To say that his book is about nationalism may sound absurd but bear with me because I think I can show you that instead of letting the facts speak for themselves about the success of Scottish Pop, Vic repeatedly refers to Scotland as having 'punched above its weight', overcome 'all the odds' and despite being 'put down' has succeeded. He invites us to see that Scotland has a handicap that other places do not have, specifically England and London. The actual Rip It Up exhibition at The National Museum Of Scotland seems to me to be free of any reference to the handicap that I pick up on in the book of the same name. Instead of thrilling us with the brilliance of Scottish Pop and its story, as is the case with the exhibition, he has chosen to set it into a context of a nation overcoming special odds stacked against it. Therefore whether you end up agreeing with me or not, I think the reader is perfectly entitled to examine the legitimacy of this nationalist context.
In the next few paragraphs and before going into the book itself I am going to try to share with you my thoughts about nationalism and also set those thoughts into the context of the relatively recent changes in the political landscape both at home here in Scotland and also on the continent.
I think that to emphasize nationalism you have to invest extraordinarily in the idea that a country is not just defined simply by its border for ease of practical matters of administration but that it is also defined by a particular set of beliefs and values, and furthermore a certain set of characteristics that the people of that nation have and which its citizens believe are different to those held in other nations. Accept that and you will have no problem with this book, but if like me you question this concept then you may feel that Vic can and should be challenged. Vic uses the music covering the period from the 1950's to the present day to convey how important the qualification of nationalism is to him. It is nationalism that I mean, not specifically Scottish Nationalism, though it may well be Scottish Nationalism that Vic Galloway is interested in.
My own belief is that human nature is the same all over the world and that it is a huge mistake to divide people up through nationalism on the grounds that the human nature of the people of one nation is different than the human nature of those inhabiting another. Music transcends nation. It is above all that. The proof is all around us. Look for example at how English bands such as Radiohead are just as popular north of the border as Scottish bands are. Instead of using the music to prove Vic's concept of nationalism, I think he should have used it to prove the reverse or converse, ie internationalism. Along with all the other Arts I like to think that music has the power to heal and unite where nationalism and indeed politics must by their very nature divide and often exacerbate division. And goodness knows we have seen plenty of that lately. I think people behave to a great degree according to circumstances and the idea that the people of one nation have a different human nature than that of another whereby in similar circumstances they may behave differently is I think very unwise and we all know where that can lead. If for example a nation invades another and claims it as its own then the overpowered nation is justifiably bound to feel oppressed and full of hatred for that other nation. But to extrapolate from that that the occupied nation has a different human nature and could not itself do such a dastardly act in other circumstances on the grounds that the human nature of its citizens is different is I think misplaced. The terrible lesson to be learned from genocide for example is that not only could I have been the victim I could have been the perpetrator too. All of us could have - unless we hold that human nature is different in different countries and to say that would leave one vulnerable to a journey leading towards racism would it not?
Right from the start in the introduction Vic draws us into an arguably ill thought out conceit of nationalism but this chapter is so full of blinding contradictions and lazy thinking that it is almost impossible to read. I take objection to much of it. We are not to mention Donald Where's Yer Troosers? Why not? We are not told. He writes that Scotland may seem like an improbable place for pop culture to have blossomed (though he also argues later that there was a great blossoming) but we are not told why he thinks that. He claims that against 'all the odds' it has done exactly that. What odds? We are not told and we are presumed to know. We are told that Scotland is a country that will 'not be put down' and that 'whether through some kind of sense of injustice this small country is a classic case of triumph over adversity'. What adversity? But in the next paragraph he opines that over 'hundreds if years' it has 'succeeeded' within a 'secure and stable union of nations'. If it was put down, how can it the same time have succeeded? Does Vic actually want Scotland to be 'put down' even more so as to succeed even more?
I presume that he must be referring earlier in the introduction to The Acts Of Union in 1707 with England and not the European Union which has existed for far less time. If Scottish Pop has succeeded, which he says it has, then what is his problem? If Scotland has succeeded, is he saying it would have succeeded even more had there been no Union, whichever Union he means? If Scotland has succeeded surely that is as much an argument that the odds for success have been increased not not decreased by the Union of 1707. But he says Scotland has succeeded 'against all the odds'. Is Vic saying that The Act of Union was not such a bad thing after all? If it was not such a bad thing then how does he square this with saying that it was only against all the odds (odds which he never fully explains) that it triumphed over the adversity? We are only in the first page and already Vic is writing questionable stuff. He writes the following sentence - 'Scotland has been both outsider and central player'. This has to be the oxymoron of the century. Does he mean simultaneously an outsider and a central player? If so how? We cannot deduce from that sentence what he means if he means anything at all and I somehow doubt that having read the whole book. If he means Scotland was at one point in time an outsider and at another point in time a central player fair enough, but when were those separate times? We are not told. Surely if Vic wants to 'Big Up' Scotland he could have found less nonsensical foundations on which to build his case. I searched in vain in the book to find any. For all we know Vic is a unionist with the R.U.K. but feels he must obfuscate by attempting to throw several different plates into the air and write confusing nonsense so as not to alienate anyone and thereby diminish sales of his book. No wonder what I write may also be confusing. If something is confusing then the natural response is yet more confusion. I suppose he had to write something that at least verges on the subjective or the book would be nothing more than a long Wikipedia entry - As it stands a lot of it would have been deleted there on the grounds of a lack of evidence to corroborate what subjective thinking there is in the book.
Nothing wrong with being a unionist for what is a democracy if its people cannot express different views? Here I will give Vic credit for noting that Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) stood up against Scottish Independence in the 2014 referendum against a background where most artists were pro independence. In my opinion the 2014 referendum had nothing to do whatsoever with independence. It was simply an attempt to replace a democratic deficit in Westminster with an even bigger democratic deficit in Brussels because Brussels was not English and because Brussels is currently 'popular' - though even that is now becoming less certain. The Yes campaign was a corruption of the very word independence which implies a current state of dependence. Therefore to move from dependence to independence surely means a complete move in that direction which it would certainly not have been unless accompanied by a similar move for independence from the legislative powers of Brussels which are arguably just as strong as, or even stronger than the powers of Westminster. It was not very long ago that some very evil things went on in continental Europe. How would the Scottish national voice amongst 27 national voices in the EU have more weight than the Scottish voice amongst national voices in Westminster should there be for example a very undesirable shift to the right take place on Continental Europe? It has happened before. Look how the extreme right are taking hold in Italy and, frighteningly in Germany. If something can happen - it will. It is ironic that the long story of the EU began after The Second War to reduce the chances of Right Wing Extremism taking hold ever again, but that is precisely what is happening at the moment though hopefully it is still not too late to stop its further ascendence.
And see how repelled the SNP are by the arguments for Brexit but see also how very similar are most of the arguments for Brexit with the arguments that were made for independence in Scotland back in 2014. See how in 2014 the SNP advocated breaking away from Westminster while at the time, in those pre Brexit days, the whole of the UK was a member of the EU. I agree that it was disastrous that No voters were sold the idea that voting No would help secure Scotland's position in the EU when, as it turns out, the Brexit vote will result in the opposite of that. But then was not the Brexit vote a huge and perilous gamble by the establishment on achieving a Remain result? Brexit was never expected but I repeat, if something can happen, it will.
The SNP and its supporters did not like the imposition of Westminster legislation but had they succeeded, and there had been no Brexit vote, and Scotland and RUK were in that case separate members of the EU, what would have happened then if for example the unelected EU commissioners repeatedly proposed EU legislation that would disadvantage Scotland but give advantage to a majority of EU member countries who repeatedly voted in favour of such legislation? I do not think that such circumstances are beyond the realm of the possible. Do you? If not why not? Would Scotland have spurned any support offered by RUK as a matter of principle? Would Scotland have then started a campaign for independence from those EU countries who voted repeatedly in favour of legislation harmful to Scottish interests? The logical answer must be yes Scotland would have because protection from undesired legislation was the central argument the SNP employed for wanting to be free of Westminster legislation, just as it is a central argument made by Brexiteers for independence from the Brussels court.
Thus the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 had nothing to do with independence, and thus to some extent the folly of the pursuit of independence itself - the doomsday machine that cannot be switched off until every home is independent of its neighbour and we all go back to the cave, throwing stones at each other to defend the ground beneath our feet.
There is plenty of folly too in the EU, such as the one size fits all straight jacket of interest rates, the democratic deficit there too and so on. Look what happened to the Greek economy, or the Spanish unemployment rates. Where now all those passionate confident voices in favour of joining what has arguably become the destructive single currency? But I had better spare you all that having gone on more than I should have here about politics, and I admit to being confused. By the way I voted 'remain' in the Brexit referendum. If I could have been young again I would probably have voted to leave unless core changes were made to the EU which I believe has always failed to take 'the people' with it, and it is the people who, alienated by The Establishment, could have saved it had they been properly on board. It was the fault of others, not the electorate, that they were not on board the dreamboat. No wonder so many voted for Brexit.
Returning now to the book and firstly to the 'odds' that Vic says Sottish Pop has overcome. What odds? The 'harsh weather' is one of the odds he refers to. His main grudge, his main complaint, the main 'odd' seems to me to be that the record industry was based not in Scotland but in England, and even worse - based in London. The complaint makes as much sense as saying that The Beatles overcame tremendous 'odds' to become successful because the record industry was not in Liverpool. Must the record industry be everywhere at once? Presumably there are no odds to overcome if you didn't live anywhere other than Scotland. Probably what he wants to say here is the the main 'odd' to overcome is the English who have oppressed Scotland for decades, but he cannot quite bring himself to write that. I think you will find for example that the English outlawing of the playing of the bagpipes for example took place quite some time before The Rezillos formed though it may not feel like that sometimes. I drafted that The Highland Clearances also occurred quite some time before The Rezillos formed but a quick check up online indicated that I need to do more research to confirm that this evil was entirely an English evil. But however long ago these events were resentment against the English lives on, and I am not sure actually if I am saying that it should not.
Meanwhile how is Vic calculating these 'odds' stacked against Scottish Pop music? In the introduction he says Scotland 'punches above its weight'. He also notes in the introduction Scotland's population of five and a half million. So I have a hunch that for him the 'weight' a nation has and over which it punches can be calculated in reference to its population size. So if Vic divides the population number by the number of artists he counts as being successful presumably he gets his 'odds' - his weighting, his handicap. If he then carries out the same process in other countries for example, England, France, USA, Northern Ireland, Wales, and so on he will then be able to prove that Scotland has punched above its weight relative to the weights or handicap of other countries. Presumably he has already done this but does not want to bore us with the math. I wager that it won't matter how high up in the ranking of successful punching Scotland is, just as long as it is above the punching handicap of England. But what if it is not? What then? What if Scotland punched below its weighting? Would not that actually work in Vic's favour because then, and I propose only then, could he prove that Scotland has suffered from the 'injustice' he refers to on the first page of the introduction.
On the second page of the introduction I read the words 'spoils of Empire'. What, one wonders does he mean by that in the very wide ranging sentence that it is positioned in? Is he perhaps referring to the fact that Scotland was a paid up and profiteering partisan to the empirical expansionism of the British Empire and that as a result it benefited from gains made all over the world at the expense of others nations? I think he is. But is he going to dwell on all that. No. Three words will do nicely - 'Spoils of Empire'. Surely he will want to tell us that Scottish hands were as guilty as English hands in the cruel and evil exploits of the slave trade? No? We are not going to hear about that because it would prove that human nature is universally capable of both good and bad despite national borders and that Scotland is in that respect no different. In more recent times look at the catastrophic folly the Scottish based and Scottish managed banks got up to about ten years ago? Different than similar establishments in England or America? I don't think so. Do You? Are we not to dwell on that? Vic has a big carpet in his house methinks to put things under. So if you want to sell me the idea that human nature is somehow different, or better, or worse north of the border you will have a very hard sell indeed. Sell me that different parts of the world enjoy different and distinctive artistic expression - that I will buy. But they are not the same thing. So I do think there is evidence in Vic's book that he is investing in the idea of nationalism for the sake of nationalism in order to try to get a good read, when in fact the book would have been better without all that as indeed the 'Rip It Up' exhibition in my opinion is.
It is time for me to confess. I am English. I was born in England and have lived in Edinburgh for 40 years, though with a Canadian father and an English mother I could argue that I am only as English as Donald Trump is Scottish. More on him later. According to Vic's rules for allowing some non Scottish born individuals to feature in his book I am entitled to call myself Scottish. You won't believe it, but I have a good Scottish friend born and living in Scotland who says that I am allowed to think of myself as Scottish, (due I think to time served). But I consider myself a grateful guest in Scotland, and I am always ready for that late night knock on the door for eviction or worse. Actually, I have been told that such things are done in the early hours of the morning and when I would be wearing only pyjamas - and after writing this I suppose I am more likely than before to get the knock on the door or worse. For the hatred of the English is something I have personally experienced, from the middle or 'liberal' classes, who claim the moral high ground and always know better than others - and that hatred seems to me to be (arguably) pretty much verging on some very dangerous territory indeed. Ironically it was an artist, who, in conversation referred me to my 'race' in a vicious knife stabbing way on several occasions when I was eighteen and, history not having been my strong subject, I was totally taken aback by that attack. It was a wound that has never healed. Born in Scotland, living in Scotland, working in Scotland I could say he is a Scottish Artist, but I won't for to do so would fall into the trap Vic has fallen into. I do not hate that individual. I like and respect him, and there is nothing he can do about that - that is my revenge. In the end I did listen, I did not turn my back, but that was not what was required. It was the old adversarial status quo that he wanted to have continued and seemed happier with. I am minded to think that a danger in nationalism is the temptation to look outside of yourself to find fault rather than inside yourself. This is getting close to stirring up some nasty stuff but Vic has chosen a pathway leading to exactly that because of his interest in nationalistic categorisation and the animosity towards 'London', which dare I say it, might reek of envy. Not once does he refer to any merit at all in the record industry in 'London'. Vic's thinking is lazy thinking designed to stir base feelings and in so doing patronises the reader and demeans the Art and in this case the musicians who make it and that is why I find it depressing, patronising and demeaning.
I am going to make a few notes on the chapters, though ideally I would prefer to go into far greater detail, if time would only permit.
In chapter one Vic writes that Lonnie Donegan may have been London based but was rooted in Scottish and Irish traditions. Donegan left Scotland aged ten. What is the relationship between a persons age or time in a place and cultural roots? How is it calibrated? We are not told. So although Donegan was based in London for decades, after the age of ten he never grew any roots in English musical tradition? Does one stop being aware of the musical traditions around one or stop being constructively influenced by those surrounding musical traditions at the age of ten? Moving on, surely Vic can do better than simply saying that London's attitude to rock and roll in Scotland was muted and that Scotland was regarded as a backwater. Can we have some evidence? A press clipping perhaps, or a reference to some journalistic record? Surely that would have been a chance to prove those odds that Scottish pop artists surmounted? Only six paragraphs later we are told that Decca, CBS and Polydor were 'snapping up' northern talent and I am sure that by northern he means in this case Scotland. Is that 'snapping up' a muted response by those London based record companies? I don't think so. I gather that in the 1980's London based record companies flew up every weekend looking for Scottish talent. On the one hand he says that Scottish artists were ignored, but on the other he goes on to say how well many of them did in London. Why does not being ignored in Scotland mean less than being ignored by London if at the same time it is the nationalism of Scottish music that he cherishes?
He takes great pleasure elsewhere in the book telling us all about the dozens of music halls that were always so vibrant in Scotland. He writes that Scottish music had developed a close kinship with Black American music and that 'perhaps it was a shared struggle and suffering that working class people felt on either side of the Atlantic'. Why does he use the word 'perhaps'? Either Vic thinks it did or it did not or he has not really got an opinion of his own. Is Vic telling us that someone else knows better than he does, hence the caveat 'perhaps'? If he is not sure, is this connection no better or worse than wishful thinking that fits in with his ideas that Scotland was so very oppressed and handicapped by a special oppression not suffered elsewhere apart from that suffered by Black American (his words) musicians? There are a lot of perhapses in this book. Vic will tell you facts he knows, but I think he is weak on what he thinks, or has chosen to not to show his hand - or someone has been unsuccessfully editing his book with a view to not upsetting anyone too much.
He informs us that Donovan was born in Glasgow and stayed, like Donegan until he was ten years old but although he moved to London his music harked back to his Scottish roots? Harked back? How? I'm not contradicting Vic but could we have been given just one example to illustrate the harking back? The lyric 'How high the gulls fly over Islay' for example. I heard that song when I was about 12, growing up in 'London'. How much of his music harked back? A couple of paragraphs later he describes Donovan as British, not Scottish. Donovan is, I think, the only artist that Galloway calls British whilst calling all others Scottish, and that is inconsistent.
Artists 'moving to London' is a recurring theme and you will read it over and over again in this book. Curiously, moving to London does not make a Scottish artist into an English artist but an English artist moving to Scotland turns him or her into a Scottish Artist worthy of inclusion in Vic's book. This is not fair! It's ridiculous - and aptly exposes the folly of Vic's thinking. For example Lloyd Cole (and there are other examples of other individuals too in the book) - born in Derbyshire, a student in Glasgow and living for a long time now in the USA wins four paragraphs in Vic's book and is qualified by Vic as a Scottish artist.
David Byrne left Scotland when he was only two years old, but that still qualifies him to have his book 'How Music Works' on sale at the 'Rip It Up' exhibition. I accept that even Vic is hesitant about the validity of claiming that David Byrne is a Scottish artist though he does ask the question on page 185. So he seems at least to be getting close to setting up a parameter. Somewhere between the age of two and ten it seems there is a cut off point beyond which Vic can claim you to be a Scottish Artist for eternity. Moving on, never does Vic say that some moved to London because they wanted to. Maybe none of them wanted to, but that seems a bit far fetched. Music is universal and international, but not if Vic qualifies you as Scottish, for if he does it is not your music that is universal or international, it is your Scottish music that is universal and international, and whatever influences you may gain from experience of cultures whilst living outside of Scotland, you are bound to be a Scottish artist.
He insists that we see how great Scottish Popular music is. This is patronizing because it implies firstly that we don't know that already, and secondly it detracts from the art of music itself by tying it to nationhood or nationality when surely those are elements that Art is free from. He says that in the 50's and 60's Scotland was 'still' regarded as a cultural backwater. Since when? Since the Scottish Enlightenment or was it 'still' a backwater even then?
If there was all this talent that Vic tells us there was, (and I agree with him on that) then how could it be a backwater? What he means I think is that the many artists in Vic's backwater were not made famous in Scotland when they started playing and performing and recording. Is it fame and commerciality that Vic is using as the measurement for success? If so that is surely one of the most nauseatingly patronizingly and outdated ideas of all about how an artist values his or her own work or indeed how their audience do too. Building his case that in Scotland there was tremendous hardship the likes of which only Black Musicians in America experienced he does not take on board in his book a connection between hardship and creative achievement. You cannot invest in the idea that hardship is tragic whilst at the same time not thinking that had there not been the hardship there would not have been the art. Is it not the case that hardship and suffering often go hand in hand with the making of great Art? Here we have the great paradox of course, and this is not Vic's fault though he is party to it as we all are - We complain about the suffering, we have heartfelt empathy for those that suffered, but we cherish the art that came from it - we buy it - and pretend that we are not at least indirectly giving foundation to that suffering and do not secretly crave more of it so we can buy yet more.
More 'moving to London'. I wonder if Vic will ever have to move to London. I suppose he will have to if he wants to 'make it'. I wonder if he has at least checked it out. He must feel terribly misunderstood in Scotland. I do so feel for him. Who here is going to tell him he is good? Who is going to write a book about him?
Prog Rock does not find favour in this chapter.
Even yet more 'moving to London'. I wonder if anyone ever left London? Sorry, just trying to make it interesting with a little humour. In the 70's successful 'stars' left London to avoid the 'odds' of Dennis Healey's 98 pence in the pound tax on the rich affecting them. Some may even have left London for other reasons. And was it that there was some kind of a sound barrier put up at the Scottish border that prevented recordings Scottish artists made down south from being enjoyed in Scotland? Surely any recordings Scottish born artists made south of the border would have been poisoned by something terrible there, especially in London? - but time and again Vic illustrates that this was not the case by saying that many did some of their best work outside Scotland. How can this be? Could it be because 'place' is not the critical factor in successful creativity and that talent is?
It seems to be in chapter four where Vic first starts to get really excited, informing us of the wonders of Postcard Records, Fast Product and Pop Aural and their associated bands. Perhaps he knows some of the people involved. At last record companies were being set up here to rival London. But why they were short lived is glossed over. He indicates that these record companies were of merit - successful dare I say. What was it that stopped them surviving? What was it that they did not have that the 'London' record companies had, companies that did survive and last? Vic has no answer to this and does not even ask the question.
In the third paragraph from the end he informs us that 'punk' started out as a working-class phenomenon but ended up being saturated by middle class kids and art school drop outs. Really? Like who for example? How very convenient that this was where it 'ended up' - with presumably that lowest form of life on Planet Earth - the art school drop out. How does he reach this conclusion without hearing this art school drop out music? He must have heard these middle class kids to reach this conclusion so they must have achieved at least some kind of audio manifestation and therefore they could be named. These kids are not just the only kids in the book, they are the only people in the book who do not have names. Infamy I suppose. Are they 'kids' because they are middle class? No one else in the book is described as a 'kid'. So who are they? I wonder if he means people who dropped out of their course at Art School, or people who completed it but to whom this label can still be applied to them for the rest of their lives in the way that the label Scottish Artist can be applied to those he favours. This is classic inverted snobbery. Does Vic thinks that Art Schools should be closed, especially if they create drop outs? How could anybody any good come from Art School? Oops the Rezillos did. But they were alright weren't they. They didn't drop out. They kept to Vic's rules. You must never drop out. You must conform just like The Rezillos, or did they conform more as The Revillos? Vic will know. All others from Art school or perhaps any form of further education should be sent, metaphorically speaking, doon t'pit shouldn't they? This is the kind of inverted snobbery you get from those so heavily invested in what they perceive as the moral high ground that they must do all they can to keep the working-class working class or they would lose their investment. You won't get a definition of what Vic thinks working-class is in his book. Does he mean people who work for a living, for example doctors, surgeons, airline pilots, farmers, bus drivers, postmen, fishermen, lawyers, advocates, artists, DJ's, teachers, nurses etc etc etc? Or does he only mean some people who work for a living who pass some test that suits Vic? Does he mean people who, whatever occupation they have, encumber any children they have with the label working-class whatever occupation their children have in order to make a living? Or does he mean those who do not work for a living are working-class? Or does he mean those who vote Tory? What is the test? I think that if Vic were to be probed further in this area he would reveal some outdated attitudes. And yes, I know what I am talking about. I spent 18 years as a bus driver in Edinburgh. Is that working class? Is it up to me to have the answer to that or is it up to Vic and those in his 'class' whatever that may be? Does he think working-class is a state of mind entertained by those who do not consider themselves working-class? Get out of the comfy studio and your swivel chair and your hi tech controls, and away from your sycophants and their PRS royalty cheques and get doon t'pit yourself Vic. I hope the pits or t'mills are re-opened just for you. I doubt many others will want to work down them again. Vic has chosen to bring in the issue of social class so I think it is perfectly reasonable to engage with him about the categorizations he makes. I didn't find all that sort of thing going on when I visited the 'Rip It Up' exhibition.
There are many references to John Peel and how instrumental he was. How could that be? He was not Scottish. He broadcast from 'London' that terrible wicked place that stole so many from Scotland and which had the successful record companies. I am reminded in this chapter of the talk from politicians of how they welcome talent from all over the world to settle in Scotland, but I doubt they send an apology to the places of their origin saying 'we are sorry such talented people have left your nation and come to our nation'. But when 'Scottish' talent leaves Vic's Scotland, we are invited to think it at least a great shame, if not a great tragedy. Pure hypocrisy.
Why isn't Bowie in the book as a Scottish artist? He lived in Scotland with his wife Angie. Why isn't he in the book? Bowie cared enough about Scotland to send his son Duncan to (correct me if I am wrong) a state owned and 'working-classes' school called Gordonstoun and to offer his suggestion on how people in Scotland should vote in the 2014 referendum for Scottish Independence. He lived in Scotland long enough to have Scottish culture 'bred' into him just like Vic says Northern Irish members of Snow Patrol had it 'bred' into them in Dundee and Glasgow. See the end of the first paragraph on page 160 where Vic writes referring to Snow Patrol ' They may be Irish-born and America-based but they were definitely Scottish bred.' How long does it take, this breeding? The word 'bred' seems to me to be a term with very sinister overtones and would have been better avoided. Why is Bowie not in the book as a Scottish artist? He had already written and recorded the great song Space Oddity and he lived in a flat owned by Lindsey Kemp in Drummond Street, Edinburgh around 1970 and the gig he did at The Edinburgh College Of Art is reported to be the first gig he wore make up in, the make up that he was soon developing as Ziggy Stardust. See, Ziggy came from Edinburgh! It all makes sense - except that Bowie is not in the book. But then this was still the time before the Great Blossoming Vic tells us about so perhaps Bowie was wearing the 'grubby jeans' Vic refers to disparagingly elsewhere in his book - after all it was the early 70's. Perhaps Vic would have mistaken him for an art school drop out had he been there at the time or a middle class 'kid', or perhaps he would have foreseen that he would send his son to Gordonstoun and that would not have fitted in with Vic's ideals. Who knows. Lloyd Cole came from Derbyshire and lived in Glasgow and he is in the book. Snow Patrol members from Northern Ireland were students in Dundee and they are in the book - so why isn't Bowie who lived in Edinburgh in the book as a Scottish artist? I hope I am being suitably absurd here to expose the absurdity of the nationalist spin and inverted snobbery that Vic has employed in his book.
I love it that he says Scotland was 'socially conservative and also left-leaning'. Is that supposed to be the best of both worlds? Is it a statement to make university students studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics before going on to be parliamentary secretaries and then MP's salivate and giggle with amusement? In any event it has to be the second oxymoron of the century. Right on Vic. He says Art reflected both sides of the 'divide'. How very astute of him. He describes jeans worn by those in the 1960's as being 'grubby'. This is all rubbish.
Moving on in the chapter - When artists are offered and choose to receive accolades such as Order Of The British Empire from the British Establishment and in person from the Royal Family suddenly 'London' is not referred to quite so disparagingly. Did well deserving artists refuse or accept these symbols of recognition for their contribution to Art on the grounds that they were Scottish Artists or did they accept them or refuse them on the grounds that they were British Artists or did they accept or refuse them without such qualified grounds? I don't t know and I suggest neither does Vic. Maybe he should ask them.
I put it to you that this is a shallow book, useful, as far as I can tell in historical detail about music being made in Scotland up to the current time, but because there is no solid subjective thinking behind it the book it will soon be superseded by the next more up to date book. Hence Vic's social media activity to get as many sales in before the sell by date kicks in and another more up to date book is written. Will there really be much demand for the book in three years time or so? If there is little point in buying it a few years down the road then what is the point in buying it now? He is right to glorify music made in Scotland, but if he is to make the kind references to the social landscape of Scotland that he has chosen to do, then I think he has weakened the standing that this book could have enjoyed had that aspect been done in such a way that people like me would not challenge it, unless it is the case that I am alone.
So let's go back to Vic's book. We are told that although the initial impact of punk had subsided, its ferocity and anti authoritarianism still permeated youth culture. It must have subsided an awful lot then! Lazy writing. I thought Vic said that it had been taken over by 'kids' from middle class families and that lowest form of life the art school drop out?
Yet more John Peel 'recognition' - from England! We are entertained with a plug for Finiflex's new album. Why? Look forward to your PRS royalty cheques next July boys, somehow I think Vic will be playing your tracks every night.
Scotland has the best audiences in the world we are told. We like to party and we are proud of that we are told. This is and was surely nirvana here in Scotland? Loads of venues stretching way back in time. Forty dance halls kept their doors open after the second world war we are told and he goes into detail - and there was an avalanche of new acts - but I thought you said it was a backwater here? C'mon Vic. You can't have it both ways. New venues cropped up to accommodate the new acts he informs us. Moving on we are told Scotland may have been a step or two behind London. I'm not sure how well that will go down! Vic's pace increases as he waxes lyrical about other bands from outside Scotland visiting The Apollo in Glasgow. What a relief. Despite all the activity since the 1950's we are told that it is only in the late 70's that Scotland began to blossom. We are told for the second time that you had to go to Paisley to get your 'new wave kicks' and we are told that Scotland is 'masterful in a desire to commune, sing, dance and be part of a like minded tribe'. Yes, a tribe. His word, and another somewhat controversial term that might have been better avoided. Ask people at a concert for example if they feel they are part of a tribe.
As we progress into chapter eight I find myself having to really concentrate so as to avoid scanning. Band after band after band that have, 'against all the odds' succeeded - details about which label they signed to and that they 'went to London' or glory be, sometimes 'didn't go to London' or went to London a bit less - and what event heralded their inevitable demise and what some of them went on to do such as do a radio show. I do accept that this is interesting to many readers though. Sorry. It must be great though if you were or are in one of the bands. Then you could look yourself up in the index and see what Vic has written about you, not bother reading the rest of the book, sit back by the fire and contemplate the wisdom of his words, saying to yourself perhaps that you would not have 'put it quite like that', but 'at least I am in the book so it's alright'. You will know that you are important. How else could you possibly tell? Not from your own self respect I suppose, as it is only commercial success that seems, in this book, to be the measure. You will know that you are not one of the lowest of the low i.e. the un-named art school drop out.
One thing we the reader won't be told is how much money the artists earn or how much money Vic will earn. Why not? I am perfectly well aware that for artists it is usually a case of feast or famine, and that 'famine' is highly likely before commercial success on a grand scale. We, the people, we who are not 'stars' and merely mortal pay our small amounts for our digital downloads or our larger amounts for the privilege of seeing the 'stars' who are after all special people with something you and I don't have, an extra eye or something, something far greater than the skills to succeed in other areas. Yes, we are happy to throw our money to these people even if the accumulations they receive can be quite staggering - because they are special. Thus of course they deserve to be infinitely more wealthy than, for example, the nurse who does all he or she can to save our lives in times of extremis. What 'odds' must a nurse overcome to achieve the financial security of the successful popular musician?
The 'stars' I find most ridiculous are the ones who deliberately cultivate an air of mystery by knowingly keeping themselves subtly at a distance. These are the true old school elitists. You will be told that, despite having websites, they are 'very shy' and 'very private'. They think that the more reclusive they appear to be, the more you will be fascinated by them, just like in the old days. Forget the Public Image - for these stars it is about Public Relations, and they have it down to a fine art. If you are really cool, you can give them extra money and get a limited edition artifact in a box with a badge and a T-shirt and who knows, even a little toy you can play with or a magnet to go on the fridge. When you wear the T-shirt they will laugh at you but don't worry they will arrange it so that you will never see them laughing. You will never bump into them in real life because they think that you do not want your illusion that you are inferior shattered. If you are really cool they will never talk to you or look at you. They will look down from the stage and in a voice dripping with contempt, and with a tone mixing that of Max Headroom and Hal the computer in the film called 2001 they will say something like 'Hello Children'. They are the ones who, metaphorically speaking, are driven around in cars with one way glass so that you can see in but they can't see out and have to look at you. They are the ones who will, for a price, allow you to witness their contempt for you. They are the ones who think that you want them up on a pedestal so that you can find your place elsewhere. They are the ones who will never give you what you want because they know perfectly well that what they have is nothing. It is the old tease - the painted lady - it sells. Don't fall for it. Scraping at the barrel, these are the ones who are so bigged up in the media that when it is said 'talent borrows, genius steals' you buy it and are less likely to see that when the formula is reversed, as it is with such stars, it proves that if you steal you are not a genius, you are simply a thief.
Two more chapters to go. Nearly there. We are told for the second time that Scotland could punch above it's weight, but this time 'well' above its weight. I had better check the atlas. Surely Scotland has moved somewhere else. We are told that Travis were one of the last Scottish acts of repute to go to London, but this time Vic tells us that it was the 'right thing to do'. Oh? And who were the bands of ill repute? We are not told. Maybe they had art students in them. We are told that Snow Patrol 'may be Irish born and America based but they were definitely Scottish bred'. Nothing like a spell at Dundee University to breed the Scot into them I propose. We are told that as with Travis, Scotland was 'not initially receptive to KT Tunstall'. What is that supposed to mean? How So? Vic has just told how wonderful Scottish audiences are etc etc - and this was after the Great Blossoming. We are told that KT Tunstall moved to London, but this time it was 'a time honoured move'. I love it!
My challenge to Vic is this. If it is the case that Scotland 'punches above it's weight' as he tells us twice in his book, and I am referring here to the Pop musicians that are the subject of his book, then what is he complaining about? For there are complaints running right through the book. He complains that the Scottish accent was not well received in London. But try piping up even today in an English accent in Scotland and you will very often not be well received. He complains that artists had to go to London. In the introduction he complains that there has been adversity presumably at the hands of the English. That the 'odds were stacked' against Scotland. He complains that Scotland has been 'kept down'. He writes that Scotland has been both an 'outsider and a central player'. He says that 'its' people are 'unified by their poetry songwriting and story telling'. No. It is people that are unified by that not 'its' people. It is a cheap shot to bring in the concept of nationality and apply it to something as universal as the arts. It demeans those involved. It demeans the Art itself. It plays to base instincts. We are to walk away from the exhibition, put down the book after reading it and not think of the music itself, we are to think of it with the qualification that it is Scottish music. I am sure that at least on the subconscious level this is patronizing and nauseating and completely unnecessary. Vic tries, and hopefully fails, to tie the wings of a dove with nationalism so that it cannot fly freely. I put it to you that it is Vic who sees his own bias, his own tendency to keep people down, his own tendency to stack the odds in some peoples favour reflected in the oppressor, who is conveniently always English.
I have seen in the media viewers interviewed after seeing the exhibition have commented that they never knew such and such a band came from Scotland. This seems to me to prove my point that art transcends nationalism. Why should they know or be bothered about where it came from? Is it a prerequisite for enjoying Art that one should look at the label and see where it was made? It is a sign of success that these interviewees did not consider where it had come from. They listened to it and liked it because it is brilliant. These interviewees were not aware of some kind of handicap that Vic seems to imply that the artists had. That is because there was no particular special handicap. The art stands amongst the greatest in the world and so it should. There is not a label on the records that says 'this comes from Scotland where the weather is bad, where the people are more oppressed than they are elsewhere, where the people are stubborn, (Vic's word not mine) and where there isn't a record industry, or that 'against all the odds', (odds that do not exist elsewhere) this record was made'.
It is now time to come to the title of my piece. How Scottish is Donald Trump? What has that got to do with reviewing Galloway's book?
Imagine, if you will Trump being popular in Scotland. Would not everyone be so proud, or to use Trump's words, so so proud. Despite misgivings about America, would we not all, or at least very many of us be proclaiming how great it is that Trump's mother was Scottish and that her son became president of the United States Of America? Wouldn't that be so so great? Would we be embarrassed about it? I don't think so. It would have been something to be proud of just as we would have have been I think had Barack Obama had Scottish ancestry. So here we have a problem in relation to the kind of nationalistic spin I believe that Galloway has invested in throughout his book. It is a problem of consistency and of qualification and selectivity. How can we square the fact that Trump has Scottish Ancestry, Scottish roots that Vic capitalizes on in others, with the fact that he is unpopular? I am not aware of anyone here having cherished the fact that Trump's mother came from Scotland. But wouldn't it have been vastly different had Trump been popular here?
Imagine that a great American musician had a Scottish mother. Imagine that she was a musician and had been a young musician in Scotland before emigrating to America where she started a family. Imagine she had taken characteristics of the musical genre she grew up with during her years in Scotland to America with her, rather like Vic argues that Donovan and Lonnie Donegan did when they moved to London. Imagine too that she passed on that Scottish cultural heritage in music to her young son as he was becoming a musician in his own right and that he did not reject it and that he took on board that cultural heritage and absorbed it so that it became a discernible element in his music just as Vic says that Donovan's music harks back to the artistic forms of his cultural roots in Scotland. I think that when that American musician started creating his own Art the Scottish roots in the music would be cherished by listeners back in Scotland. He might well have been written about in books about Scottish music. So in that case, Scottish heritage and character is to be cherished, but in Trump's case his heritage and his characteristics are not to be cherished. So relishing nationalism is done on a selective basis - it is qualified, it is not a universal. Thus the great danger of the kind of nationalistic spin Vic has employed because, through his enthusiasm, his thinking that verges on wishful thinking, he makes it seem that nationalism is not selective or qualified. But nationalism is selective, it is inconsistent, it is qualified. In other words, it does not really exist.
To try to further clarify what I am trying to get at regarding certain dangers and folly in the nationalism that I believe Vic Galloway employs in his book try this: How Scottish is Donald Trump? Then try this : How English is Donald Trump? - and also try this : How American is Donald Trump? Soon it becomes absurd to categorize by nationality does it not?
It is human nature that exists and it is human nature that is universal, not nationalism. This brings me full circle to the opening of my piece that there are great dangers in emphasizing nationalism. That is the point that I am trying to make.
Vic Galloway's book is titled 'Rip It Up" but Vic rips up nothing. He invests in the old and easy view of Scotland as a nation with a handicap. He invests in and stirs the easy antagonisms of England versus Scotland, and working class versus middle class, Art student versus non Art student in a shallow attempt be politically correct and he uses words such as 'bred' and 'tribe' without even a hint of awareness of how sinister that is. These are the dangers of Nationalism. If others try to challenge him, or if others try to rip up his premise and you don't like it then Vic Galloway is your man. Vic will sew the torn pieces back together again..
Stephen Harrison. 22nd July 2018, Edinburgh