Edinburgh’s festivals need to wake up to these two massive venues – Brian Ferguson
Hearts and Hibs football grounds are great venues for concerts as demonstrated by the excitement over the decision to hold a concert by the LA Philharmonic at Tynecastle, writes Brian Ferguson.
Pulling a surprise out of his hat has become a familiar trick for Fergus Linehan when the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival has come round during his five-year tenure – particularly when it comes to its opening night. The city’s arts lovers have got so used to the idea of a free soiree to start the August festival season that there would be something of an outcry if a set-piece curtainraiser was absent.
The free spectaculars which have filled Lothian Road, Castle Terrace and St Andrew Square with sound, light and thousands of festival-goers have created memorable nights.
They have stood in sharp contrast to the images for the city’s other signature events and festival venues, which can look and feel very similar from year to year, even if there are different performers and artists on stage. At the Tattoo, the book festival or the Fringe, acts guaranteed to sell tickets have been regular returners.
While Mr Linehan has found room for several of his favourites in his programmes, the EIF seems to have pulled off arguably its biggest opening night coup in persuading Heart of Midlothian FC to host an open-air concert. The 2019 programme is peppered with big names like Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen, Jarvis Cocker, Kate Tempest, Sir James MacMillan and David Hare, but it was the Tynecastle event that managed to grab most of the EIF’s launch headlines.
While it is the first of Edinburgh’s festivals to show its full hand, the others will be doing well to surpass the prospect of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra swapping the Hollywood Bowl for a Friday night in Gorgie.
A tantalising glimpse of what lies in store was offered at the EIF’s launch party at the stadium – where guests were invited to pop outside to take in the view from behind one of the goals. As Harry Potter and Star Wars anthems were blasted out from the PA into an arena bathed in blue, a thought struck me like a well-hit free kick. Why has it taken more than 70 years for Edinburgh’s festivals to stage a major outdoor event in one of its two main football stadia? Mr Linehan, a regular attendee at both Tynecastle Park and Easter Road, appeared equally baffled at the lack of links between Hibs and Hearts, and the city’s festivals, although both have hosted modest Fringes shows.
Meadowbank Stadium, which is finally being dismantled after years of neglect, was visited by the likes of Simple Minds, Prince, The Pixies and Radiohead while it was still hosting major events. But Elton John has been the only major act to appear at either football ground, when he performed at Easter Road 14 years ago, well before it was fully redeveloped. Hibs and Hearts have been left behind by other stadia in Kilmarnock, Falkirk, Inverness, Airdrie and Cumbernauld. Yet Tynecastle Park and Easter Road have bigger capacities and better facilities. They are also located in a city which hosts the world’s biggest cultural celebration – yet have played next to no part in it. There may appear a world of difference between watching a concert in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle on a summer’s night and taking a seat at Tynecastle Park or Easter Road. But surely the use of these grounds would not suffer the same level of public opposition to the use of parks like Princes Street Gardens or the Meadows. And, crucially, they are much more weather-proof.
With the city council regularly talking up the idea of encouraging a greater geographical spread for the festivals, could the city’s football clubs hold the key to turning warm words into reality?