Driving in to the gig, signposts to Govan conjured images of shipbuilding, tenements and heavy industry which today have become open spaces and retail outlets. The imposing brick facade of Ibrox Stadium seemingly all that remains of the area’s heritage. The short trek from car park at Ibrox to Bellahouston Park in South West Glasgow was like a walk through Glaswegian social history as the post industrial landscape quickly ushered in a lush green environment of Victorian and Edwardian tree lined avenues that border Bellahouston with its beautiful parkland, a reminder that before the age of suburban commuting, rich and poor often lived in close proximity.
Opening up the first of two days of music, Circa Waves played an energetic set which more than anything else highlighted one of the dilemmas faced by bands on the festival circuit. Three weeks ago I had watched them perform a rapturously received gig to thousands while supporting the same headliner. Unfortunately, apart from a few enthusiastic fans, the audience had yet to arrive in Glasgow. An hour later, the crowds had swelled considerably as Frightened Rabbit took to the stage. Out in the audience there was a really chilled, pleasing vibe as people sat in the early evening sunshine supping, beer, pizza and other culinary delights. Those standing, applauding at the front were fully immersed the bands earnest, guitar driven songs. It was an intense and impressive set which would have impressed even more in a dark sweaty hall but there was a sense that for many in the audience the band were providing pleasing background accompaniment while they waited for more familiar things. Frightened Rabbit were replacements for Johnny Marr and as the evening wore on it became increasing apparent that although very mixed in age, this was an audience steeped in the 1990’s in terms of musical taste.
Headliner Noel Gallagher mixed material from his High Flying Birds albums with Oasis obscurities and classics. It was a set of peaks and troughs that built toward a triumphant close as he encored with Wonderwall and Don’t look back in anger. He was on good form between songs, challenging the crowd to sing and praising their vocal efforts during Champagne Supernova, then berating Glasgow Celtic’s chances of beating Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League. Solo material like Everybody’s on the run and Lock all the doors engaged the audience early on but other recent material received more muted response. It’s a pity that a significant numbers in the audience (as at Y Not festival 3 weeks earlier) seem unwilling to move beyond Oasis heritage appreciation and open their ears to new sounds.
For this reviewer, Richard Ashcroft delivered the set of the day. Cutting a striking visual image in stylish pale blue suite and gasmask, he opened with Out of my body from his current album, immediately invoking a positive crowd response. Like his contemporary Noel, the best audience response was to his earlier, more famous Verve tracks. The drugs don’t work, Lucky Man and Bittersweet Symphony built to a tremendous climax with mass singalongs and thousands of hands aloft. The difference between this and Noel’s set was that more of Ashcroft’s Verve audience had clearly followed him on a journey through his solo career with clear recognition and enthusiastic applause for his later material.
It had been a good day; musically and in terms of atmosphere. As one of the onsite PR team said, "The audience knew what they wanted and made sure they enjoyed themselves." I would add a caveat that it would have been even better if more in the audience had been inclined to open their ears to new sounds.
Saturday brought a new day and a new audience. There were queues waiting ahead of gates opening at 3pm and where Ticket sales on Friday had been decent, Biffy Clyro and supporting cast had sold out.
Openers, The Xcerts played to a growing and enthusiastic crowd. At times they seemed genuinely overawed by the response they received but finished with, There is only you, accompanied by a poignant dedication to their recently deceased friend Tom Searle. Cage the Elephant who followed were an interesting proposition. Difficult to pin down in terms of their eclectic musical style, with an over-active frontman in Adam Schultz, and playing to an audience that was clearly unfamiliar with the majority or their material, one wondered what kind of response they would get. For me there was too much genre hopping to generate any flow to the performance but to their credit, the crowd who initially showed a laid back ambivalence as they sat enjoying the sunshine, grew into the set and applause levels increased with each passing number.
Musically very different but in terms of eclecticism, Wolf Alice are almost an English equivalent of Cage the Elephant. Yet there is an important difference; Wolf Alice move from melody to powerful riffs, from gentile vocals to a real sense of aggression as they offer up a kind of off kilter pop rock but seem able to make it flow seamlessly and grow in intensity as the set progresses rather than jerking from one genre to another. I’m probably not the first to draw the comparison but observing vocalist Ellie Roswell I couldn’t help visualising a late 1990’s PJ Harvey. Watching the increasingly positive audience response as the set progressed, something else became very clear. Where Friday’s crowd had been focused on the past and enjoying what was familiar, this audience had ears that were very open to the new and unfamiliar. It was a refreshing experience.
There was a sense of anticipation preceding Fall Out Boy and they didn’t disappoint. This is a band designed for big venues; with a big production and big choruses. We were treated to dancers, trapeze artists, impressive lighting and backdrops topped by all manner of pyrotechnics. Not being familiar with much of their material it’s difficult to comment on individual songs but by the time they finished there were arms aloft all around, audience on shoulders and increasing numbers of flares all adding to the atmosphere. While Wolf Alice had been good, Fall Out Boy showed that reaching the next level would be quite a jump. Biffy Clyro would need to be special to impress.
Opening with new song Wolves of Winter, the crowd erupted. The band have the ability to mix powerful metal riffs, fierce vocals and huge melodic choruses, often all within the same track. It would be wrong to suggest that the stage set and production were spartan but there was less reliance on peripherals than Fall Out Boy and less than the band employed themselves headlining Reading the following night. Yes the performance culminated with fireworks but this this was success born out of musicianship, songs and the electric interaction between band and audience. Drawing material mostly from their last four albums there was never really any chance that the performance wouldn’t be a triumph. Bubbles and Black Chandelier were mid set pinnacles and saw almost the whole audience singing with arms held high. The Captain brought the main set to a euphoric close before the trio returned to encore and send 36,000 fans home wanting even more.
Glasgow Summer Sessions delivered two days of high quality music but the last word should really go to the fans. Scottish and Glaswegian audience have been for decades regarded as some of the best; boisterous, often alcohol fuelled but always friendly. I would certainly concur but recent experiences at T in the Park had somewhat dented that reputation. As you walk or drive around Glasgow today it’s impossible to miss the numerous billboards proclaiming, “People make Glasgow.” The crowd at the Summer Sessions definitely did make Glasgow, they made it a great event to be part of and restored my faith.
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