Playhouse still retains the old magic

The Playhouse
The Playhouse

Happy 90th birthday Edinburgh Playhouse.

It is still one of my favourite venues – a place packed with memories of great gigs and incredible live shows.

The Playhouse Theatre seems to have been surrounded by never-ending roadworks in recent years. It ought to be the focal point of the area – a landmark building which draws huge crowds night after night. Let’s hope the grand old lady of Greenside Place is given that status when the fences come down and the endless redevelopment work is finally done.

As a teenager, it was almost my second home as it hosted pretty much every single touring rock band.

In the early 1980s I saw everyone from Jethro Tull to Iron Maiden, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne and Peter Gabriel, hit the stage.

There were back to back gigs featuring Whitesnake – the first saw me pinned to the front of the stage with my head next to a stack of speakers. Couldn’t hear properly for days.

Back then, my dad stayed in the row of houses right opposite the stage door. Bands used to soak up so much power his TV would flicker on and off, so we got the occasional free tickets by way of an apology, and even got a backstage tour.

I can still recall standing on the vast, empty stage looking out on the rows of empty seats which climbed higher and higher from the stalls to the circle and up to the balcony.

After leaving school I got a part-time job as an usher at the Playhouse. I worked the circle – the door next to the bar – showing folk to their seats, as well as getting to see the gigs for free.

That was great when bands such as Madness made the circle actually bounce as everyone danced, and big names such as OMD and the Human League came to town. The downside was three nights of Cliff Richard where he broke a guitar string at the exact same point in each set and cracked the very same joke. Then there was Sheena Easton at the height of her fame. The house was packed with young fans, including a wee girl who took a pic on an old-style Instamatic camera. Her management instructed me to confiscate it.

After she’d skipped off stage along came the Grateful Dead for a marathon four-hour set.

The smell of weed in the bar was almost overpowering, and, as the gig began I was asked to help a guy to his seat. He was stoned into unconsciousness, but his mate insisted he had “to see the Dead, man”

Four hours later he skipped out of the venue declaring it the greatest gig he’d even seen. All I can recall was going for my break at the start of a twin drum solo. I returned 40 minutes later. The drummers were still pounding their kits.

The Playhouse has long since stopped hosting rock bands and moved into the world of west end musicals and touring theatre shows, thus denying Edinburgh a brilliant live music venue, bit it still retains its old magic.

So, here’s to the next 90 years of entertainment. May the sound of laughter and applause continue to roll from the back of the balcony all the way to the stage for another 90 years ...