Review: Glasgowbury Festival 2011

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After celebrating its tenth anniversary of championing the best in both established and undiscovered Northern Irish music in 2010, this year the Live4ever Ezine was ecstatic to return to the Eagle’s Rock summit for the leading independent festival in the land, Glasgowbury.

It may not be anything to do with either Glasgow, Scotland or indeed the Pyramid Stage, but as far as having a real festival experience with an original ethos that’s entirely unique, the ‘small but MASSIVE’ bash is neck and neck with Glasto. Couple that with a simply unrivalled mountaintop setting that acts as a nativity scene for what is essentially Christmas for the country’s yearly music gathering, and you’re left with an atmosphere that can’t be described, it just has to be experienced.

In the year since we last hoofed it to the Sperrins in Draperstown where the award winning event takes its perch, many acts have erupted to more widely spread recognition and long-deserved success, with a lot of them reappearing this year in greater form than ever. Elsewhere, countless noisy whipper-snappers making their debuts last year find themselves blooming further up the bill to new audiences, and of course what would Glasgowbury be without the brand new, emerging acts?

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Event Horses

Like their North Coast punk brethren Axis Of last year, today slightly rough looking but otherwise fresh-faced throat-rippers Event Horses are tasked with opening the main stage with some hardcore menace.

For a year old three-piece the ‘small but MASSIVE’ stage could’ve been an intimidating experience, but they don’t allow it to swallow them up, instead giving it a good ringing round the neck with some straightforward thrashing chuggery. It does become a little formulaic though, with ‘Dance With the Devil‘ and ‘Faces‘ virtually interchangeable, so there’s room for a little songwriting variation. But it’s early days yet and it’ll be interesting to see where we find them next year.

Making a quick jaunt over to the G Sessions second stage we find it this year to have become a fold-away truck-stage rather than the tent that’s housed it before. A wise call baring in mind last year’s tinned sardines environment during the likes of And So I Watch You From Afar and General Fiasco, but through the course of the day we find its proximity to the main stage to cause the odd bit of sound overlapping.

Intermission‘s set experiences dribs and drabs of Seven Summits’ main stage performance leaking through an otherwise uninspiring half hour of bog-standard indie that makes us wish we’d stuck around for the latter. Having formed from the ashes of Warner Bros-signed Kharma 45 it’s disheartening to hear the electric inspiration that once birthed such memorable rave-rock escape this incarnation.

Through the course of a day that ensured minimal agonising over choices of who to see, solely on account of astute scheduling rather than an uneven line-up, one of the few grumbles (for us anyway!) was over the near head-on collision of Gascan Ruckus and The Rupture Dogs. Though as touring buddies and genuine pals off-stage we can imagine members of either band feeling worse than we do about the clash. Lead Rupture Dog Allan McGreevey even tells us beforehand of his intention to have Gascan’s Michael Woods on loudspeaker during their slot – only at Glasgowbury!

Gascan Ruckus’ ten minute head start however affords us enough of a glimpse to see the Armagh young’uns carrying on the spirited momentum from their ‘Trucker Filth‘ single launch earlier this year. ‘Don’t Fret‘ remains wonderfully ramshackle, an unhinged rephrasing of Bad Religion‘s raging against the machine. It’s sadly all we have time to catch, but as evidence of how well Gascan have translated to the bigger stage, it’s plenty.

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Gareth McGreevey and a guesting Johnny Adger for The Rupture Dogs

With the first mosh of the afternoon in order, The Rupture Dogs set about delivering it to double the crowd they acquainted themselves with last year. The curious sight of ASIWYFA‘s Johnny Adger tuning up a bass, seemingly guesting, only heightens anticipation for Belfast’s angriest filth-rockers and within the opening ticks of ‘Back to Life‘ the tent becomes a veritable riff disco. McGreevey’s hellbent on getting this mess of people moving, snarling over the irresistible strut of ‘Hangman‘ before mayhem at last erupts with ‘Joe‘. It’s been a tireless year for them, with two fantastic EPs and about a million gigs under their belts, so it’s nice to see a moment where everything falls into place, before security arrives anyway. Kerrang Introducing page take note.

The party is unquestionably under way now and arriving on the second stage to capitalise are a motley crew under the name of Team Fresh. Hailing from the musically rich North Coast Triangle and exchanging sharp-tongued colloquialisms over an early Beastie Boys brand of hardcore hip-hop this slightly mad collective steal the afternoon, but it’s a slow build.

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Team Fresh tearing up the G Sessions stage

Rather than dive right into the party rap antics, we’re instead fed new offering ‘1985‘, driven by tension and social unrest. ‘Boss Level‘ inflicts a more compelling rhythmic drive before they finally relent with familiar numbers, each a serious arse ache for the old security team. By the stage founding members Donkey and Rory Friers (making that ASIWYFA’s second guest spot of the day) appear for ‘Recipe for Disaster‘ there’s a bouncing riot in progress. Crowd surfing, Buckfast cocktails and chants of “let’s get plastered!”, it’s all bit ridiculous. But ridiculously fun all the same. We shudder to think how they would fare setting foot off these shores but at Glasgowbury Team Fresh are at the peak of their powers.

In their fifth consecutive Glasgowbury, indie popsters General Fiasco graduate to special guests status, but frankly struggle to hold the hysteria Team Fresh left for the taking until a fair few in. Audience members are still milling about and with the crowd not properly thickening up until mid-set it’s a good thing the pogo moments are saved for the end. ‘Rebel Get By‘ and ‘Ever So Shy‘ (with an extended intro because ‘the first line ‘Let’s get wasted…‘ is the bit everyone knows’) go down as expected but the real sugary gem is a surprise cover of Weezer’sBuddy Holly‘, making for one of the sunniest four minutes of the festival.

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General Fiasco

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General Fiasco's Owen Strathern

One of the most comforting things about Glasgowbury is the level playing field both punters and performers are on. Here you’re likely to find your local guitar heroes in the mosh pits with you enjoying whoever else may be tearing up the stage on the day. Belfast charmers A Plastic Rose brought half the line-up down to witness what looked like the gig of their lives. On a break from soundtracking everything from The Inbetweeners to Jersey Shore, Fiasco main man Owen Strathern was just one in particular we spotted soaking them up.

They’re a confident bunch, A Plastic Rose; lovably cheeky even, but doubtless festival veterans by this stage with a whole arsenal of Glasgowbury-tailored hymns that could be sang in the sleep of anyone within ‘Oceans‘ reach of Norn Iron. Since the successful release of mini-album ‘The Promise Notes‘ in February they’ve been unusually silent, so it helps that effervescent co-frontman Gerry Norman has every trick in the festive textbook sharpied on the back of his hand, and A Plastic Rose tick off every party piece with assured conviction.

‘Might I remind you ladies and gentlemen you’re on top of a mountain; nobody can hear you scream’ he says towards a festival-defining climax to ‘Kids Don’t Behave Like This‘, encouraging hand-claps and the trusty big jump-up-from-sitting-down technique within the same song. It’s a picture-esque moment to experience the sort of sacrifices most of the musicality involved but here, since it’s only once a year, and because ‘The Metal Man‘ and the new ‘Lizard Tongue‘ are fantastic, they’re free to get off with it. There’s a definite sense of headliner material in A Plastic Rose. It’s not to everyone’s taste but by the time there’s a full album to their name there’ll be something wrong if they’re not in the upper realms of this thing.

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Gerry Norman of A Plastic Rose

Having made the trip all the way from Dublin, The Plea pale in comparison. Maybe they’re unlucky to be a lesser known name so high up the bill, and at the tea time slot only an eager few have ventured forward, but it’s hard to empathise when they plough such a one dimensional furrow of plain as day stadium rock and don’t even acknowledge the handful at the front that have given them the benefit of the doubt.

Bringing things back down to earth are Axis Of, who’ve had a quiet time of it as of late with support from the top rock media surging them six hours ahead of where they found themselves last year. In 2011 we’re treated to a totally different band, with ‘AUNG‘ the only real remnant of the slightly offbeat hardcore that nursed our hangovers in 2010. Now a matured three-piece, sure of their friendlier sound they’re set to raise a fist to whoever will challenge them atop the country’s punk mantle.

Pure class has become the standard for Peter McCauley’s ensemble Ram’s Pocket Radio, with his fiercely talented self commanding gloriously melodic arrangements from the keyboard stool front and centre. It’s sweeping epic pop lead by Pete’s softly accented vocal and his command of the keys. From ‘Dieter Rams Has Got the Pocket Radios‘ to ‘Love Is A Bitter Thing‘, he has a quiet but appreciative audience enraptured and the whole way through the mesmerizing performance there’s a sense of really needing to cherish this act while we still can, before they shoot off into the stratosphere forever.

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Jonny Black and Cahir O'Doherty of LaFaro

On to the second stage for the penultimate time we find Belfast smut-peddlers LaFaro in full swing with the ragtime grunge of ‘The Ballad of Burnt Dave. Temporarily taking up bass duties after Herb Magee’s exit is Cahir O’Doherty of last year’s headliners Fighting With Wire, clearly relishing the opportunity for another appearance and along with his much proclaimed favourite band in the world no less.

LaFaro are an uncompromising, twisted and sickly humorous beast and this is a quintessential set from them. ‘Tupenny Nudger‘ is as always a vital metal hoedown, the obscene lyrics of ‘Big Kevin‘ give old fans something to shout about and there’s enough dark banter from Jonny Black to cripple any station broadcasting them live during daylight hours. Aside from that, as well as a disturbing version of Katy Perry‘s ‘I Kissed A Girl‘ and Jonny and guitarist Dave Magee’s brilliant head attire towards the end, the main interest concerns material headed for the October-scheduled second album, ‘Easy Meat‘. The title track from which is already sickeningly good live and we’re previewed upcoming single ‘Meat Wagon‘, another scandalously heavy liver-destroyer full of clever and morbid observations.

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mojoFURY fall into an early slump after powerfully opening with ‘Kill Cock Robin‘ though with a period showcasing their more atmospheric, brainbox arrangements. The audience should be hypnotised by the emotive crackles in Mike Mormecha‘s voice and the tinkering post-rockish ‘What a Secret‘, but their focus is elsewhere, early signs of weariness perhaps as the immense sunshine we’ve enjoyed gives way to icy winds.

It’s all too quiet, to such an extent that even the riffing metronome of ‘The Mann‘ fails to impact as it should. The devastating chorus of ‘Colour of the Bear‘ signals a turning point however, and they round it off more solidly than it began. The visual approach and dynamics are already bang on the money, but it really requires undivided attention to be fully appreciated. A little more interaction and evening out of the setlist and the coveted slot above them tonight could well be theirs.

A thorough hard blues boogie courtesy of classic rockers The Answer tries its very best to warm us up with all the rock’n’roll bells and whistles headlining the G Sessions stage. To a certain degree it does; it’s fun, beer-swilling loudness that gets everyone instinctively moving but it’s a lot louder than necessary and after half an hour more than advertised our ears are exhausted and are looking forward to headliners Cashier No. 9 putting Glasgowbury 2011 to bed a few notches on the dial below eleven.

DSCF2727The decision to have Cashier No. 9 end the festivities has been seen as a brave but logical one. Through ten years the Belfast band, led by Danny Todd, have existed in various forms and have become somewhat of an institution in Northern Ireland while their debut album ‘To The Death of Fun‘ finally came to fruition this year to much acclaim.

Truth be told though, when this performance should be triumphant and celebratory, in areas it’s a bit lackluster, and there’s a lasting feeling that it’s either a missed opportunity that isn’t fully seized, or perhaps that as headliners they were a tad premature and the real pay off could’ve been a year from now. The musicianship and collective experience on stage is of ample calibre, but much of the set list is still hot off the press to the point of unfamiliarity with much of the crowd, who seem anything but engaged in the early going. Furthermore, it’s a late start for the Belfast quintet, and during the wait a deep freeze has set in atop the mountain, causing an endless trickle of sunburnt bodies and achy feet to make haste back towards the mildly improved comfort of the camp site.

Many of Cashier No. 9’s delicate, melodious workings would seem to glisten all the brighter in the rays that spoiled us in the afternoon, but there are still numerous moments where they nail it in spite of the frustrations. ‘Make You Feel Better‘ echoes and glides miraculously into the crisp, night sky and the spellbinding stringed Screamadelica of ‘The Lighthouse Will Lead You Out‘ captures a similarly wondrous moment. ‘Oh Pity‘ too is a lazily brilliant slice of psychedelia that perks up the set mid-way through before early single ‘When Jackie Shone‘ at last let’s us know that everyone here is still alive and not in some psychedelic purgatory because of Cashier and the cold. Moments like these don’t seem to arrive often enough though. It’s all a little too serious, too polished and perfected that there can’t be obvious enjoyment behind the professionalism. Instead, without any worthwhile involvement of their audience it seems to end on a sheepish whimper, a shame considering what truly could’ve been momentous.

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Of course many will disagree, but that’s what Glasgowbury is all about and overall the experience was a mighty as ever, a feat to be applauded taking last year into account. A good shaking up might be due for the coming year with perhaps more representatives from the south and having the door for new blood opened further – the likes of Before Machines, abandcalledboy, Like Statues and The Alice Kona Band are just a few possible first timers we’d like to see. For those more electronically inclined, is Derry’s Japanese Popstars a huge ask? We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s certain that this year Glasgowbury turned the tide with many of the old hands instead lending a helping hand and as ever, Christmas for Irish music can’t come soon enough once again. Only three hundred and …days to go…

(Words and pictures: Daniel Robinson)

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