Covid lockdown: Live music venues in Edinburgh, which once rocked to The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and other great acts, must be saved – Steve Cardownie

The story in yesterday’s paper about the impending re-opening of the Festival Theatre got me thinking back to the days when it was the Empire Theatre and the Deep Purple gig I went to there back in 1971.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 7:00 am

This, in turn, led me to reminisce about the other great venues that were peppered across the city centre at that time and the acts that they hosted, many of whom went on to fill stadiums throughout the world.

For instance, back in 1964, The Beatles performed to sell-out audiences at the then ABC Cinema on Lothian Road, in April and October of that year. The Rolling Stones also performed at the same venue the same year, making it a spectacular double for the city, hosting two bands that went on to become renowned worldwide.

Frisco’s, a small venue in Chalmers Close off the High Street, was a favourite haunt of mine and I well remember a three-man blues band from Cork, Taste, fronted by Rory Gallagher, performing there and blowing the audience away with guitar riffs that were unbelievable.

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At the Caley Cinema in Lothian Road, I saw Family and Maggie Bell’s Stone the Crows, another favourite, and at the Usher Hall I saw Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After and The Clash among many others who regularly performed there.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Led Zeppelin’s only performance in Edinburgh at the Kings Theatre back in 1973 where they performed Stairway to Heaven and Whole Lotta Love to a packed out, appreciative audience.

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In 1981 the Playhouse Theatre hosted Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band for two nights, back to back, when he performed tracks from his latest album The River and when you got a ticket in the stalls for the princely sum of £6.

A young fan meets the Beatles at the ABC cinema in Edinburgh in 1964. From left to right: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison.

The Cavendish/Clouds was another great venue and groups such as Pink Floyd, The Jam, The Buzzcocks and Dunfermline’s finest, The Skids, fronted by Stuart Adamson, who went on to form Big Country, all graced the ballroom back in the day.

Tiffany’s in Stockbridge was another major player on the live music scene and played host to Dire Straits, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders and UB40 among a who’s who of influential artists who were touring the UK around that time.

There was no shortage of places to go in Edinburgh to see live performances then and the Sixties/Seventies certainly produced musicians that have influenced many of today’s artists and that it was a privilege to see.

However the relaxation of Covid-19 regulations cannot come soon enough for the live music industry and today’s venues are ready to resume their programmes that were severely disrupted due to social distancing rules.

A member of the St John's Ambulance keeps an eye on fans at the Beatles 1964 concert at Edinburgh's ABC cinema

It would be a pity if gig-goers of today were denied the sort of opportunities that were on offer to those of my day through the insolvency and closure of live music venues through no fault of their own.

While there have now been tentative moves to revive live performances by relaxing some rules, it is to be hoped that the government will recognise the scale of the problem and act accordingly or the live music industry may never fully recover.

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The Rolling Stones in concert at the Usher Hall

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