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New Year Club at Bongo Club, Edinburgh

Sun, 05/08/2012

An intimate crowd joined the first Sunday of New Year Club at the Bongo Club as the Fringe got off to a quiet start. The impact of the Olympic Games and the economic downturn on visitor numbers is shrouded in secrecy. The streets seemed unusually quiet for the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The New Year moment and fabulous Rockabilly rendition of Auld Lang Syne by Jonnie Stark and the Razor Gang is here.

The Bongo Club has been around for 14 years. It originally started as a cabaret night during the Fringe 16 years ago (called The Bongo Club) which hosted acts and excerpts from shows across the Fringe at that time. The venue which sprung out of this was named The Bongo Club after the cabaret (and incidentally after an African antelope, not the commonly assumed drum.) The Bongo Club is a charity affiliated with Out of the Blue (based in Leith- it has art studios, rental space and café.)

The Bongo Club was originally based on New Street but was moved to the current residence which it rents from Edinburgh University when those buildings were demolished in 2002. The venue itself is home (and has been) to a plethora of club nights not catered to elsewhere: Reggae, hip-hop, Ska, Drum n Bass and various electronica nights and art club nights which are traditionally a breeding ground for new ideas, forms of expression and music. Bongo club allows performance, projection and experimentation, encouraging the next generation of artists. During the day it is available for hire to various dance classes (zumba, swing dance etc) and to the Beltane (Sativae drummers). They allow youth art collective performance groups and poetry nights to rehearse and meet there (I can get you more info on this) and the Fortean Society holds monthly meetings there too. Bands, from rock to folk and country play gigs there and the upstairs bar and café is home to monthly exhibitions from different types of artists.
Where possible it hosts shows in theatre and cabaret (due to their monthly club commitments this can be difficult though) but would happily extend this programme.

During the Edinburgh Fringe, the Bongo Club, unlike many others is a year round venue in Edinburgh, with dedicated staff able to assist with shows. In the process of programming, the manager will even advise shows on booking an alternative venue if he thinks that the Bongo isn’t suitable for them (who sends money away for the good of the performer?!) and helps acts out with their marketing where possible if they are struggling, when most other venue managers are nowhere to be found. The venue also allows its own resources to be used by the performers (printing, photocopying, internet etc.)
Whilst the big four (venues at Fringe run by people from London) create a fortress of impenetrability designed to absorb as much money from customers and performers alike, the independent Bongo Club does it’s best to put on an interesting arts programme, assisting with shows and performers trying to fulfil a dream. The venue is run by a small team (Ally Hill is venue manager and Andrew Nation is press/marketing etc and are the only full-time staff who run the venue (with a bar manager and couple of bouncers)) they have principals and integrity (they hosted the Tap Water Awards in protest of the Perrier Awards for example)), and are often overlooked and undermined as they work away quietly.
With Edinburgh Settlement going bust (the Forest and Roxy Arthouse are now owned by Assembly owner William Burdett-Coutts and Malcolm Innes (local restaurant mogul), Cabaret Voltaire has been bought by the G1 Group (Glasgow bar and club billionaires) and the GRV closure, the Bongo Club is one of the last bastions of independent clubbing and grassroots performance within Edinburgh, ironically home to the largest Arts Festival in the World. It does not have a rich philanthropist backing it like new venue Summerhall. It does not own the building like The Arches in Glasgow. The Bongo Club does things for the love not just the money. And if we do not support the roots, the tree will die. 

Bongo Club has aligned itself to the BiDiNG TiME project in 2012 in the spirit of collaboration, experimentation and shared respect for artists. During these difficult times, they are also focused on renewal. Programmed by Catriona Paterson each Sunday in August will feature a very different line-up of fabulous acts. Make a resolution to go.