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  • Mike Long

Acoustic Cities: Edinburgh

Last Summer and Fall, HMC Correspondent Mike Long headed out on an epic assignment "Acoustic Cities: Music and Travel". Mike journeyed through Europe examining how the music of a city impacted its culture and people, and vice versa.

As The Harold & Maudecast get set to hit the road for their series Abroadcast: UK, here's a look at Mike's stop in Edinburgh.

Visit The HMC Blog: Acoustic Cities for all of Mike's city journals -- Dublin, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Transylvania, Lisbon

Edinburgh in the Rain. Photo by Mike Long.

It’s hard to understand Edinburgh, musically or otherwise, without the context of its relationship to Glasgow. Over the past 20 years or so, even a cursory glance at each city’s music scene is telling. Mighty Glasgow is home to a range of influential contemporary artists including Donovan, Jesus and the Mary Chain, Mogwai and many others. Edinburgh, by contrast, is small, low-key, melancholic, and perhaps the musical underdog. And that is why I love it.

The elements I must love about Edinburgh are its labyrinthine design, its rough-around-the-edges flavor, and the vague sense of history-meets-disrepair. Though many of these elements are found in a number of large European cities, Edinburgh has some extra ingredients that make it my favorite city: a constant layer of clouds, misty skylines and a slightly soggy wistfulness in the air. These are my people.

Voodoo Room is a posh venue with a beautifully decorated interior and bar and a small room for concerts, art exhibits, and the like. It's tucked just a few streets off city center. Photo by Mike Long.

Musically, Edinburgh feels more spiritually similar to Dublin than Glasgow. With a penchant for folk music and a heavy drawing on references to the sea, the sky, and elements of the natural world,Edinburgh channels all its rain-soaked, small-town ennui into music in the form of minor chords and songs that express longing. Even the city’s venues and bars reference an emotional and sonic pallette. Muted and reserved colors seen in the stately Voodoo Rooms, or the cavern-esque basement vibes of Sneaky Pete’s and Henry’s Cellar Bar betray an affinity for a bit of gloom, and folk-oriented Edinburgh artists such as Alex Cornish and Fuzzystar have more than a few references to the rainy landscape hidden in their lyrics.

Fuzzy Star is a local band with one album out. They have a serious leaning toward the melancholy and a fondness for rock and roll--like a mix of Pacific NW style grunginess and rock, but with a sea-side, wistful attitude. They are charming in the most Scottish way possible: great banter, honest lyrics, and beautiful melodies. Photo by Mike Long.

While the music community in Edinburgh may be small, its performers make everyone feel at home. The size of Edinburgh lends itself to an ease of conversation and a lack of pretension. Patrons are generally attentive, and the atmosphere never takes itself too seriously. And I would be remiss to omit the all-important detail that Edinburgh’s bands have the best stage-banter of any city we have visited. Bands like Fuzzystar told goofy, funny stories in the disarming, charming, and self-deprecating way that is unique to Scotland.

Night in Old Town, Edinburgh. Photo by Mike Long.

Though I’m not saying you won’t see laptops on stage, songs about robots, or tropicalia bands in Edinburgh, they won’t likely be at most of the venues you visit. But for lovers of things low-key, thoughtful, and nostalgic, Edinburgh’s musical world is hard to beat.


Scenes from Edinburgh. Photos by Mike Long.

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