On boarding the 12.30 LNER high-speed from Edinburgh Waverly to London Kings Cross, little did I expect that the journey itself would begin in such a decidedly uncanny manner
Having taken our prebooked seats, applied earphones, and settled back to enjoy the 5-hour journey as best we could, a slight sense of unease then enveloped the carriage as the tannoy announced: ‘This is a dry train. No alcohol will be served on this train, and no alcohol is to be consumed on this train, between Waverly station and Newcastle.’
I looked at my partner who was sitting next to me – did we hear that right? And then again, not exactly loud and clear, but clear enough to confirm that this was indeed a dry train. We both attempted to offer a bemused sympathetic concern towards the table of four Geordies sat across from us, who, with a bottle of prosecco at the ready, sat open mouthed as they were The Marks & Spencer prosecco now sat rather sheepishly on their table. I offered a sympathetically embarrassed, ‘Yes no alcohol, apparently, welcome to Scotland.’ I’m not sure why I should feel embarrassed, but I did – in part for the four prosecco drinkers perhaps, but more so that a train line should take it upon itself to pass judgement that travellers between Scotland and the North East unfit or unworthy (both maybe?) to consume alcohol – even M&S prosecco.
However, dry trains, Geordies and Marks & Sparks bubbly aside, we were both on our way to London to take part in the Academy of Ideas’ flag ship event The Battle of Ideas festival in London over the weekend of the 9-10 October 2021. The festival has been running annually since 2005, however because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, this was the first since 2019 . I have been involved with the festival, as a speaker and organiser since 2016. In November 2017, I brought The Battle of Ideas to UWS with the satellite event ‘ Can Culture Save the City?’ – a discussion in part to celebrate and debate Paisley’s bid for the UK City of Culture, but also the wider role of cultural policy in the regeneration of our urban landscape. CCSE members Professor Galyle McPherson and Professor Katarzyna Kosmala were both panellists.
At this year’s Battle I was convening a conversation on the contemporary relationship between what might be best termed a woke cultural sensibility and popular music – “is woke politics the death of rock and roll?’. In June last year, US country band, the Dixie Chicks, announced they would be dropping the Dixie from their name. Famous for criticising the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the female trio decided to drop the Dixie because of its ‘controversial’ association with slavery and the American south. Last September the British Indie popsters British Sea Power dropped the British from their name. it appears the band no longer felt so, justifying the name change on the grounds that they didn’t want ‘…to run the risk of being associated with an apparent global rise of ‘isolationist, antagonist nationalism’.
The two conversationalist, Dr Philip Kiszely, lecturer in performance and cultural histories at the University of Leeds; and Joel Mills, senior music programme manager at the British Council, and an extremely enthusiastic and engaged audience pondered the question is popular music finally growing up and beginning to acknowledge its hitherto historical amnesia and irresponsibility? Or was Nick Cave right when he recently argued that art needs to be wrestled from the hands of the pious, as the willingness of today’s performers to go along with current political trends seems to be the antithesis of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll?
At next year’s festival I’m thinking of organising a session on what is it that national railway service has against Scottish and Geordie drinkers?