Festival chief: Edinburgh needs new concert venue

Fergus Linehan says Edinburgh deserves a new concert venue. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Fergus Linehan says Edinburgh deserves a new concert venue. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE new director of the Edinburgh International Festival has warned that the city has an urgent need for a new concert hall.

Irishman Fergus Linehan said there was a “gaping gap” in the Capital for a medium-sized venue which is capable of housing different styles of music.

He said the city’s year-round music scene – which has suffered the loss of a number of key venues in recent years – was being “held back” by the absence of a world-class facility, adding that Edinburgh was now lagging badly behind Glasgow.

Mr Linehan said concerts were being “pushed” into unsuitable venues and that visiting artistes and audiences deserved far better.

An official “mid-scale music venue review” commissioned by the city council recommended the creation of a new concert hall nine years ago, but was never acted upon.

Various sites have been suggested for a new concert hall over the last decade, including Leith Docks, where the MTV Europe Music Awards were staged in 2003, and in the Ingliston area, where the EIF has previously staged theatrical productions, at the Royal Highland Centre.

More recently, the council has suggested the creation of new cultural hubs in Fountainbridge, on existing gap sites used for Fringe venues in the last few years, and in the Bristo Square/Potterrow area, which is due to be developed by Edinburgh University in the next few years.

Concerts in the EIF programme have been traditionally been staged at the Usher Hall and the Queen’s Hall.

However, this year Mr Linehan launched a new experiment by staging a late-night cabaret-style club at the festival’s own headquarters at The Hub on the Royal Mile.

Other concerts by Franz Ferdinand and Sufjan Stevens were staged at the Festival Theatre and Playhouse respectively.

Since his appointment in April 2013, he has vowed to showcase different styles of music at the festival, which is due to celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2017.

However, Mr Linehan, a former director of the Sydney Festival and ex-head of music at Sydney Opera House, said he had found that Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival was better served by the range of venues on offer, including the Royal Concert Hall, the City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket, than his own event.

Mr Linehan said: “Capital infrastructure is just as important to the festivals as their revenue funding.

“Venues need maintaining and there are gaps at the moment. The main one is for a 1000-seater concert hall. Music in Edinburgh is being held back by the absence of a really world-class facility of that scale. If you could do just one thing in the city that would be it.

“It is not just us that needs it, music in the city needs it. All sorts of genres of music gets pushed into venues which are fine, but they deserve better.

“You see what Glasgow can do with all of its venues and the way something like Celtic Connections can move through all of them. We don’t have anything like that.

“Edinburgh needs a mid-scale music centre really badly. It is by far and away the biggest gap. It really does stop any attempt to get a different audience to go to classical music. Younger people want to go to nice venues.

“I’m not just talking about chamber concerts, this is also about jazz, folk and electronica music. There’s a gaping gap at the moment.

“There are moves afoot and hopefully something will come out of it. But Edinburgh needs a mid-scale music centre badly.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said the authority was committed to ensuring that “live music can continue to thrive and grow”.

She added: “A gap remains in the provision of a mid-scale music venue, but there are challenges around what the council can practically do and afford, and unless funding is realised for a project of this scale, this gap remains.”