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Gig review gig reviews (Scottish)

T in the Park

So, Betty went to TITP this year – on the Friday, a nice day outing – she did not see every band, that would be ridiculous, and of the ones she discusses some only merited a few songs or half a set, so apologies to “fans” who think the reviewer “didn’t see the whole set” so “couldn’t judge”, this is Betty’s first festival review (of an event with multiple stages and choices anyway) so there you go.

A bit of history then, for those who don’t know, TITP started in 1994 at Strathclyde Country Park, had three years there, then moved to Balado in Perthshire (near Kinross, just off the M9, a slightly trickier route from Glasgow) in 1997 and this is year 18 since then. Due to a gas pipeline going directly through the site (it was an airfield so has some flat concreted bits as well as grass) the festival is moving to Strathallan (quite close by) next year so there’s been a bit of the old farewell sentiments this year. Betty has not attended TITP since I think 2009 but has had a long experience of the event (years 2 and 3 at Strathclyde, including at least one invasion of the neds and a dust storm during Black Grape’s set) along with many years at Balado, highlights probably being Daft Punk in the Slam Tent and REM on the main stage… anyway enough of the past (and of course the one big disaster was Bowie cancelling and being replaced by…The Darkness, enough said…)

So it’s 2014, the weather is scorching, and Betty is travelling up by bus fairly early on the Friday with many people are still arriving for the weekend. The bus from Glasgow has always been “interesting”, a wide cross-section of the general public attending, from nice kids being waved off by parents to less fortunate citizens comparing their experiences in jail at loud volume to anyone who cares to listen; very nice. The vast cost of the tickets (this year £82.50 plus another £9 or so booking fee) seem to have been spent on security (see below) and the ridiculous £34 return bus fare (you can get to Dundee from Glasgow by train for less than this) appears to have been spent on lots of people with high-vis jackets smiling at you at Buchanan St – well thanks guys have a good day as well.

Passing various police vehicles on the way it appears that the TITP punters are judged to be a similar risk to other seasonal rituals being enacted this weekend, but let’s not even go there…

Arriving at Balado we are dropped not at the infamous Auchswitz-style farm shed but in the open, that’s nice, but Betty hasn’t been since this new set-up and ends up following people around to the camp-site entrance. Now Betty likes to get her pole up as much as the next camper but camping en masse has never seemed a good idea, so have never done it, but the amount of stuff being lugged into the site and the various modes of transport are quite amazing. Trolleys of various kinds, some of them completely off their trolley, sledges, roped-up packages, some innovative ideas and some failing badly, lots of couples arguing and several ridiculous items, a double bed lilo (inflated), loads of takeaway booze, obviously. And all in the scorching heat, Betty has been at a few hot ones but this is certainly one of the very hottest – however around 50% of the punters were wearing wellies as a precaution and there were so many discarded ones lying around. Betty did have some serious thoughts about a business start-up selling wellies in November, last year’s stock etc.

Other comments on TITP 2014: a pint of T was £4.40. Betty understands that DF Concerts don’t make huge amounts of money from year to year and there are huge risks with running this festival – weather and not getting the licence being only a couple, so fair play that they have persisted when things like Rock Ness have not happened this year, and so many people do get so much fun from it.

Betty is probably not in the core demographic for this event (if she ever was it was it was a long time ago) but the atmosphere is quite special and although some people have come just to party and are maybe not that bothered about the music, the general vibe is friendly, a bit hedonistic with the booze but I’ve seen somewhat worse in previous years.

Getting into the site was a bit like airport security with at least three very friendly black labs had a good old sniff of everyone going in – all these things to ensure they keep the licence, fair enough again if that’s what you have to do.

So I suppose we’d better get around to the music, what did Betty see this year?

Dolomite Minor – Transmissions Tent

This non-labelled tent, which Betty is told would become the BBC Introducing Stage on Saturday, opened up with a 2-piece from I think Northampton in England, guitar and drums, with some quite strong vocals. It set a good rock sound down as some of us had been on the site for 1 hour plus waiting for things to start. Some of the songs had a clear QOTSA or even Biffy sound to them, a good vibe nonetheless and with a bit more effort they could be in the same league as the other 2-piece bands in the league of 2-piece bands; more of which later.

So a brief encounter with Neon Jungle on the Radio 1 stage (surprise as they were not billed, crowd seemed a bit indifferent and some of us including Betty were just in the queue for the toilets, so if that’s how you impose your sound on people then, well, I’ve heard better bands in toilet queues…)

Vladimir – T Break Tent

Much better. I think the first act on today in the T Break Tent was Vladimir from Dundee. Didn’t catch the first few songs but they ended with a superb cover of ‘Born Slippy’, the pace taken down to something more like a guitar confessional and a sound which recalled something more like recent Betty reviewees the long lost (but still alive and kicking) Chameleons. Their last song sounded ominous and threatening, not sure what it was called but there is definitely some talent there.

Raleigh Ritchie – Tranmissions Tent

Back to Transmissions for a far more up-league proposition, you know that someone has a bit of muscle behind them when the sound-check is led by a man yelling instructions to sound crew and the other musicians for a good ten minutes, special treatment or special needs? Turns out that this guy is already a “star” with a part in world-shagging colossus TV series Game of Thrones, which Betty does not watch but is aware of. It’s not exactly Keanu Reeves at TITP in the 90s but when some of the punters realise who it is a big chant goes up, not sure WTF they were shouting (it was “White Worm” I think) but presumably his character’s name in GoT. He seemed like a very personable guy, bit of rapping, wee bit edgy but nothing too left-field, so who knows, he could be the latest UK rap sensation.

The sun is scorching, Betty is a big fan of Factory Floor and the information is that they are playing at 4.30pm in the Slam Tent.

So Factory Floor does not happen, in fact they played at 3.30pm, – missed them completely due to crap information but that’s festivals for you.

Pretty Lights – Slam Tent, 5pm or so

Never heard of this guy before, he is an American DJ and producer who’d been given a slot here during a tour of other festivals – next stop Croatia I believe. So he does his thing: sample-heavy, twisting the beats, shouting out vocals but not his own, massive screens above and below the desks on which the decks (and mainly computers) are arranged. And it is great, really great.
Laying into an incredible variety of types of music, samples etc across an absolutely pummeling bass line, the only surprise was that there were not more punters in the tent – Betty was draped across the fence at the front, in previous visits this would have been a real fight, is “dance” going out of fashion or is there just too much else on offer? Don’t know, but the cover version of Pink Floyd’s “Time” was sublime and possibly the highlight of the day for Betty, all the better that it was quite unexpected, i.e. not what I came to see, the real USP of a festival for me.

Chvrches – NME Tent

A sizeable crowd had gathered (but nothing like capacity for this massive tent) for this local Scottish success story. Sound was not loud, band were a bit static, some pleasantries were exchanged, witty lines from Lauren Maybury about how drunk the audience may or may not have been at 7.30pm (we’ve tried our best but, on the Tennents, well it’s never going to get too serious, you know they water it down anyway, so sue me now!). They have made some great tunes and sound ok live but there’s just not enough going on so Betty leaves after 3 songs, to be fair this band put in the work over the rest of the weekend, another 2 performances on Sunday, so respect due.

Wolf Alice – T Break Stage

I think they were on T Break, or Transmissions, that must be the Tennents kicking in – anyway this is another band on their way up, photographers being hustled on and off (after the first 3 songs, very strict) – to my mind it was a bit of a Britpop flashback, girl singer and the Sleeperblokes… ok there were some good tunes but the best was their Chris Isaak cover, ‘Wicked Game’ – now, that is a bit retro.

Manic Street Preachers – NME Tent

Betty has not reviewed MSP before but has had a long history with them, stretching back to TITP 1996, Barrowlands (early 00s) and the SECC around 2005. They are without doubt one of the UK’s most unique and eccentric groups. Not seen them for a while so disappointed there was no feather boa on Nicki’s mic stand; gone straight have we…? It’s a shame the sound levels were not louder because they really were in top form. The opener (usual for them at the moment, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness”‘) just reminded everyone of what a superb guitar player James Dean Bradford is, the way he plays the first few bars at the front and then jumps backwards like he’s had an electric shock as he continues and completes the riff, is unique and completely captivating at close range – and he’s singing at the same time.
The set comprised a decent trawl through the back catalogue with a fair smattering of new material from now current album ‘Futurology’ – “Take Me To The Bridge’ sounded especially good and the others were promising. The ‘Suicide is Painless’ (theme from MASH) cover was an unexpected pleasure and a couple of tracks from ‘The Holy Bible’ fairly burned. ‘PCP’ was dedicated to “Mr Richey Edwards”. Some sarcastic asides from James (“we may not have been a part of Britpop but we were around at the time”, introducing a furious ‘Everything Must Go’) and a comment on the Indyref – “We’ll let you get on with it, none of our business” punctuated some choice selections, ‘If You Tolerate This…” and ‘You Stole The Sun…’ being particularly welcome. Ending with ‘A Design For Life’, this set showed the Manics to be still a force to be reckoned with, and not in danger of becoming their own tribute band any time soon.

And I think the first crowd-surfer of the day I saw being ejected was a man in a chicken-suit, yes really, only at T.

Pixies – NME Tent

The headliners of the day here came on to a tent around two thirds full or thereabouts. Again Betty has had quite a long history with this lot (including main stage of TITP the year Bowie cancelled) although missing the SECC debacle the 90s. Last live gig seen was Meadowbank around 6 years ago but they have been in Scotland since then. Now on their second replacement bassist since Kim Deal quit (and this one’s not even called Kim, a first for them) they launch into a pretty unrelenting series of old material, all very welcome, with a few new tunes from EP compilation ‘Indy Cindy’ as well. Frank looks mean (though not very – rhymes with “mean”), Joey looks pretty mean as well, and Dave the drummer looks, erm, a bit old, but doesn’t seem to care.
Sound quality is good, though again not loud enough, and there’s very little said to the audience by anyone, Dave sings at the end of one number (I’ve forgotten what it bloody was now but it sounded great, I think he should do it more and may be the dark secret of the band, a drummer who can sing as well as the front-man). The female vocal duties were ably handled by new bassist Paz. Interestingly I noticed possibly not a single song from ‘Bossanova’ or ‘Trompe le Monde’ – a shame given they both had some decent tracks although maybe not with the legendary status of the first few waxings (I sound like Fluff Freeman… shut up, Betty).

Transport issues necessitated that the end of the set was not heard but I’d say it was overall pretty good, a wee bit “by numbers” but the new songs fitted in quite well and show there’s life in the old dog…

And with that it was farewell to Balado – forever.