Scot:Lands review: Barn:Land | Blether:Land

Dancers from Dance Base perform in St Giles' Cathedral as part of Wholly:Land. Picture: Jane Barlow

Dancers from Dance Base perform in St Giles' Cathedral as part of Wholly:Land. Picture: Jane Barlow

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Held on New Year’s Day as part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, Scot:Lands takes audiences on a treasure hunt-like journey through a series of venues in the Old Town, staging music, dance, film and more.

Barn:Land - Greyfriars Kirk

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Three On This Is:Land - The Pleasance

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Blether:Land - The Scottish Storytelling Centre

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IT’S a strange sensation, to walk around the centre of Edinburgh for a few hours on a wet and blowy New Year’s afternoon, and to end up feeling as though you’ve spent the day in Deeside, Mull and Alloway, with a brief detour to Fife.

Yet that’s the experience Unique Events’ Scot:Lands is beginning to offer, as it establishes itself as a vital part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay; rich and strange and slightly ambiguous in its combination of real cultural ambition and experimentation for audiences of all ages, and occasional tourist-industry image-making.

So at Greyfriars Kirk, for example – in a gorgeous open space that seems made for meditation – the Woodend Barn arts centre from Banchory offered a grave and grown-up mix of music and visual art, spread across three stages. During my 45-minute visit I heard a gorgeous burst of polyphonic chant from the physical theatre group Company Of Wolves, and some brooding folk song with gorgeously twisted and resonant electronic accompaniment from Alasdair Roberts and Ross Whyte; and, between songs, watched tantalising fragments of Chris Dooks’s Tiny Geographies series of films, drenched in the natural imagery, voices and landscape of Deeside.

At the Pleasance, by contrast, Comar from the Isle Of Mull offered a clear separation of art-forms in Three On This Is:Land. It was upstairs for live music, and a long, beguiling set from Kenny Anderson (King Creosote) and a group of Mull musicians, full of self-deprecating jokes, set in front of a cheesy Mull tourist video, and finishing with the sudden, heart-searching seductiveness of Anderson’s Cockles and his Fife anthem, Inner Crail To Outer Space. And it was downstairs, for a showing of Rachel Maclean’s crazy but brilliant Comar-commissioned film The Weepers, an unforgettable 25-minute ecstasy of Highland Gothic kitsch.

As for Blether:Lands at the Scottish Storytelling Centre – well, by the time I disentangled myself from the sinister Lady MacLean and her Weepers, it was all over in the Netherbow cafe apart from the Scottish country dancing for tiny tots, an essential and heart-cheering element of several events this year. Down in the theatre, though, Scotland’s leading children’s storyteller Andy Cannon was rounding off the day with truly brilliant versions of both Tam O’Shanter and the hilarious story of the Wee Bannock that enthralled everyone in the show’s completely international audience, across what might have seemed insuperable barriers of culture and age.

And if Scot:Lands suffers slightly from the sheer scale of the series of mini-festivals it offers, in a brief three-hour span – from the impossibility of seeing it all, and from the lack of printed programmes, at each “land”, clearly naming and listing the artists and their work, and describing the curating organisations – it’s still an astonishing way to spend a day, celebrating Edinburgh’s unique landscape of urban spaces, and seeing an international crowd receive an insight into Scotland’s many cultures that’s far from perfect, but that makes a bold start, in beginning to reflect the diversity of the real thing.

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