Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream
Scotland in the mid-seventies was a grainy, bleak, miserable and grey place with high unemployment and little on offer to young working class kids other than a lifetime of continuing mundanity and little hope of transcending their austere surroundings. It wasn’t until punk started making seismic waves from its London origins in 1976 that any kind of future other than ‘No Future’ could be considered as a viable alternative to a generation who had been waiting restlessly in the wings for something they could call their own and would allow them to take their own destinies in hand.
Punk however had its own inbuilt obsolescence and whilst the angry fix which energised this generation had them hooked they needed something a little stronger with more longevity to elongate the high that punk initially instigated.
This is where director Grant McPhee along with Erik Sandberg and Innes Reekie begin their film on the post-punk scene in Scotland which for a change favours the little documented and vitally important east coast Edinburgh scene as opposed to the more familiar west coast Glasgow one.
There are certain points however wherein the twain meet and the reaction from the separate cities was not always amicable or complimentary. Both however were both strongly influenced by the sounds and attitudes of the avant-garde leanings of The Velvet Underground but whereas the Glasgow scene leaned towards the melodic acoustic flavours of ‘Candy Says’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ from the third Velvets album the Edinburgh bands favoured the brutal sonic maelstrom of ‘White Light/ White Heat’ and the aural assault of the likes of‘Sister Ray’.
McPhee manages to garner sound-bites, anecdotes and several insights, both witty and serious in equal measure, from most of the major players on the scene and this is a roll call which features Bob Last, Hilary Morrison, Davy Henderson, Robert King, Malcolm Ross, Fay Fife, Russell Burn, Alan Mc Gee and Peter Hook amongst a cast of seemingly thousands.
The story picks up in 1977 not long after the release of The Buzzcocks’ ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP which so energised Hilary Morrison that she harangued her then boyfriend, Bob Last, into starting a record label in which they could produce original works of its calibre. Thus Fast Product was born and although they only managed twelve releases in their short two year lifespan they brought out first releases by the likes of The Human League who went onto global superstardom, The Mekons, The Scars, Gang of Four and even early works by the likes of Joy Division.
Meanwhile on the west coast Alan Horne had set up his own roster of talent on Postcard records which included Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and Edinburgh’s Josef K whilst at the same time managing to grab the bulk of the headlines and attention from the influential music press.
It is the lesser documented Edinburgh scene which receives the bulk of this film’s attention however and although Last, Morrison and Malcolm Ross are important players if the film can be said to belong to any one individual then that individual is Davy Henderson, formerly of the Fire Engines and Win. He manages to inject a sense of hope and ambition from the first time he saw The Slits support The Clash when he realised barriers and boundaries were being broken down followed by a sense of melancholy, loss and regret as he describes the break up of the Fire Engines and, as things started to sour, his frustration as a sure fire hit for Win-‘You’ve Got the Power‘- became yet another flop instead.
Definitely a highlight of this year’s festival and all the more fascinating as it focuses on the festival’s host city Edinburgh which is much a star of the film as any of its players. ‘Big Gold Dream’ is a fantastic account of a generation who had decided enough was enough and decided to make their own important mark on the world however big or small that contribution was. The voice over by Robert Forster draws the disparate strands neatly together and combined with a veritable feast of footage -much of which has never been widely seen before- the tension, excitement and sheer verve of the scene is captured perfectly. It was a time when the impossible seemed possible and young people, although having very little in comparison to their modern day counterparts, had a sense that their time was now. What they also possessed was a sense of vision, a desire to divert, a need to create and an attitude sorely missing from future generations!
Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream has its premiere at Edinburgh Filmhouse at 20.00 on Friday 19th June and there are a further two showings at Belmont in Aberdeen on Tuesday 23rd and Edinburgh Odeon on Saturday 27th June.