Archive for May, 2017

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 !

Art for art’s sake

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 18th May 2017

I hope in the coming months Edinburgh Council looks at its attitude to the arts and who is being reached. Very much as has happened in music where an awful lot of people have been lost somewhere between the banality of Ed Sheeran and the weird cool hipster stuff, the same seems to have happened in the arts in general.

Now with music nobody is quite sure how many people are actually lost to music and how many are simply streaming but given there are figures for these things there is still no doubt that the middle ground does not fare well.

Undoubtedly nostalgia is playing a big part in music these days but recently I’ve been exposed to Capital Radio and Mr Ed Sheeran more than I’m happy with after being in my daughter’s car and I’ve realised that even Ed’s songs are often nostalgic and the man is only 26!

 Now of course there will always be a place for the left field whether that is in the visual arts, writing or music but the argument often used that this leads to more accessible “art” is overplayed and never more so than in the world of fashion.
All this brings me yet again to the current generation just discovering all these things for the first time. Maybe there needs to be lessons in the schools!

Cool or interesting places are closing down all over the world and understandably they often hide behind other issues when the number one problem is simply people not supporting in sufficient numbers.

It has always been the way that as folk got older and jobs and families started to become a priority that nights out and even Saturday record shop trips became less frequent.

However, there was always a new crop of keen teenagers and students ready to fill the gap and that is what has not happened now for over a decade.

With the surprising departure of Richard Lewis as the convener for culture and sport we will need to see who takes over the role but while other arts bodies spend tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds on events attended by fewer people than a busy football match the council is in a position, both because of the buildings it owns and the funding it has, to make a real difference.

Who would have thought vinyl and physical books would still be doing so well so maybe it is too soon to give up on younger generations getting back into high street shopping and going out at night. What we do need to do is make those experiences more pleasurable and of course for a place like Edinburgh with so many visitors that can only be something that improves the overall vibe of the city.

My daytime viewing tells me that vintage is very “on trend”, though personally I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. Edinburgh could do vintage so well and while the council’s last attempt was a bit of a damp squib the potential is huge, especially at Christmas when those stalls could be so much more interesting.

For some “art for art’s sake” is the usual English rendering of a French slogan from the early 19th century –“l’art pour l’art” – and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only “true” art, is divorced from any didactic, moral, or utilitarian function. For others it is a 10cc song.

Both answers are equally valid and sometimes the arts community and its funders need to be reminded of that !


Poster is a stick-on for exhibition

There has been a great response to Liam Rudden’s recent piece in the paper on the Scottish music exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery in June and while this is just a taster for bigger things to come there will still be a fantastic selection of memorabilia on show some never seen before and others that have been tucked away for thirty years or more.

Some may remember the demise of the Picture House being delayed when councillors heard that David Bowie had played there. While it wasn’t enough to save it in the end only this week a friend and Bowie fan got in touch to offer the original poster.

Still very much looking for more things and while all eras are welcome the sixties and early seventies are proving the hardest to find material from. Any old posters, tickets or photos along with anything else would be great. Items can be donated or loaned.

Vinyl collections are also sought for possible display but also for sale and I’m very happy to buy in collections small and large. I can be contacted on or anything of interest can be brought along to the Fruitmarket Gallery when the exhibition is on from June 16-18. Visit for more details.

Albums stilll a worthy benchmark for bands

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 11th May 2017

After last week’s nod to music nostalgia it seemed only fair to focus on the current crop of bands this week and of course by the end of the month we will know which artists have made the longlist for the Scottish Album of the Year award.

Tactical voting by the smaller genres always sees them well represented while the small indie band vote tends to be split with the result that there are always a few worthy bands that don’t make the cut. However there is a list available on the award’s website of all the eligible bands and it is well worth spending some time familiarising yourself with the albums listed.

Avalanche stalwarts King Creosote, Kid Canaveral, Malcom Middleton, Meursault and Mogwai all have albums included as do new kids on the block Modern Studies even if its members aren’t exactly new to Avalanche. Proving that you don’t have to begin with K or M Frightened Rabbit, RM Hubbert, Randolph’s Leap, Rick Redbeard and PAWS are also among this year’s contenders and suffice to say there are many more worth a listen too.

With over 260 albums to choose from you won’t get through them all in one sitting but you are certain to find a few new favourites if you persevere.
The longlist of 20 albums is announced on Wednesday, May 24, at the 02ABC Glasgow when both Avalanche favourites Admiral Fallow and Steve Mason will be playing.

Quite whether the amount of money spent on the award is justified given in year’s gone by it has had a fairly limited reach outwith Scotland is another matter but you can only hope that whoever wins this year is an artist that wil have a wider appeal. In many awards these days there does seem to be a certain desire to be a litle leftfield and a little quirky and the good old indie band gets passed over no matter how deserving they might be.

Some might argue that the album as a format is no longer relevant for how an artist should be judged but I think for now it is still the aim of every self-respecting band to release an album even if that is only digitally so the album as a format will be a benchmark for some time to come.

Moving forward what is left of the Scottish music industry needs to look at how it can help bands break out from what is often a very small circle of fans and while the philosophy these days is to make as much money from your superfans as possible not only do most bands have very few superfans indeed beyond their mums and girlfriends/boyfriends but they also cannot make the kind of money from these fans that bigger bands do with their expensive “bundles”. I know of no band who would rather have 50 high-spending superfans than 500 loyal fans spending less. I get in trouble for saying it but most bands these days are simply not good enough at a time when music vies for attention with other things far more than it did in the “good old days”. Songs like Into The Valley, Chelsea Girl, Sorry For Laughing, Candyskin, Safety Net and many others still stand the test of time. Albums like Psychocandy and The Midnight Organ Fight should be how new bands judge themselves.

Being lazily alt-rock, shoegaze or indie folk is just not acceptable for young bands while artists like Filthy Tongues and Emma Pollock are still producing great work well into their careers.

Quite why things are like this nobody seems to be quite sure but one argument that certainly rings true is that “the kids” don’t hang around in cool bars any more forming bands. It was interesting to hear on the Big Gold Dream documentary that they hung around in record shops to meet like-minded people.

It reminded me of the Icelandic artist Benni Hem Hem. Already well known in his own country, he arrived in Scotland wanting to meet other musicians. His plan was simple – he just stood around in Avalanche’s Cockburn Street shop on a busy Saturday afternoon chatting to other musicians and that night went to a “cool” gig. By Monday he had a new circle of friends. In the middle of the week he returned saying he was amazed how easy it was to meet folk here in Edinburgh.

Social media and streaming films and programmes has a lot to answer for !

The Skids are alright after 40-year history

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 4th May 2017

As the Skids embark on the first dates of their UK 40th anniversary tour this week, arriving in Edinburgh tomorrow, it is fitting that I have spent the last week speaking to an array of journalists, photographers, promoters and musicians in preparation for the History of Scottish Music Centre’s first exhibition in June at the Fruitmarket Gallery.

Folk could not have been more helpful and every contact recommends more people who may have their own archive or story to tell. Some are still based in Edinburgh or Glasgow but no matter where people are in the world now they are keen to help and get involved.

Anyway more of this another time. Fast forward to today – see what I did there? – and Skids are back to remind everybody that Fife produced its fair share of bands during that time if not a stand out label. Having said that one of the best fanzines of the time Deadbeat was based there.

If you haven’t got a ticket for the Edinburgh gig I’m afraid it is sold out though it never does any harm to check with the venue, the Liquid Room. As I type this there are only a few tickets left for their other imminent Scottish gigs.

Not everybody would agree but by the high standards of the past things are fairly quiet for new Scottish bands at the moment and it is to be hoped that when the time comes, as it inevitably will, we still have the venues and the ability to make the most of it.

The Skids play in Scotland at PJ Molloys, Dunfermline, tonight; the Liquid Room in Edinburgh tomorrow; ABC, Glasgow, 6 May; Montrose Town Hall, 29 June; Glen Pavilion, Dunfermline, 30 June; Inverness Ironworks, 4 October and Beat Generator, Dundee, 5 October as part of a 30 date UK tour.


Where is our city’s Hydro?

According to Wikipedia the SSE Hydro handled 751,487 ticket sales in 2016, making it the eighth-busiest music arena in the world in terms of ticket sales. While I personally would not enjoy seeing any artist in an arena of that size – the Hydro holds 13,000 – there is no doubt that the citizens of Edinburgh would very much like to see an arena with that capacity be built.

I’m not sure exactly where would be the best place for such a building and while nobody would suggest Edinburgh Council should be too involved in such a venture I do think it would be wise for the council to actively encourage it and, assuming it can be agreed on what it looks like, give the good folk of Edinburgh something they actually want.

We must try to make gigs a real goer in Capital

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 27th April 2017

I attended the meeting last Thursday morning at the Usher Hall to discuss whether Edinburgh needed a music champion. The general opinion was that while it was probably a good idea it would be too much for one person to take on and certainly it would need financial support from several sectors.

The other phrase used was “night mayor” but in my mind those two titles are a little different. A music champion would encompass more than just being involved in the night life of the city and promote Edinburgh as a destination for those interested in music.

Now of course, given all the recent closures of music venues, this might be a hard one to pull off. T in the Park organisers only this week pointed out how younger folk’s attitude to attending festivals has changed. As I said only recently “the kids” don’t find the back rooms of pubs cool any more and neither it seems do they wish to stand in a field with a warm pint.

The thing here is whether if venues did appear that should appeal to younger gig goers whether they would actually vote with their feet and turn up or simply just like the gig on Facebook and then stay at home. I honestly don’t know whether it would make a difference or not but it is something that I feel should be given a chance.

Edinburgh has never been short of arty little hipster gatherings but to continue with the hipster theme you can appeal to “the mainstream” without that meaning Ed Sheeran and that is what is currently lacking. I’m well aware it won’t be easy. This is not just about the venues but attracting the artists to play them, which I’m told is not easy these days either. However, I think for a city of Edinburgh’s size and reputation we have to try.


Citadel gives us food for thought

Thursday was a long day for me as after being at the Usher Hall in the morning I stayed in Edinburgh and went to the Boots For Dancing/ Buckley’s Chance gig that night at the Voodoo Rooms with all profits going to the Citadel Youth Centre in Leith.

A lot of familiar faces from the Scottish post-punk scene we hear so much about these days were in attendance and indeed Malcolm Ross is a member of Buckley’s Chance with his wife Syuzen Buckley providing the vocals.

Their country leanings aren’t normally my thing but they were very good indeed. I was particularly taken with the drummer who with his red shirt could happily have graced a Kraftwerk tribute band and managed to adopt a series of poses that only added to the entertainment.

Boots For Dancing were of course their usual excellent selves and a good night was certainly had by all. Earlier, while consuming a tasty gourmet beef burger at the Voodoo Rooms bar I’d met Willy Barr (pictured), the manager of the Citadel Youth Centre and he was understandably very grateful for all the support that had been shown. You can find out more about the centre and how to support them on their website

When music was the only fun in town

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 20th April 2017

It was great to finally get to see the much anticipated Big Gold Dream on Saturday when it received its first national showing on the BBC. Even at 90 minutes it was never going to be able to fit everything in from what is now known as post-punk but it did a good job telling the story of Edinburgh’s Fast Product and Glasgow’s Postcard Records.

As somebody old enough to have been there at the time I never remember the phrase post-punk being one we used but it certainly defines a period now that was after punk but before indie labels really came to the fore.

In fact the claim that indie labels first started in Scotland, influencing those that followed such as Factory, was made well and while Bob Last and Hilary Morrison were both there to tell the story of starting Fast, even without the enigmatic Alan Horne – the label supremo at Postcard and founder along with Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins and David McClymont – there was enough, including stories from David himself, to give a real feel for how things started.

While other bands like The Associates were mentioned there should at least maybe have been a nod to bands like Simple Minds and Skids, though as I say in the time they had there was never going to be a definitive version covering all bases.

The follow up Teenage Superstars, covering the mid to late-80s, is again looking promising featuring as it will the Shop Assistants, The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and labels like 53rd & 3rd and Creation.

The recent Lost in France film covered the early days of Chemikal Underground in the mid- to late-90s and again featured some great names in The Delgados, Arab Strap, Franz Ferdinand and Mogwai among others. Possibly there is one more to be made, Fence Records – The Movie, for the late-90s and noughties. However, I doubt there will be another documentary or film made about more recent times.

Obviously there have been several great bands since then and a few good labels but there has never been quite the same scene again. The Scottish music industry should consider just leaving young folk these days to get on with things and maybe what would come out might be more interesting than the rather regimented scenes we have now.

Then again maybe now that there are so many music schools and courses that just didn’t exist all those years ago we will never see a “scene” anywhere again. I’m sure there will be many who will point to all sorts of things as disproving this but really it is because they do not understand how things were in those earlier times. I say all this as an outsider who simply went to gigs and was no part of that inner sanctum in the late-70s but there was undeniably a feeling that things were exciting though, as I’ve said many times since, we never realised that some of the gigs would with hindsight be seen as very special indeed.

Of course what the documentary did bring home to me was the scale of what I’m trying to achieve with the History of Scottish Music Centre. Covering over 50 years and many genres, I was always aware of the enormity of the task but the one consolation I have is that I will be able to constantly add and adjust as time goes on.

Lots of news to come soon on the centre’s first exhibition but for now I can highly recommend watching Big Gold Dream on the BBC’s iPlayer and buying the Lost in France DVD.

As for all that “things were better in the old days” stuff. Maybe that’s just the ramblings of an older middle-aged man. On the other hand it is very noticeable that so many of the band members from all those eras if not the labels are still around making music. Maybe that is the problem. Scotland is now full of good music and there isn’t space for any more as those of us old enough to still buy music stick with what we know.