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The Edinburgh International Festival is to take over the Leith Theatre in August with some of the most influential Scottish musicians of the last few decades in tow.

Tracing the origins of Scotland's contemporary music culture will take you on an eclectic and colourful journey, from its roots in folk and the early days of pop and 1950s rock 'n' roll to the explosion of punk, new wave and indie. It's a story that spans decades, genres and audiences, interwoven within a musical heritage that remains as rich and vibrant today as it did 50+ years ago.

Engaging with the nation's diverse history of music-making, Light on the Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside is the Edinburgh International Festival's new season of live music, which aims to draw attention to this creativity and individualism that is seen throughout Scotland's music scene. The season sees a host of Scottish artists, bands and collectives co-curating the sixteen-night bill, with the intention of highlighting the collaborative nature of Scottish popular music and its wide-ranging and celebrated reach across the globe.

‘We started out by questioning how you tell a story that is on one level, so collaborative and on another, so individually tribal,' says International Festival Director Fergus Linehan. 'We then began thinking about how you can't just tell that story from one perspective. So we started up all kinds of conversations with people like Donald Shaw from Celtic ConnectionsLau, the Hidden Door festival and the Neu! Reekie! guys which was an interesting way for us to curate the festival.'

Light on the Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside is not only unique in its inclusion of a wide array of orchestral ensembles, world-class bands and critically-acclaimed composers, it also represents a significant move in the attempts to reinstate Leith to its rightful place in the heart of the city's cultural scene. The Leith Theatre, where the season will take place, hasn't been a part of the International Festival since the 1980s, closing its doors to the public 30 years ago.

'It's one of the most amazing venues I think I've ever come across because not only does it have a great layout, it has soul to it.' Fergus explains. 'There's something about a venue that has had performances since the 1920s and you can feel it in the walls, there's something really special about it.'

‘It’s a massive honour for us to be part of what’s happening,’ says Hidden Door’s David Martin, ‘because we really believed that the Leith Theatre could be a great venue. When the International Festival let us know that they were going to be running a whole programme there in August, it just seemed like the perfect next step for the building. It also kind of validates what we did before with Hidden Door and I think that’s what we always wanted; some sense of validation that what we were trying to do was worth it.’

The Leith Theatre is a venue that takes the International Festival away from its bustling hub in the centre of Edinburgh, allowing it to extend to an area of the city that remains culturally relevant to both locals and visitors alike. ‘Culturally, Leith is key for us,’ says Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie! ‘Even Leith Theatre itself is key. It’s part of the revitalisation of Leith; making it culturally vital. This has been going on now for a few years and in some ways, Light on the Shore and seeing all of these bands together might just be the crowning achievement of where Leith is right now.’

‘Leith is like a cultural Mecca.’ Neu! Reekie! co-founder Michael Pedersen continues. ‘To be part of a line-up of such distinguished artists and to be making our own individual mark on that is pretty important to us.’

'What is really great is that the Edinburgh International Festival, as such a recognised international institution, is increasingly embracing its hometown.' Musician, composer and Lau accordionist Martin Green notes. 'Leith is in some ways a really exciting element of that. Lau was born in [fiddle player] Aidan's flat in Leith, we did our first ever gig at Leith Folk Club, our studio is still down Easter Road. So to be able to do this with the resources and scale of the Edinburgh International Festival and for it to feel like we're doing it at home is wonderful for us, it's like a birthday.'

Photo: David A Fitschen

Lau will be bringing a special Festival edition of their Lau-Land to the Leith Theatre, with a number of friends and collaborators joining in including American singer-songwriter Joan As Police Woman, Egyptian electronica artist Nadah El Shazly and DJ James Holden, alongside others.

'The ethos of Lau-Land for us is all about sharing musicians that have inspired us; musicians that we think are remarkable with people that might not have heard them in some instances. Lau collectively listen to lots of music and Lau-Land was born with us going, "wouldn't it be great to get some of these remarkable humans that we've met in some of the same places at some of the same times?". And that's still the thinking behind everything; it's still about trying to find musicians that have either directly inspired the music that we make together or that we have found exciting and inspirational to listen to.'

This interconnectivity within Scottish music is certainly evident across the Light on the Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside programme, with partners like Neu! Reekie! bringing some of the country's most influential bands like The PastelsThe Vaselines and Fire Engines to Leith, and Carla J Easton of TeenCanteen inviting friends from Sacred PawsBossy Love and The Van T's to join her onstage in a celebration of empowering female musicians. Elsewhere, there's bands like Mogwai and Django Django on the bill, as well as Anna Meredith & the Southbank SinfoniaAlan Cumming presents his indomitable Club Cumming – a sell-out hit at the International Festival two years ago - and Karine Polwart, who will be performing a soundtrack of seminal Scottish pop songs.

‘Scottish pop is the musical landscape I grew up in.’ Karine says when asked about her Scottish Songbook evening. ‘From my childhood memories of my mum’s Donovan and Gerry Rafferty LPs, through my young love of Big Country, Annie Lennox and The Blue Nile. And from maverick innovators like Bert Jansch and John Martyn, to mighty current bands like Frightened Rabbit and Chvrches. It’s going to be a joy getting inside these gems, with a brilliant 6-piece band that features Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbot. I cannae wait!’

'One of the things I hope the season encourages is conversations about Scottish popular music.' Fergus says. 'I hope it triggers discussions because it is quite unique. There's the DIY ethos but then there's also the fact that so many musicians stay in Scotland. Even if they end up living somewhere else, the connections remain and there's a strong sense of place.'

Light on the Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside will undoubtedly do much to emphasise Scotland's influence on popular music while delving deep into the characteristics that make the nation's music so exceptional. 'Some of these line-ups are really eclectic and some people are going to be bumping up against bands that they never would have gone to see in a million years.' Fergus adds. But this is exactly what makes the season such a welcomed addition to the International Festival programme.

As Martin effectively summarises, 'More music for more people more of the time, that's the kind of thinking really.'

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By Arusa Qureshi,
The List

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