The Great Western kicks off with Deadletter at The Hug & Pint. The small basement room is already almost at capacity by the time the band get going, and is quickly a ‘one in, one out’ situation.
Frontman Zac Lawrence is at his acerbic best, channelling some Ian Curtis moves to go with his Malcolm McDowell dead-eyed intensity. In contrast to his former trench-coated look, he’s shirtless by song three and crawling between the crowd’s feet shortly after. It’s a brilliant start to proceedings, and the sardined audience lap it up with glee – a shrewd move from the organisers to put a bigger name on so early: it’s not even 3pm and the sweaty masses are ready to riot.
The Maryhill Community Centre is quite the find for TGW – not one but two quality rooms suitable to host small or medium-sized acts. However, despite promoters 432 sensibly selling MCC-only passes for those unable or unwilling to leave its comfy confines, there are other delights to be had a short(ish) hop and skip away.
The Hug and Pint aside, a new addition to this annual event is the Piping Centre on Otago Street. A nice, great-sounding upstairs stage hosts several acts including Flinch. A vehicle of sorts for Beth Black, the frontwoman is ably backed by a threesome of guitar, drums and bass in delivering a set of songs that are in parts introspective, jangly, dreamy, and angular, but always with that knack of lodging themselves in that part of the brain that deals with quality indie pop. (SMcH)
However, most of the ‘marquee acts’ are at the Maryhill Community Central Halls (CCH); the heart of the festival. Rachel Aggs (Sacred Paws, Shopping) plays a great opening set in the smaller room, mixing beats, violin and guitar with her vocals, though it’s sadly a little under-attended.
Bikini Body fare better in the main room; their hi-NRG post-punk well-received under the swirling lights. Old favourites ‘Posh’ and ‘Daily Mail’ bring the day’s first sing/shout-a-longs, while new song ‘Bond Girl/Miss World’ sees the band veering into something akin to prog-post-punk (is that a thing yet?).
A.O. Gerber may be a new name to some (ok, this writer included) but not, it seems, for the considerable throng packed into the Hug and Pint. Lazy comparisons ranging from Alanis to PJ could be made, but aside from a powerful and emotive voice, the LA singer-songwriter has a further set of tricks at her feet, her effects pedals helping give the ethereal soundscapes of latest album ‘Meet Me At The Gloaming’ added impact in this intimate live setting. (SMcH)
The smaller room at the CCH serves as a looser, scrappier and occasionally anarchic, space for the day, though no less fun than the more polished main room. Bin Juice are spiky treats, while Dutch Wine are one of the heaviest acts of the day, making a hell of a squall for just three people, in the best way possible.
Lambrini Girls are at the more anarchic, riot-grrrrl end of the spectrum, perfectly placed as a pre-cursor to Pussy Riot. Singer Phoebe marches through the crowd with a swagger redolent of a band with clear strength in their convictions. It’s the best pit of the day.
The Piping Centre also hosts Glasgow-based Irish singer-songwriter Martha Ffion, who splits her set in two, the first half showcasing her effortless tunesmithery before bass and drums are introduced for a steelier, almost rock take on her closing tunes. (SMcH)
Kim Grant aka Raveloe also opts to introduce a guest, vocalist Jason, for her final number, but a snapped string almost results in disaster. Instead, the pair’s a cappella take on ‘Ghost Beach’ is one of the most unexpected delights of the whole festival. (SMcH)
The Bug Club make fast, fuzzy garage-rock with hooks for days. There isn’t much time to draw breath, but it’s an electrifying set in the main room. They’re followed by a relatively sedate showing from BC Camplight. It’s certainly a solid performance, with ‘Back to Work’ and ‘I’m Desperate’ particular highlights. Brian pumps his keyboard stool into the air with something approaching triumph, but it seems like he’s a little under the weather. The sound isn’t perfect (not too surprising given their layered music, and everyone having to soundcheck immediately before starting) and the show is half an hour shorter than billed. But BC is an iconic figure in these parts, so we can cut him some some slack.
Los Bitchos sound great however, the band vibing off one another with genuine feeling, whether in service of a laconic, cumbia-laced groove, one of Serra Petale’s searing guitar solos, or a percussive breakdown.
Before the main draw, there’s just time for Scalping. Sandwiched in a small room between two of the biggest acts, this could have been a damp squib but it turns out to be arguably the best show of the whole day. This is serious industrial techno, with beats to shake your bones and unsettling visuals to perfectly complement (exploding faces and contorting bodies feature heavily). It sounds so good you almost forget that it’s actually being played live.
There’s a restless intensity to the room as the minutes tick by and still no Pussy Riot. They do arrive eventually…and start to soundcheck despite the time. “Is there a way to make it sound…not bad?” one of the members asks the sound desk to chuckles. Contented (or resigned), they head off to don their customary balaclavas while their manager/promoter/biographer(?) gives us a short rundown of the band’s history and struggles. Music has only ever been half the story when it comes to Pussy Riot, and tonight there are excellent videos and translations onscreen to give a more rounded view of what often feels closer to performance art. But that said, the songs do sound great and understanding Russian or not the feeling conveyed is clear. Bringing the political back to punk has never felt so vital.
The Great Western has done a brilliant job of utilising interesting and DIY spaces for this festival (and this review really only highlights one of them!), bringing top-class musicians from far afield but still foregrounding local talent. A resounding success, even if Pussy Riot did eat BC Camplight’s pizza.
Words: Lewis Wade (except where indicated as SMcH). Images: Dale Harvey.