Sue Wilson previews the culture showcase that is Songs for Scotland coming to Glasgow (last remaining tickets are available here at £25)
Those involved in Scottish music over the last 20-odd years (your present author included) have long understood its proliferating vitality and diversity to be at once fuelling and fuelled by contemporaneous political debates over identity and self-determination. Like their counterparts in literature, theatre and visual art, Scottish musicians have sought to create authentically home-grown yet modern modes of expression and representation; to renegotiate their relationship with history, tradition and cultural hierarchies, and to re-envision Scotland as a place from which to engage with the world on a confidently equal footing. Music’s additional advantage over other art-forms is its unique potency as a short-cut direct to the emotions, from euphoria to desolation, a unifying power that’s allied itself with political causes as long as people have been rallying to them – and one which Kevin Brown, producer of the Yes-supporting Songs for Scotland project, believes could ultimately prove decisive in the independence referendum.
Explaining the timing of next week’s Songs for Scotland concert, at Òran Mór in Glasgow, just two weeks before that epochal vote, Brown cites a retired teacher he met recently, while canvassing in his adopted home town of Dunblane: “We were talking about what might still affect people’s decisions, after such a long build-up, and he said, ‘It’s at this stage of these kind of campaigns that emotions come to the fore’ – which is exactly what this project is about. I really believe that hearing the right song at the right moment could tip the balance for some people, with the feelings or memories it stirs; the way a song can resonate with you far more deeply than any discussion, be it Burns or Hamish Henderson or hip-hop.”
All of the above feature among the proud panoply of Scottish music featured both on the 18-track Songs for Scotland digital album (from which a share of proceeds will go to support Bella Caledonia – BUY IT HERE), and in the Glasgow show. Their combined line-ups unite genres and generations from the venerated Highland piper and Gaelic scholar Allan MacDonald to the uncompromising Glasgow rapper and activist Loki; from YouTube star Lady Alba, whose splendid send-up of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ has gone viral on pro-independence networks, to Leith’s favourite sons The Proclaimers; from contemporary Celtic superstars Capercaillie to Gaelic firebrand Griogair Labhruidh, who’ll be making his hip-hop – or Ùp-Àp – debut in that language, in collaboration with DJ Dolphin Boy.
Also performing next week are folk and protest-song icon Dick Gaughan, duetting with his gifted young successor Ewan McLennan on Burns’s ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’; indie-folk luminaries Adam Ross (Randolph’s Leap) and Findlay Napier; award-winning hip-hopper Louie (Hector Bizerk), and a further array of leading folk singers including Emily Smith, Siobhan Miller, Kathleen MacInnes, and honey-throated Gaelic sorority Mackenzie.
With the performers’ only brief being to contribute ‘aspirational’ Scottish songs, clues to the remaining live set-list can perhaps be gleaned from album contributors’ selected material, which encompasses folk classics, popular anthems, eloquent contemporary compositions and quirky covers, such as Ashim’s ‘Caledonia’ and J Duncan Beats’ ‘Letter to America’.
While Songs for Scotland was originally Brown’s initiative (partly in cahoots with Transatlantic Sessions producer Douglas Eadie, who helped him formulate the idea), he’s emphatic in crediting the project’s participants with its realisation. “It’s the music industry in Scotland that’s done this: I’ve just been a facilitator,” he says. “I did a lot of cold calling, to musicians, agents, record company people, and everybody got back to me the next day. If they couldn’t do the show, they wanted to contribute to the album. The overwhelming attitude I encountered was ‘How can we make this happen?’”
For Dave Hook – aka Solareye – MC of Edinburgh hip-hop band Stanley Odd, who feature on the album, it was issues such as social inequality, privatisation, Trident and Westminster attitudes to industrial action – regarding all of which he sees independence as “a chance to do politics differently” – that after long consideration, ultimately confirmed him as a Yes voter. Entirely unprompted, he cites Bella Caledonia as a key source of information and insight while weighing his decision, and an additional factor behind the band’s involvement in Songs for Scotland – together with his own emotional response to current events. “It’s just such an exciting time to be living in,” he says. “Without wanting to overstate things, there is something of the peaceful revolution about what’s happening in Scotland, the way people have engaged with the debate, and when you look at the amount of chaos and violence going on elsewhere in the world, I just feel we have such amazing potential within our grasp.”
Bringing together around 20 individual artists with a 500-strong audience (tickets are going fast), in Òran Mór’s beautiful upstairs auditorium, adorned with Alasdair Gray’s celebrated murals, Songs of Scotland is sure to be an occasion replete with emotion – which will be shared and carried forward by the project’s final key element, a live documentary film recorded on the night by the award-winning team of Mike Gunn and Mark Hirst, and disseminated via social media. “That way we can extend both the musical and emotional impact of the event way beyond those walls, right up to the referendum,” says Kevin Brown. “Obviously all the discussion and argument will carry on too, but I’d like to hope that these singers and songs can affect voters on a different level.”
Tickets are available here.