The man in charge of major pop and rock gigs in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens believes they can help it become “Scotland’s answer to the Hollywood Bowl.”
DF Concerts chief executive Geoff Ellis wants the Summer Sessions to become an established fixture at the heart of the world’s biggest arts festival in August.
Despite calls for full access to the park to remain sacrosanct, he also drew a comparison between the gigs and events in New York’s Central Park, saying: “In this day and age, cities need to utilise their assets.”
Ellis, who has lined up Florence & The Machine, Primal Scream, Lewis Capaldi, Chvrches and Madness in August for what he described as “one of the best concert venues in the world.”
Ellis ruled out moving the Summer Sessions, which will see nine shows staged across 12 days, outwith August as it would be less appealing to artists who wanted to play during the Festival and audiences who wanted to take in other shows.
However he revealed that a less obtrusive “screening” system would be deployed on Princes Street after large black-out boards were kept in place last August on days when there were no shows - until a backlash forced councillors to intervene.
DF Concerts returned to the gardens for the first time in more than a decade in 2018, when Sir Tom Jones, Paloma Faith, Bastille, Rag’n’Bone Man and Kasabian appeared.
Ellis said: “We definitely want to do it as an annual event. The council will obviously want to see how each year goes. But we had a very positive de-brief last year. It was very well received.
“It’s one of the best concert venues in the world. I don’t say that lightly. It’s Scotland’s Hollywood Bowl - but with a castle to look up at. I send every artist pictures of the venue. It is a big selling point. It’s a stunning, iconic location, right in the heart of the city. You can get off bus, train or tram and walk straight in.
“Being part of the world’s biggest arts festival is really important. We bring something to the overall festival period and benefit from it as well. But our costs are quite significant. The bandstand isn’t big enough for bands to play on. We have to build a stage on top.
“It would be much harder to get artists to play outwith the festival period. It’s a real selling point to artists. They want to be part of it and to be around the buzz, which is phenomenal in August.”
Ellis, who is also behind Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival, said council safety experts had requested last year’s barriers.
He said: “There was perhaps an assumption that we put them up so people couldn’t stand and watch the gigs for free, but that just wasn’t the case. They’re there to protect the public. If you didn’t have any screening people would stand and gather where people are waiting for buses. It would mean pedestrians would have to step onto the road. That would be dangerous. By killing the sightlines when the concerts are on you keep everybody safe. The council, from a public safety point of view, needed us to do it.
“What we’re doing this year is working with the council on a design which enables them to go up and down fairly easily.
“It will still be a form of screening, but the detail of them is still being worked out and the council will have the final sign-off on them. They will only be up during the performance times. They will look different. I can’t say any more until we’ve finalised things.”
Ellis insisted concert-goers had as much right to “enjoy” a park as people who wanted to sunbathe or walk their dog, adding that it was a “myth” that gigs had led to the entire closure of the gardens.
He said: “If you live next to a park you like to think of it as your own back garden. But it’s just as much for someone who lives on the top floor of a high-rise flat on the edge of the city. It is much theirs as anyone else. Parks are also there for visitors.
“Parks need to be multi-functional places where people come together and enjoy the space. Everyone who comes to one of our concerts is doing that - some of them will be council tax payers in Edinburgh, some of them will be visitors bringing money into the city.
“In this day and age, cities need to utilise their assets. “Edinburgh does that very well on Hogmanay when it closes down those streets to have a massive party. No doubt there will be motorists who think it is terrible, but it is a great thing for Edinburgh.
“There will always be people who think that parks should only be for people to sunbathe in, but if you look at somewhere like Central Park in New York it has loads of events. If they want to be enjoy the park for a concert and someone else wants to enjoy it to walk their dog in they have both got validity to be there.
“It is also a bit of myth to say that nobody can use the park when there is a concert on. It’s only the immediate environment that becomes a ticketed space at a time when there is minimal use of the park.”
Ellis said he was still aggrieved at some of the flak last year’s event took from some critics and commentators.
He added: “I’ve nothing against the book festival. I understand why they put screening around Charlotte Square, but no comment is made about it. Why the double standards?
“I suspect it is because they are a book festival and we are rock and roll. I don’t see why you would comment negatively about a music event and not be consistent. Their screening isn’t for public safety. Ours is.”