Currently running at The National Museum of Scotland is Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop exhibition, on till the 25th November this year. It’s an admirably exhaustive celebration of Scottish pop from the ’50s till the present day. With a wide range of exhibits, memorabilia and video footage, I highly recommend anyone with an interest attend, but make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in. There are also related events throughout its run, including Key Note Sessions, Film Showings, Free Fringe Music, some Late-Night’s at the museum, as well as various playlists put together by the great and the good for your pleasure.
To accompany the exhibition Vic Galloway has written a book of the same name, and there is surely no one better placed to do so. It would have been easy to put together a “Scottish Pop by numbers” publication that does little more than name names and places, but Galloway is too steeped in the music – too much of a fan – to do that. This is his world and he wants to share it with you.
The book is an unashamed celebration of the music which has provided the soundtrack to much of our lives, one which is packed full of incidents and anecdotes, and even if you know some of the story I guarantee you won’t know it all. It was the earlier years of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, which was mostly new to me, and it was fascinating to learn more about Lonnie Donnegan, Frankie Miller, Stone The Crows, and the early careers of Alex Harvey and Rab Noakes, as well as hearing about The Beatstalkers, The McKinleys and The Sutherland Brothers for the first time.
As the story unfolds it becomes increasingly complex, with more bands, records and genres to consider, but Galloway manages to make connections which maintain a coherent narrative. Imagine an extensive family tree of Scottish music and you have some idea as to how that works, with branches shooting off in unexpected directions. One of the joys of Rip It Up is that it makes you reflect upon records and bands you haven’t considered for some time. I dug out my copy of Bronski Beat’s Age Of Consent (one of the most important records of the ’80s) for the first time in decades, and there were plenty more trips down memory lane.
But, despite what you may expect, this is no mere exercise in nostalgia. Galloway’s fluid approach – in part chronological, part thematic – means we are getting snapshots of careers, genres, movements and moments. As a result there is no issue with Silk, Nazareth and Barbara Dickson, or later The Blue Nile, Finitribe and Marillion, appearing in the same chapters. It never feels like a history lesson, more a conversation with a fellow fan who just happens to know the stories behind the music. Anyone who listens to Galloway on the radio will understand as that is at the heart of his inimitable style. He is your Uncle Vic who has the record collection you wish you had.
There is an attention to detail which lends the book authority. Midge Ure is not just from Glasgow, but from Cambuslang (and as a proud Camby man that made me very happy), and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie (formerly Teenage Dog Orgy!) are originally from Bathgate, not Edinburgh locals as many assume. These may seem like minor details but they not only show that Galloway has taken his undertaking seriously, but reiterate that much of Scotland’s pop music comes from this country’s small towns and suburbs, not necessarily the cities. Bellshill, East Kilbride and the East Neuk of Fife may be widely-known as musical hotspots, but Galloway makes sure that places as well as people get their due, and that, importantly, is as it should be.
While you may already know at least some of the music and musicians, perhaps the two most interesting chapters are ‘Chapter Three: Treasure’ and ‘Chapter Seven: In A Big Country’ which look at the record labels, shops and venues which were, and still are, a vital part of the support network which allows Scottish music to flourish. The latter two are where our first impressions are often formed, while the former are arguably the heart of Scottish pop – the place where most artists receive their first release.
Of course the well-known labels are discussed, such as Fast Product, Postcard, Creation, Creeping Bent, Chemical Underground, Soma and Fence. But there is also mention of the lesser know organisations, and Galloway brings things right up to date with some of SWH!’s favourites such as Song By Toad, Olive Grove Records, Last Night From Glasgow, Scottish Fiction, and Triassic Tusk, again pointing to the comprehensive and extensive nature of the book. Deep and wide and tall, as Roddy Frame might put it.
Rip It Up is more thorough and exhaustive than we have any right to expect from a book released to accompany an exhibition, and it more than stands on its own right and merits. Of course there are bands and musicians missing, (“Wot, no Heavy Pettin’?”, fans of hair metal may cry), but you can’t include everyone and Galloway admits as much in his introduction. While he can’t hide his obvious love for punk and indie music he remains non-judgmental throughout, and readers can pick the musicians and genres they are less familiar with and explore further for themselves.
Where the book works best is as an extensive overall look at something close to our hearts and always on our minds. This review could have been a book in itself as every page of Rip It Up has information I want to discuss and share with you. This is partly because it’s a subject I love deeply, partly because Galloway’s passion is infectious, but mainly because it’s a fascinating story well written, and what more could you want from any book? Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop – every home should have one.
The BBC programme of the same name is currently on iPlayer.