Mrs Stroke Bloke and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary this past weekend.
And what a pleasant day our anniversary was. We started off at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, which was featuring a Bridget Riley exhibition. I found that some of the impact of seeing her work for the first time in New York many years ago had faded. YMMV, obvs.
For more uninformed opinion, check out the Apoplexy Tiny Letter. Or BBC politics correspondent Norman Smith trying to talk about Scottish politics on the PM show.
Just listened back to this. An astonishing (and self-admitted) display of ignorance. https://t.co/gRu1FxcWdz
— Ricky Monahan Brown (@ricky_ballboy) April 18, 2017
From there, we proceeded to the National Portrait Gallery, which turned out to be the highlight of the day. Although Pizza Express is very good. The gallery was presenting the 2016 iteration of the BP Portrait Awards, but what was quite striking was the number of eminent contemporary Scots – whether by residence or accident of birth – who made up much of the permanent collection.
It’s oft-remarked that we have a tendency to think of ourselves as a wee country, and the telly and the radio and the papers – as a rule – tend to reinforce that tendency. In a similar vein, I remain amazed that I wasn’t aware of Cairnpapple Hill until I was 41!
It’s something of that “Scottish cringe” that made seeing Bill Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy and Michael Hoffman’s Restless Natives – each set in recognisable Scotland – for the first time such an exciting experience. Hey, we exist! We have stories! The comparable musical experience was my televisual introduction to punk, many years after the event.
I first properly got to know about (primarily British) punk at an impressionable age through a fab documentary on Channel 4, packed with live music snippets from The Sex Pistols to The Buzzocks to Joy Division to Iggy Pop.
The common wisdom among my generation, I think – to the extent anyone ever thought about it – was that punk was never really a thing up here, give or take The Skids, from across the Forth Road Bridge in Fife. Imagine, then, my amazement when watching Big Gold Dream yesterday. BGD is the story of a couple of Scottish indie labels that basically invented indie and their associated crowd, that brings together a lot of the stuff that underlies the sensibility of this blog.
Stroke hero Edwyn Collins features, of course. And the incredible Davy Henderson’s Fire Engines and Win! (familiar to readers of the Apoplexy Tiny Letter). And names that the Scottish indie music punk nerd – Hi, mom! – will recognise from myth and lore, like Josef K and Scars. But the really crazy feeling is watching scuzzy moving images of Edinburgh seen across the roofs of Waverley Station as the backdrop to this. Looking iconic, like grey rainy Manchester skies or graffiti-ed East Village walls. New Town streets that I was walking along yesterday evening. And then realising that Edinburgh’s Fast Product released the first records by the Human League, the Gang of Four, and the Mekons.
And hearing Fast Product’s Bob Last talking about how it seemed natural for Scotland to be talking to the world. Like it doesn’t matter where you’re from: Sheffield, Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow, Greenpoint.
DIY AF. I love it.