Edinburgh's live music scene could be about to get serious – Brian Ferguson

Of all the things I imagined reporting on as Scotland emerged from the pandemic, a stonger live music scene in Edinburgh did not get a mention.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 4:55 am
The Big Top pop-up venue will host 8000-capacity gigs at the Royal Highland Showground in June.
The Big Top pop-up venue will host 8000-capacity gigs at the Royal Highland Showground in June.

But, as a turbulent 2021 draws to close, things are looking a lot more optimistic than they were two years ago.

News of a series of 8,000-capacity “under canvas” gigs at the Royal Highland Showground, with Biffy Clyro, Snow Patrol, Madness and Fatboy Slim the first headliners, are the icing on the cake of a period which has put in place serious foundations for the future.

DF Concerts’ plans for The Big Top shows, which will be staged over three weekends in June, are the biggest new vote of confidence in Edinburgh as a live music destination that I can recall since the city secured the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2003.

The glittering event in Leith’s docklands inspired hopes that Edinburgh would be galvanised to catch up with Glasgow and Aberdeen and create an indoor concert arena. What followed was a depressing tale of woe.

New venues never made it off the drawing board, the city lost a clutch of its best venues and there were serious doubts over the staging of open-air concerts at Edinburgh Castle and in Princes Street Gardens.

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While Glasgow and Aberdeen opened significant new venues, Edinburgh’s efforts to replace the Ross Bandstand became embroiled in controversy over the scale of work proposed in Princes Street Gardens, a bid to create the first purpose-built concert hall in the city for a century in the New Town was delayed by a damaging row with neighbouring developers, and hopes of the former Royal High School becoming a music school and venue were left in limbo while hotel developers battled to save a long-planned vision for the site.

Madness, Fatboy Slim, Snow Patrol and Biffy Clyro will be playing 8000 capacity shows in The Big Top venue at the Royal Highland Centre in June.

Even a small venue like Leith Depot was threatened with closure before a grassroots campaign persuaded councillors to save it and the Scottish government rejected a demolition bid. That rare victory for the music scene in 2019 is as good starting point to trace the recent revival, but it is events during the pandemic that have built real momentum.

The rejection of the hotel scheme for the old Royal High inspired an ambitious plan for a national centre for music and was endorsed by the city council.

Scaled-down plans for the St Andrew Square concert hall secured the backing of councillors after the dispute with the St James Quarter developers was resolved.

The Corn Exchange, which had fallen out of favour with many promoters, was revamped and rebranded after being taken over by the Academy Music Group.

Madness, Biffy Clyro, Snow Patrol and Fatboy Slim are the first acts confirmed for Edinburgh's new live music event.

All this came after a summer which saw Edinburgh festivals reboot and reunite audiences in mainly outdoor pop-up settings.

The gigs at Ingliston, which has a musical heritage going back to the 1970s, will kick-start a summer of music looking more impressive than any staged in the city in recent years – well before any announcements of events at the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, which both celebrate their 75th anniversaries in 2022.

Those circus tent shows will also put the city on the map for many music fans who would not normally venture anywhere near the city – finally reversing the nonsense of people having to travel out of Edinburgh to see their favourite band.

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