Mark Steel's in... Leith
Editor's note: This week Mark Steel went to Leith to record a special episode of Mark Steel's in Town - listen to the programme or watch the Red Button video broadcast. The producer, Sam Bryant, has put together these top tips about Leith from the show - CM.
'Mark Steel's In Town' has come up to the fringe festival to record a one-off episode of the stand-up show - this time about the Edinburgh district of Leith, home of Irvine Welsh, the Proclaimers, and some of the most bonkers pubs in Christendom. Here's some of what we picked up along the way...
- Leith is NOT Edinburgh
Well, it is. But to say as much to a Leith local seems to be tantamount to perpetrating a hate crime. The district is very much its own place, with a unique mindset that comes from its history of having once been an independent port town full of hard-drinking dockers and sailors - as Mark observes, it's now a mixture of old industrial Britain, and a crazed squat.
- Visit the docks
The docks are the heart of Leith. As well as being the commercial centre of the town, it was once the centre of the thrillingly - often illegally - lively nightlife. It's now home to a bizarre mix of new-Leith Michelin star restaurants and old-Leith warehouses and high rise flats. We met several ex-dockers with great tales to tell of when the docks were in full swing. One of them, Frank Ferri, has some excellent stories of the dancehalls and, bizarrely, the wrestling arenas of 1950's Leith, along with some even better (but sadly unprintable) stories of the powerful effect American-import Old Spice had on the young women of Leith...
- Leith's pubs are amazing
Leith has a brilliantly grimy and eccentric nightlife, but a special mention has to go to the Port O'Leith pub. Everyone in there seems to be having the kind of good time normally depicted in a 1990s American teen comedy movie about frat parties. There's always - ALWAYS - someone dancing on the bar, sometimes in PVC shorts, and often to the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. As the pub never seems to close, we can only assume this bar dancing has some kind of formal rota system, with dancers having to punch-in and punch-out at the start and end of their gruelling shifts.
- Shopping there is unusual
Leith Walk is one of the best streets in the UK. Recently torn up and haphazardly re-assembled under the almost comically disastrous plans to install trams in Edinburgh, it's still home to some of the most, well, unique shops in Scotland. Some favourites: Borlands, which only sells two things - darts and televisions; Leith Cycles, which held a full birthday party for the endless building works outside its premises; and Robbie's bar, once the centre of Irvine Welsh's circle of literary outlaws, and the venue from which they cooked up a plan to impregnate one of their self-published magazines with LSD and slip it in to John Menzies for sale...
Leith often gets overlooked by those visiting Edinburgh, but we can't recommend it highly enough.
Sam Bryant is the producer of Mark Steel's in Town.