Retreat IV - Pilrig St Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, Sat 27 & Sun 28 Aug 2011 (4 stars)

Retreat IV - Pilrig St Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, Sat 27 & Sun 28 Aug 2011

Rob St John

Glorious fourth appearance from the indie DIY pop fest

All Sunday afternoons should be like the one at this year’s Retreat DIY pop festival: tea in our hands, bacon rolls in our bellies, and eagleowl gently blowing our minds.

That was before a toddler joined them onstage and stole our hearts; before the gorgeous, slow-release euphoria of ‘No Conjunction’ washed over us, its hymnal refrain of ‘when you get there, don’t look back’ coming on like a post-folk national anthem – reminding us that there’s no place like home, and there’s no home-spun show in Auld Reekie quite like Retreat.

Now in its fourth year and clearly a much-loved indie excursion judging by the sell-out crowd, Retreat’s non-profit, community-minded endeavour is run by grassroots Edinburgh promoters Tracer Trails and The Gentle Invasion. The latter is helmed by predominant eagleowl vocalist Bart Owl (I suspect that is not his real surname; for all I know that is not his real first name) and it was fitting that eagleowl’s set embodied the spirit of Retreat: local musical thrills, a sense of belonging and spotlight-grabbing toddlers.

eagleowl embraced the all-ages caveat of the global DIY manifesto with aplomb: they even indulged in a spot of family-friendly self-censorship by re-working an ace as-yet unnamed psalm (The List has christened it ‘Sir Clifford’s Sex Drought’). Bart amended the line, ‘it’s so funny, how we don’t fuck anymore’ to the Mary Whitehouse-approved ‘we don’t hug’.

The band’s magnificent hardcore (slowcore) trio was bolstered by festival emcee, harlequin and drum-slinger Owen Williams, plus Rob St John on harmonium duties. St John provided a stand-out set on the Saturday – his brooding folk, languid alt-rock and romantic silhouette variously conjuring Smog, the Velvet Underground and Nick Drake – as he previewed songs from his lovely forthcoming album, Weald (the inclusion of enduring favourite ‘The Acid Test’ is always welcome: its unhurried celebration of the humdrum is glorious).

There were many such delights across the weekend-long brouhaha: The Pictish Trail’s ever-loveable arias (as Burger, no Burger); an unexpected techno-shredding instrumental set from FOUND; a power-pop surprise from ballboy; some maniacal, Battles-toting party-rock from Lady North; understated alt-rock from the Scottish Enlightenment; and a glittering, flute-fuelled 70s flashback thanks to the elated folk-rock of Two Wings.

That’s just for starters. There was poetry-spattered post-punk from Gummy Stumps, a roof-raising turn from Meursault in big-rock mode, and the general feeling that Retreat is the best-named, best-intentioned festival in town.

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