From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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The Sentinel often featured local residents whose achievements were making a positive difference  so today the blog entry comes from Thomas Kane who contacted From There To Here about his friend and former band member Alex Marr. 

Members of AC Rid

I am organising a charity gig in aid of the British Heart Foundation in memory of my friend Alex Marr who sadly passed away in July last year.  Alex was a singer and songwriter from Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, and played several gigs and events with his band AC Rid. Alex was taken into hospital in June with a suspected heart attack, however the doctor’s found he had suffered a dissected aorta, a tear in the aortic artery. After heart surgery, Alex never regained consciousness and passed away in July at the Royal Infirmary at Little France in Edinburgh. He was only 34 years old.

AC Rid were formed in 1997 by Alex on lead vocals and guitar, Steve Atkins on guitar and Thomas Kane on bass and vocals. They were joined by a host of drummers in the following years, so many they could’ve rivalled Spinal Tap! However the core element of Alex, Steve and Thomas remained for several years.  They were more than just a band; they were best mates who hung out at weekends between practices and gigs. AC Rid played many gigs around Edinburgh, such as The Venue, Tap O’ Lauriston, The Cas Rock, and Alex even organised his own mini festivals, unashamedly entitled MarrFest.

MarrFest started locally in Wester Hailes, at The Greenway Centre. Alex would give many young musicians and bands a platform that they could showcase their music on, and the events were extremely popular. The thing was, Alex would always give people a chance, whether it was drummers, singers or even brass players in the area, he would give them all an opportunity to play at his events. As AC Rid grew to include singer Lisa Aird and a brass section including a young Phil Ramsay, MarrFest also grew, changing locations into the city centre at The Bongo Club. Still, Alex would sign up bands and musicians who were known to him, giving many new bands and musicians their first taste of a gig in the city centre. MarrFest continued to grow, reaching its height at The Liquid Room in 2003 and featuring a line up including Edinburgh stalwarts Bombskare and Phil’s new band, Big Hand.

AC Rid finally broke up in 2004, however Alex continued to play and write music under several other guises such as Big G, and the humorously named 12 Inches of Thunder. The three founding members of AC Rid remained good friends. Alex played his final gig which included guest appearances by Steve Atkins and Thomas Kane once again, as 12 Inches of Thunder at Whistle Binkies in December 2011. It wasn’t a spectacular gig, or incredibly busy, but it felt special for those three close friends to play together one last time.

Since Alex passed away, there has been a lot of discussion about putting on an event to celebrate Alex and his music. Then in February 2013, founding members Steve Atkins and Thomas Kane got together with AC Rid’s last drummer Lewis “Forbo” Forbes to have a practice. This session went better than ever expected, with Thomas even stepping up to lend his vocals to some of Alex’s songs. It wasn’t long until the words MarrFest were suggested once again.

MarrFest 2013 takes place on Saturday 1st June 2013 at The Bongo Club in Edinburgh. Tickets cost £5 and are available from all band members and at Tickets Scotland on 127 Rose Street. Doors open at 7pm, and it has a 10pm curfew. It is a charity event, where all money raised will go to the British Heart Foundation in Alex’s name. Playing at the event will be an acoustic performance from Lisa Aird, who is the lead singer with local act Bias Firey. Also playing is Black Riot Valves, who feature Dan Lowe on guitar and vocals. Alex gave Dan his first ever gig at one of the first MarrFests at The Greenway Centre. Headlining the event are Edinburgh favourites Victorian Trout Conspiracy, who feature one time AC Rid member and close friend Phil Ramsay on trumpet. However, before the main headline act, once again AC Rid will take to the stage, playing songs written by Alex Marr. The current AC Rid line up features all ex members of the band including founding members Thomas Kane on bass and vocals and Steve Atkins on Guitar. Also playing with AC Rid are Lewis “Forbo” Forbes on drums, Lynsey MacDonald on alto sax, Siobhan Hunter-Reynolds on trombone and guest slots with Lisa Aird on alto sax and vocals and Phil Ramsay on trumpet.

For more information please contact Thomas Kane at


Music Notes

music 2 pic

Top Of The Pops made its last live appearance in 2006, but a marathon set of repeats is well underway.  This year, the repeat cycle has reached 1978 and you could tune in tonight and watch the Dooleys, Ruby Winters, Darts and the Boomtown Rats.  Music remains powerfully evocative for memory and there are few of us who aren’t transported back in time when we hear certain tracks.

As well as cataloguing local news, the Sentinel inevitably reflected the wider times around it and this was particularly true when it came to music trends.  Its record reviews were often forthright.  But it also covered wider music news and gave space to often passionately held views about music.  In 1978 it published an article called No Future which challenged the view that punk rock was dying out.  You can read the article here.

When musicians sought to influence politics in the 1980s, Red Wedge was set up as an alliance of musicians, writers and artists to promote the importance of political knowledge and activism.  In 1986 the Red Wedge tour came to Edinburgh and the Sentinel obtained interviews with some of the key members as well as reviewing the concert itself, publishing a 3 page feature in their February 1986 edition.

Large events were also covered.  In 1996, there was a feature on T In The Park music 1 picwhere the headline acts that year were Prodigy, Radiohead and Pulp.  Rumour had it that Keanu Reeves was making an appearance but unfortunately for the journalist they missed his performance.  You can read all about one writer’s experience of T In The Park here.

Concerts were also covered and in 1996 the Sentinel obtained tickets for Oasis who played at Loch Lomond in front of 40,000 people.  It’s fair to say that the reviewer was impressed by the whole experience, describing their response as “stunned admiration”. You can read their review here.

music 3 picLocal bands weren’t overlooked.  When the Wester Hailes Festival Association organised a free rock concert in Sighthill Park in 1986, the event received full coverage with information about all the bands playing including the Styngrites, Camera Shy and The Play.  Also included in the local music feature were other up and coming Edinburgh based bands who were taking part in a competition at the Jailhouse, Calton Road.  And if you want a taste of those forthright record reviews, there’s a good selection included on these pages as well, including the hope that one album takes to the charts like a rock to water!  You can read this music feature here.

Star Scoops

David Bowie celebrated his 66th birthday by releasing his first single for 10 years this week to the surprise and delight of his many fans. Although the Sentinel never managed to secure an interview with him, it did achieve a number of impressive scoops with influential performers whose sound helped define their eras

English: Ian Dury at the Roundhouse, Chalk Far...

A Durable Geezer
In June 1984, Ian Dury talked to the Sentinel about his experience of performing and his first attempts at acting. After 12 years in the public eye, he shows that he has not lost his strong and sometimes controversial views!


Ice Man Goes Berserker
The Sentinel catches up with Gary Numan after the release of his new single “Berserker” in January 1985. He explains what he’s been doing whilst out of the public eye, gives some detail about his new album and the reason behind his choice of blue make-up.

The Clash
Still performing in 1985, the Clash explain why they have gone back to playing at small venues, including busking on Princes Street. They talk about Wester Hailes and their interest in promoting change through action.

The Clash (album)

The Clash (album)

Sounds Around

Sound around logo

In the early 1980s the Sentinel featured a music page, Sounds Around.  A mixture of reviews, information and tricky pop puzzles, for many readers today it will be a real blast from the past!  There’s a selection below- how many band names do you recognise?  And why not have a go at the music crosswords- can you remember back that far!

October 1980: A feature on Scottish groups to give some publicity to home grown talent, starting with Michael Marra.  The page also includes the chance to win David Bowie’s new album, “Scarey Monsters”.

November 1980: A review of All The Presidents Men’s gig at the Fusion Ballroom.  And a report on Highland Recording Studios as a possible route to getting a publishing deal for a song with a record company.

March 1981: An enthusiastic review of a performance by Siouxsie and the Banshees.  The page also includes information about who was playing where in Edinburgh over the next couple of months.  There’s also another review on a gig by the Alex Harvey Band, and information about the new album by The Exploited, “Punk Is Not Dead”.

Christmas Kaleidoscope

As well as organising a series of arts focused events and performances, the Wester Hailes Festival Association aimed to foster talent and encouraged people to express themselves through a variety of medium.  Poetry and creative writing were a regular feature on the pages of the Sentinel.  Recognising that children’s creative efforts were an obvious attraction over the Christmas period, children’s writing like the following two examples was featured in several Christmas editions.

Jack Frost
Jack is here anew
He’s come to give us all the flu
His coat is silver
His eyes are gold
He gives us all a nasty cold
Angie Merray (December 1979)

Gary’s Christmas
“It was Christmas Eve and all the children were in their beds.Christmas Snowman
Santa wasn’t in bed, he was looking through all the long
lists that had been sent to him.
One of the lists was from the Wilson family and there was
Joanne and Gary and Lee and Gary and Jayce and the last one was Samuel.
“Oh they have been very good so I will give them lots of presents” said Santa and so he did.
On Christmas Day they opened their presents and Gary got a palaeontology suit.  Gary put his suit on and the very next month he went to Sky where he found lots of dinosaur bones which made him happy.”
Gary Wilson aged 7 (December 1997)

But people of all ages were encouraged to contribute and particularly in the earlier Sentinels, the Kaleidoscope page gave space to poetry by local residents, some of whom were part of the Wester Hailes Writers Co-op.  A good example is the Kaleidoscope page for January 1894 which has a mix of reviews, poetry, opinion and a forward look to events in 1984.  The Festival Association were hoping it would be a year of music  and were encouraging people to form their own street bands with the aim of performing at the 1984 Gala. Click here to see the page.

sw sounds

With community arts and local talent being a constant thread throughout the history of Wester Hailes, it’s great to know that the WHALE Arts Agency is starting a new music project for local residents in January 2013.  Building on the success of their first South West Sounds project, they now have another 2 years for this project thanks to funding from Creative Scotland.  Rod Jones (Idlewild, The Birthday Suit) will continue to be WHALE’s Musician in Residence and will be organising weekly song writing, recording and performance workshops.  Look out for further details or call 0131 458 3267.

And as Christmas is now only days away, here is one of the songs produced by South West Sounds last year.  The music for A Whale of A Christmas was written through South West Sounds workshops with the lyrics written by Eoghan Howard.

Finally, you may have notice snow falling across the blog.  It is intentional and hopefully not too distracting!  It will be around for a couple of weeks over the festive period but it’ll be gone in the New Year!

Young Sentinel

Back in the 1980s, the Sentinel included a regular Young Sentinel page with a mixture of articles, reports and reviews aimed at younger readers.  Often with a caustic music review, the page also included information and issues particularly relevant to young people.  Here are 3 pages from 1986.

young sentinel picturesSeptember 1986: School Holiday TV- Do Scots kids get a fair deal?  Back in the days of 4 terrestial channels, the article points out that TV programming favours English rather than Scottish holidays.  Remember Glen Michael’s Cavalcade?Samantha Fox  There’s also a music review on the death of pop music and a list of contendors including Samantha Fox and Belinda Carlisle.

November 1986: Images of Violence.  The article looks at violence on TV and asks where the line should be after the show Dempsey and Makepeace had been criticised for on screen violence.  There’s also a feature on F.M. who were supporting Magnum at the Playhouse.

December 1986: Just Another Song.  A detailed report following the process of taking a song idea to a recorded single by the band Shame.

The ’70s Sound

What do you remember about the decade that formed the 1970s?  The BBC is running a variety of programmes looking at the years 1970-1979, including “The 70’s” which is investigating whether our memories of that era match what actually happened.  Its presenter Dominic Sandbrook argues that whilst it is often characterised as a time of recession with power cuts, hardship and economic struggle, many people were actually entering a time of greater affluence than their parents had ever experienced.  With more disposable income leading to higher aspirations many more families bought their own homes, cars, colour TVs, holidays abroad etc. 

 It was against this background that the planners responsible for Wester Hailes famously built vast car parks throughout the estate, estimating that by 1980 every household would own at least one car, allowing one and a half car parking spaces per household.  In 1983, nearly 75% of the population in Wester Hailes remained without a car leading to desolate deserted car parks being a feature of the area.  Wester Hailes was completed during the mid 1970s.  Perceptions about the new housing were mixed.  Many people reported that their new homes were bigger, had inside toilets, baths, bigger kitchens, better storage space etc.  For those who had come from overcrowded tenements and slum conditions there were improvements.  But these improvements had been built with a multitude of cost cutting structural and design faults leading to major issues with dampness, poor sound insulation, leaking windows, loose roof tiles etc.  And the experience of high-rise living led to many feeling isolated and cut off from their neighbours.  The national economic situation with its turbulent politics, high inflation, and huge price rises also adversely affected communities like Wester Hailes where unemployment was twice the city average and a quarter of young people could not get jobs. 

 Yet the 1970s remains a time that seems to evoke affectionate memories and an enduring sense of nostalgia for many despite sometimes difficult living conditions.  Music can be an evocative reminder of the time it represents.  The Sentinel ran a regular music column during the late 1970s commenting with definite views on the diverse mix of music being released at the time.  The music listed in the pages should jog a few memories if this was your era.  It also included a regular Pop Puzzle – how good is your memory on hits of the 70s?  And does anyone remember Revolver’s short-lived run during 1978?  Here’s a selection of the Sentinel’s columns 1978-1979.

  •  August 1978: a review of the new Revolver in Charlie’s Music Column
  •  November 1978: looking at the big hits of 1978 and gimmicks used to sell records such as coloured vinyl and square singles in Music Scene
  •  February 1979: singles review from a reviewer who knows what they like and what they don’t in Sounds Familiar
  •  December 1979: the results of a Wester Hailes vote on favourite groups, singers, singles etc of the decade in Pop Poll.  It’s not stated what the age range of voters was for these particular results!

Finally, here’s one of those Pop Puzzles.

See how many you can answer sorry, no prize!