Kevin Buckle: Do we really want to be the ‘Festival City’?

Once the festival crowds go home Edinburgh can seem like a seasonal seaside town. Picture: Scott Louden
Once the festival crowds go home Edinburgh can seem like a seasonal seaside town. Picture: Scott Louden
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I was a little concerned to see in the paper that a music deal had been brokered between Festival organisers and the council. Brian Ferguson’s article went on to report that “more support for the city’s live music scene both during and outwith Edinburgh’s main festivals is to be prioritised”.

Now this is good news but I’m not sure how if this was a deal with festivals they could have any say on what happens outwith festivals. What is often forgotten is that festivals are very much like all the pop-up markets and attractions in that they only choose the best times to appear. Now independent festivals can pick and choose as they wish but as soon as Edinburgh Council is involved they should be looking at what is the best time for the city and not when is good for the festival.

Few artists will make any money from streaming services

Few artists will make any money from streaming services

I’m not even sure describing Edinburgh as a Festival City is the best idea. Certainly an all-year-round Cultural City, but as with Venice many see festivals as simply a time to avoid when the city will be too busy and too expensive. Festivals are not always seen in a positive light.

What is undoubtedly true is how quiet Edinburgh can be inbetween festivals. This is partly because there are now many more affordable hotels than say 20 years ago or even a decade ago.

Those on a tight budget could visit Edinburgh in mid-January through February and get a great rate but now there is no need as deals that are just as good are available at more popular times of the year.

There is a real danger that Edinburgh will become more like a seasonal seaside town that has several months a year that can be written off and possibly even a trend where shops will just stay shut on quiet days or in quiet months as even though there is rent and rates to be paid paying wages to stand in an empty shop becomes prohibitive.

Edinburgh’s many fine buildings, museums, galleries and other cultural offerings are of course available all 12 months of the year as are its many shops, though the latter really need better promotion as one thing Edinburgh is not seen as now is a shopping city – and that was not always the case.

People may not like David Orr’s Urbanist Group plans for a hotel on Calton Hill but he can be credited with bringing Harvey Nichols to Edinburgh and they certainly are seen as a reason to visit. Jenners however has lost its gloss and relatively new stores on or just off Princes Street like Primark and TK Maxx do not a unique shopping experience make!

It is interesting that while I had fairly modest plans for the Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre I have been working on several people have asked have I not considered turning it into a major visitor attraction like say MoPOP in Seattle. The Museum of Pop Culture was however the idea of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who has a few more resources than I do at my disposal but I can see that with the finance it could become the sort of attraction that would bring a lot of people to Edinburgh.

Whether it is a new concert arena or some other major investment Edinburgh should certainly look at adding to its portfolio of attractions that appeal on the broadest cultural terms and see what can be done to attract folk to Edinburgh all year round rather than at the very times the city would be busy anyway.

CDs are still the best bet for an income stream

When downloads first became popular there was always a misconception among small indie bands that digital was the way forward. Truth be told, while these bands were selling several hundred CDs they would only get 30 downloads or so. The reason was quite simply that fans wanted to physically own something by the band and the much maligned CD was still a far better option than an mp3.

Some bands would delude themselves that there were thousands more fans out there illegally downloading their album but safe to say at that level it simply wasn’t the case. Now of course, despite all evidence to the contrary, bands and even labels feel that they need to make vinyl and that many thousands more will stream their album.

Certainly if a band can afford to lose money then pressing vinyl is not a bad idea but not at the expense of CD. People will buy a CD if there isn’t vinyl but not vinyl if their preference is CD.

As for streaming that is great if you are Kanye West or Ed Sheeran but not so much if you are a small indie band. While even large viewing figures on YouTube may not mean that much certainly most bands are very lucky to get low thousands in viewers for their videos. Spotify won’t be any better for tracks and listening to albums is almost unheard of.

While vinyl looks lovely it will only sound great if the songs are great and those songs will still sound fantastic on a well packaged CD. The financial risk is so much lower that a well presented CD album is still probably the best entry level physical format for a small band.

Book your taco and head to Fife

Only a month to go to the Aberfeldy Festival and as always tickets are selling well. Many Edinburgh folk I know make a weekend away of it and the nearby accommodation is always fully booked up come the day hence the slightly early heads up

Roddy Woomble, Kathryn Joseph, Modern Studies, The Pictish Trail and Siobhan Wilson are just some of the acts who will be playing and there will be the usual fantastic food and plenty of other activities to keep everybody happy. Posters are by the artist Ryan Hannigan who some will recognise as the singer from Star Wheel Press and have become quite collectable. There are a couple of old designs still available on the website.

It’s the only festival I’m aware of where you can pre-book an award-winning taco courtesy of El Perro Negro and Peter McKenna of Glasgow’s The Gannet and is on November 3 and 4. Visit http://aberfeldyfestival.com/ticket1 to get your tickets.