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Punk Had A (Scottish) Baby and They Called It... Grant McPhee's new book on Scottish Post Punk music, Postcards From Scotland, like his film, Big Gold Dream, enthralls Tim London

Punk Had A (Scottish) Baby and They Called It...

Grant McPhee's new book on Scottish Post Punk music, Postcards From Scotland, like his film, Big Gold Dream, enthralls Tim London

by Tim London,
first published: April, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

Grant McPhee's Big Gold Dream: exhaustively filmed story of Scotland's two ground-breaking labels...

Grant McPheePostcards from Scotland: Scottish Independent Music 1983-1995
Grant McPhee
(Omnubus)
June 2024

Big Gold Dream
(2020)
Directed by Grant McPhee

Grant McPhee's forthcoming Postcards from Scotland: Scottish Independent Music 1983-1995, contains vastly entertaining recollections of the early days of The Jesus and Mary Chain (so, a little music below) and what that band meant to Creation Records. The new book immerses itself in a verbal history of the Scottish indie music in the post Postcard era.

Meanwhile, Tim London revisits McPhee's film Big Gold Dream, remarkable for its psychogeographic mapping of a slightly earlier post-punk era.

The world of pop has its own, unofficial university and professors. This university can be hard to find, as if you visited a building once and now, however many streets you walk close to where you thought it was, it’s disappeared. The professors, though, are nowadays, easier to find. And just like the more accredited prof’s, it can be easy to disagree with their assertions of importance and glory but you have to acknowledge they know what they’re talking about when you catch a tweet that takes you to something obscure and lovely that it’s unlikely you would ever have known about without a heads-up.

Grant McPhee is one of these pop professors, in both music and film. His upcoming book, Postcards From Scotland - 1983 to 1995 will, no doubt, contain the kind of detail that will make you want to reconsider fey janglers and scratchy white-boy funkers in a new light and could well be the book that, together with his film, Big Gold Dream, creates something historically solid from a butterfly box of Scottish pop.

The A&R man is up from London, five hours by train. He meets the Scottish band at the station. He buys them lunch and, by the time he is travelling back down again on the train, the band have agreed to sign a record deal.

In essence, this is the climax to Big Gold Dream, McPhee’s exhaustively filmed story of Scotland’s two groundbreaking labels, Fast and Postcard, of the late 1970’s post-punk period and the bands and personalities who gathered around them. Featuring interviews with all the main players except Postcard’s famously enigmatic Alan Horne, we see ingredients added to the two pots of label stew, we watch them bubble and cook and see them consumed, then the pots knocked over and the ensuing domestic art-mess left to rot on the tenement floors in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

You will hear similar hyperbolic statements made to those you hear on retrospectives about Factory or, to a lesser extent Mute and 4AD Records and Paul Morley, who was an early enthusiast for ‘the Sound of Young Scotland’ shows his normal lack of self-awareness when he celebrates the early demise of both Scottish labels (and the subsequent fucked up careers of many of the musicians signed to them) as being the perfect pop period for anything related to exist - obviously apart from the careers of music journalists.

Perhaps the not so subtle claims of exceptional Scottish talent by some of those who ‘were there’ ignore the fact that, in the 1970s, there was no choice for Scotland but to DIY, simply because a fast turn-over of shiny new bands even being noticed by labels elsewhere was not practical. This meant that there was a concentration of bands that only needed a couple of enthusiastic Situationist dreamers to help make a scene. Were there other great bands in the UK at the time? Of course there were. Sometimes there was a scene, as with 2 Tone and sometimes they just got on with it by themselves as some of the bands signed to Postcard and Fast also eventually did, signing deals with majors or London indies for better or, generally, worse.

If the stars of Big Gold Dream shone brightly enough for a few brilliant seven inch records they also often foundered on the same rocks as these other bands as they decided whether to play along with the horrid gatekeepers of the music scene or keep it real or local. Those who tried and failed also became postmen or gardeners and continued to make music on their own terms. Others became members of successful bands, wrote or produced for others or became actual music professors at bricks and mortar universities.

‘the film is itself a perfect post-punk item - in hoc to previous eras, heavily reliant on the accidental good fortune of depicting people with something to say and a continuing passion for the whole pop experience’

In some ways, the film is itself a perfect post-punk item - in hoc to previous eras, heavily reliant on the accidental good fortune of depicting people with something to say and a continuing passion for the whole pop experience, sprinkled with just in case we don’t make it irony. And Andy Warhol. Jump cuts, hand held and Super 8, and the kind of ambition that can create a movie star from a Candy Darling - or a pop star from a Davy Henderson.

The Associates, included presumably because they were of the time and place and also hugely, ambitiously pop, seem like outliers. But their own act of self sabotage in refusing to tour to promote on the back of hit singles also fits well with the stubborn refusal to compromise by the likes of Josef K, Orange Juice and Fire Engines. All of them, eventually, caved, playing the game with gusto, oiled and shiny in the supermarket, once the realisation dawned  that it was that or the builder’s hod which were the only choices.

It would be interesting to see a similar film about the contemporary scene in Scotland - there are echoes of Postcard and Fast in Young Fathers and Callum Easter, the DIY-done-right aesthetic and the love/hate of branding and selling art, as well as healthy doses of Velvet Underground’s first two albums, although the self-mythologising non-muso characters might be missing and perhaps, without a mouthy mis-manager handy with the Letraset it just wouldn’t be as entertaining.

Big Gold Dream is, ridiculously, free and easy to find on Youtube (when, really there should be just the one VHS copy, hidden in a charity shop on Leith Walk) and the book will be out in June. Both well worth casting eyes on.

Big Gold Dream:


essentials
Postcards from Scotland: Scottish Independent Music 1983-1995 (pre order) here→
Big Gold Dream on Youtube→

Tim London

Tim London is a musician, music producer and writer. Originally from a New Town in Essex he is at home amidst concrete and grand plans for the working class. Tim's latest thriller, Smith, is available now. Find out more at timothylondon.com


about Tim London »»

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