There was consternation if little surprise when the BBC Sound of 2017 artists were announced last week and no Scottish artists were listed. Two were from the US, there was a token Manchester band and all the rest were from London and the Home Counties. The list showed not just a geographical bias but also a genre bias as urban acts made up over half the list and indie bands almost nowhere to be seen.
Immediately there were questions raised by those in the Scottish music industry who oddly in my view then put forward their own urban acts for inclusion.
Now what Scotland does best, what Scotland is best known for and what others love about Scottish music is the indie bands it has produced over the years. Belle and Sebastian, Biffy Clyro, Frightened Rabbit, Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, The Twilight Sad, King Creosote and Teenage Fanclub is just the start of a very long list and before them The Shop Assistants, The Pastels, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, The Cocteau Twins, Orange Juice, Josef K, The Skids and The Scars head an even longer list. Of course before “indie” existed there were bands from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band to the Bay City Rollers.
Unfortunately many in the Scottish music industry including those who were part of this rich heritage now want to convince the world that Scotland is a bit leftfield, a bit quirky and very multinational. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Scottish Album of the Year Awards but the problem is endemic.
All these genres have a place in the Scottish music scene of course but whether it is the powerful folk lobby or simply the few managers in Scotland relentlessly putting forward their artists for every opportunity, generally the contemporary rock and pop artists, as Edinburgh City Council and Creative Scotland call them, are left trailing far behind.
Part of the problem is that so much money is poured into youth initiatives and the easiest way to “prove” these are working is to give the artists involved as many chances as possible. Some young bunch of lads with no desire to network and go to workshops stand little chance of success when in the old days they would be the core demographic for a great band.
While bands like The Twilight Sad go from strength to strength currently coming to the end of a world tour with The Cure it is hard to see how new bands can follow in their wake.
The really hard thing these days is to reach people with your music and engage with them enough to make them want to buy. You can go to a seminar or a workshop or be given advice by someone who hasn’t actually been at the music industry coalface for years but unless you are unaware of the absolute basics there is little point.
What would certainly help would be if the Scottish music industry powers that be accepted the marvellous tradition Scotland has for guitar bands and great songwriters and gave more chances to genuinely new young bands.
It isn’t that bands don’t feature at all in the scheme of things but if they do they are more often than not either made up from the ashes of another more established band who already have the contacts or have gone through the youth initiative system.
There are also more established artists, some that have been helped before, ready to go to the next level and would fulfil the expectations of the wider audience for Scottish acts. Withered Hand and Meursault head that list, while of course Avalanche favourites There Will Be Fireworks have sold thousands of albums worldwide despite lack of distribution or management simply by being so good people feel the need to tell their friends who tell their friends. Sometimes the old ways are still the best! The London music industry works very hard to make sure those in the provinces get as few chances as possible and if the same then happens in the microcosm that is Scotland then it is understandable that some small unconnected indie band feels the situation is hopeless. Maybe it is time to give them hope!
One-way ticket to a nightmare journey by rail
I’ve had many dreadful train journeys from Livingston South to Edinburgh over the last 20 years but the 11.15am last Saturday topped the lot. The all-stops service could be guaranteed to be full of folk from Glasgow ready to sample Edinburgh’s Christmas and the two carriages that appeared bang on time were never going to be enough.
By the time we reached the next stop at Kirknewton there was folk standing all along the train. The conductor declared the train full but a Dunkirk spirit had set in and determined to leave nobody behind we all squeezed up further.
At Curriehill things took a turn for the worse when a young family with a little girl who clearly had trouble breathing needed the wheelchair access we were all standing in for their converted pushchair. Again somehow we just made space and no more.
However by Kingsknowe nothing could be done and passengers were left behind at the station. Arriving 12 minutes late on a 32 minute journey and with passengers rushing to catch connections they may well have missed it was another eight minutes before I had a ticket and could get through the barrier. Livingston South’s ticket machine won’t accept cash !
The conductor did his best and should be commended for his patience and people management in what was potentially a very dangerous situation. This was something that was eminently predictable and avoidable and you have to hope that by next Saturday lessons will have been learned.
Certainly, though, if past history is anything to go by the conductor will report the situation and nothing will be done when it really is an accident waiting to happen.
Bands that get to the art of the matter
I had a rare night out on Saturday at the Filthy Tongues gig at The Liquid Room with the artist Gerry Gapinski whose artwork adorns their new album and it reminded me that I like my bands to look like a band and albums to have proper artwork.
It was something I always said about Saint Jude’s Infirmary who as part of my rare nights out double-header I had seen the week before. You could go into a pub full of people and just know they were the band without them trying too hard. Their last album cover was a self-portrait by Jack Vettriano ,who is a fan along with Ian Rankin. Martin Metcalfe is maybe even a little easier to spot these days but young bands should take note that it does no harm to make an effort !