The Wonderful World of Spiegeltents

Ibibio Sound Machine Edinburgh Jazz Festival

My festival season got off to a great start with Ibibio Sound Machine at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. As per tradition, it was a rainy Edinburgh July night that felt more like October, but the crowd were keen and the band delivered. Think high energy funk meets African percussion with a dash of Michael Jackson-esque synth and you're just about there.

The gig was great but I was possibly even more excited to see a spiegeltent back in Edinburgh. Smaller and more intimate than a big top, they're my favourite festival venue. They travel from city to city, something that appeals to anyone who ever dreamed of running away to join the circus and the decor is like nothing else. Part tent, part wooden construction, they are bejewelled with mirrors, stained glass and magical lighting.

It turns out that spiegeltents have been around since the early 20th century when they were used as travelling dance halls - Marlene Dietrich is said to have sang Falling in Love Again in the Famous Spiegeltent in the 1930s. Today the few remaining spiegeltents are in high demand at festivals around the world, holding a few hundred people and providing a great stage for bands, cabaret and good times. 

I visited the Paradiso for the Jazz Festival gig and in August I'm hoping to visit the George Square Spiegeltent to compare notes. You can find out more about spiegeltents (even hire one if you've got the budget) here at the Van Rosmalen website.

Are you festival ready?

Edinburgh festival brochures

What's that distant rumble? It's the sound of the world's best actors, directors, comedians, dancers, authors, musicians and fire-jugglers getting ready to descend on Edinburgh.

Walking the streets of the Scottish capital in July and August is like being in the eye of the festival storm. Posters fight for your attention on every spare bit of wall and fliers are thrust at you from all directions. So how do you make sense of it all? My top tip is to check out the festival previews and round-ups from our best critics and publications. This isn't a substitute for trawling through the brochures and making up your own mind, but it can help point you in the right direction. 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of Edinburgh's festivals and from the sounds of things, there's more than ever to choose from.

For theatre, the Guardian's Lyn Garner is a sure bet. In 2016 I managed the Pleasance Press Office and Lyn was the critic that all the performers wanted to impress. Her What To See and Where To Go blog is a great preview of the Fringe's most promising theatre shows. Her tips  range from Fleabag to Forced Entertainment, with Shakespearean puppet shows, a dance marathon and a love letter to Dolly Parton.

The List's special festival editions are a must-grab and in the run-up to the festival they do lots of preview round-ups online to help you decide what to spend your money on. 10 Reasons to Visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017 is a great introduction. The List also has a solid round-up of this year's Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival highlights - look out for the Blind Boys of Alabama, John Scofield and Kandace Springs.

The Skinny is another good source of festival news and reviews. Check out their Edinburgh International Festival reveal Spirit of '47 report which shares details of the EIF's partnershp with the British Council celebrating arts and culture from across the globe, from Syria to Stirlingshire.

The Scotsman has a nice round-up of which film industry luminaries will be visiting Edinburgh this year for the Edinburgh Film Festival (Kevin Bacon and Oliver Stone top the list), while The Herald previews the Edinburgh International Book Festival, including details of new venues as well as speakers as diverse as Limmy and Nicola Sturgeon.

This year I'll be working with The Corner Shop PR to help generate advance publicity for clients including The Pleasance and Underbelly. I can't wait for the circus to roll into town.

BOOM time for Scotland's organic pioneers

Scotland's BOOM finalists.   Back row left to right:  Isaac Rose (New Leaf Co-op), Josh Adam (Almighty Foods), Jon Anderson (Feed), Chris Grierson (Feed).  Front row left to right:  Molly Jacob (Almighty Foods), Neil Forbes (Café St Honoré)

Scotland's BOOM finalists. Back row left to right: Isaac Rose (New Leaf Co-op), Josh Adam (Almighty Foods), Jon Anderson (Feed), Chris Grierson (Feed). Front row left to right: Molly Jacob (Almighty Foods), Neil Forbes (Café St Honoré)

I've been working with the Soil Association on PR, copywriting and blogging for their forthcoming BOOM (Best of Organic Market) Awards. It's been really interesting to meet the people behind Scotland's best organic brands and find out why they're so passionate about what they do.

The Soil Association’s BOOM Awards are the UK’s only dedicated organic awards celebrating people, producers, restaurants and brands working to produce food as it should be. More people than ever before are choosing organic – in 2016, the market for organics in Scotland grew 11.7%.

Five Scottish businesses have been shortlisted: Café St Honoré and Feed are competing for the Best Organic Eating Out award. Café St Honoré, led by chef Neil Forbes, serves a changing daily menu of the best Scottish produce in a French bistro setting while Feed is an American-style bar/diner specialising in burgers, ribs and wings – all of which are organic.

New Leaf Co-op is a hands-on wholefood co-operative where customers scoop their own wholefoods, grind nut-butters and have a wide choice of organic fruit and veg - it’s in the running for the Best Organic Independent Retailer.

Almighty Foods’ Cashew Caramello – a gourmet spread made entirely of organic whole foods such as cashew, coconut, vanilla pods, lemons and Hebridean sea salt - has made it onto the shortlist for the Best Organic Pantry Product.

Island Bakery, well-known for its organic biscuits, is in the running for the Nation’s Favourite award for its Lemon Melts – in a special category voted for by the public.

The winners will be announced in July but in the meantime we've had some nice coverage in the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland Food & Drink. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these great Scottish businesses go on to lift some trophies.



From Edinburgh to China

EdinburghOfficial WeChat channel

When I got a call asking if I could write content for the Chinese social media channel WeChat, one question came to mind: would I have to translate it into Mandarin? Happily the answer to that was 'no' - the Confucius Institute had the translation covered.

Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) has been running a programme called China-Ready which helps businesses put themselves in the best possible position to attract and impress Chinese visitors. It's a rapidly growing market and official tourism figures show Chinese visitor spend to Scotland has exceeded £43 million over the last three years.

In early 2017 a new strand of the programme was launched, in the shape of Scotland’s first-ever destination campaign on Chinese social media sites Weibo and WeChat.

ETAG describes WeChat as "China’s closest equivalent to WhatsApp and Facebook, and has over 800m active monthly users." Figures from the World Tourism Cities Federation’s 2015 Chinese Outbound Tourism study reported that 75% of Chinese outbound tourists rely on Weibo and WeChat to help with their travel planning (most Chinese nationals are unable to access Google, Facebook and Twitter).

I produced a wide range of written content for the “EdinburghOfficial” WeChat channel, showcasing Edinburgh's visitor attractions, shopping, landscape, culture, festivals, weather and much more. It required a different approach to my usual writing as the majority of the audience would have very limited knowledge of the city. This meant stepping back and writing for a reader who was completely new to the geography and history of the city. The Royal Mile, the cafes where JK Rowling wrote her Harry Potter novels and haggis were all mysteries that had to be explained.

As of June 2017, the EdinburghOfficial social media channels have received more than 30 million impressions. It's been a really enjoyable project to work on and I can't wait to see where China-Ready goes next.