STONEHAVEN'S Hogmanay celebrations got 2009 off to a swinging start, when crowds of more than 10,000 turned out to witness the traditional Fireballs ceremony, and continue the party at the open air celebrations in the town square.

Martin Sim, of the organising committee, said: "It certainly went very well, there were no problems from start to finish. The weather was perfect as well.

"It was very very busy, people were parking their cars in strange places, which is always an indication of the high number of people. We don't have an official figure yet, but it looked as though there were as many people as there were at the millennium."

Mr Sim added that the webcam, which beams the event all over the world, went without a hitch this year. The system had encountered problems last year, after the website crashed due to the volume of people trying to access it, but Mr Sim told the Leader that any problems had been addressed.

He said: "It functioned very well, we've improved the system all the way through, and we sorted it out."

The crowds were also treated to music played through loudspeakers for the first time in recent years.

"This was the first time we've had music playing for a long while, and it was good to try it out. When the pipe band are playing and the drummers are doing their thing, it's not necessary. But once the fireballs fade away, it's nice to have some music which people can relate to Scotland and New Year celebrations, such as Auld Lang Syne."

More than 40 fireball swingers paraded down the High Street at midnight to cheers from the crowd, with Mearns Councillor George Carr leading the procession, to mark his 25th year.

Mr Carr said: "It was an honour to be invited to lead the way, and it was a real buzz going down the street, being the first swinger that people see, and hearing all the cheers.

"Everyone agreed that it was a tremendous night, and Open Air in the Square complimented the Fireballs very well."

Mr Sim said that collections on the night and sales of a calendar had raised 2,272, a 50% raise on last year's profits. The money will be put towards paying for the Fireballs and Open Air in the Square celebrations for next year. Mr Sim praised the new Open Air in the Square committee, who also organised the fireworks display, which took place after the fireballs.

He added: "The fireworks were perfect and stunning as usual. The benefit in Stonehaven is that they are seen against a black sky, whereas in cities that isn't the case."

Concerns regarding first-aid cover for Open Air in the Square were overcome at the last minute, and the new committee have hailed their first year in the job as "undoubtedly a success." Committee member Freida Burns said: "People came in their droves, and everybody had a good time. It was a good-natured crowd. A lot of people turned out to help us as well, and some even stayed to help us clean up afterwards."

These are the 47 swingers that made up the procession in 2009 with the number of times they have taken part before.

Leading the first group and the parade off was George Carr (27), who was followed by Mark Anderson (12), Susan Leiper (14), Murray Leiper (19), Pam Leiper (22), Martin Sim (32), David Hamilton (23), Stuart Campbell (15), Lynn Callaghan (18), and Bill Emslie (47).

The second group were David Dallas (29), George Emslie (7), Isobel Smith (5), Andrew Ritchie (31), Joan Aitken (6), Gill Walker (17), Andy Buchanan (8), Margaret Goldsworthy (4), Kathleen Findlay (20) and Robert Carr (2).

The third group were Alan Dow (3), Jean Houghton (18), George Reid (first time), Raymond Penny (28), Rachel Penny (4), Colin Penny (13), Ian Penny (13), Paul Mackie (6) and Neil Easton (3).

Jim Stephen (10), started the fourth group followed by Stephen Hall (2), Graeme Cusine (first time), Andrinne Craig (first time), Stuart Gibb (3), Maurice Coull (13), Jane Cruickshank (first time), Neil Swanson (11) and Birnie Lees (48).

The last group was John Egan (20), Colin Mair (first time), Genevieve Lepear (6), Wendy Wilson (4), Linda Lawson (first time), Tommy Ewing (8), Melvin Christie (11), George Black (33) and Alan Venters (25).