OFFICIALS at New Year festivities across Scotland joined forces last night to launch the nation’s year in the international limelight with a bang.
The country’s first ever collective Hogmanay celebration saw extra fireworks displays, dramatic searchlight effects and burning sculptures thrill crowds at outdoor events across Scotland.
Highlights of the linked festivities in Edinburgh, Stirling, Inverness and Stonehaven – which cost £400,000 – were shown live on television in Scotland and footage of the flagship celebrations in the capital was screened to more than a billion people in 150 countries.
The extra funding for this year’s joined-up celebration was awarded to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay producers Unique Events to stage a high-profile launch to Scotland’s second Year of Homecoming in 2014.
It aims to capitalise on the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup being held in Scotland this year, as well as the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Fireworks sequences which were launched at exactly 20:14 had been specially designed to create giant saltire and thistle effects for the “Scotland’s Big Year Starts Here” theme of the joint displays.
A short film only completed hours before the celebrations got under way was also shown on giant screens at the various events. It featured a cyclist visiting iconic locations across Scotland including the Nevis Range in Fort William, the Forth Bridges, the Hydro and velodrome venues in Glasgow, Gleneagles golf course, the new Kelpies horse-head sculptures near Falkirk and Bannockburn battlefield.
Edinburgh’s world-famous Hogmanay event in Princes Street and the Gardens beneath the castle drew an international attendance of more than 75,000.
The flagship concert was headlined by English pop duo Pet Shop Boys and an open-air ceilidh, which sold out after a late rush for party passes following a dramatic improvement in the weather in the city.
The castle was bathed in dramatic new lighting effects in a further boost to this year’s celebrations.
Among the 15 bands lined up to appear in various venues across Edinburgh were Django Django, Chvrches, King Creosote, Nina Nesbitt, The 10:04s and the Treacherous Orchestra.
Revellers were shown key moments in Scottish history on 13 giant screens at the venues before and after the Bells rang in the new year.
Several thousand revellers flocked to the Northern Meeting Park in Inverness for a free open-air gig headlined by Celtic bands Skerryvore and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.
Fireworks were blasted from the Wallace Monument in Stirling, while Deacon Blue and Dougie MacLean entertained the crowds at Stirling Castle.
Two major celebrations were held in Stonehaven, with 1980s rockers Simple Minds playing at the “Open in the Square” event. Thousands of revellers also lined the streets for the traditional fireball parade to the harbour, which has been running for more than 150 years.
Aberdeen’s festivities were staged in Union Terrace, with two local bands, The Tijuana Sun and The Aristocrats, entertaining the crowds ahead of a midnight fireworks display from the rooftop of His Majesty’s Theatre.
In Glasgow, hosts to this summer’s Commonwealth Games, officials had decided in advance to wind up festivities – which had been running in George Square from noon – two hours before the bells.
Pete Irvine, managing director of Unique Events, said the joined-up celebration was the most ambitious Hogmanay project ever undertaken in Scotland.
He told The Scotsman: “Nothing like this has been done before in terms of having the same fireworks sequence at different events, the showing of the film we made on the big screens at all the major events, and the television coverage from around the country.”
And commenting on the price hike for tickets for Edinburgh’s street party, which went up £5 to £20 this year, Mr Irvine insisted the move had not impacted on ticket sales, adding the attendance was the same as last year.
He said: “There hasn’t been a murmur of discontent, nobody has batted an eyelid. Everything else has sold out this year.
“The key thing about the event in Edinburgh is that two-thirds of the audience were here for the first time – that’s what makes it such a strong flagship event for Scotland. It is continuously fuelled by the new interest.
“The Pet Shop Boys sold out in advance even though we were able to release extra tickets, to give us the highest capacity we’ve ever had.”
Fay Fife, frontwoman of The Rezillos, the celebrated Edinburgh punk band, who were scheduled to appear on the Waverley Stage after the Bells, said the band had relaunched their career on the back of the event.
She said: “We reformed the original line-up of the band for the last Hogmanay gig we did in 2001 and it was a real impetus to get us back together again.
“We’ve been performing again ever since and haven’t lost any energy or appetite for it.”
Stevie Bolton, of Leith indie band The 10:04s, who landed a plum slot supporting the Pet Shop Boys, said: “We didn’t have any hesitation about agreeing to do the gig.
“We are still unsigned so it’s a massive compliment for us to be asked to open the main concert. The exposure has been absolutely invaluable.”
Among those who descended on Edinburgh city centre was Benjamin Eisenblaetter, 41, an events technician from Germany, who said: “It’s hard to see cities like this in mainland Europe. Because of the Second World War, a lot of things were destroyed, but here it’s almost untouched.
“I’ve heard stories about this celebration and thought that it must be a big party, so we thought we’d come here.”
Taiyeba Hessain, a 24-year-old graduate from London, said: “This is my first time here. I’m visiting my sister for two nights. I’m just excited about the atmosphere, to be honest. I had heard loads about it.”
Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh City Council’s festivals and events champion, said: “Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations have long been the envy of cities across the globe.
“With one of the best artist line-ups ever, tonight has been a truly fantastic event, bringing together 75,000 revellers from all over the world to bring in the Bells in the heart of our great capital city. Where better to kick off Scotland’s big year?”
Glasgow council leader Gordon Matheson insisted the city’s earlier festivities had been a “special way” to see out 2013.
He added: “The festivities in George Square provide families and friends with a free, fun event where we can come together and look back on the year’s highlights and look forward to all that 2014 promises.”
Caroline Packman, Homecoming director at VisitScotland, said: “2014 is about celebrating all that’s great about our country and we did just that on Hogmanay.
“Scotland well and truly welcomed the world as part of the New Year celebrations and that’s set to continue with the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and the packed Year of Homecoming programme which already has more than 400 exciting events throughout this year.”