Celebrating the talent which defines our rich musical heritage
The oft-rehearsed Bruce Theory of Scottish Popular Music is, in brief, this: while Glasgow produces the more successful career-orientated bands, the more innovative and ultimately in uential combos come from Edinburgh. While this contention is always useful
its main defect is the failure to say anything at all about the rest of Scotland.
In a few more words, over a pacy 240 pages, Lorraine Wilson, onetime journalist of this parish, has in part addressed this problem with her new book, Take It To the Bridge: Dundee’s Rock & Pop History, published by Black & White on Wednesday (£11.99). There may be something distinctly Dundonian about rst making your product available on half-day closing day, and that brand of self-deprecation and the pawky humour of the punning title runs delightfully through the whole book, for which the author has done a huge number of original interviews, listed in an appendix two-and-a-half pages long at the end. Starting in the 1960s, when new beat groups (inspired by the early recognition of a local promoter of the potential of The Beatles) began replacing jazz and dance bands, and working through to the recent adventures of The View and The Law, Wilson has the story straight from the mouths of those who have been there, played that and sold the T-shirts.
The rst thing to observe is that Dundee’s musical heritage is a mighty rich one, taking in the perspicacity of Andy Lothian Jnr back in 1962, the blue-eyed soul scene that brought forth much of the Average White Band (AWB); the vocal phenomenon that was Billy Mackenzie; the promotional dynamo Stuart Clumpas, creator of T in the Park; and the millions of sales for Snow Patrol, to plot a few highpoints.
Wilson’s achievement is to weave these into a compelling narrative that follows threads of in uence (shops and venues, as well as people) and makes a very ne stab at giving everyone their due, with particular emphasis, perhaps, on some of the unsung heroes. She is careful, for example, not to go over the ground so authoritatively explored by Tom Doyle in his excellent biography of The Associates, The Glamour Chase, although the band’s vocalist is, without doubt, one of the city’s most important exports. Where she is strong, with a reporter’s directness that is as affecting as it is un inching, is in relating the circumstances of Mackenzie’s death from the viewpoint of those most immediately concerned with it, just as she is with the tragically needless early death of AWB drummer Robbie McIntosh.
The chronological division of the book into decades means the stories of these bands, and of Dundonians of less international fame, bubble up recurrently through the book. As its title might also suggest, there is some cleverness in the book’s structure, not in any way obvious, but with the instinctive and captivating drive of a soap opera. It could hardly be further, in that respect, from the most recent book to look at the interface of music and art in the city of Glasgow, Sarah Lowndes’s rather more academically minded Social Sculpture.
Yet both books are trying to do a similar job in drawing attention to how the renaissance of an industrial city through culture has been driven not by institutions and Government initiatives but by inspired individuals, enthusiasm and remarkable talent.
In Dundee’s case, that story often revolves around one man, rightly identi ed in these pages as “one of the most important cultural gures in Scotland”. Songwriter Michael Marra is the embodiment of the sort of detached, wryly humorous personality that Wilson detects in the city, and his wit and wisdom is a joy through her book. A man who de nes his dedication to his craft as a desire to see his name in brackets rather than up in lights, he also makes it worth every penny of the 12 quid it’ll cost you for his tangential suggestion of the ideal sign for the end of the West Highland Way: “Fort William – Ultimately Disappointing.” Dundee is not all rock and pop: in the Marryat Hall on Thursday evening, Dundee Chamber Music Club presents the Fidelio Trio, playing Schumann, Ravel, Grainger and Alasdair Nicolson.