Archive for September, 2014
You won’t find many people arguing against the fact that Edinburgh should have its own arts quarter, but up until now very little has been done about it.
Just over a year ago, Argyle House in Lady Lawson Street and the land behind it was reportedly identified as one possible location, but talk then concentrated more on the issues of demolishing the building rather than what might be in its place.
Since then, there has been nothing except the city council’s vow a few months ago to help music industry-related businesses stay located in the city centre. Meanwhile, cities throughout the UK have been working hard on plans similar to Manchester’s “Northern Quarter”. Liverpool has just announced expansion for its Bluecoat arts hub, Birmingham has its Custard Factory and Nottingham has joined the fray attracting Rough Trade to open in its Creative Quarter. England’s major cities have also recently all agreed to start working together, not only on these areas but in keeping interesting retail alive in general.
After the city council’s announcement about helping the music industry, I kept an even closer eye on what has been happening in Edinburgh, so when I was told that council land originally earmarked as part of the Edinburgh arts quarter had just gone up for sale, it seemed worth further investigation. A 1.2-acre site on King’s Stables Road, it stretches all the way from the tunnel famous for its saxophone player to the entrance to the Grassmarket.
A large storage shed could easily be imagined as a venue, with shops and cafes complementing something else Edinburgh needs but does not have – a fantastic indoor market, still leaving space for artist studios. With most arts hubs being created on the periphery of city centres at best, Edinburgh has the chance to create something very special indeed in the heart of the city, close to so many other arts-related buildings – from the Usher Hall to the Filmhouse and, of course, the art college itself.
Something else that was pointed out to me very quickly was that the arts quarter would also be great for footfall in the city, meaning people would walk the length of the Grassmarket to reach it from Victoria Street and encouraging those in the west end of Princes Street to approach from Lothian Road. With a little bit of signage, the long daunting walk up King’s Stables Road to the Grassmarket would be halved and bring new life to the area.
Word spread like wildfire and within 48 hours I’d been contacted by a range of interested parties all pledging support for the idea. There are so many wider benefits that extend beyond the arts and even tourism that there would be a huge positive effect immediately. There is no doubt the project would give an air of credibility to the wider area being considered one of Europe’s finest arts quarters attracting new visitors to Edinburgh from all over the world.
For more details on how to get involved in the Edinburgh arts quarter campaign
This opinion piece was written for The Edinburgh Evening News and appeared on 30/09/2014
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1. There Will Be Fireworks – There Will Be Fireworks
2. Pictish Trail – Secret Soundz Vol.1
3. Kid Canaveral – Shouting At Wildlife
4. The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light
5. Star Wheel Press – Life Cycle Of A Falling Bird
6. There Will Be Fireworks – The Dark, Dark Bright
7. King Creosote – Psalm Clerk
8. TV21 – Forever 22
9. Quickbeam – Quickbeam
10. Olympic Swimmers – No Flags Will Fly
11. Bwani Junction – Fully Cocked
12. Randolph’s Leap – Introducing …..
13. Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell – Visible From Space
14. Scottish Enlightenment – St. Thomas
15. King Creosote – Disclaimer
16. King Creosote – Vintage Quays
17. Emily Scott – Longshore Drift
18. The Last Battle – Heart Of The Land, Soul Of The Sea
19. Rob St John – Weald
20. Emily Scott – abcdefg…etc…
21. Cancel The Astronauts – Animal Love Match
22. Endor – Endor
23. King Creosote – Red On Green
24. Edinburgh School For The Deaf – New Youth Bible
25. Conquering Animal Sound – Kammerspiel
26. Dead Flowers – Midnight At The Wheel Club
27. Aberfeldy – Somewhere To Jump From
28. Trapped Mice – Winter Sun
29. Hamish James Hawk – Aznavour
30. Emily Scott – I Write Letters I Never Send
So big hitters like Ballboy, Saint Jude’s Infirmary, Meursault and Withered Hand aren’t included as they all had distributors I bought from. Others in the chart may have had distribution but I dealt directly for the vast majority of the stock. The Scars album would have been at two but I stuck to new releases and not reissues.
I never met Peter. Most of the New Zealand artists made their way over to Scotland at some point but Peter never made it to Europe or the US until his visit just a few weeks ago to New York where he played his first ever US gig. We spoke regularly of course when Avalanche put out the highly regarded debut album “Shotgun Blossom” from his band Snapper and I had in fact been in touch only recently to let him know of all the interest there was in both his old stuff and what he was doing currently.
We decided to reissue the album and of course I had long lost any contract we had. With interest from labels far bigger than Avalanche I wanted to make sure the best possible job was done of the reissue but labels wanted to see a contract. I’d tracked Peter down via his friend Ian of Fishrider Records and asked on the off chance if he had his copy of the contract. Peter proceeded to produce not just the contract but all our correspondence from a drawer in his house. In a time before email and with phone calls to New Zealand not cheap I’d forgotten how much had simply been put in writing and posted.
It is a small consolation that Peter had so recently been made aware just how highly thought of he was not just amongst fellow musicians and those in the music industry for whom he had always been something of an icon but more and more with a new generation of listeners. With a music pedigree second to none (The Clean, The Chills, The Great Unwashed, The Puddle and Snapper to name only some) Peter’s influence stretched well beyond New Zealand and there are any number of bands who would cite Snapper in particular as influential. I always remember Stereolab popping in the shop on their way home from a gig asking if they could get a “Shotgun Blossom” cassette for their van.
How an Edinburgh record shop ended up putting out not just such an influential album but also other great New Zealand stuff from The DoubleHappys, Peter Jefferies and the Xpressway label is a story for another time. Peter and the rest of the guys in the band were always very grateful Avalanche risked what was then a considerable amount of money on a band so far away but they repaid that trust many times over and were a pleasure to deal with. I was genuinely touched that Peter had kept everything and hopefully some of it will be made available when “Shotgun Blossom” is reissued. Well thought of in its time it made number two in the indie charts kept from the top slot by a Babes In Toyland mini album.
I never heard a bad word about Peter even though he was quite opinionated about others and though he was something of a recluse that didn’t mean he didn’t resurface from time to time to play with old friends. His recent trip to New York was a very pleasant surprise and I’d hoped the start of a new chapter in his career. He was clearly very talented but most of all I’ll remember him for being a really cool guy !
In the end it was the rates that killed us in the Grassmarket. The landlord was very good about the rent and didn’t put it up when he should have but I feel very badly let down by Edinburgh Council. I’d been told they had spent 4 million pounds on the “improvements” and hoped to soon have a BID (Business Improvement District) in place. As it turned out the BID happened a year late and just oversaw the further decline of retail. More of that another time.
Obsessed with the tram works the Grassmarket was abandoned from the first Christmas I was there and the Christmas market cancelled. This culminated in last Christmas when everything was done to attract visitors to Princes Street and St Andrew Square and nothing to bring them to the Grassmarket. That the BID did nothing to remedy this beggars belief but I was told the committee felt money would be better spent on other things ! It was no surprise to see footfall figures were down 10% in December showing a month on month decline every month from August something unheard of in retail. What is worse the Grassmarket footfall figures are taken at the Grassmarket Hotel so many of those counted do no more than get to the bottom of Victoria Street and turn around never getting anywhere near the majority of the shops.
The council funding for a council employee to help with events in the Grassmarket ran out a year after the works were completed so given the BID was delayed by a year there was nobody from the council to help almost as soon as I moved in. The council had asked to meet me as they were very keen on the idea of an “arts quarter” and to be fair they had said they had no money but could help with red tape. Another problem not council related was that The Lot then closed and the lady who owns it can clearly manage without the income and has declined anybody interested in using the building.
There was the constant promise that things would improve once the BID was in place to liaise with the council but very little indeed seemed to happen. Even more galling was that when big events were put on they regularly involved blocking people’s view of Avalanche, Helios Fountain and the West Port. Large inflatables, film screens and stages all ended up blocking us off and that was by no means all. Most events involved fencing being put in front of the road and therefore blocking easy access to the shop. However as soon as there was a market that might attract folk down our way that was placed in the middle and led to people just looking around and then turning back up Victoria Street. All these events led to LESS takings and the market sadly did not improve things either. Some might put this down to the decline of the record shop but Helios Fountain who have been in the Grassmarket for 30 years and keep scrupulous records said sometimes things were so bad they matched the bad old days when all the work had been done, dark days that thankfully I had missed. Shops in the West Port also reported a drop in takings.
The council has recognised the rates problem and for smaller properties with a rateable value under £10K they now pay no rates at all but this does not help many in the Grassmarket. Similarly because I took on a shop that had been empty for a while I would now receive some rates relief but sadly not 4 years ago.
What it has left me with is a huge rates bill I’m still paying off and I have absolutely no idea what I got in return. In fact it seems to me the council spent that money encouraging folk not to visit the Grassmarket. Maybe even at this late stage I’ll get a refund !
It is imperative that we resurface soon but at the same time I’m still considering a range of options and future challenges more of which over the next week. What I had decided is that we needed a small central base in Edinburgh that people could visit meaning we could take our time with the considerable options that have been put before us. A place has been identified and it is now a case of seeing if things fall into place as quickly as I would hope.
Our time since the Grassmarket shop closed has been invaluable but has raised as many questions as it has answered and led to even more opportunities being put in our path. And the pic ? Well it said Avalanche HQ and it was either that or the lego pic ! Much more very soon.
1. Withered Hand – New Gods
2. Mogwai – Rave Tapes
3. King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
4. Owl John – Owl John
5. PAWS – Youth Culture Forever
6. Broken Records – Weights and Pulleys
7. Hamish James Hawk – Aznavour
8. Jack White – Lazaretto
9. James Yorkston – Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society
10. The Last Battle – Lay Your Burden Down