Usher Hall 100 years on: Looking back

Usher Hall, 1914. Picture: Comp

Usher Hall, 1914. Picture: Comp

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WITH its iconic green dome, signature curved walls and historic pipe organ, few Capital landmarks are as breathtaking as the Usher Hall, as it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday next month.

Over the years, everyone from David Bowie to the Rolling Stones, the Eurovision Song Contest and even a boxing tournament have called the Grade A-listed venue home.

None of which would have been possible without the generosity of whisky distiller Andrew Usher who, in 1896, gifted the City of Edinburgh £100,000 with which to build “a new hall that everyone could enjoy”. Then aged 70, Usher didn’t live to see his dream realised.

It was on July 19, 1911, during a state visit, that King George and Queen Mary laid the building’s two memorial stones. The Lothian Road venue opened to the public on March 16, 1914, with three concerts featuring the music of Handel, Bach, Wagner, Beethoven and Scottish composer Hamish MacCunn. Quickly established as one of the world’s greatest concert halls it has, since 1947, has been the main venue for the Edinburgh International Festival.

By the 1950s, the hall was widening its appeal, hosting end-of-season concerts for Hearts and Hibs football fans, and in the Sixties it welcomed the likes of the Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry. In March 1972, Europe looked on as it hosted that year’s Eurovision Song Contest and, in 1986, the world watched as the Commonwealth Games saw the hall transformed for boxing.

To mark the Usher Hall’s 100th birthday, a five-strong Centenary Concert Series will include Rufus Wainwright and Mogwai, as well as a rare appearance by Dylan Moran as part of The Gilded Comedy Gala on March 7.

As the Usher Hall enters its second century, Andrew Usher’s legacy lives on.

SOME OF THE MANY MILESTONE MOMENTS

1896: Andrew Usher gifts £100,000 to the City of Edinburgh.

1911: Foundation stones laid by Queen Mary and King George.

1914: Opening ceremony.

1933: Helen Duncan, later last person convicted of witchcraft in Britain, holds a séance.

1947: Edinburgh International Festival uses hall as a main venue for first time.

1964: Rolling Stones play their first Usher Hall gig.

1969: David Bowie plays.

1972: The hall hosts the Eurovision Song Contest.

1974: Cliff Richard and Pink Floyd play.

1986: Commonwealth Games holds boxing tournament at the venue.

1991: Sir Sean Connery made a freeman of the city in a ceremony at the Usher Hall.

1996: Ceiling falls into the auditorium hours after a Tony Bennett concert.

2002: The organ (originally installed 1913) is reinstalled.

2010: The Usher Hall reopens after a multi-million pound refurbishment.