Glasgow’s gold-standard festivals should be treated as seriously as Edinburgh’s cultural feast
The dark days of January may hold a sense of hibernation for some, but in Glasgow they are the month when the city starts to get a whole new lease of life, thanks to three of its biggest and best cultural events.
Almost as soon as I had drawn a line under Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival, my thoughts were turning west. The sheer audacity of launching a new traditional music festival in Glasgow 30 years ago is still reflected in the response of those who have never been to the two-and-a-half week long festival, which starts next week.
But the unstoppable growth of Celtic Connections is reflected in the surge in popularity of the acts it has showcased, many of whom are now staging extensive tours and even festivals.
Its younger siblings, the Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow International Comedy Festival, have both come of age after notching up their 20th and 21st birthdays. At the latest count, they will offer more than 1,000 separate events in the space of ten weeks.
These cultural celebrations are now gold-standard in Scotland in terms of the quality of experiences they offer. It is hard to argue they all offer the best showcases for Scottish talent in their specific field.
By any standard, these festivals are also as accessible as any of Scotland's major events, no small feat in the face of a crippling industry costs crisis and some frankly staggeringly high ticket prices elsewhere in the calendar.
The three festivals are not marketed together and each have firmly separate identities. But, more than ever, Glasgow seems to have a collective festival programme between January and March that can be treated as seriously as the one on offer in Edinburgh each summer.
They are, of course, very different beasts. Edinburgh’s festivals embrace many more art forms, including literature, visual arts, classical music, dance and opera and are largely held at the same time, with the exception of its jazz and blues curtain-raiser.
In contrast, there is a gap in Glasgow of more than three weeks between the end of Celtic Connections and the start of the film festival, which is crying out to be plugged by another cultural event. The streets of Glasgow are not particularly busy when these festivals are running. You could walk through the city centre and be blissfully unaware major cultural events are unfolding around you.
The big three festivals in Glasgow do not attract huge numbers of international visitors. Instead they have all nurtured fiercely loyal local audiences who can be relied upon to underpin their box office operations.
But none of the above seems to have held Glasgow’s festivals back and these factors could all be counted as major reasons for their undoubted success. They have, thus far, avoided the kind of controversies about their impact on the city that Edinburgh’s cultural celebration has attracted for decades.
I’ve always viewed comparisons between Glasgow and Edinburgh as tedious and ill-informed. Most people who have spent any length of time in both know their strengths and assets are as impressive as they are varied. The very same applies to its arts festivals.
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