I’m feeling slightly discombobulated about all this identity chatter (and no doubt will blog about it elsewhere at some point). At heart, I am Scottish and have never, consciously or not, considered myself to be British.
Yet, some in the SNP emphasise the social union Britishness – our shared culture and heritage – that for many is exemplified in modern music. And m’lud guilty as charged. I am just as likely to extol the virtues of a British/English band as I am a Scottish one. But then I’m also just as likely to heap praise on an American/Canadian/Swedish/Norwegian one too. Indeed, my favourite track of 2011 was by Cashier No. 9 who tread heavily in the footsteps of other Northern Irish/Brit oriented bands. Who happen to make great indie-pop music.
Does this make me a social union or cultural Brit? Or just someone who likes music, no matter where it comes from, and is happy to acknowledge a band’s influences, some of which can be discerned from whence they hail or their understanding of their personal or community history.
All of which is confused further by my pride in the creation of a Scottish Album of the Year Award, not least for its cultural significance.
It beggars belief, given Scotland’s strong musical heritage and output, that we’ve never had a competition to promote great albums of the year and ultimately, find the stand-out. Not that this process is without controversy. More than a few of my favourites from 2011 were posted missing and I’m not overly enthused by the shortlist either, except for the inclusion of the two double act albums which should walk it. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins have created an album of exceptional beauty that is nuanced in every note and lyric and will stand the test of time. As will Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat’s for quite different reasons. Raw, visceral and zeitgeisty, yet with a delicately harmonious soundtrack, making the juxtaposition of the sweary and observational lyrics all the more enjoyable.
But if Remember, Remember win… well, there’s no accounting for taste. And that perhaps is the first reason to praise the SAY Award. Taste is a very personal thing and there’s room for all. As the long list proved, Scottish music is in rude health, with something of significance to offer in every genre. That in itself is a reason to celebrate.
The establishment of this award is timely – way past time in fact. A shortage of commercial backers and willing volunteers, prepared to enable the creation of a monster which has no doubt taken over their lives these past months, was the issue. Now that’s changed. But what exactly has changed?
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the advent of an SNP led Scottish Government helped laid the foundations for the creation of the Award, not in any tangible sense, but because of the approach they took to government. Now it is okay to celebrate being Scottish – in a way that wasn’t evident in the earlier years of devolution. Now, it is good to aspire to be successful, to want to achieve, to fulfil our potential. Importantly, it’s okay to shine, to bask in reflected glory of our people doing well.
We’re still overly fond of our tall poppy syndrome but rather than just being content to send our best talents off into the world to do their best, we’re just as happy to have them home and to show them we appreciate their talents. Tommy Smith is a case in point.
Scotland has one of the greatest living jazz men in our midst and few of us have ever bothered to notice. He is vaunted and feted around the world, yet has always made time to come home, quietly, to instil his love and his craft in future generations. All the while attracting little more than a cult following or a passing nod that he has achieved something. Now, with the SAY Award, his genius, talent and contribution to the development and sustainability of one of music’s greatest forms can be properly acknowledged.
So for all these reasons, I for one am delighted to welcome and to promote the SAY Award. It says a lot about us, as a nation and as a creative force, much more at ease with ourselves, less ashamed of success, delighted to rejoice in our musical talents and achievements, happy to strut our stuff and encourage the world to look at us and how great we are.
Let’s hope that this inaugural Scottish Album of the Year award is the first of many.