A Flare of Firework Facts

Aug 27 2014 | By More

Get the best out of Edinburgh’s favourite Festival event

The EIF’s firework concert – or as we have learned to call it in recent years, the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert – must be one, if not the, favourite event at the Edinburgh International Festival.

No, not a crack in the fabrick of time, but an image of the waterfall. Photo: Eoin Carey

Not a crack in the fabric of time from Dr Who, but the Fireworks Concert waterfall. Photo: Eoin Carey

Over 250,000 people watch it every year, that is over  a quarter of a million people, hanging out their flat windows, perched on hills, scanning through through their binoculars from Fife and crammed into Princes Street.

Of course the very best place of all to see the show is in Princes Street Gardens, snug on a rug, sated from a tasty picnic and nicely blootered from the premium alcohol you brought into the gardens with you.

For those going to the gardens for the first time, be warned: send one or two of your party as runners to find a place as soon as the gates open. Those acting as packhorses can arrive later, bearing your picnic rucksack, stuffed full of cocktail equipment and boxes of foodstuffs.

a glorious annual ritual

The great thing is that the powers that be treat the whole event with an almost unheard-of grown-up attitude. So you can actually take martini glasses, cocktail shakers, boxes of ice and your favourite gin.

The whole event is a glorious annual ritual for Edinburgh. Those not in the gardens have their favourite spot. The Mound, Princes Street and the streets leading north from it, Calton Hill, the Botanics and the family viewing area in Inverleith Park all have their aficionados. Those living on the Southside get up to the Meadows where it rises up over the mini golf-course to Bruntsfield Links, although from here the famous waterfall will be obscured.

The key to maximising enjoyment is to watch the weather. Rain, obviously, should be planned for. Less obvious is wind direction – if the wind is in the west, then viewing from sites east of the Castle will be obscured by firework smoke. An east wind will make for poor viewing from the west end of Princes Street.

All this distant viewing is enhanced by the live, simultaneous broadcast of the fireworks concert on Forth One. In the gardens and on Princes Street there are giant speakers, blasting out the concert in competition with the explosions of the fireworks. On the hills and far away, it is the radio which provides the soundtrack, making it an essential part of everyone’s kit.

Indeed, the whole presentation of the fireworks concert on Forth Radio has its own rituals that have to be observed.

First there is the choosing of a small child who will set off the first firework. The choice of Firestarter is normally achieved by a phone-in, where competitors simulate firework explosions, live on the radio. The creator of the best, most explosive entry, getting to press the firing button. This should, by rights, be a huge cartoon-style firing box, complete with double-handed plunger. But in actuality is just a big red button.

Then there is the programme and build-up on the night. For the presenters, the ability to add-lib about music and fireworks with any degree of knowledge is real a boon. For several years Forth would employ a knowledgeable local music journalist who could give interesting and factual commentary on the music.

VMFC Inforgraphic 256x195mm.inddMore recently the commentary has been done by the station’s own DJs who, although fans of the event, might not be as up-to-speed with their musical anecdotes as they should be. This, compounded by the bangs and flashes of the fireworks themselves, normally reduces the commentators to gibbering variations on the theme of “Wow!”.

We love them for it, though.

For those who want to spice up their viewing of the fireworks on Sunday, 30 August (on Forth Radio 97.3FM from 8.30pm) here are some fun facts and figures supplied by the the fantastic press office of the EIF. Perfect for playing Fun Fireworks Fact Bingo on the night. One drink every time any of the following are mentioned.

Firework facts and figures

This is the 32nd annual end of Festival Fireworks Concert; the first was held in 1982. It was the brainchild of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the then Director of the EIF, Sir John Drummond. The idea was to widen the appeal of the Festival to local audiences and increase the festive atmosphere in the city.

The display is designed, built and co-ordinated by fireworks experts Pyrovision, lead by head designer Keith Webb. Keith has worked on every fireworks display in some capacity since 1984, making this his 30th year.

It takes a team of 15 pyrotechnicians seven days to lay out the fireworks at Edinburgh Castle. Fireworks are set up on 17 different levels of Edinburgh Castle, from the ramparts to along the top of the Castle rock. In addition to the four tonnes of explosives and hundreds of thousands of fireworks used during the 45 minute concert, 12 tonnes of non-explosive kit are also deployed, including cables, mortar racks and plywood frames.

Aluminium waterfall

The hugely popular fireworks Waterfall takes two days to make in the manufacturers factory, two days additional work at Pyrovision’s headquarters in Lincolnshire, and half a day to layout at the Castle. The cabling for the Waterfall takes a further half a day to set at the Castle.

The Waterfall consists of 70 firing units laid out for 118 feet (36 metres) across the Castle. Lasting a minute, the display descends 131 feet (40 metres) down the Castle rock. Coarse aluminium flakes cause the fireworks to descend, fine aluminium flakes give the display its beautiful silver/whiteness. In 2013, the display featured two Waterfalls for the first time, a longer secondary waterfall outlining the edge of the Castle ramparts alongside the traditional one.

This year, 55 musicians from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra will perform in the Fireworks Concert, with Gary Walker conducting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Mendelssohn’s War March of the Priests from Athalie, Debussy’s Marche Écossaise and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The orchestra features 55 players on stage, including 14 violins, 5 horns, 4 cellos, 3 flutes, 2 bassoons, and 1 harp. Each year Keith Webb and his team carefully choreograph the fireworks to work with the chosen music. Keith uses the music as direct inspiration for the effects created, and the ‘images’ it conjures up for him.

And if you can’t make along on the night, the EIF have published a very fine IOS app so you can create your very own firework display on your phone. Details here: 1812 Fireworks app.

The Virgin Money Fireworks Concert
Princes Street Gardens
Sunday 31 August 2014. 21.00. Running time 45 minutes.
Garden Tickets are still available: www.eif.co.uk/2014/virginmoneyfireworks
The Concert will be broadcasat live on Forth One: 97.3fm and online at radioplayer.forthone.com/live/


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