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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Curtain raised on festival frenzy
Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The tattoo is one of the most successful events
BBC Scotland's arts correspondent Pauline McLean previews the cultural frenzy that makes up Edinburgh's festival season

A straw poll of visitors in Princes Street Gardens last week said it all. When exactly does the capital's festival season start?

August was the general consensus, any time from the first to the 31st.

According to one little old lady it's when strange costumed people take to the streets.

To the family from Birmingham it's next Thursday, because that's when they're going to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Two festival performers
Performers on song at the festival
If you want to be exact, festival season actually began last Friday with the opening of the Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival and it doesn't stop until 4 September and the last blast of the Edinburgh Mela.

But the Edinburgh International Festival itself does not begin until 13 August - at which point the jazz will be over and the fringe will be in full swing.

Confused? Don't worry, so are the vast majority of visitors - and even locals get their events muddled.

So much so that all eight different festivals have agreed to work with Edinburgh City Council in developing a strategy which will keep things simple.

Or as simple as a season involving more than 2,000 separate events can be.

JK Rowling
JK Rowling returns to the book festival
Although the Edinburgh International Festival was the city's first official festival - launched in 1947 as a celebration of peace and unity though the world's best known arts companies - the others weren't far behind.

Eight theatre companies held their own impromptu festival when they were not invited to the first event.

Their numbers swelled the following year, prompting a local journalist to dub them "the fringe of the festival" - and a new festival was born.

The fringe, which features around 15,000 performances each year and includes the prestigious Perrier Award for comedy, now dwarfs the international festival - and is officially recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest arts festival.

Record-breaker

And because there are no rules about who can take part, the only thing that prevents it expanding further is the sheer demand for venues and accommodation in the capital.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival was launched the same year, giving the capital another record-breaker as the oldest, continuous film festival in the world.

Part of its appeal is the celebrities who simply drop in to see their own films, to see other people's films or simply to be seen seeing films.

Al Murray
Al Murray won last year's Perrier Award
The Edinburgh International Military Tattoo may not be as star-studded or as stylish as the film event, but it is still the most popular of the eight festivals.

Last year it broke box office records and this year - after selling out three nights during its first overseas trip to New Zealand and celebrating its 50th year - the phenomenon is likely to continue.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is also continuing to expand, and its capacity to attract a myriad of literary luminaries to the tented village in Charlotte Square Gardens never ceases to amaze.

Nearly 400 authors will take part in as many events - including the eagerly-anticipated return of Edinburgh-based Harry Potter creator JK Rowling.

International gathering

The new book-ends of the festival season - the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival and the International Mela - are no minor players.

The jazz festival decided to go it alone after 18 years in the thick of the season - and with Dr John, Larry Adler, Humphrey Lyttelton and Courtney Pine on the bill, it clearly hasn't done any harm.

And the Edinburgh Mela is as international a gathering as they come.

Larry Adler
Jazz festival performer Larry Adler
This Asian festival has expanded so rapidly that it has been forced to switch venues from Meadowbank Stadium into Pilrig Park, off Leith Walk.

And there's little sign of festival fever wearing off. Just as visitors - and locals - begin to master the new-look extended festival season, more events are added.

T on the Fringe is a new pop music festival organised by the people who promote T in the Park, and plans are also afoot for a new blues festival.

Edinburgh City Council has so far refrained from dampening the festival spirit and says it is keen to keep everyone happy - not least the thousands of visitors who stay in the capital every summer, leaving behind the best part of 30m for the Scottish economy.

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See also:

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