Looking back on 25 years of commentary on Scottish culture

25 years of The List

Looking back on 25 years of commentary on Scottish culture

In 1985, while Reagan and Gorbachev squared up for the last round of the Cold War, a fresh new arts and culture magazine – similar to the one you hold in your very hands – was born. In its first months, The List commented on, among other things, the completion of the brand new SECC, saying it could be a worthwhile venue once someone ‘more interesting than UB40’ (backed up by Simply Red, no less) played there.

1986 introduced Tilda Swinton to our screens, when she appeared in Derek Jarman’s Carvaggio. Our 15th issue had a wonderful two-page spread on the film, including an interview with Jarman; tragically, we lose points for referring to the actress as Tilda Swanton.

1987 was the year John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti graced our screens, making household names of Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson. ‘Looks like being a big hit for all concerned,’ we said, a tad confusingly. It was also that three people’s heroes-to-be entered the world: Amy MacDonald, Paolo Nutini and Andy Murray were all born.

The big excitement in 1988 was caused by Peter Brook’s transformation of a transport museum into the Tramway for his nine-hour epic, Mahabharata. At the time, we commented that ‘it would be wonderful to think that Brook’s production will leave behind it a permanent exciting new space — something entirely lacking in Scotland — that could become a centre for this sort of brave, experimental work.’ Weren’t we sharp?

1989 was a landmark year: the Berlin Wall came down, a man defied a tank at Tiananmen Square, and Salman Rushdie was under fire for The Satanic Verses (unfortunately, The List missed his novel, instead choosing to review Straight by ex-jockey-cum-thriller author Dick Francis). Closer to home, Scotland was deemed an appropriate test-drive vehicle for the Poll Tax, which absolutely nobody had any sort of problem with.

In 1990 Nelson Mandela walked to freedom after 27 years in prison, and Margaret Thatcher walked out of Downing Street after 11 years in power. Meanwhile, back in Scotland, The List happily noted that Nirvana would be appearing at grungy rock hole Calton Studios (now grungy rock hole Studio 24); the slacker-tastic line-up would be completed by Shonen Knife, L7 and Cobain’s Scottish favourites The Vaselines.

In 1991, Glasgow once again stepped into the cultural breach with a double whammy: The Arches opened its doors for the first time as a Mayfest venue, while DJ duo Slam (who would become regulars at the club in subsequent years) formed Soma Quality Recordings. With typical verve and enthusiasm, The List noted that a celebratory Slam all-nighter at the Barrowlands had been called off, and expressed with mildly surprised pleasure that ‘the Arches survives beyond 1990 and Mayfest, which is good news.’ We did get all excitable in 1992 about the new custom-built premises for The Traverse, though — it was ‘Britain’s first theatre specifically designed for new writing for several centuries.’ That said, the debut performance (Michael Celeste’s Columbus: Blooding The Ocean) did err ‘heavily on the dull side.’ We were very hard to please.

1993 and Brit-pop begins to overtake baggy, as Oasis are discovered by Alan McGee at King Tut’s: while we didn’t even list that particular gem, we did draw attention to ‘distinctive rising guitar band’ Radiohead, although we expressed doubt that they’d ‘ever top Creep’. Meanwhile, Irvine Welsh completed Trainspotting while studying for his MBA at Heriot-Watt Uni; his path would soon cross with those of Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor, who placed themselves on the map in 1994 with Shallow Grave (which we praised for its twin virtues of being good and being from Scotland: ‘Here was proof that it was indeed possible to make a film that was recognisably Scottish without blatantly tying it down with tartan ribbons’).

1995 was a year that laid the foundation for many a Scottish star: Arab Strap, Mogwai and Idlewild all formed in this year (although didn’t get round to releasing records til a bit after); Frankie Boyle started telling jokes at student unions; Alan Warner unleashed Morvern Callar on the world (‘one of the most original, disturbing and compulsive pieces of fiction in recent years,’ said we); and Peter Capaldi won himself an Oscar for Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life — we missed that one too. Even non-Scots wanted in on the deal: Irishman Liam Neeson starred in Rob Roy (a ‘rip-snorting historical extravaganza,’ apparently), while Aussie Mel Gibson made Braveheart, which, despite having ‘the odd cliché, a touch of sentimentality and “dramatic” historical inaccuracy,’ we deemed to be pretty good.

The big story in 1996 was the death of Princess Diana, although some column inches were also dedicated to the creation of Scotland’s own Dolly the Sheep, and the need for English subtitles on Danny Boyle’s film version of Trainspotting (‘its scenes will be enthusiastically dissected, its characters discussed and its script quoted with the regularity of Withnail & I or Tarantino’). Our small country reserved its big guns for the following year, though: both the Harry Potter and Grand Theft Auto franchises, launched in 1997, would be among Scotland’s biggest exports for the next 13 years (Rowling actually appeared at the Book Festival’s smallest venue that year, reading an excerpt to 30 spellbound youngsters).

While 1998 was a very sexy year (Viagra and Lewinsky made the headlines), Scotland once again held back for a biggie: in 1999, we gained our very own parliament. The event was commemorated with a gig by Garbage, whose leading lady, Shirley Manson, said to The List: ‘I certainly don’t think [that Scottish parliament] is going to be the answer to our prayers overnight. I would, however, like to be positive about it … God forbid anything like the Poll Tax should happen again.’ See? Told you we weren’t bitter about it.

2000 was a bit of an anticlimax – there was relief mixed with a bit of disappointment when the much-feared Y2K bug failed to show, and then just plain old disappointment when Bush Jr emerged triumphant from a dodgy election. Scotland tried to hang back a bit, but our small nation just couldn’t help itself, and from 2004 we were in the news again: the Miralles-designed Parliament building, completed that year, was viewed by many to be the biggest white elephant since the Millennium Dome; the 2005 Make Poverty History rally, provoked by the G8 summit meeting in Edinburgh, was the focal point for similar protests around the world; and in 2006, Gregory Burke’s Black Watch (‘a splendid, rambunctiously humorous, moving and insightful affair’) was seen as one of the most incisive views of the War on Terror. From then on, we excelled in the cult of personality: 2007 belonged to John Smeaton, the have-a-go hero of Glasgow Airport; 2008 was Chris Hoy, Britain’s best Olympian for 100 years; and as for the favoured Scot of 2009, you can take your pick: Carol Ann Duffy (who was the first Scot named Poet Laureate) or SuBo (who garnered more YouTube hits than Obama’s inauguration).

And now, in the year 2010? Hot talking points include volcanoes, vuvuzelas and drunken Scots shouting ‘I hate Iceland’ on TV, while The List is pushing forward by covering brave new cultural forces, such as … um, The Vaselines, The Tramway, and Tilda Swan– sorry, Swinton. We promise it won’t happen again.

A few notable breakthroughs for The List

First Edinburgh Festival coverage
As Scotland’s leading entertainment guide, we of course jumped aboard the Edinburgh jamboree, wetting our nibs and waxing lyrical about the Greatest Show on Earth, our first Festival issue appearing on the shelves on 8 Aug 1986.

First colour issue
Like a rainbow bursting into your dull grey lives, The List said ‘Bye bye monochrome, hello colour’ on 21 Nov 1997. Our cover star was Damon Albarn and each of our sections enjoyed their own unique colour coded reinvention. Our creative joie de vivre has grown year-on-year ever since.

First Hot 100
Here at List Towers we know what’s hot to trot, from actors, artists and comics to filmmakers, DJs and musicians. In order to share our pearls, we launched the sizzling inaugural Hot 100 on 11 Dec 2003. Shirley Henderson was our cover star; Young Adam director David Mackenzie our number one.

The famous faces to grace our front pages

The first List cover appearances of a few notable Scots

Billy Connolly
The Big Yin took our second issue cover on 18 Oct 1985 – our first ever cover star was Clint Eastwood.

Annie Lennox
A fierce cover from 28 Nov 1986, with Annie Lennox posing to promote new Eurythmics album, Revenge.

Robbie Coltrane
The Tutti Frutti star strikes his best ‘used car salesman of the month’ pose for the 20 Feb 1987 cover.

John Hannah
East Kilbride’s most famous monobrow, John Hannah, hits the cover on 15 May 1987, with his TV show Brond.

Peter Capaldi
We jump forward to 5 Jan 1993 to get a first glimpse of the terrifying smile of Peter Capaldi.


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