4 Favourite Old Town Venues

cabaret voltaire
Cabaret Voltaire, Creative Commons via Flickr

Becoming involved in Oxjam Edinburgh has meant jumping deep into Edinburgh’s music and nightlife scene and experiencing a wealth of different venues, acts and genres. It is a well-known and often joked about fact that the Edinburgh nightlife scene is divided in two distinct areas; New Town and Old Town. This post will give you a short run-down of my favourite venues in Old Town and why.

The Bongo Club

With a complex history going back to 1994, and having moved location four times in its life, The Bongo Club has become a well-established and prominent venue within Edinburgh’s Old Town. Currently settled beneath the Central Library, Bongo’s stands firm amongst an array of other venues. It’s a club that actively encourages local artists and communities and also provides a constant and ever changing line up of events. Regular nights include Soulsville, a night of deep funk, soul and Latin beats, Messenger, one of Scotland’s biggest roots and reggae sound systems, and Four Corners, a soulful blend of new and old sounds from across the music spectrum. Bongo’s also hosts some of the world’s best DJs, MCs, and artists, catering to a huge array of music tastes and continuing to sit in the heart of Edinburgh’s music lovers.

Sneaky Pete’s

Don’t be fooled by this small, 100 capacity venue. Sneaky Pete’s packs a punch with ever popular club nights and constant gigs by local and further afield musicians. Sneaky Pete’s, whose name comes from the American slang for drinking from the bottle in a brown paper bag, has a long history dating way back to the 70s and has been vital in maintaining Edinburgh’s music scene in recent decades. Sneaky Pete’s perfectly blends being a well-established gig venue in the early evening and a vibrant club through the night. Catering to underground tastes, Sneaky Pete’s regular nights include my personal favourites Wasabi Disco, a notorious disco funk night, Teesh, a self-proclaimed ‘All You Can Eat Mind Buffet’ of genres, and Soul Jam, a no bars held funk fest. If late night clubbing is not your thing, then Sneaky Pete’s has a huge line up of gigs starting from 7pm and showing the best talent Edinburgh and beyond has to offer.

Cabaret Voltaire, Norman Jay @ Troublegroove, Creative Commons via Flickr

Cabaret Voltaire

Another staple in the Edinburgh underground music scene is Cabaret Voltaire (more widely known as ‘Cab Vol’), a well-loved venue residing in a cave just off Cowgate. The upstairs ‘Café’ is a fantastic chill out space to have drinks in the day and take advantage of pizza deals, and turns into a vibrant bar in the evenings full of eager punters. Downstairs is the main club, a space and stage where the people of Edinburgh can see some of the finest DJ talent in Scotland. It hosts Hector’s House every Tuesday, a huge student night playing the best in house/techno/disco. The locally grown Cheap Picasso also throws regular Gasoline Dance Machine nights, bringing a blend of disco and house to the city. By bringing some of the biggest names in DJing to Edinburgh, Cab Vol has staked its claim to being one of the best nights in the capital.

La Belle Angele

Originating in the early 90s when it played host to the likes of Oasis and The Libertines, La Belle Angele was sadly destroyed by a fire on Cowgate in 2002. In 2014 it rose from the ashes and returned to Edinburgh, and now houses some of the best gig nights in Edinburgh. It plays host to the ever popular Nightvision nights, bringing the likes of Mr Scruff, Bondax and Pan-Pot to Edinburgh. The 550 capacity venue regularly has bands from around the globe playing and supports local Edinburgh artists with the new Serendipity night, bringing music and art together in a single event.

How To Put On a Gig

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The lovely team at Oxjam Edinburgh Takeover have asked me to do a guest blog post on how to organise live music events. I’m by no means an expert in this field, but thought I’d let you know the mistakes I’ve learned from over the last few years…

Organising live music events, be it outdoor events, gigs in venues or anything else a bit quirky is great fun! This blog post will focus on organising a band night here in Scotland’s capital and touch on subjects such as choosing a venue, choosing your bands, promotion, finance and moving forward.

Choosing your headline act

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If you’ve decided to go ahead with planning your first live music show, it’s time to choose your headline act. Depending on the scale of your event there are numerous ways of going about booking the artist. For larger scale events and artists you will need to contact their agent, who’s contact details can usually be found on their website or Facebook page’s About info if they don’t have a website. An agent’s job is to get the best deal for their clients (the artist) and will negotiate a deal that works well for all parties.

For smaller scale local shows it would be best to contact the artists’ manager or them directly with an offer of a show.

Depending on the nature of the event it is always worth booking an artist that has something to promote; an EP, single or album launch for example or for touring acts it may be a date on their tour. There are loads of digital tools to help decide which acts may or may not do well in your city. Next Big Sound is a free tool that allows people to see how popular an act is in their town in terms of record sales, social media engagement and past events.

Choosing a venue

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Edinburgh is a hot bed of top quality live music venues! If you’re planning a live music event there are a few things to consider… Depending on the agreement with your bands and their popularity this will determine, among other things, what venue will be best suited. For example, you wouldn’t try and book an international touring band into a 100 capacity venue or a local unknown band into a 2000 capacity venue – you’ll be having interesting conversations with your bank manager post-event.

Some local venues to consider for small scale shows would be Sneaky Pete’s, The Mash House, The Voodoo Rooms, Henry’s Cellar Bar, and Paradise Palms. Smaller venues have a much more affordable hire rate than others, which can be handy if you’re just starting out and don’t have a huge budget for your show. It’s best to shop around and find the best deal you can that’s not going to break the bank and will make the venue, you, and the musicians money. Don’t be scared to contact venues – people are nice and want to help.

You can find a handy list of venues that offer live music and their contact details on 7ahead’s website.

Choosing support acts

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Once you have your venue and headline act, it’s time to start thinking about supports. This will normally be local bands unless you have booked a touring act. In some cases there might be a support band on tour with them already. This should be a band/musician that fits the overall theme and sound of the night (you wouldn’t have a death metal band supporting an acoustic act). Be creative! It also helps if the band you choose to support the headline act have a track record of playing live, good social media presence, are easy to deal with, and can bring a crowd along too.

Promoting the event

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As a promoter, you need to promote the event! That’s not to say 100% of the promotion should be on the promoter – the bands need to play their part in this too to make sure the show is beneficial for everyone involved – but, it is your job… Social media, love it or hate it, is a good way of promoting an event, especially using their targeted ad service but by no means should that be the only method of promotion for a show.

Get creative with the marketing for your event. If you have a small budget ask a friend or art college student to help you design a poster. Make it different and eye catching. To save yourself from wondering the streets of Edinburgh for hours putting posters up, only to have them ripped down hours later, you can use local distribution companies, such as Hanging Rock. Again, make sure you have good poster distribution if you’re on a tight budget. Contacting local press should also be on your list for promoting an event. Ask local newspapers, music press, and local radio to help promote the event. Offer them free tickets for an interview with the acts. You provide them content, and it promotes your event – it’s a win-win. List your event on the local music listings websites and magazines too.

Finance & Other

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Finally, finance. That dreaded word and the ‘boring’ part of putting on live music events but it’s the most important. There are hundreds of free budget templates online that help you work out your break-even in tickets sales and detailed budgeting. Keep track of your cash, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Offer the musicians a rider when possible – alcohol, a hot meal (especially for touring acts), and make them feel at home. A little bit of hospitality goes a long way.

Other things to consider would be booking a live music photographer for the event, again maybe a friend as a favour or a photography student looking to build their portfolio if your budget is tight.

Always try and pay people. They’re in the same boat as you and trying to make money out of something they enjoy!