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Jon Teamlaverne Jon Teamlaverne | 11:05 UK time, Thursday, 12 August 2010

Scotland's capital is in the spotlight this month as it stages its annual arts festival - the biggest in the world. In Indie terms though it's always been a bit in the shadow of nearby Glasgow, which has a much stronger tradition in terms of the bands it has produced.


That doesn't mean you can't have a good indie night out here, apparently it's Mark E Smith's favourite city, and in terms of a town to hang out in - there aren't many more beautiful or atmospheric than Edinburgh.


The thing that will strike you first when you hit town is the huge mountain/hill that seems to sit slap bang in the middle of the city. This is Arthur's Seat (nothing to do with the Dudley Moore film or the Russell Brand remake), and it's the best place to get an overview of the place.


From here, you can see everything (it's not that big a city). Right in front of you is the Old Town, divided in the middle by the Royal Mile, a cobbled street that runs from the Castle to Holyrood Palace and the new Scottish Parliament, then, over on the other side of the main shopping street, Princes Street, you can see the New Town - grand Georgian houses built in the 18th century - and then, over by the sea, there's Leith, once deemed to be a bit rough but now full of trendy bars and restaurants.


It's all very walkable - just one word of warning - there's a lot of hills in Edinburgh. Sometimes it feels like you are always going uphill. I saw a Tweet from Jason Manford the other day that said he felt like he was in one of those MC Esher paintings, where somehow impossibly you keep going up and up and up...


To Festival or Not to Festival, that is the question...


A lot of people try to time their visit to Edinburgh to coincide with the festival. Edinburgh transforms during August - I think the population triples in size or something like that. Every available space becomes a venue, numbered from 1 to 389!


The hub of it all during the day and early evening is the Pleasance (Venue 33) - a collection of performance spaces surrounding a cobbled courtyard. It's basically the place to see comedy. Most of the best shows are here every year.


Bars stay open late in Edinburgh all year round, but during the festival it really does get to be about as close to a 24 hour city as the UK does. Most bars stay open till at least 3am if not later. Some stay open till 5 or 6am.


So, if you're going for a tear up timing your visit for during the festival is a good idea. If you've ever been there in August then Edinburgh outside of festival season feels very quiet in comparison. The downside though is that Edinburgh in August is rammed and prices are massively hiked for everything from taxis to drinks to accommodation. If you can find a place to stay, it's likely to be pricey if not extortionate. Booking well in advance is highly recommended. Some people end up camping out of town and getting the bus in.


Pubs and Bars...


There's some cracking boozers in Edinburgh. One of my big tips would be The Brass Monkey (14 Drummond Street). It's very near the Pleasance so perfect for a pre or post show pint. It's a nice pub but what make it really special is that the whole of the back room is one giant bed that you can sprawl on. It's plastered in old film posters and they have a big screen there and show films everyday from 3pm.


Another place is The City Cafe (19 Blair Street). It's an American style diner with pool tables. It's open all day so it's quite a good place to eat during the day and drink in the evening. You'll see a fair few Indie kids in there. Apparently it was once a hangout spot of Irvine Welsh.


And if you really want to get yourself in trouble, try the Penny Black (17 West Register Street). It opens at 6am, so it's the perfect place to carry on after everywhere else shuts. I think it's for people on night shifts but it gets a lot of use from festival goers. Saw a quote on an Edinburgh pub website that said "If you want to drink beer whilst watching breakfast television, this is the place to do it." Go once for the experience, any more often and you may well need help...


Where to buy your tunes...


The best known record shop in Edinburgh is Avalanche (63 Cockburn Street). They specialise in Scottish Indie, have a good stash of vinyl and were nominated for 'Music Retail Store of the Year' in the 2010 Music Week Awards. They also have gigs in-store.


There's also a good second hand record shop (lots of vinyl) called Unknown Pleasures on the Royal Mile.


And check out Vinyl Villains (Elm Row, Leith). On their website, their owner states that the reason they have survived since 1983 is that "there are still a huge number of like-minded people out there, with discerning music taste, who refuse to be brainwashed into accepting the regurgitated gunge that passes for culture today." Apparently it was name-checked in the Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith. Have to admit I didn't even know there was a Proclaimers musical.


And speaking of Leith...


Don't miss out on a trip to Leith. I'd been going to the festival for years before I finally made it over to this side of town. It's great.


It used to be really rough - the derelict train station there gave Irvine Welsh the name for his novel Trainspotting. There are some quality pubs - and some really nice restaurants. And The Shore, the street overlooking the water has a nice, seaside feel.


Try Malt and Hops (45, The Shore) Good real ales, some fine whiskies and cask conditioned cider (not to be tried lightly I hear).


Or, also on The Shore, the King's Wark, who do very good food.


Restaurant-wise, Fisher's Bistro does great fish and seafood, caught fresh.


A night of Indie dancing...


The Liquid Room (9c Victoria Street) is well known for good club nights and gigs. It's only just reopened this month after being closed since 2008 due to a big fire. Fyfe Dangerfield played at the opening launch party last week and it's hosting loads of stuff during the Festival.


I've heard quite a few of the best indie nights out are at the Student Union, organized by the University's Indie Society - Indie Soc. They promote gigs and club nights at The Wee Red Bar at Edinburgh College of Art (Lauriston Place). I think non-students are generally fine to get in, though they may sometimes be strict. Good night out though apparently.


Probably the finest Indie night in Edinburgh though is The Egg, every Saturday at The Wee Red Bar. It's only a quid to get in before 11.30 and £3 after. It's an Edinburgh Indie-stitution.


Indie Fringe


If you do make it up this month, the Fringe isn't just comedy and theatre, there are some really good bands on. What used to be called T on the Fringe has now become The Edge Festival. They're using a few different venues including the Corn Exchange where Dizzee Rascal is performing on Aug 26th, The Liquid Room - a bit of an Edinburgh institution that burnt down last year but is now back up and running - and the HMV Picture House, an old cinema, that's playing hosts to gigs from Eels (25th), The Coral (26th),Modest Mouse (29th), The Low Anthem (30th) and Phoenix (28th) amongst others.



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