Storming Edinburgh Castle with rock for more than 25 years

Elton John at Edinburgh Castle
Elton John at Edinburgh Castle
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IT all started with the view from an office window and a dream.

Mark Mackie, director of local concert promoters Regular Music, explains, “At that time, our office was in Johnston Terrace, in the shadow of the Castle.

“Every spring we would watch as they built the seats for the Tattoo... and then took them down again a few weeks later.

“I’d watch and think, ‘What a great arena that would make for a concert’.

“It was on our doorstep. We lusted after it, looked out the window and dreamed.”

Then in 1991 when Regular Music booked Van Morrison and Runrig to play concerts on the Castle Esplanade, that dream became a reality, the Castle Concerts were born.

The initial approach with the idea to Historic Scotland and The Tattoo was well received, recalls Mark.

“From the outset, everybody was quite keen, although it was quite daunting for us because there are certain restrictions that have to be worked around.

He continues, “For example, the Castle is such a massive attraction with so many visitors every day that we have just an hour and a half from when the last tourist leaves to get the ground seats out, tweak the sound, and get the concert-goers in... it can be a bit manic, but we get there.”

Groundbreaking at the time, more than a quarter of a 
century on Regular Music now have that operation down to a tee. They also know just which bands to book, with everyone from Mike Oldfield to Cliff Richard, Status Quo to Pink and Boyzone to Jessie J signing up to entertain.

“It’s about finding artists that fit the surroundings and have the widest appeal,” says Mark.

“We try to find a series of very different acts each year, it’s good to have a variety.

“The Castle has a great atmosphere, whether it’s hearing Leonard Cohen’s spiritual hymns, which were just breathtaking there, or having a fun party as we plan to do when Bananarama come to town next year.”

He adds, “It’s also nice to be able to attract some of the bigger international acts to 
Edinburgh.

“The 8,500 capacity allows us to do that.”

Those acts seldom disappoint and are always keen, the kudos of playing Edinburgh Castle something many have never dreamed of doing.

“That’s the funny thing,” says Mark, “everyone knows 
Edinburgh Castle but not that you can do concerts there.”

He laughs, “The American acts are always particularly keen – they think it’s cute and want to take it home with them.”

Personal highlights for the promoter over the years include Leonard Cohen, “He’d retired and we’d been trying to get him for a few years at the time,” he reveals; Paul Simon, “He was just stunning up there”; and Rod Stewart who “although it rained and one of his video screens got a leak and blew up, just got on with it, he didn’t care.”

It appears even the 
Capital’s often inclement summer weather can’t dampen the atmosphere of a Castle Concert.

“The Castle has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years, a little bit of rain has not brought it down yet,” says Mark, adding, “It’s a unique experience. The Castle comes alive when there is a concert on, it feels fresh and new and it is special because the concert’s only once a year.”

There is one act, however, that he has yet to get to the 
Castle.

The one that has got away, so far, anyway... Bob Dylan.

“I always try to get the old bugger,” he says affectionately, “but we only have a ten-day window in July in which to stage the concerts.

“So far they have never coincided with his touring period, but one day they will.”

Looking back over the past 26 years as he prepares for the 2018 series, Mark reflects, “Right from the start there was a real will for the Castle Concerts to happen and we are delighted to still be doing it.

“A lot of people come to see a big act they might not normally go to see just because they are at the Castle.

“Edinburgh now expects Castle Concerts in the summertime, we’ve become cemented into the fabric of the city.

“Even the tour guides on the tour buses talk about us... that is when you know you have seeped into the city’s psyche.”