Independence and the rise of the cultural salon
by Kevin Williamson
In an interview in The Herald last week Scott Hutchison, lead singer in Frightened Rabbit, claimed, “Scotland’s creative output is one of the finest in the world.”
Right here, right now, it would be hard to disagree. Awards like the Scottish Album of the Year and the Scottish Book of the Year have caught the zeitgeist with their daring and innovative shortlists which make the Man Booker Prize and the Mercury Music Awards – for all their hype and glitz – look lame, tame and safe in comparison, more like corporate/industry affairs.
When it comes to music, spoken word, short film, animation and visual arts there is a vibrant healthy and experimental grassroots culture developing and what’s really interesting as we approach 2014 is the way these cultures are cross-referencing, overlapping, as well as inspiring each other.
21st Century Scots didn’t invent the concept of a cultural salon – we’ll give 16th century Italians the benefit of the doubt there – but anyone with an ear to the ground would know that cultural salons are currently in vogue in Scotland.
Having cut my teeth on running salons with the Rebel Inc ones in the early 90s, for the last 3 years I’ve co-run the Neu! Reekie! events with poet Michael Pedersen. These monthly events at Summerhall in Edinburgh put on an eclectic mix of music, spoken word, animation and visual art; they attract a great crowd of regulars, and have sold out every month since early 2012. Neu! Reekie! has had poets such as Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and John Giorno read on the same stage as the likes of Primal Scream, The Pastels, Sparrow & The Workshop or Aidan Moffat.
Also in Edinburgh poets Jenni Lindsay and Rachel McCrum put on another fantastically eclectic salon-style cultural cabaret called Rally & Broad. It’s one not to be missed. There are so many innovative cultural happenings popping up all over the place – like magical mushrooms in the September rain – it would be difficult to list them all in one paragraph.
It is encouraging to hear that the always innovative National Collective are about to start hosting regular cultural salons in Edinburgh from next month starting on the 13th December. This an exciting departure from the political norms of public meetings, etc, and an idea which hopefully will be encouraged and spread to every corner of the country.
France in the 18th century was the classic example of how seditious night-time culture-led gatherings of makars, musicians, assorted artists and thinkers often ran parallel to great sociopolitical movements. In times of dramatic social change people want to enjoy themselves – of course! – but also talk worldly affairs into the wee sma’ hours. Not for nothing did Robert Burns say “freedom and whisky gang thegither”.
An undercurrent of imminent social change is never too far from the surface. It is no coincidence that there is a disparate thoughtful political awareness or consciousness developing among many of our artists. In the aforementioned interview Scott Hutchison and his brother Grant spoke of how they had been drawn towards Yes in next year’s referendum.
Next year the official Yes Scotland campaign will be in the spotlight (even more so) and its to their credit that they’ve had the foresight to spread their wings into the cultural arena. This will be an essential, as part of next year’s ongoing dialogue. (When it comes to cultural initiatives the remit has to be the more the merrier, in every locality, under whatever banner suits the people involved).
St Andrew’s Night in Edinburgh marks the launch of what should be a ground breaking departure from the political norms when Yes Scotland facilitate the 2014 Social Club. Like all cultural salons this will be a relaxed seats and tables affair, and with a line-up that is nothing short of sensational. If you don’t know Stanley Odd, Teen Canteen, The Merrylees, Craig Lithgow, Bang Dirty, or the poets Michael Pedersen and Sandra Alland, this is your chance.
These 5 bands/musicians and the 2 spoken word artists are neither established/establishment acts nor safe box office draws. Their average age is in their 20s for one thing. And all of them are on a steep upwards trajectory. In 12 months time it is unlikely such an array of talent will be gathered together on one stage.
If ever there was an event to ask your mates along to – who may steer clear off overtly political events – this is the one. Its strictly a “no speeches” event but with plenty of space to chat and socialise. See you there.