Ten Scottish cultural highlights for 2014

Scotland on Sunday chooses ten cultural highlights that will make 2014 a year to remember

Jonathan Mills, Edinburgh International Festival director. Picture: Phil Wikinson
Jonathan Mills, Edinburgh International Festival director. Picture: Phil Wikinson
Jonathan Mills, Edinburgh International Festival director. Picture: Phil Wikinson

The Kelpies

If you live near Falkirk, you may already have glimpsed Andy Scott’s extraordinary 30-metre-high horse head sculptures, which weigh 30 tonnes each and have been towering over the Forth and Clyde Canal since they were completed in October last year. This spring, though, these giant monuments to horse power and Scotland’s waterways open to the public – along with their own visitor centre.

Still Game

A miniature model of the Kelpies by Andy Scott. Picture: Jane Barlow
A miniature model of the Kelpies by Andy Scott. Picture: Jane Barlow
A miniature model of the Kelpies by Andy Scott. Picture: Jane Barlow

Monty Python may have got more attention from the London media, but in Scotland this is the comedy reunion everyone will be talking about. Ford Kiernan, Greg Hemphill and the cast will play 21 shows at Glasgow’s 12,000-capacity Hydro between 
19 September and 9 October – over five times as many as originally announced due to the overwhelming demand. No pressure, then.


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The scale of Generation, a nationwide showcase of Scottish contemporary art from the past 25 years, is more than a little daunting – over 100 artists spread across 60 exhibitions between March and November. From Steven Campbell and Douglas Gordon to David Shrigley and Karla Black, virtually every significant Scottish artist from the past quarter century is represented, in a year that also sees the return of the Glasgow International festival of contemporary art.

The Great Don’t Know Show

As referendum day approaches, Scottish theatre begins to sink its teeth properly into this huge, emotive and deeply divisive subject. Rantin’, a ceilidh-style exploration of Scottish storytelling and identity, from Chalk Farm creators (and prominent Yes supporters) Kieran Hurley and Julia Taudevin, tours the nation from 24 January. And in March, Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre premieres Union, a play by Tim Barrow inspired by the events of 1707. The one I’m most looking forward to, though, is The Great Don’t Know Show, in which Yes-supporting playwright David Greig and No-supporting director David MacLennan team up for a touring variety show which offers an irreverent, evolving look at the pros and cons of Scottish independence – and a forum for lively public debate.

MTV Europe Music Awards

Watching MTV’s travelling circus at Edinburgh’s Ocean Terminal a decade ago was something of an exhausting experience – so many world famous people popping up from all directions that you barely knew where to look. This November, Glasgow gets its turn to host one of the biggest pop music events in the world. A lot of public money has been spent to make that happen, and so much is being made of its PR value for Glasgow. Whether you buy into that argument enthusiastically or not, it’s not often Scotland gets a chance to stage an event with quite this much A-list celebrity razzle dazzle. It’ll be worth it for the gossip alone.

Under the Skin

There’s plenty of promising science fiction in cinemas this year, including Interstellar, an enigmatic new offering from Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan; Transcendence, a thriller about artificial intelligence from Nolan’s cinematographer Wally Pfister; and Edge Of Tomorrow, in which Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt team up for a cross between War Of The Worlds and Groundhog Day. Closer to home, there’s Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary looking adaptation of Michel Faber’s Under The Skin about a seductive female alien (Scarlett Johansson) abducting Scottish men. The film has split the critics. Find out why on 14 March.

Glasgow Film Festival

I’ve seen the line-up for the event’s tenth year, and while I’m sworn to secrecy until the full programme launch later in January, I can say it surpasses anything GFF has achieved before, and is a more than worthy birthday present to itself and the festival’s steadily growing audience. A few things are public knowledge already – the Hooray for Hollywood series, featuring numerous classics from 1939, the year Glasgow’s Cosmo cinema (now the GFT) opened; a pop up cinema; and a focus on film from Chile, and film’s relationship with food. But be ready to book tickets quick on 24 January as the full list of treats – including a cracker of an opening film – is unveiled.

Edinburgh International Festival

The 2014 event has provoked controversy many months before its programme is even announced, thanks to a probably ill-advised interview in which director Jonathan Mills revealed he had no plans to address the independence referendum, as the EIF should be “politically neutral”. Given that Mills has no issue with either the 100th anniversary of the First World War or the Commonwealth Games playing a significant role in the same festival, pro-independence supporters were quick to accuse Mills of unionist bias. Suffice to say, there will be huge political interest in the content of this event, taking place just a month before the referendum. Whatever the response, it will be Mills’ final festival. His replacement as director is Fergus Linehan, a well-liked figure in the arts whose roots are in Irish theatre but who has gone on to bring Kraftwerk to Sydney Opera House – a track record which suggests the 2015 festival could have a very different flavour.

Celtic Connections

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Scotland’s cultural year never gets off to a slow start, thanks to January’s multinational musical extravaganza, now in its 21st year. If there’s an inevitable familiarity to some of the programme, it’s still capable of throwing up a few surprises, such as the Scottish debut of Indian composer AR Rahman, famous for his dazzling, Oscar-winning soundtrack to the film Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman will be performing his music accompanied by fellow Indian musicians and the BBC SSO.

The Cumnock Tryst

Like a classical version of Dougie MacLean’s Perthshire Amber, October’s Cumnock Tryst festival will see composer James MacMillan curating a series of concerts in the East Ayrshire town where he grew up, with a focus on brass and choral music. Whether it proves to be a one-off or a long-term project for MacMillan, it has already had a lot of attention thanks to the names involved – not just MacMillan, but star violinist Nicola Benedetti, the festival’s patron.

Twitter: @Aeatonlewis