Popular Edinburgh music venue to close ‘by end of March’

Electric Circus is to close after more than 40 years in operation. Picture, Dan Phillips

One of Edinburgh’s most popular live music venues and nightclubs is to close down within weeks after more than 40 years - months after expansion plans by a neighbouring art gallery were revealed.

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Electric Circus, on Market Street, had been expected to remain open for another two years while plans for a new-look Fruitmarket Gallery were developed.

But its operators say they have decided to shut down the venue at the end of this month due to the news about the expansion of the gallery.

It emerged in December that Edinburgh City Council - which owns the two buildings - had agreed a deal with both parties which would allow the Fruitmarket to realise long-held expansion plans.

Dennis Chester, managing director of Waverley Leisure, the firm which has owned the site over the last four decades, said the new-look gallery would be a “fitting end” to the company’s stewardship of the site.

At the time the gallery’s director, Fiona Bradley, described the prospect of a takeover of the Electric Circus site as “the Holy Grail” for the Fruitmarket. It is planning an £11 million development which will effectively double the size of the gallery, which dates back to 1974 and underwent a previous overhaul 20 years later.

It had not been expected to start work on a new revamp until 2021 due to the time needed to commission designs, secure planning permission and raise funding.

The prospect of the sudden loss Electric Circus, one of the city’s few medium-sized venues, will send shock-waves through the live music scene in Edinburgh. Its demise has been revealed just weeks after the former Picture House on Lothian Road was turned into a Wetherspoon pub.

A statement from Electric Circus said: “It is with a very heavy heart that Electric Circus has decided to close. We would first like to say the biggest thanks to all of you; to the staff who have worked with us past and present, to all the promoters and bands we have had the pleasure of hosting over the past seven years.

“To the incredibly loyal customers; from karaoke, club and gig-goers - without you we wouldn’t be here today. You have all been a joy.

“The decision to close was not an easy one but we feel that due to the recent news regarding the eventual closure of the venue and the expansion of the Fruitmarket Gallery we feel, as a business, it is best if we go out with a bang.

Our last day of business will be Saturday 25th March and we hope that over the next few weeks we will see lots of familiar faces come down to celebrate the last days of Electric Circus.

“We will be contacting all customers that have booked with us after the closing date and a full refund of any payments made will be given.

“We thank you all again for your custom and continuous support and look forward to inviting you to one last party. More details of the last weekend will be published in due course.”

A spokeswoman for the Fruitmarket said the decision to close Electric Circus was “theirs and their alone” and confirmed that building work on its project was “unlikely” to begin until 2019.

She added: “Electric Circus is closing because after 40 years of running the business the owners Waverley Leisure have decided that now is a good time to retire.

“We agreed with Waverley Leisure to take over the lease of the building when they decide to close the business.

“We are looking forward to opening up the building, which has played an important part in the rich social history of Edinburgh to the public, as part of the redevelopment of the gallery.

“Extending into next door will secure the future of both historic market buildings as a landmark year-round centre for culture.”

Edinburgh-based music industry expert Olaf Furniss, founder of the Born To Be Wide and Wide Days seminars, which are held at Electric Circus, said: “Dennis Chester provided an invaluable platform for developing both musical and music industry talent.

We will be forever grateful to him and his team for giving Born To Be Wide and Wide Days with a great home for the past six years.

“The Electric Circus is one of the few venues in Edinburgh which combines an opportunity for a diverse range of young, emerging acts to hone their skills and play with touring bands from around the world.

“The city council, which owns the building, must work with the music community to secure a comparable space in the city centre.”

Nick Stewart, manager of Sneaky Pete’s, in the Cowgate, said: “Edinburgh has a culture of music venues supporting each other as part of an ecosystem, and Sneaky Pete’s has always seen Electric Circus as allies in a common cause, rather than rivals.

“Whilst it’s good to see the gallery next door expanding - we’re all in favour of more art in the city - it’s a shame that music venues aren’t deemed to be as culturally prestigious and worth funding as as other arts sectors seem to be.

“I think now is a good time for organisations such as Creative Scotland to have a look at the infrastructure that enables excellence in new music to be showcased.

“Grassroots music venues such as ours are the research and development departments of Scotland and the UK’s music business and need to be valued.”

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