Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Riding the Homecoming rollercoaster

Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

There's been much speculation about Homecoming Scotland over the past few months.

Haggis needs and tatties
People across the world will celebrate Burns Night on Sunday

What does it mean? Who's it for? Will people still come halfway round the world in the midst of an economic recession?

Could this be just the tonic FOR an economic recession?

All these questions can be set aside momentarily, as this weekend the whole rollercoaster gets underway.

With a mere 5m to spend on the whole shebang, which runs from now till November, the organisers have their work cut out.

But it seems that our cultural community has come up trumps, at least if the opening weekend is anything to go by.

Almost 3,000 Burns suppers have been registered online - from the traditional (the one First Minister Alex Salmond will attend in Alloway on Saturday) to the slightly more offbeat (on top of Ben Nevis) to far-flung suppers in Sydney, Moscow and at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto.

But it's the attempts to reinvent Burns for an audience overly familiar with the poetry, haggis and neeps which most impresses.

If that motivation runs through the rest of the year of Homecoming, it's going to be quite a party

Like the Iconic Burns event in Alloway itself which used theatrical devices, pyrotechnics and landmark buildings to explore another side of Burns. It's been so popular, they had to have a ballot for the 1,000 available tickets.

In Dumfries, where the poet spent his last days, they've been making lanterns and over 10,000 people are expected to take to the streets on Sunday in a massive procession of light.

In Glasgow, they're taking all the seats out of the Royal Concert Hall to stage a huge ceilidh, while across the hall, a group of hardy fans will recite Burns songs and poems in a 12-hour marathon to mark the anniversary.

Veteran reggae stars Sly and Robbie - along with a host of other performers - will imagine the scenario if Burns had taken up the offer of a job on a plantation in Jamaica in 1786.

His first edition of poetry was a surprise hit so he stayed at home, but this event - part of Celtic Connections - may give a flavour of the food and songs we could be indulging in on Burns Night.

It also subtly examines the thorny issue of Scotland's relationship with countries like Jamaica through the slave trade.

Major exhibitions

Sly Dunbar knows that better than most. Like many Jamaicans, he has a Scottish surname, the legacy of the generations of Scots who moved there to work in the sugar plantations.

There are already several major exhibitions - at the National Library of Scotland and at the National Museums of Scotland; two major new theatrical productions - Tam O'Shanter at Horsecross Theatre in Perth and I, Robert Burns at the Ayr Gaeity (a show actually written for the 200th anniversary of Burns' birth and only recently rediscovered in the archives of South Ayrshire Council.)

Many of the events would, of course, have happened anyway but Homecoming gives them the incentive, a little funding, and a boost in profile, and that can't be a bad thing.

The important thing about this weekend is that it has just as much to offer to those who already call this country home, as it does those who're thinking of coming on home in 2009.

And if that motivation runs through the rest of the year of Homecoming, it's going to be quite a party.

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