Local Heroes

A week stuffed full of different types of culture in Edinburgh this week. On Wednesday, I went the art school for a music industry session organised by Edinburgh University’s careers service as part of their Creative and Cultural Careers Festival.

Now, of course, becoming a writer isn’t necessarily the best step to take for career purposes.

I’ll become a partner in an asbestos factory, if it’s all the same to you.

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The real reason I was there, was I’d gotten word that one of the speakers was Stewart Henderson, co-founder of Chemikal Underground records (Bis, Mogwai, Arab Strap, Cha Cha Cohen, Magoo, many, many others) and former bassist of The Delgados. Skip to the bottom. You’ll understand.

Then on Saturday, I was at Summerhall, the former vet school, venue, creative hub and studio/workshop space. Iain Macwhirter, the former host of Westminister Live and Edinburgh University rector, and current political commentator for The Herald and the Sunday Herald, was in discussion about his new book – Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won A Referendum But Lost Scotland.

And who doesn’t like a dishy Scotsman of a certain age?

Macwhirter noted the crossover between the creative community and the independence movement. Still, these should have been – and were – quite different nights. Nevertheless, they had a couple of things in common. Yes, I was at both of them. But, although it wasn’t something that either night focused on, there was something else.

This is probably one of those times it’s best to note that while this post has been inspired by the people mentioned within, the opinions in the blog post are entirely my own, as are any inaccuracies.

At the music industry night, I asked Stewart how – notwithstanding that Chemikal wasn’t formed, first and foremost, as a vehicle for The Delgados – he thought trying to distribute and share the music of his band and their pals and contemporaries would look different today.

The shirts and haircuts will have to change, for a start

Not least, he thought that Chemikal had gotten in under a temporal wire. He spoke about the impact of the interwebz, of course. How – to many people’s surprise – vinyl had become a lifeline for many labels. Most interestingly for me, he spoke about the East End Social project in 2014, a summer-long collection of alternative concerts and community dances curated by Chemikal.

At the time, he spoke about it with The Scotsman, noting that Chemikal is a Bridgeton company, based in the East End of Glasgow.

From Chemikal Underground’s point of view, while being a record label will always be a core part of what we do, I wonder if there’s a role for us as time moves on to be seen as more of an arts organisation that’s doing stuff in the east end, with music at the heart of everything we do.

Indicatively, one of the venues for the Social was Easterhouse arts venue Platform, where Chemikal and former Delgado Alun Woodward was music programmer.

On Saturday, Iain Macwhirter was speaking of – not to – The Scotsman. Like all Scottish newspapers other than the Sunday Herald, The Hootsmon took a staunchly Naw position in its referendum coverage.

“Whit dae ye want? That’s no even oor paper!”

Ian Wiki writes. “The Scotsman was launched in 1817 as a liberal weekly newspaper… in response to the ‘unblushing subservience’ of competing newspapers to the Edinburgh establishment. The paper was pledged to ‘impartiality, firmness and independence’.” When I was a kid, The Scotsman was taken by pretty much everyone’s folks, and in Scotland was spoken of in the same breath as The Times or The Grauniad. Then in the mid-nineties the title was taken over by the Barclay Brothers, who installed Andrew Neil as editor and set about reinventing the paper as a mid-market title with a British outlook.

The Scotsman‘s daily circulation is now around 16,000 a day.

“Brillo Pad” Neil celebrates a new circulation record

As the United Kingdom general election (7 May) approaches, the polls indicate that the Labour Party in Scotland is going into meltdown, with the SNP on course to win 56 of the 59 Westminster seats. Iain Macwhirter painted this as part of a larger picture in which we appear to have come to the end of a chapter in European politics in which political movements were most closely related to positions vis-a-vis the labour movement. The resulting void, he surmised, is being filled by parties associated with national identity.

Gives one the shivers a wee bit, no? But Macwhirter certainly wasn’t painting a picture of a Scottish BNP or NF or UKIP. On the contrary, he posited that the Scottish electorate and their representatives would be happy to support a progressive agenda at Westminster pending possible independence. In fact, he suggested that if the benefits of North Sea oil had been directed to the advancement of the post-war United Kingdom social project (instead of the advancement of London as a world financial capital – and capital), the Scots would have been happy to have helped out and we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in today.

Glasgow celebrates Britain’s Andy Murray in the Davis Cup at the Emirates Arena

In fact, on the ground, it seems that people are refocussing their activism at a local level more than a national level. Various groups that were active in the referendum debate have resisted absorption into a more centralised movement, whether they be Women for Independence, sections of the National Collective, the Radical Independence Campaign, or Common Weal.

Around the same time as these organisation were blooming, Chemikal was hosting the Social. Something’s going on, and it’s not related solely to the independence movement. I’m trying to figure out what it means for me. In terms of sharing my art. In terms of helping the local society. In terms of being supportive of the brain injury community.

One of the strands that came through at the Creative and Cultural Careers Festival on Wednesday – although I’m not sure if anyone used the words – was that D-I-Y is still an important part of the scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops. Many of you will be ahead of me in this. My mother was active in the local community as a church elder, and promoting ecumenism. I wonder if it’s taken so long to reset my outlook because we’ve spent so long in Britain and abroad, and in culture at large, set our individual sights so high. Where the gatekeeping is easier.

...and maybe *you* can meet a member of Birds Fate!
Speaking of D-I-Y, get along to the next generation of ScotLit! (pic credit: M. Tonsy)

I’m reminded of how helpful my initial stroke support groups were after I was released from hospital. And how much Longsufferinggirlfriendoftheblogbeth and I took from the Aneurysm Awareness group lead by by neurosurgeon. We still have friends from these group, as well as people we’ve met online. (Don’t forget to check out the blog roll!) Which indicates, like the observation on North Sea oil above, that locality needn’t be solely geographic. It can be a shared mindset, or a shared aspiration. For empathy maybe, or a sharing of the human experience.

That is, thanks for reading today. Here’s your moment of Zen.


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