Brian Ferguson: Feast of exciting events in 2014

I HAVE acquired more than a few acquaintances working in the Scottish tourism industry over the years, and a good few of them are never short of an overblown superlative to sum up their excitement at a new marketing wheeze or advertising campaign.

The eye-catching Kelpies. Picture: TSPL
The eye-catching Kelpies. Picture: TSPL

It can be hard to keep cynicism at bay – especially if the dreaded “Team Scotland” phrase rears its head. But I have a confession to make. I can’t honestly remember being this enthused about the onset of a new year in Scotland.

And it’s all down to the slightly crazy calendar of cultural events, festivals and occasions taking shape over the next 12 months – and the prospects they offer for excitement, drama, intrigue and no shortage of glamour.

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For this grizzled scribbler there is no escaping the sense that 2014 already has a special feel about it – for a whole host of reasons. There isn’t enough room in this column to tackle the full scale of what is lying in wait, but large parts of my diary are already cluttered. This is all before the vast majority of festivals announce anything about their line-ups and with many more events yet to be confirmed.

The first major addition to the established year-round fixtures, the cultural programme to accompany the Commonwealth Games, offers a tantalising glimpse of what is in prospect.

There are two separate strands – one which will see events staged across the country in the run-up to the games and carry on into the Edinburgh festivals, and the other which will apparently see Glasgow come alive with arts and culture while the sports events are on.

Among those already confirmed in the overall programme are the National Theatre of Scotland, Celtic Connections, the National Galleries of Scotland, the BBC SSO and Scottish Opera. Poet Liz Lochhead, actor Tam Dean Burn, singer-songwriter Aidan Moffat, actress and theatre director Cora Bissett, playwright Kieran Hurley, author Louise Welsh and violinist Nicola Benedetti are among the individual artists working on significant projects.

During the games themselves, the Clyde waterfront will take centre-stage with the BBC creating a major new pop-up venue next to Pacific Quay, while three major “live sites” will also be created at Glasgow Green, the Merchant City and the revamped Kelvingrove Bandstand.

The other major addition to the events landscape in 2014 – the second Year of Homecoming – will have a roughly similar budget of around £5-6 million. As many as a quarter of the 400-odd events in its programme will be new.

Significant sums of money are ring-fenced for landmark occasions like the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge, which will inspire a ten-day festival, and the 100th anniversary of the death of conservationist John Muir, which will see the “Kelpies” horsehead sculptures next to the M9 launched in style in April at a dramatic night-time event. The biggest ever celebration of malt whisky in Scotland, to be held in May, and a two-month programme of Highland culture events, in the autumn, both look like major draws.

No-one has been confirmed for either of the two Homecoming centrepieces taking place at the new Hydro arena in Glasgow – the Ryder Cup opening concert in September and the MTV Europe Music Awards in November – but with combined public backing of more than £2m, my expectations for both are sky-high.

Of course, before those two events, we shall know the fate of the country, with the run-up to the independence referendum offering an intriguing backdrop to other major occasions like the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, Armed Forces Day, which will be held on the same weekend in Stirling, and the First World War commemorations in early August, which are controversially inspiring one of the main themes for the Edinburgh International Festival.

There has been plenty discussion about how artists are getting involved in the referendum campaign and the extent of the support for the independence cause has within the arts sector. But it may be more interesting to see how much the political world will inspire and influence art and culture in Scotland next year. I strongly suspect the Fringe, to be bubbling with thought-provoking ideas, controversy and debates next August.

It all can’t come quickly enough.