September 8, 2008

How to Make Edinburgh Rock New Music Venue the Picture House Will Give the Capital’s Live Music Scene a Boost New Music Venue the Picture House Will Give the Capital’s Live Music Scene a Boost By Alan Morrison


EDINBURGH'S music fans will recognise the scenario. Your favourite band is onstage in Glasgow; they're building up to a climax but haven't yet played your favourite song; it's obvious they're keeping it back for the encore . . . but if you don't leave now, you'll miss the last train home. It's a dilemma that will be eased, if not solved outright, when the Picture House begins operations in the capital.

A 1500-capacity venue sited on Lothian Road, it fits nicely on the live scene between the Liquid Room and the Corn Exchange with their respective spaces for 900 and 3000 paying punters. Known in former lives as nightclubs Century 2000 and Revolution and the ill- fated Gig, the Picture House had its musical glory days through the 1970s and early 1980s as the Caley Palais, when it hosted concerts by Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Genesis, Queen, The Smiths and New Order.

Originally opened as a cinema in 1923, the building's art deco proscenium arch stage, stained glass windows, stonework and oak panelling have been restored for its new life as a music venue. Out go the multitude of staircases and platforms that cluttered the main auditorium. In come an extended stage, new columns, plum-red walls and gold-painted features that create a mood somewhere between lush theatre and heads-down rock'n'roll.

When the Sunday Herald visited, the venue was still very much a building site, but it was clear even then that the sight lines - from the standing-room area in front of the upstairs bar, from the rows of balcony seats, from the main fl oor itself - are impressively clear in a room that's tall but not too deep.

"Edinburgh does have a number of interesting, good quality venues - different sizes, different types, " says David Laing, group operations manager for the MAMA Group, the building's new owners. "But this sort of ballroom-sized, mid-level rock'n'roll venue has been missing for a period of time. Because that has gone on so long, there's a perception in the industry that Edinburgh is not a live music town."

It's this perception that Laing aims to change, and the MAMA Group should have the clout to follow plans through. As well as a network of 10 Barfly venues spread across the UK, it owns London stalwarts the Hammersmith Apollo, the Forum, the Borderline, G-A-Y and the Jazz Cafe.

The line-up programmed for the first few months is certainly impressively diverse. Travis headline the official opening night on September 25, with October set for Walter Trout (2), Dirty Pretty Things (5), The Charlatans (11), Martha Wainwright (22) and Taste Of Chaos (25), and November featuring Tangerine Dream (2), Todd Rundgren (7), Ryan Adams's band The Cardinals (14) and Feeder (26).

"I very consciously wanted the first three months to be as varied as possible for two reasons, " Laing explains. "Firstly, to get as wide an audience as possible through the doors to see the place and what we've got then come back for more. Secondly, we want to establish it early on as a broad live music venue rather than getting a situation where you have a wee run of shows of the same type of music and get pigeonholed."

The venue will also put on club nights quite unlike its past incarnations and those of its near neighbours. "It will be in direct opposition and total contrast to the prevailing Lothian Road mindset, " promises Laing, namechecking bands such as The Wombats, The Ting Tings and Hot Chip rather than any piano-vocal house music. "It's more about a relaxed, student-friendly, laid-back clubbing environment for people who are into music and go to the gigs. In many respects, it's not dissimilar to what you might find at the ABC on a Saturday night."

Glasgow's ABC is also the reference point made by Roddy Woomble, who plays the Picture House with his band Idlewild at a special venue preview night this Saturday.

"The ABC revolutionised gig-going in Glasgow, " says Woomble. "After the first time I went, I thought I would go to see a band there even if I wasn't that into them, just because it's such a great space for live music. If they've done that with the Picture House . . . then Edinburgh can stand up and be proud. Rather than do, say, one night at the Carling Academy, a band could do the ABC and the Picture House. That's the ideal. If the stage is big and there's a proper sound system, then it gives the impression of being an event for both the band and the audience, as opposed to just another gig in a shoebox venue."

Laing agrees that, after tapping into Edinburgh's hunger for live music, the Picture House will encourage touring bands to play both Edinburgh and Glasgow on the circuit. Its location is certainly bang in the centre of town for locals, but it's also comfortably walkable from both Haymarket and Waverley stations for out-of-towners. And that's another reason why this venue should help the live scene to continue to buck credit crunch trends within the music industry.

"Record companies are struggling to make money in physical album sales, " admits Laing, "but there are plenty of exciting new bands coming through making exciting new music, and most of them are live- based acts who can play and go on tour. And people are showing that they're more than willing to buy a ticket to go out and see them."

Idlewild play the Picture House on Saturday www. mamagroup. co. uk/picturehouse

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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