The Usher Hall in Edinburgh has played host to many a crowd. The rows of seats and grand decor are used to the shuffle of anticipation and the pangs of excitement. Perhaps though, it has never quite experienced the sea of belief and hope swept through on Sunday evening.
A Night For Scotland featured an array of Scottish musicians, drawn from across genres and eras. There's not many occasions when one finds Amy MacDonald sharing a bill with post-rock titans Mogwai, yet there's a sense that tonight music and political celebration are intertwined.
What follows therefore is not so much social commentary and not so much live music review, but an acceptance that this evening was both of these things and none of these things all at the same time.
Having been around the political game a while, Eddi Reader is no stranger to a well placed slogan. "I love all the No voters too. I love them so much I want to give them a country" she gushes amidst a well chosen set of new song Named We Are Everything, the sentimental Wild Mountain Thyme and the optimistic Perfect.
First half compére Ricky Ross, a man who has to be admired for airing his politics in public despite his weekly slot on BBC Radio Scotland, joined forces with his wife Lorraine McIntosh for a short set as McIntosh Ross, before perhaps the most overtly political band, in terms of their music, is introduced on stage.
Hip-hop arguably overtook folk music as the musical vehicle for protest some decades ago, and Edinburgh's Stanley Odd have continued the tradition in the finest of manners. Front man Dave Hook, a.k.a. MC Solareye, explains that their three song set represents his, and the bands, journey to a Yes vote. Anti-heroics kicks off, armed with the astute observation that "putting an X in the box says you're watching back", whilst a round of "Bed tax! Fuck that!" gathers pace during second track Chase Yirsel. It's the emotional charged ode to Hook's one year old son Son I Voted Yes which gets the biggest reception of the night on a political basis, striking right to the heart of why many in the crowd are here tonight. It's also the one song I felt which drew together this Bombay mix of an audience musically too, the hipster youth, the elder statesmen and women, and as Fred Durst would say the rockers and hip-hoppers.
Following Stanley Odd were Mogwai, famously a band of few words, a least in a live sense. Clad in a 'peace sign' t-shirt, front man Stuart Braithwaite keeps his political observations to a minimum, claiming people are hear to listen to music not people talking. For me as a Mogwai fan that was true. For the few older people covering their ears during Mogwai Fear Satan and shitting themselves at the reprise, perhaps it was not quite the music they expected! The band are every bit as ear splitting, bombastic and powerful as expected, the noise of their set perhaps a well placed metaphor for the noise being made by grassroots Yes Scotland campaigners.
After a short interval, we're in the hands of actress, comedian, and prominent Yes campaigner Elaine C. Smith, fresh down the road from Stirling and a BBC Referendum Debate. Having played her part in a fair share of pantos over the years, she knows how to score points with the audience, and expectantly gains boos by mentioning the 'baddies' Douglas Alexander and Ruth Davidson. The next act Amy MacDonald, returns things to an acoustic level, playing through a small set including her hit This Is The Life and a freshly penned song about optimism and change.
What was the purpose of the evening you may ask? There may well have been a few undecided voters, perhaps even the odd No voter there purely for the musical delights on offer, but by and large this was a partisan crowd, their minds already focused and made up. The true purpose of the evening I believe was a celebration, of all that has been achieved so far, and of all that can still be gained. That feeling was evident as Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand took residency of the stage. The band embody the phrase 'shut up and play the hits', running through tracks like Take Me Out, Michael, Do You Want To and Dark of the Matinee in a blitzkrieg flurry of angular guitars and punchy drums. It shouldn't be lost on the crowd that three of Franz Ferdinand are native born Englishmen, who have called Glasgow home for some time. Taken with the multi-lingual and ethnic crowd drawn from all walks of life, this should show that this evening was not a misty eyed tartan draped love affair, but in fact a celebration of culture from wherever it hails.
With one last rousing interval speech from Elaine C. Smith, it's time for our evenings headliners, Frightened Rabbit, to bring things to a close. The band speak of their pride at being here, and their hope of what can be achieved before launching into another hit packed set, firing out Living In Colour, The Modern Leper and Swim Until You Can't See Land to a receptive crowd. Lead singer Scott Hutchison notes that on occasions like this, songs can take on different meanings before playing Old Old Fashioned with the line, "back to how things used to be" illustrating his point well. Scottish Winds although less well known, is an apt addition to a passionate set, and while Frabbit don't quite have the same mainstream appeal and hip-shaking riffs that Franz Ferdinand do, they manage to close the evening with a heart swelling version of The Loneliness & The Scream culminating in a mass singalong which even Elaine C Smith can't resist.
Perhaps I'm being picky, but my only quibble with the evening would be the name. 'A Night For Scotland' is all well and good, but this night was for Yes Scotland. There should be absolutely no suggestion that the music on show is not for those of a different political persuasion, or that those who do vote No are not part of the future that will involve us all. Inclusivity is what we need, especially that this juncture, and while all should respect the will of artists to make political statements should they wish, music must always transcend and be something that all can enjoy.
There were two notable events in Edinburgh this weekend. Both involved mass crowds and both involved music. Up to 15,000 Orangemen marched past Holyrood displaying in their words, the 'passionate' case for the union. 3,000 people gathered at the Usher Hall to celebrate in a different manner, for a different cause, and a different future. I'm not equating one with the other, and most certainly would not suggest that Yes voters are progressive indie music loving liberals, whilst No voters are steeped in Protestant tradition. The only observation I wish to make is that all too often music is the forebearer of real social change. Look to any major political or social change over the last 100 years, and you'll find songs by Woody Guthrie, or Bob Dylan, or Public Enemy, or The Specials, or Billy Bragg. Notably missing from the songbooks of history are the songs supporting the status quo.
- Neil Wilson
A Night For Scotland can be streamed again via Kiltr.
For more information on why Scottish Fiction supports a Yes vote read here.