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275 years of entertainment in the north and north-east

The Press and Journal has told stories of entertainment from gigs to fireballs for generations.

Article Lead image
The P&J has been telling stories of entertainment for more than 200 years.

Each month, as we celebrate our 275th anniversary, we have been bringing you a timeline of the best of our journalism showcasing how The P&J has told the stories of the north and north-east for more than two centuries.

Today, in our final instalment in the series, we look at our coverage of entertainment and social events, from touring circus troupes and Stonehaven’s fireball celebrations to radio roadshows and arena-filling performances by rock royalty.

From 1920: Travelling Circuses

For centuries, circus troupes have toured towns and cities the length and breadth of the country.

Barnum & Bailey, The Chipperfield’s and the now-infamous P.T. Barnum are among the big-name acts to have dazzled and amazed the people of the north and north-east.

Such circuses evolved over the years, with the days of exotic animals putting on a show banished to history and replaced by the artistic and athletic performances of people for people.

The P&J has been a constant in the promotion of circus acts and it has also carried reports of more unusual events that have happened outwith the confines of the big top – circus elephants having a swim in the North Sea being one notable example.

Meanwhile, images of clowns and acrobats will no doubt stir the memories of those who were sitting ringside or in the stalls.


1928: Stonehaven fireballs

On New Year’s Day each year, The P&J has carried coverage of local Hogmanay celebrations.

And none piques the interest of reporters quite like Stonehaven’s fireball-spinning ceremony.

The town’s residents are well accustomed with the tradition, and the excitement concerning it was detailed in the 1937 New Year’s Day edition: “As usual, the enthusiasm for the fireball ceremony ensures that few Stonehaven people went to bed without seeing the New Year in. Meetings with friends in the High Street set many of them off on rounds of first fittin’, which continued well into the morning.”


1963: Tivoli’s Grand Hoorah

To some, the name Tivoli will evoke memories of Danish amusement parks or scenic Italian towns.

For others, it will bring back fond memories of Aberdonian variety theatre.

Before its closure in 1963 – while theatres were competing against booming TV viewership – the Tivoli in Aberdeen hosted a record-breaking 17-week run.

Featuring a rotating cast of variety entertainment stars, headliner and Tivoli owner Calum Kennedy drafted in national stars to send off the theatre in style.

a headline reading Star vows to help fight for theatre
The Tivoli theatre’s Swan song 17 week variety performance show was attended by over 17’000 budding fans. Supplied by British Newspaper Archives.

After being sold, the theatre underwent extensive refurbishment before becoming a bingo hall from 1966 until the early 1980s, moving through several private hands and unsuccessful revivals as a stage house in the years following.

The theatre eventually ended up in the hands of Brian Hendry through private acquisition on July 16 2009.

As part of the sale, Mr Hendry assured the Tivoli Trust that the theatre would return to operations as a profit-making venture.

Reopening to the public with original play, Inferno, in 2013, the theatre has had a successful revival – a wide variety of shows have performed there since its restoration, from local pantomime productions to UK touring companies.


1973-82: Musicians take the Dee

From Ziggy Stardust to The Rolling Stones, the north-east has been graced by an eclectic mix of musicians through the years.

In 1973, glam rock star David Bowie brought his out-of-this-world presence with him to Aberdeen Music Hall.

P&J reporter Hamish Mackay felt the star didn’t quite live up to all the hype, however, and said it was only in the second half of the show that Bowie got into his stride.

Nonetheless, Mackay conceded the spectacle had been “good value for money”.

David Bowie performed to an excited crowd at Aberdeen Music Hall. Supplied by British Newspaper Archive.

Despite Bowie delighting fans with an encore, Mackay’s review ended on a somewhat sour note: “David, after all that was expected of you, this reviewer found you an honest artist, who didn’t quite live up to the pre-publicity bally-hoo.”

May 1982 saw more stars take on the Dee, with The Rolling Stones kicking off their European tour, Tattoo You, in the Capitol Theatre.

It had been 17 years since they last performed in Aberdeen. Describing the atmosphere at the concert, Graeme Lynch commented: “Welcomed by a wall-to-wall audience… The Stones held their audience in the palms of their hands.”

A headline reading "Stones fans flock to see their heroes"
The Rolling Stones return to Aberdeen, 17 years after their first performance in the city. Supplied by British Newspaper Archive.

Boasting lines that stretched across Aberdeen’s Union Street, Stones fans were in for a treat as the rockers weren’t the only stars in attendance. Frontman Mick Jagger wowed the crowd by introducing the Don’s 1982 Scottish Cup – eventually European Cup – winners to the stage, offering Sir Alex and the boys a chance to rock along with the band for the evening.

However, the largest cheers of the evening were reserved for the band members themselves – Jagger yielding the spotlight to his band-mates one by one to bask in the applause of their adoring fans.


1988-89: Radio One Roadshows

Before Radio 1’s Big Weekends, the broadcaster connected with local audiences through their summer series of Radio One Roadshows.

The events saw the station’s best DJs visit towns to perform a live radio set, taking music requests from the public.

North-east radio fans were treated to several visits from the roadshow, most notably in 1988 and 1989, which saw Adrian John in Inverness and Nicky Campbell in Aberdeen.

The P&J was often at the roadshows, snapping shots of the stars and locals, and even bagging an interview with Nicky Campbell whose career was kick-started on the airwaves in Aberdeen.

Nicky Campbell returns to the birthplace of his illustrious career in radio. Supplied by British Newspaper Archive.

2002: Free at the Dee

From 1997 to 2010, NorthSound radio hosted a series of free concerts at Aberdeen’s Duthie Park.

In 2002, Pop Idol stars Gareth Gates and Darius Danesh were on the bill along with the original line-up of all-girl group Sugababes – Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy.

The P&J’s photographers were there, capturing pictures of performers and fans – immortalising some iconic Y2K looks in the process.


2004: Belladrum Festival

The first Belladrum kicked off in 2004.

Hailed by many as a ‘mini Glastonbury’, the Highland music festival has garnered a reputation for eccentric and daring acts.

Following the 2019 event, there was a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Nile Rodgers says Chic is back. Supplied by Paul Campbell.

Returning in 2022, Belladrum’s ‘Myths and Legends’ festival featured producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers, Aberdeen’s own Emili Sandé, and even a DJ set from TV fashionista Gok Wan.


2015-23: Elton John

First playing Aberdeen in 1972, Sir Elton John has returned to the Granite City on a number of occasions, notably performing at Pittodrie in 2004.

Through imagery and words, The P&J captured the atmosphere and spectacle of Sir Elton’s shows in 2015 and 2023, with the latter particularly poignant as it marked the star’s final concert on UK soil.

In a first for the former Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, Sir Elton’s 2015 tour featured a specially built outdoor arena that was filled by 14,000 fans.

Elton John wrapped up the European Leg of his 2015 tour in Aberdeen’s AECC. Supplied by The Press and Journal Date; 2015

Taking place during the summer, music lovers were spared any downpours and instead treated to a special rendition of Scotland The Brave to mark the last UK show of Sir Elton’s European tour.

His 2023 farewell tour capped off an extraordinary career. He played two nights at P&J Live to see off the UK leg of his tour, with the first night featuring a final rendition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Review: Elton John adds lustre to pop legacy with rollicking Aberdeen farewell


2019: P&J Live opens

August 2019 marked the opening of P&J Live – a state-of-the-art entertainment venue for the people of Aberdeen.

A monumental project, the £333 million arena can accommodate up to 15,000 people.

Designed to attract the world’s top stars to the city, the multipurpose venue sits within the Teca site which boasts two hotels.

P&J Live offers 11 meeting rooms, seven conference spaces, three exhibition halls, a high-end restaurant and, of course, an incredible arena.

With big-name acts including Sir Elton John, Michael Bublé and Lewis Capaldi having already graced the arena, it is sure to keep attracting stars for years to come.

P&J LIVE: Aberdeen’s stunning new events and conference venue declared open

 


2023: SPECTRA

A new Granite City festival kicked off this year. The four-day family-friendly SPECTRA was co-produced by Aberdeen City Council and UK arts company Curated Place.

Lighting up some of the city’s iconic monuments for a festival of light, two inflatable illuminated giants stood guard over Marischal College and Aberdeen Art Gallery for the duration of the event.

In a series of online and print articles, The P&J detailed key moments of the festival – held just outside our offices – from breath-taking displays of art and creativity to record-breaking attendance numbers for a local event.

‘Spectra is for everyone’: Festival of light makes illuminating return to Aberdeen


Read more from our 275th anniversary series here