Times of Change: “A year of Transition”
Its as if this year the festival is taking baby steps after our year of traumas and the set backs of the pandemic, and at its new location at the Edinburgh Art college at the heart of Edinburgh historic old town.
I don’t know what to say about the new location, its very different, and also with the festival only running at a third of its normal scale because of Covid. This book festival is iconic and has taken place at Charlotte Square since 1983, for nearly 40 years now, so it’s a big change. There are many things I loved about the Charlotte Sq location, at the heart of Edinburgh’s famous Georgian new town. A concern might be that this new location is more out of the way, then again its close to Edina’s historic auld town – the Grassmarket, castle, university, Meadows and the High street.
**The festival is now hybrid with many events only online and authors on zoom. Some events have author and interviewers in person – Tom Devine and Alan Little; Douglas Stewart and Nicola Sturgeon; Jackie Kay and Susan Bonar; David Keenan, Tracy Thorn.
TALKS – this year I attended talks by Satham Sangheri, Empireland; Jackie Kay, Bessie Smith, Gavin Esler, How Britain Ends; Samir Puri, The Great Imperial Hangover, Legacies of Empire; Ali Smith, Art in a time of Lies;
AND ONLINE Tom Devine, Douglas Stuart, (Booker prize winner for Shuggie Bain).
**On entering the courtyard there’s a big screen showing the talks, with places to sit among several small tented marquees and fairy lights hung on the mature trees. Its not immediately obvious where the Press tents or cafes are, but I do pick up a plan. There’s no ticket offices or rows of pamphlets or EIBF books this festivals year, all on a smaller scale and after all everything is online. Covid has affected everything, from music concert bubbles, to sporting events with no audience at all.
There are no crowds of school children either, although there is a play area. There are only a handful of photo shoots. So the usual buzz is a much more subdued one.
The Book festival is close to the Edinburgh’s auld town and the next day I have an interesting walk around Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, which is pretty busy with many outdoor cafes. The High street has performers and some crowds. George IV bridge has been closed to all buses and pedestrians all week, there has been a major fire at the Elephant house restaurant, where JK Rowling wrote her Harry Potter books, which has caused major disruption and no access for pedestrians or buses.
**Edinburgh is a perfect city to walk around the back alleys and closes with their incredible views. I spent my student days around the Meadows and University union and Forest Road, and it’s busy with a buzz of life returning. On the Saturday I walk around historic George Sq and find young, eager and expectant graduates at their delayed graduations (so many memories) thronging around in front of Edinburgh university.
This is where I graduated too and had a photo taken for the papers! I visit the Pear Tree, which is where the blind poet Blacklock entertained the great and good of Edinburgh in 1780s, including one Robert Burns. Now its the hip and happening place for young people with large outdoor gardens and a large screen showing football, to my surprise.
I go the Biblos restaurant for a meal as usual to find the menu changed! I order a chicken burger and wine and remember how much I enjoy Indy cafes and restaurants that play their own music playlists. Long live indy shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, to me that’s the future of the High Street. Local and greener and individually creative. (Good example is Castle Douglas high street which has no chains and not even a Greggs). Global homogenization is so BORINGly dull!
On the Tuesday I attend an excellent live concert with rock singing legend Chrissie Hynde.
at the Queens hall Edinburgh, the ideal venue with high ceilings and space. She sang Bob Dylan, Ray Davies and other songs, backed by an excellent top class band.
After I think of all the young artists, writers and musicians trying to establish their careers. I hope all those grassroots artists get supported, because without them there is no creative future. They’ve been doubly hurt by both Covid and Brexi the arts are crucial. **Festivals offer something out of the everyday, a place to discover, interact, refresh, be inspired, take time out, break down barriers. Every year I often have at least one great chat with people I meet there! Thanks to all those who organise the festival. EDINBURGH FESTIVAL - https://www.eif.co.uk