A Lighter Side of Life – Vibration Festival – Callendar Park, Falkirk – 25th May, 2019
The Vibration Festival at Falkirk is a new music festival and it would be a pity if it did not have a re-run next year even though the impression left is that its ticket sales have been slower than the organisers would have wished. It was not assisted by a grey and occasionally drizzly day and clashing with two major televised sporting events from the football and rugby world.
Nevertheless, for the several thousand who are there, the choice of venue, the magnificent Callendar Park with its mature trees and lawns and the impressive Scottish baronial/French Renaissance backdrop of Callendar House, takes some beating. You are literally standing in the footsteps of the good, bad and ugly of Scottish history.
There is a good mix of old and young enjoying a family friendly festival with an emphasis on play areas and small local specialist businesses for food and drink (an Innis and Gunn bar was most welcome). This leads to a relaxed and good quality event where the entrance fee and other prices are relatively modest. There is plenty of space to move around and little in the way of queuing for facilities. Despite the rain, the surface remains mercifully grassy.
On the smaller stage, Primes are a Falkirk band who have already had a sell-out concert at King Tuts in Glasgow. Despite being relatively new to the scene, the trio give a poised energetic and melodic performance. The muscular guitar sound is complemented by fine interchange of vocals from Sarah Monteith- Skelton and Ollie Kitchen, and there are certainly good tunes in their repertoire even though they are still unknown except to their cult following.
Longer in the tooth is Chris Helme, the 47 year old former singer of (John Squire’s) Seahorses now playing solo with an acoustic guitar in a heavy overcoat to keep him warm. He has taken the train up from York. Cutting to the chase, he steals the festival even if there is only a small devoted group of followers and the mildly curious to appreciate this. He is not averse to putting in a crowd pleaser like Ooh La La, the old Faces number but his own material is strong and his voice a thing of beauty and wonder. The last few numbers are ones where he is fighting to hold his own with the pervasive sound coming from the other end of the field from the start of Feeder’s gig. No tantrums or excuses here. He simply puts more into his performance and flings a few signs in the direction of the main stage: the underdog wins through with plenty of bonhomie.
On the larger stage, Alabama 3 play a lively set full of pulsating blend of rootsy sound with techno and acid house in the mix of harmonica, slide guitar and soulful gospel. “Woke Up this Morning” (the theme tune of The Sopranos) goes down well. This is an emotional gig for the band since Jake Black, its co-composer, had just died last week. They make a point of getting “him” on his mobile and the crowd are invited to a record a singing message during You Don’t Dance to Techno Anymore. They lose track of time and have to plead with organisers to let them do their final song which, on the threat of “there’ll be a riot if you don’t” gets them their full set.
Next up, The Coral do immaculate 3 minutes pop songs with ease. The problem is that it is almost too fluid and since they rarely spoke to the audience, the impression was of a band going through the motions. Professional but perfunctory. There is one part of their set encompassing the song “Goodbye” which overcame that impression where they are clearly enjoying themselves producing all types of frantic psychedelic noise, and the audience excitedly reacted with a small impromptu mosh-pit. But, the Merseyside band are off stage shortly after the hit “Dreaming of You”, leaving just that taste of what might have been developed into something more addictive.
Feeder cannot be accused of not getting fully involved. Despite having a hard rock sound (they were Kerrang!’s live act of the year in 2001 and best band in 2003), the Welsh band’s punky rhythms were infectious and the family audience swayed and pogoed around, especially to better known chestnuts like Buck Rogers, played early in the set. Even with the newer songs like Youth, it was clear that they wanted the audience involved as much as possible, be it clapping or singing a line or two or jigging around. It became a bit of a gleeful melee near the front. There was plenty of communication from genial front man, Grant Nicholas. Although hard rock bands are not necessarily an obvious choice for headlining a more general family orientated music festival, Feeder were melodic, danceable and gave an excellent, honest performance which flashed by all too quickly.