Nothing Ever Happens Here: how Summerhall is revitalising Edinburgh's gig scene
NEHH is filling a music-shaped gap at the Fringe, with Rachel Sermanni, WHITE, Billy Bragg and more
Reclaiming that old refrain that there's nothing going on, music-wise, in Edinburgh, Summerhall's Nothing Ever Happens Here gigs have been running for just over a year. Aiming to relaunch a culture of gig-going in the capital after the drip-fed closure of music venues and punishing noise restrictions, the nights have been successful in pulling in class acts from across the country over the short while it's been going. This year, their Fringe lineup is as good as ever, echoing the festival's steady push towards showcasing a wider range of genres and styles across the board.
'I suppose I automatically think of comedy when I think of the Fringe more than I think of music,' says Scottish musician Rachel Sermanni. 'So perhaps that is a sign that it is a little out of balance.'
Sermanni plays NEHH on Wed 10 Aug. Her acoustic set will be supported by folk collective Matt Norris & the Moon in Summerhall's Dissection Room, a venue perfectly named to showcase a stripped-down take on her brand of folky pop.
'I wonder what the Fringe intends to be all about at its core,' she adds. 'Perhaps it is a good opportunity for comedy to flourish and for music to take a back seat in a country where music seems, I think, to normally be quite at the forefront.'
Sermanni isn't alone in considering the role of music at the Fringe this year. Withered Hand – aka Dan Wilson, Edinburgh's pensive anti-folk stalwart, who's bringing a full band show to Summerhall on Sat 27 Aug – agrees that the Fringe previously seemed to be missing a trick.
'I have felt for the last few years the music aspect of the festival has increased its profile, ' he says. 'If you're a music lover, that's great. It always felt like it was maybe lagging behind.'
The well-known acts that Nothing Ever Happens Here has nabbed for the month corroborates Withered Hand's view that the Fringe is becoming more musically hip. 2015 SAY Award winner Kathryn Joseph (with indie pop producer and multi-instrumentalist the Anchoress) takes to Summerhall's rabbit-warren interior on Sat 6 Aug. Once one of our best-kept secrets, the success of her debut solo album Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I've Spilled makes Joseph a bit of a catch.
On Thu 11 Aug, Willis Earl Beal graces the Dissection stage with his deconstructed blues, while on Sat 13 Aug, WHITE's hyper racket will be on show, with support from Bossy Love's bolshy hip hop. On the list of old-timers-but-still-goodies, godfather of political songs, Billy Bragg, performs on Mon 15 Aug and dreamy indie-electro types Grandaddy pop up on Mon 22.
NEHH has its eye on clubbers too: Cosmic Disco Nights is on Fri 5 Aug, an 'interstellar kosmische zone' that promises Italo and pan-continental disco futurism. Soulsville Especial is the following evening for those searching for deep funk, unpolished blues and Latin sounds, and Awesome Tapes from Africa, curated by Brian Shimkovitz is on Thu 25 Aug.
And we're not the only ones giving the lineup a bit of an appraising glance. 'Awesome Tapes from Africa looks like something I'd love to take my ears to attend,' says Sermanni. 'I'd also like to go hear ESKA. The songs that I have heard of hers are beautiful recordings. Great noises.'
ESKA, whose self-titled debut album was shortlisted for a Mercury last year, will be at Summerhall on Fri 26 Aug – but for one night only.
'It's really special to be doing one of my favourite festivals with my own material,' she says. 'It's such a shame we've got a gig the next day otherwise I'd just hang out because I love the festival.'
Although she's performed at the Fringe a few times before, this is the first time Eska will be centre stage. Playing solo material, she says it's a new direction for her.
'It's always a slightly scary thing to dive into the great unknown. You don't know what the reception is going to be. You don't know how people are going to relate – or not – to your music.'
As a musician who lives in Edinburgh year-round, Withered Hand doesn't have much to worry about when it comes to how he'll be received. For his NEHH show, he has a slightly revamped band – he's added a new drummer and 'it's put a rocket up some of the songs,' he says, as well as the welcome prospect of playing a non-solo show in his adopted hometown.
'I didn't make music until I lived in Edinburgh,' he says, 'so it's really entwined with me finding that I had a voice as a musician. It's totally intrinsic to that, so it always feel more special to play a hometown gig than anywhere else. That's cool.'
Nothing Ever Happens Here, Summerhall, 5–28 Aug. Go to list.co.uk/nehh for the full lineup.