Brian Ferguson: Scotland taking up artistic slack

WHEN the heavens opened a minute or so from the end of Edinburgh’s festival fireworks finale, it felt like a message was being delivered from on high to the effect: “The party’s over, folks.”

For the people of Edinburgh, the summer is dominated by six weeks of late night revelry and fireworks. Picture: Toby Williams
For the people of Edinburgh, the summer is dominated by six weeks of late night revelry and fireworks. Picture: Toby Williams

For the people of Edinburgh, the summer in the city is dominated by six weeks of late night revelry, fireworks, pop-up bars and cafes, and overdosing on culture, but there was a sense this weekend that Edinburgh was being handed over to the first arrivals from around the world to begin their studies.

Twenty years or so ago, the end of the Edinburgh Festival would have heralded an extended period of calm across the country before the festive season and its shows and pantomimes brought towns and cities alive in early December.

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How times have changed. There are more than 100 different festivals being staged around the country from the start of September until the end of October, when the festive season tends to burst into life. Few, if any of them, were happening before the end of the 1990s. By any measure that is an incredible explosion of activity.

Some of them are among the most economically important and biggest events to be held all year in a particular area, like Enchanted Forest, the sound and light show in Perthshire, that draws around 40,000 people to the area each autumn, and Loopallu, Ullapool’s music festival that has such a devoted following it sells out in advance every year.

Other more recent arrivals on the scene – like Stirling’s Bloody Scotland crime writing festival – are clearly aimed at identifying a gap in the country’s offering of festivals. The line-up, in only its third year, including William McIlvanney, Christopher Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Peter May, Louise Welsh and Ian Rankin, is now the envy of more established literary events.

But events like that also create a sense of momentum in ambitious towns and cities, with the second Stirling Fringe due later this month and a new paranormal festival launching in time for Halloween.

Each year seems to herald the arrival of exciting new additions, none more so in 2014 than the Cumnock Tryst music festival, the brainchild of composer James MacMillan dreamed up for his home town, which will see violinist Nicola Benedetti perform at a promenade-style event in Dumfries House, one of the nation’s finest stately homes.

Finally, there are the events which will be going head-to-head with the crucial countdown to the independence poll. If you’ve had your fill of the debate, already made up your mind or need a bit of fresh air to clear your head, there are no shortage of options, including Islay’s jazz festival, Colonsay’s folk music celebration and Best of the West, the new food, drink and music showcase staged in the grounds of Inveraray Castle. And it might still be warm enough for an afternoon on the beach.