The Gender Neutral Toilets are warmly welcomed by ‘trans queer’ punk band Spook School though I tiptoe back out to the old school Ladies after encountering a row of urinals.
‘Hello World, welcome to Paisley,’ the smiling face of Paisley2021’s Jean Cameron beams a global greeting from the SAY award screen streamed live from Paisley Town Hall, ‘Enjoy the party. We’re delighted to have you with us’.
Who knows how many fans are tuning in on laptops, phones and tablets far from Paisley? Right here and now in the town hall, faces of a mostly young and hip crowd beam back through beards of candy floss (a sticky challenge for the really beardy ones). Scottish music enthusiasts are gathering for an evening of celebration and it starts in style with Anna Meredith, last year’s SAY (Scottish Album of the Year) Award winner, shaking the timbers of the 19th century magnificence in the town centre.
Snap it on the mobile. Here’s a moment of the kind of optimistic energy that’s driving the bid for UK City of Culture. Besides, Jean Cameron’s introductory video reminds us, Paisley has a musical heritage of its own to be proud of: Gerry Rafferty, Paolo Nutini, Momas…
The buzz felt from the balcony seems a long way from the silent streets we walked through to get here. By 6pm town centre shops are shuttered, cafes closed. Is this the face of the aspiring UK City of Culture? Paisley 2021 will surely be hatching plans to extend their welcome to hungry visitors exploring the cultural past and present of the town.
It’s a livelier scene round the entrance to the town hall. The Abbey square attracts crowds for regular markets and festivals, events offering evidence of how empty space can be transformed with imaginative collaboration. Tonight that transformation is happening with the sixth SAY Award Ceremony, the second in Paisley (it was held here in 2016), proving that there is creative life outside big urban centres.
Quirky, queer and exuberantly catchy
Inside BBC presenters Vic Galloway and Nicola Meighan are running through plans for the night, young technicians setting up the press room for interviews with the artists waiting to hear if they’ve won the £20,000 award. The progressive confidence of liberal Scotland summed up in the Gender Neutral Toilets sign posted at the top of the stairs. (That’s a gesture warmly welcomed by ‘trans queer’ band Spook School though I tiptoe back out to the old school Ladies after encountering a row of urinals.)
For me, it’s a rare occasion when my day job aligns with voluntary work (I’m here wearing two hats – as Walking Heads director and a Sceptical Scot editor) and I’m enjoying the company of a work placement student gaining a week’s experience of digital media publication. Tess has never been to Paisley before (her first impressions are published on Walking Heads blog) and it’s a treat to travel in the company of a young and inquiring but sympathetic mind. Tess is interested in politics so for Sceptical Scot she’s researching the Corbyn surge among young voters. And after Glastonbury I’m wondering if there will be passionate declarations from young artists on the stage.
But no. Nothing more controversial than the upbeat tributes to trans gender identity from Edinburgh’s punk-pop Spook School (‘You are not a computer / You are complex and undefined / So why let yourself be limited to binary desires?’)
No indeed. Tonight’s joyful event is a welcome reminder that there is much more to life in Scotland than angry tribal politics. Snap it on the mobile: excitement, nerves, talent; happy, enthusiastic people working together, sharing a love of music. All kinds of music. While some of the short list titles suggest a niggling hint of impending doom, (Mogwai’s Atomic, Ela Orlean’s Circles of Upper and Lower Hell and Sacred Paws Strike a Match) there’s an overwhelmingly positive thrust to the bands playing live: from Anna Meredith’s opening anthemic wall of sound, through Spook School’s quirky, queer and exuberantly catchy punk, Elephant Sessions’ jiggety, funky folk (neo-trad no contradiction in terms) to Be Charlotte, the Dundee trio fronted by 19-year-old Charlotte performing the inventive indie-pop that took them to SXSW in Austin Texas.
Sadly Tess and I have to beat it for a train before the winners are announced but we catch the award to Sacred Paws and hugs with Vic and Nic as they are live-streamed to the world – and our phones on Paisley Gilmour Street station. It turns out more than 30,000 tuned in to watch the event streamed live from the Music Crowns Facebook page. And that’s not counting viewers on SAY Award’s website. Jean Cameron will be happy to know quite a lot of the outside world was beaming into Paisley town hall.
You can see the SAY Award ceremony video HERE