Why music's global superstars are swapping Glasgow for Edinburgh. Beyoncé, Harry Styles and now Taylor Swift.
The Capital has quietly upped its game to attract the biggest names in global pop. Plus Festival Extra with Nairn director's journey to the Fringe.
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Beyoncé was as gushing as the downpour that failed to dampen spirits at her sold-out Murrayfield show, telling fans she felt ‘a connection she will never forget’ and she ‘can’t wait to come back’.
Harry Styles apparently loved the experience of performing in front of a wildly enthusiastic and record-breaking crowd there. The 65,000 feather boa-clad fans who packed the arena in May was the largest ever for a stadium concert in Scotland. He reportedly told the stage crew afterwards that it had been one of the best concerts in his stellar career to date.
Bruce Springsteen’s views on the venue following his two hit shows are not on record, but it feels safe to conclude that he too left town with a warm glow.
Even allowing for the etiquette of superstar’s publicly loving every place they visit, this summer’s series of blockbuster concerts have been a thundering success.
That is not just the verdict of reviewers and music aficionados who positively raved about them, reflecting the status of these tours as the biggest draws on planet pop. Beyoncé’s show was described as ‘the most essential stadium tour of the 21st century so far’, ‘titanically ambitious’ and ‘dazzling’.
The quarter of a million or so fans who attended the concerts generally went away extremely happy.
There has been some controversy over TicketMaster’s and then AXS’s dynamic pricing practice, which sees the cost of tickets rise and fall with demand, especially following the announcement that Taylor Swift will be bringing her hugely anticipated Eras tour to Murrayfield next year. Fans typically paid from £80 to £180 for standard tickets at this year’s concerts, although the price of some soared at points to £400 and even £550.
A survey of post-concert social media, however, suggests most fans were thrilled by the whole experience. We shouldn’t be surprised. The world’s most bankable stars at the height of their artistic powers, in one of Britain’s best modern stadiums, and still time to be tucked up home in bed - if that’s what you wanted - by midnight… what’s not to love?
There were other winners too. Hotels, bars and restaurants were of course packed to the gunnels across much of the city. One recent study suggests a single, similar sized gig at the Emirates Stadium in London generated a total of £7.4m per show with £4.3m extra spent in the area surrounding the venue.
What’s more, in a city which is rarely slow to express its displeasure at disturbance of local life, there were practically no grumbles. The residents of Murrayfield have had an awful lot to put up with over the years. Oasis fans using their gardens as toilets and brawling in the street was a nightmare 14 years ago. This year’s concerts seemed to ruffle few feathers, apart from the odd moan about all the pink fluff left left swirling around the streets and Water of Leith from Harry Styles fans’ feather boas.
The city’s summer of music hasn’t just been confined to the home of rugby of course, with the Proclaimers making a triumphant homecoming to Leith, performing on the Links, as part of a council plan to spread such events around the city.
Primal Scream, Edinburgh’s finest Young Fathers, boygenius and Franz Ferdinand are among the bands packing in the crowds at the Royal Highland Showgrounds later this month, while the Fly Open Air Festival is bringing 8,000 dance music fans to its hugely popular events in Princes Street Gardens and Hopetoun House.
Only Princes Street Gardens, with access currently restricted amid safety concerns relating to rock falls from the Castle Rock, is arguably under used this summer.
Tom Ketley, founder of the Edinburgh-based Watchtower Group, who stages the Fly Festivals, sees exciting things starting to happen in the Capital.
”I definitely think that Edinburgh is starting to rival Glasgow in terms of music events however we do lack medium to large scale indoor venues. While the summer months are starting to pick up with more things happening, I still think the vast majority of big headline shows take place in Glasgow,” he says.
“I think we need a large inner city music venue which can operate much later into the night to rival other cities in Europe like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, etc. We have a gap just now where an artist in Edinburgh can grow to a certain size but then they essentially have to go and play in Glasgow as our indoor venues here cap out at 1,000 - 2,500 max at the Corn Exchange.
“It would be great to see something else open and I'm aware that there are a few plans in motion.”
An inter-city power shift
Music fans will need no reminding that this has not always been the happy state of affairs in Edinburgh - far from it.
With Glasgow long being the natural choice for musical megastars visiting Scotland, that has often meant late night trips back home down the M8 or courtesy of ScotRail. Not just the majority of mid-size arena acts, but the superstars too, always seemed to head west. Springsteen and Beyoncé both played Hampden on previous visits and Styles played at Rangers’ Ibrox stadium.
This year, however, Scotland’s biggest music promoter Geoff Ellis - the man behind T in the Park, TRNSMT and the Summer Sessions in Princes St Gardens - decided to bring the biggest stars to Murrayfield instead.
“Edinburgh has proven it can do the numbers on the big shows,” says Ellis, founder of DF Concerts, in the aftermath of this year’s sell-out gigs.
He has backed up his words with action, by bringing Taylor Swift - the only rival to Beyoncé as the biggest name in pop right now - to the Home of Scottish Rugby next year.
None of this has happened by accident.
Edinburgh is at long last reaping the rewards of some significant infrastructure investment in recent years - by the SRU, central and local government - and sound strategic planning.
One reason for the shift is the stadiums themselves. With a concert capacity of up to 65,000, Murrayfield is the biggest in Scotland and fifth largest in the UK - the record-breaking Harry Styles audience would not have been possible in any other British stadium north of Manchester.
That, however, is not the determining factor. The opening of a £5.7 million mini-arena on the Murrayfield campus, alongside the main stadium in 2021, paved the way. This allowed Edinburgh Rugby to move into the smaller venue, opening up a window for concerts that just did not exist before.
On top of that, visiting Scotland’s national rugby stadium is simply a superior experience to that offered at its ageing and much-maligned football counterpart.
Anyone who has attended major events at Hampden and Murrayfield, whether for major sporting fixtures or concerts, will recognise the fact. That is true from the toilets and bars through to the atmosphere and spectator views within the arena. Until the SFA find the vast sums needed to modernise the national football stadium, something it has just ruled out as unrealistic for the foreseeable future, that will remain the case.
Triumph of the tram
Edinburgh’s trams have been a game-changer too. Although many parts of the city are yet to see tangible benefits from the extended single line, one of the occasions that it comes into its own is around events at Murrayfield.
The direct link from the stadium to the park and ride at Ingliston is hugely popular on concert days as is the connection to and from the city centre.
The contrast with the dismal public transport on offer in Glasgow right now could hardly be starker.
Fearful of fans relying on public transport being left high and dry, Glasgow’s Subway was actually advertising the fact that it was shutting up shop at 6pm on the night that the Arctic Monkeys played at Bellahouston Park. Some fans nevertheless found themselves stranded in the city overnight after late night buses were overwhelmed by demand from gig-goers trying to head home to Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh Trams were making hay - and having fun on social media - as they laid on extra services for the concerts at Murrayfield, amusingly advertising them with pictures of their vehicles dressed up as Styles, Queen B and the Boss.
One Glasgow-based fan summed up the general feeling in a post on Twitter, when he said: “It was a lot easier to get back home to East Glasgow from Edinburgh after seeing Bruce Springsteen at Murrayfield than any of the previous times he played at Hampden Park.”
Pampered pop stars
More often than not the personal tastes of the stars themselves have little or no sway on their tour itineraries but the appeal of Scotland’s Capital and its compact attractions should not be underestimated. The airport and some of Scotland’s most glamorous accommodation - including the Gleneagles Townhouse, where Bruce Springsteen is believed to have stayed, and the Balmoral, where members of his E Street Band were holed up - are pretty close to the stadium, keeping life on the road very comfortable for even the pickiest of pop stars.
A MUSICAL TALE OF TWO CITIES
Who appeared where for the biggest gigs in central Scotland this summer
Concert capacity: Up to 65,000
Star turns: Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen.
Royal Highland Showgrounds, Ingliston
Connect Festival (Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Fred again…, Young Fathers, boygenius), Lewis Capaldi.
Rod Stewart, The Who, The Lumineers, Dermot Kennedy, plus Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Hopetoun House, South Queensferry
Fly Open Air Festival
Princes St Gardens
4,000 (currently reduced from 6,000)
Fly Open Air Festival
Concert capacity: Approx 58,000
Star turn: Red Hot Chili Peppers
TRNSMT Festival (Pulp, Sam Fender, The 1975)
Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses
Elton John, Lewis Capaldi, Sam Smith, Blink-182, Madness, Iron Maiden.
PRTY Festival, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
KT Tunstall, James, Sparks.
INQUIRER FESTIVAL EXTRA:
Edinburgh Inquirer hears from writer Euan Martin, of Right Lines Theatre Company in Nairn, on the trials of bringing a one-man show inspired by the Men’s Shed mental health movement to the Fringe.
Taking a production to the Edinburgh Fringe is the dream of many performers and theatre companies.
It is an opportunity which is exciting, challenging and terrifying in equal measure. The rewards resulting from the four weeklong maelstrom of artistic madness can be many, various, quite possibly career-enhancing, but to be frank, in none but a tiny minority of cases are those rewards financial!
Man Shed is a one-man theatre piece with a very small set, minimal props and the most basic lighting design ever: lights up at the beginning, down at the end. Simple.
With the exception of stand-up comedians, the show is probably as minimalist as you can get, and therefore ideally suited to the Edinburgh Fringe. If we could do it with fewer people to keep costs down, we would, but given it is a solo show, one actor is both the minimum requirement and also the optimum number of performers necessary!
Man Shed began life approximately five years ago. Right Lines had just finished a very successful tour of an original musical, The Isle of Love, featuring the music of indie-pop band Randolph's Leap. We were looking to develop a new play on a smaller scale and settled on the idea of a show about Men's Sheds, an inspirational movement dedicated to tackling loneliness, and mental health issues amongst older men.
The movement began in Australia over 20 years ago and quickly spread around the world. At the time I began my research, there were around 100 Sheds in Scotland: in 2023, there are in excess of 200 and more still opening all over the country.
In fact, our actor Ron Emslie has been asked to officially open a new Shed outside Inverness in September, just before the first night of the tour which follows the Fringe.
Originally I thought Man Shed might be a two-hander, but with a specific actor in mind to bring on board, the decision was that Ron Emslie could handle the show all by himself. Ron had worked with Right Lines previously on another solo show called Watching Bluebottles, a celebration of Scottish village halls, and we knew he was more than capable of delivering a memorable performance.
A draft script was written and a rehearsed reading took place in January 2020, with my kitchen turned into a studio theatre for one night only. Little did we know then that only two months later, such a gathering would have likely resulted in a visit from the local constabulary and a bunch of Party-gate style fines. The tour we had planned for May 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic and everything was placed on hold.
Fast forward to 2022, and Right Lines was fortunate to win a wee competition in conjunction with the Edinburgh National Partnerships programme and Eden Court theatre. The prize was a run at The Pleasance during the Fringe, plus a little funding to help with production costs. Despite this support, the final tally did not quite achieve break-even point (and here the expression "did not quite achieve" is used as a euphemism for "was several thousands of pounds below"!).
The show was very well-received however, and buoyed by some very good reviews and an unexpected personal windfall which allowed a self-financed package to be put in place (Ron sold his house in Kent and moved to Nairn), we are back at the Fringe again this year.
It’s not easy bringing a show to the Fringe and certainly not cheap. Gone are the days of crashing on sofas and surviving on beans, so accommodation has been a massive part of our expenses, but we have been fortunate to pull in some favours from friends which has made the trip manageable. We won't get rich, but on the other hand, we will have the undoubted privilege of being part of the world's greatest arts festival once again.
Man Shed is a bitter-sweet one-man theatre piece which explores the joy of sheds, the pain of loss and the comfort of friendship. The play has been inspired by the work of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association.
Man Shed will be presented at 12.40 (1 hour) in The Wee Room, The Gilded Balloon, Teviot, Venue 14, from 2– 28 August (except Mon 14th and Mon 21st).
Man Shed will also tour Scotland from 8 – 30 September 2023. Tour dates are available at www.rightlines.net
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