Liam Rudden: Usher Hall celebrates history

Sir Sean Connery. Picture: Comp

Sir Sean Connery. Picture: Comp

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THE Usher Hall celebrates its 100th birthday this week, with a series of concerts that aptly sum up the diversity of entertainment the green-domed venue has presided over during the last century. From pop, to comedy, to classical music, there’s something for everyone.

A quite stunning piece of architecture, even if it does now have a hideous carbuncle attached to one side, discovering the sheer diversity of uses the concert hall has had in its long and colourful history continues to amaze me.

It might be best known for attracting the world’s greatest orchestras and opera singers to the Capital, but in its time it has also hosted boxing matches (during the Commonwealth Games of 1986), a Eurovision Song Contest (in 1972, we didn’t win then either) and a whole raft of political rallies, including an address by then prime minister, Herbert Henry Asquith in 1914, during which he recruited for the ‘new’ Edinburgh Battalion.

Since the 1960s, pop concerts have become a staple of the Lothian Road venue’s programme, but the Usher Hall has also hosted everything from kids’ shows to silent films - well, it does have the perfect pipe organ with which to accompany them.

However, it has had darker moments too. In 1934, 2800 people, including 387 blackshirts, attended a rally addressed by the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosely. It almost caused a riot.

A year earlier, the Usher Hall was the venue of a seance held by Helen Duncan, the last woman convicted of witchcraft in Britain. Bet it’s haunted.

My own favourite memory of the building, however, is of attending the Freedom of the City Ceremony in which Sir Sean Connery was given the keys to the Capital.

That was in 1991. Here’s to the next 100 years, and what will surely prove to be a no less eclectic diary of events.