At last! Following the citizens of Glasgow acting as the lucky guinea pigs for The Great Western, the much-delayed East Coast equivalent finally lands in Reekie, just up the Bridges.
Unlike its sprawling Glasgow counterpart, Edinburgh’s take on the multi-venue festival is a little smaller, and certainly more compact, than its older brother.
Maybe as well, with the city’s familiar chill in the air compared to the jackets-aff weather that graced Maryhill a couple of weeks before.
Instead, there are just six venues, with four of these being in the Summerhall complex just beyond the Meadows.
The first appointment is in the Dissection Room, with The Wife Guys of Reddit, whose opening two songs are as spiky as on record. IT’s not clear how many of the crowd have come to see the visiting Glaswegians, but despite their opting for a jazz-fuelled jam breakdown followed closely by an apparent love song whose shards of guitar degenerate into a noisy wigout, they are well-received by appreciative locals.
In one of those semi-circular seated rooms that seem to be round every corner in Summerhall (or maybe it’s always the same one), Dundee act Happy Tears are making a quieter noise – gentle shoegazey sounds for the mid-afternoon, washed with fuzz pedal “in a lecture theatre!” jokes Megan McNally, joined by just one of her regular backing band. He supplies shimmering guitar work for a sound evocative of Mazzy Star or the Cocteaus – a cover of Elliot Smith’s ‘Say Yes’ is as jiggy as it gets, but that’s just fine. It’s early yet.
Hamish Hawk has recently enjoyed a rise to… well, stardom, may be overstating it, but it’s a very crowded hall that hosts the first fo his two sets today. Opting for a more stripped-back sound, perhaps to reflect the early hour, ‘The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion 1973’ – “The Hit”, I suppose – gets a rapturous response while ‘New Rhododendrons’ plays out to a pindrop-quiet audience. Edinburgh crowds do have a reputation for being less boisterous than their counterparts in the West, but there’s a time and a place for respectful silence and this is certainly one.
Eavis’ Law states that all festivals will suffer a scheduling snafu at some point, and it’s not quite clear how Bikini Body end up ‘against’ no other acts. Their gain is the loss of those milling outside the Gallery Bar (confusingly, downstairs) in a lengthy one-in-one-out queue, but one suspects that the room would have been rammed no matter what. A quick summary of their sound could easily be “Delta 5 with extra swears”, and hopefully the Edinburgh act wouldn’t be too offended by that lazy summary – they’re angry, angsty post-punks with recent single ‘Daily Mail’, something of an instant classic which covers all the bases.
Anna B Savage has packed out the same room as Hamish Hawk before her, and it may be the same respectful punters who are rapt in reverence for ‘Corncrakes’. Armed with just her guitar, there’s probably more Joni Mitchell than, say, PJ Harvey in the London songwriter’s sound. She’s also influenced by Stephen Sondheim, by her own admission – the composer died just a couple of days before and Savage is barely able to hold back the tears as she dedicates a song to her inspiration. Another influence is referenced on ‘Baby Grand’ – “I’d written a line about the Edwyn Collins owl mug” (the former Orange Juice man’s illustrations appeared on Elli Popp pottery, although sadly there’s no cover of ‘A Girl Like You’ today).
Her album from earlier this year is ‘A Common Turn’, not ‘Tern’, but either way it could have had Edwyn’s ears pricking up, like the majority of those present.
As ever, discovering unknown-to-me acts is one of the best bits about these multi-venue events, and Dead Letter‘s name, for some reason, holds promise.
Worryingly then, the band’s singer sports Fred Perry gear, a hairdo that might well be a cast-off Ian Brown wig, and the band’s sound is propelled by both tambourines and those shaky egg things. Happily, the funky sax is largely inaudible, making for a rather more in-vogue sound. ‘Singer’ is more of a… what do we call them, “talkie”? In the Yard Act / Half Man Half Mark E Smith carpark, a Gang of Four rumble underpins a rant that’s South West London via North East Yorkshire, which is very ‘now’, which will hopefully be taken as the compliment intended. (Later ‘research’ yields a feature on the band in the Fred Perry website’s ‘Subculture’ section…)
Usually the ‘legacy’ of a festival – the muddy field variety – is hundreds of tonnes of discarded plastic and a field that won’t grow grass for the next year.
Here, we may instead have a very serviceable new concert venue. The King’s Hall – just up Newington Road – is hosting Field Music. The place is stowed though, with a crowd eager for skewiff Mackem antipop braving the cold outside, awaiting punters leaving so that punter equilibrium can be restored. The queue isn’t moving very fast…
Unfortunately, that means the hall is maybe just a bit on the small side for a band who have hit singles like ‘No Pressure’ – although, as one of the Brewis Brothers says, “not by Hall and Oates standards”. Certainly the setlist tonight is more crowd-pleasing than the previous time they were in Scotland, their Celtic Connections show ‘Making A New World’ a concept piece about the aftermath of The Great War.
But Field Music are fast becoming one of those acts which many would struggle to name one of their songs, but play them something like ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, and the smiles of recognition would be as wide as the Angel of the North. Close enough for rock’n’roll, if not for geography.
Although Camera Obscura have been booked for the twice-postponed Doune the Rabbit Hole festival, TracyAnne Campbell’s band have been on a lengthy hiatus with the singer instead working with Danny Coughlan (aka Crybaby). Here, in the Queen’s Hall, TracyAnne & Danny use samples and loops to recreate the best moments from their self-titled album, interspersed with a slew of self-deprecating banter. Danny’s anecdotes, including one about a girl with a glass eye which ended up in a carton of orange juice, seem too unlikely to be true, but he does deadpan rather convincingly. Introducing ‘2006’ as “depressing”, Campbell jokes that this refers to her guitar work on the track, before taking mock-offence at Coughlan’s rather-too ready agreement. The track, by the way, rhymes “Jacqueline” with “next of kin” but like much of their set, it’s infectious breezy pop, and will tide us over until July very nicely indeed.
We catch just a little of Broken Records and are struck again by how much they seem to be a band who came around at the wrong time – their epic, melody-drenched sound surely stadium-filler in some parallel musical universe? There’s a new album on the way however, and judging by the reception these local heroes receive, never say never…
Dipping in to what may be a ‘poetry slam’ we find Kevin P Kilday, who I’m convinced has made actual recorded music. Here, he’s an engaging presence, reciting ‘Quantum Scotland’ and doing well to get a cheery crowd to participate in three sound effect groups – ‘rain’, ‘wind’, and ‘perturbed heather’. And in doing so, taking the ‘po’ (faced) out of poetry. (Clever wording, cheers).
The Joy Hotel, I’m informed, are not who I thought they were. Instead, its founding brothers Luke and Jack Boyce joined by at least a couple of Glasgow psychedelic-popsters Quiche. And making them even more of a supergroup, they are now co-fronted by Emmmy Woods aka Emmy The Great. She brings much to the party including stage presence in the shape of an eye-watering Royal Stewart tartan suit, some mighty guitar chops, and, we presume, some songwriting. It may be something of a collective effort overall however, being as the seven-piece kick off all cowpunk, drift into pure pop, and and wind up with a towering proggy finale.
It may be Hamish Hawk‘s second appearance of the day but rather than dilute his following it seems that his afternoon ‘taster session’ has drawn everyone to the King’s Hall nice and early, lest they are turned away from the rapidly-filling auditorium.
Thus, we’re treated to his soundcheck, consisting of several renditions of the chorus of ‘Bakerloo Unbecoming’ (an aside: does that wonky little guitar riff that comes before the “songs for the national blackout” line sound a bit like The Damned’s ‘Wait For The Blackout’? A odd and secret homage to Captain Sensible, or is it just me? Oh, it is just me. As you were, then).
Contrasting with the afternoon’s more stripped-back feel, tonight’s set, from album opener album ‘Vivian Comma’ all the way through to ‘Caterpillar’ via their Mary Chain cover ‘Happy When It Rains’, is full-on rock, even the most melodic ‘Calls to Tiree’ punchier than a whole sack of Tyson Furies. We’re even treated to a new track, ‘Desperately’, which will surely become as much of an oddpop earworm as each of the previous singles. Though it’s strange, given our using The Great Eastern as a source for new band discoveries, that the highlight of the day is Hamish Hawk. Again.
But wait, a late contender? “This is going to be awesome,” promises Brian Christinzio aka BC Camplight. Again, the King’s Hall is busy, populate by excessively tall people and despite the venue’s useful sloping floor, BC is invisible to most of us due to his sitting down at his piano. We know this because (a) we can just see the top of his cowboy hat, and (b) he later waves his piano stool around his head triumphantly.
He has good reason, perhaps, to be elated at his reception from the Edinburgh faithful. He good-naturedly bemoans the timing of his recent singles, ‘Back To Work’ and ‘Cemetery Lifestyle’ which understandably didn’t pick up as much radio airplay as he might have liked. Though that is nothing on his |”horrific story” which saw him deported in 2015. (And there is a song for Priti Patel tonight, ‘Deportation Blues’, though we feel she might not enjoy the dedication that precedes it).
Camplight’s endearing set is pretty much all over the place – ‘Just Because’ has the feel of the Osmonds (really), but in the main it’s more a Springsteen / Zappa mutant strain, with shades of John Grant in the quieter passages. Some sanity is restored late on with the actual radio hits ‘Shortly After Takeoff’ and ‘I’m Alright In The World’ but the chair-twirling finale’s soundtrack is more the E Street Band jamming with Trail of Dead.
Following that chaos across the road Beak> is something of an anticlimax. Performance-wise, that is – there’s much to see, onstage but the Bristolian combo are very much all about the sounds. A side project for Portishead’s Jeff Barrow, they make pulsating, krauty, noises with driving live drums, though there are also shades of Tangerine Dream plus big Sabbath-style electro riffs which get the crowd bouncing. “We should drop that one, it’s not working,” intones Barrow dryly. Having largely exhausted their back catalogue, or the ones they have prepared, they eventually dredge another tune from their back catalogue. Sadly not the version of ‘Welcome to the Machine’ apparently recorded for Mojo magazine 10 years ago “when we were famous.” On this showing, who knows? Like The Great Eastern itself, it would surely be well worth the wait.