“Rip It Up” at National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh (22nd June to 25th November 2018) is every Scottish music fan’s summer present. This highly informative and entertaining summer exhibition, the first major exhibition devoted to Scottish pop music, examines the sounds and gives visuals to the faces of many of the influential names from the 1950s onwards who were either born in Scotland, or who have definite Scottish roots to their family trees.
“Rip It Up” covers not only the music and the people who make it, but also the venues where it was played and the people who came to hear the sounds. Some of the names featured in this exhibition reached far outside of Scotland with their music to enjoy world-wide success either as solo artists, or as members of bands. The list is extensive - Bay City Rollers, Annie Lennox, Lulu, Average White Band, Incredible String Band, Alex Harvey, Nazareth, Shirley Manson, The Proclaimers, Wet Wet Wet, Rod Stewart, Lonnie Donegan, Gerry Rafferty, Franz Ferdinand, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, K T Tunstall to name only a few. A few surprises here maybe for some people with Donovan and AC/DC being given their rightful places in Scottish music too.
Some bands such as The Poets, The Beatstalkers and The Rezillos may not have reached the international status of their contemporaries, but in the fickle world of pop music success, nothing is guaranteed. Like many other bands though, they were taken into the hearts of Scottish music lovers wherever they played.
Giving a live presence to this exhibition are some great film clips of bands, musicians and people associated with the music industry over the years. Great to remember on screen performances from Lulu with “Shout” reminding us that, although her later recording career often went in other directions, here was one of the great R & B voices of Scotland. Who, if they lived through the times, could ever forget The Bay City Rollers and “Rollermania”?
A three-part BBC TV series along with digital and radio content are also part of the wider ranges of this exhibition. Not forgetting of course, the “Rip It Up” book by Vic Galloway.
It is nice to see this exhibition paying tribute to not only the music, but the venues, and charting the move from dance halls where venue bands played live their cover versions of hit songs of the day (no records played here), to the massive success of outdoor music festivals like T In The Park. Not forgetting of course, those wonderful, but now almost lost forever, churches of sound called your local record shop.
Scottish pop music is a very wide, varied and inclusive church, and we get some idea of that diversity in this exhibition with traditional folk music, classical music, rock’n’roll, soul, funk, techno, jazz, R & B; there is no end to the musical diversity, and it all so often blends into one indefinable sound of a nation with bands like Runrig proudly drawing both on their musical roots and their Gaelic speaking heritage.
For some people, like myself, this will be a nostalgia trip that takes you back to the bands of your youth – watching the Rezillos at Clouds for me. For others, it will be an informative history lesson into Scottish pop music and music culture. Whatever your age though, this exhibition is just fun.
In an exhibition devoted to original memorabilia, guitars, vinyl records, juke-boxes, music and videos I think I have found the home I want to spend the summer in for 2018.
A little end note is needed here too. I spend a lot of my year reviewing live music, and Scottish music is just as diverse and healthy as it has ever been. The beat is still going strong and performers and songwriters are out there now (although maybe not featured in the exhibition) adding to the musical diversity and heritage of Scottish music – people and bands including Dean Owens, Seonaid Aitken, Rura, Kim Edgar, Lorna Reid, Elsa Jean McTaggart, Karine Polwart, to name only a few. Not forgetting either, the ongoing work done by musical collectives that include The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and The Tommy Smith Youth Orchestra who are making sure that the door is always open to the next generation of musicians out there.
Review by Tom King