After witnessing the bizarre spectacle of around 100 boygenius fans rushing across the Grand Parade stage field to the front barrier as soon as the main arena opened at 12 (security were shouting “stop running” but they paid no mind, although their idols weren’t actually due onstage for another 8 hours!) BM showed up to the Guitar and Other Machines stage for a dose of Samuel Nicholson.
Originally from Edinburgh, looking like a ’70s throwback with droopy moustache, dressed in a very natty beige suit and backed by 3 other musicians, he gave a gloriously unhinged vocal and guitar-playing performance of a few tracks mainly from new album ‘Birthday Suit’. The vocalising was quite Dylan, the lyrics wordy (“suited but not suitable”…) and the music quite Americana-based, wee touch of The National maybe – ‘Gummi’ and ‘God Loves A Trier’ were charmingly off-kilter while ‘New Blood for Your Christening’ was something even darker – unfortunately the audience was not exactly huge but that’s what being bottom of a festival bill – this lot could easily work their way up a future year’s bill with a performance like this. (BM)
The Gardener’s Cottage stage hosted “Scottish indie supergroup” Former Champ, well two of them anyway, playing a few tunes in a two guitar stripped down mode. Singer Martha Ffion and her male guitar foil were in relaxed mood and tracks like ‘Quarterback’ were witty and mordant. ‘Hold On’” and ‘Grenade’(?) had a flavour of Belle and Sebastian possibly. The last tune was possible called ‘Motherwell’ and again showed off MF’s mellifluous voice and jaunty but dark lyrics – very good indeed! (BM)
The Lightning Seeds are a wonderful nostalgia trip early on at main stage, with their cheery pop classics the ideal remedy for those who went a bit hard on Saturday night. Ian Broudie, now 65, maybe hasn’t quite got the sugar-coated voice for his pacey, eloquent lyrics anymore, but the band continue to sound great (as a measure of their longevity, his son has been in the band for over ten years now). ‘Life Of Riley’ and ‘Pure’ end the set with the saccharine sweetness that the band have been perfecting for over 30 years. They (perhaps wisely) decide against the usual show closer, ‘Three Lions’… (LW)
Cara Rose played a solo set on the GAOM stage, armed with a keyboard and the same songs as the previous day’s Gardener’s Cottage set plus a couple more – nice to see her on a bigger stage and she trailed her forthcoming full band shows later in the year. (BM)
Highlands-originated duo Quiet Houses were on next at Gardener’s Cottage – Jamie on acoustic guitar, Hannah on electric and vocals, their dual strumming and solo lines melding into an intimate and tuneful sound – Hannah’s voice is sweet but there were some surprising lyrical hard edges which kept things interesting and even a bit tense. First track reference driving to Pitlochry having just got paid, almost evoking ‘First Big Weekend’ by another well-kent act playing today, while ‘See For Mile’ dealt with infidelity – there was maybe a hint of folk combo Aberfeldy coupled with some more US influences, and their last song, Biffy cover ‘Rearrange’, was apt for the event, again providing an indirect link with Scott and Frabbits. (BM)
Edinburgh-based Jacob Alon played the same stage, sporting some impressive flared breeks and strumming an acoustic, less bombastic than his usual sets. Songs including ‘August Moon’ about an encounter with the Greek mafia on Crete – there’s a definite Nick Drake influence of some kind but the songs sound fresh, including new one ‘Fairy in a Bottle’(?) – Tiny Changes have done very well this year booking both established and new talent. (BM)
After some wild rumours about the identity of the last “secret act” (including claims it would be a Boygenius gig or involve at least one of their number) the final band on the Gardener’s Cottage was revealed to be Arab Strap.
Performing as a duo with Malc’s acoustic the only instrument, it was a low key collection of songs which included a run through ‘The Shy Retirer’ which Aidan had to fluff over one particular word to protect the children present (at least one of which was his!).
‘(Afternoon) Soaps’ was especially poignant in the afternoon sun and nice early hipster adoption reference to “brushing my beard”. Again there was a connection Scott and Frabbits although Aidan maintained a respectful professionalism on the mike. (BM)
Panic Shack have been getting a lot of hype recently, and they show why with a gloriously fun set of bubblegum-punk songs about every classic topic: shit men, social expectations of women, being hungover, meal deals etc. They have choreographed moves that frequently involve being on the ground, simple funny lyrics that are shouted ad nauseum and each riff is delivered with the intensity usually reserved to the James Hetfields of this world. An interpolation of RATM’s ‘Killing In The Name’ is right on brand – it’s unlikely this Cardiff four-piece (plus live drummer) will be staying undiscovered. (LW)
BM then made a fairly rare trip to the main stage for Public Service Broadcasting who had just started with ‘Theme From PSB’. It is a few years since BM saw them (well it was in ABC1 FFS!) and they have continued to develop into a muscular five-man festival-hardened touring machine with matching boiler suits, an astronaut on sax, massive visuals and the obligatory female guest vocalist (from Germany) to change things up a bit.
Slightly mundane coalmining anthem ‘Progress’ was dusted off early doors while the classic ‘Spitfire’ was still genuinely thrilling with its distinctive guitar riff and RADA-trained voiceovers. ‘Go’ and ‘People Let’s Dance’ were both lively but the set ended with another oldie, ‘Everest’, suggesting that the original band concept probably still works best – quite a large crowd including more families than at the smaller stages… (BM)
Spending half an hour queuing for some falafel (a quick wait compared to anything on Saturday night), Raye was delivering some classy, soulful tunes to a small but dedicated group of Gen Z fans (apparently she’s huge on TikTok). There was a slick professionalism to the set, maybe too polished but impressive for someone still just 25. The stage banter needs a little work as she delivered weird back-handed compliments like “I’m having way more fun than I expected,” but one thing at a time… (LW)
“American indie supergroup” boygenius (comprising core members Lucy Dacus, Pheobe Bridgers and Julien Baker, all successful singer-songwriters in their own right) were by far the most hyped act of the weekend (although you could argue maybe fred again… was more widely anticipated) and when they did eventually appear, actually second on the bill on the main stage ahead of Loyle Carner (due presumably to transportation issues like maybe realising international airport checkins are a nightmare if you’re late…) there were screams from the mostly young female crowd at the barriers.
Starting with an a capella version of ‘Without You Without Them’, they then donned guitars and ran through pretty much all of the ‘The Record’ album. Some of the sound was remarkably heavy (three guitars up front with drums, bass and various things at the back, BM couldn’t quite see tbh) as the three core members took lead vocals, traded harmonies and generally rattled along. The music, well not exactly a revolution, was something like decent quality country/pop/Americana with some mordant and occasionally heartfelt lyrics and choruses – $20’ did really ignite the crowd early doors while ‘Emily, I’m Sorry’ were reminiscent of KD Lang, Tori Amos and inevitably Joni Mitchell.
Much of the material references outsiderdom, coming out, and being different in smalltown environments, presumably something which resonated with the rabid fanbase, which, pleasingly (and apropos of nothing, included Tilda Swinton and family) were pindrop-quiet for slower, folkier numbers like ‘Ketchum’ and ‘ID’. But this shared experience is clearly to the liking of both band and fans, with Bridgers and Dacus barrelling through the press pit for some running high fives towards the end. (BM)
Over at GAOM, Beth Orton gave a thrilling performance. She’s flown under the radar for years, but last year’s brilliant ‘Weather Alive’ is bringing some much deserved recognition. She mostly plays piano, and the downtempo arrangements, with a hint of trip-hop, are simply beautiful. The saxophone (another frequently deployed secret weapon this weekend) complements the spare piano and fluttering electronics perfectly, and Orton’s cracked delivery just tops the whole thing. However, you feel that a mid-sized concert hall might be a better fit for this music, rather than a field on a cloudy day, where lots of punters are wandering about or having their tea (my falafel finally arrived). (LW)
Arab Strap were playing their only full band show of the year (in Scotland at least) and commanded quite a crowd as the day drew darker (!). With Malc on electric guitar and Aidan on vocals and keyboard, they were joined by piano, bass and drums and the redoubtable Ritchie somewhere in the gloom behind the sound desk. The set was something like greatest hits, ie a couple from the most recent album (including the immigration-themed ‘Urban Fox’ and the opener, Covid-referencing ‘Turning Of Our Bones’ with its era-defining “I saw you in Tesco with your buttons undone… with your mask on” lines), plus the best of the rest, including a spectacular “Don’t Ask Me To Dance”(a rave-fuelled monster tonight), a nostalgia-evoking ‘Girls Of Summer’ and a rousing ‘The First Big Weekend’ to finish. There isn’t really much more than BM can say about The Strap that this reviewer has not already said or tried to say, but tonight they were simply imperial and as a live unit only really Young Fathers could compete for chronicling the human condition in noise, words and passion. (BM)
Words: Betty Mayonnaise / Lewis Wade
Pictures: Betty Mayonnaise