Brian Ferguson: Music is being drowned out at the Edinburgh festival

Franz Ferdinand were part of the successful 'T on the Fringe' series when the music scene was booming in the 1990s and 2000s.
Franz Ferdinand were part of the successful 'T on the Fringe' series when the music scene was booming in the 1990s and 2000s.
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My social media feeds have been buzzing with pictures and video of some of Scotland’s finest musical talents performing in packed venues before adoring crowds.

Much of this was powered by the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and VisitScotland, throwing their weight behind one of the biggest ever showcases of Scotland’s music.

But this extended party was unfolding nowhere near the world’s biggest cultural celebration, which reached its peak in the Scottish capital over the weekend. While performers, audiences, promoters, festival organisers and other international delegates have arrived in Edinburgh in their droves, the focus for many of Scotland’s leading musicians has been in Brittany.

Scotland being chosen as the guest country of honour at the 10-day Festival Interceltique de Lorient was clearly a golden opportunity to raise the profile of the thriving music and culture at the traditional end of the scale.

But its undoubted success made me wonder why Scottish bands and singers struggle to get much of a look in at the Edinburgh Festival - in its widest sense - these days.

I was at a fairly gloomy music industry gathering at Summerhall arts centre, where Shona McCarthy, Fringe chief executive, heard several tales of woe of how music had been edged out. Even year-round venues, whose managers work tirelessly to nurture the scene, admitted comedy takes over at the expense of gigs.

Part of the problem is the cost of programming individual gigs which need separate programme entries. Venues get far more punters through the doors of a venue putting on comedy shows all day rather than two or three bands, who need time to set up and soundcheck. The growth in popularity of free comedy shows and their bar sales have made matters worse.

It is a far cry from the situation in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was an explosion of live music, thanks mainly to the advent of the long-running T on the Fringe series.

The situation has been compounded this year by the absence of two mainstays of music on the Fringe. The Famous Spiegeltent lost its site in St Andrew Square, while the St Brides Centre is empty for the first time in years after a council rent hike forced the Acoustic Music Centre to relocate to a smaller venue.

Elsewhere, the Queen’s Hall and Summerhall (a venue which has all but banished comedy) seem to be genuinely committed to live music, but are very much rarities.

A real push by the Edinburgh International Festival under Fergus Linehan’s directorship has seen Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, King Creosote, Young Fathers, Karine Polwart and James Yorkston take centre stage in his first couple of programmes. A shortage of Scottish acts in his third programme is fairly striking now.

It may have been a coincidence that Shona McCarthy spoke out about the domination of stand-up comedy at the Fringe the day after the music industry gathering. She made it clear she does not feel that new theatre does not get anything like the attention that comedy does.

But at least it has a decent platform across dozens of stages in August. The same cannot be said of music, particularly home-grown.

It may take a concerted effort by a couple of leading music promoters to redress the balance, with at least new dedicated venue, similar to the circus arena on the Meadows.

This could be a risky proposition with the fierce amount of competition for audiences in Edinburgh and the other music festivals being staged around the country this month.

But if music is truly one of the strongest strands of Scottish culture, it deserves better when the eyes of the world are on the capital.