HUNDREDS of semi-naked performers, thousands of spectators, fire, dancing and drumming are expected on Calton Hill tomorrow evening at this year's Beltane Festival.
A crowd of 12,000 people is expected to swarm on to the hill for the pagan-inspired spring ritual.
This year's parade will have the unusual addition of a band of Japanese drummers, and with the party falling on a Friday night, organizers say they expect all the tickets to be snapped up.
Spokeswoman Anna Barge said: "Beltane is a modern interpretation of a very, very ancient ritual that's happened in Edinburgh for thousands of years.
"We've got 350 performers in full body paint with drums and lighting and fire and magic and mystery.
"We've got a capacity of 12,000 and last year I think we had about 10,000, but it's a Friday night, so we'll be expecting capacity, and being on a Friday, the crowds are a bit more boisterous usually.
"We have to advertise it as having 'lewd and lascivious behavior', and it is a fertility festival, it's celebrating the rebirth of the connection between the May Queen and the Green Man, and that union starting spring, so there's a lot of energy, and there's a fair bit of . . . more interesting behavior!"
Participants will begin preparations on Calton Hill on Friday morning, with many of them spending up to three hours being daubed head-to-toe in colored body paints before the procession.
Producer Rob Sproul-Cran said: "Anyone who comes along can expect one of the most memorable nights of their lives. It's unique, there are very few events like it in the world, particularly because it's entirely volunteer-run.
"But it's also unique in what goes on. Thousands of years ago there used to be Beltane Fire Festivals on every hill in the country. It was a common celebration to mark the beginning of spring and to rebuild the community."
Although the festival is based on ancient rites, organizers say they encourage participants to come up with new ideas to ring the changes each year – hence the inclusion of the Japanese drummers tomorrow.
Mr Sproul-Cran said: "We've got a group of Japanese Taiko drummers – there's a center based in Lanarkshire called Mugen Taiko Dojo and one of the girls that plays with them regularly has also taken part in Beltane and she suggested it would be great if they performed at the festival. It's brilliant because Taiko is also a modern retelling of ancient traditions. They seem worlds apart but it's expressing the same thing, which is the celebration of ritual by drumming."
Tickets for Beltane cost £6 in advance from The Forest in Bristo Place, Ripping Records on South Bridge, or via www.hubtickets.co.uk. They are also available for £8 on the night.