Well East Coast Boys Are Hip: I Really Dig Those Styles
Pic - Robert King, The Scars
When the late, great, American journalist Hunter S Thompson wrote: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.” It fast became an overused sentence to describe the music industry because its sentiments in brevity (exactly 140 characters, coincidently) describe pretty succinctly what the music biz represents for many indignant musicians around the globe, current and past. It’s almost become a bit of a clichéd phrase, but it’s also important to note - and let’s chime with one of the points made in Michael Hann’s departing piece as Guardian music editor; yes, musicians don’t make fortunes from their endeavours - but neither do producers of feature length music documentaries. Malcolm Ross of Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera: “It’s art, not commerce. We always wanted to be independent.”
Punk changed all that. No longer enthralled to the major corporations, Independent labels were sprouting up all over Scotland and then The White Riot Tour arrived May 7th, 1977: “It was a real year zero moment.” Davy Henderson, singer, arch agitator with Fire Engines, muses in Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk & Infiltrating the Mainstream. The feature length documentary that finally sees a public broadcast on BBC2 Scotland come Saturday night almost 40 years to the day when The Clash, The Jam, Buzzcocks, The Slits and The Subway Sect crammed into Edinburgh’s Playhouse.
“It was just a kinda DIY don’t give a fuck kinda attitude, but it was intelligent. The East coast stuff was always a lot more abrasive, angular, I don’t think any of us at the time realized what an important, cultural thing Fast Product would go on to be.” - Innes Reekie
Directed by Grant McPhee, Big Gold Dream centres on Edinburgh’s greatest record label of all time, Fast Product: A precursor to Manchester’s Factory, a curious influence and competitor to Alan Horne’s Postcard across in Glasgow, Fast Product’s short life time spanned two glorious years as it released records by some of the period’s most enduring groups.
“Bands before were like complete divinities - they weren’t connected to the people at all, and that completely changed the very first time when The Slits walked onto the stage and the singer asked the crowd if anyone had a comb, and came down into the audience so broke that barrier.” - Davy Henderson
Almost 40 years since its inception, founders Bob Last and Hilary Morrison’s label Fast paved the way for “indie” music, as we know it now. Such was the popularity of Fast they were knocking back tapes from the Cramps and Joy Division (the latter appearing on one of the Earcom compilations, Morrison rightfully uncomfortable with Curtis’ band name of choice). It brought us The Mekons, Gang of Four, The Scars and The Human League. For too long Fast has lived in the shadow of the rather flamboyant, west-coast timbres of Orange Juice and Postcard Records – Daly, Kirk, McClymont, Collins, and the hermetic Horne et al – still an absolute obsession of mine. Big Gold Dream corrects this and in doing so puts to bed the 2008 documentary Caledonia Dreamin’ which sadly ended up as a promotional film for Scottish Independence.
“One of my mates came into my office and showed me the first Gang of Four record with all the great packaging that influenced Factory – what Bob Last did with Fast Product – that was the template for all the early cool indie records.” - Mark Stewart, The Pop Group
Albeit parallels in spirit and philosophies what Big Gold Dream documents is the antitheses of Postcard and Fast. Innes Reekie rightly points out that The Glasgow School were listening to the Byrds, The Velvet Underground et al. The Edinburgh cognoscenti: Television and Pere Ubu.
It was the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch single that really started it all for Fast Product. Hillary Morrsion, co-founder of Fast bought the 7” for her then boyfriend Bob Last, who were both at the time working on tour with The Rezillos. The aspiring impresario, Last, immediately acquired a £400 bank loan, whilst drawing on “Mao’s military strategy” to push his vision forward and as the Australian narrator on Big Gold Dream describes - Robert Forster, singer with The Go-Betweens and Postcard alumni: Fast Product was born.
What Big Gold Dream achieves with its national broadcast is finally what Fast Product, Morrison and Last deserve: mainstream recognition. Consolidating on the relative success of Fast – Last finally gets the hits he’s been craving with The Human League - managing them, signing them to Virgin - Dare selling c9m records in the process and Don’t You Want Me topping the charts on Christmas day, 1981. Orange Juice hadn’t even released their debut album yet.
Big Gold Dream, Saturday 15th April, 9pm on BBC2 Scotland. Watch the trailer here.