Brian Ferguson: Autumn festivals keep blues away

The Enchanted Forest is just one of the events taking places this autumn. Picture: Toby Williams
The Enchanted Forest is just one of the events taking places this autumn. Picture: Toby Williams
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AUTUMN is now serving up a feast of Scottish arts events, writes Brian Ferguson

For many people, the first day back at work after a lengthy holiday is always a contender for the most soul-crushing day of the year. The darkest of my moods usually descends when I catch my first glimpse of the Christmas decorations outside the Dome bar and restaurant, in Edinburgh’s George Street. This is not because I have some sort of affliction to the festive season, but because this magnificent building is blighted long before Halloween.

It is certainly nothing new for the nation’s department stores to be filled with Christmas stock and the sounds of festive anthems long before the first advent calendar door is peeled open. But I actually missed the official launch of Edinburgh’s Christmas programme this year after taking my main summer holiday in September.

Some people may be under the impression that almost a quarter of the year in Scotland is now dominated by the run-up to Christmas Day, with the sheer weight of festive advertising the average family is confronted with for months. But thankfully there is an antidote on offer for those people who prefer to keep a safe distance from the festive juggernaut.

Something rather odd and wonderful has happened in the country over the past decade or so, which has transformed a previously quiet and uninspiring time of year. October and November have been quite simply transformed by a host of new festivals and events which literally light up vast swathes of the country.

At the heart of this phenomenon is the “Big Tree Country” of Perthshire, which comes into its own when the landscapes colours are transformed into golden-brown each autumn. More than 55,000 people – more than the capacity of Hampden Park – are expected to be attracted to the area by the Enchanted Forest event in Pitlochry. The spectacular light show has won a clutch of honours since its low-key launch in 2002 and is running for an extra nine nights this year, such is the demand for tickets.

Singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean’s own Perthshire Amber event started off in 2005 as a weekend of concerts, but has now grown to become a ten-day festival selling more than 10,000 tickets to fans from 25 countries.

Just down the road from its base in Dunkeld, an entirely different demographic of music fan is about to descend on the five-year-old Aberfeldy Festival. Its line-up boasts two of Scotland’s highest-rated singers at the moment: Kathryn Joseph, the reigning Scottish Album of the Year winner, and Ross Wilson, who is better known as Blue Rose Code.

While Aberfeldy’s main events are confined to its small-but-perfectly-formed town hall, the Sound Festival, a ten-year-old celebration of new music, boasts 25 venues scattered all over Aberdeenshire over the next couple of weeks.

Running virtually in parallel in Glasgow is the Sonica event, a new festival of “visually exciting sonic art”, which launched to huge acclaim in 2012.

Any literary lovers worried about when to get their next festival fix after Wigtown draws to a close in early October can now take their pick of events in Dundee, Stornoway and Shetland – to name but three. If they are not enough, events will be staged in every local authority area in the country as part of Book Week Scotland, next month’s national celebration of literature, which has grown vastly in scale since it was first held in 2012.

And with more than 300 events in its programme, the ongoing Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival can truly claim to be a nationwide event too.

None of these events is remotely connected to the festive season. But, more importantly, their combined effect is to have made the autumn a strong contender to be the most intriguing and challenging time of the year for the arts in Scotland.