Brian Ferguson: A Hydro game-changer

The cast of Still Game have announced a show at the Hydro in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
The cast of Still Game have announced a show at the Hydro in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
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IT IS early days, of course, but anyone harbouring doubts about the impact the SSE Hydro was going to have on Scotland’s entertainment industry is probably rethinking them after the events of the last week.

Glasgow’s new live music mecca may have been open for less than a month, but already it has sparked a remarkable phenomenon.

I have no idea how many live shows the Still Game creators Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill thought they might end up appearing in when they agreed on a comeback.

The fact four shows were confirmed immediately probably offered a reasonably big clue – and Kiernan admitted they were hoping to do more if the demand was there.

But I’m sure they were not banking on 16 different performances being confirmed within a matter of days of the first tickets going on sale.

And when the plans for the £125 million arena were being finalised, who would have reckoned on a revival of a shelved sitcom being the first show to trigger full-on box office meltdown?

Loudly-proclaimed predictions that the venue would become some kind of “game-changer” for the country’s events industry are already beginning to look bang-on.

At the time of writing, an incredible 192,000 tickets have now gone on sale for Still Game, despite the shows being almost a year away.

By any standards that is a remarkable figure. It dwarfs anything in the history of the neighbouring SECC.

Previous box office records notched up by Billy Connolly, Kevin Bridges and Frankie Boyle have been knocked out of the park.

That figure is roughly a tenth of the attendees at the entire Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year. It is more than double the number who can fit into the arena at T in the Park.

While there might have been an element of playing the PR game when they said it, both Kiernan and Hemphill insisted the advent of the Hydro had been a key factor in them getting back together again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been at a press conference as busy as the one the pair held court at when they outlined how, and why, their reunion was happening.

It can’t have been easy for Kiernan and Hemphill, flanked by their returning co-stars, to face the full media glare after a six-year hiatus – particularly when they knew they would be in for an extended grilling about why they had decided to “kiss and make up”.

Their fall-out, which brought Still Game to a halt after six successful series, was one of the worst-kept secrets on Scotland’s relatively small showbusiness circuit.

No-one thought that any kind of comeback would come in the form of an extended run in such a vast, but relatively untried, arena.

I’d imagine any anxieties about facing the media will pale in comparison to the nerve-jangling experience which awaits them next year when they will face 12,000 raucous fans.

There is no question the two comedy icons are taking a gamble. For all the rancour that followed, Still Game is still revered as one of the best Scottish comedy series of all-time. They both know that. Yet the draw of a return to the fray, albeit on such an off-the-radar scale, has proved too good to resist.

While there has been an overwhelming level of goodwill about the Still Game reunion, expectation levels for the live shows will be huge.

This won’t be an intimate comeback at the Fringe, where a high-profile act can easily notch up a sell-out run to a 200-strong audience for a month and get away with billing material a “work in progress”.

Punters who have forked out £30 or £45 for a ticket at the Hydro will be looking for something special.

The more I think about it, the more I think how remarkable the whole thing is, bearing in mind Kiernan and Hemphill have not worked together for so long. This is the kind of comeback that eluded the cast of Monty Python, for example.

Both were bullish about the prospects, insisting that they were writing as strongly as ever when the last TV shows were aired.

It will be intriguing finding out if they are up to the challenge they have set themselves when the Still Game story returns next autumn.