Kevin Buckle: Time for chattering classes to pipe down

Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison created the artwork for the band's album The Midnight Organ Fight. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison created the artwork for the band's album The Midnight Organ Fight. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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With regard to the proposed hotel for the Old Royal High School or my recent foray into popular music’s artistic worth compared to the visual arts, Edinburgh’s “chattering classes” is a phrase that has cropped up again and again when discussing those that oppose the hotel at all costs and consider any piece of visual art to have far more value than any Frightened Rabbit album. If not the chattering classes then it is Edinburgh’s “intelligentsia”.

Wikipedia’s definition of the chattering classes certainly described those I’ve stumbled upon from time to time. “The chattering classes refers to a politically active, socially concerned and highly-educated section of the ‘middle class’, especially those with political, media, and academic connections.” There is no doubt that within Edinburgh there is a relatively small number of people who think they know what is best for the city in all aspects of art and culture.

The fate of the old Royal High School remains uncertain. Picture: Scott Louden

The fate of the old Royal High School remains uncertain. Picture: Scott Louden

Now I don’t think it is in any way elitist to take more seriously the view of somebody who has studied all the relevant documents and decided to support the music school than somebody who wants a six star hotel because they might get to see George Clooney. Having said that, I seriously doubt that all the celebrities that have spoken in favour of the music school have studied all and possibly any of the detailed arguments for and against before pledging their loyalty.

The hotel proponents love their surveys showing public support which seems to fly in the face of the active opposition, but active is the key word here. What you have is an active minority versus a silent majority. Both sets of figures make sense in that context where a couple of thousand people may not want something but hundreds of thousands silently are fine with it.

The gap is just as wide when it comes to interest in popular music and the visual arts. The difference here of course is that you can support both and most artists and those who appreciate art do indeed also enjoy music though not necessarily always of the popular kind ! Art galleries, I’m told ,need to be free and heavily supported with funding or they wouldn’t be remotely viable. Popular music though despite now being so widely available for free deserves no such support on the same scale.

That live venues are struggling all over is well documented. Independent Venue Week that has just finished highlighted this. Like art galleries they attract people – just not enough people – and yet a subsidy would never be considered. Much of the informed comment I have received has come from those who are both visual artists and musicians and all confirm there is an overwhelming bias towards supporting not just the visual arts but in a way the less popular visual arts. Illustrators for instance should make their own way but paintings that need an explanation just to know what they are – they need support!

The last days of the old HMV flagship store in Princes Street. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The last days of the old HMV flagship store in Princes Street. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Popular does not mean less worthy and as circumstances change in the music industry there needs to be a serious discussion about how the limited amount of funding for the arts is allocated. It is hard to imagine how much good work could be done within the music sector if it received the millions of pounds that can be given to an art gallery.

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit is also an artist and may well argue the case for both sides, but personally I think their album The Midnight Organ Fight is an important work of art ranking with many artworks hung in galleries. That the album uses Scott’s own artwork for the cover only reinforces the point that maybe it is time art galleries embraced all art and not just what the chattering classes deem to be of worth.

Do Edinburgh’s intelligentsia know best?

Further detail on the revised proposals for the “world-class hotel” on Calton Hill should soon be revealed. I personally did not have any problem with the initial plans but there is no doubt that the much smaller revised plans for the west side of the building were well received by those prepared to give the hotel a fair hearing.

However those pesky “intelligentsia” (a status class of educated people that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society) have decided they know best and despite having no rights over the Old Royal High School have spent a figure heading towards a million pounds putting forward a rival music school proposal.

So much time and money has been spent by both sides already that it has to be hoped the new hotel proposals are judged sensibly. The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) with Willie Gray Muir as chair regularly makes a case for the music school while Bruce Hare of Duddingston House Properties prefers silence surfacing occasionally when a planning application is made. Neither have covered themselves in glory in the recent past though it has to be said that while Mr Hare’s Edinburgh Odeon involvement, albeit eventually, ended in a satisfactory outcome Mr Muir’s involvement with Leslie House in Fife remains highly controversial.

In these days of alternative facts, fake news and buses promising £350 million a week for the NHS both proposals need to be looked at closely. Beyond discussion of the actual buildings involved concerns have been raised that on the hotel’s side they have failed to come up with any of the promised proposals for supporting the arts something of course close to my own heart. I have taken them to task on this and while they have undoubtedly been diverted away from some of the detail of the hotel by the bigger picture of actually getting planning they need to fulfil their pre-planning promises. The economic benefits of the hotel are obvious and don’t appear to be contested. On the other hand the RHSPT seem to be able to avoid close inspection. Phrases like “fully funded” need far more closer scrutiny. I am certainly no expert but their plans for the actual school seem far more invasive than that of the hotel and the consequences of an expanded music school to the music department at Broughton High School have been ignored completely. Any conflict of interest involving the various parties opposing the hotel also needs to be looked at thoroughly. Both sides need to be clear what buildings will be public and at what times. A hotel is generally a public place while a school, by its very nature, is not.

For those who want to investigate further the skyscrapercity website is an excellent resource where anybody wanting to make an informed judgement can find all they need.

The death knell sounds for HMV

News that HMV in Canada is closing all of its 100-plus shops does not bode well for HMV in the UK, but circumstances are different. In the UK HMV’s short term leases mean they can close shops as soon as they are showing a loss. Others move to cheaper units, often in shopping centres, to reduce overheads.

It is however clearly a losing battle in the long term and you can’t help but feel it is death by a thousand cuts. With all the HMVs in Ireland also closing last year it can really only be a matter of time before the UK shops follow.