Broken Records, The Pictish Trail, Emily Scott, Meursault, Wee Rogue and Royal Edinburgh Music - Retreat! Festival, Edinburgh, 4th – 24th August.

Helen Newbery 30/07/2008

So, it's almost August, which for those of us North of The Border means that the madness that is The Edinburgh Festival (or, more precisely, Festivals) will soon be upon us. As someone who was brought up in a small village I can't help but get excited about living in a place which grabs the media's attention so tenaciously, even if it's only for one month of the year. However, I've also been increasingly aware over the last few years of an nagging inner voice, one which has been asking me whether I have been seduced by the joys of celebrity-spotting in the infamous Pleasance Courtyard, and which wants to know whether the festival actually brings any tangible benefits to the local artists whose talents I enjoy year-round.

It was with some excitement, then, that I stumbled across a new festival to add to the collection. One which seems at first glance to be as far from the commercialism of the Pleasance and the Assembly Rooms as it is possible to get. Curated by three promoters from the local music scene, the Retreat! festival takes the form of a series of gigs throughout August in a church hall on Princess Street. Although not all of the performers are from Edinburgh, the emphasis is very much on showcasing local talent, as co-organiser (and member of Eagleowl) Bart explained when I asked him about his inspiration for the festival:

'Although I've been doing most of the programming, the festival is a collaborative effort between myself (I also run the gentle invasion nights in Edinburgh), Emily Roff (who runs Tracer Trails) and Damon Thomson (who runs the Hollow Heart Parlour). Though we've all put on shows in the past, I think we've all shied away from trying to put on gigs during August. For one thing, almost any available space is already booked up well in advance, and for another you're competing with so much all the time. From a promotion point of view, it's a total nightmare.

In the end it was actually the venue that got in touch with us. Some friends of Damon are running an ethical, locally sourced café called the Scottish Scullery. They were hosting a variety of different arts events in the space during August, and asked Damon if he would like to help put a series of gigs. And Damon asked Emily and I to help.

And so we thought, 'what is lacking in Edinburgh during August'? It was never the intention to make it 'anti-Fringe'. I really love the Fringe - it's a really exciting time to be in Edinburgh with so much on your doorstep. But I wanted our festival to address two issues I have with the Fringe, mainly: 1) that the shows are too expensive (each Retreat! show costs 3), and 2) that local artists are, for the most part, overlooked (our line-up is primarily made up of local acts).

To be fair, this year the Edge festival (the music 'arm' of the Fringe) has Broken Records playing in the Liquid Rooms. Which is really exciting - for an Edinburgh band to be headlining that stage during August is just brilliant. And I'll wait until all the support slots are announced before judging too harshly, but as far as I can see that's the only Edinburgh band playing this year. I think that music in this city has come so far over the last couple of years - it's a really exciting time just now. And we need to show people that. I find the idea of this huge, international audience staying in our city for four weeks and only getting the chance to see one band from Edinburgh quite depressing.

Retreat! is not exclusively Edinburgh acts, but that is the main focus. For one, we're trying to complement the ethos of the café, which is committed to only using ethically and locally sourced ingredients. Most of the acts playing are based in Edinburgh. Some are people that started off playing gigs in Edinburgh but have since moved away. And one or two are 'out-of-towners' that, well, that I just really wanted to see play. We didn't want to pick someone who didn't fit a particular bill or didn't fit the 'feel' of the festival just because they were based in Edinburgh.

And I think we've got a really good mix. We were quite limited on what we could put on in the hall, due to the size of the stage and sound system, and the original request was for nine 'acoustic' gigs. But that has ended up encompassing elements of traditional folk, anti-folk, lo-fi, electronica, shoe gaze, pop, and Wounded Knee. (I mention Wounded Knee as he's a genre onto himself. It's just one guy, a microphone, a loop pedal and a lot of ideas. And really has to be seen to be believed.) We also have a strong mix of established acts (like Fence co-founder the Pictish Trail), rising stars (like Emily Scott and Meursault), and people that are just brilliant but don't get the exposure they deserve (like the Wee Rogue and Royal Edinburgh Music). I actually got my dream line-up. I had to juggle a few dates, but no one turned down the festival. Everyone we've contacted has been very supportive, which indicates to me that this is something the city has wanted for some time.

As to whether Edinburgh needs another festival is another thing. It's the first time we've tried something of this nature. If it's a total failure, we'll shake hands and say goodbye knowing we gave it our best shot. But if it's a success, then we'll have something to build on for next year. And I really believe that we have something different to offer people. Sure the Fringe is big and exciting, but it's so easy to get lost in the clamour and noise. We wanted to create something smaller, quieter. Something with more of a community feel. Something the audience can feel they are a part of, rather than watching from the sidelines. And I think it's important for Edinburgh to give it's own artists a voice, rather than just play host to the world stage.

And yes, there will be cake for sale. Made from local ingredients.'

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