REVIEW : BIG GOLD DREAM (and BIG GOLD GIG)

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The next few days will be a bit chaotic round here as posts that had been planned get shifted around thanks in part to some more guest contributions that I don’t want lying around too long and also the fact that I want to pen a review of something a few hours after getting home.  Those of you who are fans of the CD86 series shouldn’t worry too much as the next instalment has merely been delayed by 24 hours.

It really had to be something quite remarkable and special to get me to spend my Saturday morning typing away instead of my usual chilling and relaxing and charging my batteries, but it is fair to say that the the sights and sounds in Edinburgh on the evening of Friday 19 June are covered by that description.

A little bit of background to begin with.

For almost a decade now, there have been efforts made to deliver a documentary entitled Sound of Young Scotland which endeavours to tell the full story of the independent music scene up here from the post-punk era through the 80s and into the early 90s.  The gathering of material by director Grant McPhee, including old footage and interviews with many of the protagonists, began back in 2006 but every time it seemed as if the project would come to full fruition something would get in the way of its completion, most often a lack of finance.  But at long last, things are ready and after all these years it has been revealed that the project is now a pair of documentaries titled The Big Gold Dream – Scottish Post Punk, DIY And infiltrating The Mainstream and Songs From Northern Britain – The Country That Invented Indie Music.

The first of them is named after a Fire Engines song and the second after a Teenage Fanclub album title. It would be easy but lazy to say that the first documentary is all about Edinburgh and documentary number two is all about Glasgow but given that is the way the story began and panned out it makes sense for Big Gold Dream to focus somewhat on the capital city and for its world premiere to be part of the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

I had given up any thoughts of getting along to this event when my dear mate Jacques the Kipper got in touch to say he had managed to get his hands on two tickets and that one of them had my name on it. I only found out less than 48 hours beforehand but the sense of anticipation and excitement kicked in immediately.  This was likely to be one of the events of 2015 and what a way to get things going after turning 52.

The actual documentary was a joy to watch and listen to and I have no doubt that when it receives its inevitable DVD release that I will rush out and buy it.  It comes in at just over 90 minutes but it felt as if we had only been sitting there for about half an hour as the time flew by.  Being a nostalgic look at the music scene from 1977 to around 1983 it certainly brought back loads of memories but it also, and this surprised this self-confessed fan boy and anorak, revealed a lot things I hadn’t previously an inkling of.

I’m just too young to have been part of the movement that was in the vanguard of embracing and celebrating punk rock.  I do know that my home city was forced to turn its back on it in the wake of what had been a ‘riot’ at a gig by The Stranglers in 1977 at a venue owned by the council with the outcome being that punk gigs from then on were refused licences.  This led to shows taking place just over the boundary in the town of Paisley (mainly at a venue called the Bungalow Bar which had a small almost incidental advert every week in the entertainment pages of one of Scotland’s biggest selling Sunday newspapers) but it also allowed the ‘rival’ city 45 miles to the east to steal a march on things as its council was happy to allow punk gigs.

And so it was that, in Scotland’s equivalent of The Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall that begat Factory and all that followed, on 7 May 1977 the White Riot tour, featuring The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Slits and Subway Sect hit the Edinburgh Playhouse and kickstarted a revolution.

One of the first things to happen was the formation of a new label called Fast Product. It was founded by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison and run from a tenement flat in Edinburgh that soon became one of two great hangouts for budding musicians inspired by the punk scene…….that and a nearby pub not far from the School of Art called The Tap Of Laurieston.

The story of Fast is told in great detail with contributions from a stellar cast of just about anyone who was every anyone in the Edinburgh and indeed Scottish music scenes as well as the likes of Paul Morley.  The label initially concentrated on releases by bands from the north of England – The Mekons, Gang of Four and Human League – but in March 1979 it released a single by local band The Scars followed by a number of sampler EPs that featured other Scottish acts such as The Flowers, The Prats and The Thursdays.

Fast was the first Scottish indie label of note and so the emphasis on its role within the film is ideal to highlight the essential contribution of who are, in general, lesser known bands and musicians – certainly in comparison to those associated with Postcard.  Big Gold Dream then takes the story forward into the dissolution of Fast and Bob Last’s formation of a new label called Pop Aural whose roster included The Fire Engines, the instigation and collapse of Postcard, the second coming of Alan Horne with Swampland Records and weaves in the stories of bands such as The Rezillos, Josef K, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Associates and a talented solo singer called Paul Quinn.  Oh and not forgetting the life and times of Davy Henderson (Fire Engines/Win/Nectraine No.9/The Sexual Objects) whose often funny and larger than life anecdotes are littered throughout the documentary.

But there was more to come….

Being part of a Film Festival and a world premiere, the screening was followed by a Q&A session featuring Jo Callis (Rezillos and Human League), Ken McCluskey (Bluebells) , Malcolm Ross (Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera) and Vic Godard before something truly special and unique in the shape of a one-off Big Gold Gig by Stool Pigeon who consisted of the afore-mentioned Messrs Goddard and Ross together with Russell Burn (Fire Engines and Win) on drums and under the direction of the two talents that are Mick Slaven and Douglas Macintyre who seem to turn up and get involved with any decent music revival in Scotland nowadays.

They played an energetic and enthusiastic set of songs that were relevant to the era covered by Big Gold Dream

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Set List

1. Holiday Hymn (Subway Sect/Orange Juice)
2. Falling and Laughing (Orange Juice)
3. Stool Pigeon (Subway Sect)
4. Ambition (Subway Sect)
5. It’s Kinda Funny (Josef K)
6. Be My Wife (David Bowie)
7. Nobody’s Scared (Subway Sect)
8. Born To Lose (Johnny Thunder & The Heartbreakers)
9. Candyskin (Fire Engines)
10. Sweet Jane (Velvet Underground)

The boys were joined for the closing half of Candyskin and all of Sweet Jane by a further co-vocalist:-

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That dear friends, is Fay Fife from The Rezillos (and who will be the subject of a re-posting later in the week as part of yet another late alteration to the blog!!)

One thing the documentary did was make me realise and appreciate was just how important The Scars were to the development of the post-punk scene in Scotland. I’ve only ever been familiar with their one LP, Author Author, released in 1981 on Charisma Records and to be honest I’m not a fan of it. But it became quite clear from the film and the Q&A session afterwards that their one-off single for Fast Product back in March 1979 had lit the touch paper for many musicians, including the four boys that made up Josef K.

mp3 : The Scars – Horrorshow
mp3 : The Scars – Adult-ery

Your humble scribe hangs his head in shame at never having featured these superb pieces of music before.

Enjoy.

10 thoughts on “REVIEW : BIG GOLD DREAM (and BIG GOLD GIG)

  1. What a night, JC. I had been watching the trailers over at Sound of Young Scotland, and it all looked very well done. Can’t wait to see it.

  2. A rare shot of Fay Fife in her secret identity togs! I don’t know if I should have even looked at that! It’s worth mentioning that she and The Rezillos will be touring in The states next month, and how I wish I could take in a show, but it’s not possible this time. I’ll have to keep alit the memories of their first American tour in 2002, which I did travel many hundreds of miles for and at a time when I was unemployed, as well! And To this day, I have no regrets!

  3. Hi JC

    A while since I posted a comment here and for that I apologise: the blog is as consistently excellent as ever .

    I was also lucky enough to get tickets to attend. Thought the documentary was excellent – I’ve always thought that there is a good book waiting to be written about the history of independent music in Scotland. Big Gold Dream goes some way to redressing the dominant belief that Postcard was the beginning of Scottish indie. I was really interested in how expansive the Fast Product vision was, and to my mind until now it’s almost been a lost story. I think all involved with the documentary should be justifiably proud.

    The gig was great too with a real sense of fun and the band very obviously enjoying themselves

    Looking forward to “Songs from Northern Britain”

  4. Thanks B. Agree 100% with your comment. The problem in doing such a book is that you’ll never get the true story of what happened with so many of the main protagonists seemingly unwilling to talk about it and then you’ve those who are willing to talk but only to propagate the myths and legends that have taken root rather than the facts.

    The second documentary should be a belter.

    Now if only we could get a supergroup to perform at the world premiere….initial thoughts being
    Norman Blake (guitar/vocals)
    Stephen Pastel (guitar/vocals)
    James Kirk (guitar/vocals)
    Lawrence Donegan (bass)
    Dave Ruffy (drums)

    And of course Fay Fife’s part in it all could be played by Clare Grogan!!

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