Last year’s inaugural TRNSMT won, “Best new festival” at UK Festival Awards ceremony. Now awards don’t mean everything but in this case it did reflect an event that provided some outstanding performances, had a great atmosphere and was really well organised. So could this year’s TRNSMT match and build on that foundation?
Friday was the most reserved and quiet of the weekend in terms of numbers and audience reaction although the atmosphere was actually very laid back and pleasant as the main stage hosted a lineup of pop and mainstream indie stalwarts. It was mid-afternoon before I arrived on site and first up on stage was Jessie J. There is no doubting the quality of her voice but the last time I saw her some 3 years ago her performance had been jaded and lacklustre so it was pleasing to see her delivering a set brimming with energy in which she made full use of the front of stage runway erected for headliners Stereophonics. So, a promising start but career wise a little worrying that she delivered little new material with over half the set coming from her first album.
Next up was James Bay, hatless and with new hairstyle, image and musical direction. I was impressed with the more upbeat approach and pleased to see him still delivering plenty of guitar. Songs were an even mix of old and new, with material from both albums being well received although I wasn’t convinced by the inclusion of a Bonnie Tyler cover toward the end.
I have to admit that I really don’t get The Script but maybe that’s just a male perspective. Live shows seem to be a vehicle for Danny O’Donoghue to parade around a stage while the band perform fairly bland, tuneful pop songs. Their set at TRNSMT proved no different. The singer, visually striking in red tartan kilt and leather jacket certainly used the stage to good effect and popular tracks brought enthusiastic singalongs from many in the audience who were clearly more familiar with the band’s material than your reviewer.
There were some impressive performances on the King Tut’s stage during Friday. I’m not sure how their recorded output stands up but as a live entity, Pale Waves were excellent with vocalist Heather Baron Gracie a charismatic focal point. Closing the evening, Tom Walker has both a great voice and some impressive songs and proved himself to be a worthy headliner.
Stereophonics have always been a band that get up on stage and thrive on the merits of their live performance and songs but things have changed. For TRNSMT we had a long runway stretching into the audience that was wide enough for a drum kit to emerge from its depths midway through the set. Yet for all the new found production values it was still the songs and their delivery that counted. Their 90 minute performance included tracks from most of their albums and the crowd needed little encouragement to sing along; a good finale to a decent first day.
Saturday (and possibly the whole weekend) at TRNSMT belonged one man and he wasn’t called Liam; although both messrs Gallagher and Fray got enthusiast responses from the sold out crowd. No, king for the day (and possibly much longer) was Gerry Cinnamon. Originally slated to open the main stage he was moved to late afternoon following the recent incarceration of J Hus. I’ve been to a lot of gigs over a lot of years and can’t recall ever witnessing such a crowd response to someone so relatively unknown. As he walked on stage the audience erupted. Smoke from a huge number of flares reduced visibility around the stage to a few metres while thousands chanted his name. For three or four minutes he paced the stage with arms occasionally aloft or with fists clenched. His pacing punctuated with raucous laughter, wide grins and looks of incredulity as he tried to take in the scene. Stood next to me in the front of stage pit, NME’s photographer looked across, shook his head in disbelief and yelled into my ear, “F..k, what’s going on. I feel as though I’ve left earth and landed on an alien planet.” At this point Mr Cinnamon had still not played a note of music! The response went up many more decibels when he began to perform (armed with acoustic guitar, glaswegian accent and occasional backing tapes) with tens of thousands in the crowd bouncing and singing every word to every song. After a few songs he stopped overwhelmed, looked at the crowd said, “I don’t know what’s going on but it’s beautiful. It’s your party” And so it went on for the next thirty minutes! (For anyone doubting what I’m saying check out his whole set on youtube or iplayer!)
So what of the rest of the bill? Shed Seven played hits from a couple of decades ago that seemed mostly lost on the generally young crowd while Liam Fray and the Courteeners treated us to their conservative indie guitar music with choruses. They were well received but with nothing like the enthusiasm witnessed at of their gigs in the north west of England. Wolf Alice died in the oppressive heat. Personally I thought they were the musical highlight of the day but this was not their audience. Sandwiched between Cinnamon and the Courteeners their time slot served as a comfort and beer break for the thousands who drifted away.
Headliner Liam Gallagher’s handheld video as he walked toward the stage was reminiscent of watching a boxer approaching the ring for a title fight and certainly impressive. Unfortunately the champion of the day had been crowned several hours earlier. Moreover, Gallagher’s was not a champion’s performance and he was clearly not Mr Happy. A couple of songs in and he appeared to criticise the audience’s enthusiasm; “It doesn’t look very rock n’ roll from up here.” By song three he was criticising photographers and a few minutes later came another jibe; “So this is the famous Glasgow Green.” There was nothing wrong with his set comprising mostly Oasis material and there is no doubt that it went down well but in truth this was less self- styled Rock n’ roll star and more like journeyman singer at work.
Day three dawned even hotter than Friday and Saturday. Those with full weekend tickets must have been wilting but they were rewarded with some impressive music; especially on the King Tut’s stage which delivered both in terms of variety and quality. The Magic Gang’s catchy guitar pop was deservedly well received in a performance that began slowly but steadily built momentum. Australians, Confidence Man who followed them were something else! I’m not so sure about the quality of their dance and disco based sound but they were a visual treat. Drummer and keyboards played beneath black beekeepers veils while front man / woman were real disco divas, changing costumes and gyrating energetically throughout. I’d enjoyed King No One a few weeks ago but on Sunday they were even better, thriving by playing to a larger, more enthusiastic crowd.
I have to admit to a degree of cynicism when it comes to music business hype around new artists and have certainly been underwhelmed by what I’d seen and heard of Sigrid but felt obliged to go along and watch. A few songs in and all I can say is, wow! Her singing, stage effervescence and child- like innocence were phenomenal. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so impressed by a new, young performer.
Over on the main stage, day three began well with an enthusiastic performance from Tom Grennan in front of a surprisingly large crowd. It really showcased his vocal and song writing abilities and bodes well for the release of his debut album. Miles Kane played an enjoyable set with plenty of tasteful guitar but didn’t seem to get the crowd reaction he deserved. In their defence they were entitled to a degree of lethargy considering their prolonged exposure to the afternoon heat. Indeed a wander around the site quickly showed areas of woodland and shade to be grossly over populated as many hunted for ways to escape the sun’s rays.
It wasn’t until early evening that the main stage audience came to life when Blossoms, who aren’t noted for their scintillating live presence, played a really enjoyable set. Penultimate act of the weekend were Interpol but there was something incongruous and disconcerting about watching them, dressed in black as always, play in bright sunlight with the temperature still hovering around 25 degrees; this a band with music designed for darkened rooms. There were many at the front who really appreciated them but for the majority they were an unknown quantity that they struggled to relate to. Very much like Wolf Alice this was a case of a good band in front of the wrong audience.
Arctic Monkeys closing Sunday night were a UK festival exclusive and a real coup for TRNSMT. Seeing their performance unfold there was a sense of watching a band operating at a different level to everyone else over the weekend. This is a band that from their second album onward have developed and changed with every new release and their 20 song set sampled all of them. Styles melded seamlessly together, pace ebbed and flowed, Alex Turner moved from lounge lizard to impassioned vocalist to contorted guitarist with a penchant for bizarre moves as the whole performance built toward a majestic peak. Gerry Cinnamon may have been the peoples champion but there can be no doubt who held the artistic crown.
So did the first weekend of TRNSMT 2018 match and surpass last year? In terms of atmosphere and organisation it certainly did. Musically, there were some really special performances but I came away thinking that I’d seem a little too much that was good but a little too safe. Having said that a commercial festival needs to book to please its core audience and there can be no doubt that in terms of tickets sold and audience enjoyment, TRNSMT 2018 weekend one was a real success.
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