Edinburgh's Greatest Hits: New book seeks to reclaim capital as Scotland's original 'music city'

It is the city that gave birth to the Bay City Rollers, The Proclaimers, Shirley Manson, The Rezillos, Young Fathers, The Incredible String Band and The Waterboys.

Jackie Dennis became Scotland's first pop star when he shot to fame in 1958.
Jackie Dennis became Scotland's first pop star when he shot to fame in 1958.

But Edinburgh’s music scene has long been seen as the poor relation to Glasgow's.

Now a new book is set to reclaim the Scottish capital as the birthplace of the country’s thriving live music industry.

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The city’s most influential acts, venues, gigs, music bars, record shops and club nights have been brought together for a celebration of its musical heritage.

Leith Theatre has reopened for events like the Edinburgh International Festival in recent years. Picture: Gaelle Beri
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It highlights the part played by the likes of David Bowie, Nirvana, The Beatles, The Fall, The Clash and Bob Dylan in Edinburgh’s musical story so far.

The book, billed as “a compilation of intriguing tales, curious facts and landmark moments”, also recalls the sparsely-attended gigs staged in Edinburgh by acts who go on to fill stadia and arenas around the world, the city’s one-hit wonders and one-off events which put the capital in the international spotlight.

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Edinburgh’s Greatest Hits, which is published next month, has emerged from a collaboration between the Edinburgh Music Tours company and Edinburgh Music Lovers, a promotional campaign to champion Edinburgh as a “music city”.

The new book - which Ian Rankin has written the foreword for – is appearing at a time of optimism for the future of the music scene in Edinburgh, following the closure of several key venues since the turn of the century and the city’s failure to create new facilities for indoor or outdoor concerts.

The new Edinburgh's Greatest Hits book features the record shop Vinyl Villains. Picture Peter McNaught

Leith Theatre and the Royal High School are reopening to the public, intimate venues like Sneaky Pete’s are rated among the best in Britain and the first new concert hall for a century is to be built off St Andrew Square.

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The book states: “The capital is acclaimed for its annual arts festival yet music remains a lesser-known string to its cultural bow.

"It is not widely-known, for example, that Edinburgh pioneered the live music scene in Scotland for a long period during the 70s, 80s and 90s before Glasgow developed its well-deserved reputation.”

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Music critic Fiona Shepherd has written the book with her fellow tour company founders Jonathan Trew and Alison Stroak, as well as Edinburgh Music Lovers director Jim Byers.

Sandy Bell's has long been one of Edinburgh's best-known folk music bars.

Edinburgh’s Greatest hits charts the evolution of the city’s music scene as back as the 50s and the rise to fame of Leith-born Jackie Dennis, Scotland’s first ever pop star, who was promoted as a kilted version of Elvis Presley, and was the first British rock and roll singer to appear on TV in the United States.

Influential figures featured include the folklorist, poet and singer-songwriter Hamish Henderson, the 60s girl group The McKinleys, Bruce’s Records founder Bruce Findlay, who would go on to manage Simple Minds, and Bob Last and Hilary Morrison, founders of the Fast Product record label.

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Famous episodes featured in the book include Bob Dylan’s 1966 gig with an electric guitar, days after his “Judas” heckle in Manchester, when his Edinburgh fans apparently tried to drown him out with harmonicas, Nirvana’s impromptu gig to around 20 punters at the Southern Bar in 1991, and a busking stint on Princes Street by The Clash singer Joe Strummer in 1985.

Among the gigs recalled are Led Zeppelin’s appearance at the King’s Theatre in 1973, Green Day’s 1991 show at Edinburgh College of Art's Wee Red Bar, Coldplay’s support slot at the Attic in 1999 and an Arctic Monkeys gig at the Subway in 2005.

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Nirvana played an impromptu acoustic show at the Southern Bar in Edinburgh in 1991. Picture: Alan Edwards

Shepherd said: “Edinburgh is often seen as Glasgow's poor cousin when it comes to music but its grassroots music scene is vibrant and committed.

"With Edinburgh's Greatest Hits, we wanted to celebrate the city's music heritage, from its influential 60s folk scene and punk trailblazing of the 70s to its distinctive soul, jazz, hip-hop and clubbing scenes.

"It's not a comprehensive history of Edinburgh's music, more a series of entertaining snapshots.”

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Rankin writes: "This is not meant to be a comprehensive (ie dry as dust) academic survey. Instead, I would class it as a celebration of the city and its enduring love affair with music and musicians, venues and shops, one which will spark the remembrance of unique, high-octane experiences for all of us.”


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Magic by Pilot: Despite their biggest hit selling more than a million copies and cracking the top five in America in 1975, the pop-rock band Pilot have been largely forgotten-about. The lyrics were inspired by the views which singer David Paton enjoyed while delivering milk in the Blackford Hill area.

Coasters is one of the famous Edinburgh music venues featured in the new book. Picture: Simon Clegg/Mike O’Connor

The Beatles at the ABC: The arrival of Beatlemania in Edinburgh in 1964 only happened thanks to the enterprising actions of a couple of schoolgirls, Eileen Oliver and Pat Connor. Dismayed that the city had been left off the band’s touring schedule, they collected signatures on a petition pleading with John, Paul, George and Ringo to visit the city - and got to meet their idols at the ABC when their campaign paid off.

St Cecilia’s Hall, named after the patron saint of music, is one of Edinburgh’s lesser-known venues, but is actually Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall. Dating back to 1763, it is reputed to be the only place in the world where you can hear 18th century music played on 18th century instruments in an 18th century setting. The most famous performer to grace its stage was Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, who performed poetry at the International Festival in 1976.

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Eurovision: Edinburgh is still the only Scottish city to have hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, when the city offered the Usher Hall to the organisers after Monaco could not find a suitable venue. However the judges watched events unfold on television at Edinburgh Castle to prevent them from being unduly influenced at the venue itself. Scottish singer Eve Graham’s act The New Seekers narrowly missed out, ending up in second place to Luxembourg’s Vicky Leandros.

Buzzcocks: While generations of Edinburgh’s music fans will have sung the punk-rock band’s classic anthem, few will have realised that it was actually written in the city. The band, who were in the city to play a gig at Clouds, in Tollcross, were watching the film Guys and Dolls in their guesthouse in Leith Walk when Adelaide tells Sky: ‘Wait till you fall in love with someone you shouldn’t have.’ Singer Pete Shelley later recalled starting to write the lyrics in the Buzzbocks’ van on Waterloo Place while a bandmate was posting a parcel.

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Sneaky Pete's is among the modern-day music venue featured in Edinburgh's Greatest Hits.
Shirley Manson performs with Garbage back in 1999. Credit:Photonews Scotland/Shutterstock
The Beatles arrive at Turnhouse in 1964 - The Beatles stand on the steps of their plane.



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