Property developers are pushing musicians out of Edinburgh, warns DJ

The Leith-based group Young Fathers, who won the 2014 Mercury music prize, have been vocal supporters of Edinburgh's music scene. Picture: PA
The Leith-based group Young Fathers, who won the 2014 Mercury music prize, have been vocal supporters of Edinburgh's music scene. Picture: PA
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It is the city that gave birth to musical favourites as varied as Young Fathers, The Proclaimers, Garbage, The Bay City Rollers, The Rezillos, The Incredible String Band, The Waterboys, The Beta Band and Idlewild.

But now an official history of Scottish pop and rock music has warned that Edinburgh’s modern-day musicians have been edged out by the city’s property boom.

Broadcaster Vic Galloway is an official adviser to the National Museum's new exhibition, Rip It Up. Picture: TSPL

Broadcaster Vic Galloway is an official adviser to the National Museum's new exhibition, Rip It Up. Picture: TSPL

Broadcaster Vic Galloway, who is also an official adviser to the National Museum’s new exhibition, Rip It Up, which also features the likes of Simple Minds, Franz Ferdinand, KT Tunstall, Annie Lennox and Biffy Clyro.

Galloway, who is also presenting a radio series inspired by the exhibition, has blamed developers for Edinburgh losing its musical “mojo” in recent years. And he warned that the lack of suitable venues for gigs outwith August meant many people did not now regard Edinburgh as having a year-round music scene.

The museum exhibition was launched by stars like Shirley Manson and Clare Grogan just hours before the city council pulled the plug on the staging of an all-day outdoors Rip It Up Festival in the courtyard of Summerhall arts centre.

Writing in the book, which has been on sale since the exhibition opened, Galloway states that the city’s current music scene “is not what it was.”

He has bemoaned how it has to rely on “bijou” venues like Sneaky Pete’s and Bannerman’s, in the Cowgate, Henry’s Cellar Bar, in Tollcross, and Leith Depot, on Leith Walk, the latter of which is currently threatened with demolition.

The book has been published less than two years after Edinburgh University researchers found that almost half of the city’s musicians, and its venues, claimed to have suffered problems over noise restrictions in the space of a year.

The Picture House, Electric Circus, Studio 24, The Venue, The Citrus Club and the original Bongo Club are among the city centre venues to close their doors in recent years.

However earlier this year live music venues across Scotland won a pledge of greater protection against property developers.They will be ordered to ensure homes built near venues are soundproofed in future.

Galloway recalls how acts like The Clash, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, The Cure, U2 Depeche Mode, The Damned and Dexy’s Midnight Runners all played memorable shows as unknowns in the 1970s and 1980s, with the city playing a central role in the post-punk movement in Scotland.

Galloway writes how Edinburgh lost its musical “hipster crown” in the 1980s, with Glasgow going on to become the UK’s third most happening UK music city after London and Manchester, and is still “booming like never before.”

But he also adds: “Edinburgh, however, has lost a little of its mojo when it comes to contemporary music. In the 1990s and 2000s, The Venue and Calton Studios (later Studio 24) were on the nationwide circuit and booked innumerable international names.

“The Playhouse, Picture House, Cafe Graffiti, The Bongo Club and La Belle Angele all catered for pop, rock, funk, soul and hip hop to indigenous music lovers and the city’s transient student population.

“Some of these venues are sadly no more and, while still healthy, Edinburgh’s scene today is not what it was. With property and development space at a premium, artists have fewer places to go.

“Music does flourish in bijou places like the Leith Depot, Sneaky Pete’s, Bannerman’s and Henry’s Cellar Bar, as well as medium-sized venues like The Liquid Room and the Queen’s Hall. Of course, the capital has the annual Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, but sometimes people forget it is a year-round music city.”

Speaking after the council’s intervention to move the Rip It Up Festival indoors at the weekend, Galloway added: “Taxes, rents and expenses in Edinburgh are far higher than in Glasgow, and there seems to be a greater desire to support local businesses and music venues in Glasgow than in the capital.

“Glasgow is more conducive to small or young music businesses starting up, whereas Edinburgh actively seems to try to frustrate or stop them.

“Also for some reason it seems to be OK to have a month of loud music and outdoor art in August, and 10 days or so at Hogmanay, but not at other times during the year.

“The council seems to continually bow to a very small handful of complaining residents, who know fine well they live near music venues and arts spaces in the centre of a capital city.

“To keep a musical ecosystem alive, you need smaller and medium sized venues in the city.

“They are feeder venues for touring and local acts alike. Edinburgh has real trouble trying to maintain these kind of venues, mainly due to residents’ complaints and a seemingly unsympathetic council.”

Edinburgh-based music tourist expert Olaf Furniss, who also organises the annual industry convention Wide Days, said: “Edinburgh has far more live music than I remember when I was growing up in the 1980s.

“The problem the city faces is the variety of venues catering for touring acts. Whenever somewhere gets established it ends up closing and we need to look at ways to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen as building the reputation among agents and promoters takes time.

“I am cautiously optimistic that at the medium sized level concerts we are going to see a broader choice at the Usher Hall, Queen’s Hall and Leith Theatre. However, it is crucial to ensure talent incubators such as the Leith Depot are protected and their role in the cultural eco-system is taken into consideration when developments are being considered.”

A council spokeswoman said: “There are challenges for live music promotion in the city.

“As property values rise, there are increasing pressures on a range of non-commercial and cultural uses. The council is committed to addressing this situation.

“But, as it happens, the network for live music is still strong. We have a range of venues and promoters which serve the city and the area well and will continue to in the future. Our festivals add to the mix right across the calendar.

“The regulatory environment in a city as densely populated as Edinburgh is also complex. We want to support promoters, but we also have to respect the rights of residents as well.

“The council wants to help promote a diverse, inclusive and affordable live music scene. We are ready to work with all venues and promoters to make that happen.”