Whether you used to dance to The Rezillos or tap your toes to K.T.Tunstall, Scottish pop music has quite the reputation as Stephen Allen, Curator of the National Museum of Scotland’s latest exhibition, Rip it Up, tells us.
What do The Rezillos, Simple Minds and Garbage have in common? Asides from being musical success stories, these bands all hail from Scotland, and will feature in the National Museum of Scotland’s flagship exhibition for 2018, Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop.
A departure from the traditional exhibition you would expect to see in a museum, Rip it Up is the brainchild of the exhibition’s curator and Head of Learning and Development at National Museums Scotland, Stephen Allen. “I came up with the idea roughly six years ago, during an internal exercise to scope out potential exhibitions. I was inspired by an exhibit I’d seen in Liverpool on the history of pop music. It got me thinking about Scotland’s rich musical history and the story behind it,” Stephen says.
Stephen’s idea was put on ice for a couple of years, and following the success of the Game Masters exhibition in 2015, the wheels were put in motion, “Game Masters was a shift for us in that it was focused on contemporary culture, rather than the natural world or history. It attracted a different audience and a broader demographic, with people visiting the museum that wouldn’t normally do so,” Stephen explains. “It helped crystalise our thinking around doing another contemporary culture exhibition.”
The first exhibition of its kind dedicated to Scottish pop music, when Stephen first came up with the idea for Rip it Up, the focus was music from the 1970s and 1980s. This approach changed when Stephen talked to his colleagues and potential museum visitors, “The more I spoke to different people the more I realised that covering two decades was too limiting. There was a greater story to tell, so we decided to broaden out the timeframe. And the end result is a journey through Scottish pop music spanning from the 1950s to the present day.”
Rip it Up is more than the exhibition - it’s a true celebration of Scottish pop that’s spanning the city.
When choosing which objects to exhibit, Stephen and his team drew up a wish list of items before approaching artists, “We were keen to secure a number of iconic objects; a great example is the rain coat Midge Ure wore in the Vienna music video,” says Stephen, “Some bands we approached wanted to choose the items that represented them. In the case of Belle and Sebastian, they have a close relationship with their fans, which meant they wanted to loan items that their fans had made for them. It’s great to have a balance between those more iconic items and ones with a particular story to tell.”
Over and above the objects on display, I asked Stephen what visitors to the exhibition could expect, “Music. And lots of it,” laughs Stephen, “A soundtrack accompanies the whole exhibition, so visitors will hear music throughout. We’ve also created a live music experience, using footage of bands performing at gigs, which gives visitors another element to enjoy.”
When it came to curating this exhibition, Stephen found it was very different to any other he had worked on in the past, “The main difference with Rip it Up was that we didn’t have any of the objects; we had to reach out to the musicians and bands to borrow them. While museums borrowing from third parties is nothing new, it’s usually limited to a few different lenders. In the case of Rip it Up, over 90% of the material hasn’t been seen in a museum before, so we are dealing with roughly 90 lenders. That’s fairly unprecedented in museum borrowing terms.”
As well as the exhibition itself, there are a whole host of events taking place in conjunction with Rip it Up. A Scottish pop-themed Museum Late will be taking place in November, and there will be after-hours events across the Edinburgh Festival period. The exhibition is also teaming up with the Edinburgh International Festival for their Light on the Shore programme at the Leith Theatre, and a partnership with BBC Scotland has resulted in a series of artist interviews, which will appear in the exhibition and in upcoming TV and radio programmes.
“Rip it Up is more than the exhibition," says Stephen, “It’s a true celebration of Scottish pop that’s spanning the city. Whether people come to see the exhibition or go to one of the associated events, I’m sure Rip it Up will leave people with a real spring in their step.”
To find out more about Rip it Up, visit the National Museums Scotland website.