Sandy Bell's is a local pub, a world-famous meeting place for musicians, and an institution. Surprisingly - behind the high windows were once shelves full of groceries: the property began life as a local shop.
By the 1920s the property was owned by a Mrs Bell and although already a bar, was known as The Forrest Hill Buffet. Over time, it became known as "Sandy's", or "Bell's" - and finally "Sandy Bell's" - although this would not be seen on the sign outside for over half a century. The name "Bell's" came from Mrs Bell and her family. Accounts differ about "Sandy": Some say he was a barman - and perhaps he was known for enthusiastic ringing of the bell for last orders.
(image above: Jack Gillon)
By the mid --1960s the sign outside said Forrest Hill Bar (picture above) - but to those in the know it was still Sandy Bell's. The pub was now run by Jimmy Cairney, a landlord who loved traditional and folk music. He is fondly remembered by those who made the Sandy Bell's what it was during its first great heyday. Bell's was now the one of the main hubs in the folk music revival in the UK - and was becoming known internationally. Hamish Henderson,
Because licensing laws prevented pubs from opening in the afternoon, lunchtime sessions would regularly move to a nearby "Bell's Flat", where the music would continue until the pub opened again in the evening. After closing time, of course, the music would again move up again to what were known as "kitchen ceilidhs".poet, songwriter, collector of songs, co-founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, sometimes known as "the father of the Scottish folk revival" held court here for many years. The list of musicians who played in this period is extraordinary, including many notables: Aly Bain, Barbara Dickson, Johnny & Phil Cunningham, Dougie McLean, Rod Paterson, Jack Evans, Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly, Rab Noakes, and Dick Gaughan to name a just a few. The well-known group Jock Tamson's Bairns formed from meetings at Sandy Bell's at this time.
As interest in folk music ebbed after the 1970s, other traditional music venues faded away. But the sessions at Sandy Bell's continued - not always helped by the management. At some time in the 80s,
one landlord attempted to install a puggie or slot machine. It lasted one day: The regulars made it clear that "it goes or we go". However, the stewardship of landlord Charlie Woolley in the 1990s was important in keeping the flame alive. Eventually, the rest of the world caught up with what Bell's
regulars have always known and today, interest in traditional music is again high. Sandy Bell's is as vibrant as ever, and an important meeting place and centre for folk and traditional music - for some, a place of pilgrimage. By the early '90s, the name was formally changed, and finally, the outside featured the popular name: Sandy Bell's.
The emphasis is on Scottish and Irish traditional music - and a night at Bell's can be a totally unpredictable musical adventure (see the sessions page for a clue about what you might hear...) Edinburgh's unique style of traditional music is often heard as well as traditional sounds from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and around the world.
On the 18th of September, Sandy Bell's was proud to host a piece of history, our first ever Wedding Ceremony.
Hi Stevie, Peter and co,
Thought we should email you to thank you all very much indeed for allowing us to host our marriage ceremony and celebrations in the Bell's on Referendum day, Thurs 18/09/14 at 2.00pm.
We could not have chosen a better venue on the day, as everything came together perfectly. Our witnesses, who had just popped in for a quiet drink, were selected from the clientele in the bar. We could not have chosen better! They were a lovely couple and we shared so much in common, which made our day even more special.The musicians who arrived unexpectedly shortly after our ceremony, played a significant and momentous part in our celebrations.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was present in the bar that day, for making our event a very special and memorable one indeed. We may not have got the YES vote we had hoped for, however, we got our own personal result.
With special thanks,
Eileen and Eric Savage, Prestwick, Ayrshire
More pictures on the Gallery Page