Brian Ferguson: Events galore, but at a cost

The new Homecoming 2014 'Doorsteps' advert was launched this month. Picture: Jane Barlow
The new Homecoming 2014 'Doorsteps' advert was launched this month. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IF THERE is one thing beyond dispute about 2014, it must be that Scotland’s events and festivals calendar has never looked busier. Even at the beginning of the year, the sheer scale and breadth of what is planned appears unprecedented.

I wrote here a couple of weeks ago about how I was only just beginning to get a sense of the artistic and cultural programme which will unfold. With the Homecoming 2014 campaign now officially up and running, a head of steam is beginning to build. A glance on YouTube at the two recent Homecoming promotional videos – one of which is being used in digital campaigns, the other for a TV advert – will give you a flavour of some of the highlights.

But by the end of the month, there will be a lot more meat on some very substantial bones. There is an expectant air hovering over the programme launch of the 10th Glasgow Film Festival, which is taking place next month. This could be the year the event finally shrugs off any comparisons with its counterpart in Edinburgh, with an imaginative and inspiring programme peppered with big-name attractions. It all promises to be a fitting 75th anniversary for the historic Cosmo cinema, now the Glasgow Film Theatre.

The National Theatre of Scotland has kept its powder dry on what it is up to in the second half of 2014 – but expect plenty of details to emerge in the next couple of weeks of how its programming is shaping up under new artistic director Laurie Sansom.

And by the end of the month, there will be a substantial update on the cultural programme for the Commonwealth Games – and, in particular, what it will mean for Glasgow.

If the expanded Hogmanay celebrations offered a taste of what is to come around Scotland, the launch of the Celtic Connections music festival later this marks the start of the serious business in Glasgow, where the spotlight will well and truly fall this year, where I suspect there will be nothing remotely half-hearted about the gala concert which violinist Nicola Benedetti is headlining at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to open Celtic Connections.

As with the Glasgow Film Festival, I sense more expectation about this year’s Celtic Connections than ever before – even if large parts of the concert hall are still out of action due to its ongoing expansion.

With Benedetti, Mogwai, a reformed Del Amitri, Suzanne Vega and the Hydro venue on the Clyde waterfront among those making their festival debuts this year, it is little wonder its box office is doing a roaring trade by all accounts.

However, amid this forthcoming frenzy of activity and announcements I can’t help but wonder if we are going to see more events falling by the wayside this year.

I have to say it came as a big disappointment to discover that neither the Big Tent Festival, Fife’s biggest event, nor The Insider, which has put Aviemore on the festivals map in recent years, will be happening this summer.

There seemed genuine and valid reasons for both not to appear. In the case of Big Tent, the organisers simply do not want to stage an event as big as the one it had become, with all the effort, logistical planning and fundraising that goes with it. The team behind The Insider, a much smaller “boutique” event, but one of huge importance to the local economy, have promised to return, insisting they were due a breather which will give them time to reflect on its future direction.

However, I would not be surprised if they are the last established events to fail to materialise this summer.

As several people within the events industry have pointed out to me in recent days, we are still in the midst of a grim economic downturn. With many festivals relying on a largely Scottish audience to sell tickets, there are only so many punters to go around.

While Hampden Park is out of action for concerts thanks to its deployment for the Commonwealth Games, the Hydro is selling tickets by the barrowload for gigs by the likes of Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Robbie Williams and The Eagles.

With so many new events – many of them heavily subsidised and/or free – cluttering up the calendar, particularly in the summer months, something will have to give somewhere.

But at what point would a spate of cancelled, postponed and vanished events become embarrassing for such a flagship year?