City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Soaking up the Sounds on the Free Fringe


By Jamie Mackenzie - Posted on 20 August 2012

With the Edinburgh Festival Fringe comprising of well over 2,500 shows, it can be a daunting task trying to sift through ‘what’s hot’ and ‘what’s not’.

Over the few years that I have attended the Fringe, I have only ever managed a few shows a year, with the majority being comedy. This choice has mainly been down to either lack of money, or just a snobbish disregard for any acts that I have never heard of. This year is different. This year I have set my sights on the Free Festival and in particular the free music on offer.

Compared to comedy the free music on offer at the Fringe is few and far between. There are only a handful of venues that actually offer free music and in my opinion it is the venue that plays a big part in the enjoyment of the music on offer more than anything else, particularly with regard to the time of day and weather conditions!

My first foray into the Free Festival music experience began in Pear Tree (Venue 257). With a large beer garden full of seating, a stage towards the back and a variety of musical offerings, you can easily spend most of your afternoon sipping at a pint and soaking up the blues and folk music that fills the air.

However, should it rain, there are only a handful of bench umbrellas to go around and the atmosphere can become very subdued. That said, on a sunny day and any time after 5pm, the place can get over-crowded and the music sometimes drowned out into a background noise akin to what you find at a house party, with people trying to shout over each other to be heard.

My music highlights from this venue were Rags Rudi (a lively ska/punk band from East London with an energetic vibe that resonates through the crowd) and Mike ‘Dr Blue’ McKeon (a blues guitarist with a somewhat Tom Waits rasp to his voice).

Just next door to The Pear Tree is The Counting House (Venue 170), which features a number of cabaret acts, with my favourite being Blues and Burlesque, which has unfortunately finished now, but there are still plenty more to choose from.

Cabaret is a fun way to spice up your afternoon/evening and always seems to leave the audience with a smile on their faces, if not slightly bemused by the end of the show. The venue is a cosy ballroom with plenty of seating, but not great views of the stage should you be sitting near the back.

Possibly my favourite music venue of the Free Festival has to be the BBC Pink Tent. Located on the corner of Potterrow and Marshall Street, the BBC courtyard is a small, but vibrant venue where the likes of Scott Mills and Richard Bacon present radio shows during the day. It's not every day that you get to see the likes of Paloma Faith performing live, but this is exactly what the festival is all about.

Although not entirely a music venue, the BBC courtyard is a great place to take a breather between other Fringe shows, or even to unwind at the end of long day. In the evenings there is either comedy or music in the Pink Tent, with my stand-out act of the Fringe so far being Shlomo and The Vocal Orchestra.

Shlomo is an incredible human beat-boxer and was joined on stage by The Vocal Orchestra, who in turn performed a symphony of sound with just their vocal chords, culminating in an improvised beat-box alongside Shlomo at the end of the set. The tent has seating, but not much and does mean that should it get busy, you may find yourself to the side of the tent straining to see over the shoulders of those standing in front of you.

Most of these venues are within an easy walking distance from some of the main Fringe venues and provide a perfect excuse to fill in the hours between shows, or even to just unwind and enjoy the music over a drink with friends.

Weather permitting, I would definitely encourage you to check out Pear Tree and the BBC Pink Tent, as they provide a good variety of music throughout the day.