Brian Ferguson: Never forget Scotland's priceless cultural heritage

The most common question I am asked in the line of duty is: 'What exactly is it that you cover?' Oddly, some people seem a tad surprised that film, live music and literature are considered art forms.
The Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow, the worlds oldest surviving concert hallThe Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow, the worlds oldest surviving concert hall
The Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow, the worlds oldest surviving concert hall

The boundaries have become so blurred between culture and the creative industries these days that architecture, design, fashion and computer gaming are very much in the mix for me.

It’s also hard to imagine Scotland’s tourism, events and media industries existing without any of the above either.

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Then there is heritage - an area that seems to play an increasingly significant part in the Scottish cultural landscape. By this weekend, I had lost count of the number of stories from the previous week that had significant heritage elements.

First off the blocks was news of a National Museum of Scotland exhibition exploring more than 60 years of the nation’s pop and rock music heritage. Just over a decade ago the idea of such as show a prestigious art gallery or museum would have been dismissed out of hand.

The success of the David Bowie and Pink Floyd exhibitions in London, along with those devoted to Kylie Minogue and AC\DC in Glasgow, have changed all that. The “Rip It Up” exhibition in Edinburgh next year could prove to be one of the museum’s most popular exhibitions.

The next day, I was off to Glasgow for the unveiling of the Celtic Connections programme. While much of the buzz is over its most ambitious concert yet at the Hydro, it was the appearance of the Pavilion Theatre in the line-up which caught my eye.

Why it has taken Celtic Connections a quarter of a century to use a building on the doorstep of the Royal Concert Hall is a bit of a mystery. But it seems only right that it finally expands into a venue that has played host to Billy Connolly, Lulu, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Lauder.

Back in Glasgow, contenders at the regional finals of Scottish tourism’s “Thistle Awards” included the Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving concert hall, and the operators of the Glasgow Music City Tours, which take in the city’s iconic venues like Barrowland and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut.

It is only a few months since the promoters who run King Tut’s, claimed its future was being threatened by a neighbouring development. You don’t have to go back very far before recalling similar concerns about Barrowland’s future.

In Edinburgh, of course, there was widespread consternation over the demise of the Picture House, a long-running cultural venue dating back to 1923, when it opened as a cinema, and had several incarnations hosting live music. The city council almost sold the old Leith Theatre to developers, even though it had been used for Edinburgh International Festival shows as far back as 1961.

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Much of the concern over threats to venues boasting significant cultural heritage is that that does not seem to count for much in the Scottish planning system.

However that could now change as a result of the biggest ever public consultation on the nation’s historic buildings, places and monuments. Instigated by Scottish Government agency Historic Enironment Scotland, it found 95 per of people wanted the country to look after its heritage, with more than two thirds calling for the public to have a say on special designations.

The isolated cottage on Jura where George Orwell wrote “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was cited as an example of somewhere that could be given protected status due to its cultural connections. Others include the Barras and the former cafe in Edinburgh where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel.

If Scotland is serious about celebrating and protecting its cultural heritage the very least that should be achieved is a new policy which ensures that the cultural connections of a place is at least recognised and considered when decisions about its fate are being taken.