Paul’s expecting 15,000 people to attend Edinburgh’s Big Beach Busk at Portobello
From working on hit TV shows like Rab C Nesbitt, Gary: Tank Commander and Channel 4’s Fresh Meat to designing T-shirts and health and safety campaigns, Creative Designer seems a fitting tag for the 42-year-old who, on the last Saturday of August for the past decade has watched the highlight of his year, The Big Beach Busk, unfolds.
Next Saturday, 31 August, more than 500 musicians are expected to converge on Portobello Promenade for this year’s event, ready to entertain crowds of up to 15,000 people.
Recalling the journey that brought him to where he finds himself today, Paul recalls, “I worked in the film industry for 14 years, mostly in the art department, ensuring the designer’s intent was held on to while the camera department and director tried to tear it all apart.”
It was while working on films like Perfect Sense with Ewan McGregor and TV series such as Garrow’s Law and Inside No 9 that Paul met his wife Kathleen, now an accountant on Outlander. Together they have a 6.5-year-old son, Gus.
“That .5 is very important,” laughs Paul, who left the world of film four years ago, becoming a creative consultant working on projects as diverse as London Crossrail and The Queensferry Crossing.
Today he describes himself as a Service Designer, “examining every touch point in a service to give a better customer experience”.
He explains, “For example, you might look at every point where the waiter meets the diner and try to improve it”.
It’s a fitting example as he is also a shareholder in popular Portobello cafe bar, The Skylark, on the High Street.
“When I left the film industry and sold up my props and kit, I wanted to be more part of the community here, to be anchored in Portobello,” he recalls.
“A friend owned The Skylark with a pal who was selling up to start a family, so I bought into it; I’m a share-holder and occasional floor-mopper,” he quips.
Originally from the Borders, Paul felt instantly at home when he moved to Edinburgh’s seaside.
“My granny was born here and her sister lived here until she died - they were Pipe Street and King’s Road. I didn’t know that until I moved here.
“I was brought up in Kelso and moved to Edinburgh as soon as I could, intending to stay a couple of years before going out to see the world, but I just fell in love with Edinburgh.
“I spent a decade living in Great Junction Street, Leith - loved the community there. Do you remember the ‘Coca Cola Enjoy Leith’ T-shirts,” he asks.
“Well, that was my first attempt at starting a business. I also designed that and the ‘Godfather’ Leither T-shirts.
Then, after a short stint in Glasgow, Paul and his family moved to Portobello, it wasn’t long before the Big Beach Busk was born.
“One day, my friends Sandra and Lorna and I were sitting on the beach and someone was blasting out horrible music on tinny speakers,” he says.
“Sandra said, ‘Why have you not got a guitar with you? We could blast them off the beach’.
“The conversation went on and we wondered at the lack of buskers on the beach.
“So, after quite a few ginger beer and rum combos, we decided we knew enough musicians to fill the prom.
“It was phrased like a dare and I said, ‘I’ll get a mile of buskers, no bother.’
“I paced out The Prom, worked out we’d need about 80 buskers at 20 yard intervals, and started making a list.”
Setting up a Facebook group, Paul invited all the musicians he could think of to come along, asking that they bring a busking pal too.
Hitting his target, a couple of hundred turned up that first year to enjoy the music.
In recent times, numbers have rocketed with up to 500 buskers and some 15,000 revellers on The Prom.
As the event becomes ever more successful, Paul admits he now faces a dichotomy.
“It has grown by 50 buskers a year and there’s only me; I’m the disorganiser, there’s no infrastructure, stewards or committee... it’s like a loosely organised flash mob that isn’t a secret,” he says.
“I put up posters around Porty a week or two before and they don’t have much information on them, deliberately - I just don’t want it to get out of hand and I’m mindful that, on the day, the beach is rammed and it’s really hard for people to find a place to play.”
He adds, “Right from the beginning there was a 20 year plan, I wanted it to grow in a sustainable way... if it rains I loose a couple of hundred for posters and badges but no one takes a huge hit.
“In another 10 years, I’d like buskers in every venue in Porty, on the High Street, on The Prom and a busking procession everyone can join.
“I’d love to see it like the early days of Notting Hill, but it doesn’t need to rush there. People will now turn up regardless. All I have to do is give them the a date.”
The Big Beach Busk, Portobello Promenade, 31 August, Noon-6pm, free