For one day each year the Sperrin Mountains in Northern Ireland reverberate with the sounds of Irish music. From noon until midnight 60 bands showcase their wares over five stages. Now in its eleventh year, Glasgowbury music festival has expanded from humble roots, having a comedy stage, children’s activities and inviting bands from all parts of Ireland, although the concentration is still on talent in the North of the island.
Virginia-born singer-songwriter Rachel Austin is an early draw for those looking for something a little different. Dressed like a pioneer secretary she radiates a certain tension that only serves to add to her performance. Vocals and sound effects are looped giving rise to a constant feeling of trying new things – things that don’t always work, admittedly – but trying nonetheless. It results in a fragile web of songs, tied together by Austin’s timeless American vocal.
Phoenix Fire play melodic rock made more accessible by dual male/female vocals provided by David Jackson – whose enthusiasm is infectious – and Fiona O’Kane, the earnest, heartbreaking voice of the partnership. They risk falling flat on their faces by trying to start an audience singalong this early in the day but the Phoenix Fire audience are prepared, singing back the lines that are fed to them, the repetition putting the song firmly in everyone’s memory. Elspeth play indie rock of the American variety, portrayed intelligently by a frontman who seems to have studied at the Thom Yorke school of sincere agony. Musically it’s downbeat, with plodding bass and drums underpinning the winding paths led by the vocal and the almost sarcastic swagger of Gerard Sands.
Next it’s outdoors to the main stage to enjoy the dry weather. If you take the pealing bells and shimmering sounds of Sigur Ros and give them an injection of adrenaline whilst sprinkling them with sugar you have Kowalski. They truly produce the sound of summer with hummable melodies that dissolve like sugar on the tongue, a spell only broken when the typical-indie-voiced singer attempts to engage in deeply unfunny stage banter. As emo heartthrobs General Fiasco finish their special guest slot on the G Sessions stage Girls Names seize the opportunity to steal the wandering crowd, their brand of doom-laden post-punk startlingly out of place but oddly suiting the outdoor setting. Frontman Cathal croons menacingly, the band’s Bauhaus-esque stylings bringing to mind American summers of days gone by, like a nostalgic movie soundtrack.
Back under canvas in the Eagle’s Rock Stage for Rainy Boy Sleep, who we probably shouldn’t like. His voice is nasal, he plays simple guitar chords, strumming over a laptop beat. His lyrics are trite and he has a slightly odd schoolboy persona yet he still ends up being likeable. His geek chic glasses win over the ladies while his lyrics about dead girls win over everyone else. It’s one thing deliberately instigating a singalong, quite another to watch one happen organically as it does here. Le Galaxie aren’t too well-known in these parts but hidden away on the Spurs Of Rock tent [aptly pitched on rocks instead of grass] their electro-dance beats permeate the surroundings. Mick Le Galaxie explodes in a series of yelps and frantic movements, his cries and jumps wouldn’t be out of place in a Go! Team show as he shares Ninja’s enthusiasm, if not her polish. Smoke appears and the audience embrace the 6pm rave, even though they’re initially rattling around a nearly empty tent like snooker balls during a fierce game.
Belfast-based cabaret act Katie And The Carnival pack out their tent and with good reason, the harmonies perfect and their approach to percussion – using horns, bells and a washboard – probably the most well-thought-out of the entire festival. New song ‘To The Sea’ brings a sassiness to their usual tragi-comedy with the feel of a jazz standard for independent women. The lead vocals have a slightly dirty edge leaving it to the harmonies to add a choral sensibility all fitting together to create singalong classics from a bygone era.
By now we’re on the home straight and the plan is to see as many bands as possible before the music ends. A quick stop by the Foy Vance tent tells us that he’s possibly a little too over-refreshed to do battle with the loop pedal using his customary precision timing. The soulful voice is still there, albeit with an edge of gravel, but the majority of the rest of his set is plain acoustic singer-songwriter material which is a disappointment from someone who can offer so much more. Headliners of the festival are the recent Bella Union signings Cashier No. 9 and they play their part very well. Their rhythmic alt-country has gradually developed into a more ‘Pounding’ era Doves-esque sound, ethereally haunting the crowd late into the night. Another great year, see you in 2012.
Photo by Shane Kelly.