Rent hike forces Fringe music venue out of long-time home

Michael Marra is among dozens of musicians who have played to Acoustic Music Centre audiences. Picture: Rob McDougallMichael Marra is among dozens of musicians who have played to Acoustic Music Centre audiences. Picture: Rob McDougall
Michael Marra is among dozens of musicians who have played to Acoustic Music Centre audiences. Picture: Rob McDougall

One of the few dedicated live music venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been forced out of its long-time home, after council chiefs hiked up the cost of hiring it by more than five times.

Michael Marra, Dick Gaughan, Tam White, Bert Jansch, Rab Noakes, Roddy Woomble and Blue Rose Code are among the acts to have packed out the Acoustic Music Centre over the last 12 years. But its promoter has pulled the plug on shows at the St Brides’s Centre in protest at their treatment by the city council.

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A scaled-back Fringe programme will now be going ahead at a Ukranian community centre in the city. It is understood the St Bride’s venue, close to Haymarket railway station, may now be “dark” for the summer festival period – in the year the Fringe celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The council has been accused of charging well over the odds for the use of the venue, just days after a senior councillor warned that the Fringe had “sold its soul” by becoming too corporate.

Gordon Munro said the festival had become too dominated by middle-class male comics, exploited by “Old Etonian” promoters and was in decline because the financial model operated by many Fringe promoters was broken.

The row over the Acoustic Music Centre has emerged weeks after it was revealed that the Famous Spiegeltent would not be at this year’s Fringe after its promoters were unable to find a suitable alternative in the city centre when it was ousted from St Andrew Square Garden and.

The demise of the 300-capacity Acoustic Music Centre also emerged days before a key city centre music venue owned by the city council closes its doors. Officials have agreed to let the Fruitmarket Gallery take over the site occupied by Electric Circus on Market Street for a multi-million-pound expansion, although work is not expected to get under way until 2019.

Acoustic Music Centre founder John Barrow, who has been promoting music in Edinburgh since the mid-1960s, accused the council of having “jacked up” the cost of hiring the St Bride’s Centre by treating it as a commercial operation rather than a Fringe venue.

Mr Barrow said: “We’ve effectively been kicked out because of the amount the council wanted to charge for the Fringe. When they told me what they wanted to charge I just said, ‘That’s it – I’m out of here.’ I was a bit worried at the time because I didn’t have any alternatives. I was very fortunate to find the Ukranian Community Centre.

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“I’m really hacked off about it. St Bride’s is a lovely venue which provides a really good service for the local community. The council is now highly unlikely to get anyone else to take on that venue for what they are looking for it.”

A spokeswoman for the city council confirmed the St Bride’s Centre was still available for this year’s Fringe.

She added: “The cost of hiring the St Bride’s Centre has risen for the first time in more than a decade, bringing it in line with other, similar council venues. The new charges fairly reflect the cost to the council of the space and the worth of the popular venue.”

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