We Rule the School
The first time I ever met Stuart Murdoch, he gave me into trouble for swearing at the church hall. Several groups were playing that night – mainly pupils from the local secondary school. Stuart had come down to see what all the racket was about – kindly asking folk to pack up and clear out as they’d gone over their time. This was during the late ‘90s. Years later, I got to know him a little better and he would attend shows, my club nights. He worked with a band on my record label, producing one of their songs, and I think I asked him to narrate a film, too, but by then he’d already snapped me up for his own flick.
When Belle & Sebastian played a concert at an old beer factory in Stockholm a couple of years ago, I went along and there he was on stage, projecting pictures of the Stockholm tunnelbana to an animated audience from his afternoon amble. I think at one point he got onto his holiday pics. The crowd loved it. Proper Belles gig. It’s that kind of irreverence that really makes Scots quite unique.
Upon moving to Stockholm in 2017, I sort of abandoned my previous life in Glasgow. I was proud of what I achieved, but I really wanted to learn my Father’s language, fatten my CV and hopefully learn new skills. The very last thing I worked on before I left was a film called Teenage Superstars which – along with a couple of other films – were sort of my way of saying thanks to writers and musicians like Stuart, who had profoundly inspired me over the years.
Teenage Superstars is a film that chronicles the rise of some of the most important Scottish groups of, like… ever. Directed by Grant McPhee, it’s an essential feature length documentary that every, and any Scottish pop obsessive must see. It premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival June 2017, the month I moved to Sweden, so – sadly – I missed its first ever screening. I do remember all the BBC credits on the promotional material for the premiere and thinking: ‘Ah, well, I guess it’ll be on the box soon and the whole country will get to see it.’ That made me happy and I sort of forgot about it. Job done.
A few weeks ago I started watching another bunch of things around Scottish music, a series entitled Rip it Up. I remember all the talk around it at the time, late in 2018 I think it was, the exhibition et cetera, but – given my geography then and as it still exists now – I hadn’t access to regional BBC programming, nor do I use VPNs.
I don’t know the people that made the Rip it Up series, who commissioned it or anything like that. I don’t particularly care, either. What I will make clear is that the similarities with the episode entitled Unwrapped: The Glasgow Indie Scene of Rip it Up and my co–produce, Teenage Superstars, are quite startling. It’s simply a matter of principle to me that these comparisons are checked here, yet also a desire that Teenage Superstars’ broadcast is realised. It’s the least Scotland’s peoples deserve.
So, how are Unwrapped and Teenage Superstars similar, and why wasn’t it broadcast on BBC Scotland as was originally planned? Well, the simple answer for the latter is I don’t know. I can’t answer for BBC Scotland executives because I do not engage with them. I do know that an early edit/cut of Teenage Superstars was circulated with executive producers et al. One wonders, now, the travels it undertook.
Unwrapped starts innocently enough with some spiel about Wet Wet Wet not being the only the greatest Scottish group of all time. Problems begin at just over a minute when a track by The Pastels, Comin’ Through is played through the background, in Teenage Superstars the same track was also commissioned. Four minutes into Unwrapped, we pan to Bellshill where, like in Teenage Superstars, themes of friendship are explored and we see an image of the sign for Bellshill train station, shot from the same angle as it was in Teenage Superstars, then footage of the same local park in Bellshill.
As Unwrapped starts to get going, I begin to notice that the same cast has also been used – Alan McGee; Duglas T Stewart; Eugene Kelly; Frances McKee; Sean Dickson; and Stephen Pastel all make contributions. Then, at about 6 and ½ minutes, things start to get seriously weird. A random cat – sitting outside a house in Bellshill with Duglas T Stewart talking appears – and it is the exact same cat that appears, also, in Teenage Superstars (53 minutes in) which was shot by Grant McPhee. Uncanny.
8 minutes in and, referencing Sean Dickson and Duglas T Stewart, the narrator says, “this happy band of musical pals would soon produce a group that would serve as a finishing school for the boys from Bellshill, BMX Bandits.” The same archive clip, as appears in Teenage Superstars, plays of the band performing their track Her Hair, with a close-up of Duglas T Stewart holding a doll with blue hair.
Around halfway into Teenage Superstars, I seem to remember Frances McKee describing the formation of The Vaselines, while an archive clip shows Eugene grasping a bunch of grapes with Frances at the other side of the room clinging to a tambourine. Son of a Gun by The Vaselines was synched into the background. Frances and Eugene describe their musical skills and sound, then the narrator says, “Steven took The Vaselines under his wing and they began to gig regularly with The Pastels.” In Unwrapped, just over 13 minutes in, Frances describes the formation of The Vaselines, while the same archive clip (like in Teenage Superstars) shows Eugene Kelly with a bunch of grapes with Frances McKee opposite holding a tambourine. Son of a Gun by The Vaselines is also used.
There are many, many more similarities, a long list of them – too many to mention. The most galling aspect is the identical music/soundtracking that has been used: both Unwrapped: The Glasgow Indie Scene episode of Rip it Up and Teenage Superstars feature the same tracks by The Shop Assistants, The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, The Soup Dragons and the BMX Bandits. It takes a long time for filmmakers to secure rights for songs, there are all sorts of things to clear like copyright, publishing and sound recording rights that need to be honoured and people need paid, too. In some cases, a music consultant needs to be hired in order to secure these licensing rights, this also costs dough. A lot. Furthermore, it involves endeavour, research, bundles of tenacity. Given Teenage Superstars is a feature length music documentary, this part of the production was the most stressful for the team. The songs are the story, songs are stories/narratives in their own right. That’s why we made our documentary — we just loved the songs. We wanted to hear about the stories behind the people that penned them.
It’s just so bloody odd that out of all the amazing tracks by the bands involved there are almost infinite numbers of combinations to use, but they use mostly the same songs – and they are not even the bands’ most famous ones – as with the archive, too.
At the very least there should be an acknowledgement from BBC Scotland that someone has taken their eye off the ball here, someone has made a little mistake. I’m a massive believer in the freedom of everyone to tell their story — what it means personally: us as individuals, together as independent entities within our communities. It’s important because music means different things to all of us. Filmmaking has infinite possibilities to document certain periods in music, but the BBC have seemingly used what it means to us and not them — our methods for constructing personal stories, the techniques, the story arc, the tone instead of what it means to them. That defeats the whole point.
In any case, mistakes happen — we’re all human! Its political programming and editors aside, the BBC is still a great brand.
But, please — as Stuart once mused: do something pretty while you can.