Back when the annual LeithLate mini-festival of art, music and general cultural congregation first arrived in 2011, Leith was a different place. Physically, the change has been slight, with new blocks of student housing appearing here and there, yet in character it’s changed markedly; there are now hundreds more students and young families, with gentrified bars and coffee shops to maintain them. The area has a youthful, cosmopolitan feel which stands alongside the down-to-earth and sometimes rough character of the place from decades before.
Various venues, Edinburgh ****
In 2011, in other words, multi-national groups of excited students on a swift crawl of venues filled with contemporary art and music might have seemed out of place, whereas now LeithLate’s opening night feels much like any other night in Leith. The festival’s director Morvern Cunningham has a keen eye and ear for what Leith was, is and is becoming, and her programming bears all of this in mind.
The opening night’s Art Crawl – a now-traditional and very revealing and enjoyable stroll around various pop-up performance and exhibition spaces – bleeds into the fabric of the area where it can. Perhaps most oddly entertaining of all these interventions was Edinburgh performance group Creative Electric’s Is this the real life? Is this just broccoli? at Leith Launderette, where a makeshift Vegas wedding space had been created amid the tumble driers and the brightly-dressed performers were “marrying” off visitors with exaggerated theatricality.
Further down Leith Walk in Sikh community café Punjabi Junction, meanwhile, curator Holly Knox Yeoman and artist Stephanie Mann have created Sunset Strip Carrot Dangle, an exhibition which illuminates the already volcanically bright interior with paintings by the latter which hint at the theme of “precarity”; the precarious state of the block the café is housed in, currently under threat of demolition and development, and also of the precariously balanced, digitally realised foodstuffs in the images. Most timely and inventive of all is the sculpture the public are invited to build over the course of the festival – a tower of donated food to be redistributed to Edinburgh North East Food Bank.
A few doors along, the always-lively Leith Depot had live music, while across the road Out of the Blue’s former council office studio held open viewings by its resident artists, including Rhona Taylor and her beautiful, icy blue aquatic prints. The Travelling Gallery had parked up alongside, bearing Jamie Green’s odd, alien expanding foam sculptures, Tessa Lynch’s text piece The Painter’s Table & The Flaneuse, and more.
To add to the atmosphere, a number of local bands and DJs were playing in some of the bars of Leith Walk, but the main noise which could be heard all around was coming from local independent book and music store Elvis Shakespeare, a place which never misses an opportunity to stick a PA in the doorway and have an impromptu gig. From Errant Boy’s opening set while the evening commute was still happening to Geek Maggot Bingo’s fuzzy rockabilly closer, an eager crowd gathered on the pavement.
There was a tiny exhibition entitled Pics or It Didn’t Happen in the old Leith Walk Police Box at Shrubhill, on a small screen, while the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh held an exhibition of archive photography based on “the battle of Broughton Street Unemployed Centre” and artist Kevin Harman’s Ltd Ink Corporation was open for socialising – if not actually any art – to show off a space he hopes to use for projects and performance.
It was unfortunate that everything finished at 9pm, leaving LeithLaters to retire to one of the many pubs in the area and perhaps joke that the festival should be called ‘Leith Early’. For those who had a ticket, however, the closing party was at the church function space Henderson Halls, and was a label party for the Edinburgh-based signees of Johnny ‘Pictish Trail’ Lynch’s Lost Map.
Savage Mansion were a brisk, boisterous indie-rock proposition, and it was a real joy to see Kid Canaveral on the eve of new single Pale White Flower’s release. The quintet’s ability with joyous, odd-sounding indie-pop anthems is significant, and they deserve to make a long-deserved breakthrough.
LeithLate 2017 is at various venues until tomorrow, www.leithlate.co.uk