Can Edinburgh venues compete with Glasgow Hydro?

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Flying saucer-shaped Clyde venue leaves the Capital asking some hard questions about its own big band pulling power

It looks like a spaceship and symbolises Glasgow’s sky-high ambitions to be one of Britain’s premier music destinations.

The Hydro. Picture: SNS

The Hydro. Picture: SNS

Last week’s opening of the new-age SSE Hydro was accompanied by much fanfare as veteran rocker Rod Stewart took to the stage to entertain a heaving 13,000-capacity crowd.

At the same time, along the M8, thoughts may well have been turned to what might have been.

The Hydro is exactly the type of venue Edinburgh has tried and failed to get off the ground for years. So, should we finally give up attempting to attract the sort of acts which will be heading to Glasgow over the next year?

Not according to former Simple Minds manager Bruce Findlay.

Rod Stewart performs at SSE Hydro. Picture: Getty

Rod Stewart performs at SSE Hydro. Picture: Getty

He says past plans to create an indoor arena in Princes Street Gardens or in Leith must be put back on the political agenda with Edinburgh soon to be freed of the financial shackles of the £776 million trams project.

Findlay, 69, admits to being 
“jealous” at the gap in venue offerings between Edinburgh and Glasgow that has only been made more stark by the Hydro’s opening.

“We don’t shout as much about our venues as Glasgow, but we have quite a lot of small venues from Henry’s Cellar Bar up to the Picture House size.

“We’ve got the Playhouse, which is used primarily for musicals, and the Usher Hall, but what we do lack is an arena and it’s a drag.

“I don’t think it (the Hydro) has killed off any chance of Edinburgh getting its own arena. But it has to be something that can be multi-purpose and used for other events.

“There’s no doubt that we couldn’t sustain a 6000 to 10,000 capacity arena doing purely music. An indoor tennis arena in Edinburgh, for example, that could hold and stage international events is not out of the question.

“With a bit of imagination, Princes Street Gardens could be transformed into a larger arena. It doesn’t have to be 10,000 capacity, it could be 5-6000 venue with temporary seating with potential cover as well.”

The newly-opened £125m Hydro is targeting a million visitors a year across 140 events, only widening the gap between the two cities.

Edinburgh has increasingly relied on the availability of outdoor sites such as Murrayfield Stadium or even Ingliston to pull any big-name acts in recent years.

The indoor Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston can cater for 8000 people, but was built more than half a century ago and is not up to modern music standards.

The Usher Hall is the next best option with a 2800-seat capacity, while the Picture House on Lothian Road can squeeze in little more than 1800 music fans.

Findlay points towards events like the Edinburgh Castle concerts, which showcased Rod Stewart just three years ago, and the 2003 MTV Europe Music Awards as evidence the Capital could pull off “prestigious” gigs.

Murrayfield will host the world’s biggest pop group – One Direction – in June next year, but Edinburgh is otherwise being skipped by acts such as Justin Timberlake and Michael Buble.

Radio DJ Grant Stott predicts the Hydro’s opening would have little impact on Edinburgh’s music scene given the Capital already lacked an indoor venue capable of securing stars like Timberlake.

He says: “They would have gone to the SECC or the Armadillo anyway. I don’t think there’s anywhere for them to do Edinburgh in the first place.

“Edinburgh’s been crying out for a brand new, state-of-the-art music venue not just for huge massive gigs, but one that’s flexible enough to cope for all size of gigs.”

Separate plans for arenas to be built at Princes Street Gardens, the Leith waterfront and at the International Business Gateway near Ingliston have all stalled over the past decade.

A multi-million pound overhaul of the old Ross Bandstand was flagged after the cancellation of the Hogmanay concert in 2003, but has since been abandoned.

A 5000-seat arena at Leith Docks was floated with the support of Forth Ports before folding as the recession bit. Land previously earmarked for the development has been sold, with a Forth Ports spokeswoman saying the firm had no plans at the moment to build a concert arena.

A proposal for a 12,000-capacity music venue out near Edinburgh Airport that could be accessed by the eight-mile long tram line was even put forward as recently as 2011, but has failed to progress.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland says: “The investment required to build a new purpose-built arena is significant and was only being considered by the society as part of an over £275m relocation of the showground across the A8 to allow for Edinburgh Airport expansion.

“This expansion of the airport is no longer a short- or medium-term priority and therefore the plans are on hold.”

A study carried out by Venue
Ventures, the company behind the creation of an £80m arena in Leeds, previously found the waterfront was the most economically viable location for a stadium.

The new £30m National Performance Centre for Sport being built at Heriot-Watt University will, meanwhile, not be designed to host 
concerts.

A report released by arts funding body Creative Scotland in May this year recommended that a “flexible mid-scale venue” was most needed in Edinburgh.

And the city council is in talks with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra about building a 800-to-1200-seater music venue.

City culture and sport convener Richard Lewis says work is being done on a feasibility study into the project which would create a home for the SCO. Discussions over a stadium with up to 8000 seats, meanwhile, are still on the table, according to the council – although the private sector would be expected to stump up the cash for any development.

Steve Cardownie, the council’s
festival and events champion, concedes the Hydro had hurt the Capital’s chances of getting a stadium similar to the Glasgow venue.

“The council doesn’t have any
capital to put into such a project. It would have to be private money,” he said.

“I’m quite sure they would do due diligence and their homework, but it strikes me that with only so many major acts coming round it makes it difficult.”

Who’s going where . .

Glasgow

• Jessie J, SSE Hydro, October 22

• Arctic Monkeys, SSE Hydro, November 1

• Stereophonics, SSE Hydro, November 7-8

• Black Sabbath, SSE Hydro, December 16

• Status Quo, SSE Hydro, December 18

• Michael Buble, SSE Hydro, March 8-10

• Justin Timberlake, above, SSE Hydro, April 4-5

• Elbow, SSE Hydro, April 6

Edinburgh

• Ellie Goulding, Usher Hall, tonight

• Jamie Cullum, Usher Hall, October 17

• Gabrielle Aplin, The Picture House, November 1

• Travis, The Picture House, November 17

• Texas, Usher Hall, November 29

• Basement Jaxx, The Picture House, December 2

• Bastille, Edinburgh Corn Exchange, February 27

• One Direction, above, Murrayfield, June 3