Looking across the Tay from his home in Newport, Scottish writer and broadcaster Billy Kay has always been struck by the beautiful setting enjoyed by Dundee and defined in the city’s motto “Dei Donum” gift of God.
Today though his living room also gives him a front seat view of the waterfront with its massive cranes and diggers building a new approach to a city which has been re-inventing itself for more than 800 years.
It’s this remarkable transformation which will be explored by Billy in a BBC Radio Scotland programme ‘Rediscovering Dundee’ to be broadcast on Tuesday November 17.
And it’s the “unique perspective” of living in Newport for the past 27 years which Billy says has helped him understand the heart and soul of Scotland’s fourth city.
“The fact that the Tay Road Bridge is a comparatively recent structure means there’s still the view from some Dundonians that ‘there be dragons beyond the Tay!’”he told The Courier. “Newport is a village in its own right, yet it is just five minutes from a major city centre. It’s remarkable when you think about.”
Billy is no stranger to discovering the city, and the keen Dundee United supporter has always been fascinated with the powerful working class Dundonian identity, born out of a history where wealth has always been ill divided.
The Ayrshire-born Edinburgh University graduate, who has worked in broadcasting since 1979, edited The Dundee Book in the early 1990s, and has made TV documentaries about the city. His play ‘They Fairly Mak Ye Work’ about Dundee jute workers broke box office records at Dundee Rep in its two runs at the theatre in 1986.
But what Billy found most fascinating about making this latest radio documentary is that it helped him ‘rediscover’ Dundee for himself.
He said: “When I first came to Dundee in the 1970s, I was walking in the city centre and had this feeling that something was wrong there. There was something disjointed about it. Making this programme has made me realise what that was. The city today is cut off from the river, and that’s a totally unnatural situation. From the time the bridge was built in the 1960s, the reclaimed land around the bridge landfall pushed the river away for the first time in Dundee’s 800 year history. What the construction of the V&A will do is re-connect the city’s historic links with the river that made this city. People will be able to rediscover their own city.”
From the £1 billion waterfront revamp to its winning bid as one of 17 world cities holding Unesco City of Design status, Dundee is undoubtedly on the up.
Once famed for ‘jute, jam and journalism’, Dundee has worked hard to overcome its fair share of social and economic problems which emerged from seismic industrial change.
Sprawling poorly-planned housing estates on the outskirts of the city sprung up in the 1960s and 1970s with high unemployment and deprivation making Dundee sometimes seem like Scotland’s forgotten city.
And yet despite its improving fortunes, Dundee remains a city of contrasts with high levels of aspiration on the one hand and high levels of poverty on the other.
Billy’s programme gauges the reaction of the city’s population to the high spend projects when swathes of the city population are dependent on food banks.
Community activists question the city fathers’ priorities amid claims that the waterfront is ‘Yuppieland’ and that ‘more should be done to fill the bellies of local bairns first’.
Yet the story of contemporary Dundee is a positive one where creativity and artistic vibrancy is at the core and Dundonians can be proud of their roots.
Billy looks at the role of design whether it is through Duncan of Jordanstone Art College or the fashion creations of acclaimed young designer Hayley Scanlon.
The programme visits one of the Global Pecha Kucha nights where huge crowds turn out to see the creative buzz of artists.
Innovation, science and popular culture interact through a thriving computer games industry.
Entrepreneur and CEO of 4J Studios Chris van der Kuyl links this to the city’s history in newspaper and comic production where DC Thomson & Co Ltd, publisher of The Courier, led the way.
Billy added: “We’ll also celebrate the city’s cultural creativity in music, poetry and song often linked to the vibrancy of the local dialect of Scots which has been a vehicle for everything from science fiction novels to the rap poetry of Gary Robertson. Sheena Wellington talks about her song Women o Dundee and discusses whether the legacy of the huge female work force survives to the present day.“Rediscovering Dundee airs on BBC Radio Scotland at 1.30pm on Tuesday November 17.