As the Leith Festival enters its eighth year, Anna Docherty profiles the best events of 2009 and takes a look at what makes the festival such a continuing success.
Leith is in its own little world. It has its own port, a bevy of cool new bars and restaurants, numerous little galleries and a royal yacht permanently moored on its shores. Since its recent regeneration it has become a culturally independent and community-focused area of Edinburgh; transport it anywhere and it could exist in its own right, like a little portable bubble land.
So it comes as little surprise that in 2002 Leith set up its very own festival, the Leith Festival, to celebrate the unique culture of this pocket of the city. The festival has continued each year since and, as one of the first to take place during the summer months (at the beginning of June), it has proved to be a bright beacon on the festival horizon.
This year will be bigger than ever, with a mega 150 events scheduled over 10 days - and all within a one mile radius. Rowan Campbell, the festival manager, believes that it is the tight proximity and knitted nature of the festival that has made it such a success: ‘We use local venues and our line-up is made up of mainly local performers and artists,’ she explains.
Few festivals have such strong roots in a community and Campbell believes that this is what makes it so unique. Unlike the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, where acts come from across the globe, the Leith Festival is minutely concentrated and, as a result, there is a more personal feel to proceedings.
It is refreshing to have a festival that is so inclusive and hands-on, because - as sensory beings - it is in our nature to enjoy getting up close with art. Like when you were at school and you couldn’t help but run your fingers across the thick, dried paint or sniff the gloopy PVA glue (heck, you probably had a wee nibble on your dried pasta collage as well). The Leith Festival is a bit like a cultural petting zoo; where you can see, talk and get up close with the artists involved.
Campbell believes the event is ‘fully accessible’ and explains that ‘We differ from other festivals in that we are a non-profit, community led organisation that is accessible both financially and in terms of participation opportunities.’ They seek to include anyone and everyone in the celebrations and there are also chances for individuals to gain skills within the sector through volunteering.
This year the team have lined up the usual packed schedule of comedy, photography, theatre, literature and dance (see box of highlights). But it is the music side of things that has been cranked up to the max for 2009; ‘music seems to be our big thing this year and we have over 100 different bands playing.’
As is now tradition, the swansong of the event will be the Gala Day and Parade, held on Leith Links. There will be live music, stalls, pony rides - and even a tug-of-war competition. So, pack a sunhat and a decent picnic and we’ll see you there. Meet us by the ponies at noon: codeword ‘Midgie’. Over and out.
Leith Sessions: The Fusiliers
Local band The Fusiliers are currently causing a bit of a stir in the city with their jack-the-lad brand of pop. Here they play live as part of the ‘Leith Sessions’ new music showcase. Fri 5 Jun, 8.30pm, The Granary, 32-34 The Shore, Edinburgh, £7.
A selection of Leith’s best storytellers recite myths, fables and tall tales. Sit back, curl up and enjoy - or alternatively bring along your own story to share. Fri 5-Sun 14 Jun, 8pm-10pm, The Victoria, Leith Walk, Edinburgh, free.
Giant Tank Presents
Experimental Edinburgh music label Giant Tank present their finest Leith-based musicians; from the distorted beats of Wounded Knee to the punkish clatterings of Muscletusk. It’ll be a noisy one. Tue 9 Jun, 7.30pm-11pm, Queen Charlotte Rooms, Queen Charlotte Street, £tbc.
An exhibition of photographs taken by local Leith residents (aka ‘Leithers’) designed to give the viewer a more intimate portrait of the area. Wed 10-Fri 12 Jun, 7pm-9pm, The Leith Agency, Mary of Guise Barge, Edinburgh, free.
The Leith Festival runs from 5-14 June, for a full listing of events and venues visit www.leithfestival.com. Gala Day is Sat 13 Jun, Leith Links, 12pm and the parade starts at 12.30pm.
Acoustic pop, jazz and original compositions on piano, guitar and voice from Kim Edgar who has performed at Cambridge Folk Festival, on Later… with Jools Holland and at the opening of the Scottish Parliament's fourth session.
It's not about your Vorsprung durch Technik, or you joggers, who go round and round and round … It is, however, about community planting, art workshops, poetry sessions, sporting events and music in the park. Part of the Leith Festival.
The pièce de résistance of the festival is a fun-packed day with a parade from Lochend Park to Leith Links (12.30pm), opening ceremony with 'mock' Lord Provost of Leith, MSP Margo McDonald (1.30pm), Taylor's Fun Fair, golf, ponies, tug o'war, country dancing and music from Streetcar. 'Part of Leith Festival'.
Ex-Hibs players take on Leith Athletic, and two teams of Leith Athletic veterans also play a friendly, plus there's a sponsored walk for local children and their families, and fundraising events in the evening. Money raised goes to local Primary Schools, Leith Festival itself, a charity of Paul Kane’s choosing and the…
The leading ensemble performs Haydn's 'Quartet in G minor op 64' and Mendelssohn's 'Quartet in F minor op 80' along with works by Puccini, Wolf and Dvórak. Refreshments will be served. 'Part of the Leith Festival'.
As well as providing an opportunity to visit artists in their studios and take part in creative workshops for all the family, this year's Open Day will feature a cuttlefish casting event led by artist Roddy Mathieson. 'Part of the Leith Festival'.
Exhibition featuring sculpture, film and performance by eight artists from Scotland and Melbourne in one of Edinburgh's most interesting new venues. The exhibition will then tour to Australia in autumn 2009. 'Part of the Leith Festival'.
Local artist Graciela Ainsworth has been commissioned to create a sculpture which would be a memorial for all those buried in Leith, especially those buried in unmarked graves.'Part of the Leith Festival'.
Rick Molland and Sully O'Sullivan pull no punches in their quest to rid the world of religion, while having some damn good jokes on the way. In case you haven't guessed, not really for the easily offended or papally inclined. 'Part of the Leith Festival'
Top comedians, complete with wee funny accents and that, head over from the Emerald Isle to show why everyone loves an Irish comedian. Positive discrimination and all that. 'Part of the Leith Festival'
The vibrant community of Leith shows off its festival skills with a fun-packed programme of events including exhibitions, concerts, walks, talks and films. Festival Gala Day, Sat 10 Jun, and Leith Festival Tattoo, Sun 18 Jun.