Assembly’s bid to create music venue for Edinburgh

Founder of Assembly Theatre William Burdett-Coutts. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Founder of Assembly Theatre William Burdett-Coutts. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE longest-running promoter at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has revealed plans to open a year-round music venue in the city.

Assembly Theatre is planning a permanent transformation of a former church, on Bristo Place, near the National Museum of Scotland.

The company, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary at the festival this month, snapped up the building three years ago, but has only used it during the Fringe so far.

A year-round fine-dining restaurant has just been opened up for the Fringe in the building, which is known as Assembly Checkpoint for the Fringe.

Assembly Theatre hopes to win backing from the council within the next few months to stage to allow live music events to be staged outwith the festival on the upper floor of the B-listed building. Dating back to 1900, it was designed by architect Sydney Mitchell, who also worked on the Dean Village, Ramsay Garden and Craighouse Hospital.

Assembly Theatre founder William Burdett-Coutts said the site on Bristo Place - opposite Hotel du Vin and the Bedlam Theatre - would help meet a growing demand for high-quality music venues in the city centre.

He said it was also aiming to capitalise on the changing face of Edinburgh University’s main campus site, where major refurbishments of both the McEwan Hall and Bristo Square are currently being carried out.

The conversion of the building would be a major boost for Edinburgh’s beleaguered live music scene, which has seen a number of key venues close in recent years, including the Venue on Calton Road, The Lot in the Grassmarket and the Picture House on Lothian Road.

Arts venue Summerhall, one of the most prominent new additions to the Fringe in recent years, launched a series of new live music nights - entitled Nothing Ever Happens Here - earlier this year in response to claims of a deepening crisis.

Assembly bought over the former Roxy Art House, on Roxburgh Place, at the same time as the Bristo Place site after the charity which owned the two buildings suffered a financial collapse.

Although it has staged some theatre and literary events outwith the festival, it is unsuitable for music events due to the close proximity of local residents and the lack of soundproofing in the building.

Mr Burdett-Coutts said: “The shortage in Edinburgh at the moment really does seem to be space for music events. I keep getting approached by people who are looking for that kind of performance space, it just seems like the logical thing to do.

“I also feel that there is not enough live music during the Fringe, so if we could build up a year-round presence it would actually provide a good platform to showcase more music during the festival.

“It’s a really lovely space upstairs and we think it would work really well. We completely sound-proofed the venue upstairs a couple of years ago, so that won’t be an issue at all.”

Another Fringe promoter, Underbelly, has had to relocate from Bristo Square and the McEwan Hall for the next two festivals to accommodate the building work.

A new circular amphitheatre is being created in a new-look square, where a glass pavilion will be built to provide better access to the hall, the university’s main venue for graduation ceremonies.

Mr Burdett-Coutts added: “This whole area is changing hugely. The combination of the move of the Fringe focus up this end of the city and the growth of the university has made a massive difference. It’s all going to change more in the next few years.”