It’s fifty years since Woodstock and it’s threatening to rain. Although it’s a bit squelchy underfoot this is 2019 and there is the reassurance of around 20 street food stalls, more than three huge bars, and reasonable quality loos and urinals. And – importantly – the bands appear on time exactly as scheduled. 35,000 people daily will attend Friday and Saturday’s Glasgow Summer Sessions: it will get muddier; there will be long queues for food, drink and the loos; and we will get wet. Though Carlsberg starts at £6 a pint, which seems a little steep and the wide variety of food generally hovers around the £10 level (cheaper for chips but halloumi seems very popular), you know that we’re going to have a good time.
Glasgow Summer Sessions are well organised. For example, plastic matting paths were relaid and straw put down overnight to address the mud and improve safety. However I do have a gripe or two about the shuttle bus between Bellahouston and Glasgow city centre. Firstly it needs to be made clearer exactly when and where tickets for the shuttle can be bought; I wasn’t the only person searching for a non-existent stall (it opened later by Entrance A, but not signed). Secondly, how and where you queue for the buses needs to be clearer: 30,000 or so people pile out of the arena site and spontaneously form queues for the many shuttle buses: chaos. Thankfully astute crowd management by security staff over the next hour or so managed to bring order and fairness to the situation and avoided what might have been a minor disaster. Thirdly: my bus dropped us off at Glasgow Central; everyone on the bus had thought we were going to Buchanan bus station.
Friday 16th August: The Cure
It’s exactly 4.40 in the afternoon and, led by guitarist Ritzy Bryan, Welsh three piece Joy Formidable walk on to a smoky stage to the pulse of eighties-style synth which soon gave way to much more muscular guitar/bass/drums rock interlaced with more subtle textures.
The Glasgow Summer Sessions stage is huge and the band, bassist Rhydian Dafydd to the left and drummer Matthew Thomas facing in on the right look tiny. But their sound is big and the huge screens each side of the stage bring us Ritzy’s smile, which lights up the stage, radiates heat through the damp audience and literally brings us joy.
I was surprised to learn that Joy Formidable’s are ten years old but perhaps this was reflected in their confidence on stage and strong back catalogue. I enjoyed ‘I Don’t Want to See You Like This’ and ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ from 2011’s ‘The Big Roar’. Throbbing, sometimes distorted, often busy bass was supported by thumping, punky drums while Bryan’s created a strummed soundscape layer. The band close with a loud version of their most recent EP – ‘Whirring’ or, rather ‘Chwyrlio’, I believe as this was the Welsh language version; they leave the stage having nearly thrashed a guitar Who-style, feeding back. I wanted more.
I really enjoyed Scotland’s own Twilight Sad, too. Well connected, they have been regular support to The Cure. As might be imagined they received a massively positive reception from the audience. Their music, is uplifting but melancholic; their sound is a huge wall of sound. The growing audience was now huddled on the plastic matting, avoiding the rather smelly, sticky mud: the forecasted heavy rain was still largely holding off but dark, broody clouds were building up but all around. Occasionally the warmth and light of the sun would break through. Twilight Sad’s music is a bit like this: both dark and light.
They played against a backdrop of the cover art from their most recent album ‘It Won/t Be Like This All the Time’, the majority of songs also from this album. Much of the focus is on James Graham’s passionate, echoey and emotional Scottish-accented vocals; at times his stage mannerisms and gestures made me think of a wilting flower or a tree shedding its leaves in the autumn and on more than one occasion Ian Curtis came to mind as Graham twirled around like a slow-motion Dervish. Meanwhile guitarist Andy Macfarlane created an impenetrable wall of sound - dark, muddy, moody soundscapes, often using an ‘ebow’ to achieve a distorted sustain effect. Meanwhile Jurgen Klopp lookalike keyboardist Brendan Smith adds various textures. It all comes together spectacularly on ‘Videograms’, Graham seeming genuinely surprised at the band’s ecstatic reception. The high point of their too-short set, though was probably their cover of ‘Keep Yourself Warm’, in tribute to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison. Graham finished his passionate rendition in tears, his emotion magnified by the huge screens either side of the stage and as the song finished he stood silent as if praying to himself, the enraptured audience sharing this moment of grief. Twilight Sad ended – the guitar left on stage feeding back noisily.
Twilight Sad were a hard act to follow and Mogwai’s carefully crafted mainly instrumental prog post-rock music requires concentration. ‘Crossing the Road Material’ opens with Eno-esque looping textures but the band are soon into an epic, at times almost symphonic noise powered by heavy drums and bass – bearded Dominic Aitchison’s physical presence somehow reflecting the tone of his bass guitar. They run through several songs from their most recent ‘Every Country’s Sun’ with a smattering of material from their older releases. Swapping instruments, concentrating hard, Mogwai look very serious on stage as their songs build layer on to layer, building up to a crescendo, then releasing it. Their music can seem a little formulaic and repetitive, starting slowly and quietly, riffs repeated, speeding up, starting, stopping but it is carefully and precisely constructed and allows room for guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s squealing wah-wah solos.
During ‘Remurdered’ the heavens finally open and what seems like a day’s worth of rain pours down in about ten minutes; the mud underfoot now positively squidgy. Exchanging instruments again, Stuart Braithwaite announces that the next song will be the Mogwai’s last – it seems to have been a short set. The final song, though, is the lengthy ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ which typifies their dynamic slow, faster, fast; quiet, louder, loud repetitive riffing. Enjoyable.
Cue dry ice, cue The Cure, cue crowd adulation, cue more rain: keyboards introduce the majestic ‘Plainsong’ (“I think it’s dark and it looks like rain”). Luckily it’s just a drop or two and indeed it doesn’t rain again that evening. ‘Pictures of You’ follows - as do something like nearly thirty of The Cure’s most notable hits. I’ve never been a particular fan of the band – never a Goth - but it’s testament to Robert Smith’s great songwriting skills how many memorable, iconic songs there are and the sheer depth of the band’s back catalogue. Particular favourites that resonated for me were ‘Push’, ‘Just Like Heaven’ and ‘Shake Dog Shake’ – and that’s before the band embarked on their lengthy encore section. Needless to say the audience, more familiar with The Cure’s songs sang along and bounced up and down.
Dressed in black, of course, The Cure are very, very cool on stage. Reeves Gabrels makes playing the guitar looks effortless; Simon Gallup lurches and prowls across the stage, posing menacingly, a foil to both Smith and Gabrels; Roger O’Donnell looks angelic. What’s more, the band look like they really enjoy being up there on stage together, playing these songs together. Smith is in his trademark eye-liner and lipstick. Now looking a little matronly, his ruffled hair goth persona ought to look grotesque some four decades after its first outing but it’s both enduring and endearing – and cool, too. Courtesy of the excellent high definition video projection on the screens either side of the stage we could see every nuance and gesture as Smith sang on stage: tiny on stage, huge on the screen. The songs are often dark, melancholic and gloomy but Smith comes across as, dare one say – warm and cuddly, effortlessly charming with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. On stage he hugs his guitar; he seems hesitant, diffident, vulnerable, in shy awe of his audience. This brings an emotional honesty to his lyrics: when Smith sings “I will always love you” somehow you believe him completely.
Smith rarely addresses the audience – everyone knows the songs anyway; “put your hands in the sky” all hands are raised towards the sky; “too many tears…..too many years” I was almost in tears too – the effect was that powerful.
The Cure’s set is well-oiled from recent festival appearances across Europe. The mixing is clean with all instruments well differentiated and Smith’s vocals to the fore. He plays an African flute on the beautiful drum-led ‘Burn’. The audience also now knows to expect the long greatest hits ‘encore’. A projection of a spider’s web introduces the hugely popular ‘Lullaby’, everyone singing along as they do too to ‘Friday I’m In Love’. The Cure close with ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. Glasgow had waited decades for The Cure to return; the audience was rewarded with an effortlessly professional show that was both musically and emotionally very, very satisfying.
Saturday 17th August: The Foo Fighters
“How are you feeling, Glasgow?”. It’s Saturday and again threatening to rain as Hot Milk come on to the stage. The Manchester quartet play a short set of what they describe as emo powerpop. I’m afraid I failed to be charmed by their numerous “How are you feeling Glasgows”; incessant requests for us to “f*****g jump up and down”; and regular posing on stage risers, though I was intrigued by the message on the guitar: “World wide dead”. Their final song, ‘Awful Ever After’ was for me their strongest with busy bass playing, simple drumming and tuneful jangly guitars, though I’m tempted to suggest the preceding songs were merely awful.
Glasgow’s The Van T’s, led by twins Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson, were much more interesting. Playing in front of a broken heart backdrop, they’ve got guitars and they’re going to use them. They open with a psychedelic-sounding song with a great riff. Their music is direct and rhythmic but with catchy choruses. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it – perhaps appealing bouncy psych-punkadelic garage thrash will do. I particularly noticed that the three women who form the guitar/guitar/bass front line of the quartet unconsciously did Shadows-style guitar dance routines, moving in unison and to me this indicated their relaxed, cool coherence on stage. The end with feedback. All in all they were a very appealing group who I’d enjoy seeing again.
I’d initially been sceptical of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, expecting a punky variation on thrash metal, but their music was less hardcore but much more interesting and engaging that I had expected. Carter, dressed in studded denim jacket over a hoodie, comes on to screaming sirens and apocalyptic screeches, behind him a backdrop of the sleeve art of his most recent album, ‘End of Suffering’ - from which the majority of the set’s songs are drawn. The artwork is a series of diagonally striped rainbow-like colours; appropriate then that during their first number a stunted real life rainbow developed somewhere to the east, echoing the image on the stage!
The second song, ‘Kitty Sucker’ was a slice of melodically swampy punk rock, underpinned by distorted bass, guitarist Dean Richardson energetically running around the stage. Meanwhile Carter (who, from a distance, reminds one a bit of a tattooed Johnny Rotten as he ducks and crouches) has somehow disappeared into the audience, where he is now crowdsurfing. He seems to have boundless energy, too.
Still in the audience (possibly the crowd had dropped him!) Carter introduced the punky ‘Wild Flowers’ promoting a message of safety and security for “all the ladies in the audience”: love, respect and kindness – “she is so beautiful”. Engaging with the audience seems to be important to Carter and the between numbers banter with the audience was almost as entertaining as the music itself in ensuring we all had a good time. He managed to get the mosh pit opened up, the crowd parting to allow a women only pit: “You’ll never see a happier mosh pit……!” (immediately followed by the slightly desperate “How the f**k do I get back up?” as he tried to find a route back up on to the stage!). Carter is certainly committed to his art.
Meanwhile the band played on – energetically and tightly. From a distance the two guitarists look dressed alike, like twins. We learnt that Carter loved going to gigs but never liked the support bands, so now as a support band he’s vowed to be the best support band – to upstage the Foo Fighters, he quipped! He will be returning to play in Glasgow next February. A class and generous act with heart clearly in the right place, Carter graciously thanked almost everyone who had helped realise the gig and who had worked on putting it together.
Having dedicated a previous song to his daughter, his final song is now, in complete contrast, dedicated to “that special person in your life…… who you hate more than anyone else in the world”! And you really have to admire a rock act that can bring so much pleasure to an audience as they merrily chant along singing “I hate you, I wish you were dead” with such good humour.
Between Frank Carter and Slaves a full rainbow appears to the east and then a double rainbow. Meanwhile ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ is played over the PA, joining classic post-punk music (Joy Division, Simple Minds, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bauhaus and so on). Whoever had the idea of advertising Mitchum’s anti-perspirant – up on the big screens - was a genius!
I don’t really have a lot to say about Slaves. What they do they do well but in the end a drum and guitar punk duo are bound to end up being sonically limited. A couple of foul mouthed cheeky chappies, drummer Isaac Holman and guitarist Laurie Vincent make a big noise and I was intrigued how both bass drum and bass string on the guitar fitted together to fill out the otherwise limited instrumentation. But it’s difficult for just the pair of them to occupy a stage as large as Glasgow Summer Sessions’. They make up for this with a certain amount of (slightly obnoxious but entertaining) charisma – Vincent’s thrashy guitar histrionics as he bounces and poses acrobatically around the stage and - the real piece de resistance: Holman playing the drums standing up whilst singing. This he does by frantically flailing at his drums (the drumsticks are strictly disposable), whilst doing an energetic little dance, simultaneously shouting and swearing, all at once, half naked. Indeed, at times he resembles a manic giant albino spider running riot behind a drum kit.
A rant-rap (almost poetry), “Everyone swear at the drum kit”, led into the song ‘F**k the Hi-Hat’ with the memorable lyric, “F**k the hi-hat” repeated ad infinitum. Another high point was ‘Where’s Your Car, Debbie’. It was as if Slaves were trying very hard to be as charmless as possible. They were received well but the reality is that the crowd was beginning to get impatient for the Foo Fighters and it was becoming difficult to sustain interest. Like several of the bands over the two days Slaves left the stage with screaming guitar feedback. It’s possible that Slaves would be more enjoyable as headliners in a smaller hall environment as they clearly have something going for them but I’m not sure it was fully communicated today.
Where Slaves’ use of expletives was slightly annoying Dave Grohl’s is utterly endearing – good old down-home rock-n-roll bonhomie: “I came back to find rock-n-roll….. you want rock-n-roll? Alright you motherf*****s! Rock-n-roll! We got rock-n-roll!”. And so we got a marathon two and a half hours of pure, non-stop, classic rock-n-roll entertainment Foo Fighters style.
Opening with ‘Stacked Actors’ (which I think was unique to this gig on the current tour, so far) Grohl took us on an almost non-stop tour of his back catalogue - some 25 songs or so spanning a period of some 25 years or so, from, say ‘Monkey Wrench’ and ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’ through to the ‘Concrete and Gold’ era of ‘Sky is a Neighborhood’, which this evening featured backing singers Laura and Lisa and Grohl’s daughter Violet (later to return for ‘Dirty Water’). The performance is essentially one long rock and roll high – Grohl is at heart an entertainer who revels in his music and, with his band ensures that we do too. I could point out that on such and such a song the crowd clapped along, or sang along, or swayed to and fro, or waived their hands in the air – but they did it to every song.
At times it was a real high – especially when Taylor Hawkins’ drum riser literally rose up into the air during ‘Times Like This’ and remained there for his lengthy, busy drum solo. Whilst I felt that the quality of the video production being screened was not as good as the night before for The Cure, watching Hawkins from a camera placed above him was great and projecting his solo on to the back screen behind him whilst he played in mid-air was very effective, as was the complex robotic lighting for the gig as a whole.
Watching Hawkins hanging around in mid-air, now performing ‘Sunday Rain’, did inevitably bring to mind Spinal Tap and it was with some relief that he returned to earth safely. If I had one criticism of the show it would be that at times the focus shifted too much from Grohl to Hawkins and it risked becoming the Taylor Hawkins show rather than the Dave Grohl show. I’m afraid I could easily have done without Hawkins’ singing a cover of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’, which I found redundant – though it did give us the opportunity of hearing Grohl play drums. Which raises the question of who is the better drummer? We shan’t go there, but suffice to say that Grohl proudly drew parallels between Hawkins and Mitch Mitchell!
Similarly I did find my energy level dropping during the – to my mind – slightly superfluous section where the band is introduced to the audience. It’s a little bit like the section old prog-rock bands used to have where each member did their party trick. This evening Chris Shiflett played an excerpt from Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town; Nate Mendal played a very funky excerpt from Chic’s ‘Good Times’; now full member, Rani Jaffee played a quick ‘Flower of Scotland’ – prompting a 30,000 plus audience singalong; long – time Grohl accomplice Pat Smear (victim of some good-natured banter relating to the Red Hot Chili Peppers) played the Ziggy Played Guitar section from Ziggy Stardust. We were also introduced to Hawkins’ colourful shorts as he swapped roles with Grohl! More significantly Grohl’s Scottish monitor sound man of more than 30 years, Ian, was introduced – reinforcing the close bond between band and audience.
Grohl is a master of dynamics and typically Foo Fighters songs begin with the focus on his guitar before the full band joins in – Grohl always controlling pace and volume. This is an extremely well-rehearsed, well drilled band: precise but still flexible enough to jam and rock out on extended numbers. For ‘My Hero’ (and I think ‘These Days’) Grohl took an extended solo before being joined by the rest of his band, Jaffee also taking a keyboards solo during the song. Meanwhile, once again massed mobile phones documented the gig.
Grohl explains that the Foo Fighters don’t do encores but prefer to play straight through to the end. ‘Monkey Wrench’ and ‘Hey Johnny Park! Are followed by ‘Dirty Water’, ‘This Is a Call’ and ‘Best of You’ – the energy level now high again and the audience singing along heartily. Grohl then addresses the audience again: AC/DC (brothers Angus and Malcolm Young originally from Scotland) are a favourite band. The Foo Fighters then launch into a great cover of the appropriate ‘Let There Be Rock’. Ending with the classic ‘Everlong’ you knew that, as they traipsed back through the mud, every single member of the audience had had the most wonderful two and a half hours of top rock entertainment and you understood why the Foo Fighters are such an important and popular band, up there in the pantheon of American rock legends.
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