Auld Reekie Strikes Back: The Pleasance Sessions return this October

As The Pleasance Sessions returns for a second season, we speak to its chief organiser about the work behind the scenes at the capital's ten-day gathering of Scottish labels, promoters, personalities and publications

Feature by Chris McCall | 01 Oct 2014
  • LAW

Ask a Glaswegian about Edinburgh’s arts scene and there’s a fair chance they’ll tell you the capital crams its cultural activities into August, whereas Scotland’s biggest city thrives all year round. Like most stereotypes, it’s wildly inaccurate but does hint at a wider truth. Fans of live music in the east coast are forever taking the train to Queen Street for gigs, and recent years have not been kind to Edinburgh venues; The Picture House on Lothian Road is just the latest example to bite the dust.

Which is why the return of The Pleasance Sessions this month is to be welcomed. Based in the Scots Baronial splendour of the Pleasance Theatre, just a short walk from Waverley Station, the festival takes place on ten consecutive nights from 9-18 October. Organised by the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA), but open to all, what makes this something special is the range of artists, record labels, music gurus and publications that are involved in curating the individual sessions.

The Skinny will present The Phantom Band on 18 October along with Remember Remember and Birdhead, but there’s gems to be found on each evening. The Twilight Sad will be joined by the Hidden Orchestra on the opening night, and there’s showcases from the likes of Neu! Reekie and Olive Grove Records. We spoke to Rae Baker of EUSA to ask just what it is that makes The Pleasance Sessions such a beacon of light in Edinburgh’s grey autumn nights.

Please introduce yourself and tell us how the festival came into being and what its aims are...
I look after the programming for The Pleasance Sessions and also organise the project within Edinburgh University Students' Association. We have a small, but great team working on the festival and I can’t take credit for the work they do – but it's my role to ensure it gets done. I look after the programming of the Pleasance, Teviot and Potterrow venues on an annual basis. We’ve always wanted to showcase the Pleasance Theatre a little more, but it wasn’t until early last year that we had the resources in place to be able to deliver a campaign of this size.

Our members have said that they would like to see more live music within the venues, and we know that Edinburgh lacks a bit of a live music buzz – not that it doesn’t offer great gig venues, but there is a trend that people head to Glasgow for gigs. Also, every musician that plays the Pleasance Theatre tells us that it’s an incredible space to play, and the sense of occasion always experienced by audiences led to the idea of The Pleasance Sessions.

There’s a rich variety of curators involved in the festival; how did you choose the organisations and promoters you've come to work with?
Scotland is rich in talent and I suppose you could say it’s tough to choose who to invite. I’m excited this year about having Olive Grove’s first Edinburgh showcase and Middle of Nowhere’s first label showcase – headlined by the brilliant Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire – and replicate some brilliant Glasgow shows like Beerjacket’s 10th anniversary show. Inviting somebody like Vic Galloway along to put together a line-up, or Neu! Reekie, is an easy decision. Aside from our media partners, the only other night that we have invited back is the fabulous Insider Festival’s Night At The Theatre.

Were you pleased with how the programme was received last year?
We were overwhelmed with the response from last year. The fact that we have been nominated for ‘Scotland’s best small festival’ at the Scottish Event Awards after just one year is amazing. It’s a hard act to follow and I can’t deny that it comes with a certain element of pressure. However, as with everything, you learn as you grow – we have squeezed the festival into a straight ten-day run this year, and we have invited the Independent Label Market to come along on Saturday, 11 October. Plus we are bringing back Och!Toberfest, where we invite some of Scotland’s favourite breweries to join us in the Pleasance Courtyard with plenty of haggis.

What gives The Pleasance Sessions the edge over other university gig nights?
The Pleasance Sessions is not just for students, anyone can come along. The calibre of the acts, and the collaborations involved, is certainly something that sets it aside from a traditional gig. Having curators come from across Scotland to showcase in our unique venue creates a strong sense of togetherness.

There’s a lot to choose from, but which acts are you personally most looking forward to seeing?
I answer this differently every day. Hidden Orchestra twinned with The Twilight Sad is going to be incredible. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Remember Remember in the Theatre. Dave Hook never ceases to amaze me and Jo Mango is doing something very special with her set. I’m borderline obsessed with LAW’s live performances and we finish with The Phantom Band – which I’m sure is going to be one hell of a finale.

Finally, why should a gig-goer from say, Glasgow or Dundee, make the trip through to Edinburgh for the Sessions?
I travel from Edinburgh to Eigg, Aviemore and Glasgow for gigs, and the Pleasance Theatre has a palpable sense of individuality. It’s rare that you find yourself completely immersed in such a sense of community spirit at a gig, and the Sessions manages to deliver that for each show.

The Pleasance Sessions runs between 9-18 October at The Pleasance, Edinburgh. See listings for full details.