It only comes around once a year but Oran Mor’s All Dayer is one of the West End Festival’s most coveted musical events, this year boasting 17 bands across three stages and offering something for everyone, from pounding Scottish rock to electronic acts and dad-friendly acoustic nostalgia (it is Father’s Day after all).
Kicking things off with a mid-afternoon slot in the Whisky Bar is Ayr’s Flew the Arrow, aka Lee McGilvray.
Fresh from a slot at Eden Festival, Flew the Arrow fills the room with the warm timbres of his acoustic guitar, a soft voice that bristles just slightly with an Ayrshire twang, crafting earnest narratives of love and loss from Romantic landscapes whose imagery weaves through each song like a subtle and haunting poem.
Flew the Arrow cuts a friendly, laid-back presence in the bar, introducing each of his songs with genuine enthusiasm.
‘Inner Space’ is a highlight, with intricate finger-picking painting various tints of emotion; there’s definitely a feel of Mike Nisbet and The Tallest Man on Earth to his lyrical pastoralism, overlaid with rich acoustics.
The set includes a beautiful cover of Fionn Regan’s ‘Abacus’, and you can’t help but feel that this is a perfect match; met somewhere between the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Sea, as Regan’s tenderly wistful lyrics, his Dubliner’s lilt, is taken to a rawer place with McGilvray’s somnolent, whisky-cut delivery.
Continuing the rural theme, I pop downstairs to the Venue for Campfires in Winter, who immediately lift the sleepy and sweaty room with tunes which veer between mesmerising and simply invigorating, boasting sharp riffs, brooding bass and images of decay and fade.
With Robert Canavan’s sonorous voice and the transmitted despair of lush atmospherics on standout ‘Free Me From The Howl’, it’s easy to make comparisons with We Were Promised Jetpacks, or All Dayer veterans, The Twilight Sad.
The band sound best when they push the alt-rock boundaries, expanding their angst with poppier melodies, subtle harmonies or layers of smooth dark brass.
As the afternoon pushes on, the whole building is more or less dripping with sweat as June offers up its sultry heat; however, when Indigo Velvet take to the Venue stage their vibrant brand of tropical pop cuts easily through the fug.
The Edinburgh quartet have really been honing their live show of late and today they bound effortlessly through the likes of ‘Blue’, ‘Easy Love’, ‘Sunrise’ and new track ‘Rug Rats’.
With all those tight, bright and knotty wee rhythms, fresh melodies, sunny percussion and overall Afrobeat influence, Indigo Velvet have an easy appeal that earns its merit from youthful spirit and a commitment to having fun with music—they’ve kept that endearing greenness but now feel ripe for the big time (or at the very least, this year’s festival circuit).
The next act in the Venue is Sarah J. Stanley, aka HQFU, who performs a totally hypnotic solo electronic set with the help of a drummer to provide some live beats.
With that crystalline voice, the darkly ethereal guitar, house-inspired rhythms and the energy of 90s dance classics, HQFU’s songs translate perfectly to the basement venue and provide that much-needed late afternoon pick-me-up, the hand-clap trills of ‘Dust and Dirt’ being one standout of many.
There’s something a bit grungy about HQFU’s take on her ecstasies of influence; the scuffed Docs and smudged eyeliner to your neon-hued happy hardcore.
Among the jagged synth-lines, glitches, stormy billows of feedback and bleeps, her reverb-heavy feminine voice recalls Poliça—but Poliça with a hefty adrenaline shot added to the mix.
In search of fresher air I head upstairs to catch the end of Rick Redbeard’s set in the Auditorium.
Self-consciously morose and rich with slightly mordant humour, Redbeard’s onstage persona is easeful and invites us into the lush melancholy of his acoustic ballads, lifted to so many poignant moments as his resonant voice ripples through the room.
There’s something quite special about the All Dayer; nobody really talks over anyone’s set, there’s no jostling in the crowd, no push to get to the front or to the bar.
Everyone’s there for the music; there’s a welcoming sense of community and mutual respect, with band members turning up in the audience to catch fellow acts in the lineup.
Kid Canaveral take to the Auditorium stage next with ‘First We Take Dunbarton’ and deliver a characteristically edgy and spirited set, despite being a band member down.
Trading in jokes, quips and sarcasm, singers David MacGregor and Kate Lazda power through the heat and maintain a certain momentum among synth beats and pounding drums.
They draw songs from across their back catalogue, with the languishing ‘Skeletons’ and bittersweet ‘Low Winter Sun’ complementing more recent, poppier tracks from Faulty Inner Dialogue, ‘Callous Parting Gift’ allowing Lazda’s vocals to sparkle among the flashing Auditorium lights.
After catching a bit of evening sun in the beer garden, most of the crowd migrates back upstairs for Mull Historical Society in the Auditorium.
Colin MacIntyre sits atop a bar stool and holds out an hour’s set with just a guitar, that high and serenading voice and a riveting career’s worth of eccentric pop songs.
Channelling those alt-folk vibes while remaining grounded in the upbeat possibilities of stripped-back indie, MacIntyre brings his parochial charm to a filled-out room who remain more or less entirely under his spell for the whole set, an oscillating journey through nostalgia, hope, love and loss, carried more-or-less entirely by MacIntyre’s candid and impassioned vocals.
MacIntyre’s songs are angsty, certainly: ‘The Final Arrears’ is torn with indecision and those internal rhymes are only a haunting comfort among all the melancholy.
It’s like the suburban slacker-pop of Pavement transplanted to Scotland’s rugged west coast; except while the former might aimlessly circle their neon-drenched 7/11s, MacIntyre reaches out for a different kind of light at the end of the bay.
On the subject of home, Oban-raised author Alan Warner (who also spent a childhood travelling back and forth to Mull) writes of a ‘shallow and secret glen’, ‘this place that has come to declare itself within me when I define home’.
Between songs, MacIntyre admits that pretty much all his songs ‘seem to be about finding home’; like Warner his sense of home is defined by the solitary appreciation of a place whose memory takes on a certain misty-eyed mythology, a deep and personal significance, a longing that plays out through his wistful lyrics.
He keeps the audience hooked on stories about recording at Abbey Road studios, seeing the lights of cities (well, Oban!) for the first time as a child born in the Hebrides, appreciating the beauty of ugly buildings–which feels ironic in the context of the Auditorium’s breathtaking interiors and Alasdair Gray mural.
Highlights include Mull Historical Society classics like ‘Barcode Bypass’, ‘Watching Xanadu’, ‘The Lights’ and more recent single, the mellow and steadfast ‘Build Another Brick’.
I leave towards the end of MacIntyre’s set to catch some of Bloodlines’ manic, ear-splitting rock down in the Venue, which is at this point considerably less packed than the Auditorium.
However, nothing affects the band’s energy and they deliver belters like ‘Mother’s Misery’ with showers of sweat, jarring math rock rhythms and acidic shivers of electric sound—there’s even a (short-lived) stage dive.
Closing the evening back upstairs is Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire.
Although Hart has been busy announcing the recent SAY Awards short list at the BBC Quay Sessions, he and his band manage a flawless set in spite of the wearying heat, reassuring us that normally they’re ‘not a sweaty band’.
Suit jackets or not, that level of professionalism is present in the music itself; this is a band at the top of their game, maybe not drastically pushing boundaries but nevertheless perfecting a seamless blend of Scottish indie, eighties-inspired pop and the more expansive Americana sounds of Springsteen and Kris Kristofferson.
While their style has a certain west end gloss, it’s also got the atmospherics of a dark and brooding rural landscape, all mountains and the trickling streams of silvery harmonies.
The set is overwhelmingly drawn from recent LP, Swithering, with favourites from their eponymous debut thrown in: these include ‘Queenstown’ and ‘Bright Light Fever’, which packs a rockier punch in the crowded room.
Although the Lonesome Fire are a 7-piece, the music never feels cluttered and the guitars and rhythms are smoothly layered and tightly held; the band, however, aren’t afraid to loosen up for some vigorous solos on the likes of ‘Dreamt You Were Mine’.
It’s a well-paced set, with livelier numbers woven around more pensive, piano-driven tracks like ‘Violet’ and ‘Tiny Miracles’.
Throughout, Hart provides the welcoming and slightly flamboyant banter, highlighting his band’s knack for a strong harmony: “ladies and gentlemen, the Scottish Beach Boys”.
Although introduced as a “weird song”, ‘Low Light’ proves to be a set standout, with its new wave flashes of Aztec Camera, Talking Heads and Orange Juice showing a willingness to flirt with the quirky–Hart delivering some seriously good vibrato and singing with a more explicitly Scottish inflection.
The set’s penultimate track, a powerful cover of Neil Young’s ‘Revolution Blues’, delivers a topical and raucous kick at the establishment as Hart wryly comments, “it’s a very tough time to be a politician at the moment but it’s an even tougher time to be a human”.
Channelling Young’s lyrics allows Hart’s voice to really come into its own, acquiring a darker fury than his usual restrained cadence.
The set ends with ‘Berlin’, a U2-sized epic with shimmering guitars, subtle harmonies, snappy rhythms and fat, eighties percussion; the midway key/tempo change moving us through to the other side, this message of endurance which closes the day on a high: “you were my first love / you’ll be my only love / I’ll never leave you / I could never give you up”.
It’s not always easy choosing headliners for such an eclectic event, but Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire certainly top off the Auditorium’s lineup in style, garnering much applause from the audience.
All in all, another successful All Dayer: heartwarming, energising and a testament to the magic that happens when a venue of Oran Mor’s stature gives itself up to music for the day.
Words: Maria Sledmere
Photos: Allan Lewis/Stewart Fullerton