Homecoming – out with a bang or a whimper?

Item Posted: Wednesday 2nd December, 2009

Homecoming – out with a bang or a whimper?

Geoff Ellis, head of DF Concerts, the organisers of Homecoming Live, are putting on a massive concert to finish the year-long series of events. However he believes that being under the Homecoming banner has damaged ticket sales. One of the major events planned to conclude the Homecoming celebrations, it was revealed that only 5% of the 16,000 tickets had been sold. Mr Ellis, who also organises T in the Park, said he had never expected the event to sell out instantly and that ‘sales have been steady.’ Last month the Gathering, another signature Homecoming event, attracted criticism for recording a loss of more than £500,000.
Many of those involved in events, and certainly those in political opposition or cynics about politicians in general, believe that whilst the initial motives behind the year long events was sound, the whole marketing and focus was hijacked and became a political stunt. Homecoming, originally designed to boost tourism and timed to coincide with Robert Burns’ 250th birthday, has seen a plethora of events around the country during 2009.
From the beginning there has been controversy. A leading Scots historian, Tom Devine, originally on the Homecoming steering committee, launched a bitter attack on Homecoming chiefs for reducing the nation to ‘tartanry and Highlandism’ to please Americans, whitewashing Scotland's history in favour of a ‘kitsch’ Americanised image to ‘seduce’ rich US tourists. He accused Homecoming of failing to connect with the wider Scots diaspora and of presenting an outdated image of Scotland to fit Americans' ideal of the country, and said Homecoming was being built on the ‘Burns supper school of Scottish history’.
Then there was the unfortunate marketing poster, which largely looked white and middle-class - the crowd of ‘typical’ Scots. It had to be redrawn after someone noticed that it was devoid of ethnic minorities.
It then emerged that a £200,000 TV advert of famous Scots, including Sir Sean Connery, singing Dougie MacLean's Caledonia, would not be shown outside of the UK and Ireland, prompting a rapid rethink by ministers. The Homecoming TV ad was more expensive to make than Slumdog Millionaire -the minute-long commercial cost £233,450, while the Oscar-winning movie cost £28,000 per minute.
As late as July this year VisitScotland board members were describing the year as a source of ‘considerable concern’. The late addition of £500,0000 to the marketing budget came after concern was expressed within VisitScotland, the national tourist agency, with one member complaining: ‘Most people around the country have little understanding, if any, about the initiative there is an urgent need for a PR strategy.’ For a realisation that there was no PR strategy at this late stage (nearly) beggars belief!
EventScotland boss Paul Bush was told to draft a letter to Alex Salmond and "alert the first minister that there is a need for an additional £500,000 for the events programme and £500,000 for marketing activity". The letter was never sent. However, in the autumn the Scottish Arts Council stepped in with an extra £250,000 to beef up the events programme, and then ministers found another £500,000 for marketing. It does seem that there is so much political capital invested in Homecoming that no one in authority will be prepared to admit the serious mistakes that have been made, or learn the lessons from the year’s events. No doubt when final reports come out they will be glowing about the positive impact that Homecoming has had on tourism.
Those who feel more positive and opportunist will simply say that there have been masses of events on offer which would not have happened had it not been for Homecoming, and they are absolutely right. In the past months we have commented on a wide range of these, many of which have offered new and exciting projects to residents and visitors alike. In many cases events organisers have come up with truly exciting and innovative ideas with comparatively little money put their way. Whether there is a lasting positive impact on the ‘quality of life’ in Scotland may largely depend on whether investment is available from Government or Councils next year. With the chaos of (in the arts arena) of the creation of Creative Scotland, the overspend of budgets and losses by some of the big events, the earmarking of money for the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games I would not be holding my breath!
But coming back to Homecoming’s Final Fling there are some advantages. The main one being that if you fancy going you are still likely to be able to get a ticket!
The line up includes acts such as The View, Teenage Fanclub, Midge Ure and Deacon Blue. ‘Older’acts such as The Vaselines and Lloyd Cole will appear alongside newer Scottish artists such as Tommy Reilly and The Dykeenies. Roddy Woomble, lead singer of Idlewild and part of the Homecoming Live bill, said that while Homecoming’s intentions might confuse some, people should shrug off any political ideas and enjoy the music. “You can’t be that cynical,” he said. “There are loads of good bands playing. Homecoming is just the banner it is under…. It’s just a good excuse to see Teenage Fanclub.” I’ll go along with that!
Homecoming Live is at Glasgow’s SECC on November 28
www.gigsinscotland.com


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