With music festivals, it’s traditional to save the best till last, but this is no traditional music festival. Spread across Glasgow’s West End and beyond, the second incarnation of The Great Western kicks off at promoter 432’s home, The Hug and Pint, with local act Goth GF first on a mammoth bill that commences at the barely civilised time of 1.30pm.
However, it’s perhaps fitting that one of the most talked-about acts in the UK, 6music favourites Yard Act, should play their first-ever gig in Scotland at the iconic venue, with punters being turned away from what is effectively a sold-out show in the hot’n’sweaty Great Western Road basement.
Kicking off with big Glitter Band-style drums and growling bass, the band led by vocalist and raconteur James Smith emerge from the dark, to an intro redolent of Half Man Half Biscuit (‘Thy Damnation Slumbereth Not’ or thereabouts). However, the guitar which bursts in is more nuanced and an integral part of the sound, a run of infections hooks lying somewhere between Joey Santiago / Paul Research / John McGeoch.
There is, it must be said, plenty of Nigel Blackwell’s stream-of-consciousness ramble in Yard Act’s makeup, and plenty of entertainment value in James’ interaction with the crowd as he gently chides the audience (who are to be fair barely up and out of their beds at this point). “I’m used to coming onstage to cheers,” he drawls, as the band play their first “hit” ‘Fixer Upper’, and start a running gag by changing the “Graham” in the lyric to “Liam”.
While the trademark guitar work is exemplary, it does drown out James’ at-times-impenetrable accent a little, the singer’s tale of their most famous fan Elton John already hard enough to take in. We get some audience-requested “deep cuts”, including ‘Peanuts’ (apparently KP unites the UK’s nations as the dry roasted bar snack of choice) while ‘The Trapper’s Pelts’ comes complete with a “magic trick” where the singer makes £2.50 collected from the front row vanish into thin air (or possibly his pocket). But well worthy of their bonus, Yard Act truly live up to the hype.
From there it’s an, as it turns out, unnecessary dash to Maryhill Community Central Hall, where Rev Magnetic should be on stage. However, for reasons unclear (but not of the band’s making), they’re not, the start of something of a snowball of culminated delays affecting the overall lineup.
At least there’s another venue nearby – the Mackintosh Church, where Jamie Sutherland in solo mode, though backed by his Broken Records bandmate/keyboard player. The frontman is self-deprecating throughout and presumably a perfectionist – following some lively guitar work on ‘Something Hurts A Little More’ he apologies, saying “I’ll try to get these fingers working.” He relates how his last time in this “great space” was with Siobhan Wilson in 2018, before “ruining it with harmonica”, and yes, the moothie may not be appropriate in a place of worship. When in impressive full-on anthemic mode Sutherland’s sound takes on a Waterboys feel, when dialled down he’s “channeling John Prine but nowhere near as good”. Sounds fine to me.
Back down Maryhill Road, Cloth are onstage. Sadly, although they seem on the verge of kicking off for a good 20 minutes, we only get a curtailed song vaguely reminiscent of Life Without Buildings without the talky bits, before cutting our losses and heading through darkened housing estates until we reach the abandoned warehouse that houses the Glue Factory. The resident madman on the slasher movie set is a spookily-lit Callum Easter who holds our attention for the next 30 minutes or so.
The Edinburgh songwriter can often be found gigging solo and accompanied by guitar, or accordion, but this time he’s opted for keyboard – or more accurately, at least on ‘What Do You Think?’, organ. Presumably he’s selected the “Wurlitzer” setting and if we are in a horror flick and the gates of hell were to open it’d not be a surprise to find Easter rising from the floor in the style of Reg Dixon at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. ‘Wishing You Well’, is more Elvis as hellfire preacher. When he demands audience participation, on ‘System’, we are compelled to clap along.
Of course, one of the pleasures of multi-band events like this is the chance to come across unexpected new discoveries, and with the timetable still skewiff (Cloth having just completed a reportedly excellent set) we take in Nuha Ruby Ra(admittedly it could just as easily be Lady Neptune or Konx Om Pax) – one woman onstage to a backdrop of flashing lights and feedback, but with a pop edge somewhere under the din. Unearthly, and undefinable, there’s synth-driven mathrock and abrasive techno scattershot by doomy big beats. Something of a happy accident, then.
Glasgow’s West End is hard to define geographically, so it may be that other factors require consideration. It’s a good half hour’s walk to University Avenue, where the two student unions are in use, meaning that many ensconced in the Maryhill Hub are reluctant to investigate other venues and with that, sounds. Similarly, the Glasgow Uni Union has its own audience hunkered down here for the day with many not venturing outside the leafy West End, instead waiting for the appearance of Corto.alto.
Let’s not beat about the bush here – they are billed as jazz, and while they’re young pups with nary a sign of either berets or bowler hats, that’s what they play. It’s as suggested modern, but happily not the atonal squawkings that can have even aficionados of the genre scurrying to the hills, more the trendy late-night stylings often to be found at the Blue Arrow or at Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar. A very busy venue is treated to floor-shaking bass and asynchronous rhythms topped by a twin sax attack – think boisterous Roni Size beats with ‘Sketches of Spain’ layered on top.
Two legs bad, four wheels good, and our chariot ride back to the land of Partick Thistle… turns out to be unnecessary, as the Yummy Fur, while onstage and raring to go, are still in set-up mode. The band’s set at the QM was one of the highlights of the previous TGW, and expectations are high.
Happily, once levels are set and cables swapped, they deliver. The quartet are composed of just 25% Franz Ferdinand following Paul Thompson taking the YF drumming position full-time, but it seems that bassist Dino Bardot is enjoying his break from the day job. Along with guitarist Brian MacDougall they define the band’s infectiously spiky tunes which cover the full Fur catalogue, reaching back to an energetic ‘Policeman’ via ‘Roxy Girls’.
And, while in 2019 the band premiered ‘Unity Over Europe’, we get another exclusive track, possibly entitled ‘Blue Sunshine’, which augurs well for future releases.
The band also delve into the ‘Male Shadow’ album, for glorious takes on ‘Department’ and ‘The Canadian’ Flag’, dedicated to Stuart Braithwaite, who is the curator of the Maryhill leg of the event. “Though he’s probably sitting downstairs,” frontman John McKeown jokes as he swigs a beer. “That’s your last one,” chides Thompson from behind his kit as an audience wag advises the singer to to “get some glasses” – the Mogwai man is stage front and enjoying the event as much as anyone else. Saving the best till last? With several more acts still on the bill across the city, not quite, but certainly well worth the wait.