Kevin Buckle: Council content to repeat old mistakes

The torchlight procession in the run-up to Hogmanay
The torchlight procession in the run-up to Hogmanay
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While trying not to repeat myself too much in this column, it dawned on me that most of the time all the questions I have raised are related. It should be no surprise that Edinburgh Council are a running theme throughout but whether it be the state of the high street, the support for popular music and venues compared to the “proper” arts, the many problems caused by Edinburgh’s festivals or the fate of the old Royal High School, all these issues are inter-related. Even our love for nostalgia and doing things the way they’ve always been done can be applied to many of the things I’ve mentioned.

Given the council are involved at every turn it would be great to think that after the elections there would be some big overview of all that has gone wrong and what can be improved, but there is the terrible feeling that what we may get is just more of the same. It is an issue worldwide that the high street is not the hub for shopping it used to be but there are measures that can be taken and much to learn from what has been tried elsewhere. However I see very little being done and while there is so much focus on the centre of the city centre little will improve.

Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence on stage at the King's Theatre in the original production of Private Lives in October 1930

Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence on stage at the King's Theatre in the original production of Private Lives in October 1930

Support for the arts is flawed and not just with popular music. Those artists who produce work people might actually buy need support on several levels and visitors to the city really need to be made aware Edinburgh has much more to offer than tourist tat. Edinburgh Council own much of the high street and they need to consider what the make-up of the high street needs to be to make it as attractive as possible.

There is no doubting Edinburgh is a tourist city and many of those visitors would like to see a band in a pleasant environment, but one of the issues I was constantly made more and more aware of was that those visitors were shocked at how many gigs finished by 10pm when they wanted a night out. Of course the reason for this is that to make ends meet most venues these days will have a club on after a gig when what people want is something that finishes a little later and the opportunity to stay for a drink afterwards.

Steps do finally seem to be being taken to reduce the impact the Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay have on those that live and trade in Edinburgh all year, but there is still a long way to go. It is not difficult to see the financial impacts of the festivals are massively exaggerated and yet the figures are just tamely repeated by the media without question.

There is huge potential for a city with Edinburgh’s heritage – and we hear that word a lot – to do something a little different at Christmas rather than be no different to dozens of other cities and currently it is a massive opportunity wasted that could indeed feed in to helping everybody from Edinburgh’s full-time traders to providing a platform for artists and others who could never currently afford to promote themselves at the very time Edinburgh is at its busiest.

When it comes to development Edinburgh Council seems intent on repeating its mistakes over and over again and nothing was more disappointing than when they knew exactly what was needed at their King’s Stables Road site but they instead not only took the money but have also failed to get the project started, never mind finished, in the timescale they originally deemed so important. The current problems with old Royal High date back more than a decade and the fact it has been unused for so many decades is a scandal.

Just maybe some lessons will be learned but certainly things cannot go on as they are. When the new council is formed these are all issues they will need to face up to immediately or the consequences could be dire.

Music venues play second fiddle to King’s

I see that Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre is to undergo a £25 million makeover with £5m to be provided by Edinburgh Council.

This it says will secure the theatre’s future for another 50 years. Work will start in 2021 which at the rate things are going will coincide nicely with Edinburgh’s last music venue closing.

The King’s Theatre you see has played host to the likes of Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Simon Callow and Ian McKellen while the Picture House having hosted gigs by David Bowie, The Smiths, AC/DC, Queen and R.E.M. was deemed suitable to become a Wetherspoons.

An Avalanche of options when it comes to good bands

There are so many ways now music is recommended to people based on what they have bought or listened to and yet you still cannot beat personal recommendations especially from a shop. Even now I still get asked regularly in emails if I can recommend bands and not always Scottish ones.

Avalanche is as well known for supporting American bands like Bright Eyes and Neutral Milk Hotel and many Dublin bands including Whipping Boy. We liked New Zealand bands so much we had several on our label and indeed our most successful album was from the band Snapper who have gone on to influence many other bands.

However I do still often get given a non-Scottish band and I’m asked if there is a Scottish equivalent or sometimes it is a big Scottish band like Belle and Sebastian or Mogwai and I’m asked for another smaller Scottish band in a similar vein. After last week’s column which namechecked quite a few bands I did receive a few enquiries from folk saying they had enjoyed listening to the bands and could I recommend any more.

So, in no particular order artists that are maybe less well known but I can highly recommend listening to are Quickbeam, Star Wheel Press, The Savings and Loan, Ballboy, The Scottish Enlightenment, Laurie Cameron and There Will Be Fireworks. I can also highly recommend the Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell album Visible From Space. A mixture of genres there and by no means all indie guitar!