New Year‘s Eve is generally not a big event for me. I’ll confess, most of my New Year’s Eves have been spent very much like any other night, except perhaps with a little bit more Jools Holland, some fireworks to watch from the window and going to bed slightly later than usual. However, this year was very different.
Ready to rock
After merely considering it last year (and going to a lacklustre house party instead), this year Steve and I decided to go to the world-famous Hogmanay street party held on Princes Street, a wide road that stretches down the centre of Edinburgh, Scotland‘s capital city. Approximately a month after buying the tickets online in November, we were walking through the security gates onto an almost-empty Prince’s Street – each togged up in as many layers as we could fit under our coats (we knew to be prepared for the inevitable and freezing Scottish wind and rain that was bound to launch an assault on us later on).
Princes Street transformed
Having walked down Princes Street many times before (shopping, mostly) it felt very odd to be walking down the middle of the usually bustling road, now an empty black expanse, glossy with damp in the Christmas lights. We kept on walking, past pop-up bars and food stalls (all kinds — steak sandwiches, fish and chips, pizzas, Mexican food and many more besides) to where a few more people were milling about, taking photos and arranging themselves at the barrier of the gardens for a cheaper view of the main stage in the gardens below (for which you had to pay £20 extra to what we paid — so £35 in total), which was to feature Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica album played in full. In total there were five stages in the street party — but we were only interested in one. That on which Discopolis, Wild Beasts and Friendly Fires were to play. With some time to spare, we took a spin on the (unusually fast!) carousel, which was huge fun! We abstained from the ferris wheel to instead get some drinks in from the bar (£4.50 each, whether for a beer or mulled wine — not cheap) and claim our place against the barriers in front of the West End stage.
The first act, Discopolis, were a relatively unknown band from Edinburgh. However, that didn’t at all hinder them in getting the crowd jumping and dancing along to their electro-pop-rock, full of infectious electronic beats and anthemic rave-out sections that the whole crowd seemed to lose themselves to. Their sound was similar to that of Friendly Fires, except with less of that pop sensibility that gets tunes stuck in your head and more wordless sections of pure, pulsing rave music. In between songs, the front man’s expressions of awe at playing such a huge gig in his hometown warmed the crowd to them even more. Needless to say, Discopolis were brilliant and inspired a conversation with the 40-somethings next to us discussing how they seemed to be channelling the 80s (and how excellent that was). The highlight, however, was when one of the band jumped into the crowd, crowd surfed, was pulled out by security and on his way to being escorted out when another security worker intervened, just in time, to tell him he was actually a band member!
Wild Beasts were up next, whom, owing to the several brilliant songs I knew of theirs already (Hooting and Howling, Albatross, All the King’s Men), I was rather excited about. These songs were played, and a thrill to hear live, but we found some of the other songs they did quite boring. After the unashamed ‘fun’ of Discopolis’s set, Wild Beasts felt like a bit of a come down. Perhaps because there was no audience interaction; perhaps because a lot of their music is not designed to be danced to; perhaps because the ethereality of the band and the trademark sound that defines them is more suited to listening to in a dark room, alone, than outside in a street with thousands of other people. That said, I still enjoyed their set a lot, although Steve did not.
Each hour, roughly after each band finished, there was a short bout of fireworks shot from Edinburgh Castle (a subtly glowing silhouette atop a dark hill, clearly discernible in the near distance) and a message along the lines of ‘One hour to go!’ flashed across the large screens — you could feel that this really helped build up suspense and excitement throughout the crowd. In between acts, this large screen behind the stage showed other bands performing on the East End stage, including the Vaccines. I was comfortable in the knowledge that we’d chosen the best stage.
At around 11pm, Friendly Fires burst onto the stage in full, disco-rocking force. Singer Ed Macfarlane literally stunned the crowd with the most enthusiastic, freak-out dancing I have ever seen anyone do in my life, never mind on stage, while singing. Making the crowd laugh through this immediately cranked the party atmosphere up a notch, as he infected everyone else with his dancing fever (I would’ve emulated his moves if I’d had room in the tightly packed crowd)! In contrast to Wild Beasts, almost every one of Friendly Fires’ songs are absolutely made to be played live, danced and sang along to. In an hour-and-a-half-long set, every single song was a fantastic slice of edgy, perfectly crafted electronic rock-pop with a distinct catchy melody and anthemic lyrics.
Macfarlane’s frenetic dancing, impressively, continued throughout as he interacted (a little) with the crowd and sang flawlessly. The rest of the band would’ve been just as enthusiastic, if not held back by their instruments. I progressively shouted my lungs out and shuffled/bobbed (I said there wasn’t much room) until my legs ached (my feet were numb with the cold, you see) as they played all my favourite songs. When the wind began howling around our heads and assaulting our faces with waves of icy rain, I was so caught up in the music that it actually enhanced the experience. Now that’s what I call a party!
Two minutes before midnight, the band went off and stage host Vic Galloway (a BBC Scotland radio DJ) came on to count down with us, seconds ticking away on the large screens as the entire street, absolutely packed full with people behind us, chanted in unison. As the crowd erupted in an 80-thousand-strong shout of ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR!’, a spectacular set of fireworks erupted from the castle, filling the sky with sparkling explosions and firey showers of colour for what felt like several minutes. Once the fireworks had subsided, Galloway led a crowd-wide sing-along of Auld Lang Syne that finished in shaken hands with strangers, hugs and kisses all around us. It was undoubtedly the best calling-in of the new year I’ve ever experienced, and one I’m sure I’ll remember forever.
Friendly Fires came back on to continue the party and bring it to an ecstatic close. In my mind, there could not possibly have been a better band to host a New Years’ party. In the four hours that followed, we met up with some friends and drank sparkling cocktails and blazing shots (yes, literally on fire) in some stylish Edinburgh bars and chased taxis for around 45 minutes until finally catching one to take us home. With a New Year’s like that, 2012 has to be a good year.