Bucking the Trend

1 Aug 2012

WHILE there is evidence that audiences for many events are being reduced by the current belt-tightening operation most of us are experiencing, it doesn’t seem to be impinging much on the big festivals in the Highlands & Islands.

IT WAS business as usual at RockNess and the Hebridean Celtic Festival earlier in the summer, and this month’s Tartan Heart Festival at Belladrum announced that all tickets had gone in early July. Reports have been good from the slightly smaller events as well, including the Orkney Folk Festival and The Insider.

THERE are plausible reasons why this should be so, not least the stellar artists which these events have been able to offer. Presumably people are more likely to part with their money to see a number of star names all in one place, and enjoy the whole festival-going experience into the bargain (mud and all, although the events in the region have escaped lightly compared to elsewhere – fingers crossed for Belladrum).

The Wombats are among this year's headliners at Tartan Heart

The Wombats are among this year's headliners at Tartan Heart

Clearly there is still a huge appetite for these events, and they are presumably regarded as value for money when it comes to forking out for tickets. They have been a spectacular addition to the arts scene up here in the last decade, whether they have grown from more modest origins like the Heb Celt, or birthed as major events like RockNess.

It has been harder work at the year-round venues, many of which report reduced ticket sales and reduced availability of touring shows to fill their schedules, while many village venues have simply stepped back from promoting at all. It is hard to see an early turnaround, and life is likely to remain difficult for the foreseeable future.

One promoter recently lamented the disappearance of The Booth, the online ticket agency created as a HI-Arts project for the Highlands & Islands, and subsequently rolled out nationally. While some venues found it an expensive system to use, others valued not only the box office facilities it provided to their customer base, but also the promotional aid from the marketing support they provided.

The idea of providing a centralised online booking service for small venues scattered across a big geographical area, most of which had no box office beyond the local shop, was a sound one. The demise of The Booth was down to a number of factors, including a changing market, lack of appropriate technology to make use of it, and the rise of new providers picking up on The Booth’s example, some of which are now being used by venues up here, apparently with mixed success.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre have been looking into the possibility of reviving The Booth (under that name or otherwise), and it will be interesting to see if they feel it possible to restore a service aimed at this region.

The Highlands & Islands were conspicuously unrepresented when Creative Scotland announced their Creative Place Awards earlier this year. There is, however, a new opportunity for communities in the area to make amends and get hold of some project cash as part of next year’s scheme. Applications must be in by 28 September 2012 – full details can be found here.

Kenny Mathieson


© Kenny Mathieson, 2012