ARE you bored of reading about Creative Scotland? Well, tough; it’s an impossible subject to ignore this week following the resignation of chief executive Andrew Dixon.
The irony of this latest, dramatic development is that virtually none of Creative Scotland’s many critics had actually called for Dixon to resign. Neither does anyone seem to be regarding his departure as a victory, or a solution to the problems with the organisation - which are, according to most of its critics, structural, ideological and deep-rooted. Dixon leaving will not change that one bit.
So what happens next? That depends on the outcome of Creative Scotland’s board meeting, which began yesterday and finishes today. The board has no shortage of feedback to work with - from its own private consultations to open letters from artists, and public events like last month’s Tramway World Cafe, notable for heartfelt contributions from Janice Galloway, David Greig and Karine Polwart (which you can watch/read online at www.tramwayworldcafe.com, should you be interested).
The general consensus is that significant cultural change is needed within Creative Scotland to win back the support of a sector it has spent the last year alienating. If that doesn’t happen quickly, this row will continue to drag on long after Dixon’s departure.
If it’s any comfort to Creative Scotland, this week another open letter was sent to the organisation by a group of artists – but this time a complimentary one. Charles Jencks and Dalziel + Scullion were among the signatories praising CS’s record in Dumfries and Galloway, its “fairer geographical distribution of arts funding” compared to its predecessor, the Scottish Arts Council, and its understanding of “the specific realities of life in rural Scotland”. It’s not clear what this letter is supposed to achieve, mind you. Creative Scotland has been accused of many things this year, but failing to support rural artists is not one of them, so the letter doesn’t invalidate anything that’s already been said. The timing wasn’t great, either – it was sent to the media just as Dixon’s resignation was announced. Oh well.
MUSIC VS JOBSWORTHS
IT’S something of a miracle that Edinburgh has an independent music scene at all, given the frequency with which the capital’s smaller venues get closed down – the Bongo Club, the Venue, the Forest Cafe, the Roxy etc. The latest casualty is Douglas Robertson, a photographer who has been putting on gigs in his home for years now, by everyone from well-known names such as Michelle Shocked and Salsa Celtica to singer-songwriters who are still finding their feet.
The shows are popular, all the money goes direct to the musicians (who, as a result, love playing them), and his neighbours appear, on the whole, to be quite happy (and if any of them aren’t, this is clearly not the problem, otherwise the gigs would be stopping immediately rather than at the end of the year).
So what is the problem? Sheer pettiness and control freakery on the part of Edinburgh City Council, as far as I can see. As a council source told the Edinburgh Evening News last week: “It is a residential property and they are operating as a music venue which they just cannot do.”
Why on earth not? What harm could it possibly do to allow these events to continue? Robertson is no fool, and was careful to try and avoid breaking rules – payment is by donation, no alcohol is sold, and the concerts always finish before 11pm to avoid complaints about noise. So either he wasn’t quite careful enough, or the council has succeeded in finding some minor breach of regulation with which to catch him out. Either way, he’s decided not to fight the decision.
It’s a sad state of affairs – a good idea ruined by people who don’t care that Robertson was offering crucial, much appreciated support to a city’s fragile music scene, only that he’d taken it upon himself to do something without asking them first.
There’s a name for people like this – jobsworths – defined as a “minor factotum whose only status comes from enforcing otherwise petty regulations”. Well, you won’t win, jobsworths. I can think of at least one other person in Edinburgh who is doing something similar to Robertson, motivated by the same passion for music and generosity of spirit. This person has tirelessly supported local musicians and the shows they have been putting on in their home are well attended and well received. (And no, I am absolutely not going to reveal their name).
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL INDEPENDENT MUSIC FAIR
ON THE subject of fragile music scenes, the film Last Shop Standing, a well received documentary about the ups and downs of independent record shops over the past few years, is getting a Scottish screening at the Cameo in Edinburgh on 10 December. Johnny Marr, Norman Cook, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Nerina Pallot and Richard Hawley are among the famous names paying tribute to the unique experience of rifling through records in search of something surprising and new, and there are also interviews with the various colourful characters who run the places. There’s more information on the film at lastshopstanding.com.
In Glasgow this Saturday, meanwhile, you can catch a glimpse of where independent record-selling might go in the future, in the shape of the latest Scottish Independent Music Fair. Labels such as Chemikal Underground, Rock Action, and Gerry Loves will be selling their wares direct to discerning listeners, and there will be live performances from acts on some of the labels too.
Are events like this bypassing independent record shops? No, the shops are invited to set up stalls too, and potentially reach customers who have, for the most part, given up on going to Avalanche in favour of shopping online.
Your local record label and shop need you. Go and support them. It starts at 1pm and entry is free.