After a few years of dwindling interest in T in the Park, Geoff Ellis’s new festival, the three-day TRNSMT, is a fresh attempt at proving the demand for top-tier festivals in Scotland.
Amid claims that T in the Park had lost its emphasis on music among a weekend of drinking and partying, TRNSMT is catering to a slightly older audience, kicking off with the likes of London Grammar, Belle and Sebastian, and headliners Radiohead.
With 35,000 in attendance and three stages, and an additional Smirnoff and Mixmag stage hosting DJs, there’s a healthy audience early in the day for even the smallest venue, the Jack Daniels-sponsored Jack Rocks tent.
It means Bang Bang Romeo play to a deservingly cramped tent, Anastasia Walker’s vocals soulfully attempting to blow the roof off.
Herein lies an immediate success for TRNSMT and the bands playing there: its relatively compact nature makes it easy to stumble upon an act that ends up hooking you for their entire set, and Bang Bang Romeo benefit from a combination of this and a captivating display of talent that leaves people outside the tent gathering round to listen even if it’s impossible to squeeze in.
Over on the mainstage, Everything Everything is equally rewarded with a prompt and keen audience, receptive to their rhythmic electronic indie.
Immediately it’s noticeable how loud they are, their beats and Jonathan Higgs’s voice carry comfortably across the wind.
It’s a charming and endearing performance, especially the crescendo of ‘No Reptiles’ as the bizarre “it’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair, old enough to run” line hits harder and harder with each passing repetition.
Back in the Jack Rocks tent, Moonlight Zoo keep the place bustling with their upbeat guitar-driven set.
They have a knack for an infectious melody, and even songs about the end of the world sound encouraging and optimistic.
Over on the King Tut’s stage, Be Charlotte is staking her claim as the most impressive act of the day.
Main stage bands will have bigger and brighter productions, but Charlotte’s authenticity shines through, becoming fully enraptured by her songs as she sways and dances to her music.
The moment a song is done a smirk appears, as if the preceding three minutes of music just had to get out of her and she has no idea what quite came over her.
Her genuine passion for her craft and what she’s creating is infectious, and out of all the acts on secondary stages, she’s the one clearly headed for great things.
Rag’n’Bone Man is a big dude with a bigger voice, and what he occasionally lacks in tunes, he makes up for in conjuring the feeling of a crowd-sized group hug.
He’s indebted to the blues with his powerful vocal delivery, but there’s a communal receptiveness to what he’s preaching, bringing people together in the crowd to dance and welcome his songs of love and emotion like a musical sermon.
The sun breaks during London Grammar’s set, half-way through the a capella intro to ‘Rooting For You’, and it genuinely does feel like a religious experience.
Hannah Reid’s voice will always be the focal point of London Grammar’s music, but in the live setting they employ an appropriately moody light show and beat-heavy remixes that keep their sets from feeling stale.
This works in more intimate venues, but it’s difficult to make the main stage feel cozy, so the light show is lost among the daylight, and Reid is left to do most of the work with her voice.
As long as Reid is on fine form there will always be something to take from a London Grammar experience, but the nature of their music is such that it works better in the dark.
Belle and Sebastian, on the other hand, just want to make people dance.
Stuart Murdoch takes this quite literally as he grabs some people from the front row to dance on stage during ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’.
Murdoch is a charming host, saying hello to the people in the high flats watching from a distance, explaining how he wrote sixteen verses for ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’ as he walked through Glasgow Green and kept four of them, and how he heard the Orange Walk got banned from the People’s Palace for starting a ‘fracas’ because the bar sold limeade.
It’s all very playful and light as air, but there’s something heartwarming about Belle and Sebastian playing to their strengths and being rewarded by having thousands of people dancing in the park in their hometown, to which Murdoch would have apologized for getting in the way of the people hanging up their laundry.
Radiohead is neither playful nor light as air, instead opting for an uncompromising and characteristic display of what’s made them so adored since the 90s.
The 20th anniversary celebrations of OK Computer continue as ‘Let Down’ and ‘Lucky’ open a career-spanning two-and-a-half-hour set, becoming ever more visually assaulting as the sun sets, especially during the glitchy ‘Idioteque’ and pulsing blues and reds of ‘Paranoid Android’.
Despite their cemented success, they are not the perfect festival band since anything remotely resembling a hit is recorded twenty or so years ago, making some attendees impatient for hits that never come (no ‘Creep’ tonight).
A Moon Shaped Pool songs like ‘Ful Stop’ come to life in the live environment, and history has been kind to The King of Limbs as the complexity of ‘Bloom’ and conventional funkiness of ‘Lotus Flower’ fit in well.
It’s a relief for many when ‘No Surprises’ and ‘Karma Police’ show up, two hours in, as it’s finally a chance to sing along, and the former’s “bring down the government, they don’t, they don’t speak for us” receives a rousing cheer.
Radiohead inspire impressive levels of devotion, and with this being their first Scottish show in ten years, it’s a rewarding and lengthy set, and even though they are confirmed festival headliners, they are still nowhere near as accessible as Kasabian and Biffy Clyro are on the second and third nights, showing the risks TRNSMT is willing to take to revive the music festival experience in Scotland.
Confirmed to return next year, TRNSMT appears to be a success, with all signs point to the opening day as having run smoothly with no arrests, and a focus on music that appeals to a wider demographic than what T in the Park was aiming for in its later years.
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Words: Scott Wilson
Photos: Cameron Brisbane / Ryan Buchanan / Ryan Johnston