‘Emotional’ swarm drone display among highlights of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

The stirring words to a new poem by Scots Makar Jackie Kay have been revealed as part of Edinburgh’s virtual Hogmanay celebrations, which also feature a spectacular swarm drone display.
The virtual Hogmanay celebrations include Fare Well, a spectacular swarm drone display. Picture: Edinburgh's HogmanayThe virtual Hogmanay celebrations include Fare Well, a spectacular swarm drone display. Picture: Edinburgh's Hogmanay
The virtual Hogmanay celebrations include Fare Well, a spectacular swarm drone display. Picture: Edinburgh's Hogmanay

The first instalment of the Fare Well event, a marriage of poetry and visual art, will be available to watch online this evening as part of the city’s efforts to mark Hogmanay despite the ruinous impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The free-to-view installation features a specially written poem by Kay, voiced by David Tennant, Siobhan Redmond and Lorne MacFadyen, and featuring a score by Skye-based Celtic fusion band Niteworks.

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While its verses do not shy away from the pandemic, they also express hope for the new year and the future.

The poem is accompanied by what organisers say will be a “visually captivating” drone display filmed near Spean Bridge in the Highlands, and cut to spectacular views above Edinburgh.

Using AI software to choreograph their movements, the 150 drones reached an altitude of 150 metres and top speeds of up to 25mph to form images created by Scottish illustrator Gary Wilson.

Reflecting both the words from Kay’s poem and the surrounding landscape, the drones depict a series of images, including a galloping stag and the Saltire cross.

In the first of the three five-minute-long films, which will be aired on subsequent evenings, Kay’s poem looks back at the year gone by, reflecting on the weddings and funerals that were cancelled, and “the endless waves the old year sent”.

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Another of Kay’s verses observes how “this air has heather and malt on its breath / as it sighs, puffed oot after a year of death / under the blue mask of its flag”.

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The verse continues: "The Saltire’s / been a warning cross. Dinny come too near.”

Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, directors of Underbelly and producers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, said: “As 2020 draws to a close, it was important both to reflect on the year gone by and to look ahead to a better new year.

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"Over the last four months we have been innovating with an amazing team to design and produce this world-class event in Fare Well, which viewers from around the world can tune in to watch this Hogmanay.

“Every year we celebrate Edinburgh’s unique position as being the home of Hogmanay and while we can’t gather in person, this online event gives us a moment to collectively join together to reflect and bid farewell to 2020.”

They added: “We would like to extend our enormous thanks to partners City of Edinburgh Council, the Scottish Government, EventScotland and Creative Scotland. We will be sitting down with our families to watch part one tonight and can’t wait to reveal the rest of the story on the 30th and the grand finale on Hogmanay itself.”

The Fare Well event can be viewed for free at www.edinburghshogmanay.com at 7pm, and from the same time on Wednesday and Thursday.

Behind-the-scenes footage along with details of how the film was made will also be available on the site.

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