The Great Western, Glasgow, Sat 23 Nov
Eclectic festival dominates the venues of Glasgow
Like a Spo**fy playlist gone rogue, The Great Western festival makes its inaugural run to immense success. In spite of a couple of cancellations (sadly Warmduscher suffered an injury in the ranks and Songhoy Blues couldn't make it) the joy of the line-up is its eclecticism, with local bands next to international artists.
Lizzie Reid is an absolute revelation. She has a beguiling voice and band, and her songs are full of bruised despair and savage defiance. Her folk-inflected ballads often turn into anthems with sharp teeth, as evinced by songs like 'Fields'.
Kathryn Joseph brings her sad songs and hilarious stories with her usual warmth and grace. 'Tell My Lover' is particularly otherworldly and her 'songs about death and fucking', as she succinctly puts it, sound as shivery as ever. Pieces of her soul are precious.
Unlike, that is, the fool's gold of Wuh Oh. Peter Ferguson's electronic pop is soaked through with 80s influences. 'Ziggy' and 'Pretty Boy' are but two examples, but tonight, he feels more like Vince Noir dicking about playing Vangelis on a laptop. He's clearly a fun character though, rocking out in his sci-fi garb.
Following different strands through the festival, it's possible to indulge in nostalgia – The Pastels, The Yummy Fur and !!! (Chk Chk Chk) are familiar faces, with The Pastels now the venerable grandparents of a distinctive Glasgow guitar pop-rock – or catch various rising stars. Kubitaru offer a mixture of past and present: not having released any tracks, they are undeniably new, but their tight, gentle tunes evoke the tasteful end of the 90s acid-jazz scene. Clearly influenced by ambient soundscapes as well as jazz, their vocalist shimmers over a minimal backdrop, creating a late-night atmosphere even in the middle of the afternoon. Still a little too much in thrall to their influences, Kubitaru are working towards a modern version of mellow soul.
Holy Mountain have little anxiety about their retro influences, even bringing out a cover of War Pigs. After a two-year absence, their return is gloriously and self-consciously heavy, blasting through metal cliches and psychedelic tropes, flickering between rhythms and riffs with a ferocious energy. The celebratory embrace of what could be hoary rock machismo is transformed into a playful romp: tops off, heads banging, frets shredded, Holy Mountain revel in ostentatious reworkings of the over-familiar without surrendering to the excess that made progressive rock collapse in the face of the punk revolution.
Drawing on the many bands that Luke Sutherland has played in over the years, Rev Magnetic recreate the melancholic splendour of dream-pop, a style that spliced melody, raucous noise and tender dynamics, and paved the way for the shoegaze movement. Sutherland is a charming front-man, his often tentative and soulful vocals shaping the grandeur of the four-piece's crescendo towards a sensitive roar that manages to be simultaneously uplifting and reflective.
Big Joanie's self-description of 'black feminist sistah punk' doesn't quite capture the three-piece's idiosyncratic energy: while they share punk's quick-fire and short ferocity, the pounding drums and taut bass-lines provide a more focussed rage that is articulated in Stephanie Phillips' questioning vocals and craggy guitar lines. While Chardine Taylor-Stone holds down a rough, immediate beat on drums, Estella Adeyeri's roaming bass lends the band a funky undercurrent: Big Joanie make every element count, pulling in different directions but ultimately coalescing into a tight blast of intelligent, political provocation.
Meanwhile Californian eccentrics !!! (Chk Chk Chk) bring their usual melee of playground chant funk and Studio 54 vibes. Lead singer Nic Offer is flanked by Meah Pace, and they ooze charisma with coordinated dance moves and shared vocals. The new music from recent album Wallop is more mainstream, but 'Off The Grid' still has a bit of filth. It all goes off like a frog in a sock, and rightly so. They're triumphant.
With curation that emphasises diversity, and matches the number of local bands with some solid international guests, The Great Western takes advantage of both the vibrancy of the Scottish scene and the range of venues scattered along the titular road, heading west, up and away.