So, off we went over the bridge, heading east into town. According to the radio reports we were 18 – 15,000 strong. For the first time, Inverness felt like a city. Quality show with quality equipment.
The monsters from the bridge had disappeared by the time we made it onto Bridge St., but there was a scary looking band playing on the steps of a shop, it sounded like djembés drumming a complex rhythm. When we got up to the High St. a group of monsters, which looked like a cross between afghan hounds and giraffes, came among us. Some more velociraptor types were hanging about, but they looked more menacing.
We carried on up to the Eastgate where there was a group of human insectoids with banjos, drum and tuba (!) playing a tribute to the late, great James Brown – I felt good! Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo! The audience sung better than the band, but hey, it was a street party and the band were giving us what we wanted!
Down Innes Street towards Falcon Square and the streets were getting busier. A head-on encounter with the flock of velociraptors was just a bit scary, but they seemed to reckon we were beneath their dignity. We came onto the square which was already packed. There were thousands all round us. We met some old friends, wished each other a happy (auld) New Year and had a bit craic,. The traditional Scottish dram happened to be to hand, but no-one was the worse for wear and the atmosphere was good.
In the square there hung an enormous crane boom, reaching over the Pizza Express building. Some kind of rope web was suspended from it and it, in turn, held a frame of some kind with interlocked loops. It was unfathomable from where I was. In the rope rigging hung a big bell and a trapeze artist’s swing where a man wearing a kilt was perched. From our angle, even early on, it was easy to see he had decided not to go “commando”. There were eight wee stages in a circle round this contraption. This was our first sight of Transe Expresse, the main act of the Monster street-party, the aerial ballet from Marseille (google them).
All the wee stages were kitted with half a dozen burners each, which were blazing away and were kept topped up by a member of the troupe’s ground crew. Eight characters who turned out to be musicians took turns on each podium, changing over when the kiltie rang the big bell. They were dressed in predominantly white outfits which looked like 17/18th century commedia costumes. All were different and distinct, but naturally my favourite was the woman who kept doing a sort of can-can move with her skirts as they all attempted to get some audience reaction. The piece was called “Maudits Sonnants” or Damned Ringers I suppose, but I didn’t know quite what to make of it. No way was I moving though, before the show really got going and the same was true of the rest of the huge crowd. The weather was with them and despite the invitation of one performer to go home the crowd was transfixed.
The crane eventually started to lift the rigging up on another bell signal and the ropes took a bell-shaped look. The loops were evenly spaced like eight folde-up petals. Then, suddenly, the eight who had been noising us up and entertaining us were part of the lifting object along with the kiltie. Three trapeze artists were in the middle, almost invisibly shrouded in black cloaks. The whole thing rose into the air as the performers played on bells and drums, while (hopefully) strapped to the frame. The music had an ethereal, wintry feel to it, not quite sleigh bells, but more like one of the clockwork automata of yesteryear. It was stunning, circling, rising, lit by white and blue lights and right in the heart of Inverness. I’ve never seen anything like it. Someone said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it’s true. If I see them again I’ll have a frame of reference.
The trapeze artists joined in, discarding their cloaks and moving like automata themselves for a while. Then the petals unfolded and the musicians rose above the trapeze artists as the frame reshaped itself to leave a bigger space for the trapeze artists. Each then took a solo turn to perform some excitingly dangerous and awe-inspiring moves. The whole thing spun in the air, clockwise, anticlockwise and swayed like the bell itself which punctuated the whole performance. There was an obvious Hunchback of Notre Dame reference and some kind of clockwork, technology, almost science-fictional dystopic doomwatch. The whole thing, though was beautiful, despite kiltie’s very necessary football shorts. He raised the tempo to a climax of bells, a veritable carillon while the ground crew lit a fire or flare, I couldn’t clearly see which, down below, then the whole structure seemed to wobble wildly and quickly descended to ground amid the crowd’s applause and bravos. Every bit of the crowd’s response was deserved by the twelve who braved the elements of a Scottish winter.
All the while the only scorning voice was a drunk who said it was, “Bloody Jingle Bells again,” but he was probably just anticipating his hangover.
Fan-flippin-tastic! I’ll try to be more tolerant of the Cathedral bellringers in future.
Back home for a warming dram, but stopped off at the West End Chippie. There were four people in the shop in front of us and maybe another ten came in behind. The woman in charge said we’d have to wait half an hour for chips so we just left. Seemed a bit lacking in foresight and enterprise, but maybe they’d been cleaned out by the velociraptors just before we got there.
Didn’t spoil an extraordinary evening.