Last night’s premiere of “Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream” at the Edinburgh International Film Festival will go down in Scottish indie history as one of those never-to-be-forgotten memorable nights.
A film which has been nine years in the making – you have to admire the perseverance of Director Grant McPhee, fellow producer Erik Sandberg and scriptwriter and catalyst, Innes Reekie – was finally unveiled to a rapturous reception by a full house at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse.
An audience which consisted of fans like ourselves who were very fortunate to have seen many of the great Scottish indie bands featured in the movie in their heyday, and what can only be described as Scottish indie royalty.
This is the remarkable story of Fast Product – an independent record label, established in Edinburgh by Bob Last and his partner, Hilary Morrison, in December 1977 – and the other Scottish indie label the pair also established, Pop Aural, along with the ground breaking Scottish indie bands upon which those labels rise to fame was based on.
Legendary Scottish bands Scars, Fire Engines, The Rezillos, Josef K, The Flowers, Boots For Dancing – and their Northern English counterparts the original Human League, the Gang of Four and the Mekons – formed what was quite a remarkable roster of indie talent who had largely been inspired to form bands after seeing The Clash’s White Riot tour when it hit Edinburgh’s Playhouse on May 7th, 1977.
Listed as number five in the all time top 20 Scottish gigs, here is what journalist Stewart Cruikshank wrote about that night, when The Scotsman published their list in 2007:
Punk mayhem tore the Playhouse down in 1977
“The ticket stub gave little clue as to what we were about to witness: The Clash plus Special Guests. But this was a gig over which the audience had built up a head of steam for weeks, and which has since gone down as a defining moment in Scotland’s music lore.
On a night of punk mayhem, The Clash and their “special guests” tore the Playhouse down with an “up-yours” attitude that was evident right from the start.
It was the first time punk rock had been presented in the manner of 1960s package tours, but it had an Achilles heel: at least one of the bands had no ambitions to be punks. They were punk’s polar opposites: mods. Their name? The Jam.
They kicked off their set with a string of invective aimed at punk in general and Joe Strummer in particular. They’d soon leave the tour.
Manchester’s Buzzcocks bulleted through Boredom and other songs from their Spiral Scratch EP, Subway Sect somehow managed to complete their set despite a hail of phlegm, and The Slits’ Ari Up, big on hair, short on temper, had an ongoing row with sexist yobs in the front stalls.
The Clash were raucous, ripping through White Riot and other tracks from their debut album. “We’re the kings of punk from the Westway,” barked Strummer. Nobody was about to argue.
Yes, this gig was part of a UK tour, but we’ve included it because, for those who were there, it sent reverberations through the Scottish music scene that would forever change the way music was discovered, made and distributed north of the Border. Punk would march on to encourage DIY music-making.
Edwyn Collins, James Kirk and Steven Daly all went to the White Riot tour, and were gobsmacked enough to form Orange Juice; Alan Horne was inspired to found Postcard records and Davey Henderson to put Edinburgh’s The Fire Engines together. It was the start of a Scottish music revolution.” (The Scotsman, 8th March, 2007)
The one individual Stewart didn’t mention was Bob Last, who would later describe himself on the album sleeve of Human League’s multi-million seller, “Dare” as Executive Manipulator and that comes through loud and clear throughout the film.
Fast Product’s approach to the music business challenged all known pop music conventions and was often described as “difficult fun” and “mutant pop”.
Last’s novel approach to marketing paid homage to the DIY punk spirit and a vaguely socialist politics.
To quote the entry about Fast product on Wikipedia “Often packaging records with a caustic yet subtle sideswipe at consumerism (for example, the image of a wall of gold discs on the cover of the Mekons’ second single), Fast Product attempted to show that all aspects of the record business, from musicianship to design to distribution, could be taken out of the hands of the major labels”. Last tells the story of how he even managed to package and sell rotting orange peel just to prove the point about how absurd consumerism in advanced capitalist societies really was.
The commentary on the film describes Bob and Hilary as “collecting people and sounds” from their flat at number two Keir Street in Edinburgh, from where they launched their assault on the music industry and punk, which they both felt had become the status quo by that point.
There are some hilarious stories told by some of the bands involved with Fast Products, but a consistent theme throughout is the desire these bands shared with Last and Morrison to do something very new and different, control as much as they could themselves and prove that you didn’t have to go to London to be successful.
There are also tales of inter city and inter band rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In the Q&A which followed the screening – very competently chaired by Douglas MacIntyre, and also involving Joe Callis (Rezillos, Human League), Ken McCluskey (The Bluebells), Vic Godard (Subway Sect) – Malcolm Ross (Josef K, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, High Bees) talked about how at a Postcard Records gig at Edinburgh’s Nite Club, Last sent messages to each of the Postcard bands telling them how shit they were and how they were poor imitators of Fast Product’s stable of far better Edinburgh bands.
One of the myths clearly dispelled by the film is that Year Zero in terms of Scottish indie post-punk was not the release of Orange Juice’s “Blue Boy” as is often thought, but the earlier release of Scars single “Horrorshow”/”Adult/ery” on Fast Product.
The influence of Fast Products cannot be underestimated, forming as they did a template for Tony Wilson’s Factory Records.
Last talks about how Wilson would call him up with questions about how to do certain things as he was setting up Factory, but little did he know that in his own mind, Last had given Factory Records a release number on Fast Product, so similar were Factory in both ethos and approach. Love it!
Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order, Peter Hook and The Light) describes how he couldn’t wait to buy the next Fast Products release as they came out and without those records, Warsaw and Joy Division would never have happened. Morrison talks about how they released two Joy Division tracks, because Last simply asked the band for them, but was uncomfortable signing them given the Nazi connotations of the band’s name, and so Joy Division reluctantly signed to Factory.
Distinguished music journalist Paul Morley talks about how Postcard Records did to him what no other record label had ever done before – he didn’t even have to hear what the latest release was, he bought it knowing that it would be amazing – but running throughout the film is a portrayal of a rather unpleasant Alan Horne, who actually thought band managers were more important than the bands themselves and had little time for the musicians who he treated with some contempt and disregard.
This is a theme already covered by Simon Goddard’s book, “Simply Thrilled – The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records” (Elbury Press, 2014), although the flaw in that book is in overestimating the influence of Postcard and not acknowledging that Fast Products was the real catalyst which changed indie music forever.
If there is one individual who captivates and seduces the camera throughout the film, then it has to be Davey Henderson, who continues to make ground breaking indie music with his latest incarnation, The Sexual Objects, along with Douglas MacIntyre, Simon Smeeton and Iain Holford.
Only Davey could come up with the wheeze of releasing only one copy of The Sexual Objects’s second LP, “Marshmallow” and sell it on eBay for more than £4,000! The man is a natural comic genius as well as being a superb musician, and should be officially designated a Scottish national music treasure.
Not surprisingly we gave “Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream” a five star audience rating on our EIFF ballot papers and if there is one thing you must absolutely do this year, then it is to see this magnificent film.
Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream
Grant McPhee / UK / 2015 / 94 mins
Director: Grant McPhee
Producers: Grant McPhee, Erik Sandberg; Scriptwriters: Grant McPhee, Innes Reekie, Erik Sandberg; Editor: Angela Slaven
Director of Photography: Grant McPhee
Sound Production: Douglas Fairgrieve, Paul Hartmann
The post film gig at The Traverse across the road was equally stunning and what a line-up!
Mick Slaven, Douglas MacIntyre, Faye Fife, Russell Burn, Vic Godard and Malcolm Ross.
Open only to those of us who had been fortunate enough to have tickets for the film premiere, we were treated to versions of Fire Engines “Candyskin”, Associates “Party Fears Two” and the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” amongst other things.
What a night pop-pickers, and we are still buzzing twelve hours later!
Tonight it is the mighty Mogwai at Glasgow’s Barrowlands and no doubt a visit to Sandy McLean’s Love Music (Sandy also featured in the film as part of Fast Forward) as you can never have enough vinyl.
Look out for reviews of the Mogwai gig and the excellent bill at the West End Festival’s Oran Mor Sunday extravaganza early next week.