17th December 2013
On first hearing the news that The Picture House, one of the only music venues of its size in town, was to be sold off and replaced by a Wetherspoon’s pub, I was absolutely stunned. I couldn’t understand the decision by MAMA and Company to close the doors to a venue which has helped in promoting a lot of up and coming Edinburgh bands and musicians, as well as bringing the city more established acts from the UK and beyond. And having spent many an enjoyable evening in there with friends and family, I’ve witnessed some real standout gigs to packed out crowds, as well as spending a small fortune at the bar with drinks prices around the £4.80 a pint mark. Surely this company was generating money?
As I digested the news, my next thought was that there must be a business or business person(s) out there who were willing to take over this premises and keep alive a building, which over the years has been graced by the likes of Pink Floyd, AC/DC, The Smiths, Genesis and Queen. The building itself was a nightclub venue for much of my late teens/early twenties, but it was reopened in 2008 as a 1,500 capacity live music venue with a performance from Travis. More recent times have witnessed the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Cribs, Razorlight and Tame Impala, as well as local bands such as The 10:04’s, The OK Social Club and The Nature Boys.
Stevie Bolton from The 10:04’s remembers their first gig there. ‘The first time we played at The Picture House was supporting Idlewild,’ said the lead singer. ‘It felt like a real step up for us at the time. We were very nervous before playing and we weren’t sure how many people would be there to see us in a venue that size,’ he continued. ‘However, it ended up being a great atmosphere and the place was packed with people jumping around and singing our songs back to us.’ The 10:04’s went on to perform at The Picture House on 5 or 6 occasion and even had the pleasure of supporting one of the bands who heavily influenced their early music. ‘Supporting The Cribs was huge for us personally,’ said Stevie. ‘It’s a nice feeling supporting your favourite band and having them watching you from the side of the stage.’
Having spoken to a few bands and music lovers over the past couple of days, I don’t think you can underestimate the size of the blow to the music scene in Edinburgh. Not only is it a blow for local musicians, but for the fans who are already glancing towards the west with a hint of envy as Glasgow continues to take centre stage in the live music stakes. This year alone has witnessed Glasgow opening another live music venue, this time in the shape of a 13,000 capacity arena called The SSE Hydro. Whereas over in Edinburgh, the doors are set to close on another music venue which will leave many musicians out in the cold. ‘It’s a big blow both for music fans and upcoming bands,’ Stevie went on to say. ‘There’s a fair old jump from the Liquid Rooms, which is around the 700 people mark, to The Usher Hall or Corn Exchange which are around the 2,500 mark. There is a lot of bands who fall into that 1,000-1,500 mark for ticket sales,’ he continued. ‘What it means now is that all those bands will go through to Glasgow, so now your average music fan will have to go that bit further and spend a bit more to see the bands they like. Lots of local bands supported big bands at The Picture House but now if the gigs are in Glasgow, that opportunity will go to Glasgow bands. That’s just how it works unfortunately.’
Why is it that Glasgow City Council are willing to invest in music venues, whereas Edinburgh City Council appear not to? A recent study from Creative Scotland outlined concerns at the lack of a medium-sized venue in Edinburgh and suggested a new study of feasible options be looked at. I can’t help but feel that if this were a museum or art gallery that was closing to make way for a pub chain, then this would have been stopped right in its tracks by Edinburgh City Council. Isn’t music an art form? Is there some agreement between the two that states Edinburgh has the Fringe Festival, so therefore Glasgow gets the live music venues? Granted, Edinburgh has The Usher Hall, Festival Theatre and The Playhouse, which have all hosted live music, but they are not solely used or designed purely for music. Not every music fan wants to be restricted to a seat when they go to a gig.
One of my personal highlights from my visits to The Picture House was my first ever tribute gig to see The Doors Alive. These guys had served their apprenticeship at smaller scale venues before making the step up. ‘It’s always been a great pleasure to play there,’ stated Buzz Allan, TDA drummer. ‘The staff and crew are always fantastic, the sound is always great, both on stage and in the arena and its location is perfect,’ he continued. ‘The room lends itself so well to being a music venue and the atmosphere has always been great there. Whether you’re a local support band or a well known tribute act, a venue of this size is vitally important.’
Now like many musicians, TDA don’t know what the future holds for further performances in Edinburgh. ‘For bands like us it means that our future in Edinburgh is uncertain,’ Buzz went on to say. ‘We may be able to fill the gap with a theatre or go back to The Bongo Club or Liquid Rooms, but we will really feel the loss of The Picture House.’
I personally feel that what really angers many people, is the idea of the venue being replaced by a large pub chain that is renowned for not promoting or even playing music within its premises. ‘The fact it’s becoming a Wetherspoons is the real killer,’ Buzz carried on. ‘Nothing against Wetherspoons, their £3.99 breakfast is great, but to go from a lively, buzzing music venue to a budget booze factory, which doesn’t even play music (they save money by not having to buy a PRS license) is an abomination! It may also say something about popular culture in the UK at the moment that music venues are now having to make way for characterless, mass produced boozers with no soul or atmosphere. Save the Picture House!’
Cammy Shiels, lead singer of Edinburgh band The Nature Boys, echoed those sentiments and also couldn’t understand the decision. ‘I was horrified when I heard the news. At first I thought it was one of those daft rumours you hear flying about with no substance,’ said the frontman. ‘The first thing I did when I heard the rumour was indeed true was to write a letter to Edinburgh City Council to voice my disgust and general abhorrence at the decision,’ he explained. ‘The absolute last thing we need is another soulless, capitalist pub chain appearing in our wonderful city. The fact its replacing the only decent medium-sized music venue with decades of history is nothing short of criminal!’
But perhaps there just aren’t enough of us in Edinburgh heading out to see live music anymore? Raff Eragona from The OK Social Club wasn’t too surprised by the decision. ‘Some of the people I’ve heard complaining don’t go out to live gigs often enough,’ the lead singer explained. ‘Obviously there are a lot of people who do, but I think in Edinburgh those people are still in the minority, so if more folk don’t get out and support live music, this might not be the end of this.’
With MAMA and Company not yet officially explaining their reasoning behind selling the venue, there is always the chance that they just weren’t making enough money from it.
‘It’s a real shame, but to reiterate, it just goes to show that there aren’t enough people supporting live music, which is the real blow really,’ Raff continued. ‘It’s a shame for those who do but if there aren’t enough people going out to live gigs its no surprise that we’ve lost another venue.’ Raff went onto say, ‘I’d like to point out also that the support that our band and our friends bands have had in Edinburgh has been phenomenal, without that there would be no scene at all. Edinburgh live music just needs more people to get behind it to stop this happening.’
The OK Social Club have played a number of venues across the city, and most notably performed at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Party 2012, as well as The Picture House. ‘It’s always been a pleasure playing there, it’s a big old place. Our sound guy Tom works there which helps. It’s a stunning building with a lot of history.’
Another lover of the old building is Catfish and the Bottlemen’s frontman, Van McCann. ‘I LOVE the place, the sound is always huge and the venue looks like an old theatre,’ said the Welshman, who now calls Edinburgh home. ‘It’s a really great place to play and I remember watching The Cribs there, it was class.’
I feel that we all need to look at doing our bit in helping Edinburgh to try and regain some sort of standings in the live music stakes. I don’t agree with a Wetherspoon’s pub being placed on Lothian Road, a street that has seen its fair share of trouble in the past. For me, Lothian Road has been moving in the right direction with more upmarket establishments such as Red Squirrel and The Hanging Bat, but this is a huge step backwards. Nor do I think that we’re being unreasonable when looking at the Council to provide us with one music venue. Its not like we’re asking for the earth here, just ONE medium-sized music venue in the capital of Scotland which accommodates these talented musicians and passionate gig goers.
One person currently leading the way is Callum Mouat who works as a bar supervisor at The Picture House. Callum went as far as to start an online petition which has seen over 10,000 fans show their support for keeping the venue alive. I for one think it’s brilliant that people are so enthusiastic and willing to fight for the cause, but is it too late to reverse this particular decision? Time will tell.
I do however firmly believe that the people of Edinburgh should stand up for what they believe in. The more people that stand up and voice their anger, in the right manner of course, the more voices the Edinburgh City Council cannot continue to ignore.
Please take a minute to sign the following petition to try and save The Picture House -https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/jd-wetherspoons-keep-edinburgh-picture-house-as-a-live-music-venue.