Leith Festival: Feeling gala-d all over

Leith Festival  2013. Picture: contributed
Leith Festival 2013. Picture: contributed
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It may be nearly 100 years since it amalgamated with Edinburgh, but when it comes to a passionate sense of identity, Leith is the word.

And whether you are into football, art, dancing, painting, sand-castle making or even learning how to properly identify members of the occult, this year’s Leith Festival certainly has something for you.

The first Leith Gala Day took place in 1907, before the advent of the NHS, to raise funds for paying for treatment at Leith Hospital. Over the years it has grown into a nine-day celebration of the area’s unique spirit, encapsulating performers from all spectrums of the art world.

Tony Delicata, who took over the organisation of the festival earlier this year, says: “This year’s festival will see 54 events happening over nine days across 38 different venues, all within a one-mile radius of the centre of Leith.”

The festival will be officially launched in the Kirkgate Shopping Centre on June 7, where audiences will be treated to a taster of what is in store, followed by the Gala Day and Pageant on June 8, which is expected to see roughly 10,000 people descend on Balfour Street from 11am before making their way through the streets down Leith Walk and towards Leith Links.

And organisers are hoping to keep the jubilant atmosphere going, with fun and informative events offering something to suit all tastes.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest in our Peter Smith Memorial Charity Match on June 15, where we’re raising money for local charities by getting people to bid to play against some former Hibs greats like Paul Kane, Ian Murray, John Hughes, John Collins, Darren Jackson, Gordon Hunter, Keith Wright and Gary Smith,” says Tony. “Or you can also bid to manage one of the teams.”

But if you would rather relax while someone else does the work, there is plenty going on on stage too, with comedy from Absolute Improv and theatre pieces ranging from the swinging to the more serious.

Tony will also be previewing his musical play, Sinatra: The Final Curtain, at the Leith Festival before taking it to the Fringe in August.

He says: “The play sees Sinatra, who is being played by a fantastic actor and singer called Moray Innes, the brother of the ‘people’s tenor’ John Innes, as the man himself, looking back over his life, loves and songs while lying on his death bed and talking with his young nurse. We’re very excited about it and I’m pretty sure even those not familiar with his work – or those who perhaps don’t think they are – will still really enjoy it.”

And for those not afraid to explore the darker parts of the human psyche, David McFarlane’s Sanctuary should provide plenty of food for thought.

David says: “It’s about the break-up of a relationship caused by a heart-breaking decision and a couple’s inability to communicate, and while some may find the subject matter challenging, it’s darkly comic in places. I’m so pleased to be bringing it to the Leith Festival – Leith is one of the few places left in Edinburgh where there is a real community feeling and this festival really taps into that.”

And while organisers have gone out of their way to ensure that a strong current of local Leith talent is running through the programme, the festival is also a time to celebrate and learn about other cultures.

Rob McKenzie, the new minister of Leith St Andrew’s Church, will be officiating at the Leith Festival Community Church service on June 9.

He says: “This is a chance for people of all different faiths to come together and celebrate the many things which unite us. We’ll also be discussing some of the various new initiatives going on in the local area and how people can get involved.”

Leith Circle Drumming and Dance workshops will also be presenting Peace Please, which sees them joining together with drummers from Ghana to show off their skills and perhaps pick up a few new ones. Workshops are also available for those who fancy banging their own drum.

If that all sounds a bit too noisy, why not take a change of pace and a walk down memory lane with The Living Memory Association.

Georgia Zontanou, of the association, says: “We will have a stall at Leith Festival Gala Day and there will also be a photographic exhibition in our premises in Leith for the duration of the festival. The exhibition will be about Leith Memories and the audience will have the chance to discover the history of Leith through local people’s stories, memories and photos. Furthermore, we welcome people to share their Leith memories or photos with us.”

Also providing locals and tourists alike with a taster of local history will be comedian Susan Morrison, promising “a walk on the wild side” of Leith history with her walking tour Witches, Quacks and Painted Dames.

Susan says: “So many handicrafts, like knitting and needlepoint, that used to be second nature to everyone have fallen by the wayside over the decades. One which I’ll be telling people all about in the hope of a revival is the now lost art of witch-pricking. This basically involved sticking a needle in someone to ascertain whether they were a witch. We have actually uncovered new information about one who operated in the local area who was actually a cross-dressing counterfeit witch-pricker, which I imagine will come as quite a surprise to a lot of people!”

This is just the tip of the iceberg with dozens of other events including a sand-castle building competition, a Trainspotting tour taking in some of the real-life locations featured in the book and the film, a night of entertainment from the Leith Community Concert Band, a tea dance, a 1960s themed film night, and much, much more. And if all this is not enough to convince you, we’ll let Tony have the last word.

He says: “Get yourself down – we can promise something for everyone and we’re about a third the price of the Fringe!”

For full listings, log on to www.leithfestival.com