‘Glasgowbury then.’ A statement rather than a question from the gum-chewing girl behind the chippy counter. It was near 2am as we stood in the Draperstown chip shop and the counter girl wasn’t displaying any incredible psychic powers, she could just see the layers of mud caked on our drenched clothing and the distant beaten expressions we wore on our faces.
We’d been warned that Glasgowbury would feel like a full festival weekend crammed in to one hectic day, and it wasn’t far off. Almost fifty bands playing over four different stages in less than twelve hours was an intense experience, but also indicative of just how healthy the North’s music scene is at the moment.
Last year saw Ash, the fathers of Northern Irish rock headline the Sperrins festival, but for 2009 it was the new kids on the block who stepped up to the plate. One of the highlights of the afternoon was Cutaways, who produced one of their finest performances in the G Sessions tent. Over 500 squeezed in to the marquee to watch the Belfast trio belt out their distinctive pop tunes with so much enthusiasm and excitement they could barely contain themselves. By the time they finished the synth-driven ‘Weapon Of Choice’ it was obvious Cutaways would be leaving Glasgowbury with a few more hundred followers. Equally young Derry band The Q won over the crowd with a flag-waving, almost militaristic performance. A sound which has in the past has been flat and boring on record received a new lease of life in front of a crowd that was clearly up for rocking out.
There is a certain coming-of-age feeling with some of the Northern bands at the moment. Cashier No. 9 and The Jane Bradfords produced some of their best performances to date on the Small But Massive main stage, but everything seemed like a warm-up for the final act of the night. Fighting With Wire, who are currently riding the crest of a major label wave pulled out a few weeks before with a very apologetic Cahir O’Doherty citing label commitments. This left Portrush 3-piece And So I Watch You From Afar to headline the mountain festival.
Any doubts that instrumental ASIWYFA were ready to headline a festival in front of 3000 punters were blown away as they tore in to ‘The Voiceless’. Drummer Chris Wee looked ready to explode as he attacked his kit with what can only be described as pure unadulterated blood-lust. Guitarist Rory Friars ricocheted around the stage like a pinball, barely holding on to his guitar as the four-piece rattled through their now tried and tested setlist.
During a less than impressive rendition of ‘A Little Solidarity’ I took stock of my surroundings. The field which started out as firm ground was now a complete bog. My feet were wet, frozen and caked in muck, so were my jeans. It was cold, raining and we were half way up a mountain, but the sun was starting set over Lough Neagh as one of Northern Ireland’s most exciting up-and-coming bands introduced a new song to the crowd called ‘S Is For Salamander’. Chris Wee sounded like he had a chorus of drummers behind him as he thrashed out a jerky face paced beat. Guitarists Rory and Tony swapped notes in perfect time and bassist Johnny Adger stood like master of ceremonies in the center of the stage. It sounded like Battles, it sounded like Explosions In The Sky, but most importantly it was unequivocally ASIWYFA. With every song, they seem to evolve and become more distinct, and this felt like the major breakthrough. Roll on the recorded version.
There have been better ASIWYFA gigs in the past. It’s possible that the entire band was overcome by the experience of playing to such a large crowd. All I know is, without doubt, there will be bigger and better gigs for And So I Watch You From Afar in the future. When they’re mega-stars, I hope they come back and play our ‘Small But Massive’ festival in the mountains.
And as for the festival, it will continue to grow. Organiser Paddy Glasgow has proven that it doesn’t take a big headline act to bring out the crowds, but that getting right in to the Irish music scene and picking out some of the rough gems, the Ash’s of the future is the way forward. Bring on next year.
Photos courtesy of BBC NI Across The Line