Kevin Buckle: Ten years of musical toil for not enough reward

Meursault - AKA Neil Pennycook
Meursault - AKA Neil Pennycook
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While the current crop of Edinburgh bands are yet to really make their mark, many of their elders from the Edinburgh scene are not far off a decade since their first releases. 2007-2009 were halcyon years with releases from Withered Hand, Broken Records, eagleowl, Kid Canaveral, Emily Scott, Rob St. John, Saint Jude’s Infirmary and Meursault only the start of a long list.

With Saint Jude’s Infirmary now back together, all these artists are still playing and Emily and Rob are currently members of the “supergroup” Modern Studies whose album Swell To Great has garnered some great reviews. Out only last week was Meursault’s I Will Kill Again the latest from Neil Pennycook who essentially is Meursault. For those unfamiliar with Neil’s work, I would probably recommend 2012’s Something For The Weakened and then working forwards and backwards but the latest album does not disappoint.

Meursault's new album, I Will Kill Again

Meursault's new album, I Will Kill Again

What does disappoint is that most of the aforementioned artists have not really reached the much larger audience they deserve. Broken Records did sign to indie label legends 4AD and played throughout Europe and America, but generally while all have done well and even toured internationally there is a feeling that they could have done even better.

The Scottish Album of the Year Award that will be with us again soon really doesn’t have the reach it should and the annual trip to Austin, Texas for SXSW is a waste of time and money. Other trips and awards, often for the same favoured few are not helped by the fact that mostly those involved by no means represent the best that is on offer, but more those prepared to put in the networking time.

While artists of quality like Neil from Meursault or Dan Willson from Withered Hand plough their own furrow while happily nodding to their influences, those who simply want to “make it” will jump from one bandwagon to another as what is left of the UK music industry still look for another View or Biffy Clyro or Chvrches.

Currently post-punk is taking the mantle of alt rock and often while bands get the general sound right they simply forget to write any good songs. There is nothing wrong in getting interest in a band by describing them as “like” another band. Avalanche sold many of the Olympic Swimmers first album on the basis they were a cross between the Cocteau Twins and a Scottish Sigur Ros.

The Electric Circus is closing at the end of this month. Picture: Jon Savage

The Electric Circus is closing at the end of this month. Picture: Jon Savage

The thing was they delivered on that promise, as did Randolph’s Leap who I described as having lyrics not out of place on a Belle and Sebastian album. However recently an artist was recommended to me as a cross between The National and the Twilight Sad, two of my favourite bands. I was hugely disappointed that apart from an affected vocal not dissimilar to Matt Berninger the songs were just not remotely good enough.

For established bands it is hard to sell more music at a time when people are buying less, and for newer bands just getting established is a dream! There isn’t really enough of a Scottish music industry left to make a difference in the UK, never mind worldwide. Labels and distribution at the core of successful promotion cannot exist if artists can see no further than selling on bandcamp or through PledgeMusic.

All credit to the artists I’ve mentioned for surviving the most turbulent ten years the music industry has ever known. There are a few artists cut from the same cloth gradually coming through, of which Hamish James Hawk is probably the best, and in case you were wondering, imagine if Withered Hand had written songs for Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs album. He won’t let you down!

Music venues need subsidies too or Edinburgh won’t have any left

It was sad to see the Electric Circus will now be closing by the end of March, far earlier than was expected.

There are a number of factors that are affecting small and medium sized venues and it is hard to see how they will continue to survive without financial support in the same way book festivals, art galleries and cultural publications are subsidised.

It has to be recognised that like so many things these days, gig going is popular but not popular enough at the grassroots level to be in most cases commercially viable.

I appreciate this isn’t the first time I’ve said this but if something isn’t done and quickly it will just be a case of who will close next and Edinburgh simply cannot afford to lose any more venues.

Planners need to keep options more open

Barely a week seems to go by these days without controversy over the sale of some building or other, and this week was no exception when millionaire and founder of the Summerhall arts venue Robert McDowell called foul when his bid wasn’t shortlisted for the sale of the Sick Kids Hospital site.

Obviously a knowledgeable man in these matters, Mr McDowell is surmising that his bid to turn the hospital into a gallery of children’s art has fallen foul of the requirement that at least half the site has to be for residential development.

Now it makes sense to advise developers what the preferred plan for a site is, but it also seems daft to rigidly rule out other options, whatever their merits.

I appreciate that as has happened with the old Royal High School, sometimes it then becomes blurred as to when “advice” from planners becomes hard and fast rules, but it would make sense at the start to leave options open and then consider the merits of the plans.

Certainly decision-makers should bear in mind initial thoughts on requirements but if something worthy outwith that is offered it should not be automatically ruled out. I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this.