If it has felt like Scotland has been still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic this month though the rolling out of a vaccine has also been a real tonic to an otherwise gloomy month.
The news offers the real prospect of a gradual return to normality throughout 2021 for the Scottish cultural world and audiences who have been starved of most forms of entertainment since March.
Here are some highlights of the events which have reinvented themselves to help ensure they will be going ahead in the early part of 2021 and others which will rely on everything going in the right direction.
Celtic Connections, 15 January-2 February: The strength of Scotland’s trad music scene was painfully illustrated in the spring of 2020 by the number of bands and performers who were on international tours which had to be abruptly halted by the pandemic. By the autumn, the prospect of Glasgow’s biggest music festival, Celtic Connections, returning as normal in 2021 had all but finished given the severe restrictions imposed in the city. But many of those musicians who normally pack out the city’s concert halls in January and February have been able to return to venues to record new performances for an online incarnation of the festival, which will broadcast different shows across its 19 nights. Admiral Fallow, Blue Rose Code, Eddi Reader, James Grant, Kinnaris Quintet and Sian will be among those appearing, alongside annual festival treats like the Transatlantic Sessions and Roaming Roots Revue.
Burns Night, 25 January: The Big Burns Supper in Dumfries has attracted some of the biggest name in Scottish culture to Dumfries in recent years and despite the inevitable curbs on its normal festival next month, its ambitions remain fully intact as it turns 10. Janey Godley will be hosting her own Burns Supper, which will bringing together some of the festival’s favourite guests from the past together for virtual appearances, including KT Tunstall, Dougie Maclean, Donovan, Tide Lines and Skerryvore. Meanwhile, Edinburgh will see the return of the Burns & Beyond festival, with organisers Unique Events expected to reveal the programme early in the new year.
Hebridean Dark Skies Festival, Isle of Lewis, 5-18 February: The third annual celebration of the remarkable astronomical sights that can be seen in the Outer Hebrides in the depths of winter is likely to have even greater appeal than normal when it unfolds in February, given that it is likely to be one of the first festivals to feature live events since last March.
The festival has secured something of a coup in booking former Scottish Album of the Year winner Kathryn Joseph, whose voice can be heard on the Outlaw King soundtrack, for her first ever show on the Isle of Lewis, which will be accompanied by specially-created visuals by artist collective Lumen, who are also staging an astronomy-themed exhibition as part of the festival. Other highlights include a show by Shetland-based composer, percussionist and sound and multi-media artist Renzo Spiteri, talks with climate scientist and broadcaster Dallas Campbell, and outdoor stargazing and “nightswim” events.
Glasgow Film Festival, 24 February-7 March: The last major event to go ahead before the pandemic will also be the first to attempt a “hybrid” programme. The shake-up is expected to offer a mix of premieres at its spiritual home at the Glasgow Film Theatre and a selection of new films available to stream to watch at home. However the festival will also be be further broadening its reach by joining forces with 22 other cinemas throughout the UK to screen highlights of its programme. The move will allow cinemagoers in Aberdeen, Bo’Ness, Dundee, Edinburgh, Inverness, Stirling and Stornoway to share the experience of seeing the opening and closing night films, American family drama Minari, which features The Walking Dead star Steven Yeun, and Spring Blossom, a French coming-of-age film by writer-director-actress Suzanne Lindon, which sees her play a teenager who develops a relationship with a man she meets outside a theatre.
Ghosts, Merchant City, Glasgow, 26 February-12 March: When the National Theatre of Scotland announced more than a year ago that it would be working with actor theatre-maker Adura Onashile on a a new “immersive digital experience” exploring Glasgow’s “often unspoken” history of slave trading, neither could have imagined what impact the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic would have.
Inspired by a Glasgow University project to create a digital database of 17th and 18th century newspaper adverts placed by masters and owners offering rewards to anyone who captured and returned runaway slaves, the show has been in development by Onashile for around seven years.
Audiences will download an app on their mobile phone, plug in headphones and immerse themselves in an audio-visual experience, which will lead through the Merchant City on a “physical and emotional journey” to the River Clyde. The show, which is said to tackle Scotland’s “collective amnesia” of slavery and its links to wealth, empire and identity, is also expected to provide “a call to action in the present day.”
Night Fever, V&A Dundee, 27 March-5 September: When Dundee’s waterfront museum announced it had secured a major international exhibition on the history of nightclubbing, no-one at the attraction could have imagined the extra resonance the show will have when it opens in the city at the end of March.
By then, it is almost certain that nightclubs in Dundee and across Scotland will have been shut down by the pandemic for an entire year. New V&A director Leonie Bell has promised this will be heavily reflected in the revamped exhibition, the first major show to examine the links between club culture and the world of architecture.
It is expected to use archive film, photography, posters, flyers, fashion and light installations to explore how architecture and interior design have merge with sound, light, fashion, graphics and visual effects to create hugely influential epicentres of pop culture all over the world.
Limbo, in cinemas across Scotland, from 9 April: Edinburgh-based writer and director Ben Sharrock has won huge acclaim from critics for his portrayal of the experiences of a group of refugees who are sent to a remote Scottish island while they await decisions on their asylum applications. Shot on location in the Outer Hebrides and starring British-Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry in the lead role as musician Omar, Limbo won plaudits after being selected for the Cannes, Toronto, San Sebastian and London film festivals, and has been hailed as one of the best British films of 2020. Cinema audiences will finally get the chance to see why in the spring after a long-awaited release date was confirmed before Christmas.
Over Lunan, Lunan Bay, Angus, May (dates TBC): Originally commissioned as part of the programme of events to mark the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 2020, the spectacular outdoor event is instead planned to be staged in May of this year at Lunan Bay, the crescent shaped beach in August which boasts its own ruined sandstone castle. Angus Farquhar, the driving force behind previous spectacles which have transformed the Old Man of Storr on Skye, Glen Lyon in Perthshire, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and the former St Peter’s Seminary in Argyll, has promised that his new venture, which will unfold on the dunes and shoreline of the bay, will take audiences back to the very birth of civilisation, as well as explore the impact of modern-day climate change on the landscape.
Tracey Emin and Rachel Maclean at Jupiter Artland, 28 May-26 September: The celebrated sculpture park on the outskirts of Edinburgh hit the headlines in 2020 for its campaign to lift the “threat” of a housing development being built on nearby land.
But it is sure to command more attention in 2021 after confirming that it will be hosting Tracey Emin’s first Scottish show for 13 years, the centrepiece of which will be a large bronze sculpture of a naked female figure located within the woods, while her paintings, drawings and neon works will transform Jupiter’s gallery spaces.
A further woodland attraction is being created by Scottish multi-media artist Rachel Maclean, in the form of a seemingly abandoned candy-coloured toy shop, home to Mimi, a cartoon princess who will invite visitors into “a topsy-turvy world of end-game capitalism.”
Underwood Lane, Paisley Arts Centre, 24-27 June, Tron Theatre, 1-17 July 2021: The launch of a new musical theatre show from the creator of The Slab Boys and Tutti Frutti was intended to be the pinnacle of Byrne's 80th birthday celebrations. But given that it he wrote it more than 15 years ago, it will be surely be worth the wait for a new tale on the travails of a skiffle band set to a soundtrack of classic hits from the sixties. The show – which is said to feature “fierce love rivalry, broken hearts, dodgy dealers, religion, sex and death” – is dedicated to the memory of his long-time friend and fellow “Paisley Buddy”, Gerry Rafferty, the much-loved songwriter who died 10 years ago next month. The dream team involved include Andy Arnold, director of the Tron Theatre, where the show will be staged after its initial run at Paisley Arts Centre, and Hillary Brooks, whose previous stage musicals include Sunshine on Leith and Glasgow Girls.
TRNSMT, Glasgow Green, 9-11 July: The organisers of Scotland’s biggest music festival waited as long as they could before bowing to the inevitable and pulling the plug on the 2020 event with less than three months to go. Weeks later organisers DF Concerts announced that most of the acts they had booked had been confirmed for the 2021 event, including headliners Lewis Capaldi, Liam Gallagher and the Courteeners. Although it is likely to be some time before live music events return to Glasgow, festival director Geoff Ellis has been at the forefront of efforts to kickstart the revival and stepped up promotion of TRNSMT before Christmas in the expectation that the event would be going ahead as planned. Snow Patrol, Rita Ora, Amy Macdonald, Twin Atlantic, Ian Brown and Sam Fender are among the other acts due to thrill the Glasgow Green crowds.
Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Beauly, near Inverness, 29-31 July: Belladrum was already shaping up to be one of the highlights of Scotland’s festival summer in 2020 after unveiling Nile Rodgers and Chic as headliner back in October 2019, as part of an eclectic-as-ever line-up featuring Emeli Sande, Shed Seven, Passenger, the Stiff Little Fingers, Tide Lines and The Magic Numbers.
Less than two months after being forced to cancel the August event, organisers had not only announced that the main acts booked for 2020 were all confirmed for 2021, but also revealed that Van Morrison would also be headlining the event. To add further spice, The Fratellis, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Admiral Fallow are among the big-name Scottish acts who will also be appearing.
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: The only certainty about Edinburgh in August is that it is highly unlikely that transformation of the city by its summer festivals will be anything like the scale it was in 2019. With so much uncertainty over the impact of the coronavirus vaccine, it is unlikely to be well into the summer before the shape of the city’s world-famous cultural extravaganza is known.
However the organisers of the Tattoo have already insisted that the event will be making a comeback in 2021 – albeit in scale-back form, with a reduced capacity and a socially-distanced seating plan for an audience that is usually drawn from around the world.
Tickets are already on sale for the event, which is also expected to evoke the aftermath of the Second World War, which inspired both the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the Tattoo itself three years later.
Blondie & Garbage, SSE Hydro, 20 November: Nothing will symbolise the reopening of the events sector more than the return of the SSE Hydro to the life of Glasgow and Scotland.
Glasgow’s iconic arena hopes to bounce back from its lengthy closure as early as the spring with shows by The Stormy, Celine Dion, Little Mix and the Pet Shop Boys and Barry Manilow all due to appear.
Acts booked into the venue in the second half of the year include Crowded House, Diana Ross, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, JLS, Simple Minds, Deep Purple and Dua Lipa.
However one of the most mouthwatering shows looks likely to be when the venue plays host to the dream double bill of Blondie and Garbage on the same night.
The Hydro date is the only Scottish stop-off on a 10-day UK tour by Debbie Harry and Shirley Manson’s outfits, who toured North America together in 2017 and have sold more than 57 million albums between them.