2017 Arts Preview - The Year Ahead in Pop

Kraftwerk are due to play Edinburgh and Glasgow in June
Kraftwerk are due to play Edinburgh and Glasgow in June
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Scotland’s festival scene is at a crossroads with no Wickerman and breaks for T in the Park and Amber, but a great album or two should lift the gloom

Given the global gloom which settled on 2016, the fervent/desperate hope is that, to quote those sonic seers D:Ream, things can only get better next year. But musical reasons to be cheerful were still thin on the ground only last week, when droll social media commentator and sometime drippy troubadour James Blunt tweeted that “if you thought 2016 was bad – I’m releasing an album in 2017”.

If that isn’t grim enough, the Scottish music festival landscape will look markedly different in 2017. The wonderful Wickerman has shut up shop for good, Loopallu in Ullapool may have to downsize as it moves location and Dougie McLean’s Perthshire Amber festival is on a break.

But the big shift is that T in the Park will be taking a year out. Opinions differ as to whether this means the end of T as we know and love/hate it, a search for a new venue without the logistical and administrative headaches which came with the enforced move to Strathallan Castle in 2015 or simply a fallow year to give organisers time to iron out all the issues which have blighted the festival in recent years.

T promoters DF Concerts will, however, stay in festival shape, having previously announced that they are in talks to offer a three-day, non-camping festival on Glasgow Green. No details of its name, dates or bill have been announced, though Coldplay and Radiohead have both been mooted as possible headliners to appeal to an older crowd.

Thankfully, at the other end of the country, the Tartan Heart festival at Belladrum goes from strength to strength, wasting no time following the T break news in announcing their headliners Franz Ferdinand, supported by KT Tunstall.

Meanwhile, The Stone Roses, no strangers to Glasgow Green, will try out Glasgow’s Hampden Park for size in June, though they have since been somewhat trumped by punk trio Green Day’s decision to spend Independence Day playing in Bellahouston Park rather than in their native US.

Their fellow artistic agitator Marilyn Manson has already made his feelings on the President-elect clear, choosing to debut a teaser video of new music on the day of the US elections, featuring a beheaded Trump proxy. Manson has previously pointed out that bad government can make for good art – potentially true to his word, he is planning to release his latest album, provisionally titled SAY10, on Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than a collection Manson claims has “a chip on its shoulder”?

We should also be hearing more from another noted motormouth in 2017, as Liam Gallagher is working on a new album. Gallagher Jr’s post-Oasis career in the inferior Beady Eye has not been stellar. To his eternal chagrin, big brother Noel, who has a fraction of the charisma but the superior songwriting skills, has enjoyed far greater success with his band High Flying Birds. But there’s nothing like a spot of ferocious sibling rivalry to spur the pair on. Liam has signed to Warner Brothers and is reportedly making a “big, bold and heartfelt” album – just don’t call it a solo effort – while Noel is working on his third solo album, which he hopes to have wrapped up before he makes his annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury to complain about the non-trad rock acts littering the bill.

On the subject of warring brothers, indie pop fans of a slightly older vintage will be curious to finally hear the long promised seventh album by The Jesus and Mary Chain, which appears a mere ten years after the Reid siblings reformed their classic noise pop outfit. Frontman Jim Reid has wryly noted that “in the last couple of years, we’ve buried the hatchet to some degree, and thankfully not into each other. I think it was to do with the fact, dare I say it, that wisdom comes with age.” Damage and Joy, released on 24 March, is their first new music since 1998’s Munki album.

However, the Mary Chain look positively prolific next to rock’n’roll veteran Chuck Berry, who recently used the occasion of his 90th birthday to announce the 2017 release of Chuck, his first album in 38 years, dedicating the record to his wife Thelmetta with the following words: “my darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”

This coming year should also bring the opportunity to hear some new old music recorded by INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in the months leading up to his death in 1997, with which he intended to launch his solo career. A snippet of a track called Kik It has already surfaced and there are plans to unveil the first full song Temptation at listening parties in Sydney and Los Angeles in January to mark the start of the 20th anniversary of his passing, with a documentary and statue unveiling to follow.

Old age punks The Skids celebrate a happier anniversary with a 40th birthday tour which includes dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow on 5 and 6 May. Not to be outdone on the record release front, they are currently crowdfunding for a new album, Burning Cities. Presumably The Skids and many more beloved homegrown heroes will be represented in the proposed History of Scottish Music Centre archive and exhibition which Avalanche Records mainman Kevin Buckle hopes to have open on a site tba by March.

Inevitably, The Skids are not the only veterans in the village. Hailing from the same-yet-different era, Shakin’ Stevens embarks on a bumper tour in the spring to promote his back-to-his-roots album, Echoes of Our Times, while there is 80s/90s boy band nostalgia in the air as Bros reform in the hopes of sweeping up any lost fans who haven’t netted Take That tickets.

Proof that hip-hop can do nostalgia too comes in the shape of the newly announced I Love the 90s tour, set to feature Vanilla Ice, Salt-N-Pepa, Coolio and Tone Loc in one throwback package.

But the hot ticket gigging highlight of the year has to be electronica pioneers Kraftwerk, who play two oversubscribed concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 9 and 10 June. No particular anniversary, no long awaited album, just their timeless, sublime electro pop pulse reverberating through the year(s). ■