Tartan guitar made by Gordon Smith and designed by Jimmy Smith that belonged to Del Amitri
National Museums and BBC Scotland have come together to create a new exhibition that tells the tales of Scottish pop culture through the ages
An exhibition, a book, a tour, and a TV series, Rip it Up probes deep into the annals of Scottish pop history. Fiona Shepherd talks to those behind the exhibition about getting quirky trinkets from Belle and Sebastian and uncovering the secret behind a Simple Minds guitar
How do you tell the detailed yet mercurial story of Scottish pop music in a heritage setting? That has been the challenge faced by the curators at the National Museum of Scotland's flagship summer exhibition, Rip it Up, which has amassed a wealth of material from collectors, industry veterans and, in most cases, the artists themselves: never have so many attics been raided to unearth costumes, instruments, artwork and quirky memorabilia.
By necessity, the exhibition is selective but representative, using key artists to tell the wider story of a nation's popular music. 'We can't hope to feature every single nook and cranny, or every band and performer,' says Stephen Allen, the exhibition's curator and a teenage Rezillos fan. 'That's a whole museum in itself, and hopefully in the future other places might do a series of exhibitions on that.'
Tracing the roots of Scottish rock'n'roll in dancehalls and coffee houses, the explosion of beat groups in the 1960s, the flourishing folk scene and the first stirrings of a counter-culture.
Artists featured: Lulu, Lonnie Donegan, Alex Harvey, the Incredible String Band. Key item: Gerry Rafferty guitar hand-painted by his Paisley buddy John Byrne. Stephen: 'John Byrne's painted guitar thrilled us when we saw it. And then we saw footage of Rafferty performing 'Stuck in the Middle with You' with it. Moments like that do make your hair stand on end'.
Rezillos assorted objects
Inspired by punk's license to do-it-yourself, musicians around Scotland start to develop their own divergent style, while independent labels such as Fast Product in Edinburgh, and Postcard Records in Glasgow take back the means of production.
Artists featured: Skids, Scars, Orange Juice, Altered Images, the Associates, the Pastels, Primal Scream. Key item: handmade costumes by Edinburgh gonzo punk outfit the Rezillos, including a bright green PVC jumpsuit worn by guitarist Eugene Reynolds and a purple and yellow dress worn by singer Fay Fife. Sarah: 'I got really excited when we were watching Top of the Pops for our archive research and seeing Eugene performing on it wearing his PVC jumpsuit.'
Teenage Fanclub assorted objects
A celebration of the artists who have crossed over to international success. At this stage, the exhibits get flashier, the instruments get more expensive and the award statuettes more abundant.
Artists featured: Bay City Rollers, Average White Band, Annie Lennox, Midge Ure, Shirley Manson, Franz Ferdinand, KT Tunstall. Key items: Simple Minds' acoustic guitars: one handpainted with their lyrics and featured on the sleeve of their 2016 Acoustic album and a three-quarters size guitar belonging to Charlie Burchill. Stephen: 'Apparently his first ever guitar was bought for him by his mum on coupons saved from Embassy cigarette packets, so they covered this guitar with cigarette cards. We've also got a demo tape from one of the first times they went into a studio, alongside a handmade poster from a performance at the Grafton Bar [in Glasgow] where they did a number of gigs in the late 70s. We love the Simple Minds stuff because they tell a very personal story. You're aware they are a band who are still current but have all this legacy.' Sarah: 'We've also got the Texas sign in red bulbs from the 'Inner Smile' video, and the Tom Ford bespoke leather outfit that Sharleen wore in the video.' Stephen: 'Obviously if you're displaying that on stage, it's a very different environment than a museum setting where we have to consider things like light levels and warmth. The sign works really well to say "this is a big band with a global following", and with an iconic lead singer who has a long career of continually reinventing herself.'
Biffy Clyro assorted objects
A tribal gathering of diverse artists who have projected something of their Scottish identity through music and imagery.
Artists featured: Runrig, the Proclaimers, Chemikal Underground Records, Fence Records, Idlewild, Frightened Rabbit, Young Fathers. Key item: Set of Belle and Sebastian dolls made by their Mexican fans. Stephen: 'Belle and Sebastian were very keen that we tell something about their relationship with their fans so they have been a little bit more quirky in their choices. Sarah and I had a meeting at their manager's office to talk about what might be available, and I spotted their NME Godlike Genius Award when I went to the loo. I thought "I'm not even going to mention it" but Stuart [Murdoch] said "you might want to borrow this as well", so we had to adjust the loan agreement quite hastily.'
Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Fri 22 Jun–Sun 25 Nov.
National Museums Scotland and BBC Scotland are coming together to tell the story of Scottish pop music in a major collaborative project that explores the musical culture of a nation over more than half a century.