The success of the Rip It Up exhibition about Scottish pop music at the National Museum of Scotland cries out for similar treatment of this country’s contribution to film, television and theatre, writes Brian Ferguson.
It was gone 10pm on Friday night and the grand gallery of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh was resounding to the instantly recognisable refrain of Simple Minds anthem Don’t You Forget About Me.
Around 1,200 revellers were gathered beneath a giant glitterball in a scene strangely resembling something between a school reunion and a 1980s disco.
It was a moment to reflect on the museum’s remarkable achievement in staging the first major exhibition on the history of Scottish pop and rock music – Rip it Up – and wonder how on earth Glasgow slipped up by not getting there first.
But it was also an occasion which seemed to underline the modern-day transformation of the Victorian museum.
As Friday night drew to a close to a cacophony of cheers a friend remarked: “You wouldn’t have seen this in here ten years ago.”
It’s certainly true that the idea of museums and galleries throwing opening their doors for after-hours public events was pretty much a gleam in the eye a decade ago.
Now visitor attractions see such events as a key way of attracting new audiences through their doors.
However, museums and galleries have also had to rethink their approach to major exhibitions in order to widen their appeal.
Kelvingrove in Glasgow staged major celebrations of Kylie Minogue and AC/DC before the National Museum hatched its plans, while the V&A in London has had huge success with its exhibitions devoted to David Bowie and Pink Floyd.
What was markedly different about Rip it Up was that it was an unashamedly Scottish celebration of music, spanning more than half a century and highlighting acts as varied as Lonnie Donegan and Lulu to Franz Ferdinand and Young Fathers.
The exhibition has worked wonders in the interest it has generated in acts whose influence and legacy has never properly been recorded before, along with the numerous events it has inspired, including a flagship strand of the Edinburgh International Festival, the TV and radio documentaries, and an official book.
But Rip it Up has also been an unprecedented celebration of Scottish culture, of such a size and breadth that it does prompt the immediate thought: “What next?”
The prospect of a new BBC Scotland channel and the opening of a creative hub in Glasgow by Channel 4 are heralding something of a new era for the broadcasting industry north of the Border. Could the time be right for the first major celebration of ‘Scotland on Screen’, whether confined to the TV world, or broadened out to embrace cinema?
If the National Museum had a hard job cramming the nation’s musical history into an exhibition, imagine the challenge of capturing the evolution of the screen industry, from Whisky Galore! to Outlaw King, via Scotsport, Tutti Frutti, Scotch and Wry, Monarch of the Glen, Taggart, River City and Still Game.
An entirely different exhibition could be created around a ‘Scotland on stage’ theme, drawing on the archives of the nation’s great theatres, and the collection of the National Theatre of Scotland, which has entered its second decade.
The fact Rip it Up is expected to have attracted 50,000 music fans through its doors by the end of its run – enough to fill Hampden Park – would seem to suggest the demand is there for a fitting follow-up.