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Let Me Hear You Auld Reekie: Edinburgh’s Best Live Venues

ByJames Hanton

Sep 17, 2018

What do you do when you first arrive in the wonderful Scottish capital? Unpack? No chance. Meet your flatmates? Maybe, if negotiating cupboard space in the kitchen emerges as a priority. First things first, sort out where the good music is. One thing you learn very quickly about Edinburgh though is that it’s not what you would call… well-planned. Old streets, nooks and crannies sprout out in all directions in the Old Town and it can feel a bit like a maze if you are coming to the city for the first time. Happily, The Student has cut out some of the legwork for you and listed some of the best city venues around.When you find out how hilly this place is, you will be even more grateful than you are now.

La Belle Angele: Found on Hasties Close just off Cowgate, La Belle Angele has earned its reputation for good music over the years. As a live venue, it once upon a time welcomed the likes of The Libertines, Oasis and Radiohead onto its stage, before it was destroyed in the locally famous Cowgate fire of 2002. Now rebuilt, it continues to host an array of incredible artists from Edinburgh and further afield, and is always a good bet to discover a musical talent that you didn’t know existed. A variety of club nights are also held there, so whether you are out to soak up some quality performances or to just party the night away, La Belle will have you covered. Upcoming gigs include Congo Natty on September 20, Garage Girls on the 21st and Alabama 3 at the end of the month.

Opium: Found towards the end of Cowgate, Opium has become of of the best rock bars around. Whether you are more into your pop-punk, metal, industrial or glam rock, Opium’s eclectic mix of club nights throughout the week will cater to all manner of preferences. Meanwhile, their more wide-ranging weekends will draw everyone in and trigger a furious mosh pit in the middle of the dancefloor. They also welcome a number of rock artists and local bands onto their stage, although you also have a chance to be the star should you take part in their rockeoke. You can head upstairs to soak up the atmosphere, or hang downstairs by the main bar if you just want to chill for a little while. They have some amazing performances on the way, including The Nightingales on the September 27, Krysthla on the 30th and Astroid Boys on October 5.

Stramash: Making its home in the former Free Cowgate Church (which is almost 160 years old), Stramash is one of Edinburgh’s most impressive venues. With a capacity of around 900 and blending old stone and wood decor with a modern finish, it is a beautiful space to be in. It welcomes a wide array of bands covering all genres from country, folk, blues and many more. If a premier live experience with quality bands is on your bucket list during your time in Edinburgh, then this is a place you have to come, a spot that has managed to attract some fairly big names over the years. Some of the acts they have coming up soon are Mother’s Cake & Dirty Sound Magnet on September 21, Seprona on the 28th and Awkward Family Portraits on October 20.

Usher Hall: If you’re after an altogether grander musical experience, the magnificent Usher Hall on Lothian Road  is an obvious choice. Tickets for events here tend to be pricier than those on the smaller stages, but Usher Hall never fails to deliver a musical spectacle whatever might be playing on any given night. Sitting in the audience, you won’t be disappointed by the incredible acoustics in a building that is over 100 years old and attracts some huge musical stars through its doors, which as of November will include Christine and the Queens. Usher Hall satisfies all musical desires however, so whether you are after a magical piece of orchestra or a spine-tingling love score accompaniment of your favourite film, the varied programme here just keeps on giving. Upcoming shows include Jurassic Park in Concert on September 15, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on the 23rd and Joan Armatrading on the 25th.

The Jazz Bar: One of Edinburgh’s oldest and proudest independent music spaces, the Jazz Bar on Chambers Street sucks you into a truly magical world. Descend the stairs and you will find a dimly lit room with a well stocked bar and an eager crowd showing their support to the latest act making themselves heard on the small stage. Whether you just want to drop in or make a formal occasion of it, the Jazz Bar is as satisfying as they come. As the name suggests, their speciality is all things jazz, but as jazz so often does, the venue also dabbles in performances of acoustic blues, funk and soul. With anywhere between three and five shows per day, it is easy to lose yourself in a splendid variety of music and kick back as if you’re Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Upcoming shows include Hot Tin Roof on September 16, From the Edge of Europe on the 19th and the Edinburgh-based group The Blueswater on the 20th.

The Voodoo Rooms: Hidden away on West Register Street, behind the glitzy Apple store on Princes Street, the Voodoo Rooms is almost unrivalled when it comes to its look. With a 1920s speakeasy decor with a tiki undercurrent, this is easily one of the most aesthetic venues in the city, positively oozing glamour and an endless supply of tequila. With a variety of rooms away from the main bar, the Voodoo Rooms is also able to house a great number of musical acts, all of which vary greatly in their style. Everything from melodic folk rock to rollicking musical cabaret can be found inside, and often draws in bands who have recently been signed or have just released a debut album – a great spot to potentially catch a star of the future before they hit it big. Shows in the near future include Soulacoaster on September 22, The Doors of Perception on the 29th and Jordan Mackampa on October 2.

Image: Matthias Ohle via Pixabay.

By James Hanton

James is a former editor-in-chief having  been TV & Radio Editor before that, and has contributed over 100 articles to the newspaper. He won a Best Article Award in December 2016 for his feature about Universal Monsters in the film section, and also writes for Starburst Magazine UK and The National Student. James was part of The Student‘s review team for the 2017 & 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He can be reached at: jhantonwriter@gmail.com

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