I spent 30 years in business never really having to consider anything outside of the music industry I was a part of. Yes I was asked to head up a coalition of all the big independent record shops ten years ago, when things first started to look bleak for the indies, and I managed to get all the key shops to meet up in Leeds to discuss things but I was still very much in my comfort zone.
It wasn’t until Avalanche moved to the Grassmarket after it had been pedestrianised that I became aware of the machinations of Edinburgh Council and the arts sector. It seemed like a good idea. Create an arts hub based on businesses that were there already and the possibilities, as they say, were endless!
With Armstrongs and Analogue Books at one end of the Grassmarket and Red Dog Music and Avalanche at the other, the core of the hub seemed strong and of course Avalanche’s neighbour was Helios Fountain, a well respected ‘cool’ gift shop trading for over 30 years.
Edinburgh Council were all for it and we could be just like New York who promoted their vintage shops second only to their department stores. There would be festivals and regular events and the Grassmarket would rival the most famous squares in Europe. After the council spending £7.5 million on the pedestrianisation I was confident they would follow through with their ideas.
Avalanche moved to the Grassmarket in November 2010 and the first thing we heard was the cancellation of the Christmas market. Not a great start! The tram works seemed to be blamed for everything and any money the council had was needed to help the heart of the city centre directly affected by trams. They didn’t seem to understand that people were not coming into Edinburgh because of the chaos that was affecting us all.
Unperturbed, after what was the severest winter I have ever seen, we looked to organise our first festival. The Grassmarket BID that I had been promised and told would bring in funding had been delayed by a year but still the council had promised that they had an employee who would help with all the red tape and minimise the time businesses would need to spend on the project.
I organised a three-day music festival at the end of April and having just looked it up online I have to say it was well worth a visit, with Ballboy, TV21, Star Wheel Press and The Last Battle leading an excellent line-up.
When I say organised I mean organised as the council employee we had been promised had been on a 14-month contract that was not renewed. Despite being finished by 8pm some neighbours complained about the noise and that has been the story of the Grassmarket ever since, with even family Christmas markets vetoed by residents, who were amazingly backed up by councillors.
Gradually I just seemed to get sucked in, whether it was mediating with the disastrous BID, or advising developers on the fantastic art centre plans the council had for King’s Stables Road only to see them not only take the money at the expense of the arts but also go back on the promise of the project not being allowed to be delayed.
When two different groups within 24 hours of each other had come to ask me if I would be involved in what happened with the KSR site, it was the first time I was reminded of my dad, Ronald Buckle. He had been a Labour councillor in Liverpool and it was a regular occurrence that people came knocking on our door. He had a full-time job so often it would be in the evening or on a Saturday morning.
The council works department was open on a Saturday morning and often people’s visits were related to work needing done on their council houses, so dad would nip up to the works department and try to sort it out. We lived in a council house ourselves and somehow he got drawn into sorting out other people’s problems so being a councillor was a logical step.
When Liverpool council became very left-wing, and sometimes entire families would contrive to be councillors, dad decided not to stand again. But the next thing I knew he was asked to be the union representative for APEX, the Association of Professional Executives. Now his weekends were taken up away in Manchester and London negotiating pension rights.
Later in life he was appointed a JP and again we started to get the knocks on the door at night, only this time it was the police looking to get warrants signed. There weren’t many Justices of the Peace in our part of town and a regular demand for warrants!
Often when sitting in judgement on young lads he would remind the mainly white middle-class JPs that not everybody had an easy start in life. Dad himself had had his schooling disrupted by the Second World War and gone to the Co-op College to finish his education.
I remember as a kid being taken to see a couple in Walton in one of the new high-rise blocks of flats while he was still a councillor. They were singing dad’s praises and I couldn’t quite work out why. When we left I asked him what he had done. In those days the council were clearing out the slums and putting people either in the new towns or the high rise flats. It wasn’t dad’s constituency but he was on the housing committee and had intervened when the couple had been refused a flat.
They had lived together for over 30 years but were not married, which was very unusual at the time. But applying the council rules meant that they were not due a flat together when their home was demolished. Despite not particularly approving of their choice to be unmarried, dad had spoken up for them, claiming it was clearly wrong to forcibly rehouse them but not treat them as a couple and the council had relented.
Sadly, he never really got to enjoy the pension he had negotiated and at his funeral there were hundreds of people we didn’t know. Quite a few of them came to speak to us and all had similar stories to the couple in the high-rise flat. People he had helped and they had not forgotten.
As the new council starts to get under way, hopefully they will understand that the decisions they make seriously impact on people’s lives both in small ways and in the big picture. As recent events have sadly shown it is people that matter, not politics.
Exhibition fun day out for hundreds
Many thanks to all who came to The Only Fun In Town exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery at the weekend, pictured. In three days we had more than 1,500 visitors which exceeded all expectations. I also had several offers of more display items and made several valuable new contacts.
There were plans for the exhibition to return for the Festival but, as that relied on the council, their delay in agreeing an administration has left time tight. Unsurprisingly, there was huge interest on social media as people took advantage of the many photo opportunities.
There should at least be a permanent site identified before the end of the year, though the hope is to be up and running before Christmas.