Sandy Bell’s

25 Forrest Road, Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland

Sixty-four comments

Sandy Bell’s

Where do you start with this place?

In the early 70’s I started going in here because I liked the music & the atmosphere. I didn’t play then, but I was getting an itch.
Back then, I seem to remember well known regulars were Aly Bain, Cathal McConnell, Dick Gaughan, John & Phil Cunningham, Dougie McLean, Rod Patterson, Jack Evans, as well as two brilliant musicians who were even more of an inspiration to me than those listed above, namely Derek Hoy & Peter McClements, two mighty Fiddle players. There were of course masses of other significant musicians like Jock Broon, Norman Chalmers, Freddy Thompson etc. etc. etc., the list just goes on & on & on.
It was the only session pub in Edinburgh back then, changed days, so any musicians on tour always headed for Bell’s, so you never knew who you were going to hear or see when you called in. I can still remember the first time De Dannen came in, Frankie Gavin, Alec Finn & Charlie Piggott in our pub - a died & gone to heaven job!

I remember working there as a barman for a while, before I started playing, & one night even served Billy Connolly (another regular visitor) a pint.

Back then it was actually called ‘The Forest Hill Bar’, & Sandy Bell’s was just the nick-name. What a shock I got when I went home a few years ago & found that the old sign, with the old name, was gone. It had been replaced with one saying Sandy Bell’s, & a picture of a Fiddle player - is nothing sacred!

I remember, many years ago, just after a new manager had taken over, he decided that what this dirty old drinking man’s pub needed was a bit of ‘culture’, so he ordered a - ‘TV’***. So the TV just arrived out of the blue one day, the locals had not been consulted. So when the men came in & plonked the TV down on the counter, the locals looked at each other, mutter mutter, picked the TV up muttering something about ‘we’re no ha’in thon F*****g thing in here’, & just dumped it out on the street, saying it’s it or us! That was, needless to say, the end of that idea! Yahoo for people power!

I’m sure loads of folk have their own Sandy Bell’s story.

Last night’s fun

I was there last night, great, great time. The music and company were great, thanks guys. Michael Gill unfortunately hid from me by going to Albania, which is a bit extreme. The playing was beautiful and both Paddy (great drive) and Peter (beautiful ornaments) gave me some very good (and stimulating!) advice on the fiddle, although I’m still trying to figure out how to improve my fiddling to make it sound like my best orgasm (Paddy’s advice) - I’ll try not to vocalise when I do that. Great musketeer moustach Chick! I’m looking forward to hearing Paddy’s and Chick’s cd when I get home, review to follow.

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Sandy Bell’s

I must be going mad,although it was fun last night, I should have called the subject Sandy Bell’s - is there another place called last night’s fun? Any, sorry about trebbling the comments on this great session.

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By the hokey …!

Jayz, Cath … you wouldn’t want to be messin’ wi’ one of them organism yokes at an Irish session. It might be alright for the Scottish and for youse Continental types. But if y’ask me, ye’d turn a blind ear to whatever thon ceili cowboy, Paddy, has been tellin’ you! Gettin’ your fiddlin’ to sound like a decade of the Rosary would be more in your line! He he!

Edinburgh sessions?!?

I’m looking at universities to apply to in order to do a degree. I play loads of irish and scottish music so I don’t want to go to a uni in a place with no irish/scottish music at all. Sessions are part of my social life and I don’t want to sacrifice them. I know there are a number of sessions in Edinburgh, but what’s the trad scene really like there? Is there a lot happening with loads of young people, or (no offence!) is it really a bit staid? Can anybody out there tell me whether the Edinburgh sessions and music scene are any good?

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I was in Sandy Bells last night and it was, like,really kick-ass. There were at least three players under fifty though I’m not sure about the guitar player with the big frizzy hair and multi-coloured platform shoes. There was a bloke on what I’m reliably informed was a C#D box and he was er, like, wicked.

OK, don’t want to put you off already - I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and even delighted by the session scenes in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen should you choose to study in any of those places. Speaking for Aberdeen, the young folk outnumber the old codgers.

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Re: Edinburgh sessions?!?

I was ‘running’ that session in Sandy Bells on Wednesday, Bren (I was the young guy playing the fiddle). It was a very nice tune apart from the slightly ‘iffy’ yodelling etc. from that Swedish box player! Sandy bells is always really good for tunes, on any night of the week.

Unfortunately, one of the nicest places to play in Edinburgh, ‘The Central Bar’ just closed two weeks ago.

There are many other places to play, though….For example, a new session has started at ‘The Malt Shovel’ on Cockburn street on a Thursday……a lot of the players who played at the central bar play there now eg. Kris Drever, Eilidh shaw, Sarah MacFadyen, Leo McCann, Katherine Nicol, Angus Grant Jr…..

There are decent sessions at ‘The Antiquary’ on a thursday and ‘The Shore Bar’ in Leith on a Wednesday. I wouldn’t recommend playing at ‘The White Hart’ in the Grassmarket (musicians are treated like sh*t there)

So Basically a kick-ass scene in Edinburgh. Glasgow also kicks ass. I’ve not been up to Inverness to play much yet, but I hope to sort that out next week!!

All the best

Paul Godfray

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Paul I left SBs about 9, there was another bloke on the box before the yodeller I think. I don’t know the Edinburgh crowd that much, except for Leo who used to work in Aberdeen.
Were you in the crowd that came to Dropkick Murphys later?
That was us making the racket onstage.

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Ah, no I didn’t go to Dropkick’s. U must have been with the Pogues tribute band, yeah?! Sarah told me about that….I should have gone.

Yeah the other bloke was Gerry/Jerry from Galway. He lives in Sligo now though….a solid player indeed

Take it easy

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Paul, were you in Ireland lately or am I confusing you with someone else?

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Staid? At least, we over fifties have a sense of humour and smile while we’re playing. 🙂

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And musicians who are in their seventies regularly have tunes with teenagers. That’s what it should be all about. Some of these older guys have repertoires that the rest of us can only dream about.

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Bit defensive there John J? 🙂
Speaking for the under-fifties (at least for another couple of months), I can say that the old codgers are indeed very sociable and the music scene in Scotland is seldom staid, quite the opposite, in fact I wish it wasn’t so full-on at times cos the pace is getting a bit much for me. Not that I’d let anyone notice. Let’s hope I get a new lease of life when I hit the big one.

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The young ones are usually sociable too and most of them smile. I was just making a wee point. 🙂

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I miss Bells. I’m finishing the degree this September in England and now fooking for a job in Edinburgh. It’s a great place for both Scottish and Irish music. Gigs in Pleasance and Royal Oak are also great.

I was in Ireland lately, aye. I was travelling around all down the west coast. Got back about 2 or 3 weeks ago. I had such a great time….where did you see me, SL?

Sandy bells is getting particularly mad now the festival has started…..the other day there were a load of Asturian musicians in for a while - stading at the bar, singing and playing Guitars and mandolins. One of them was wearing a big black cloak! You never know what u will find when u go for a tune there, but i’m so rarely disappointed!


Sandy Bell’s Monday 8th Nov

Good to meet you all there on my occasional visits to Edinburgh.
During the evening we tried to remember the other parts of a reel, but could only get the first part.
It is, as we suspected, “The cup of tea”
Like many of the session’s tunes, I disagree with the key it has been given.
“Edorian” might be musically correct, but we’d probably call it “Eminor and D”
Anyway, hope to see you all sometime soon,
Regards, Hamish

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yes I tend to agree in regards to the keys of given tunes. It may be very correct to state E dorian, but E minor is the common one would expect to hear at the sessions and will create less confusion. I personally don’t know of any musicain that would go into such detail about keys.

Thursday 16th June- Is there anybody out there?!

Hi everyone! I’m coming up to Edinburgh for the uni open day on 17th June and I’m stopping overnight on the 16th. I was wondering what the thursday night sessions are like ie. is there are lot people there? Also, I gathered its generally ITM (?) can some friendly person let me know a couple of the tunes you usually play so I can revise them, and at least i’ll know some of your standards. Btw, thanks to everyone who replied to my last query here!

oops! I forgot to ask what time it usually starts at? A rough estimate? Thanks again

Will you manage there as well as the Antiquary, RoisinB?
Most Edinburgh sessions start around 21.00 hours.

Well no I don’t think so. Sandy Bell’s is closer to where I’m staying so if there’s stuff going on i’ll prob just go there- I’m just trying to find out which will be the best one to go to!

It’s not just “ITM” RosinB, it’s in Scotland in a Scottish Pub famous for Scottish music. But I suppose there will be a mix of people.

How was the session

If you’re planning to visit Edinburgh and join sessions in this pub, stay in Budget Backpackers: It’s an excellent cheap hostel, and just one-minute walk from the pub.

Turned up on Tuesday and really enjoyed it. They were most friendly and welcoming - I lead quite a few tunes and a got few free drinks for playing punters’ requests - Tuesdays is as much Irish as Scottish but speed is of the essence - it is not for the faint-hearted.
We left after 1am and it was still going strong.
Great fun.

They also play on Saturday and Sunday nights. Mostly Irish.

Hi everyone,
I am heading over to the UK (from Australia) shortly and some friends of mine have been chatting about your session. I’d love to drop in and play with you all, is this session open to newcomers?


i’m in dundee at the moment and i’m loving playing at the fisherman’s tavern in the Ferry, but i’m moving to edinburgh next year fror uni. I’m not great at fiddle but i’m uber keen to keep on the sessioning. how beginner friendly is the session at Sandy Bell’s?


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You are not a beginner rozy - shut up! Although as your comment was back in march you will probably never read this! If you do thought then you better come back to the Ferry dutifully each Sunday!

Anyway - the reason I came on here was to give fair warning - I feel like a road trip and might just pop down to Edinburgh tonight for the session. Maybe see some of you session.orgers down there. 🙂

Looking at this thread again I must have been going loopy! Why come back to the Ferry on a Sunday? You would be 3 days too late for the session! I, of course meant Thursday.:-S

Friendly enough for Out of Towner American?

Howdy all, I’ve been popping in and out of Europe for a bit, and everywhere I’ve asked about Edinburgh I’ve heard “Go to Sandy Bells, go to Sandy Bells!”, and so I’m going, of course, but is it a session I can sit in on, or is it one of those earn your spot things? I have no intention of blasting my way in, but at the same time, even just asking at some sessions I’ve found (Berlin in particular) got me fussed at. Thusly, not wanting to be chewed out in the most famous session pub in Edinburgh, should I bring a guitar/mandolin? Also, sessions are every weeknight, or are there concerts as well, or is it just every night plus some afternoons as well? Sorry about all the questions, but if anyone ever shows up in Kentucky, I’ll be more than happy to return the favours! Cheers,


Session in Sandy Bell’s?

Hiya, is there any session in Sandy Bell’s on Saturday 6th June and Monday 8th? What time do they usually start?

There are two sessions on Sat, which start at 4 and 9, and one on Mon which starts at 9.

Session on Fridays?

Hi! I’m coming to Edinburgh Friday 7th of August and Saturday 8th - when does the session start on Fridays?

- Maja

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Sandy Bells

I was told that Sandy (Alexander) Bell was the eponymous owner of the pub, which, like many others, had another name that was never used. Can anyone elucidate?

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When actually did they change the name from Forrest Hill Bar?
Or, perhaps I mean the sign

Sometime on a visit to Edinburgh, I have no recollection of when, I just looked up at noticed it said “Sandy Bells”

Maybe I was pontificating to someone about how it’s known as Sandy Bells, but *actually* the name, as you will see on that sign up there is ……what? when did they change that?

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Sandy Bell’s

I visited on Monday and the small group of musicians let me sit in for an hour or so. Some good tunes from pipes, concertina, whistle, fiddle and guitar/bouzouki etc (and the pub was heaving (in the scottish sense) - it being festival time.

The map location is doing very odd things. Yesterday the pin was pointing at Park Road, Dalkeith - 7 miles south of Edinburgh. Today it’s pointing near Harthill, 20 miles west of where it should be.

Is somebody playing sillybuggers?

Sandy Bells still in West Lothian

Who’s doing this?

Would they kindly put it in the right place and leave it there?

It’s nice to know Michael must still be lurking here.

The only change I’ve noticed so far is that the new licensee doesn’t provide beermats so you have to make do with Edinburgh Folk Club flyers instead.

More changes. The TVs have gone (exposing patches of yellowed wall dating to before the smoking ban) and a gleaming stainless steel Italian coffee machine (with bean grinder) has arrived.

Visited on Tuesday, was made welcome. Session of mostly Irish tunes (just a few from elsewhere), no songs.
Flute, guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle.
It was a bit busy as it’s festival time, but the crowd were not as noisy as most session pubs I’ve played in. A passing djembe player wandered in (presumably because of the festival) but, mercifully, did what he did quietly and was so unobtrusive that nobody seemed to be particularly annoyed.

Sandy Bells - who’s got the whistle?

Beermats are back.

A few months ago I left two whistles behind the bar, with “Sandy Bells” written on the barrel in black gloss paint. The better one (brass barrel and green top) has gone. PUT IT BACK.


….seems to centre on Dalkeith, bit of a hike from Bell’s. I’ll try amending the listing with the post code.

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Can’t put in a post code, but adding the building number seems to have helped. Wonder if it’ll last.

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Is the schedule above still the same? ( Friday, Monday, Saturday, Sunday, Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday) I just might get to Edinburgh this summer

Anyone know the current schedule? Quite curious to listen in…get some inspiration for relearning the violin.

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Not a very welcoming session.

Dropped in on a Tuesday night. It was very crowded and the 4 musicians there seemed to be wrapped up in “doing their own thing”. After standing around for a while - no place to sit - I left. Didn’t even take my whistle out.


Now then, I’ve a gig in town until half 10 on NYE… just wondered if there’d be a look in here or anywhere else to come play some tunes afterwards? I’m on box, mostly doing Irish stuff, a few songs if needed.


Stay away on a Tuesday!

Had been in here before and had a great session, but it was definitely not a Tuesday night. I’ve never met such a hostile bunch of musicians as I did here. The girl playing the fiddle and viola is the worst… she was downright rude from the word go. I left after two tunes, after pretty much being told I wasn’t good enough. I’m a pretty well seasoned session player and was playing the guitar discreetly as I’d never heard the tunes they were playing before. Strange bunch of people. Mentioned it to the guy at the bar also confirmed that they are aware of the problem. What a shame!

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Silly optimistic me showed up here with my fiddle, all enthusiastic about making music with like-minded folks. NOOOOOOOO! I was hustled out of the musician area, even after telling them I had hopes of playing. It doesn’t matter if I’m the best or worst fiddler in the world; they will never know. If I don’t know which end to blow in, sooner or later I’ll be ashamed and stop. If I’m capable, then all to the good. Considering all the cities and countries in which I’ve played, these people are the rudest and most insecure. You would think me the second cousin to the Prince of Darkness, but then, maybe that’s a fine credential. This group has one style and one speed: no waltz, no singing, no air. Going home to my own sessions is so much sweeter, knowing that we are fine musicians with welcoming hearts.

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Sounds like they are up their own backsides and not worth bothering about — do meet a lot of these types in pub sessions with enormously large egos – most of them won’t knock any professionals off or they wouldn’t be in backstreet pubs —— a session is about the music not about you — sessions should be inclusive or if not just go and perform by yourselves and get your egos validated that way!!

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should — read knock professionals off their perch— in previous comment

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Sadly, I have the same bitter taste in my mouth about this session as recent posts. I was told not to sit in the musicians seats and rudely pushed out to the bar where the beer and pies were great!After listening to about 6 fast reels that varied barely one degree in separation from the other, I thought “what the heck” sat down and played me bodhran for about 3 or 4 tunes. There was not even eye contact from any of the 4 locals, indeed they tried their best to exclude me. I have played sessions all over the world, been a professional player on tour with many well known bands and yet they didn’t even bother to tap my shoulder.My recommendation: eat a pie and then order another and THROW IT AT THE SESSION!

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My experience has been totally different from the above. Might depend on the night of the week
I’ve been to Wednesday sessions a couple of times over the last year, and one Thursday.
Wednesday - lots of traditional Scottish and Irish tunes
Thursday, led by the brilliant Carrie Bulley and Toby Shippey was absolutely awesome. Best session I have ever been to. Lots of traditional and contemporary folk tunes
Local musicians were very welcoming to outsiders on both nights.

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Some of the comments are quite anti. Please don’t take that as gospel. I play there on a Monday night from 9pm till late every week and we actively welcome any musicians from anywhere, and of any standard, and we play a mix of Irish and Scottish music.

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I believe that if you as much as walked in there a instrument case a certain Mr Gill bites your legs off. It scares me a bit. But one day I hope to turn up with my ukes, Stylophone, Indian harmonium, cajun spoons and bugle and prove myself wrong!!!

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Called in, played along with the regulars’ sets of tunes for a few hours, left.
High standard, nice pies.

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I was fortunate to be able to play several sessions at Sandy Bell’s over the last couple of months. Each one had its own flavor. Many thanks to Fred, who presided over quite a few and was very welcoming. Saturday’s session, with Fred, Catherine, Talia, and Philip, was a highlight of the trip. The players were absolutely incredible musicians, and it certainly was the finest session I had the honor of participating in. Although I was clearly out of my league, the musicians were kind and supportive. However, I enjoyed each day that I attended, especially Wednesday with Peter and Adam who provided background on many of the tunes and were wonderful collaborators.

My only complaint was that at each session there were several very loud, very drunken, patrons. Honestly, I don’t know how these session leaders do it week after week, and they are to be applauded. Thanks to all for making it an exceptional experience for me.

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I had a really lovely experience in Sandy Bell’s.

I popped in just to listen to some tunes—I didn’t have my instrument with me—but after chatting a bit with the (amazing) fiddler Kathryn Nicol (probably because I ineviatably asked “what was the name of that tune?” at some point), someone produced a mandolin and I was invited to play a few tunes. I hope I didn’t overstay my the very warm welcome I received.

I only had two nights in Edinburgh, and I popped back the next evening—again, just to listen—and again I was kindly invited to play a tune or two.

Very happy memories of Edinburgh for me!