A new era beckons for Scottish culture after a bumper summer of events – Brian Ferguson

There have been plenty of previous false dawns for Scotland’s cultural world over the last two-and-a-half years.

Kevin Bridges is in the midst of a 16-show run at the OVO Hydro arena in Glasgow.
Kevin Bridges is in the midst of a 16-show run at the OVO Hydro arena in Glasgow.

But as summer turns to autumn and the daylight hours dwindle, it is tempting to think that a bright new era may be beckoning.

Almost everyone involved in the country’s artistic scene has been on something of a rollercoaster of a journey since the world was turned upside down by Covid in March 2020.

The last 12 months alone have seen the reopening of concert halls and theatres for full capacity shows, the introduction of vaccine passports for the biggest events, the sudden closure of every venue in the country in the face of the Omicron variant of Covid in the run-up to Christmas, the gradual easing of restrictions in the spring and the staging of many summer festivals for the first time since 2019.

On the face of it, the last few months have signalled a huge comeback for the cultural scene, with live music events leading the recovery.

DF Concerts, Scotland's biggest promoter, sold more than a million tickets for its biggest-ever season of outdoor shows between June and August, with the 33 events having an estimated economic impact of more than £72.4 million.

In Edinburgh alone, my last count for the overall audience for its summer festivals was more than 2.85 million.

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Major concerts and festivals returned to the likes of Stirling, Falkirk, Inverness, Perthshire, Lewis, Orkney, Shetland, Tiree and Benbecula.

While the eyes of the comedy world were on Edinburgh last month, this month has seen Kevin Bridges packing out the OVO Hydro in Glasgow before a run at the P&J Arena in Aberdeen.

There has also been huge demand to see Paolo Nutini, who has confirmed five shows at the Hydro, where Robbie Williams will be staging three shows.

Meanwhile it is almost impossible to find a single ticket for the forthcoming nationwide tour by The Proclaimers – their first since the pandemic.

The Scottish theatre world has also had successes to celebrate over the last few months, with a revival of Sunshine on Leith in Edinburgh and Pitlochry, a revival of The Steamie in Dundee and the Runrig-inspired musical The Stamping Ground among the biggest box office hits.

But almost every venue in the land will be banking on a bumper festive season to really kickstart recovery after last year’s pantos and Christmas shows – the most lucrative events in the calendar for the vast majority – were so cruelly cut short by Covid.

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While many thousands of tickets have been sold well in advance, the level of audience demand to attend shows in the run-up to and over the festive season will be an important litmus test for how robust public support for arts and culture will be in the face of rising household bills.

Although few are willing to go public with their views, many of my contacts are understandably fearful about what the cost-of-living crisis may mean for business at the box office.

And with arts organisations still very much in the dark about the prospect of possible cuts in their own funding due to the squeeze on public spending, it may be some time before many of those at the sharp end can properly put sleepless nights behind them.

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