Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh music scene in state of decline

THERE were many baffling things about the row which Liz Lochhead found herself embroiled in at the Edinburgh Festival. The first is that anyone should be surprised at her criticism of the National Theatre of Scotland. It is only two years since an outspoken tirade in Edinburgh over the company’s track record at the Festival, branding some of its previous work “crap” and “a bloody disgrace.” It is also odd that someone with such a long track record in Scottish theatre should be one of the harshest critics of NTS, which won huge plaudits in Edinburgh last summer with The James Plays.

Edinburgh is lacking music during August festival season. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The company has three critically-acclaimed shows in Edinburgh this month, including the brand new Fringe show Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Yet all this is not good enough for Lochhead and her supporters, who only seem to care more about the nationality of those running NTS, along with other institutions like the Edinburgh International Festival and the Traverse Theatre, the venue where “Our Ladies” is playing.

Fergus Linehan, the new EIF director, must wonder what he has to do to keep certain online commentators happy. He has repeatedly stressed the importance of Scottish theatre to his plans and a brand new adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark is a further statement of intent.

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It has looked and felt like a vintage August for Scottish theatre in the capital.

But what seems to have gone largely unnoticed is a steep decline in the quality and range of Scottish music on offer, particularly on the Fringe this month. This has been slightly masked by innovations like the EIF’s Hub Sessions concerts and Mr Linehan’s bold decision to book Franz Ferdinand and Sparks for a joint live performance, as well as the reintroduction of concerts in Princes Street Gardens. But there is nothing like the days of T on the Fringe, the strand of shows staged by DF Concerts for a dozen years.

Venues which provided a crucial showcase for leading Scottish acts in previous years, including the Famous Spiegeltent and Queen’s Hall, have booked in other kinds of shows this year. Others including the Liquid Rooms and the Corn Exchange - packed out almost every night of the festival in the past - have next to no music events.

The new home of the Bongo Club, a crucial melting pot for two decades, becomes part of the Underbelly programme in August. It has been left largely down to Summerhall to fly the flag and offer a serious platform for home-grown musicians. When you consider the music filling venues across Glasgow for nearly three weeks during Celtic Connections in January, what is on offer in Edinburgh in August is in danger of becoming embarrassing.