A Tale of Two Cities and Cultures in Glasgow
October 3rd 2009
Two music gatherings in Glasgow this week: the MOBO Awards (1) celebrating black music and the opening of the Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (2) on consecutive nights in the SECC and Fruitmarket respectively. Two very different takes of the city, audiences and cultures.
The MOBO Awards had the feel of glitz, bling and ostentatiousness, Hollywood meets Dubai, while carrying the imprint of the mainstream, the bland and the official.
Promo films about Glasgow run before the event; the usual images of the city: the over-promoted square mile of the City Centre, of brands, shops, boutiques, cut with pictures of hills, glens and wildlife roaming (but no local citizens).
Surrounded by ecstatic teenage girls who cheer, scream and applaud everything but seem filled with good humour, manners and being totally in heaven, the crowd has a feel of a Take That or Girls Aloud concert – not that I have seen either live – despite my deep respect for their pop sounds.
The live acts: Tinchy Stryder, Keri Hilson, N-Dubz, Chipmunk, JLS and more, all illustrate the problem with contemporary R ‘n’ B, urban and hip hop. It is all about being in the mainstream, not really a threat to anyone or saying anything, and mostly deeply manufactured. Special mention to N-Dubz, one of whom despite doing his faux rebel youth impersonation – ala East 17 circa 1995 – thanks ‘his accountant’ when they pick up a MOBO.
There is a tribute to Michael Jackson with sister La Toya claiming Michael as ‘the biggest artist of all time’, which is untrue on any level. She did say ‘there will never be another Michael Jackson’, meant as a compliment, rather than something to be thankful for.
The musical tribute had 12 year old Britain’s Got Talent finalist Shaheen Jafargholi who sang at the Jackson memorial sing ‘I Will Be There’ and brother Jermaine do Michael’s favourite song, ‘Smile’. Both dragged and were filled with maudlin emotions, whereas dance troupe Destiny managed better, creating one of their athletic and humorous routines to numbers including‘Bad’ and ‘Black or White’ with at least some spirit in it.
While everyone said all evening it was great for the MOBOs to be in Glasgow, the frequent mentions of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau gave the game away. This was about the official city: a point underlined by Scott Taylor, head of said Bureau being specifically thanked on the BBC highlights. Lets just not pretend any of this is about music or black culture. Instead it is about product placement and positioning.
Next night the Mental Health Arts and Film Festival opened with a concert, ‘Music Like a Vitamin’ to a full house at the Fruitmarket and a tribute to the US outsider musician Daniel Johnston.
The sets were provided by a stellar list of the alt-folk scene: James Yorkston, Alistair Roberts, Karine Polwart and Emma Pollock. Yorkston opened with Adrian Crowley and while Yorkston’s dry, self-depreciating humour carried much, their whole set lacked any atmosphere and despite the jokes had an element of earnestness, certainly from the crowd. It had that hushed feel of early Bob Harris or Cambridge Jazz Festival 1971 and that’s not a good feeling!
Without being ageist the crowd seemed to be a bit of a time-warp, filled with people listening intently in silence and men of a certain age in their tweed jackets. There should not be anything wrong with such types, but it was a bit funny when speaking to the organisers not that loudly well to the back of the hall, one of the said tweed men came up and told us off, and when we looked at him bemused, then informed us ‘that he was being serious’. Reflecting later we sensed we had made his night!
Emma Pollock, previously of the glorious Glasgow band The Delgados raised spirits with an animated, powerful set of rock-folk, but this was a too brief interlude in an evening that was too quiet on both stage and in the hall. What seemed to be lacking most of the evening was an attitude to have a good time and bit of a party which would have been fitting given the themes of the evening. And in particular the audience seemed to be a Richard Thompson crowd who had come to the wrong gig!
Two very different evenings and I don’t know which I most identified with. The MOBOs exemplified the vacuousness of the mainstream, the pretend celebrations and affirmations about nothing except shifting units. But the following night’s folk evening showed the narrowness of one of the strands of the alternative scene. Music in an age where everything is commodified and about keeping the customer satisfied.