Kevin Buckle: Why make music if it never reaches people?

Edinburgh-based composer Anna Meredith won last year's SAY award for her third album, Varmints
Edinburgh-based composer Anna Meredith won last year's SAY award for her third album, Varmints
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While pleased to see most of my own picks in the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) award longlist I quickly realised that many of the albums selected did not have distribution so it would be difficult for them to make the most of the nomination even in Scotland, never mind in those UK shops known for supporting Scottish music.

Initially with the SAY award any longlisted album that was only a download had a CD made and given distribution. Now in these changed times while physical product is not a great issue, distribution is.

The restoration of the Leith Theatre would cost an estimated �10m. Picture: Chris Scott

The restoration of the Leith Theatre would cost an estimated �10m. Picture: Chris Scott

The focus has also switched on the high street from indies to HMV and FOPP. Labels and artists will I’m sure be given the opportunity to have their titles stocked but the lack of infrastructure goes to the heart of the problem in the Scottish music industry.

All the focus is on making music and reaching people with that music is given little thought at all. What this longlist has done is to highlight that it is not just the small artists this affects but many of Scotland’s bigger labels and artists. The reason for all this, of course, is obvious. Having distribution is a trade-off in sales and these days labels have clearly chosen to sacrifice a wider reach for direct online sales.

I have been saying all this for some time but I also said it only really matters to the top five per cent. However, that is of course who you would hope would appear in the longlist. They are not the only artists that would benefit from being more widely available and not necessarily just in the UK but it would take a serious rethink to achieve this now.

The SAY award itself as a celebration of the album is I think still a useful tool in these days when bands release a single simply by making a track available as a download. Stewart Henderson of Chemikal Underground got the whole thing off the ground from scratch and having spoken to his successor, Robert Kilpatrick, recently it still seems to be in safe hands, but the wider structure of which it is a part is a worry.

Kathryn Joseph, 2015’s victor, showed that if you want to make the most of winning you can but the actual winning seems to have little impact. This may be a sign of the times as this is also now true of the Mercury prize. This being the case, whether these album awards will continue is something for the future.

Avalanche may do its own bit in the future but what is frustrating is that while privately many agree something needs to be done people understandably don’t want to stick their head above the parapet. The same old gatherings and events are organised every year by the music industry and nobody ever seems to see the irony in inviting people to talk about how rapidly things are changing at events that never do.

Let’s hope it isn’t moonshine on Leith

There is no doubt that fully restoring the Leith Theatre would be a boost to the number of venues in Edinburgh but given the £10 million quoted to achieve that it will have to be decided how that is justified. For all that was said, the main reason the restoration of the Clerk Street Odeon was delayed for so long was that no developer found the £4.5m needed an economical figure to spend.

If the theatre can be restored without the need for that money to be repaid then the next calculation is whether the running costs of such a large building can be covered each year and I’m sure everybody would hope that could be achieved, though there is a big difference between a short burst of activity and functioning all year round.

Pitched closer to the £3m to £5m needed by the Queen’s Hall than the £45m to be spent on the new concert hall behind the RBS head office on St Andrew Square, you would hope that both the Leith Theatre and the Queen’s Hall will find their own benefactors as the concert hall has done. Otherwise it will be a long haul raising what is a substantial amount of money.

Trying not to be a broken record

I’m well aware of the repeated themes in my column but when you are expected to write about music, culture and business and the same things just continuously happen in those areas it is hard not to repeat yourself and more importantly I think it is important to not stop speaking up until something is done.

With regards to footfall and in particular my old stomping ground the Grassmarket I’m told there are now going to be five footfall counters installed to more accurately record the lack of people visiting. Of course I have to hope that Edinburgh City Council won’t just content themselves with knowing more accurately how bad things are and will actually do something about it.

On the other hand I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these new counters combined with some statistical jiggery-pokery didn’t somehow manage to magically increase the footfall in a way those bins with slogans (pictured above) failed to do.

I’ve had a few inquiries recently about what happened to the development of the King’s Stables Road site that the council agreed to sell quite some time ago now and the answer is that despite the quick progress of the development being a priority the last time I asked a few months ago I was given no information on the basis that a deal hadn’t even been concluded yet.

The council fully recognised that even the watered down proposals that ditched the art centre and “interesting retail” could only help drag footfall through the Grassmarket to the hotel and flats and yet the developers seem to have been allowed to stall all they want.

I can only hope when the newly elected council is finally up and running that it looks into what is delaying things for so long sooner rather than later.