Edinburgh is probably more famous for its sights than its sounds. And, when it comes to walking tours, the city’s beautiful buildings and dimly-lit vaults have attracted more attention than its music scene.
Inspired by the National Museum of Scotland’s Rip It Up exhibition, Edinburgh Music Tours aims to change that conversation. Researching our walking tour – Edinburgh’s Greatest Hits – we uncovered the capital’s fascinating and distinctive music history.
It is a story that has not been told before. We think it is one that deserves a wider audience. One that places Edinburgh at the vanguard of Scotland’s classical, folk, pop and punk scenes over the years.
For example, Edinburgh is home to Scotland’s oldest concert space, St Cecilia’s Hall on Cowgate, which took classical music out of the private salons and to a more general public in the late 18th century.
The People’s Festival Ceilidh, which took place in Oddfellows Hall (now McSorleys) in 1951 is credited as the event which kickstarted the revival in appreciation of our traditional folk music.
But the counterculture was brewing in this outwardly conservative city, and Edinburgh’s grassroots folk scene produced two globally influential acts in guitarist Bert Jansch, dubbed the Hendrix of the acoustic guitar, and the exotic psychedelic folk duo the Incredible String Band.
The city also birthed global superstars the Bay City Rollers, whose tartan-trimmed bubblegum pop translated just fine to the teenage girls of the US and Japan.
Lesser known is the story of Jackie Dennis, Edinburgh’s first tartan-clad teen sensation, who scored a hit with ‘Le Dee Dah’ and became the first British act to appear on US television in the late 1950s.
Edinburgh also embraced punk gleefully in the colourful shape of The Rezillos and The Exploited. That momentum continued through the post-punk years thanks to the DIY creativity of independent record label Fast Product and cult favourites such as The Scars, Josef K and The Fire Engines.
That counterculture spirit endures today in the city’s home-grown hip-hop and electronic scenes which spawned the brilliant Young Fathers, still the only act to win both the Mercury Prize and the Scottish Album of the Year Award.
The old narrative about Edinburgh’s music scene is obsolete. The city has a vibrant musical heritage, a vibrant contemporary scene and a potentially brilliant future. Discover how and why with Rip It Up and Edinburgh Music Tours.
Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop opens at the National Museum of Scotland on 22 June and runs until 25 November 2018. Find out more at www.nms.ac.uk/ripitup. Book your tour with Edinburgh Music Tours here and get a £5 discount voucher for the exhibition!
You can check our Fiona’s top 12 Scottish tunes inspired by the exhibition here.