Live review: TRNSMT, Glasgow Green, Sun 14 Jul
Lewis Capaldi / credit: Ryan Buchanan
Lewis Capaldi threatens to upstage headliner George Ezra, topping a day high on noughties indie nostalgia
The news we, hand on heart, already knew but just needed confirmed as fact arrived at the tail end of last week: T in the Park is no more. TRNSMT isn't a placeholder, something to talk about while Scotland's biggest music festival does some soul searching, it has taken over that mantle. This year's third edition of the Glasgow Green event constitutes a huge success. Brass tacks; each day has sold out, which presumably is the bottom line for Live Nation, given its recent history. The line-up has had plenty of bad press, some justified (the gender play gap, please try harder, it can't be that diff) and some that's at least partly rooted in snobbery.
On the first point, the Queen Tut's stage must be addressed. Depending on who you ask, the last minute addition of a stage featuring female and female-identifying talent was either a positive step that made steps towards balancing out a male dominated bill, or a fairly lame and patronising attempt to score some brownie points given the festival's bad publicity. Both statements are true; it's all well and good viewed purely as a numbers game, but, as Friday's performers Tongue Trap point out, the short term statistics aren't the be all and end all. More needs to be done, and it's not just tiny stages at festivals where the likes of Stephanie Cheape's (★★★☆☆) best efforts are essentially drowned out by the noise from the two gigantic open air stages a stone's throw away.
It's a more consistently balanced and inclusive approach that's needed, allied to a genuine investment in youth that's driven not by profit but by a desire to foster creativity that'll make a difference. Today, the CHVRCHES-backed Girls Rock initiative reaches its conclusion, with another group of young people mentored and encouraged by some of the best role models they could hope to have. The contrast is worth thinking about.
Back at Glasgow Green, opening up the main stage are The Amazons (★★★☆☆), blowing any cobwebs away with a set that flits between Royal Blood-style riffage and big hearted melodic rock. A highlight is debut single 'Stay With Me', packing some melody in. Tom Grennan (★★★☆☆) follows, winning the crowd over with a cheeky chappy routine. Wearing a saltire like a cape, he spins 'Make 'Em Like You' into a tribute to Glasgow. We really are suckers for flattery. Nearly everyone will try this move today at some point and it works without fail every time.
Catherine McGrath (★★★☆☆) has a phenomenal voice, smooth like velvet, and there's every chance she could develop into County Down's answer to Kacey Musgraves. Clearly inspired by Taylor Swift's early output, when she matches her vocals to a strong song she's onto a winner. The only problem is that the best tune in her set, by some distance, is a cover of Katy Perry's 'Teenage Dream'. She's just turned 22 though, and has plenty of time to build on what are undoubtedly very strong foundations.
The spirit of the mid-noughties is alive and kicking in 2019, not something you'd strictly have predicted back when The Wombats (★★★★☆) made their initial assault on the charts. They're a big draw, brushing off technical issues to not only salvage 'Moving To New York' but make it one of the day's highlights. 'Techno Fan' sees crimson and purple flares go off all around, while 'Lemon To A Knife Fight' from 2018's Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life proves that people are still very into this band of unlikely indie survivors. They've always known a hook and there's something enjoyably self-assured about their set.
By contrast, The Kooks' (★★☆☆☆) set is uninspiring. The cuts from debut album Inside In Inside Out still get something of a singalong but the uncomfortable silence that meets Luke Pritchard when he says 'this song's off our latest record' is telling. 'Don't do drugs', he sagely warns at one stage, but you'd eagerly take them, any of them, over the prospect of more of this. On the King Tut's Stage are Mystery Jets (★★★☆☆), who have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand during 'Young Love' and the fleet-footed 'Two Doors Down', both excellent indie pop songs that have stood the test of time. Some promising new material gets an airing but there's a sense that they're a bit rusty, battling sound issues throughout. There's nothing from their delightfully odd debut album Making Dens but the widescreen War on Drugs-esque 'Bubblegum' and lovelorn 'Alice Springs' make up for it. They've evolved and stayed interesting, which we apparently can't say for the entire class of the mid-noughties.
What SWMRS (★★★★☆) lack in vowels they make up for in eye-catching statements, promising 'the best 50 minutes of your life' upon their arrival, preaching the merits of punk rock as a community building exercise, and issuing a stern warning to those who sexually assault fellow gig goers. They're a much needed adrenaline shot on the second stage; set highlight 'Berkeley's on Fire' is an electrifying slice of distortion and harmonics that clearly carries a hip-hop influence, sounding far better than it does on record. In Cole Becker they have a real talisman of a lead vocalist, who bounds across the stage like one of those inflatable tube men, all flailing limbs and a bright green hair. Their covers of 'Old Town Road', and snippets of '500 Miles' and 'Loch Lomond' are deserving of a bigger crowd, but they thrill everyone in attendance.
We predicted this would happen last year, and after Snow Patrol's enforced cancellation (get well soon, Johnny McDaid) Lewis Capaldi (★★★☆☆) gets his moment, today's headliner in all but name. He's a huge draw, revered by a home crowd who're fully on board with his self-deprecating shtick ('wee chubby guys doing sad songs', he calls it, exactly the same words he used on this stage in 2018). His set's still comprised almost entirely of mid-tempo power ballads that belie his sense of humour ('that last song was six minutes long and it's fucking depressing,' he says of 'Fade' – 'thanks for sitting through that') but he's grown as a performer in the past 12 months, taking his antics to another level.
His baiting of Noel Gallagher continues to amuse; he dons a Chewbacca mask and sings 'Don't Look Back In Anger', ensuring another run of column inches. There are moments, such as the bit where he gets the crowd to shout back 'Scottish' words like 'jobby', 'fannybaws', 'bawbag' where it feels like the worst parts of Chewin' The Fat have been repurposed into The Singing Kettle for adults who can't handle their Carlsberg. This is his kingdom though; over on the King Tut's stage, Circa Waves flirt with the idea of slagging him off and shite out of it, knowing who'd win that particular fight. 'Grace' and 'Someone You Loved' get gigantic singalongs, and while there are some who're just here solely for the banter, you can see these tunes are important to people; a couple next to us share a tender moment, there are tears from a group behind. In that context it feels churlish to criticise the music, but Capaldi probably needs another dimension to sustain this level of success. Compare his output with Adele's; that's where he needs to aim.
Given the circumstances, George Ezra (★★★☆☆) has the unenviable task of closing the festival, the minute the replacements are announced he's is in danger of being upstaged by a geezer from Bathgate. This is essentially how his headline slot unfolds; he's not about to compete with Capaldi in the charisma stakes. On the flipside, he's very handsome and extremely polite – far too polite – introducing his city break travelogues with the gravity of a war reporter. 'Some of you may have noticed, he drawls, 45 minutes in, 'that I like to write songs about the places I visit.' Well George, you've already graced us with two sizeable monologues about your insatiable wanderlust, so yes – we did. George Ezra's salvation is that he's written some very hooky pop songs with warm, wholesome sentiment. 'Pretty Shining People' preaches unity, both 'Budapest' and 'Shotgun' are preposterously catchy and 'Paradise' is a rollicking, up tempo highlight of the set.
A grand day out, but the best festivals not only let you get caught up in the occasion, but enjoy the sort of 'I was there' moments discussed years later. There's nothing today that will go down in history, but the sun's out, the pints are cold (and hey, just £5.50 for this Danish Pilsner!) and if you know the words you can sing along. Sometimes that's all that matters.