14 highlights of the cultural year ahead in Scotland

Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival is staging a day-long event to herald the start of the first Year of Coasts and Waters.
Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival is staging a day-long event to herald the start of the first Year of Coasts and Waters.
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The biggest ever celebration of Scotland's shorelines, 30 years of one of Scotland's most iconic venues and a new festival created in honour of country music legend Johnny Cash's ancestral links with Scotland are already shaping up to be among the highlights of the cultural year ahead.

The next 12 months will also see John Byrne launch his long-awaited new stage musical, a major exhibition drawn from the archives of one of Hollywood's greatest ever special effects pioneers and a celebration of one of the fashion industry's most iconic garments.

Burns and Beyond/Chinese New Year, across Edinburgh, January-February:

Edinburgh’s winter season will be well and truly extended with the joining of forces of the new Robert Burns-inspired arts festival, which started life in 2017, and the city’s celebration of Chinese culture, which was launched in 2019.
Highlights of the programme include a vast Chinese lantern installation in St Giles’ Cathedral, a “not so traditional Burns Supper,” a festival club in the Assembly Rooms featuring the likes of Edwyn Collins and Rachel Sermanni, and a celebration of the life and music of the late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison.

Celtic Connections, across Glasgow, January-February:

Glasgow’s hugely successful music festival will also act as the launch-pad for a year-long celebration of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters, when its Royal Concert Hall headquarters hosting a whole day of concerts and events on the opening Saturday. Skerryvore, Capercaillie, Daimh, Julie Fowlis, Gnoss, Ingrid Henderson and Fara are among the acts with roots in coastal communities who will be performing at “the festival within a festival.”
The event will also see the debut of Storm, a 10-metre tall puppet of a mythical goddess of the sea, who will lead a parade from the River Clyde to the Royal Concert Hall to get ‘Coastal Connections’ underway. Eight puppeteers will be needed to help manipulate Storm, who will be made entirely from recycled and natural resources, and will make her debut on the streets of Glasgow accompanied by a soundscape created by award-winning Edinburgh musician and singer Mairi Campbell.

John Byrne's new musical, Underwood Lane, will be set at the height of the skiffle craze.

John Byrne's new musical, Underwood Lane, will be set at the height of the skiffle craze.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut 30th birthday, Glasgow, February:

It’s hard to imagine Glasgow’s music scene without the venue, which will reach its 30th birthday this year. It was created in the former Saints and Sinners pub in St Vincent Street by Stuart Clumpas, the music promoter who would go on to set up the T in the Park festival four years later. To this day, King Tut’s is best known as the Glasgow venue where Oasis were discovered by music industry mogul Alan McGee in 1993 after they travelled up from Manchester and demanded to get a slot on a bill.
However the venue can boast a remarkable roll call of bands who appeared there was virtual unknowns, including Radiohead, The Killers, Pulp, Biffy Clyro, Manic Street Preachers, Snow Patrol and Paolo Nutini.

Our Ladies, cinemas across Scotland, March:

It took Michael Caton-Jones the best part of 20 years to get his film adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos off the ground. The Rob Roy director had to wait until the era of the #metoo movement to finally get the financial backing to bring Warner’s tale of a group of Catholic schoolgirls on a riotous day trip to Edinburgh for a choir competition to the big screen.
He assembled a cast of unknowns – Eve Austin, Tallulah Grieve, Abigail Lawrie, Sally Messham, Rona Morison and Marli Siu – to play the lead roles in the coming-of-age comedy drama. But the resulting movie was screened to widespread acclaim from critics and audiences at the London Film Festival in October.
Scottish cinemagoers will finally get the chance to see the movie in March, when it finally goes on general release, shortly after an expected premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival.

Adura Onashile will make her debut in the lead role in the National Theatre's new production of Liz Lochhead's adaptation of Medea at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Adura Onashile will make her debut in the lead role in the National Theatre's new production of Liz Lochhead's adaptation of Medea at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Cash Back in Fife, Aberdour, March:

Fife may not be the most obvious place for a new festival inspired by the late country king Johnny Cash. But “The Man In Black” was a regular visitor to the area thanks to his discovery of ancestral roots there.
A chance encounter during the 1970s with Major Michael Crichton-Stuart, keeper of Falkland Palace, led to Cash finding out that his family links went all the way back to the 12th century king Malcolm IV. Now Scottish country singer Dean Owens is launching a new festival – Cash Back in Fife – in Aberdour to celebrate the singer’s “massive legacy of music, inspiration and his family connection to the area.”
Owens will be appearing with his Celtabilly Allstars Band, with fellow singers Martha Healy, Hannah Rose Platt and Rab Noakes, and author Ian Rankin, among the other confirmed guests so far.

Ferry Tales, various Calmac ferry services, April:

The National Theatre of Scotland staged a production on the Shetland ferry as part of its launch event back in 2006. This year the company will spend two and a half weeks entertaining passengers on three west-coast ferry routes as part of the first official Year of Coasts and Waters.
Pop-up performances of music, words and song and chance encounters with an ensemble of actors are promised on the vessels serving the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, Ullapool to Stornoway, Oban to Craignure routes.
Written by Isobel McArthur and directed by Lu Kemp, Ferry Tales will feature brand new songs created by Lewis folk singer Josie Duncan and inspired by real-life island stories and experiences.

The Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis will turn 25 in July.

The Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis will turn 25 in July.

700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, April:

The Angus town is preparing to celebrate the landmark anniversary of the signing of Scotland’s most famous historic document in style. More than 800 people are expected to take par horse-led procession will head from Abroath’s abbey to its harbour, where it will be met by a flotilla of boats. Huge crowds are expected to gather for readings of the original 1320 declaration and a brand new one created by local schoolchildren. Other events will see the unveileding of a brand new choral work created by composer Paul Mealor and poet Graham Davies in the abbey and a gala concert of music and song featuring award-winning trad outfit Breabach and the singers Steve Byrne and Sheena Wellington.

Titan of Cinema, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, May-October:

The National Galleries of Scotland has secured the biggest ever celebration of the work of the legendary Hollywood special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.
Newly-restored and previously unseen models, artwork and footage from the late cinematic legend’s own archives will be going on display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.
Highlights will include his work on classic films like Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Clash of the Titans.
The show will highlight how Harryhausen helped change the cinematic landscape and influenced moviemakers like John Landis, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Peter Jackson with his groundbreaking stop motion techniques.

Underwood Lane, Paisley Arts Centre and Tron Theatre, Glasgow, June-July:

It has taken John Byrne a remarkable 15 years to get his musical play Underwood Lane off the ground. But when it is finally premiered in his native Paisley it will be a fitting way for the much-loved writer and artist to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Underwood Lane, which is inspired by the real-life Paisley street where his long-time friend, the late singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, grew up, is set at the height of the skiffle craze in the 1950s and will chart the fortunes of a new band trying to make it big.
A 10-strong band of actor-musicians will be assembled to bring to life Byrne’s story, which is said to bear the vintage style of The Slab Boys, the play which made his name, and Byrne’s classic TV drama Tutti Frutti.

Our Ladies, the long-awaited film adaptation of Alan Warner's novel The Sopranos, which follows a group of Highlands schoolgirls on a day trip to Edinburgh, will hit cinemas in March.

Our Ladies, the long-awaited film adaptation of Alan Warner's novel The Sopranos, which follows a group of Highlands schoolgirls on a day trip to Edinburgh, will hit cinemas in March.

Little Black Dress, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, June-October:

The first major fashion exhibition to be staged at the Edinburgh attraction will chart the evolution of the iconic garment into a wardrobe staple, a symbol of femininity and a byword for chic over the last century.
Designs by Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane will be brought together for a show which will also explore themes of seduction, rebellion and witchcraft.
The four-month show will feature more than 60 outfits, including those worn by the likes of Princess Margaret, American socialite Wallis Simpson and actress Vivien Leigh.

Hebridean Celtic Festival, Isle of Lewis, July:

Summer music festivals were still a rarity when a group of local music enthusiasts in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, decided to create their own event in 1996. Wolfstone, Dougie MacLean, Shooglenifty and Natalie McMaster were among the acts to perform at the inagaural event, which attracted around 1,000 punters in its first year.
While countless music festivals around the country have come and gone since then, HebCelt had both survived and thrived, to the extent that it now attracts an annual audience of around 18,000.
The event, which will be staged for the 25th time in July, is worth around £2 million to the economy of the island’s economy, with more than half of its audience coming from outwith Lewis and Harris.
The event, which has been headlined by The Waterboys, Van Morrison, Runrig, The Proclaimers, Imelda May and KT Tunstall in previous, has lined up Texas for their debut HebCelt appearance to top the bill in 2020, with Tide Lines and Julie Fowlis among the returning festival favourites.

Medea, Edinburgh, August:

Two decades on from its world premiere in Glasgow, Liz Lochhead’s adaptation of the Euripides play, which went on have two hugely-successful runs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is back. But this time the production is expected to be one of the highlights of the Edinburgh International Festival’s programme.
Award-winning actor and theatre-maker Adura Onashile will be taking on the lead role, with Michael Boyd, former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, directing the show, which will be staged at the EIF’s Royal Mile headquarters throughout the festival.

Night Fever, V&A Dundee, October: The evolution of nightclubbing around the world over more than half a century will be celebrated at Scotland’s new design museum.
Films, photography, posters, flyers, fashion, and light and music installations will be deployed for an exploration of the relationship between architecture and design and club culture.
Iconic venues in New York, Paris, Turin, Berlin, London and Manchester will be featured in the four-month exhibition, which was created by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany and the Brussels design museum.
It will explore how nightclubs evolved during key periods in history, including the cultural and lifestyle revolution of the 1960s, the disco explosion of the 1970s, the New Romantic and acid house eras which shaped British music in the 1980s and the downfall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s.

Elton John, P&J Live, Aberdeen and SSE Hydro, Glasgow, November:

After more than half a century on the road, Elton John has embarked on his last ever live tour, which will have included more than 300 shows across five continents by the time he takes his final bow in 2021. His Scottish fans can catch him in November, with six shows - four at the new P&J Live arena and four at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow – expected to attract full houses.

Models used in the classic film Jason and the Argonauts will be among the star attractions in an exhibition in Edinburgh celebration Hollywood special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.

Models used in the classic film Jason and the Argonauts will be among the star attractions in an exhibition in Edinburgh celebration Hollywood special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.

The National Theatre of Scotland will be staging shows on three Calmac ferry routes in April as part of the county's first ever Year of Coasts and Waters.

The National Theatre of Scotland will be staging shows on three Calmac ferry routes in April as part of the county's first ever Year of Coasts and Waters.

Award-winning folk band Breabach will be headlining a gala concert being staged to mark 700 years of the Declaration of Arbroath.

Award-winning folk band Breabach will be headlining a gala concert being staged to mark 700 years of the Declaration of Arbroath.

Leith singer-songwriter Dean Owens will be launching a new festival inspired by the Fife roots of country king Johnny Cash in March.

Leith singer-songwriter Dean Owens will be launching a new festival inspired by the Fife roots of country king Johnny Cash in March.