Walking tour to celebrate Edinburgh’s rock music past

A rock walking tour is coming to the Capital
A rock walking tour is coming to the Capital
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Beatlemania engulfs Edinburgh

Stephen Millar, author of Edinburgh’s Hidden Walks, follows the footsteps of music legends who once paid the Capital a visit.

Beatlemania engulfs Edinburgh

This “rock” tour starts at Cav nightclub on West Tollcross, recently featured in T2 Trainspotting. This venue has had many names since it was first used for concerts in the 1940s. Pink Floyd came here in 1969, a few months after sacking main singer-songwriter Syd Barrett. In 1977 teenagers crowded in to see The Clash, The Damned, The Jam, The Ramones, as well as Edinburgh’s own Matt Vinyl & The Decorators and The Rezillos. In 1978 Patti Smith, Japan, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sham 69 all played here, as did U2 in 1981. Walk along Lothian Road, passing the Odeon, formerly the ABC cinema. The Beatles performed here in April 1964. Dozens of kids slept out on the pavement overnight hoping to buy tickets. The band returned in October, sharing the bill with nine other acts. In 1964 you could have seen Davie Jones and the Manish Boys on stage here, Jones later achieving fame as David Bowie. Bob Dylan also played the ABC in 1966, going “electric” with The Hawks for the second half of the set. This had already enraged fans around the world, and Edinburgh’s fans tried to drown Dylan out by playing harmonicas. Not long after, Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident, and The Hawks became The Band.

READ MORE: Rare shots of David Bowie in Edinburgh revealed

The Clash’s busking tour of Edinburgh

Walk on, passing the Usher Hall, venue for many acts when at their peak including The Rolling Stones (1964), Chuck Berry (’65), Bowie and Ten Years After (’69), Led Zeppelin (’70) and Pink Floyd (’74). Ten Years After played shortly after appearing at Woodstock. Pass the Caley Hotel, where in the early ’70s you could have attended gigs by rockers Wishbone Ash, prog pioneers Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator, and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Continue on to Princes Street, following the steps of Bob Dylan who was pursued by the press when walking here in 1966. The Clash played on the street to shoppers during their “busking tour” in 1985 when they travelled the country with no money, earning what they could from impromptu gigs and sleeping on fans’ floors. Continue east, passing the St James Centre which is currently under demolition. The Clash busked in front of the former entrance, asking a passing fan where they could play in the city. This led to gigs at La Sorbonne in the Cowgate, and Coasters – now Cav. Bear left to reach The Playhouse, once home to the Nite Club. During the late punk and new wave scene in early ’80s, it hosted gigs by The Associates, The Damned, Altered Images, Berlin Blondes, Dead Kennedys, Orange Juice and Bauhaus – often regarded as the first goth band. Rock legends Queen, also played The Playhouse in 1976. Simple Minds, U2, Depeche Mode and the Eurythmics came here between 1980 and 1981, before moving on to larger venues. Scottish punk band Dreamboys also gigged here but never made it big, although lead singer, Peter Capaldi, later become the 12th Dr Who.

READ MORE: Memories of Edinburgh’s most legendary gigs

The mime who inspired Bowie

Head right up Blenheim Place and then Royal Terrace. The 24 Royal Terrace hotel (formerly the Ailsa Craig hotel) is where Nirvana stayed in October 1990 and partied hard. Continue along Carlton Terrace into Regent Terrace, then drop down to the Burns Monument, taking the path beside it down to Calton Road. Almost opposite is the late lamented home of Studio 24, formerly Calton Studios. Nirvana played here on 26 October 1990 with Shonen Knife and The Vaselines, the latter being Kurt’s heroes who he persuaded to reform for this gig. Nirvana played again here in November 1991, shortly after Nevermind was released and they were becoming the biggest act in the world. Walk up Old Tolbooth Wynd to reach The Royal Mile, and turn right. Soon you turn into St Mary’s Street and then up the Pleasance, passing Drummond Street on your right. In 1970, Angie and David Bowie stayed for a few weeks in the dingy basement of number 17 with mime artist Lindsay Kemp, a key influence on Bowie’s theatrical style particularly during the Ziggy Stardust era.

READ MORE: When Nirvana played Edinburgh’s Southern Bar

When Nirvana rocked 
the Southern Bar

The Pleasance becomes St Leonard’s Street, then turn right on to East Crosscauseway, and right again on to Clerk Street. Shortly on the right is the old Odeon, site of gigs in the ’70s and early ’80s by The Ramones, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, The Undertones, Teardrop Explodes, The Tubes, and Wings. Continue to pass the Queen’s Hall where “Madchester” stars Inspiral Carpets played in 1988, and Britpop was later represented in the 1990s by Suede, Elastica and Blur. And finally, just past the Queen’s Hall, is the Southern Bar. On December 1, 1991, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl as “Teen Spirit” played five songs to 20 people during a charity gig organised by Edinburgh’s The Joyriders in aid of Sick Kids. The walk ends here, and you might want to refresh yourself in the same place that no doubt Kurt had a beer on that famous night.