Kevin Buckle: Music remains the poor man of the arts

I found it extremely odd that news of the Electric Circus closing, albeit not for a while yet, was simply mentioned as part of the much more important story that the Fruitmarket Gallery was to expand. I had been sure I must have missed this momentous news and quickly Googled to find out more, only to see that the story I had read was the first mention of it.

Thursday, 15th December 2016, 12:19 pm
Updated Saturday, 17th December 2016, 9:05 am
Charlotte Church rocks out at the Electric Circus during a gig back in 2012. Picture: Greg Macvean

Given all that has been said about the lack of venues in Edinburgh I was expecting uproar from the arts community and while this was indeed the case from “the man in the street” the arts intelligentsia took a more sanguine approach that what was bad news for music was at least good news for the gallery and exhibitions could be given the space they needed.

Now I have at this point to declare an interest here. I have been working on a History of Scottish Music Centre now for over two years and Edinburgh Council have a policy of supporting music, making sure it is not priced out of the city centre, much as I’m told is the case in places like New York and Sydney. Unfortunately, whereas the aforementioned cities hand over entire buildings Edinburgh Council thought they might be able to spare “some space” in an existing building.

After mentioning this on my blog both staff and artists involved in the City Art Centre got in touch to say that the space on the ground floor of the centre was underused to put it mildly and would be a fantastic location for my idea especially as it would be a great attraction – something the current mostly empty space was not. I did get a meeting and the idea was discussed but considered “logistically difficult”.

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Kate Bush's live vinyl album is retailing at more than £50. Picture: AFP

Another space again mentioned by artists was the Fruitmarket Gallery. The city council own the building but don’t run the gallery so it wasn’t a simple choice. The suggestion came from the fact that the gallery often dedicates large spaces, any one space enough to house all my ideas, to a couple of large paintings or a video installation. What, it was argued, served a better purpose. A large space dedicated to the exhibition and promotion of Scottish music or a couple of paintings that were of limited interest? I was glad these were the thoughts of, in some cases, quite established artists so I wouldn’t look a complete philistine should I have to repeat them.

So as you can imagine when I read a music venue was to be closed down to make more large spaces for some “proper art” it certainly put a definite perspective on things. Now I know the venue have offered and nobody is being “forced” to close but instead of seeing what could be done to keep live music in the building it was clearly a done deal that those who knew better would support the Fruitmarket Gallery’s extension.

Then I saw the money involved. An £11 million revamp. The Heritage Lottery Fund to invite an application for £2m to £5m. I can’t even imagine what could be done if this sort of money was dedicated to music in Edinburgh. Yes there has been news of some fancy venue being built to rival The Usher Hall on St Andrew Square and I’m told the owners of The Odeon have not ruled out gigs in the future once it is refurbished but neither is an answer to the need for small venues like The Electric Circus.

Most of my best gigs were in the back rooms of pubs, dives or at best completely inappropriate venues but these days I’m told something more “pleasant” is needed to entice young folk from their smart phones and binge-watching of TV series.

Kate Bush's live vinyl album is retailing at more than £50. Picture: AFP

A purpose built venue that can cater for under-18s is needed. I’ll do it for £1m and throw in the History of Scottish Music Centre too. Surely a bargain!

It’s songs that matter, in the vinyl analysis

Much was made recently of the fact that the weekly value of vinyl sales had exceeded those of downloads. There was then a second wave of articles pointing out that this was more to do with the demise of downloads than the rise of vinyl. There had indeed been a perfect storm in favour of vinyl that week as folk started to buy presents (you can’t wrap a download) and the bestselling vinyl album was the Kate Bush (pictured) live album retailing at over £50. Downloads in fact outsold vinyl by considerably more than two to one but of course cost a lot less.

CDs are declining too but at nowhere near the rate predicted and with good reason. The average person only buys two or three albums a year and there is a good chance it will be by a major artist like Adele or Ed Sheeran. Again it is often for a present but even if not it will almost certainly be on CD. For smaller artists, though, CD sales have indeed plummeted and vinyl has in no way replaced the lost revenue. Selling directly to fans has made up for this to some extent but that itself has its drawbacks in terms of then reaching a wider audience as without distribution to shops and online sellers artists and labels become more and more niche.

As vinyl sales inevitably start to slow, CD sales fall even if only gradually and downloads start to compete with cassettes for superiority only streaming will thrive and that is not good for any artist hoping to make a living from music.

When I’m asked if I sell vinyl I always say I sell music, some of which comes on vinyl. Lovely as vinyl is it can never be more important than the music and yet that is close to becoming the case – and it is new artists and smaller labels that will suffer most.

Home for the Holidays at Summerhall

Summerhall hosts a Christmas songbook launch party for Shelter Scotland this Friday and Saturday with a who’s who of great local bands playing including Ballboy, Withered Hand, Meursault, Broken Records, eagleowl, Kid Canaveral, Pictish Trail (pictured), The Spook School and more.

“The album will be released as a limited edition songbook, featuring lyrics, chords and illustrations for each track – with the original recordings presented as an exclusive download.”

All the details you will need are on the website.