The National Museum of Scotland on the capital’s Chambers Street is an impressive space at any time of day, but the Museum Lates events of recent years have allowed the venerable establishment to display an altogether more glamorous and provocative side to its character.
The clever design of the museum’s refurbishment a few years ago, that directs visitors to travel through an elegant subterranean lobby from the street via the lower-ground level before they ascend into the vast main hall, naturally draws their gaze upwards into the space as they emerge into it, emphasising the vastness of the room with it’s gorgeous, vaulted glass ceiling soaring fully four storeys above them, and regal mezzanines balanced upon one another like tiers of a particularly ornate and intricate wedding cake.
Tonight, after dark, we ascend into into a swirling maelstrom of son et lumiere as multi-coloured stage lights pan around the venue, music fills the air, and we dodge the throngs of Silent Disco dancers that snake around the venue, arms aloft, hips akimbo and wireless headphones aglow. A menagerie of fabulous costumes and the most fancy of dress can be witnessed, augmented by members of the general public who have gamely had their faces made-up with dayglo warpaint and applied music-themed temporary tattoos.
In the main atrium, from a booth set up alongside the main stage, DJ duties fall to national treasure and our host for the evening, Vic Galloway, who plays a set that quite appropriately leans heavily upon the decades of classic Scottish pop celebrated by the Rip It Up! exhibition that’s remained open for late evening viewing alongside tonight’s special event that it partners; while in an adjoining hall, Kitchen Disco firebrand Tallah Brash spins a vivacious selection of emerging and alternative cuts from the nation’s thriving contemporary music scene, although – perhaps a little disappointingly – mainly for the pleasure of punters queueing up for the face-painting stall.
Sacred Paws open the evening’s live music showcase with their effervescent brand of infectious afrobeat. Rachel Aggs’ trademark irrepressible grin beams from the stage as the band, now expanded from a duo to a four-piece for live sets, supplemented by additional guitar and bass, present new material alongside now well-established tracks from their acclaimed debut Strike a Match.
As Sacred Paws perform, a pal tells me that not only are some of Scotland’s leading academics in attendance this evening, apropos to the scholastic setting, but also that they are to be currently found pogo dancing down the front of the stage, which I suppose does demonstrate the breadth of the SAY-award-winning band’s appeal.
It would be a challenge for any sound technician to satisfactorily fill such a huge and reverbartive space with sound from a temporary stage and mobile PA rig, but the system in use tonight does seem chronically underpowered. Without even having to raise their voices, the audience find it easy to hold conversations barely three rows from the stage; so inevitably open chatter throughout the room ensues. This, coupled with certain nuances of the sound – in particular the guitars – failing to puncture the sonic murk, sadly has the effect of occasionally reducing the otherwise spirited live show to the status of background music.
The Pastels take to the stage a little while after Sacred Paws, offering Uncle Vic the chance to give an airing to a few more of his classic Scottish platters that matter between the sets. The veteran Glaswegians endure similar sonic difficulties to the opening act, but their comfortable, cosy sound is perhaps more suited to the room’s echoing acoustics than the spikiness of the openers. Affable flute and trumpet entwine to mirror one another’s melodies and swell to fill the space, underpinned by gently strummed guitars and sweetly harmonious vocals. The act are warmly received by an appreciative and nostalgic audience, but I will admit that it felt to me like the set overall would have benefitted from a little more variety in pace and dynamics.
There are some other minor glitches to what was an overall encouraging evening hosted by the National Museum. Judging from the queues, the scant handful of temporary bars dotted around the venue might have been a little unprepared for the onslaught of thirsty Friday-night music fans they were confronted with; and the shut-down at the end of the evening at 10pm seemed oddly early and abrupt, even if it was governed by licencing restrictions. However, the potential for the Museum Lates programme to continue to develop and offer an intriguing and seductive alternative night out for the capital’s regular gig-goers, while providing those more familiar with visiting the museum the chance to find out about local musical talent, remains enticing.
Photo courtesy of Chris Scott.