New Year’s Day in Edinburgh has been improved significantly by the presence of the city’s cultural showcase-come-treasure hunt Scot:Lands, a visit to which is unlikely to be complete without a stop at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. It’s a Royal Mile landmark anyway, and that rarest of things, a café which is still in business on the first day of January. This year, the ground floor was used as a ceilidh space -families took instruction from the Mairi Campbell Ceilidh Band, and tourist-friendliness combined with a fun outing for locals.
Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
Playfair Library, Edinburgh
That spirit of inclusiveness summed up the offering across the Scottish Storytelling Centre this year, a segment called Nether:Land presented by TRACS (Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland) and spoken work promoter Flint & Pitch. The former programmed the ceilidh, Sokobauno Puppet Theatre’s returning version of the midwinter folk play Galoshins and cosy storytelling from Marie-Louise Cochrane, introducing a bit of exciting local history. The latter group – led by F&P founder Jenny Lindsay – offered a poetic view of the city which was more vividly contemporary, but with the rough edges still smoothed a little for the visitors.
Alongside filmed “cinepoems” from artists including Rachel McCrum and Calum Rodger, Lindsay offered her own introduction to the city and Russell Jones read a few pieces which touched upon, among other things, the cosmopolitanism of the city, even though one saw him foiled in his hunt for an after-pub kebab. Across the building the feeling was of a warm welcome to Edinburgh, rather than an invitation to dig deep into it.
Further up the Royal Mile and veering off towards the Mound, the towering Assembly Hall is a landmark building, and there was a chance to see inside courtesy of High:Land, led by the Ross-shire based festival of Gaelic song, Feis Rois. Artists including Duncan Chisholm, Inyal and Salt House offered an authentic and very pleasing sound, although perhaps the grandeur of the old Rainy Hall was lost a little by how crowded the space got at times.
As during the Edinburgh Festival, the chance to view some of the city’s stunning old spaces is an exciting by-product of chasing down the Scot:Lands art. Bathed in red light, the vaulting, eerie Playfair Library in Edinburgh University’s Old College became This:Land, a stunning cinema space, in which local musicians Hamish Brown and Drew Wright staged their dream-like recomposed electronic soundtrack to John Grierson’s pioneering 1929 silent documentary Drifters. In the alcoves headphone installations showed archive documentary footage from around the country - an immersive experience in a gorgeous space which exemplified Scot:Lands living up to its potential.