So many ways to begin


Posted by in July's Magazine

Where to start, when life comes full circle where to start a story? For Tracy Griffen it’s Leith Festival

As a child growing up in South Australia, my hippy family revelled in the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the second biggest (we heard) in the world after Edinburgh. My curiosity was piqued, and as a teenager I worked the Adelaide Fringe with vague notions of one day getting to Edinburgh. 

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So I travelled here and worked the 1997 Fringe, got stuck in Edinburgh and went downhill (literally from living on North Bridge) to Leith. Leith became my home, I retrained and started running a fitness business in Leith in 2005, writing for the Leither from 2008, and bringing up Coco the fitness studio pug born 2014. I hope I have become a Leither, but I understand if not. 

Over the last eight years I held running events as part of Leith Festival and daydreamed of becoming more involved. Especially after interviewing the Queen of Leith a.k.a. Mary Moriarty for this publication. I loved her passion and commitment for the community festival and wanted to help.

2019 has been my year of dedication to Leith Festival. As newly appointed Festival Coordinator I wanted to offer a programme that highlighted the diversity of talent that bubbles under around here. Over 8 days we held 66 events in 37 venues, 50 of which were free. The extreme admin began in early January, when all the Gala day stallholder and event forms go out. 

Contacting all the regulars, and finding new and interesting offerings were the first three months. April and May involved putting together the printed programme and website and organising the launch. As the date got closer to June, the pace picked up, new sponsors were welcomed and endless enquiries answered. My festival goal was to get to 42 shows. I managed 39 in the end. Here’s my diary:

Pre-festival week saw the first of the events, the launch of the annual exhibition of photography from Edinburgh College final year students, Exposed. The Drill Hall was packed and there was a real buzz for a Tuesday evening. Club Nitty Gritty’s Neil Young Special was the other pre-festival show, a selection of talent performing Only Leith Can Break Your Heart at The Village Bar. 

It was a muggy night before Gala day and the room was so packed that we could only just squeeze in the door briefly to hear my favourite, ‘Harvest Moon’. I was up until 1am alphabeticising and laminating stallholder listings for our Gala day stewards then on the bike and down to Leith Links for 6.30am to drop off the steward’s folders. 

Gala day went by in a blur, as it does. Personal highlights were bringing the Pageant down Leith Walk at midday, as the temperature increased. The large puppets were popular, as were the energetic Pulse of the Place samba-drumming group, all from local primary schools. 

Just as we got to the Links, the heavens opened, sending all and sundry scattering and seeking cover under the nearest gazebo. My favourite photo of the Gala day is of around 100 people all squashed under the craft tent, having a good blether and sheltering for half an hour or so until the rain cleared.

The Official Leith Dog Show, run by the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, was a big success. Gala day is all about local charities and organisations showcasing what they do, and EDCH was a fine example of this. It was also fab to have LeithLate curate the Gala Day main stage, with a cutting edge selection of bands to boogie to. After Gala day I followed the LeithLate posse to the Happiness Hotel gig in a converted warehouse close to Leith Links, featuring Easter Road riot grrrl Lou McLean. It was a short swagger to the LeithLate Cricket Club Queens after party, where glitter, silly dancing and Brenda the bartender reigned supreme. We left Leith Links at 3am – a long day.

Voice lost, Sunday was quiet, walking Coco (who is also the Leith Festival therapy dog) to the inspired street art at Quality Yard – in the sunny courtyard we also panned for gold with the Lapidary club. A short wander to Leith Theatre where This is Local transformed the theatre into a bustling marketplace with lots of lovely things made by local artists and crafty folk. I bought a seaweed bath soak, which was very therapeutic actually. We also popped by the Kadampa Meditation Centre open day, where the happy Buddhists had laid out a free spread of tasty veggie food in between free guided meditation sessions.

Monday is traditionally a quiet day for festivals, which is good, as in the evening I ran a cycling for fitness workshop, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. 

Tracy’s favourite Leith Fest experience, SS Explorer

Festival Tuesday afternoon is always the Leith Festival Tea Dance, run by Mary Moriarty and May Jack at the Dockers Club – it was very full with bingo, dancing, tea and cakes. I cycled from there to Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop to see the Emotes exhibition by pupils of Trinity and Victoria primary schools, in an awesome space, which was very colourful and skilful.

Tuesday evening I sat with a roomful of women at the Leith Community Centre and learned the craft of macramé. It was very satisfying to take time out to tie knots in string (organic jute from Dundee), and a lovely introduction to the Scottish Women’s Institute with the best teacake I have ever eaten. Straight from macramé with my new jute key ring to Leith Depot for Leith Vs The World spoken word slam from Edinburgh Literature Salon. 

It was their first year in the Festival, and we hope it becomes a regular thing. If you’re a writer, head to one of their monthly meet-ups at 6pm on the last Tuesday of each month at Wash Bar on The Mound. Ed Lit Salon are super supportive and have loads of leads, networking and info for budding (and established) writers.

Wet Wednesday was a good day for Trinity House Packs a Punch, an exhibition of sporting memorabilia from the local Leith Victoria boxing club in the rather fascinating Trinity House, our local museum of seafaring history, smack bang in the middle of Kirkgate. 

Sadly, I had to leave Cultfusion poetry night early to catch the Humpday gig at the Depot for the debut of Lizards of Alba, three quarters of ex-Surf Manchu and a new singer. (Worth the dash through Tesco car park.) Also on the midway-through-the-festival bill were The Victor Pope Band who always entertain, and the deep vibes of ‘Erb & Ting – a perfect end to the night.

Gala day is all about local charities and organisations showcasing what they do, and EDCH was a fine example of this

Thursday night saw Phoenix Community Choirs nearly lifting the roof off Leith Theatre. Watching so many people having fun performing reminded me of exactly why I love being involved with a local community organisation.

Friday was a favourite day, visiting the fascinating S.S. Explorer fisheries research vessel moored down at the Docks. There was so much to learn about this amazing boat that is under restoration. It has the last steam engine built in Scotland (steam is quieter than diesel, so the boat could get closer to the plankton and fish that the scientists onboard were studying) – boatspotters, go to, www.ssexplorerstory.co.uk to arrange a visit. As a perfect companion piece the Citadel Arts Group presented Sea Changes, the world premiere of a play based on life aboard the ship. I do hope they bring this production back as – coupled with the boat tour – it made for an excellent day. Friday finished with the Community Ceilidh. Free scran and very clear Ceilidh instructions helped me to muddle through…

Leith Market are our friends. They are many people’s friends as it is the friendliest market around. As an official Leith Festival venue my Saturday lunch sorted. After, a wander around Custom House Open Day where there is always lots to see. We took Coco to say hello to the friendly menders at Leith Toy Hospital, who were running their annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Up to Elvis Shakespeare to listen to local indie band Errant Boy. We hung out on the pavement, watching the people in the buses watching us. Keara Murphy’s show about the Truth of Men sounded promising, but perhaps because her new boyfriend was helping her with the door and generally being a gentleman she may have toned her material down!

Sunday, the last day, was Father’s day. A perfect afternoon for a tour of the Hibs stadium, or for Black Arches an avant-garde multimedia musical and visual experience at Leith Depot. Leith Festival Community Tattoo, the traditional closing event that took place outside Malmaison with a combination of dancing, bagpipes, drumming and the good ol’ grand finale.

Phew, over 500 hours of admin later and a festival under my belt, it’s time to get wholeheartedly back into the fitness studio. Hopefully I’ll be back at the helm of Leith Festival next year to mark the 100th anniversary of Leith becoming assimilated with Edinburgh.

Info: If you’d like to get involved, in any capacity, join us at www.leithfestival.com and we’ll keep you in the loop. 

Twitter: @tracygrifffen


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