It’s been a bad couple of years for festivals. With the demise of Loopallu and Wickerman, and T in the Park’s reinvention as TRNSMT, the future of outdoor music events seems uncertain to say the least.
Indeed, despite drawing in world class acts, people might have doubted if this two-day shindig in West Lothian could reach its fourth year.
However, with Day 1 a sellout it’s clear that the organisers are doing something very right.
And the lineup – as you might expect – seems to be just about spot on. A mix of the old and the new, with local and international talent gracing the three stages.
On the Breakout Stage Altinak fit the bill on two counts. Previously spotted at a competition to win a slot on the 2015 bill, the local quartet have ‘graduated’ (they have just completed studies at the local High School) to the big(ger) stage, and have a sound that’s grown up too, tight rhythms and choppy guitars making for a nice line in shouty alt.pop – and it’d be no insult to suggest that closing single ‘Kick Off’ may indicate that they have just returned for the Pixies show at Kelvingrove).
They’re followed by Easy, also new and local(ish) – but the Ayrshire combo are quite a different prospect, and it’s easy to damn their mix of blues and reggae with the faint praise of ‘expertly executed’.
Not strictly ‘local’ either, but young and fresh-sounding are TeenCanteen on the main stage. Although it’s easy to spot someinfluences in their sound – a big, booming Wall Of Sound, top-notch harminoes and melodies as shiny as their bassist’s space-age catsuit.
Once upon a time tribute acts were the last refuge of the desperate booking agent, but with the likes of the Bootleg Beatles placing well up the bill at festivals such as T, what may be dismissed as glorified covers bands have received acceptability. Though with the appearance of Doors of Perception on the Breakout stage, it may be pushing things a little. Again, musically proficient, there’s a little disappointment in a lack of method – we’re not asking them to shoot up in a Paris bathtub, but there’s a noticeable lack of flowing locks on the Lizard King despite a reasonable facsimile of Jim Morrison’s legendary vocal tones, while the main problem with the grey-haired bassist is that he’s there at all. Still, these up-and-coming rockers have songs aplenty and promise great things…
Nowadays, of course, the route to success is via the medium of television, as Stevie McCrorie can tell you. Despite having returned to his day job as a Kirkcaldy fireman, he’s still in fine Voice (geddit?) and commands the big stage like the pro he, unfortunately, isn’t any more. It may be telling that you can still hear his indie roots from his Stevie and the Moon guise in his closing tune.
Every decent festival should present a surprise, and for me it’s The Noisettes – but clearly familiar to many as a chart act making what I’d dismissed as catchy but fairly throwaway pop. First up, they’re a trio, but somehow generate their on-record Detroit-via-Wigan soul with grungy guitar and thunderous drums. Frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa has an almighty voice, buckets of stage presence that results in the first moshing of the day, and a massive hat. There’s one Earth Wind and Fire cover for anyone unfamiliar with much of their back catalogue, but ‘Never Forget You’ was either being piped into radio and TV everywhere, or contains a tune so instant that surely charted higher than #20? That’s the real surprise and I’m still humming it as I head up the hill.
That’s where a familiar face is on the Breakout stage. Jonathan Price? If it is, he’s playing former Bay City Roller Woodywhose Roller Coasterscomprise the boyband guitarist with a couple of younger compadres and performing a smattering of oldies. Again, hardly new, but quite the draw.
As is, we’ll shortly discover, Lucy Spraggan. An X Factor contestant, she seems to a following to rival that of her predecessor, and indeed, her hit single ‘Tea and Toast’ sparks a few memories. Notable is the temporary absence of the stage’s sponsor, the (Scottish) Sun, so appropriately a tune expressing her (presumably) tongue-in-cheek love of Jeremy Kyle raises a few smiles, as do some sharp lyrics such as “that’s the last time I inject tequila”.
Down the hill again, there’s some light drizzle, and The Lightning Seeds‘ amble onstage is something of a damp squib. It takes several songs before Ian Broudie’s vocal is audible, rather spoiling ‘Sense’ and ‘Change’, while ‘Lucky You’ – a co-write with Terry ‘Chuckles’ Hall – is even more downbeat that the original. However, if there’s one thing the band have it’s songs – the old cliche about not realising how many hits they had (more than a dozen) holding true. They do eschew their sole chart-topper ‘Three Lions’ for whatever reason, instead opting for ‘Pure and Simple’ to finish.
Ash are, similarly, a band with plenty of back catalogue to choose from – including FIFTY-SIX singles. So kicking off with what may be their signature tune,’ Girl From Mars’, is a trick not many acts could pull off. However, it’s a bit of an odd set, that and ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ chucked in early on, with a few unfamiliar-to-most later tunes from ‘Kablammo!’ with ‘Orpheus’ and ‘Return of White Rabbit’ thrown in for good measure.
There’s also their now routine cover of ‘Teenage Kicks’, which could almost be their theme song given that Tim Wheeler and pals seem to have barely aged since 1977 – the frontman stills porting his trademark Flying V and still enjoying extravagant spiralling solos on ‘Oh Yeah’ while Mark Hamilton prowls the stage with full Ramones-style low-slung bass. And yes, we get a frantic ‘Kung Fu’ from that debut full-length release, though the omission of ‘Angel Interceptor’ is both a puzzle and a big disappointment. However, it’s impossible not to forgive them following a storming closer in ‘Burn Baby Burn’.
The one sign of their ageing normally is drummer Rick McMurray inviting his kids onstage at the end. I say “his kids” – his younger brothers and sisters, surely?
And so to the final acts – and what better choice than a band who can work a crowd into a frenzy with some sing-along material? So, The Snuts‘ appearance on the Breakout stage is a good choice, the Whitburn combo running through a set which climaxes in ‘Sing For Your Supper’, a ragged hook-ridden anthem which sparks a full-on festival moshpit complete with shoulder-balancing and near-adulation for the local heroes.
A hard act to follow for the Kaiser Chiefs – but in Ricky Wilson they have a man schooled in stagecraft long before his elevation to god-like TV show status. Clad in a Stevie McCrorie T-shirt, he’s a man with friends in high places – it’s Sir Tom Jones’ version of ‘War’ that booms out before Leeds quintet take the stage, and they kick into ‘Every Day I Love You Less and Less’. Once again, it’s a surprise quite how many singalong hits the headliners have, but it’s a back catalogue that is a perfect way to close the first day of the festival.