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After showing early promise my career stalled and eventually became a failed thing. It wasn’t through lack of trying. I worked my arse off and knocked on more doors than anybody. Eventually I ran out of road - aka hope, positivity and belief in what was possible.

It didn’t escape my notice that the environment I was working in was ultra-conservative and risk-averse. It was not a place where innovation was welcome. I had taken that as a challenge knowing how different it had been two hundred years ago when Glasgow and Edinburgh were proverbial hotbeds for new ideas and forward movement. Perhaps something like it could happen again.

Perhaps not. As the years went by I saw nearly all the people I knew, within music and without, reluctant to make any kind of adventurous move especially if money was involved. Most of them had gone into the world from school or university in search of a sellout. They usually found one, even the radicals, the ones who had moral, political and philosophical reasons to take a more principled path. In most cases they deserted their better selves in favour of financial security and the conservative way.

Of course it’s not unusual for that to happen and not exclusive to contemporary Scotland. Societies need the majority to stoke the machine of conformity. Otherwise things would be too unstable. Radicalism and innovation need conservatism to hold strong and accommodate myriad failures. Still, I often wonder if the degree to which Scots sell out is higher than is healthy. Or is my experience too particular? Perhaps the numbers of risk-takers and innovators in these parts are comparable to anywhere else and it is simply me who has been unlucky in the draw.

These are questions difficult to answer and the cultural stage doesn’t help much. Kilmarnock won an award recently for being a “creative space”. I’m not sure what that means exactly and if you spent any time in the town you wouldn’t be sure either. But it says it on the road signs so I guess it must mean something to someone. Not to me of course, just as political separatism means little to me also. We’ll see if sellout Scotland chooses independence when it has the option. If my impressions are true - and I will happily be wrong - it will do what it has always done: lose its bottle and follow the money.

My career will continue to be in the dustbin whatever the way of Scottish politics. If by some miracle my fortunes were to reverse the reversal would have to come from elsewhere. These last fifty years when the recording industry was strong Scotland proved disgracefully inadequate in supporting its prodigious musical talent, a natural resource which had to look elsewhere for backing. Even its businessmen have lacked imagination. It took the Americans to come and get the oil out. It took English institutions to get behind the musicians.

There was to be no successful record labels here, not one in all these years, no Virgin, no Island, no Chrysalis, no Beggars, no Zomba, no Sanctuary, no Domino. That’s because, although always following the money, indigenous Scots have zero flair for speculation. And you need that in the arts. You can’t make a music industry with sellout people. I doubt you can build a nation either. Unfortunately there is nothing politics can do about that.

is the degree to which the Scots sell out higher than is healthy?



commentary • 10.02.13