Edinburgh has long been regarded as a premier destination to celebrate Hogmanay. ‘Seeing in’ 2024 marked the thirtieth anniversary of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay event and a special four day multi-event programme spanning from 29th December to New Year’s Day.
I was fortunate to experience three of the season’s programmed events for the 2023 edition: Ho Ho Hogmanay; Night Afore Hoolie; and Candlelit Concert at St Giles, on consecutive nights leading up to Hogmanay. These were a diverse offering of Scottish stand up comedy, live music from Blue Rose Code and special guests, and festive orchestral opera from St Giles’ choir and musicians.
Ho Ho Hogmanay
Assembly Rooms, a spacious suite with a stage in sumptuous surroundings was the venue hosting both Ho Ho Hogmanay and Night Afore Hoolie. Ho Ho Hogmanay, the comedy showcase was compèred by the very capable Emmanuel Sonubi, who delighted the crowd with his devilish digs at the front row. These included a very persistent running joke about an engagement proposal and challenging audience members to rouse the crowd for applause prior to each of the three comedians taking the stage.
The opening act was Glaswegian Susan McCabe, a confident raconteur with most of her set centering around her honeymoon hotel stay at the Balmoral, retold with much hilarity. Next up was Larry Dean, providing more comedy in the confessional storytelling vein, sometimes going for the jugular in terms of shock factor, leaving the audiences split in reaction. An expert in accents, his set appeared relaxed and unscripted, drawing from a range of techniques and quips from his comedy arsenal.
Rounding off the night was stand up stalwart Fred MacAulay, punctuating with one liners and punchy anecdotes delivered with ease. All the comedians lean on self-effacing humour based on class, age and sexuality stereotypes, and quite a few jokes were made about autism, which is perhaps a sign that it is part of mainstream conversation. Stand up is not about political correctness, after all, but seems to have a barometer on the zeitgeist.
Night Afore Hoolie
Blue Rose Code, aka Leith born Ross Wilson, and special guests played a special extended set at The Assembly Rooms the night before Hogmanay. They brought an eclectic mix of original songs and guest vocals spanning Caledonian soul, poetry, lyricism, folk and jazz peppered with a few well-loved covers to rouse the crowd further.
Special guests included Jill Jackson and Dean Owens, accomplished singer-songwriters in their own right, and poet Sulidae, also known as Bobby Motherwell, whose poetry accompanied by muted music left the audience in awe. The camaraderie of the multi-instrumental band along with special guests added to the convivial atmosphere. Jill Jackson was happy to have some banter with the crowd between songs, and notable covers included Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’ which she played uptempo with skilful guitar accompaniment, after which Wilson memorably exclaimed ‘I didn’t even know I liked that song!’
Inspired by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, BRC’s references are clear but his songs are still original and able to hold their own on an auspicious evening in a packed ballroom. Some songs are autobiographical, relating his past struggle with sobriety, others have reference to his home town of Leith, stomping ground in his youth, drawing from an impressive back catalogue.
Blue Rose Code and guests played a generous encore to their set, playing well beyond their allotted time, and Wilson humbly thanked all the musicians by name and the crowd, and they took a collective bow to rapturous applause.