Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh’s music scene is troubled

Ross Wilson better known as Blue Rose Code. Picture: Contributed
Ross Wilson better known as Blue Rose Code. Picture: Contributed
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Friday night in Aberfeldy may seem like an odd place to contemplate the travails of Edinburgh’s music scene.

But that is where two of the city’s finest musical exports were plying their trade back-to-back as part of the town’s annual music festival.

Ross Wilson, the singer-songwriter better known as Blue Rose Code, who emerged from nowhere last year with one of the albums of the year, and Lau, the alt-folk trio who have been winning awards almost since they formed ten years ago, boast success stories for Edinburgh to be proud of.

It struck me as significant that both acts featured in two major announcements by Edinburgh’s major festivals within the last week.

Martin Green, Lau’s accordionist, is behind one of the major musical projects confirmed for next year’s Edinburgh International Festival, a collaboration with Portishead’s Adrian Utley, singers Becky Unthank and Karine Polwart and Bafta-winning animators Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson.

Meanwhile both Wilson and Lau’s violinist, Aidan O’Rourke, have been confirmed in the line-up for Edinburgh’s hugely-popular New Year’s Day festival, which sees some of the nation’s musical stars performing for free in venues which are never made public in advance.

The Scot:Lands programme – the main beneficiary from the Scottish Government’s contribution to Edinburgh’s winter festivals – is not only firmly established as the major public event in Edinburgh on New Year’s Day but as one of the best chances of the year to see top-drawer musical acts in the capital. I doubt any other musical event in the city can boast the quality and variety of Scot:Lands.

Part of that is undoubtedly down to finance, as the publicly-funded New Year’s Day event – which also features Mercury Prize nominee C Duncan and Scottish Album of the Year winner Kathryn Joseph – costs at least £200,000 to stage.

All this will be unfolding in the historic heart of a city that is supposed to be one of the most difficult in the UK in which to make a living as a musician, if its many critics are to be believed.

Part of the reason why Scot:Lands, now into its fourth year, is so popular with audiences is the chance to sample a one-off experience inside venues which are rarely even open to the public, far less regularly used for gigs.

All of the above has thrown into sharp relief the slight double-standards that seem to exist when it comes to encouraging live music in the capital.

Edinburgh’s musicians, promoters, producers and venue managers are still digesting the findings from two major pieces of research into the city’s live music scene.

The good news is that nearly three million people attended more than 23,000 music events in the city in the space of 12 months, generating 
£40 million for the economy.

The bad news is almost half of Edinburgh’s musicians say they have suffered problems over noise restrictions over the last year – mainly due to a bizarre rule which states live music must be inaudible in neighbouring properties.

Almost three-quarters of musicians also say the number of gigs they are getting has either been static or on the slide.

As with the summer festivals, when the city seems to adopt an “anything goes approach,” many of those aggrieved musicians are entitled to look at what happens in Edinburgh on New Year’s Day and ask why there is not the same relaxed approach to regulation 12 months of the year – rather than when there are thousands of tourists around.