Saturday, 27 July 2013

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Glasgowbury 2013

Eagle's Rock rocks out for the last time in an atmosphere awash with excitement and emotion

The first thing I notice as I march up to the entrance of the final Glasgowbury is how much bigger the festival site is than when I first came, as a mere reveller, in 2008; already, I hear a punk band playing in a tent worthy of Glastonbury. No one is picking up hot food yet either; it's far too warm and far too early for that sort of thing.

What it's not too early for is some thumping music to shake us from our slumbers, and Sean Breslin and the Clameens provide it on the Small But Massive stage. Little more needs to be said about Pete Doherty's new favourite band, apart from that they seem much more comfortable on the big stage than I thought. Unlike Franz Ferdinand, or worse still, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Clameens successfully hark back to the mid-noughties without needing an intimate setting, a capacity crowd, or both, to thrive. Wisely drawing inspiration from the stage presence of The Libertines and the tantalising song-writing of Alex Turner, they please a sparse crowd and leave one keen to hear more from them.

Slowly but surely, they are finding a loyal following. Furlo, on the other hand, already have one, and are keen to go out with a bang on the G Sessions Stage. That they do – to an extent. It's still too soon to get lost in heartfelt sing-alongs and wild frolicking, but the talent of Jonny Everett and company is never in question, and their experimental electric funk lends itself nicely to the tent's acoustics.

Wild is what the aptly named Wyldling are, or at least try to be. Lead singer Jilly St John, a mistress of many poses, throws herself around the stage a la Natalie Bassingthwaighte (of Rogue Traders and Neighbours fame) while everyone attempts to take it all in. The party atmosphere St John and the band go for doesn't quite come off, but one does warm to her image; that of the tattooed rock goddess with a heart of gold. Clearly, St John is frustrated by the heat, which prevents her from being as perpetually crazy on stage as she wants to be, but strangely, this works to her advantage, giving the band's performance a cool and sensual edge. We could have a gothic Silhouette in the making here.

What is it about punk pop kids The Wonder Villains – siblings Eimear & Kieran Coyle, Cheylene Murphy and Ryan McGroarty – that grabs one's attention? It's quite simple, really. They're exuberant, fearless, synchronic and appreciative of their audience, with a multi-dimensional retro sound - 1980s, to be more precise - that excites the young and revitalizes nostalgists. They are a community group who know their strengths and play to them, giving each band member their moment in the spotlight, and connecting with the G Sessions Stage crowd in a uniquely friendly manner.

Next stop, the Eagle's Rock Stage, for Dungannon-based Alana Henderson and her brand of folky "string pop". With the help of a cello, and backing musicians including Silhouette's Connor Burnside, she uses the intimate setting to display what classical instruments can bring to the popular music arena. Most impressive of all, perhaps, is her voice; laced with a wailing bitterness that glides over the surface of our soul, it channels the likes of Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell, drawing the watchers in. The title track from her "Wax And Wane" EP, with its James Bond-ian opening riff and groovy rhythm, is most promising indeed.

Back at the Small But Massive stage, The Dead Presidents prove themselves to be everything Buena Vista Social Club should have been at the Venue last month; energising, funky, soulful and exciting. There hasn't been a louder cheer from revellers all day. It’s asking a lot for Runaway GO! to match up to this, but Fiona O'Kane's Sharleen Spiteri look, coupled with catchy tunes and passionate stage dynamics that hark back to Ash and The Killers at their finest, provide a great foreground to the lovely view of the Sperrins on this boiling day.

The Emerald Armada inspire excessive clapping with their high tempo rodeo folk at the Eagle's Rock Stage, before Pocket Billiards attempt to create a haven for lovers of ska and brass music at the G Sessions Stage. At first, the party atmosphere is genuinely electrifying, and their sound – Supergrass meets Madness, to these ears – positively charges the tent. Unfortunately, the tunes get rather samey and exhausting after a while; while there's a spark there, it's not really enough to warrant a fifty-minute set. Someone should have told them to cool it a little.

The superb keyboard playing of John McCullough and the even better guitar solos of Paul Casey are a neat tonic before the last shows of the day, and indeed, Glasgowbury as we know it. Rams' Pocket Radio will sign off at the G Sessions Stage, while The Answer will bring the final, FINAL curtain down at the Small But Massive stage. Either set is clearly going to be infused with energy, nostalgia and regret.

Being in the mood for the more intimate option, this writer chooses Rams' Pocket Radio at the G Sessions Stage. A series of sound delays frustrate everyone, to the point where Rams' leading man Pete McCauley asks the crowd if they’re still "with" him. Luckily, they are – and indeed, how could they not be, after a typically powerhouse performance of "Dieter Rams Has Got The Pocket Radios"? – but tonight McCauley and his ensemble will raise their standards to another level altogether, in a style worthy of the occasion.

If the craic isn't as "mighty" as McCauley wants it to be, it is certainly warm. The highlight of the set comes from the songs "with feeling": "Love Is A Bitter Thing" and "1 + 2", among them. All pack an emotional wallop that fills both songs and atmosphere with life and resonance. With a mini-orchestra of cello, trumpet, guitar and additional drums – yes, McCauley is both a drummer and pianist – behind him, as opposed to the couple of guitars and drums we once associated with backing Rams, McCauley feels arguably more isolated, but emerges stronger as both a musician and a personality. It is a thunderous, rich and emotive sound, a cut above the blandness of popular comparatives Keane.

It's also interesting to contrast McCauley's most recent approach to his music with that of his former band mate Shauna Tohill, aka Silhouette. I said in a previous review that McCauley and Tohill had a "near telepathic understanding", and when watching the Rams here, you can see that McCauley has rubbed off on Tohill. Silhouette may be funkier, more intimate and higher tempo than the Rams, but their music has the same positively energising effect on audiences and listeners. From one once-promising three piece act, two potential musical powerhouses have emerged. Once small, now massive.

And that, if anything, should be the ultimate legacy of Glasgowbury.

A festival that has both nurtured up and comers and solidified establishing talents in the eyes of countless people. An annual "had to be there" moment, a festival that will be much missed from the musical calendar, but has left us with countless memories and a potentially strong cultural legacy.

Farewell, Eagle's Rock. We've been extremely lucky to have you.