As far as alternative music is concerned the Edinburgh Fringe is a bit of a black hole for local acts.
Those of us putting on music during the festival can’t reach the visiting audience because we don’t have the commercial power to compete in the blizzard of promotional confetti, and we struggle to reach our own audience as they tend to see something from out of town while they can.
When I moved here in 2005, the Fringe was well served with music. In fact, seeing Yo La Tengo at T on the Fringe got me into the habit of going to gigs by myself, which led to me making friends in the local DIY scene and ultimately to the founding of the record label – Song, by Toad – I now run.
T on the Fringe morphed into The Edge, and although both were targeted more at big-name acts, of whom we had very few in the city, there were nevertheless opportunities for local bands to get support slots.
Musicians with careerist sensibilities tend to flee Edinburgh pretty sharpish, heading for the more established stamping grounds of Glasgow or London, so the people left behind tend to be the hapless, the idiosyncratic or the plain bloody-minded. I suppose I would say I am the latter. It makes for an interesting mix, and in the 2006-11 period there was a real swell of success and enthusiasm. It brought us a lot of the Edinburgh bands who fill the larger venues in town today: Broken Records, eagleowl, Kid Canaveral, Meursault, Rob St John and Withered Hand.
A lot of this was driven by the Tracer Trails gig promotion team, and in 2008, at St John’s Church, they put on a month of shows involving almost entirely local bands called Retreat. Retreat evolved to become a weekend-long celebration of local music. And then, sadly, there wasn’t one last year. Emily from Tracer Trails moved to Glasgow, and co-conspirator Bart Owl didn’t have the time. In fact there was almost no local music on during the Festival at all.
As soon as Retreat failed to happen last year, the very first thing I thought to do was to have a go myself. For anyone thinking “idiot” at this stage, don’t worry, I agree with you.
I sounded out Henry’s Cellar Bar and sat down with Bart Owl, Neil Pennycook from Meursault and Rob St John to talk about doing something locally driven in August.
And we have done exactly that: nine nights of brilliant, locally sourced music, in a venue which has for years been one of the engine rooms of the underground music scene here in Edinburgh.
To give the nights a little more character we’ve asked the nine headliners to pick their own support acts. The price is being kept deliberately low, with all but one of the gigs a mere £5 each. You can even buy a season ticket for £25.
The bands range from the introspective singer-songwriter Malcolm Middleton to the dark, atmospheric eagleowl, eccentric electronic pop experimentalists FOUND, screaming mentalists The Leg, snarling country-tinged punk from Sparrow and the Workshop, and Scottish Album of the Year Award winner RM Hubbert, left. There are many more: 27 bands in total over 31 days.
Meanwhile, the Queen’s Hall has Withered Hand, King Creosote, Rachel Sermanni and Stanley Odd on this year. Similarly, the team behind Haddowfest are promoting gigs at The Liquid Room, with Broken Records, Kid Canaveral, The Twilight Sad and The Pictish Trail. It may be risky, but it looks like 2013 might well be the best for local music yet.