Archive for October, 2017

Rip It Up will be great but not The Only Fun In Town

Just a quick post to explain about the National Museum of Scotland’s exhibition on Scottish Pop Music “Rip It Up”. For those asking yes of course I knew about it as far back as April 2016 but couldn’t say anything. I’ve been more than happy to help out with contacts and exhibits and it is going to be a great help in getting a permanent location for The Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre that I have been working on for several years now.

The museum’s focus is very much on the bands and a few key labels while the Exhibition Centre will have a far wider remit also covering artwork, posters, badges, venues, clubs, photographs, memorabilia and even a few shops and the odd pub ! Also even with an exhibition of this magnitude the number of artists featured will be far smaller than what we have planned for the Exhibition Centre. Consequently both exhibitions will complement each other nicely and of course the Centre’s exhibition will continue after the museum has finished. 

Lots more news soon and certainly 2018 is going to be a great year for Scottish music. 

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.