Scot:Lands review: Hebcelt:Land | Heart:Land

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.

Audience members spin the compass wheel to determine which venue they visit during the Scot:Lands event. Picture: Jane Barlow
Audience members spin the compass wheel to determine which venue they visit during the Scot:Lands event. Picture: Jane Barlow

From Scot:Land - St Giles Street

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Tide:Land - Reid Hall

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Hebcelt:Land - Mcewan Hall

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Heart:Land - Assembly Roxy

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NOW in its third year, although it’s only been named Scot:Lands for two, this annual New Year’s Day celebration of Scottish arts and culture and the city of Edinburgh itself proved once again to be a huge success.

With bars and restaurants now catching on and opening throughout the afternoon, the inspired event has transformed the first day of the year from its previous dead zone of deserted streets and evacuating tourists.

By necessity the bill was broad and eclectic, and some events worked better than others. For example, From Scot:Land was on to a great idea – to site a looped screening of Virginia Heath’s archive footage love letter to the country in the 20th century From Scotland With Love on a mobile screen just off the Royal Mile on St Giles Street, its backdrop a bold panorama over Princes Street.

Soundtracked atmospherically by King Creosote, who was playing live elsewhere here, it was always going to be a hostage to the midwinter weather, and the drizzly rain and grey skies did it no favours. The film is great, although hopefully those who spared a glance and hurried on caught it in the comfort of their homes when it was screened later that evening.

Tide:Land, held in the Reid Hall just off Bristo Square, was another instalment which highlighted the minor limitations of Scot:Lands’ format. As a project in itself it was atmospheric and absorbing, a road movie named Edit shot across Scotland by directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard which traced a young woman’s (played by Kate Bracken with striking presence, despite her lack of dialogue) escape from what may ambiguously have been family tragedy or romantic heartbreak. The photography and Joe McAlinden’s loud soundtrack, partly sung live by the artist, were immersive and affecting.

Yet access to the venue was regimented, with staggered entrance times and a set-up which made it hard to leave early without disrupting others’ enjoyment.

Of course that’s no reflection on the work shown – in this case a measured and dramatically slow-moving one – but Scot:Lands’ limited timings are such that it’s unlikely visitors will experience all of the events, so an ability to dip in and out of each location is preferable.

In which case the more suited shows were ones like HebCelt:Land at the neighbouring McEwan Hall, a grand, cylindrical chamber in the style of a Game of Thrones location. In this case it hosted a number of authentically traditional folk artists including fiddle player Lori Watson and quartet Rura, all chosen by the organisers of the Isle of Lewis’ Hebridean Celtic Festival for a reserved but acoustically sublime round of performances.

Finally at Assembly Roxy, Heart:Land (“not Hart:Land,” said its curator Roddy Hart, “it’s not an ego trip”) saw a range of contemporary Scots musicians explore the songs which give them a sense of identity.

From the Hazey Janes’ Andrew Mitchell singing Trashcan Sinatras’ Weightlifting to Sarah Hayes of Admiral Fallow’s resonant solo of Burns’ A Slave’s Lament and Withered Hand taking on Teenage Fanclub’s Mellow Doubt, it was the perfect summation of what this unique and very welcome festival can be.