... guaranteed to blow your mind. Maybe.
[soz, couldn't resist the lyrics title - ed]
Weekend one at TRNSMT delivered in terms of atmosphere and saw some impressive performances. Part two matched it with some equally strong music but atmosphere was hampered each day by one significant factor; the introduction of a Golden Circle.
Arriving just before music opened at 3pm on Friday, I was struck by how quiet things were. The previous week there had been groups sat in the sunshine in the park outside the gates taking advantage of cheap beer and food. This week there was no one. It was a similar picture inside with very few present when locally based The Temperance Movement opened proceedings. It’s a daunting challenge opening a day with a very small audience and much more difficult when a long runway has been erected for the headline act and there are maybe 100 people in a golden circle with the remainder of the audience some forty metres away. There was distant applause for the band with their brand of classic bluesy rock with a sound reminiscent of Free or Bad Company but meaningful interaction was barely possible in the circumstances.
As the afternoon progressed The Darkness and then Alabama 3 played to pitifully small audiences. Both bands tried hard to engage the crowd but new arrivals tended to be ordinary ticket holders who were also becoming frustrated by the vast open spaces in front of them. The Golden Circle remained devoid of people. It was becoming clear that either ticket sales had been extremely poor or that the audience weren’t interested in enjoying a day of music, they were coming just to watch Queen; the truth was nearer to the latter.
Friday’s audience was very different to the previous weekends’; it wasn’t that they were older, you would expect that. There were a few adorned in T shirts emblazoned with their favourite rock band but most didn’t resemble a festival crowd, looking as though they were more used to going out for a meal before moving on to sit comfortably in their local arena. It was telling that while Alabama 3 (admittedly an unlikely choice as a support for Queen) were toiling in front of a few hundred in the Golden Circle, those ticket holders were filling a packed VIP area with long queues for food and drink.
Sometime between six and seven there was a real surge in numbers. Glasgow Green wasn’t full but there was suddenly a healthy crowd of probably 25-30,000 and I emerged from the press area to find a packed Golden Circle waiting for Texas. They aren’t a band that have greatly impressed me as a live entity in the past but they delivered a really special performance. Being a hometown gig may have been a factor but many in the audience clearly knew their songs and their greatest hits set had thousands singing along. Sharleen Spiteri clearly had permission to make use of the stage runway and used it to great effect. What a difference a crowd, especially one in close proximity to a performer, makes. The day had finally sparked into life!
The King Tuts stage had a decidedly rocky and Scottish lineup and saw some spirited performances. Local trio The Amorettes set things off energetically while Gun headlined with a set that mixed old classics and newer material with Cameo and Beastie Boys covers. We were treated to big riffs, big choruses, rock posturing and infectious grins from a band clearly enjoying themselves and the reaction they were getting. Special mention must also go to Glaswegians Mason Hill who played late afternoon. There was nothing ground breaking in their hard rock set; they just did it very well.
Queen took to the stage with much fanfare and great applause and over the next two hours delivered exactly what you would expect; a succession of great songs performed with slick production, overblown pomposity and excellent musicianship. Brian May showed what a good guitarist he’s always been while Adam Lambert combined vocal duties with costume changes and over the top posturing. At times it veered close to pantomime; Adam Lambert riding a tricycle along the runway during Bicycle Race was cringeworthy. In a rare variation to their regular set Brian May’s solo acoustic rendition of The Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond was a nice touch. Overall this was a highly professional and enjoyable set played to an audience who were clearly thrilled by the experience. It was great to see so many happy smiling people moving to the music. We’ve all heard of “Dad dancing” but this Friday night I witnessed an overdose of Mum dancing!
I was expecting the Golden Circle to have disappeared by Sunday but arrived to find new signs directing punters to “Front Circle.” Quite what was going on I’m still not sure. There were rumours that attempts had been made to remove some of the infrastructure after Saturdays’ religious event but that these had failed because of time and health and safety issues. Whatever the reasons, it was there and there was security on the gate. There were further rumours of periods during the afternoon when wristbands were being issued without charge in an attempt to fill the empty space but whatever attempts were being made, the outcome was similar to Friday. Without knowing the facts it’s difficult to know where to attribute responsibility but the fact remains that acts performing early in the afternoon played to distant audiences and even by the time penultimate act Chvrches hit the stage, there were significant spaces at each side of the “Front Circle.”
So what of music on the main stage? A few weeks ago I watched Lewis Capaldi perform a great set to a crowded tent of around a thousand people but he was lost on a big main stage playing to a largely empty space. Jessie Ware who followed him suffered a similar fate and I wondered whether this was down to just a distant audience or whether the crowd would respond better to music with more energy.
Friendly Fires brought big production with an impressive LED screen, streamers and confetti while singer Ed Macfarlane was as lively and motivated as ever. There was certainly no lack of energy from the band. Their sound was similar to the dance infused pop that had brought them success six or seven years ago with maybe a stronger latin feel than I recollect. However, there was a sense that although they had changed little during their musical hiatus, tastes had moved on. Their set was met with what can best be described as bemused silence and polite applause in the front circle which had finally started to fill with people.
The King Tuts stage on Sunday brought contributions from Scotland, England and Australia and some real diversity in sounds. Opener Lucia, striking in silver dress played to a growing and appreciative crowd as people stopped to take in her performance as they entered the site. Later in the day Mancunian Jane Weaver evoked the spirit of Hawkwind with tracks from her excellent recent album. Headliner Nina Nesbitt was barely recognisable as the blonde Scottish girl I had seen strumming an acoustic guitar a few years ago. Like James Bay she has undergone a sartorial and musical makeover and successfully exuded a sense of Californian sunshine. Sometimes an unknown band can deliver something really special and Australians, Gang of Youths did just that. This wasn’t a band to rest on one musical style and I’ve no idea whether their material would hold up to scrutiny in the confines of a quiet room but on stage, musically they were great and had a front man with the charisma and presence to really hold an audience.
It would be very wrong to say that the audience tastes had a Scottish bias although I’m sure it helped some performers. Franz Ferdinand may have been locals but it was the quality of their songs and their exuberant performance that brought the TRNSMT main stage audience to life. It was late afternoon but the renowned Glaswegian crowd was beginning to live up to its reputation.
I was experiencing increasing feelings of déjà vu while stood watching Chvrches. Like fellow Glaswegians Texas two days earlier they treated the now significant audience to a terrific hometown gig. The transformation of Lauren Mayberry from quiet unassuming singer playing in moody dark lighting when I last saw Chvrches three years ago was astonishing. Here was a supremely confident young woman constantly moving and fully commanding the stage. There was a sense that in her case she really could live up to the logo emblazoned on her T shirt, “Girls can do anything.” Their set easily surpassed expectations and for me was the main stage highlight of the day, building on the momentum generated by Franz Ferdinand.
Everyone has different musical tastes which is great, but for me writing a balanced review of The Killers was always going to be difficult. Like Queen there is slick production, professionalism, pomposity and good musicianship but with a few exceptions their songs seem to lack diversity and quality. Personally I find Brandon Flowers voice lacks character while his ego and narcissism is a real irritation. This is the fifth time I have tried to watch them and like the previous four attempts my irritation had reached such as level that after 30 minutes it was time to walk away. Obviously there were about 30,000 others present who would totally disagree and were clearly having a great time.
Over the two weekends TRNSMT gave us some great performances and the Glaswegian audience has the capacity to generate the best atmosphere in the UK. Next year the event returns to one weekend and the message going forward should be very clear. Lots more of the same but please, no more headline bookings that demand a Golden circle if you want to preserve that atmosphere.
latest on this festival
TRNSMT weekend two 2018 review
TRNSMT weekend one 2018 review