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West is Best. But maybe not during the Edinburgh Festival.

Photo credit: Graham Higgins #Frontpagepinups (the Front Page weekly Instagram competition)

Debate rages in Scotland about which is the more creative city; Edinburgh or Glasgow. And each side has a rich depth of evidence to draw from.

Glasgow can point to its gazillion Turner Prize nominees and winners, seemingly conveyor belted out of The Glasgow School of Art (more on this in a September post) and its far more vibrant music and club scene than the Capital. Glasgow is actually a UNESCO City of Music and a triple MOBO host.

Glasgow is home to all the major national arts organisations of Scotland (National Theatre, Ballet, Opera and Youth Theatre).

Glasgow hosts the Conservatoire; the rather un-Glaswegian name for Scotland’s national arts academy (it’s basically like Fame, but paler).

And for many years the Glasgow design scene (to which we proudly belong) has stood taller than Edinburgh’s more ephemeral, to some, advertising specialism.

The two city’s art galleries probably stand toe to toe, but for sheer volume of visitors Glasgow again leads the way with its mighty Kelvingrove with its million plus visitors each year.

Right Here Right Now

But there can be no debate that, every August, Edinburgh pulls out its heavyweights and always lands the knockout blow. With a new Irish Director, Fergus Linehan, at the helm of the Edinburgh International Festival it’s all change.

Linehan’s custodianship, so far, has surprised and delighted many people with the introduction of a fascinating and highly collaborative music strand (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks, Anna Calvi and the Heritage Orchestra and King Creosote performing his From Scotland with Love album in front of the film it was conceived for being prime examples), but his most audacious move has been to synchronise the Festival dates with theEdinburgh Festival Fringe and The Book Festival are added to the mix, a very heady brew results.

Last year, in the Fringe alone, there were 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world.

Over the years though, it’s the Fringe’s comedy strand that has grown the city’s reputation more than anything else with the much sought after Perrier Awards (now the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards) turbocharging careers. Winners have included Steven Fry, Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan, Lee Evans, Dylan Moran, Al Murray, Ed Byrne, Dave Gorman, Harry Hill, Tim Minchin, Sarah Millican, Jenny Éclair…need I go on?  There are literally hundreds of comedy acts on this year’s Fringe.

Then there’s the fringe of the Fringe itself, known as PBH’s Free Fringe, where you only have to leave a donation (after the show) for what you thought the show was worth.  Clearly the quality is variable but you often get a lot more than you pay for.  Last year there were 440 shows and 7,800 performances and it’s growing like wildfire. Things likethis may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s there and it’s free.

A last tip for those of you with limited Edinburgh Festival experience. Often the venue brand can be a sign of quality in itself. Go to Summerhall for experimental, award winning and often international theatre, the Traverse Theatre for new writing, The Assembly for cool chic, The Pleasance for Comedy and Charlotte Square for books. The crazy thing is not a single one of these places is a real live theatre for the rest of the year.

If it’s all getting too much to comprehend there’s one place that will put it all into perspective. The Festival’s Edinburgh website that purports to host the whole darn shooting match in one place.

Then come back to Glasgow to chill.

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