Since being persuaded to help with the proposed arts complex for King’s Stables Road I’ve come to understand gradually the world of developers and Edinburgh Council together with the arts community and general public’s response to development with or without an arts leaning. It is something that to be honest had passed me by previously but in a way that helped as I had no previous baggage of causes lost or words spoken. Then when at the last minute the development I was involved with lost the King’s Stables Road site to a developer clearly only interested in a hotel and student flats after all that had been said to me by Edinburg Council there was immediately a sense of injustice that I have to say so far hasn’t abated with time.
I was drawn into a world of budget versus luxury or high-end quirky hotels. An arts community divided into many factions mostly, and many would say understandably, only interested in their own specific needs. Arts journalists rather than artists tend to look at “the big picture”. And Edinburgh Council were everything people complained about and more despite having an awful lot of good people working for them. I understood the retail problems but this was a whole new world.
Consequently I crossed paths with Bruce Hare and Duddingston House Properties firstly over King’s Stables Road and then briefly when asking about the Odeon. What I have to say was Bruce Hare was the only developer I spoke to who took the arts complex idea for King’s Stable’s Road seriously and showed genuine enthusiam for what could be achieved. When I plucked up courage to ask what was happening with the Odeon he seemed determined that he would find somebody who would keep it as an entetainment venue. That has now recemtly proved to be the case. So I was more than surprised when I saw how the succesful bid to turn the Royal High School site into a world class hotel while saving and restoring the school was being portrayed.
I was further confused when the Music School option appeared. I wasn’t an expert on these things but from what I had learned over King’s Stables Road the hotel bid had been successful against 50+ others so not only would the developers be given plenty of time to get planning but also should they eventually fail there would be other developers waiting in the wings with far more rights than the Music School. Those behind the Music School were clearly well versed in planning matters so I just assumed there was something I had missed. Then a couple of days ago there was a statement from the hotel developers confirming all I had thought.
Clearly the best thing to do now was accept there was going to be a hotel and come together to make the very best of the massive opportunity there was for the Royal High School itself to become a centre for the arts. Alas no. The response was to start a petition. You do start to get the feeling that there is a small group of well educated, arts and heritage orientated people who I suspect could afford to stay in the proposed six star hotel who think they know what is best for the rest of us. The building has been empty and allowed to get into disrepair for almost 50 years and what is needed as soon as possible is something to happen and not a campaign to stop things happening.
When Edinburgh Council asked me to get involved with the developers looking at King’s Stables Road they made it clear they were fed up with being promised arts facilities that once the proposed hotels and flats had been built never materialised. That obviously made it all the more galling when the preferred bid was one that clearly would follow that pattern. Even now they have no plan beyond dedicating two floors of a five storey building to “the arts” and their planning application is due this month.
On the other hand there is no doubt about Bruce Hare’s enthusiasm for the arts and Rosewood the hotel operator has a track record that speaks for itself. I don’t think anybody thinks the hotel wings are perfect but they are the best solution given all the constraints and opinions that had to be cosidered. In particular from what I have read the number of rooms and therefore the size of the wings was determined by the land owner and the look was determined by those wanting something that “blended in” more than more orthodox buildings.
So there is an opportunity to restore the iconic Royal High School to its former glory and make it a centre for the arts with a financial backing much needed in these days of so many cuts. I’ve been told (because I asked) there will be three venues catering for betwen 65 to 375 people always available to the public. The school itself will be a public facility but at no cost to the public and in fact the financial burden of trying to look after such an old building will be removed. Hundreds of jobs will be created and local businesses in particular will benefit from the custom of both the hotel and its patrons. On the downside if you find the right spot and look at the right angle it won’t look like it was meant to in the 19th century. Having recently visited Calton Hill and searched out the views to Calton Hill the reality is far removed from the idealistic picture so eloquently espoused by some.
Going by the surveys the hotel already has the support of the general public just not the heritage activists and the more vocal arts community. Taylor Swift might indeed choose to stay at Rosewood Edinburgh and in her immortal words the “haters gonna hate” but it is time for the rest of us to get behind an idea that is good for the arts, good for the tax payer and a real boost to both the Edinburgh and Scottish economies.
The hotel’s arts and culture strategy can be found here near the top of the list – well worth looking at
I’ve always put any money I’ve made into our house. We bought a converted mill cottage 25 years ago that had been extended and a while ago extended it further to make the big house we currently live in that was appropriate for the 14 acres it is set in. The house was always to be our pension and we would one day downsize and realise the funds needed. Not that I’d thoughts of retiring but we did look to move several years ago but before doing so investigated whether the original mill could be converted to a dwelling. It is the only mill of its kind left in West Lothian and we had over the years spent a lot of money keeping it and other associated buildings in good order. In particular we had all the trees that had grown over the decades cut away to stop any damage to the walls.
At a later date to the mill water gardens had been added running off the weir that powered the mill and they were restored too. West Lothian Council were keen for the mill to be maintained but as often happens actually getting permission to build a dwelling using the walls has taken many years. What we now have is planning permission for the mill and the potential for three more houses based on the associated buildings. As you can imagine these stunning plots of land will not sell cheaply.
So what’s the plan ? Well ideally we would downsize on the house and sell the plots of land while keeping the rest of the land that houses stables and a riding arena. We have already had a lot of interest from developers as you might imagine given such a unique opportunity to build bespoke houses in an idyllic setting. Don’t get me wrong the money will be very useful but we do love the place and the priority was to try to bring some life back to the buildings. Did once consider having the summer house as record shop!
My wife is more than unhappy at how much I’ve put into the business over the last few years but there should be enough to comfortably support the ideas I have without blowing the pension fund. The vinyl revival may be overhyped but there are albums I would like to see on vinyl particularly from Scottish bands and at the same time there are many opportunities for interesting merchandise that I just don’t have the time or the money for at the moment. There is a huge interest in the history of Scottish music and with more time and money there are possibilities there too. So bear with me over the next few months. Who knows there may be There Will Be Fireworks albums on vinyl, a Quickbeam musical pocket watch and display of old Josef K posters and badges sooner than you might think.
There is even a video somebody shot without permission but sums the uniqueness of the place up nicely. Done in the winter with the gardens overgrown and the bottom pond emptied it has some great footage of the mill and shows what potential there is to do something very special. If anybody has any questions abut the place feel free to email on email@example.com And yes it would make a very good Grand Designs programme, possibly a series !
The original plan had been to have a presence in the Tron Church when it reopened in September and work that in tandem with our shop in St Mary’s Street. Unfortunately the Tron market had a change in their own plan and decided to not open until November and have a Christmas market. It was also decided that selling music wasn’t Christmassy enough though obviously given the delay we had already started to look at alternatives.
The high street has changed beyond recognition in the last decade especially with regard to spending patterns.There was a time when students would be in as we opened at 9.30am killing time until their next lecture when of course now they would spend that time on their phones. Again while before people came in the shop at lunchtimes to get out of the office and away from their computer screens they now spend that time in the office on social media. Most business is now often squeezed into an hour or two after 4pm as people leave work and uni. Even the many visitors we get from the UK and abroad seem to choose this time to visit.
Now while this leaves time to deal will online orders, emails and social media as I said in the last post I really have to look at how my time can best be used. It is great to have time to chat with customers who have travelled half way around the world to visit the shop and lovely to chat to the many other record shops that visit when in Edinburgh but I have to consider how sensible that now is. We had more students in this year than we have had for a few years now and the posters were incredibly popular but for all the vinyl revival they seemed to show little interest and those that did whereas before they would tell me of their local record shop by far the majority now spoke of visiting HMV which is understandable given the number of stores they have and their new found love of stocking vinyl.
I’m looking at a couple of possible things leading up to Christmas but all things considered I’ll be pushing any decision making forward more of which later today.
I’m asked a lot about what Avalanche’s plans are which in a way is nice as it assumes we don’t just stay still and are always looking to move forward but the honest answer at the moment is I’m not sure. I am fairly sure the simple shop format isn’t the best use of my time or what Avalanche does best and can achieve but that isn’t to dismiss the shop completely.
We have options in St Mary’s Street and I have other possibilities to consider which are mostly music related but it makes little sense to focus on the one area in which we are disadvantaged at every turn. I don’t think there is any doubt next year will be very different for Avalanche and the one thing I want to do is concentrate on the things I enjoy. I know what that isn’t and I just have to decide what it is.
I can be as nostalgic as the next man and I’m certainly old enough but the focus is now so heavily on vinyl reissues, anniversary tours and bands reforming that new music hardly gets a chance and then depressingly when you search it out so much is really not very good at all. It’s going to be an interesting couple of months but I wouldn’t have it any other way !
As Edinburgh’s figures for August show all is not well with Edinburgh retail with this from Essential Edinburgh
Edinburgh retail sales were down -4.8% in August 2015 compared to this month in 2014. This means that Edinburgh’s retailers performed worse than their Scottish peers as the Scottish average fell only -2.4% on a year earlier; in the rest of the UK however, sales were up a marginal 0.1%.
It was the same story in July and of course the decline of footfall and sales in the Grassmarket in particular have been well documented for several years now. With Avalanche having a presence in the Tron Church and then St Mary’s Street in the last year I’ve seen first hand that the Grassmarket is not the only area to suffer. For businesses footfall is irrelevant and what has to matter is spend. Even then there is a widening gap as visitors continue to buy food and drink (not a huge surprise) but then cut back on non-food items. When I first became involved with what would be built on the council site in King’s Stables Road I was surprised at the general consensus that something as high end as possible was needed for the arts complex, flats and hotel. As a kid from a council house in Liverpool it didn’t sit well with me.
However the reality of the situation soon became clear. We needed to compete with the many other cities both UK and worldwide actively chasing the high end market and the associated spend and for too long Edinburgh had just relied on its reputation as a cultural city. Without a doubt Edinburgh had a head start but it was clearly starting to be left behind by others maybe not hampered by the focus here on August. I still pushed for attractions that would appeal to all incomes but the argument for a top class hotel was strong. Sadly it looks like it is not to be though the planning as yet is not confirmed.
While in the Tron I understood for the first time why Edinburgh has so many tartan tat shops. It is because visitors buy it. Exposure to The Royal Mile soon made that clear and you also have to question the council’s decision to allow so many traders selling silver made in Asia but “designed in Scotland”. Really !!!
People do expect quality when they come to Edinburgh and quality there certainly is but often pushed into side streets or out of the city centre. Our move to St Mary’s Street enlightened me even more. We have the Carson Clark Gallery next door selling antique maps and prints and forced to leave the Canongate by a vastly increased rent from the council when it is exactly the sort of shop people hope to see on The Royal Mile. Also though there is a Travelodge at the bottom of the street which traders tell me brings them very little business indeed. I too found this though I have to admit that recent concerts from King Crimson and The Damned did bring custom as fans stayed there. What was interesting during the Festival was how many visitors said they had had no problem getting cheap accommodation. Now I’m all for young families and couples being able to afford to visit Edinburgh on a budget. That has to be a good thing. It would now seem though that Edinburgh has enough budget hotels for its needs.
Which brings me to The Royal High School. Much has been made of saving the views it affords and I realised I had never seen these views. I do of course see Calton Hill every day and to be honest always considered it to look a bit cluttered and messy. I started to ask others and they too had not seen the view or were even sure what was meant. Now both sides in the debate over the establishment of a world class hotel take the views seriously but maybe they are not quite as important as some think to the people of Edinburgh. What has to be considered also is the undoubted economic benefits of such a hotel. The STV gifs of before and after wee very good but maybe to show balance they could have some fancy graphics showing the economic benefit to Edinburgh with and without the hotel. I do understand the significance of The Royal High School and those concerned I’m sure mean well but they have no more right to their views than anybody else. Once there is talk of Chinese ownership though they reach stickier ground. Nobody suggested boycotting Jenners when it was bought buy a Chinese conglomerate !
With King’s Stables Road there was a fantastic opportunity to create something special that would have promoted the arts and much improved the footfall through the Grassmarket. Sadly it very much looks like that opportunity is lost unless Edinburgh Council go back to the vision they themselves had for the site. I don’t think anybody thinks the plans for the Royal High School are perfect but again to say that no notice of previous comments from concerned bodies has been taken is blatantly untrue just from what little I have seen and does the objectors no credit.
It will I think send out a real positive statement to the world and it will be a real shame if planning is granted and then things are dragged out even longer by a public inquiry. Edinburgh’s economy needs a boost sooner rather than later and hopefully this will not be the only project to show Edinburgh is not resting on its laurels.
Feel free to reply firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi there Avalanche,
I’m writing from Still Films in Dublin.
We’re an independent film production company making a documentary about the Glasgow music scene of the ‘90s.
More specifically, we’re bringing Mogwai and some of that crew, Chemikal Underground etc, down memory lane and tracing the steps of some of their earlier shows etc.
We’d love to connect with you about your experiences and get some genuine insight into Scottish indie in the mid ‘90s. Or perhaps you can point us in the direction of some people who were ‘on the scene’ a lot back then and might have some interesting material or contacts?
We’re looking for material such as videos, photos, flyers, posters, ticket stubs etc, from that era. We want to use as much authentic material as possible to make sure we capture the spirit and feeling of those days as best we can.
We’re hoping to find pics of bands, live shows, parties (after parties, gaff parties, club nights, DJs, record shops etc), any material about the scene including posters and tickets, but also pics of Glasgow in the ‘90s.
We are also particularly interested in a small music festival in Mauron, France, in 1997 where Mogwai, The Delgados, and Arab Strap played. It was called ‘Ils ne Mauron Pas’, if you happen to know anything about that, or know anyone that might, we would love to know.
Thank you very much for your time and help.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
While more and more people use the Avalanche site and our social media platforms as a resource to discover Scottish bands they may not have heard of we now sell less and less for the very obvious reason that music is now so easily available for free online. Visitors to the shop will often comment how much they have enjoyed an artist we have recommended or indeed say they regularly check to see what we are saying but rarely will they have bought from us. For a while we lost out quite heavily to the artists selling online but it is clear from talking to people now that these days mostly people just stream and don’t buy from Avalanche or the artist.
There are of course still those folk who do buy from Avalanche both in the shop and online and I thank them for that. However now is the time I think to move on and accept that the financial rewards for supporting Scottish artists will be minimal. It is a regular occurrence that we are asked in the shop to recommend bands, not necessarily even always Scottish ones, and people frantically type all the names into their phone to listen to later. If I’m lucky they will buy an Avalanche t-shirt and possibly one album as a memento.
I think what brought it home recently was when a young girl from Zurich had me play a whole bunch of Scottish stuff and then bought all the albums she had liked something that would have happened regularly a decade ago but now happens so rarely. Clearly there is now so much music available all of which social media says is brilliant when of course it is not that people still struggle to find new music or even older bands they have missed. It isn’t just Scottish bands we are asked about. We are of course well known for selling Bright Eyes, Neutral Milk Hotel, Godspeed and many other bands but for now this new Avalanche Recommends section will concentrate mostly but not exclusively on current Scottish artists that are not so well known. Who knows we may even occasionally sell something !
You will find the drop down list of artists as one of the headings on the blog. For now I’ll simply compile a list and then as time permits will add content.
New location – 21, St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh
Never fear while we leave the Tron for a while after Sunday due to the Jazz + Fringe Festivals we reappear just down the road at St Mary’s Street.
This is a new project, not just a pop up while we wait to return to the Tron in September.
We’ll occupy a large space at the back of the shop next to Carson Clark Gallery. Initially you won’t notice any difference from the Tron but by August ..
Will say more once we’re settled in as currently very much a work in progress but expect to see some old and new friends !
Thanks to the very generous people at Little, Brown Book and Mute we are able to offer a fantastic selection of goodies relating to the Stuard David book on the formative years of Belle & Sebastian (actually the blurb says Scottish indie sensation Belle & Sebastian) “In the All-Night Cafe”.
For the winner
Signed cover poster
Exclusive tote bag
Looper 5CD box set “These Things” + badge
Signed sleeve notes
For 3 runners-up
A signed hardback copy of the book
As I’ve said before there will be none of this follow. like or retweet nonsense but proper questions. There is only one problem I myself do not know the answer to the question ! So here it is –
What letter was hidden in Avalanche in the Belle & Sebastian treasure hunt many, many years ago and what word was it part of ?
Answers should be accompanied by a convincing argument as to why the answer is correct.
Some may say this favours the older, Edinburgh based Belle & Sebastian fan so here are two easier questions. Answer both for a chance to win the signed book and of course the winners bag of goodies should nobody come up with a valid answer for the letter and word.
1. Where did Belle & Sebastian get their name from ?
2. Which of the band’s albums is Avalanche’s best selling album of all time from a Scottish band ?
Answers to email@example.com
COMPETITION ENDS SUNDAY 23rd AUGUST AT 11pm
Now on sale for a bargain £6. Distributor says it is limited to 1,500 and will probably run out early next week.
|1. It Never Was The Same – The Twilight Sad|
|2. There’s A Girl In The Corner – Robert Smith|
You can buy a copy online here from the Avalanche shop