Edinburgh mulls first ‘night mayor’ idea to save music scene

Lutz Leichsenring, a nightlife champion in Berlin, spoke at the Music Is Audible workshop at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Lutz Leichsenring, a nightlife champion in Berlin, spoke at the Music Is Audible workshop at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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Edinburgh has kickstarted moves to appoint Scotland’s first “night mayor” in a bid to halt the closure of venues, prevent gigs being shut down due to noise complaints and raise the profile of the city’s troubled scene.

It has called in experts to advise on the appointment of an independent “champion” to resolve disputes and act as an official go-between for the sector and different city council departments.

They could also be charged with leading efforts to secure the future of important venues when major developments are being planned, advising on the development of new venues, leading efforts to promote Edinburgh’s musical heritage and ensuring the city’s regulations are as relaxed throughout the year as they are during the Edinburgh Festival in August.

The night mayor would almost be the first point of contact for anyone in the industry faced with a complaint over the running of their venue or event following long-standing complaints that the local authority has some of the harshest restrictions on live music anywhere in Europe. A census of live music activity in the city, carried out by Edinburgh University, found that nearly half of its venues had been affected by “noise, planning and development issues.” Some 44 per cent of musicians in the city said their gigs had been affected by noise restrictions.

The proposal, which is expected to be taken forward by the new city council administration following next month’s election, has emerged following two-and-a-half-years of talks between the local authority and music industry representatives.

Anger among venue managers, promoters and bands mounted in 2014 after the closure of one of the city’s main medium-sized venues, the Picture House on Lothian Road, the scrapping of a number of long-standing live music nights and criticism of the council from Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers for failing to support live music in their home city.

Recent months have seen the Picture House turned into a huge Wetherspoon pub complex, the closure of Electric Circus to make way for an expansion of a neighbouring art gallery, the forthcoming closure of the Citrus Club announced and Leith Depot threatened with demolition over plans for a major new development.

The city was urged to consider appointing a night mayor or music champion in an independent report from the Music Venues Trust, which campaigns to preserve the UK’s grass-roots venues.

Its recommendation stated: “When faced with a noise complaint music venues in Edinburgh have, in the past, felt they have no-one to talk to, nowhere to turn for support.”

Among those to advise Edinburgh has been Lutz Leichsenring, a nightlife champion in Berlin, who spoke at an industry summit at the Usher Hall last week.

He said: “A successful night-time economy needs affordable space so people can be experimental, as few restrictions as possible to allow new things to develop, people who are doers and don’t just talk, unconventional ideas and alternative tourists looking for special things.

“The city should monitor the effect on creative spaces when it makes decisions, not over-regulate night life, and provide public space for grass-roots projects and events. It’s not easy, but you should try to buy up properties and also tell real estate companies they can profit from creative activity. It can turn a run-down area into a much-loved area.”

The new post in Edinburgh is expected to be partly funded by the council and the industry, with the latter drawing up a job description.

Norma Austin Hart, vice-convenor for culture on the council, said: “We don’t just want our officers to produce a report on what this role will involve. It has to be right for Edinburgh and it is really important that this doesn’t have to do everything.

“The baton will be handed to the new council to take forward, but I’d encourage the city’s music industry to get organised and agree a set of common purposes.”

Edinbugrh-based promoter Douglas Robertson, who has spent years trying to find a home for permanent grass-roots venue in the city, said: “The crucial things in Edinburgh are properties, venues and performance spaces.

“Over the last 10 years or so we’ve seen so many venues closed down to the pressures of the property market.

“We’re in a city which is enjoying a property boom where every old building becomes student flats or yet another hotel.

“We should be looking at Glasgow, where there is a considerably healthier music scene.

“Part of the reason for that is that it’s a more run-down city in some ways. Edinburgh is just too damn smart and affluent. It makes life so difficult. There needs to a be a real commitment in Edinburgh that this is something that matters.”

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the Music Venue Trust, said: “Any city that identifies that it places a value on music and that it starts to talk about it, write about it and has identifiable champions can do more than a city that says: ‘It is too late for us and it is not really a priority.’

“The interesting thing about Glasgow, which is sitting quite pretty at the moment, is that there is a massive amount of development coming, particularly in areas where most of the venues are. Luxury student accommodation is becoming a big new thing in Glasgow.”

Dr Adam Behr, co-author of the Edinburgh University research, said: “While there are still issues for live music in Edinburgh, as recent news about Electric Circus and Leith Depot has shown, it’s also undeniable that there’s a vibrant and active musical community at work.

“It’s good to see some will from the council to engage over the idea of a music champion and the key challenge will be to find a format for the role that fits with the specific and unique characteristics of Edinburgh as a city.”