A Lighter Side of Life – TRNSMT 2019 – Glasgow Green – 14th July, 2019 (Final Day)
The final day of TRNSMT, now in its third year, turned out to be as good as festival days can get.
The Wombats hark from Liverpool and have been on the indie scene for over a decade. Their set is just right for a festival, and the crowd enjoyed it during the cloudier part of the day. They could hardly go wrong with a set punctuated with songs Techno Fan, Cheetah Tongue and Let’s Dance to Joy Division. It is an upbeat, energetic and slightly zany performance with vocalist Mathew Murphy working well with the audience.
The Kooks are one of the best festival bands around. The Brighton band have an infectious enthusiasm and this floods into the audience which is clearly up for a party as the sun starts to break through for the rest of the day. There could be no better song to introduce early in the set for this than She Moves in her Own Way. Vocalist Luke Pritchard is clearly enjoying himself and his solo performance of Seaside with an acoustic guitar is a memorable intimate moment with a huge appreciative crowd. No Pressure is another highlight. They finish off with Naïve and leave the crowd nicely warmed up for the remainder of the day.
This is the point where the festival organizers have produced some magic. There have been a couple of call-offs by two of their headliners, Jess Glynne and Snow Patrol, due to health issues. These are big shoes to fill, and they have managed to, arguably, improve on the original artist list at very short notice.
Occupying third on the bill is Emeli Sande who, despite having had so much success, looks as though she has won the Lottery throughout her hour long set. Looking radiant and relaxed, she is supported by a band of superb musicians who tightly mesh the sounds that allow her soulful soprano voice to soar around the arena. On every level, this is a classy performance oozing sincerity and happiness with her chatter to the audience between songs. There are a number of highlights including a couple of new songs but the concluding pair of Read All About It and Next to You would take some beating in any performer’s set list and the crowd duly oblige with the backing vocals.
One of the great things about TRNSMT is the audience, primarily local and primarily very young. This is an audience which is largely polite and respectful to those around but confident in its unique identity as regards the way it dresses and what it likes. The broad knowledge of the lyrics when they are singing clearly indicates more than just a passing appreciation of music. There is an obvious lack of drunken bravado (except during a hugely funny episode on top of a merchandise stall later in the day when a girl of not insubstantial proportions finds out that it is harder getting down than getting up there in the first place but not before discovering a few less than flattering postures). The crowd is naturally welcoming and warm. Also, in the convenient environment of the lush, sheltered Glasgow Green, the event feels more lively. It relies on more natural highs than the T in the Park events which were exhausting marathons – even if they may be fondly recalled as a rite of passage by a couple of older generations. Before this year’s event, the organisers pertinently stated that there would be no return to T in the Park and when TRNSMT is this good, there will be few tears shed. Even with 50,000 people, it does not appear too big or intimidating. You get decent views of the stage from most of the site. The sound system utilized is excellent and is clear and loud even at the back of the site. But, best of all, you can simply walk out of the festival site within 10 minutes and you have the transport network of a modern city on the doorstep. The only criticism might be the ubiquitous toilet queues but TRNSMT will not be the only festival to have that issue.
Lewis Capaldi is the man of the moment and he has been drafted in to replace Snow Patrol. Who knows what Snow Patrol would have delivered but it is no slight on them to suggest that Capaldi, even at the tender age of 22, can work a crowd like few others. In fact, just like Gerry Cinnamon at last year’s event who grabbed his chance on the main stage when a major act pulled out and promptly stole the festival with his performance, Capaldi’s show is not dissimilar in its effect even if he is already better known than Cinnamon was at that point.
A new festival requires to build up its identity with iconic moments which are mentioned in wide-eyed, hushed tones for years to come by those fortunate enough to be there. This show is one such for the collection, just as Cinnamon’s was last year.
At one point, he describes himself as a wee chubby loser, and there must be a recognition that, were it not for the fact that he can write big poignant ballads, perform them with a monstrously stong voice and hold himself with swagger on a stage in front of huge audiences, life can treat you with disdain. Others with talent have failed. He knows the fine line, the fickle finger of fate and he plays to it with a mock-cocky self awareness now that he has managed to beat the odds. The audience are undoubtedly in on this as well. But, they also suspect that if he were not on that stage, he would still have the driving spirit to be the life and soul of any situation that life placed him in, whether it is just running the local community centre’s music room or brightening up the lives of elderly relatives with a tune or two. Capaldi is one of their own and he has a big heart.
The show of brash confidence does not cover a lively intelligence and sense of humour which falls nicely within the definition of that wonderful Scottish word, pawky. In many ways, his current “spat” with Noel Gallagher could not be more enlightening. For those who do not follow these things, Noel recently referred to him in a derogatory fashion and Capaldi then used the very recording of Noel’s words to introduce himself at Glastonbury whilst wearing a T shirt with Noel’s head in a heart. Then, Noel had another go, referring to him as Chewbacca. So, Capaldi turned up with his Chewbacca mask on stage. Today, he takes matters a stage further and introduces a song dedicated to “my dear, dear, dear father”. It turns out to be Gallagher’s own song, Don’t Look Back in Anger. But, here’s the thing. He plays the song straight, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, without any attempt at ridicule or parody. Indeed, his singing improves upon the original version. He also knows that the song is so iconic that it may generate louder singing than even his own biggest hit but is plainly unbothered by that. There is no malice here in comparison to Gallagher’s off-the-cuff arrogance. But, due to its context, it is clearly also very amusing. The analogy must be that of a deft jujutsu practitioner: Capaldi manipulates Gallagher’s clumsy insults back on the man himself rather than confronting him with any insults of Capaldi’s own. Gallagher comes off as a boor; Capaldi shows humility from the exchange and still claims to love Gallagher into the bargain.
He also finds himself plugging the fact on more than one occasion that there is no more brilliant place to be than Scotland. On a day when the youth of the country are out in force, it is a re-buff to Gallagher’s gratuitous claim that Scotland is “like a third world country”. There are no direct responses from Capaldi here either. Gallagher has been an articulate spokesperson for his generation and is still a well-regarded performer despite his curmudgeonly, and occasionally caustic, demeanour. His comment has clearly not come out of thin air and is merely reflective of a particular prejudice which doesn’t just circulate in Manchester and London but further north in Capaldi’s own back yard where generations still suffer from the Cringe. On Glasgow Green, however, the young multicultural audience within a vibrant city, increasingly aware of the city’s positive place in the wider world, are better informed and just enjoy singing Gallagher’s song because, well, it is a rather fine song, and there might just, in the circumstances, be a hint of irony in some of the lyric.
Capaldi’s set is taken from his album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent and finishes with Hold Me While You Wait and Someone You Loved. The crowd is crushed in cheek to jowl and the sing-along could probably be heard in Edinburgh if there had been any suggestion of a breeze. Capaldi likens the show to Queen at Live Aid and this is the cue for some interplay with the audience using some alternative cheeky Scottish terms in place of Freddie Mercury’s “dee-dohs” up and down the scales. Mercury, who was not short of a mischievous streak himself, would have approved.
You genuinely have to worry that George Ezra may struggle to meet the very high bar set by the two previous acts. But, everything about his act is sheer class. His backing band are top notch musicians with a punchy brass section. The back-drop kaleidoscopic animation is mesmerisingly beautiful. He presents himself immaculately and well-coiffured, and even his guitars are polished up to the nines. He speaks well to the audience and he already has a tranche of well-loved songs like Barcelona, Paradise, Budapest, Pretty Smiling People and Shotgun, full of interesting musical arrangements, which can work wonders at any festival. These songs also sound far better live than their album versions, and the audience does not let him down, duly belting these out and dancing away as darkness gathers and the air turns cooler. You might wonder how anyone who has only two albums under his belt can already appear such an essential part of the musical fabric, and then you see this show and the answer is all very clear. His show is stunning from the get-go, and finished off with a fine firework display as the festival comes to a euphoric conclusion on a perfect summer’s day. The unassuming lad from Hertfordshire does say that he wishes every concert he did was in Glasgow and no one (well, perhaps, almost no one) would disagree.