If I were to advise visitors of the National Museum of Scotland’s exhibition, Rip It Up, it would be this. Don’t go on a stiflingly hot day with a hangover. Although housed in a dark space, there is a constant barrage of noise to cope with. Certainly it seems natural to have music in an exhibition about pop, but I found the twenty-second bursts of various songs punctuating the aural experience both musically frustrating and emotionally confusing. Of course, I could have listened to one of the exhibits through headphones but, you know: that hangover.
This event is largely a nostalgia-trip. Going by the small sample available to me I would guess the demographic of visitors are those experiencing an actual lifetime of music. Fifty years of pop is, nonetheless, a lot, even for those whose age dips below this timescale. My second piece of advice would be to leave plenty of time as there’s a lot to see and hear. Over forty exhibition cases, nearly a dozen listening-points, and half a dozen film presentations, ending with a large curved screen at the end of this dark maze showing ten minutes of clips of some of Scotland’s best. Again, only clips.
But to quote Iain Rankin from one of the videos, it is “very tough to do an exhibition on Scottish Music, because it’s a very broad church.” How true. We begin with the King of Skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, move onto dance-halls, the beat boom, then through rock bands, punk, folk, and techno, to present day. The Indie scene gets a look in, with the importance of record-shops and Festivals in promoting local artists, and ending with the SAY (Scottish Album of the Year) winner for 2018 ‘to be announced,’ it seems the story goes on. The question of whether ‘pop’ music is – unlike rock or serious or classical – short-lived and ephemeral seems put to rest. Perhaps.
There are two main focal points. One: that the influences of this music work both ways in terms of ‘local’ and ‘global.’ Elvis might only have touched down momentarily at Prestwick airport in 1960, but Scottish music soaked up all that this new art-form offered, then made it their own (as only Scots can) and put it back out into the world. Elsewhere in the museum, on floor six, ‘A Changing Nation’ there is the lyric sheet of ‘Letter to America’ in a section on the diaspora which, when it comes to Scotland’s music, is as far and wide-spread as its people.
The second focus, it seems, is asking what is Scottish pop? Is it about the accent (The Proclaimers daring to throw the R away?) or is it our “lyrical armoury” (says Fish,) the influence of folk (what Karine Polwart calls the ‘crossover’ of styles,) or even the land itself? Surely it’s all of these things, and much more besides, which is why I would recommend this event. It’s heartening and enlightening to consider how much brilliant and varied music has come out of our small country.
But I won’t lie: this is exhibition is largely geared towards the late middle-aged person’s reminiscence; a nostalgic look back at the good old days. So here’s my final piece of advice, about the entrance ticket. It’s only ten quid, and you can go in and out all day – which is great news if you’ve still got a hangover.
Don’t rip it up.
Photos courtesy of Neil Hanna
Rip It Up runs at the National Museum of Scotland until 25th Nov, 2018