Laying into T in the Park has already become a tired cliché here in Scotland of late. Ironically, the reasons the festival’s detractors put forward in their case for shunning the whole shebang – huge, sprawling, drunken, faceless, mainstream – are the same reasons, albeit with a different slant, that spurred 80,000 folk to battle through the mud to get here this weekend.
It’s true that those who travel to T for the music may be left frustrated by the hoards of stumbling inebriates, the public displays of liquid relief and the colossal headache of getting there and seeing the bands they came to see. But because it’s T in the Park, because it’s simply the biggest Scottish music event of the year, they repress last year’s grief and find themselves magnetically drawn to Balado once again.
And so I, too, now find myself in the disused airfield on a Sunday which has now become the third day of the festival. The challenge I have set myself is to hear as much and as varied music as possible and – this is a long shot – perhaps even enjoy the experience. At least the mud has dried into a pleasantly-squashy underfoot cushion.
Having taken a note of stage times (for a programme here will cost you a further £7), I head towards the Pet Sounds Tent to catch ex-Arab Strapper Malcolm Middleton (definitely no relation to Kate). The famously dour songwriter displays a certain disdain for the situation in which he finds himself, but is genuinely appreciative of the early-afternoon fans.
The day after Live Earth, Middleton is in no charitable mood: “There’s all this ‘Save the World’ stuff just now. Save it till tomorrow. It’s Sunday.” On which note he gets on with the business of singing his often self-loathing lyrics to a melodic, full-band backing. It’s Middleton’s paradoxical trademark, and songs like Brighter Beat and Fuck It I Love You win over the doubters with ease.
We leave the dark, tented inner sanctum of the Middleton psyche to find a much sunnier T in the Park with a fresh wind blowing away the collective hangover. Afternoons here can be haphazard. While most punters content themselves with lager and grass (of both varieties), us musos sometimes have to take a risk and watch a band we may not have MySpaced yet. Risks don’t always pay off though, and a nosey into the set of The Dykeenies has to be aborted when I realise that as a non-fan I’m already far too out of sync with the chanting, adoring, teenagers that greet the Glaswegians.
Undaunted in my quest for new music, The Futures Tent is a fairly reliable harbinger of rising talent, and I get there just in time to catch London lad Jack Peńate. The check-shirted Peńate and his two backers on bass and drums stir the crowd up well, to the point that projectile pints start flying hither and yonder, spraying everyone with a sticky shower, including Mr Peńate himself. But it’s not enough to put him off scraping his geetar rampantly and dancing about like a de-stringed puppet. The audience leave satisfied – soaking but happy.
And now for something completely different…
A short stagger over to the Slam Tent is all that is needed for probably the most unique event of the weekend: the full, original line-up of the Wu-Tang Clan. As their solo careers have progressed, the ego-driven cracks have started to appear in the once incendiary rap outfit. But this rare Scottish show signals a new determination post-ODB. As they say themselves, “Scaaatland! We’ve come a long way to be here today. But it was worth the ride.”
As the crowd sway to the phat-ass beats and make W signs in the air, Ghostface et al deliver a verbal assault that is often difficult to aurally pick apart in the cavernous tent, but a refreshing departure from the prevailing indie of the afternoon. Bring the muthafucking ruffness indeed.
After all that testosterone it’s back into the warm sun for some overpriced refreshments, as afternoon turns to evening and the big names come out to play. With the promise of old-fashioned rock‘n’roll, the Main Stage is my next port of call as Kings of Leon emerge, the freshly-shorn Followill brothers looking much more congruent with the post-Strokes wave they originally rode in on.
Despite the hair reduction, the Followills have, of course, lost none of the ability to bang out a bluesy toe-tapper, best exemplified in Molly’s Chambers and The Bucket. But their new-found desire to slow things down on recent album Because of the Times – presumably in an effort to join the U2s and Killers of this world – just comes across like a self-conscious gesture: ‘we’re a major band now, take us seriously’. Well no, I liked you better before.
With the sun beginning to descend and the booze casualties mounting, it’s off to the NME Stage for a spot of black-clad posturing in the perfectly-attired form of Interpol. Never in all my gig experience has a band been so completely the antithesis of its audience. In the pit before me, clowns in various states of undress stage ill-advised but admittedly amusing attempts at acrobatics while overweight, sunburnt girls writhe on the sagging shoulders of their poor boyfriends. But up on stage the New York group seem to look on with mild bemusement through their dark sunglasses at the scene below them. Or it could have been my imagination.
In any case, great as they are, the point is that Interpol just aren’t a festival band. They’re really a statement of style; their metallic, clinical riffs and Paul Banks’s world-weary vocals hold a powerful mirror up to modern urban life. But who needs weighty music on the last night of a summer festival? And yet. And yet songs like Evil and Slow Hands sound genuinely uplifting. And the crowd, for all their drunken disorder, evidently love it.
At this stage in the proceedings it’s decision time. Seven stages. Seven headliners. But I had already made my decision, for the following reasons. Snow Patrol? I don’t want to fall asleep on my feet. Kasabian? They’re never off TV, I feel like I’ve seen fifty Kasabian gigs in the last two weeks. Damien Rice? Again, risk of sleep. Queens of Stone Age? More like it.
By the time I make the ten mile migration through the scenes of devastation to the King Tuts tent, the nearest I can get to the stage without resorting to violence is just close enough to see the light strike Josh Homme’s slicked-back hair on a tiny head, his far-away guitar held in its defiant, low-slung pose. QOTSA have paved their own path through the desert between rock and metal, and the music, at least, reaches me loud and clear.
During Feel Good Hit of the Summer, Homme announces his plan to consume all of the narcotics listed in the song “in Scotland tonight”. Later he promises the crowd that “if you dance tonight, you’ll fuck tonight”. The spirit of rebellion is not dead among this festival of consumerism when Homme’s in town.
They play a strong set, ranging from crowdpleaser No One Knows to new tracks from Era Vularis, a standout of which is 3’s & 7’s. For their last song they call up old cohort Mark Lanegan (here with Soulsavers) to sing Song For the Dead, which ends my T in the Park in a maelstrom of drums and guitar squalls.
So it looks like I’ve met my challenge of hearing lots of music. Did I enjoy the experience? Well yeah, but my smile soon fades as we sit for two hours trying to negotiate our way out of the hopelessly jammed car park. But I’m sure I can repress this memory before next year.