Culture NI Reviews Glasgowbury 2013
When the news that this year's Glasgowbury was to be the last hit social networking streams mid-way through the week leading up to the annual Sperrins soiree, the reaction among diehard fans was one of judicious disbelief.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Draperstown festival and its modest mastermind, Paddy Glasgow, have offered festival goers a yearly escape from the cities to enjoy the finest upcoming and established Northern Irish artists performing against the stunning, mountainous backdrop of Eagle's Rock.
Glasgowbury has reflected the unprecedented surge in quality of independent music from this island over the past 13 years, and many of our finest acts – from Therapy? and Duke Special to And So I Watch You From Afar and The Japanese Popstars, amongst others – have performed there. For many thousands across the country, this small but MASSIVE festival defined a generation.
With one of its strongest ever line-ups partly programmed in cahoots with Derry~Londonderry's UK City of Culture celebrations, its final year sees Glasgowbury expand to two days for the first time – Day One sees a raft of bands from Derry~Londonderry ripping up the amps. And with Friday's sun cooking the tarmac leading up the mountain, the scene is set for another scorcher.
The tender strains of Susie Blue beckons us forward for some sweetly-soundtracked relief from the sun. A Maiden City schoolgirl with a folk-pop sound and musical maturity beyond her years, Blue has perhaps unfairly been compared to fellow Derry songtress Soak (squint and you could, in fact, mistake her for last year's teen revelation). But it's already evident that Blue's songs offer something different to Bridie Monds-Watson's brittle ballads.
Ed Zealous, meanwhile, ramp up a mean electro-rock racket that though probably better suited to stuffier confines still manages to get the blood pumping outside in the open. Derry producer Ryan Vail's pensive electronica doesn't fare so well, however, lacking the hushed intimacy of nightfall for his sound to truly impact. But if there's one act designed to blossom in these climes it's Silhouette, whose now well-known track 'Can't Keep Up' orchestrates the first collective frenzy of the festival.
For Tony Wright's Glasgowbury second Glasgowbury appearance as a solo artist, post-ASIWYFA, the diminutive songwriter has assembled a rather formidable faction of familiar faces to help him fatten up his folk sound in all the right areas. Comprising all but one of LaFaro and Stu Bell of Desert Hearts, Wright's VerseChorusVerse outfit is here a fully-fledged band.
Wright now has the means to heap swampy solos and atmospheric keys onto previously pensive tunes like 'Big Red Van' and the infectious 'Can't Win Your Freedom If You've Never Been Free At All'. Head turning crescendos and incessant refrains help to mark VerseChorusVerse as Friday's surprise package.
For many though, the must-see show of Day One is the return to the stage of long-dormant Derry punks, Jetplane Landing, who although seem to fatigue faster than they once might have, still manage to deliver a resounding performance of longed for old favourites and convincing choices from new album Don't Try.
Then, following some technical setbacks, And So I Watch You From Afar take to the G Sessions tent to consolidate their unscheduled riot back in 2010 with a reliable outpouring of melody and madness. Their instrumental credos may not have torn down the charts as many predicted they would, but Rory Friers and co still play them as if their lives depend on it. Tracks from their latest album, All Hail Bright Futures, are things to cherish.
So, the additional day is not an over-indulgence after all, as some feared it might be. And the final Saturday begins as it means to go on, with the sun never far away.
Belfast hype-magnets Vanilla Gloom have the Spurs of Rock tent healthily packed for the day's first performance. Initially their Breeders-influenced tunes come across as somewhat puny in such grand surroundings, but the all-female trio swell in confidence as their set progresses and over the closing numbers demonstrate their substance with impassioned grunge gusto.
Ringing ears are given a breather before hardcore hallions PigsAsPeople reinforce the afternoon tinnitus with an amp-terrorising stint, while bedlam breaks out under the respective regimes of The Clameens and The Last Generation, two Glasgowbury first timers already primed for big things.
Presenting some solace from all the distortion are Derry's The Wonder Villains, who you might presume, given their relative success over the past year or so, would be permitted to perform on the main stage. Not so. Unfortunately, the G Sessions tent does them little justice. I get the feeling they want to break free, while funk and soul ensemble The Dead Presidents perform outside, their effortlessly stylish presence and banter perfectly suited for the late afternoon slot.
Stamping back on the guitar pedals are Trucker Diablo, with a sizeable throng gathered to catch their dependably hulking hard rock sound. Mid-set single 'Voodoo' charges its way into the festival highlights list, before Axis Of take to the main stage, signaling that the end is nigh, and turning in yet another winning performance full of cheerily contagious chants.
In the three years since their first trip to the Sperrins, More Than Conquerors have bloomed spectacularly. From the mismatched indie stiffs that emerged from the class of 2010 and first acquainted us with 'Go On, Go On, Get Out', to the Radio One-playlisted pros the crowd hoisted above their heads last year, More Than Conquerors have become a well-oiled machine before our very eyes.
This year is their victory parade, and they own the stage that once dwarfed them, despite the lack of a live hook-up with Axis Of to play their conceived-in-just-12-hours collaboration, 'Heart of Invention'. Frontman Kris Platt later finds time away from crowd surfing to duet with Peter McCauley on Rams' Pocket Radio's wonderful '1+2' to draw the G Sessions to a close.
Back to their day-jobs then for LaFaro, sporting a characteristically dazzling wardrobe of evening gowns – bassist Herb Magee's spotless white tutu will surely now become part of Glasgowbury folklore. Thankfully, LaFaro have the riffs to match. 'Easy Meat', 'Tupenny Nudger' and 'Chopper' are all rolled out, but it's an atypically chirpy new number, the riotous 'Big Kevin' with a slab of the Beastie Boys' classic 'Sabotage' welded to the end that truly marks this LaFaro set as one to remember.
Following two full days of oppressive heat, headliners The Answer – whose history with the festival can be traced back as far as 2004 – have an almost alien chill to contend with. It wouldn't be Glasgowbury without the brisk mountain air returning to have punters dancing off the shivers one last time, and the Downpatrick veterans are at their best when their work is cut out for them.
With three album's worth of material to draw from, they give the crowd a final masterclass in groove-laden rock and roll without skimping on the prolonged jams, before making way for the last word from Paddy Glasgow himself. The entire Glasgowbury family are joined by a samba drumming circle to call time on a comprehensively massive weekend.
Despite its undeniable upward trajectory, it has, nevertheless, been a difficult year for the Northern Irish music scene, with old hands hanging up their guitars, venues closing their doors, labels putting out their final releases and publications ending their runs. But no loss will hit harder, or be more keenly felt in the years to come, than that of Glasgowbury.
It made a ritual out of creating legends on a July weekend every year, and has provided countless coming of age moments for every artist and festival goer who has ever had the pleasure to attend. Though its unique blend of goodwill, youthful promise, all ages enjoyment and that intangible element of magic is unlikely to be replaced, at least it's gone out on top. Here's to #onemoreyear of smallbutMASSIVE somewhere down the line.
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