Music industry giants snap up historic Edinburgh concert venue

Edinburgh's music scene has been given a massive boost after one of Britain's biggest venue operators swooped to snap up the century-old Corn Exchange building.

Sunday, 29th August 2021, 12:57 pm
Updated Sunday, 29th August 2021, 12:57 pm
The Corn Exchange will be known as the O2 Edinburgh Academy from now on. Picture: Mark Bryce

The Academy Music Group has expanded into Edinburgh for the first time with its acquisition of the complex, which has hosted concerts since 1999.

The takeover by the company, which already runs O2 Academy venues in Glasgow, Brixton, Brixton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle, is expected to see a surge in the number of gigs in the city.

It has already spent more than £500,000 installing a new PA and lighting system ahead of the first show, by Declan McKenna, on Friday.

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Graham Walter is chief operating officer at the Academy Music Group. Picture: Caitlin Mogridge

The Corn Exchange will be renamed O2 Academy Edinburgh for its new era, which will see Nile Rodgers, the DMAs, Fontaines DC, Rag 'n' Bone Man, Frank Carter, The Snuts and The Charlatans play over the next few months.

Chvrches, Jake Bugg, Beck, Marina, War on Drugs and Gary Numan will play the 3000-capacity venue, Edinburgh’s biggest for all-standing concerts, next year.

The Corn Exchange, which dates back to 1909, was converted into a concert venue and events centre by previous owners Marco’s Leisure.

It went on to play host to acts like Oasis, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Paolo Nutini, The Proclaimers, Belle and Sebastian and Nick Cave.

Nile Rodgers & Chic will be staging one of the first gigs at the O2 Academy Edinburgh. Picture: John Devlin

However the venue, in the Chesser area, has been rarely used by promoters recently and increasingly used for private functions, exhibitions, food and drink festivals, party nights and conferences.

In an exclusive interview, chief operating officer Graham Walters said: “The Corn Exchange had moved more towards the corporate and non-music side of things over the years. The former owners didn’t have the knowledge or expertise of the music industry that we have. There will still be a mix of events, but we will be focusing on the amount of live music there because that’s in our DNA.

"We absolutely expect, with our connections with all of the UK’s major promoters and agents, that we’ll be bringing new acts to the city that would potentially have bypassed the city previously.

"Edinburgh has a great heritage of culture and music. It’s always been on our radar, but trying to find venues of the right capacity, in the right location, is a challenge."When this opportunity came up it was a no-brainer. Although it didn’t have a huge number of gigs it was held in very high esteem by promoters, agents and bands. We already have a lot of heritage and listed buildings. It’s a great size and big enough to pick up acts on tours of the UK. It just ticked every box.”

Bastille peforming at the Corn Exchange. Picture: Alan Rennie

Gareth Griffiths, head of sponsorship at O2, said: “The new O2 Academy Edinburgh is a brilliant addition to our O2 Academy estate.

“It’s a beautiful venue and as entertainment begins to return this further demonstrates O2 and the Academy Music Group’s commitment to enhancing the live industry in Scotland, one of the best places to watch music in the UK.”

DF Concerts chief executive Geoff Ellis said: “It’s always been such a great venue – in fact, we were the first to host a concert in the venue more than 20 years ago with Blur.

"The installation of a fixed PA system and lighting rig will enable more tours to be viable and it will now see many more concerts taking place, playing an enhanced role in the city’s live music scene.”

Lauren Mayberry's band Chvrches will be playing the new-look Edinburgh venue next year.

Paul Demarco, chief executive of Marco’s Leisure, said: “When we bought the Corn Exchange in Chesser 22 years ago, we started with a plan to be Edinburgh’s go-to concert venue and ran over 300 live shows, as well as welcoming three million visitors to gigs, conferences, banquets, weddings, exhibitions and parties, creating one of the busiest and most successful venues in Scotland.

"We’re happy to pass on the baton to the top professionals in the industry who will ensure the Corn Exchange continues to play a major role in Scotland’s events industry for many more years to come.”

Beck will play at the O2 Edinburgh Academy next year.