There is no getting away from Scottish pop this summer, and to be honest why would you want to?! Whether it’s the Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland or the radio series on BBC Scotland, there is a vast amount of material out there and in several formats and structures, all bridging stories about Scotland’s music scene. And for those that are here for the Fringe this month and are wondering what else to do in Edinburgh, it is on our recommends list. For a mere ten pounds you can be guided through the history of Scottish pop music from the fifties through to the present day, a total bargain.
Vic Galloway, BBC Scotland presenter, was commissioned to write the book which accompanies the exhibition and was more than glad to be asked to speak about this with The Fountain.
TF: You have condensed the history of Scottish music into a beautifully compiled book, awash with great photos and your words, now that must have been a task and a half?
It certainly was a task and a half. And I will forever want to update it and do a redux and so on. The National Museum of Scotland, Stephen Allen is the main curator and the driving force behind the Rip It Up exhibition, he got in touch with me a few years ago and I was hosting their National Museum Lates quite often. He knew me through that and he knew me through my first book, Songs in the Key of Fife, which is all about the Fence Collective and the Beta Band and KT Tunstall and so on. He liked the book, and he had met me and he listened to my radio show and I kept bumping into him at gigs and festivals and he probably about two years ago floated the idea to me saying, “I am thinking about this pop music exhibition, do you think it would work?” and I was like “yes, definitely, it’s a great time to do that” with the Bowie Is exhibition and the Pink Floyd exhibition and Forty Years of Punk and all that stuff that was happening so he asked, “if I get it up and running would you do the book” and I said “absolutely certainly.”
And these things, they take a while to get greenlighted but it eventually got greenlighted and Stephen said we definitely want to do the book, that would be fantastic but I didn’t totally get the greenlight to do it until November last year so I basically wrote it between December and April so in four months, in amongst all my other stuff. So when you say it must have been some task it actually was, the subject matter, the sheer volume, and it was a relatively short word count, they wanted it around 50,000 words, I could do 150,000 around that, but I am really proud of it. It’s a whistle stop tour through pop and rock music from Scotland, it’s the main players, the main protagonists, the biggest success stories and perhaps some of the bands and artists that weren’t that successful financially or commercially but have influenced lots of people, so I have tried my best. And I am really proud of it and the museum are too so that’s the main thing.
TF: And the process for working out who to include/not include must have been difficult having seen as many Scottish bands come and go as yourself?
I wanted to be and I hope I am completely even handed in terms of Wet Wet Wet getting written about at the same time as The Scars or The Fire Engines, I am not trying to be cool, I am not trying to be populist, it is trying to be even-measured. So there are some of my favourite bands of all time from Scotland that don’t get that much written about them just because they didn’t have that much of an impact and there are other bands that I didn’t write about at all, sometimes you just can’t fit them into the narrative or there are already too many people in that particular chapter so it’s really tough and it will forever be the thing that will wake me up in the middle of the night will be going “I forgot to mention so and so, I forgot to include them” so it was tough choosing but I have got 99% of the people that should be in there.
TF: And when doing so, was there one thing that threads its way throughout Scottish music that makes it different to that of down south or other countries?
This is the question everyone keeps asking and I wish I had a completely cohesive, definitive answer to this. I can only surmise and it’s only my opinion. There are a couple of things, there is a mix of misery and euphoria which I think is typical to a lot of Scottish pop, because it is so diverse genre-wise, the fact that you can go from Lonnie Donegan to Young Fathers in one exhibition and in one book, including all the stuff from the fifties, sixties, seventies, all the way through, there’s electronic music, there’s rock’n’roll, there’s punk, there’s screaming pop and everything in between. What does run through it all? I think there is this juxtaposition of euphoric anthemic singalong hooks and inward-looking self-effacing, miserable, I could use a million different words to describe it but it’s like the weather in Scotland. It pours with rain one minute, it’s blazing sunshine the next. And also, funnily enough I didn’t think about this until I wrote the book but there is a massive influence of African American music since the 1950s to the present day, so Black America I think has been a huge influence. The bands in the fifties and sixties loved soul, they loved RnB, jump Blues and were very quick to get into Motown and Stax and if you look at the music right up to the present day you will see that there was this real influence of Black America, whether it be Annie Lennox, the Average White Band right through to Calvin Harris, but in terms of the genres it is so disparate. However, you will always find some lilting Celtic melodies in there as well so that’s something that perhaps unifies music from the fifties and music from the present day.
TF: And although you champion contemporary Scottish music with your radio show, you’ve been on the scene for a wee while, I recall Deaf Mutes gigs under the Fence Collective, was it clear on your head that you were the guy to document the culture?
I was very honoured to be asked to document it, the thing about me is that I am Scottish, I live in Scotland, I play and champion Scottish music but I like music from all over the world. I was honoured to be asked. I would say that there are some other people in Scotland that could have done as good, if not a better job but I was also pleased that they asked me as I have an even-handedness that I am not sure everyone would’ve had. I think some people would have weighted it in more of the eighties pop stuff or the kind of soundtrack to their particular lives or the more alternative side whereas I wanted to make sure that everything was represented in as even and egalitarian way as possible. The underground stuff has had as much of an impact as the mainstream stuff, if you listen to American indie music or alternative music, the Cocteau Twins and all of the post-punk stuff, Joseph K, The Fire Engines, The Scars, they’ve had a huge influence. People often do these historical lookbacks and they don’t often include these bands so I wanted to make sure that the untold stories were told as well as the big ones. To say that I was the right man for the job would be a bit cheeky and big-headed but I am glad that they asked me to do it and I hope I’ve done the right kind of job.
TF: And it’s not just the book either, there’s an exhibition which runs until Nov at the National Museum, which we have touched upon, but there is also a radio and TV series about the subject. How did those come about?
I will tell you quite honestly that as soon as I got the green light for the book, I went straight to the head of the department at BBC Radio Scotland and said, “I am doing the book, I think we should do a radio series around this” and it was the only thing I have ever had commissioned on the spot there and then, so it was great. The radio series is not trying to be definitive or cover every single band or artist, we tried to do it in a different way. The producer and I split it into four genres like pop, rock, dance and alternative and it was like a non-linear conversational anecdotes and discussions that tells some of the stories of Scottish pop but not all of them, and if people are wanting a chronological definitive guide, the radio series is not where to go. If you want to hear some cool anecdotes and talking heads throughout Scottish pop history then hopefully they are really entertaining, informative, educational, fun radio programmes.
I was filmed a couple of times for the TV programmes and they asked me millions of questions so when I watch the programmes I have absolutely no idea what I am going to talk about there but it’s good to be involved, I am really pleased. It’s nineteen years of making radio programmes, at the BBC, weekly programmes for almost twenty years, doing something like this feels like an event, like a watershed moment and I am really glad that after all these years the BBC still employ me and I am able to make these kinds of programmes, and be asked to write a book in association with the National Museum of Scotland, it’s a real honour. There are loads of people that would love the opportunity to do this, so I wanted to at the best of my ability.
TF: And what’s next for you Vic after all this? More of Radio Scotland, BBC 6, perhaps some recording and performing yourself?
I’ve got a week of BBC6 Music shows in September, I am sitting in for Marc Riley, I’ve got some really good sessions guests, The Twilight Sad are going to be in session for me one night, Free Love, Holly Cook, tropical reggae singer, who I really like, so I have that, and there are various festivals I am attending, I am doing the Edinburgh International Book Festival (you won’t believe that my event is sold out), I am doing that for Rip It Up, I am also going to be interviewing DJ Semtex about his book, Hip Hop Raised Me, as he is attending the book festival, and I am a big hip hop fan. I am also starting a Masters Degree which is going to be a lot of work but will be fun. I am putting a record out as well. I have a new music project with a couple of friends, and we are going to put out an album. The plan is for the Autumn but we are clearing samples, so depending on how long that takes we might need to put it out next year instead.
So there you have it, that’s why you should take any bookseller’s advice on why to purchase Vic Galloway’s Rip It Up title, as well as stroll through the National Museum of Scotland, or tune into the radio or TV series. It’s exploratory, even-weighted, anecdotal and informative, outlining the romance and emotion that evokes a country, no doubt with even more apparent regional strands.
Photo courtesy of Neil Hanna.