Edinburgh's Picture House closes
- David Kettle
- 24 January 2014
With JD Wetherspoon's now in charge, the capital loses its main mid-size music venue
The final gig has ended; the scaffolding is up; refurbishment is underway. With the closure of Edinburgh’s Picture House on 31 December, the Scottish capital has lost its main mid-size music venue. And with confirmation that previous owners MAMA & Company, which purchased the building in 2008, have sold the premises to JD Wetherspoon – the pub chain notorious for its long hours, cheap prices and absence of live music – it seems unlikely that the 1500-capacity Lothian Road venue will continue to host live gigs.
Opened in 1923 as the Caley Picture House, the venue has been a nightclub and a cinema as well as a music venue, hosting bands including Franz Ferdinand, Basement Jaxx, Placebo, New Order, the Smiths, Pink Floyd and Queen over its decades of gigs. Acts booked for 2014 and now forced to cancel include Rizzle Kicks and Adam Ant.
There’s been vocal opposition from those fearful of the capital losing one of its principal pop venues. Former Picture House bar supervisor and musician Callum Mouat has launched an online petition that has attracted over 12,000 signatures. A parliamentary motion brought by Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi and supported by 28 other MSPs urges JD Wetherspoon to preserve live music in the venue. Biagi also hinted that if Wetherspoon’s would not consider continuing live music in the Picture House, the Scottish Government may encourage other organisations to take it on.
But while appeals and resistance have been gathering strength, behind the scenes JD Wetherspoon has been quietly continuing its work to transform the venue into a superpub. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that the purchase had been completed, and that planning and licensing applications were currently under discussion.
‘Wetherspoon’s runs pubs, not theatres or music venues,’ he explained. ‘It’s not in our plans at the moment to include music in the venue, but we’re aware of the strength of feeling and we’ve taken on board the MSPs’ concerns. We do have cinemas and theatres connected with some of our other premises, so it’s not out of the question that something similar might happen in Edinburgh.’ Without it, the only winners are likely to be the rail or air companies ferrying Edinburgh audiences to Glasgow or further afield for their live music fix.