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Live Scottish Folk Music
Guest Article - Simon Thoumire of Foot Stompin' Celtic Music

Folk Music Sessions In Edinburgh

Sandy Bell's bar is Edinburgh's best known gathering place for folk musicians both visiting and resident looking for a "tune". It's not a big place, but there always seems to be enough room for the musicians and their instruments to squeeze in. On a recent Friday night there were five mandolin players, a fiddler, a cittern and guitarist.

In the late 60's, the Forrest Hill Bar as Sandy Bell's was then known was a melting pot of writers, poets, artists, singers and musicians out of which emerged during the 70's and 80's bands like The MacCalmans, Jock Tamson's Bairns and Boys of the Lough. Management changes saw Sandy Bells star fade for a while and the action moved to pubs like the Tron Tavern and Whistlebinkies, but today, under the stewardship of Charlie Wooley it's as vibrant as ever.

Sandy Bell's is in Forrest Road (named for Sir James Forrest of Comiston, Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1837-43), The original street was created in 1618 as an access to Greyfriars Priory and the building was part of an old charity poorhouse. It is now a busy thoroughfare leading on to George the IV Bridge and then to The Royal Mile.

The bar is close by the new Scottish Museum and historic Greyfriars Kirk. The Kirk has Edinburgh's oldest graveyard, and it has numerous associations with the history of the town and, indeed, of Scotland. Immediately outside the churchyard gates, at the crest of Candlemaker Row, stands the celebrated bronze likeness of Greyfriars Bobby. This is perhaps the most famous memorial to a dog to be found anywhere.

Sandy Bells, is open 12 noon until 1am Monday to Saturday (11pm Sunday) and sessions start at 9pm and 3.30 at weekends. Sandy Bell's Bar, 25 Forrest Road, Tel. No. 0131 2251156

In Leith, at the opposite end of the town, is The Central Bar which is, without doubt, one of Edinburgh's finest looking pubs. It has a big horseshoe-shaped bar, Victorian cornices, and the most splendid floor to ceiling tiling scheme which includes four pictorial panels by Minton Hollins depicting golfing, hunting, dogs and yachting scenes. Once the buffet of the former Leith Central Station it has been given the accolade of being one of Edinburgh's "best old 'unspoilt' pubs".

Under the careful stewardship of manager Eddie Mann, The Central has become a place to hear great folk music. There are music sessions running 4pm-8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays and a big Sunday session from 6pm until midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays, customers are often treated to concerts from great bands and in recent months groups such as Malinky, Pipedown, Cantrip, Fine Friday and Harem Scarem have all performed there.

The Port of Leith was where Mary Queen of Scots landed from France in 1561 and King George 1V made a celebrated visit in 1822, the first reigning monarch to have set foot in Scotland for almost 200 years. After a period of decline, Leith is once more vibrant and thriving with the largest water-front development in Europe, including the Scottish Executive building at Victoria Quay, houses, shops and restaurants and leisure facilities, including the Ocean Terminal complex, which incorporates the permanent berth of Her Majesty the Queen's Royal Yacht 'Britannia.'.

The Central Bar is open Monday to Saturday 9am until midnight, and 12.30pm until midnight on Sundays. Musicians taking part in the sessions get their beer at special rates! The Central Bar, 7 Leith Walk, Edinburgh. Telephone No. 0131 467 3925.

Simon Thoumire is a concertina player of some note. He also runs the vibrant and informative Foot Stompin' Celtic Music site which is dedicated to the Scottish traditional and folk music scene.