Brian Ferguson: Too many Scottish music festivals?

Celtic Connections at the Fruitmarketin Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
Celtic Connections at the Fruitmarketin Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
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DOES Scotland now have too many music festivals, asks Brian Ferguson?

It has taken me the best part of a week to get around to unpacking from what has become an annual music and merry-making trip to the islands each summer.

It is almost two decades since I started heading off each summer to exotic locations like Orkney, Skye, Lewis and Arran in search of long summer nights, adventures on the high seas and a festival or two. In those days it was actually possible to attend most of Scotland’s far-flung festivals, between May and September, with careful planning and judicious use of holidays.

But the explosion of events over the last decade has created a cluttered calendar that would need Roman Abramovich’s helicopter and/or superyacht, which he deployed on his own west coast sojurn, to navigate.

For all the criticism that rained down on the heads of T in the Park’s organisers, there is no doubt the event paved the way for the plethora of events now held across the country when it was launched 21 years ago. It created an appetite for turning a trip to a music festival into a mini-holiday and helped turn dozens of local musical enthusiasts into promoters and festival organisers.

But the volume of events has also created a growing competition between festivals for audiences – and a headache for the organisers of T, which is also up against a host of rivals over the Border.

For me, the question hovering over Scotland’s booming festivals calendar is how many is too many?

Last weekend alone saw thousands of revellers boarding packed Calmac ferries to Lewis, Tiree and Bute, the latter island launching its first event against firmly established west coast festivals. That so many people flocked to each was nothing short of a miracle, particularly bearing in mind weather warnings beforehand. The festival trail moved to Dumfries and Galloway over the last few days for the welcome return of Wickerman following the death in December of its co-founder Jamie Gilroy. Next weekend sees the 20th annual Speyfest, in Fochabers, but it is suddenly up against the might of Mumford and Sons, with their own “Stopover” event in Aviemore.

Remarkably, none of the above have prevented all tickets for the annual Belladrum festival, near Inverness, from selling out months in advance. The same weekend, a second “Party in the Palace” will be staged in Linlithgow Palace, despite further competition from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

While there have been some casualties in recent years, notably Rockness, in the Highlands, saturation point does not yet appear to have been reached. But promoters, funders and local authorities should take care to protect and nurture what is already there before any more major additions are embraced.