Good Grief and City of Glass on Edinburgh's live music scene

We chat to Edinburgh promoters City of Glass and Good Grief to learn more about what they’re doing to open up the capital's creative community and what grassroots music means to them

Feature by Megan Wallace | 03 Aug 2018

In August, during the mayhem of the Fringe, Edinburgh natives are spoiled by choice. It feels that, no matter what your cultural leaning, there’s something for everyone. When it comes to music the International Festival brings some of the best talent to the Scottish capital year after year. However, outwith the month of August, it feels like Edinburgh’s music scene has fallen on hard times. Alongside various venues closures in recent years and constant battles with the council, there’s a prevailing sense (justified or not) that Edinburgh’s local music scene consistently fails to measure up to what’s going on at the other end of the M8.

The events put on as part of the Festival do a great deal to justify Edinburgh’s status as an international city of culture which goes a long way towards securing world-class acts from overseas at other times of the year. However, what’s being done to foster home-grown musical talent in Edinburgh and to cultivate it as a hub for both Scottish music acts and emerging international acts? This is a question DIY promoters City of Glass and Good Grief have been asking themselves – and one which they’ve also been trying to answer. Carving out a space of Edinburgh’s own across venues such as Leith Depot, The Wee Red Bar, Henry’s Cellar Bar and The Biscuit Factory, the two have showcased some of Scotland’s boldest and most exciting bands like Breakfast Muff, DUDS, Savage Mansion, CARBS, Undo, Lush Purr and Commie Cars.

This August, City of Glass and Good Grief are joining forces to bring Atlanta post-punk outfit Omni to Edinburgh’s Leith Dockers Club. As part of the event, which takes place on Sunday 19 August, you can also look forward to a vegan barbecue from local restaurant Harmonium and sets from Edinburgh lo-fi electronic punk Jonny Pariss and Glasgwegian super-band (of sorts) Kaputt, featuring members of Breakfast Muff and Hairband. If you’re not already convinced, all proceeds from the event will go to Drake Music Scotland, a charity which provides specialist technology and teaching methods to support people of all ages and a wide range of disabilities to play, learn and compose music independently.

After moving up from London a year ago and witnessing the vibrant punk scene in Glasgow, Perry O’Bray became involved with Good Grief, a collective of show promoters aspiring to create more of an Edinburgh culture for the type of music he wanted to hear: "The venue Leith Depot, record label Song, by Toad and gig promoter Braw Gigs are already putting on great shows, so it’s not a matter of single-handedly trying to put Edinburgh back on the map. At Good Grief we’re just trying to put on things that we would like to listen to but that Edinburgh isn’t currently providing. We’re just trying to add to what there already is and hopefully encourage other people to do the same."

In similar DIY spirit, David MacDonald launched City of Glass in 2016, which doubles up as a record label and gig promoter. "I got quite bored of artists or friends complaining about how there’s nothing to do in Edinburgh, or how our music scene isn’t as good as Glasgow’s. It isn’t, obviously, but you’ve got to try, you’ve got to put a bit of effort in – it’s about not being defeatist. There’s a lot of like-minded people in the city so I don’t think I’m doing anything special or new."

But why is it that Glasgow’s music scene has such a better rep than the capital’s? For MacDonald, one of the problems is that we’re constantly comparing the two cities rather than accepting and appreciating Edinburgh’s music scene on its own terms: "Glasgow is so close, but more people live there, there are more venues and there’s just more support for grassroots arts. Also, because Glasgow’s so close if a band put out a new album chances are they’ll only go there and not Edinburgh. Which is part of the reason why we wanted to book this gig at Leith Dockers; Omni is a band I really love and there’s an audience for them here."

MacDonald and O’Bray are part of a wider circle of musicians, venue-owners and promoters trying to make the Edinburgh scene better by pouring their free time and skills into galvanising the talent and support which already exists. As two representatives of the community, what do MacDonald and O’Bray see as the values integral to a grassroots music scene? For MacDonald the answer is simple – "a sense of community and a sense of greater good." O’Bray echoes this sentiment, expanding on it to express his opinion that grassroots values are best exemplified when "the people are making music because they love making and performing music, with no other motives – this is where you get all the interesting stuff and it’s extremely important in local communities and for society as a whole. This is why Good Grief and City of Glass want to support people like Leith Dockers Club and Drake Music, because their work enables this to be created by as many different voices as possible."

Omni, Kaputt and Jonny Pariss play Leith Dockers Club, Edinburgh, 19 Aug