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Time for a musical interlude? Checking out the Acoustic Music Centre

By | Published on Thursday 14 August 2014

John Barrow

In his music tips at the start of the Festival, Daniel Cainer recommended ThreeWeeks readers take in some of the folk heroes that perform on the music Fringe each year, and for those looking for great gigs at the Festival, folk and beyond, the Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides is always a good starting point.

The man behind the venue is John Barrow (pictured), who has been presenting shows at the Festival since way back in the 1960s. “With some pals I ran my first Fringe-long series of shows in 1968”, he tells ThreeWeeks. “And it’s sort of like Topsy, it’s just kept on going and growing from that”.

“The main motivation behind it all”, he goes on, “is to bring to the public’s attention, during the biggest arts event in the world in Scotland’s capital, folk, roots and acoustic music, and particularly Scottish music, and to show that this musical genre is not the minority interest art form which it is often thought to be by those who don’t know enough about it to comment”.

Asked how he picks the acts that appear in his annual programme, Barrow responds “mostly we don’t”. He explains: “I’m an old-fashioned Fringe-type who believes that if the Fringe is to be open, as it is still described – nowadays erroneously in my opinion – you editorialise or select as little as possible. We say what is available as far as the venue goes and what we can offer to shows, people contact us and generally it’s more a process of self-selection. Though you have to be very careful however, to explain to Fringe ‘virgins’ what it’s like being ‘on the Fringe’ and that the shirt you came here with may not be with you when you make your journey home!”

Although perhaps best known as the hub of folk, roots and acoustic music at the Fringe, Barrow’s venue hosts some of genres other music too, and some other cultural genres as well. He explains: “Although not a large capacity venue, St Bride’s is fortunate in having one of the bigger stage spaces in Edinburgh at about nine metre square with a semi-sprung wooden floor and a permanent Harlequin dance floor. So it’s perfect for dance shows”.

And so there is place for dance in Barrow’s programme. “We’ve got a big Taekwondo show” he says, providing just a taster of his non-music offerings this year. “It’s called ‘BIGABI’ and is from South Korea featuring remarkably athletic and graceful youthful performers, and we’ll be welcoming a troupe from Russia featuring dancers from the Bolshoi Theatre later this week”.

But it is the music that is at the heart of the AMC programme, with a series of one-off gigs and mini-residencies. It’s interesting, of course, that in the music strand of the Fringe many artists choose to do one-off gigs rather than longer runs like the comedy and theatre performers. Does Barrow ever encourage music acts to go the residency route? Is there any advantage to musicians doing a longer run?”

“If a performer says they want to do a run at the Acoustic Music Centre then they need to be sure they can carry it off. As you say, music shows tend to be short-run shows only able to sustain one or two nights – depending on the size of the venue as well, of course – and very occasionally more than that”.

He goes on: “If a performer thinks they can sustain a run of shows though, good luck to them but we’d be at fault if we weren’t at pains to point out potential pitfalls – like not getting the size of audience they’re hoping for. So, advantage – in selling more tickets? Possibly. Advantage – in reducing some costs over the piece?  Probably.  Ultimately it’s a commercial decision”.

The one-offs do mean that, unlike with comedy and theatre, the Fringe’s music programme varies much more from day-to-day. Though if you fancy a musical break in this Festival frenzy, it’s definitely worth checking out what’s happening at the AMC on any one day. And St Brides, although away from the Fringe’s hubs around Bristo Square and George Street, is surprisingly easy to find.

“St Bride’s is actually only about 1.5 miles from the Fringe office” Barrow notes, “so really it’s not a serious distance out of the centre of town. We’re on the edge of the centre and it’s a small centre. And in fact” he muses “we’re the nearest venue to the rest of the world, since there are no other venues, I think, west of us before you get to Edinburgh Airport!”

LINKS: www.acousticmusiccentre.co.uk



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