Brian Ferguson: Time to rip it up and start again on music policy

Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum Scotland celebrating Scottish Pop Music through the years. Picture: Greg MacveanRip It Up exhibition at the National Museum Scotland celebrating Scottish Pop Music through the years. Picture: Greg Macvean
Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum Scotland celebrating Scottish Pop Music through the years. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scottish culture was in need of a serious lift last week in the gloomy aftermath of the devastating fire damage at Glasgow School of Art and the O2 ABC, writes Brian Ferguson.

The opening of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the unveiling of Rip It Up, the National Museum’s history of Scottish pop exhibition, were an undoubted tonic after days of anger, dismay and soul-searching in Glasgow.

As others have said, the fire at the much-loved music venue in Glasgow was harder to take personally. The first cinema I was taken to as a child also played host to some of my favourite live gigs in the city in recent years after its reboot as a concert venue and club.

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It remains to be seen if the ABC building will suffer the same fate as the much-revered Apollo, demolished in 1987 after a fire just two years after its closure.

I was only reminded of the Apollo’s sad demise after returning from the launch of the National Museum’s “Rip it Up” exhibition armed with Vic Galloway’s accompanying book, in which he recalls how the Apollo “eventually crumbled and was left to rot.”

Part of the book offers a rollercoaster ride exploring the changing fortunes of the music scenes in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was a revelation to discover the Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow’s most famous venue, was actually burnt to the ground and then completely rebuilt in 1960.

It is also worth recalling that it had been lying empty for well over a decade by the time it was brought back to life when Simple Minds used it to film a video for 1983 single Waterfront.

As the book recalls, Glasgow has simply never looked back, thanks to the advent of venues like The 13th Note, King’s Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Bloc, Broadcast, SWG3, Stereo and the Clydeside behemoth, the SSE Hydro.

Before this month, it had just one major blot on its copybook with the closure of The Arches.

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However the book offers a depressing reminder of how the once-vibrant live music scene in Edinburgh has declined over the decades, with the demise of venues like Tiffany’s, The Venue, Calton Studios, The Picture House, the original Bongo Club and Cafe Graffiti biting the dust.

Edinburgh has stolen something of a march on Glasgow with the National Museum exhibition. It has also helped ensure the return of Leith Theatre to the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time in 30 years with an official tie-in showcase of Scottish music.

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But unfortunately efforts of a similar venture lined up at Summerhall arts centre to mark the opening of the exhibition were soured by cack-handed treatment by the city council, which has come under repeated fire for its handling of the city’s live music scene.

I doubt its harshest critics would have predicted the council would visit Summerhall minutes after an outdoor gig by home-town heroes Idlewild and insist Saturday’s planned all-day festival be held indoors on the basis of a couple of complaints from neighbours.

One great irony is that the capital’s councillors and their officials were happy to bask in the reflected glory of the exhibition’s launch – presumably unaware the rug was about to pulled from Summerhall’s plans. Another is that Summerhall has probably done more than any other venue in the city to try to kickstart a revival in Edinburgh’s ailing music scene in recent years.

There was no-one joking at Summerhall at their treatment, which has instead turned the city council into a laughing stock at what should be a time of musical celebration.

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