An estimated 80,000 people descended upon the City Centre for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebration last night. On a pleasantly mild evening, complete with an equally fair amount of cloud cover, revellers from across the globe saw in 2011 with a mix of singing and dancing that showcased the capital’s internationally renowned festival spirit. Edinburgh has fostered a reputation over the years as the ‘Home of Hogmanay’, and I made it my goal to get to the heart of that elusive dream.
The last time I attended the Street Party, some ten years ago, there was serious crushing and I can vividly remember losing my shoe under a barrier. I vowed I’d never go back even though the organisers have since made serious headway in arranging the affair with safety paramount in their minds. Well Edinburgh Guide coaxed me out of my self-imposed exile, and in an effort to find out just what it is that you pay for at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party I decided to get to the centre of the celebrations this year. With the price of a ticket sitting somewhere between £15 and £40 depending on where you are allowed access to, this was not an evening for people on a tight budget. All across Edinburgh people pay the price for an evening of New Year excitement, and the City Centre is now no different, but is it still special enough to be called the “Home of Hogmanay”?
Exile on Main Street
Lower numbers and some 300-odd police meant that this year everything seemed a lot more spacious, but has it taken away the magic of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay? The market stalls on the East side of the Gardens were still there in all there gaudy finery. You could buy Hogmanay the t-shirt, Hogmanay the bomber jacket… there was all sorts of merchandise to remember the evening by, if you still had any cash left.
I spoke to a couple of chaps who were on a tour of Europe about their Hogmanay experience. Hamish and Fletcher, both from Sydney told Edinburgh Guide:
“A mate of ours had come before and told us the drinks would be really expensive, so we decided to bring our own in a plastic bottle.”
A single plastic bottle of lager or a glass of mulled wine was £5. Coupled with the entrance fee then the evening could prove to be a rather expensive affair. Granted, the numbers were a lot lower than last year and the council hoped that the experience would be just as good with a lower number. They need to make the money back somewhere an selling souvenirs is something Edinburgh does with aplomb all year round.
“This is our first time in Scotland and everyone has been great. Random people in the crowd will come up to you and they are really friendly.”
“We thought we were getting tickets to the concert but it turns out that we are only able to get into the street here.”
There were a few in the Street Party area who had thought they would be allowed access to the Gardens with the ticket they had purchased. One steward I spoke to suggested that the ticketing system online might be to blame.
“There was an option to upgrade your ticket to the concert or ceilidh on the web-site but I think a lot of people missed it. There were a few glum faces up on Princes Street for sure."
While for some the real spectacle seemed to be found down at the Ross Bandstand, the entertainment along the length of Princes Street was impressive to say the least. A selection of well know artists performed for party-goers on four stages along the length of the street.
Time Is On My Side
Come midnight, Biffy Clyro were rolling along nicely. They stopped to witness the spectacular fireworks over Edinburgh Castle.
The moonlit sky really added to the spectacle and as a long time Edinburgh resident this year’s display really was impressive, with hourly barrages ringing out all the way up to the finale at midnight.
The whole thing had a real air of professionalism. Certainly I was treated extraordinarily well by both the police and organisers on a night that showcased the facilities Edinburgh has for hosting events of this magnitude in a remarkable way.
Paint It Black
So did I find that special Hogmanay experience I was looking for? Having braved the street party for the first time in a decade, would I go back again? Well ultimately the tourist tat and the pricey food and drink are simply hallmarks of any Scottish festival these days.
From Edinburgh’s own Fringe to the burger vans of T in the Park, it’s what we’ve come to expect, so you can’t saddle the organisers with too much blame for that. Whenever I asked revellers what they thought of the prices they were largely un-moved. It hadn’t been a surprise to them, whether from Canada or Calcutta. The Keilidh proved to be extremely popular on the night, (dancing, I would suggest, is a rather traditional way to keep warm) there was a glimmer of that Hogmanay spirit when one chap decided to propose to his girlfriend from the stage in front of an excited crowd and ultimately I didn’t see a lot of t-shirts and souvenirs being sold.
The party was there to be enjoyed, and as is so often the case with New Year celebrations, you get back out what you put in. The organisers have brought this party on a long way, and yes some of the spontaneity of Edinburgh’s open city has been slightly lost in all the barriers, marshals and steep prices. However, these things are necessary evils in this day and age, and Edinburgh has a long track record of professional festival organisation.
The street party, and the four days of Hogmanay celebrations that were arranged this year, has now truly been cemented into that tradition. As for the elusive ‘Hogmanay Dream’ I’ll leave that for Hamish and Fletcher to sum up:
“We can’t see or hear anything from here but we’re still having a great time. We’re very old friends and it’s just great to reminisce together.”
When all is said and done, that’s the only thing that matters. As a platform for letting people come together to celebrate in safety and light, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay shows no signs of failing in its duties.
Happy New Year.
Photographs by Robbie Moore (@robbieamoore), with special thanks to The Rolling Stones.
£15 to pay to simply get into a publicly funded city centre which has been closed off for maximum financial gain is scandalous. Edinburgh's Hogmanay is mesmerisingly tacky (see canned bagpipe driven rock music blasting out from speakers on The Mound during the torchlit procession) and it is a sad spectacle to see the concept of the traditional Scottish Hogmanay reduced to a rubbish, overpriced rock festival. As for £5 to pay for a small bottle of lager, it's just obscene. I would dearly love to see Edinburgh people reclaim their own Hogmanay next year (remember gathering at the Tron?) instead of this council led rip off that has descended on the city in recent years. One final thing: one of the main standards of a traditional Scottish Hogmanay is that of first footing. Pretty impossible to do when the city centre is cordoned off for paying customers. The whole situation is a travesty which cheapens both Edinburgh and Scotland.
First off, Happy new year one and all! And thanks for the write-up, Al.
The price of drinks are ridiculous and they know they can get away with it because they have a captive audience. As Al says in his blog a lot of street party revellers know this and come prepared with their supplies, esp. booze in plastic bottles (which is thoroughly legal on the night one might add). But I don't know why so many major events should be marred by a poor, rip-off catering component. There were complaints too about the Gathering of the Clans event at the Year of Homecoming about hideous prices for food and drink within a cordoned off area. What kind of impression does this leave on the average visitor?
I was sorry to witness the death of the Night Afore Party. As an Edinburgh resident we always, like many other residents,believed this to be the locals night. It was well patronised by local people. The street theatre was second to none,in fact it had gained an international reputation for being the absolute best in Europe. Still I suppose something had to be sacrifised due to the financial crisis,but again its the people who pay,that suffer, just like with the banks. To pick up on Mr Innes piece just over ten years ago there were 350,000 people on Princes street to celebrate the Bells all dancing to Scottish Music, not Rock music,it was only when the Rock music came to the fore that we started to have the problems.Thank you Ocean Colour Scene it was your fault for becoming famous. 80,000 is a massive reduction in participants and visitors. and I still believe that it could be illegal to charge for being on Princes Street.
However praise must go to Hogmanay team and services ,well done to the organisers for keeping it a safe celebration, but I believe the halcyon days of the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party now are in the past.