Brian Ferguson: The Scottish music industry is heavily male-dominated

Singer KT Tunstall lead the Tartan Day parade. Picture: Getty Images
Singer KT Tunstall lead the Tartan Day parade. Picture: Getty Images
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It is fair to say the heart of the Big Apple has probably seen and heard it all.

Yet there was still something striking about KT Tunstall striding through New York at the head of the annual Tartan Day parade - and it was not just down to her bright red outfit and four-legged companion. As the first female figurehead of the event, she did not miss an opportunity to tackle the thorny issue of the lack of gender equality in the modern-day music business.

She is not alone in noticing the number of festival line-ups almost entirely dominated by all-male acts or male artists. Lily Allen, Pink and Shirley Manson have recently criticised the lack of female representation at events and festivals. Manson, who has fronted the rock band Garbage for 20 years, is among the backers of an international campaign encouraging festivals to sign up to a gender equality pledge. It certainly appears to be far from a level playing field for female artists and musicians in Scotland.

Despite addressing claims it pretty much ignored female musicians when it launched last year, Scotland’s biggest music festival, TRNSMT, still has an all-male line-up of headliners in Queen, Stereophonics, Liam Gallagher. Arctic Monkeys and The Killers. It is the same story at Electric Fields, Kelburn Garden Party, Tiree Music Festival, Best of the West and Butefest. There are some notable exceptions, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, with Paloma Faith and Amy Macdonald two of the three headliners at Belladrum, as well as the Hebridean Celtic Festival and the just-announced Southern Fried Festival of Americana music in Perth. Events which have got female artists relatively high up the bill, like Doune The Rabbit Hole, Eden and Solas, are - like the vast majority of Scotland’s music festivals - still heavily dominated by men-only acts.

It is notable that the event with the most public funding, Edinburgh International Festival is one of the few to give female artists like Anne Meredith, Saint Vincent, Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart and Joan as Policewoman full top billing.

Its biggest ever contemporary music programme is being staged at the old Leith Theatre after it was heroically brought back to life last year by the Hidden Door festival. When it returns there next month it will boast an entirely all-women line-up for its curtain-raiser and become one of the few UK festivals to pro-actively tackle the issue.

It may need a group of female artists, promoters, agents and festival organisers to get together to come up with workable ideas for equal representation to ensure the pace of progress quickens, despite the undoubted political appetite in Scotland for genuine change in every walk of life.

It has been telling that the Edinburgh-based industry convention Wide Days is the only event in Scotland to sign up to the music industry’s most high-profile gender equality campaign, Keychange. An expert panel will examine the issue later this month, while a separate look at achieving “genuine diversity in the arts and equality of expression” will be part of the EIF in August.

Most of the latter’s contemporary music line-up has been specially programmed to coincide with a major exhibition charting the evolution of Scottish pop and rock at the National Museum of Scotland. It is hard to imagine a better backdrop for a debate on the past, current and future contribution of women to the Scottish music industry.