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GILLIAN FERGUSON - The Story of Sandy Bells, Edinburgh’s World Famous Folk Bar

GILLIAN FERGUSON - The Story of Sandy Bells, Edinburgh’s World Famous Folk Bar
Matador, Kibworth Beauchamp ISBN: 9781784621001

The paradoxes of Sandy Bells emerge in Gillian Ferguson’s first book – the “traditional pub” which is also a fashionable tourist attraction, a folk venue which attracts the famous, a source of spontaneity which has achieved permanence, a “place full of revolutionaries who want nothing to change” (Jimmy Cairney).

Rooted in an ancient part of Edinburgh, Sandy Bells’ status as a legendary folk venue began in the 1940s. Gillian describes its historical development and frequent architectural makeovers. There is discussion of the origin of the name and numerous lists of e.g. the kinds of spirits on offer, the types of sessions played, such as “itchy-scratchy” and “sookie blowie”, renowned regulars such as Jimmy Elliot - first winner of the Sandy Bells Cup - and Ian Grant, who led a music session every Sunday for four years. The volume also includes a chronology, biopic, notes and bibliography.

Various idiosyncratic facts are mentioned – a card trick was named after the bar; a Norwegian Blind Date was filmed there; it spawned Scotland’s first folk magazine and other folk clubs. Sandy Bells still has no TV, fruit machine or juke box – these having been rejected or ejected firmly by regulars!

Longstanding folk venues merit a lasting record, to commemorate and remember key people and events, although the written word sometimes struggles to fully capture their vitality and essence. Gillian Ferguson’s slim volume does its best to redress the balance and gives recognition to the significance of Sandy Bells and the people who made it what it is.

Jim McCourt

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.