Edinburgh's Living Legends: '˜Bob' Pia

Gerry Farrell, ad man extraordinaire and Evening News columnist, celebrates some of the people quietly making a difference to city life

Wednesday, 13th September 2017, 7:00 am
Roberta Pia - aka Bob -makes music, throws parties and entices people to come to parties and make music. Picture: John Sinclair

I suppose every city has them. Genuine living ledges, being quietly legendary at various noisy dives, basement gigs and banging tower block parties. But our upstanding citizens are too busy drinking Cosmopolitans in Harvey Nics to give a toss what the real cultural ambassadors are getting up to.

So, I’m making it my mission over the next few weeks to coax a few of these shy creatures out into the limelight. This interview is the first in a series, so if you want to nominate next week’s Ledge, write to me and I’ll be on it like a wet tracksuit. Let’s celebrate all the brilliant stuff these promoters and performers do to make magic happen out on the edge of town, far away from the Fireworks, the Tattoo and the One o’Clock Gun.

Roberta Pia, aka Bob, is marketing manager for La Belle Angèle and the Mash House and PR Officer for Kelburn Garden Party. But there must be two of her. Because you’ll also find her on YouTube singing her own songs, in her own accent, and covering Billie Holiday’s All Of Me, with a catch in her voice that would make Patsy Cline fall to pieces. I enjoyed her article in The Skinny about Edinburgh music venues, so I put on my nicest voice and asked Bob a few pertinent – and impertinent – questions:

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Is it okay if I call you Bob? Well, I call myself Bob, so yeah, crack on.

Right Bob, describe what you do in not more than 12 words. Make music, throw parties and entice people to come to parties and make music.

What’s your personal mantra, Bob? “Be a legend.” A pal of mine said he could see my flat window from the corner of York Place when he was waiting in traffic on his way to work every morning. He asked me to put something encouraging in the window to cheer up all the miserable folk coming out of John Lewis after melting their John Lewis Card on overpriced double swag shower curtains; so I got a big red pen and I wrote on the pane in big letters “BE A LEGEND”.

What gets up your nose about Edinburgh? A few things: there’s a negative mental attitude wafting about in the haar. Edinburgers are awfully defeatist about the so-called “lack of live music venues”. I wrote that the music scene is only dead if you keep saying it is and, of course, I got a few negative comments back, like “it’s never going to be the way local musicians want it to be.” Aye, you’re right, it never is. Not if you and your shoe-gazing mates keep saying so. I can just ignore that stuff. But what I really hate is that they don’t give you change on the bus here. Pretty much every other city in the world gives you change, but it’s a total money-spinning racket for the transport department. They must make fortunes off folk who don’t have the right fare. My biggest gripe, though, is it feels as if the folk in charge focus all their resources on the month of August.

How much sleep do you get? I do all right, six to seven hours. I like to get on my bike and catch a bit of the morning even if I was on the sesh the night before.

Any hobbies? Scrabble. My favourite word is ‘discombobulated’ because it’s got my name in it and perfectly encapsulates my state of being.

What team do you support? I’m not into football but if I had to give you an answer, I’d say Hibs because that’s who most of my pals support.

Have you ever spat on the Heart of Midlothian? I have. Sorry, mum.

You wrote that the “powers-that-be” have no political will to create art outside of the Festival. What did you mean? I mean that good venues just seem to vaporise. There are no schemes to help upcoming artists put on live shows. I just did a Masters in Marketing with Festival and Event Management and learned a lot about how tourism works in this city. The Festival’s the cash cow, sooking up all the resources. The city fathers boast about how much Edinburgh’s raking in from tourism but they don’t plough any of that back into art or music events that happen outside the merry month of August and outside the city centre.

What’s been your favourite Edinburgh gig? Haha, well, funnily enough it was actually an Edinburgh International Festival gig, PJ Harvey. I’d never even listened to her stuff before. I went in stone blind and she blew my mind.

There’s a secret music scene at the Cricket Club on Leith Links? Have you been along for a wee jig yet? I’ve heard but haven’t been yet. My pals are in a band called Nipples of Venus and they’ve played there and said it was a riot. A riot in a cricket club in Leith? Who knew.

You’ve said you love the passion for music in Glasgow. If you had unlimited resources to organise a big night in Edinburgh, how would you throw a proper party? I’d find a venue that really excited me – maybe The Cameo – or I’d hire a big old bouncy castle and just play loads of techno. I don’t believe music should be serious. Get that disco ball spinning. Down with the shoe-gazers.

And if all you had was a thruppeny bit and a box of broken biscuits? I’d put on a gig in someone’s living-room and sticker all the lampposts so folk would know where to come. The best secrets travel by word of mouth.

Now we’ve managed to pinch the Northern Lights from Old Aberdeen to light up our amazing new bridge, do you think we’ll be able to attract billionaire rock stars like Sting, Bono, and Krazy Kanye? I secretly love Kanye, he’s a loveable car-crash of a guy compared to that swollen, orange wrecking-ball in the White House. I reckon we could get Beyoncé along to one of our house parties if we set up a Beyoncé Castle in the back garden.

Is that your last word on the matter? No, my last word is this: if you can’t find a party you like, throw a party you like. Put a thrash metal band in the front room. Set up a rave in your mum and dad’s garage. Lest we forget, Wayne’s World started out in his parents’ basement.