Historic Merchants HQ to be major Fringe music venue

It is the historic headquarters of one of Edinburgh's oldest business organisations.

Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 12:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 8:12 am
Interior shot of Merchant Hall. Picture: Craig Stephen
Interior shot of Merchant Hall. Picture: Craig Stephen

Now the New Town home of the Merchants Company of Edinburgh is set to be transformed into one of the biggest live music venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Jazz, soul, hip hop, classical, pop and folk acts have all been lined up to perform under the A-listed Merchant Hall’s neo-classical dome throughout August.

The 150-capacity venue, which dates back to the 19th century, has previously been made available available for weddings and corporate functions by the Merchant Company of Edinburgh.

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Dating back to 1670, when it was set up to protect trading rights in the Scottish capital, it is now a business forum and charitable organisation with more than 500 members. Its A-listed building will become a sophisticated cabaret-style club under a new venture being launched by two food and drink industry entrepreneurs.

Michael Fraser, who runs MacKenzies Catering, and John Stirling, operations director of craft distiller Arbikie Highland Estate, in Angus, have set up their own event company to run the Hanover Street building, which will become one of the few venues dedicated to live music at the Fringe this summer.

Nearly 30 different artists will be appearing at the venue, which will also allow audiences to enjoy a meal during each performance. The Merchants Hall is described by the historic company as “one of Edinburgh’s more discreet city centre treasures, where the best of art and architecture combine to create a building of grace and distinction.” The main hall, which will host up to three shows a day until as late as 1am, boasts ornate panels and pills, plaster work friezes, portraits and sculptures.

Acts confirmed in the Fringe line-up are funk outfits The Haggis Horns, The Groove Band, James Brown Is Annie and Freaky Family, jazz stars Stephen Duffy, Sophie Bancroft, Cindy Douglas and Ali Affleck, and folk favourites Rachel Hair, Ross Couper, Tom Oakes and Barrule. There will also be tribute nights to Blondie, Nat King Cole, Jimi Hendrix and Billie Holiday.

Mr Fraser, the joint owner of MacKenzies Restaurant in Colinton, in Edinburgh, for more than 25 years, said the Fringe venture had emerged from his catering company’s work at functions in the venue.

He added: “We wanted to do events with more of an alternative feel to them, where you can enjoy a bit of music and a bit of food with some drinks, where the audience can maybe relax a little more than at the more mainstream events at the festival. People will be able to reserve seats, we’ll have table service and we’ll have space upstairs for private dining and parties.

“The Merchants Company were quite keen as they felt it was in keeping with the style and character of the venue. The Merchants Hall has got a fantastic location, and there is a great ambience and feel about it. We’re really going to use the style of the place to sell it.”