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COLIN CAMPBELL: If lukewarm ‘fling’ is scrapped give Eden Court the chance to make merry

By Colin Campbell

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Colin Campbell
Colin Campbell

Nothing Eden Court presents throughout the year does more to enhance and enliven life in Inverness than the series of outdoor concerts it hosts in its grounds in high summer.

There’s no glitz and there’s not much glamour, but it’s amazing what a few musicians or even a solo singer can bring to the riverside. A marquee, fiddles or accordions played with gusto, and before long the crowds have gathered. Sometimes these shows attract what looks like several hundred foot-tapping onlookers.

Compare and contrast the success of Eden Court’s superb summer showtime with another event held 100 yards away which stands out for one reason only – the huge and indefensible cost of putting it on.

Many people I suspect would have been as surprised as I was to learn that the much-vaunted Red Hot Highland Fling at the Northern Meeting Park swallowed up £100,000 in public money last Hogmanay. How come it ran up a bill like that? Did Taylor Swift put in an on-stage appearance?

With ticket prices set at £12.50 for folk to stand around with a drink in their hand on damp ground on a cold night in a setting which fell far short of being illustrious, the small turnout – fewer than 4000 people – was not surprising.

And £100,000 public funding for that? So much for perennial council complaints about cutbacks, shortfalls and austerity.

The hype attached to this event in recent years has proclaimed “it attracts people from far and wide”. The attendance a couple of months ago suggests it doesn’t even attract many from Dalneigh, the Bught or anywhere else in the near vicinity. Maybe most of those who turned up were free-spending visitors from the USA, France and Japan, drawn by the supposedly magnetic appeal of a “Highland Hogmanay”. But somehow I doubt it.

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Applause at the Red Hot Highland Fling.
Applause at the Red Hot Highland Fling.

And when questions are raised about the level of public money needed to put the thing on, the response is to ramp up the hype. The Red Hot Fling was billed as “the largest ceilidh on the planet”. Making that kind of over the top claim never works. A £100,000 bill requiring to be subsidised by public funding after the event overshadows any colourful preview beforehand.

The six-figure sum flung at the fling came from legacies accumulated in the Inverness Common Good Fund. There are many ways it could beneficially be used, particularly when the “cash-strapped” council is so intent on the need for cutbacks. But a vast chunk of it should not be tossed in the direction of a lukewarm concert, at Hogmanay or any other time of year.

Inverness is a small city. It doesn’t need to aim to host “the largest ceilidh on the planet” or make risible claims of that kind.

Rather than spending money like a drunken sailor on New Year’s leave, the council should trim back this event to make it more economical and much more affordable, and if they find that too humbling a requirement it should be scrapped. No doubt some within the council get very excited over making elaborate preparations for their Hogmanay “showpiece”. But who else does? Judging by the most recent attendance, not very many.

And if it is dumped, give Eden Court the chance to make merry on the riverside on New Year’s Eve. The setting is perfect, they have the entertainment expertise, and on their track record so far they could put on an enjoyable and inexpensive evening of music that would burn away the Hogmanay frost faster than any unacceptably profligate “Red Hot Fling”.

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