I am very grateful but funding is a real issue and it is no consolation that I am not alone ! Wonderful as all the above sounds and there is even more good news to follow it will count for nothing if there is no financial support and I have already put more time and money into this than has been sensible. The same determination that got this far is not best suited to getting this project over the line and I am well aware of that. Now is the time for those who can help financially either from a business or a personal perspective to step forward and I’m assured further funding would then follow.

To put this in context the proposed new concert hall’s £10m private investment has attracted £20m council and government investment. One per cent of that would be all it would take to make all the above and more viable. As before my contact email for anybody wanting to know more is

‘An important message about the arts’ – an animated video by artist David Shrigley from 2010

Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker discuss art subsidies

Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre + Scottish music’s infrastructure

First of all can I say the cost of reaching this point has been too high. Had I known it would take this long and cost so much I wouldn’t have done it. Having said that all the people I spoke to who had had a similar idea to archive and preserve in some way the fantastic history of Scottish popular music had never even started due to lack of funding so I’m proud that I’ve got to where we are. In the arts world a good idea always plays second fiddle to funding !

What is frustrating is that the idea was really perfect in its timing two years ago and yet those who could have helped didn’t. What I didn’t realise was when I spoke to Creative Scotland about sending some of Avalanche’s best selling Scottish albums worldwide to shops I knew would be supportive as well as having special sections in UK shops that was exactly what was being recommended in the independent report. Setting up distribution to back this up was something that was accepted at the time as being extremely useful but little did I know it again featured in the report along with manufacture. Sadly they had felt they couldn’t help. 

Now with dowloads and streaming coming to the fore it has been felt more recently that manufacture might not be an issue in the future but there is a concern that Creative Scotland will feel the same way about retail and that would be huge mistake. There have been many reports that have shown that if you put good music in front of people they will buy it. The issue with record shops was people stopped visiting and I had always maintained that other avenues such as cafes and cultural venues should be considered. Here of course Creative Scotland should have some influence and yet have done nothing to make sure that the music of the artists they support has a beter chance to reach people than the black hole that is available online.

Now of course record shops have had a resurgence along with vinyl but new music is actually struggling more than ever as sales go to the latest reissued albums. However marketed properly in the right places it would still be possible to break new music in conjunction with social media and promotion. What Creative Scotland needs and is not mentioned in reports is in-house promotion for artists. When it does give artists funding they waste large sums of money paying English PR companies to do a job that at best is average and at worst is no better than the artist could have done themselves. Amazingly social media is something that is poorly handled from all sides. Again so much more could be done.

Going back to the centre which of course could incorporate many of the things identified as being needed there has been without doubt a large amount of snobbishness as to the place of pop music in Scotland’s history. I have to thank the Fruitmarket Gallery both for the opportunity they gave to show what could be done and for adding credibility to the idea. Having said that it would be disingenuous of me given what I know to let these music elitists dig themselves into a hole I know they won’t be able to get out of. Suffice to say they wil be proved wrong ! 

Without a doubt there are decisions to be made and they will be made in the coming week.

A brief update on the Scottish music exhibition centre

I’ve finally recovered from the Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition and contemplating how everything can be moved forward. I had fairly relentless advice to not give up on Creative Scotland as the centre and exhibition should be exactly what they should be funding. Consequently I did have a close look at how their funding works with I have to say help from Creative Scotland themselves but it has raised far more questions than given answers. Having said that I’m now very clear on what the approach has to be and also what indeed needs to be done if music venues are to be supported in the same way theatres are now.

Finally getting the pop-up exhibition after waiting so long dealing with the City Art Centre it didn’t feel like winning but then it was never about winning. It wasn’t about beating the system and it certainly wasn’t about blaming people though a few people have delayed the idea by years. It was about showing it works and hopefully with a lot of help we did that.

While the council supports in theory I’ve yet to get any positive help officially and now a new administration is in place I’m waiting to hear what if anything they feel they can do. While I’ve been given lots of valuable advice, and as I say the exhibition was the result of many people’s help, I’ve yet to receive any firm offers of financial support or sponsorship and whatever happens with Creative Scotland that needs to be forthcoming. I must ask people to seriously consider what they can do to help with this. There will I know be even more positive news in the autumn for the centre but not only is it important to keep the momentum going but there has been so much interest in whether there wil be something for the Festival it would be a shame to let people down.

There were many more people I could have spoken to before the exhibition and thanks to the fantastic feedback even more afterwards. Ironically a bigger plan fits better within the Creative Scotland funding structure and there is clearly huge potential in the centre but that is all too far away and they will want to see other support anyway. This is not something that would be resolved by crowdfunding. This is something that is a fantastic oportunity to create goodwill to a business or for somebody with the wherewithal to see something very positive from their involvement. It could not have reached this point without a huge input of my own cash and time so I’m not asking for anything I haven’t done myself.  

I’m happy to discuss the opportunities that lie ahead privately and look forward to hearing from individuals and businesses alike. My email is

Once again can I thank everybody who helped make the exhibition happen and the 1,500+ people who came.

Creative Scotland funding for music

In the last figures given by Creative Scotland in their press release they said that £12.8M had been allocated to music and this represented 18.3% of their total allocation. I asked them how this broke down by genre and they said they couldn’t say but they did very quickly provide me with all the grants involved so the “rock & pop” figure could be extrapolated.

The first thing that is obvious is that a huge amount of money is tied up in Youth Music Initiative funding. Of the 230 grants made 101 were covered by the YMI including most of the largest amounts. This funding was never available to musicians so should really be removed from the figures in my opinion. My understanding is this money is allocated under direction rather than at the discretion of Creative Scotland.

When it was suggested I should look at these figures by an arts funding veteran I said I didn’t really have time. A week later another old hand to all this said it wouldn’t take ten minutes to see the inequalities that were present and he was certainly right. Much more of all that another time as I want to look into things further and give Creative Scotland a chance to respond. Suffice to say “rock and pop” artists receive considerably less than 1% of the funds allocated to music and in fact even if money given to Wide Days and funding the Great Escape is included it doesn’t reach 1%.

Here then for those asking are the “rock and pop” awards that were given.

Firstly Wide Days received £40,000 and Great Escape funding stretched to £9,150 plus Wide Days received £8,018 for the networking reception they orgaqnised. There was also £2,500 to Nothing Fver Happens Here at Sumerhall.


Be Charlotte £15,000   (South East Asia Territory launch)

Martha Ffion £10,560  (Debut album)

Modern Studies + Lomond Campbell  £10,000  (showcase performances)

Best Girl Athlete  £9,080   (Second album recording, production and promotion)

Mt. Doubt  £7,400   (2 EPs in 2017)

Bdy_Prts  £7,000   (Fly, Invisible Hero)

Youth of America (Simon Shaw)  £6,412    (Album recording, promo video and launch event)

Garden of Elks  £5,500   (Production of second record)

Pinact (Corrie Gillies)  £4,500   (Second album recording)

Honeyblood (Christina Tweedale)  £4,500   (US autumn tour 2016)

Roddy Woomble  £3,000   (Working title – miserable miracles)

Inkfields (Samuel James-Griffiths)  £1,700   (Third EP)

To put this in context the total here is easily less than half say of the £225K regular funding awarded to Enterprise Music Scotland  who “provide financial support to promoters and other constituted bodies promoting chamber music in their local area” among other chamber music related things.

The largest funding figure outwith YMI is for the Scottish Ensemble who received £333,333 as part of regular funding. their wikipedia page states

Scottish Ensemble is the UK’s only professional string orchestra. Founded in 1969 and based in Glasgow, Scottish Ensemble is built around a core of 12 string players who perform together under Artistic Director and violinist Jonathan Morton, standing up and without a conductor.

Now several of those rock and pop awards seem inadvisable to me and given Creative Scotland’s criteria I’m not even sure how they could be awarded but that really is nothing in the big picture of how funding is allocated. All of this is before we even get onto the milions being poured into theatres and the millions going to art galleries whose total visitor numbers for the year are less than one decent Scottish premier league football match. 

And there probably lies the nub of the problem. Yes football is not art but folk enjoy it and it very much has a value to the wellbeing of people. Rock and pop music as it has to be called has a huge value to people and at its best deserves to be compared to all the other art forms but a small and very influential minority dismiss it as not even worthy of consideration.

In a world where high rise blocks of flats are clad with inflammable material this may not be the biggest of scandals but given the enormous changes that have taken place in both people’s attitudes and access to information and entertainment via the internet since the lottery funding that lies at the heart of all this first started the current situation in which funding is made based on what a very small minority consider fitting can not carry on.  

The Only Fun In Town exhibition – the sixties and early seventies

Lots of questions about the exhibition so I thought I’d try to cover them in the blog.

What period will it cover ? It will cover from the early sixties to the present.

The tricky bit was always going to be the sixties. I moved to Edinburgh in 1977 and Avalanche opened in 1984 so a large chunk of trying to cover from the early 60s to the modern day was within my own experience. Early on I found interesting gigs in which bands that would go on to be huge played small places. The Who playing McGoos in the High Street or The Beatlers appearing in Elgin are good examples.

What was lacking was enough material and information about the Scottish bands of that time as there were few recordings and only a handful of band members went on to be involved in music into the seventies.

However after the last article in The Evening News several folk came forward and could not be more helpful. It is always good to get a thread that ties things together and Pete Seaton’s musical instrument shop was clearly an incredibly important part of the scene. I was lucky enough to meet up with his son Murray who many will know for his drum shop and then have a chat with Ian Orr singer with Edinburgh beat group The Athenians who recorded the very first Scottish single and Ian only confirmed the importance of Pete’s shop.

And it isn’t just Edinburgh bands of course. The west coast had The Beatstalkers and The Poets and Hawick the psych band The Ceiling Light Machine. The Beatstalkers bass player Alan Mair went on to play with The Only Ones !

From the sixties we can then move forward to Rollermania and other bands like Pilot with links back to the sixties.

Don’t worry I would never ever forget Alex Harvey and SAHB. You have to watch the dance routine !