Archive for February, 2018

Finding the ScotPop Centre a home – a brief history

While Avalanche was still in the Grassmarket Edinburgh Council decided to support music in the city centre “like New York and Sydney”. Plans to use empty council buildings were quickly dismissed by their property department but it was suggested space in council buildings might be found and it was soon established that council owned museums and galleries were by far the best possible locations.

Consequently a little later when looking for a home for the exhibition centre artists who were also musicians said that ignoring any arguments about the validity of the art there were large rooms that would be all we needed dedicated to maybe a couple of paintings or a sparse installation. Soon after that several people associated with the City Art Centre got in touch to say the ground floor of the CAC would be perfect and just what was needed to attract more folk in. 

It is well documented elsewhere that despite a very successful pop-up at the Fruitmarket Gallery two drawn out attempts to get space in the CAC have failed. It is still the case that huge rooms exist within the council’s galleries including the CAC but despite assurances it is not the case a pop music exhibition doing its best to break even is not seen in the same light as an art installation or exhibition that needs several grants just to exist and 99% of people have no interest in. 

You see there is a clue in the grant system. If a gallery needs half a million, or a million or two million pounds every three years on top of any other funding received just to cover its costs then it’s because the vast majority of people really don’t care and in fact it will only get worse. In a recent YouGov survey the younger folk were, the more likely they were to consider the arts, be that classical music or art galleries, as “posh” and of no interest to them. 

That the powers that be consider a Mexican artist with his field recordings of whales and dolphins to be art worthy of waiving any fees but an exhibition about Scottish musicians to be unworthy of support says it all. 

I really did think that the National Museum of Scotland’s Rip It Up exhibition this year would have established that a permanent Scottish music exhibition should be taken seriously but that is very clearly not the case. Sadly I don’t see things changing.   

How the ScotPop Exhibition Centre idea came about

I often get asked how the ScotPop Exhibition Centre idea came about this so I thought if I made a post about this I could also then refer to it when I have to email people rather than get involved in a long explanation never sure how much is known already.

Avalanche used to sell a lot of music by local bands. By a lot I mean hundreds of copies by an artist like Withered Hand and a box of 25 CDs by a band that maybe wasn’t that well known even locally. We gave everything a chance but there were still many releases that sold very little simply because they weren’t very good.

We could easily sell a hundred copies or more when we had an in-store from a band like Idlewild or Twilight Sad for a new album. An album featuring high up in our end of year chart, itself based on sales, could sell an extra 50 to 100 copies because of that. We could add an extra 20 people to a local gig’s attendance just by recommendation to the groups of visitors who would come to the shop normally on the day.

Orange Juice at Regent’s Canal, Near Camden (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)

At the same time there was a lot of interest in older Scottish bands from Orange Juice and Josef K to The Shop Assistants and Pastels. Visitors to Avalanche would be looking for current bands that they might like given their taste in other music and as bands like Belle and Sebastian became more established we would get folk looking for similar artists to more current bands too.

There are no recommendations online that work quite as well as would come from a good shop. We wouldn’t just suggest something we would play it so the customer wasn’t relying on our say-so. These bands were not our friends so we played no favourites and we gave people music we thought they would like not what we thought they should like.

Online there is nearly always some agenda and then of course it is easy to listen and decide something isn’t worth your money anyway. One thing that was very relevant, especially in the old days of actually being very busy, particularly on a Saturday, was that playing all this stuff to people was quite time consuming. On the other hand this was balanced by fans who needed no persuasion.

Obviously things gradually changed but so this post doesn’t go on too long let’s fast forward five years or so. Avalanche had moved to the Grassmarket and was gradually building up an influential online and social media presence to add to the shop’s reputation and never been more influential but sales had plummeted. Shops were now competing for sales that were already dropping with the very bands and labels they had supported and customers/fans no longer needed to buy music anyway.

I would still get asked for recommendations as much as ever and even play them but now people would tap the names into their phones saying they would go away and listen more. If lucky they might buy one or two things when before they would have bought many more. In-stores went the same way with sales only a quarter of what might have been expected. With online sales and social media one thing became very clear and that was given a fair chance with a limited gold vinyl Withered Hand album or a Frightened Rabbit album with a bonus 7″ our online reach meant we could sell 100+ but most times we were at a disadvantage and selling  a fraction of what we would have expected just a few years before.

And so the idea for a centre promoting Scottish music but not on a commercial basis was born. At its heart it would still support and promote current bands but it would also celebrate the music from previous years that visitors seemed so keen to talk about with posters, badges and other memorabilia. At that point the idea was as simple a that. Only later would I discover that documenting the last six decades of Scottish artists and their music had been woefully neglected and how much work there was to be done. 

Trinity Apse and the ScotPop Centre

Another option that had been mentioned by Frank Little the Museums and Galleries manager was Trinity Apse which is an old church just off the high street on Chalmer’s Close, some may remember it as the Brass Rubbing Centre.

I did look at it before Christmas with Frank but was given no indication of availability or price. It had I was told been rented out just recently for the day to some architects for £500 (actually £600 + VAT) but otherwise details were sketchy. There had been a big effort to have it used during the Festival but with no other details except that for some time now no council building could be given out for free.

Clearly I was looking for the arts price rather than the commercial price. Again if I knew what the building had made financially in a year I could maybe offer a little more and we would have a temporary home and the council would have increased income. I included Trinity Apse when I asked for details of the income for council buildings under FOI so I would know what to offer.

Frank felt the CAC was a better option so Trinity Apse was put on the back-burner even after I saw the figures for its usage. However when it was decided the CAC top floor would go through due process and not be treated as a trial I looked into the idea again. With the Tron market traders soon to be homeless I could possibly include an arts element, give a few of the artists a home and bring in a little more income to help with whatever rent I was quoted.

By now I had seen the figures which were astonishing. That architects’ rent I had been quoted was the only commercial rent in the three years I was given figures for and despite being told no arts related project for some time had been considered for a free let all the other lets had been free. It would be hard work getting people to visit given the location but it was still an exciting prospect with plenty of potential. 

Unable to contact Frank I found a contact who was actually the commercial manager, a new post created 8 months ago that I was unaware of as surprisingly it had never been mentioned despite being relevant. I enquired about using the building until the end of the year depending on availability. Apart from a wedding in October there were no other firm bookings though it was on hold in July and August for the Edinburgh Art Festival part of the CAC and those architects were considering coming back at the end of June.

Given the EAF use 30+ venues and the council make no income I hoped they would give Trinity Apse up and we could work around the rest. However the commercial manager came back to me yesterday with no firm offer and asking me to make a proposal bearing in mind their commercial rates of up to £750 a day.

It is clear that despite constant reassurances the ScotPop exhibition is not being given anything like the same treatment as other arts projects and now the council has employed somebody to deal with these matters albeit with little success so far my original discussion with Paul Lawrence, the council’s Chief Executive of Place, of basing offers on previous performance is no longer relevant. This probably explains the insistence on due process over the CAC’s top floor.


The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership on display for all of the Festival last year is clearly art attracting no charge while the ScotPop Centre appears to lie at the heart of capitalism.

In all my discussions it was agreed that pop music deserved the same support as the visual arts but it was stressed that no art form could now be supported as before with free or even heavily discounted venues. All evidence shows this not to be true and to be honest it is clear that rather than argue the case people are just saying one thing and doing another.

I have a sponsor flying in from Germany in a week’s time and after that I will make a decision but without a building ……………………

Questions raised on twitter about the ScotPop Centre latest news

Many thanks to Brian for raising these questions 

Brian Ferguson – arts journalist for the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotsman

An interesting read, but just couldn’t see any sense in agreeing to set up a rival history of Scottish pop & rock exhibition in the City Art Centre at the same time as the one.


ScotPop Centre has a completely different focus + complements the museum. I’ve been in contact with museum since April 2016 at their request forwarding exhibits they could use + working on areas they are not covering. They finish November + some exhibits will be available to me

Frank Little (museums and galleries manager) told me he asked if CAC could work with the museum on the exhibition but got knocked back. I already had that agreement though I believe their comms people are wary. They asked me not to stress differences as that was pointing out what they weren’t doing.

The council aren’t setting anything up and the centre won’t be a rival but it will be able to continue the work done by museum long after they have moved on to their next exhibition. The museum is understandably out of their comfort zone whereas I have 30 years worth of contacts.

Brian Ferguson

The only other thing I would add is that it took the trust around a decade to get access to a building which was going to rack and ruin.


To be fair to they have made that point about and also the Calton Hill Observatory. It was said I had achieved in three years what would normally take a team of people seven given what I have ready to go. Things though don’t have to take this long.

Brian Ferguson

It’s 15 years since the party was cancelled when the stage started getting torn apart. Not a brick laid. Easier said than done when reality kicks in!


Of course when building is involved things take a lot longer but the original idea from the council was that they have too many buildings so finding one for should be possible. If a cafe/bar/venue included even better as that helped with the issue over venues.

The Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre – search for a home

As regular followers will know the City Art Centre at the back of the Waverley Station has often cropped up as a possible home temporarily or otherwise for some time now. That interest seemed to have ended when they refused even a short pop-up despite being virtually empty. The Fruitmarket Gallery however did step in and we had a hugely successful exhibition in June with over 1,500 people visiting over the three days.

Following that it was suggested I speak to Paul Lawrence the council’s Chief Executive for Place. Paul, a no nonsense northerner from Hull with a soft southern job title, was very supportive and interested not just in the centre but also on the current state of Edinburgh’s venues.

I had previously spoken to Frank Little the museums and galleries manager who wasn’t keen on the idea but Paul said he would speak with him again and with news that Frank was now a convert we met up. The day before I had met with Donald Wilson the Culture Convener who had pledged his support saying the exhibition centre was just what Edinburgh needed and just what the City Art Centre needed !

One suggestion from Frank was that I was given the top floor of the City Art Centre which though hired out was done so infrequently. With a small presence on the ground floor and a lift as you come in straight to the top floor it wasn’t perfect but a great space with great views.

I gave Frank a proposal of what was intended so we could then discuss things further. When I say “give” me the top floor I would have been expected to make sure the CAC wasn’t out of pocket by offering a payment a little greater than their previous income.

However I soon received an email saying the CAC was fully booked with exhibitions for the next three years and there was no space for me. This was very odd in that it made the meetings we had had pointless but more importantly the top floor is not an exhibition space, part of the reason it had been considered. 

Back to square one Paul Lawrence’s desire to help meant he agreed to meet just before New Year. Unable to come up with any other options Paul agreed to put the CAC top floor plan to Frank Little again. We agreed I would offer a little more than the average of the last three year’s income and I made an FOI request to find out what that offer should be.

I had a second meeting with Councillor Wilson mid-January when he reiterated there was nothing more needed said to convince him of the worth of the project. Paul had flagged up the council would need to agree that there was no need to follow due process given this was a temporary project, possibly for a year, and the council would be financially better off than previous years.

Councillor Wilson said he wasn’t even sure it needed to go to committee but would check and if it did it was a Culture not a Finance matter and agreed to liaise with Paul. Given the time constraints in trying to be ready in time to coincide with the National Museum’s exhibition I was concerned about how long all this would take and I then received an email from Paul Lawrence saying my best outcome would be to have it put before the Culture Committee on the 20th March. 

This was tight for being ready indeed but doable and gave me time to assemble a small team of helpers for a presentation. I would need to show quality within the exhibition and the Fruitmarket Gallery offered to give a recommendation. With the museum having also taken several of the exhibits from the pop-up the quality was not going to be an issue. 

Financially I spoke to potential sponsors who would look to cover the proposed rent of around £10K – £12K. I had offers of free food and drink for launches and free advertising both from established advertising companies and record shops all over the world.

By coincidence an old customer and friend who now lives in LA and was a photographer in the 80s was over visiting and not only offered me many unseen band photos but also a professional trailer for the exhibition as his job in LA was to produce film trailers and adverts. 

I agreed with the council not to say anything publicly which of course would have helped with the fundraising but the response privately was tremendous.

However I still had no confirmation until Tuesday when an email from Paul Lawrence told me that a speedy outcome was unlikely as the idea would need to go through due process. Basically this would mean 

  • The Council would need to agree that the space in the CAC is to be used for alternate purposes and therefore is available to ‘the market’;
  • They would need to run a marketing/bidding process;
  • They would need to evaluate all bids including an assessment of detailed business plans;
  • The Council would then determine a successful bidder based on a range of criteria.

The first point alone baffled me. There was no change of use as it was a hire space that could be hired for just what I had planned. In fact if the exhibition was not to be treated as a trial, which it obviously was, then it could be treated as a lengthy hire which of course was also true. Neither involved due process something I had taken (free) professional advice on.

I was asked if I still wanted to continue. Given that there was no guarantee of success, no idea of cost and it was impossible to reach agreement in time this was an offer designed to be unacceptable.

My initial reaction was just to give up but then I realised that as I had been working to March 20th I should at least consider options until then now the plans could go public. What has caused this turnaround ? I genuinely don’t know. Donald Wilson and Paul Lawrence could not have been more helpful and generous with their time. Both hold very senior positions one as a councillor and one as a council official. It’s important to have both sides on board I’m told. Yes Minister is certainly good grounding for understanding the relationship.

I’m not sure who else would have the authority to insist that due process was followed even when it was unnecessary and why they would do that. Apart from that there has been a feeling for some time that the CAC is to be sold. This was pure conjecture from staff and those close to the CAC on the basis that it was so badly run there had to be an ulterior motive.

It has been acknowledged now by most involved with the CAC that there have been issues for some time in every department though they don’t thank people for pointing that out. The recent report that footfall and income were both down over 30% was blamed on being closed on their two quietest days which clearly was a flawed argument.

Maybe there are plans, be it a sale or some other major overhaul, and they would rather I wasn’t in the way. Maybe the CAC understandably annoyed at being shown to be struggling instigated the decision to enforce due process. I have to say I was initially invited to look at using the CAC by staff and that it has so demonstrably been underutilised, as the council prefers to say, is not my doing.

All of this is conjecture and possibly wide of the mark on every count. I’m still of course in touch with the National Museum and Waterstones are on board to support Scottish music. There are many exclusives I could source if  I want to. Avalanche is a worldwide brand which never ceases to amaze me and I have an offer to consider at the beginning of March based on Avalanche but with interest in the centre too.

I have interest from Glasgow for the centre which needs to be followed up but for now I will give things until the middle of March and if no home can be found by then I will need to reconsider. I’m already getting regular enquiries about when the centre might open with some people looking to book holidays and it is hard to believe such a popular idea would be blocked by the council after being so supportive originally.

I have sunk every penny I have into this or we wouldn’t have reached the stage we have now. I simply can’t afford to do that any more and until the centre finds a home it will be impossible to bring on board sponsors and the other revenue streams needed.

Apologies for not having something more positive. Believe me I never expected this outcome from the council after so much support. I suspect there may still be more twists in the tale.

Still to come – Trinity Apse, the City Art Centre’s cafe and what I’d do given all of the CAC !