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Brian Hogg on Cosmopolitan Scum!: Edinburgh the Arts and the Counterculture

We’re really looking forward to getting our hands on the new book by Brian Hogg and we’ll have a copy for you to win soon in a competition: keep your eyes on our twitter feed next week. In the meantime we asked Brian about how the book came about… Thanks Brian!

If I could be excused a little name-dropping in this preamble, it was while having tea and toast with Pete Brown – poet, singer and lyricist for both Cream and Jack Bruce – that the idea for a book about Edinburgh’s alternative arts scene first took hold. Pete spoke affectionately about a city where he read frequently and met like-minded spirits and in the process conjured images of an exciting, subterranean bohemia wherein the Liverpool poets mingled with locally-based wordsmiths such as Alan Jackson and Pete Morgan. I had already chronicled Scottish Rock And Pop in All That Ever Mattered, published in 1993, and thought this new topic might make an interesting successor. Content would not only include such writers but also The Paperback Bookshop, the Incredible String Band, Bert Jansch and Mark Boyle and, using Edinburgh as its focus, show how many individuals once based there would become important figures within the wider 1960s’ counter-culture. To give a brief example, in 1966 staff working on the ‘underground’ newspaper, International Times, included Jim Haynes, John McGrath and Jack Moore, all of whom first met in the city prior to reconvening in London.

Brian Hogg in rock’n’roll pose at the Concert for Stewart Cruickshank

I worked on the idea in sporadic fashion for over a decade, compiling notes then filing them away, until attending a book launch for Mike Heron’s shared biography You Know What You Could Be in 2017. Reading his evocative contribution was one of these ‘Damascus’ moments and I immediately decided to stop procrastinating and get the book written. Using the founding of the Fringe as a starting point I began to thread together the different artistic strands active within the city, noting their evolution and influence, and placing them in a wider context. I initially planned to end the tale around 1969, but this precluded too many important figures and events from subsequent decades and the text, which then seemed to assume a momentum of its own, now closes with Neu! Reekie!

The book’s title, ‘Cosmopolitan Scum!’, came from a remark attributed to Hugh MacDiarmid during the 1962 International Writers’ Conference. The subject of his ire was a new, emergent generation of writers such as Alexander Trocchi, William Burroughs and Ian Hamilton Finlay, all of whom feature in the book’s narrative. The phrase was a gasp of protest from an older generation about to be supplanted and seemed wryly apt for the content within. The Conference itself is one of several major events detailed, alongside folk music, the radical 60s/70s Film Festivals, the Traverse and Other Pool Theatres, the Richard Demarco Gallery, post-punk, Rebel Inc, Eduardo Paolozzi and a whole lot more in celebration of Edinburgh’s pivotal role in shaping British post-war progressive arts. Although the account does follow something of a time line, each chapter can be read as a stand-alone piece, complete with full notes and references.

As the book neared completion I sought out prospective publishers to no avail. So it goes. However, having gone as far as I had, I didn’t want to give up. Deciding to self-publish was one thing; achieving it was something else given my technological ignorance. Luckily, I mentioned my quandary to Lindsay Hutton, a long-time friend and publisher of  The Next Big Thing  who stepped up to the plate and transformed my word document into files from which a paperback book could be printed. I am deeply grateful for the work he put in, as well as his undertaking – with good grace – the several ‘last time’ instances of the author asking “…………could we just squeeze (blah blah) in………….”

So here we are; two books in thirty years – a Harper Lee of Scottish popular culture. This one, however, is more personal. I was born in Edinburgh but although I haven’t lived there for over four decades, it still feels like home. Memories return whenever I’m there and the music, poetry, film and drama I first encountered in the city has shaped who I am and the cultural experiences I enjoy. This book is my heartfelt thank you.

Brian Hogg

Cosmopolitan Scum! Edinburgh, the Arts and the Counterculture  is now available from Amazon and several independent outlets.