Edinburgh's Fly Open Air festival has created a youth music scene that is the envy of Scotland – Donald Anderson

Fly Open Air music festival has transformed Edinburgh's music sceneFly Open Air music festival has transformed Edinburgh's music scene
Fly Open Air music festival has transformed Edinburgh's music scene
There were many things I was proud of helping achieve when I was council leader in Edinburgh.

The Capital became the strongest city economy in the UK outside London. Its festivals went from strength to strength and the quality of life on offer in Edinburgh rose significantly, something that has generally continued to improve – despite the 2008 banking crash and Covid.

One area where I failed to make the progress I wanted was in music. Regarding the ‘high arts’ – including the official Festival – the city has a huge amount to be proud of, but every city needs a vibrant music scene for all ages.

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The £35 million refurbishment of the Usher Hall secured the long-term future of the principal venue for the International Festival, and the city gained a more flexible (and higher capacity) venue when standing room was enabled in the stalls. Leith Theatre is another recent and great success. However, official Festival events, the Castle concerts, the Usher Hall, the introduction of the Summer Sessions, are all geared towards more established artists.

Electronic music is something that I confess largely passes me by. However, it’s important that, especially in music, Edinburgh should be a city for all ages. In that regard something remarkable has been achieved in Edinburgh in recent years for youth music.

The council has worked closely with Fly Open Air to create an amazing event in Princes Street Gardens. Fly had humble origins but has grown significantly in stature and Princes Street Gardens is the only park where such an event could take place without impacting unduly on local residents. The event has successfully run since 2016 as a youth music festival with almost no complaints and with very positive feedback from the police and others about how well run the event is.

This flagship event for youth culture is now attracting international attention and Edinburgh’s youth music scene can now boast of being the best in Scotland because of Fly. It’s even been shortlisted as ‘Best Metropolitan Festival’ and ‘Promoter of the Year’ at the UK Festival Awards. These are all amazing achievements for a homegrown festival from a bunch of youngsters.

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All that success is built by an amazing team of people based in an office beside St Cuthbert's Church. Recently, Fly has worked with the church and council to come up with the fantastic idea of adding a small levy to tickets that would be invested directly in improving Princes Street Gardens and, due to this, they are planting 100 trees in Edinburgh as part of a growing programme of community engagement.

Fly is a youth music success for Edinburgh and the city council has achieved something I never could. Young people and youth culture are being supported. To quote The Who, “the kids are alright”, and these days they’re generally way better behaved than my generation. Fly deserves the support it’s been getting from the council, Creative Scotland, and Event Scotland. Edinburgh now has a youth music scene that is the envy of Scotland. Long may that continue.

Donald Anderson is a former leader of Edinburgh Council

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