A verdict on Saturday at TRNSMT Festival in Glasgow, where a two-hour queue to get in was worth it to see The Strokes, Foals and more.
The last time I went to TRNSMT Festival, in July 2019, I felt so uncomfortable I vowed never to return. Accompanying my girlfriend to her first music festival, my aim was to provide a taste of the enjoyment I'd experienced the year before. You see, in 2018, Arctic Monkeys (supported by Interpol) played a set that stands high in my all-time favourite performances. Unfortunately, in just one year the event had gone seriously downhill.
The Glaswegian festival began in 2017 as an event for music fans in their 20s and 30s to counter the teenage delinquency that had become of T in the Park. Initially, things had looked positive. With guitar-based artists like Radiohead, Biffy Clyro, The Killers, Liam Gallagher, Queen and Kasabian headlining the first couple of years, the crowd appeared far more mature than the Balado version it had replaced. However, by 2019, the pop focus had returned (Stormzy, Lewis Capaldi and Catfish and the Bottlemen), in turn ensuring local young teams and Buckfast brigades were to take over. If you weren't a glittered-up teenager nearing square-go oblivion, your presence wasn't welcome. Or so it seemed. "Never again", I said.
Three years later, I reluctantly changed my mind. The Strokes and a few other brilliant guitar acts were announced to play in 2022. I mulled over my non-compliance, eventually caving in. The pull of the legendary New York band's first show in Scotland in 12 years was too tough to turn down and a more indie-focused Saturday lineup wasn't to be sniffed at either.
With a few days to go, I purchased a Saturday ticket and, on the day itself, apprehensively made my way into Glasgow City Centre. As my train pulled in, I wondered what kind of crowd would be in attendance. Surely, with a guitar-heavy lineup, the young teams wouldn't be in force like last time. Why would the neds (translation to any English reading: neds are our version of chavs) want to attend an event headlined by The Strokes anyway?
Frustratingly, at first glance, they hadn't got the memo. I soon arrived into Glasgow Central Station and it became clear that I'd need to follow a sea of cheap wine carrying, squeaky-voiced neds towards Glasgow Green. Still, I remained undeterred, holding on to the fact that at least the lineup was excellent.
Now, indulge my complaining for a second. Arriving at Glasgow Green at 2pm, we naively expected a short queue to get in. It was anything but. We walked for 15 minutes to go to the back of the main entrance queue, giving up and heading towards the other side of the Green where security had advised that it was "half as long" and easier to get in. Ahh! Simply not true.
We eventually reached the second queue and it was even longer than the first! It tailed on for another mile or so. How annoying! An hour passed and there was no movement, frustration quickly mounting as the sound of acts we'd planned to see echoed from the distance. Eventually the crowd slowly meandered towards the venue and, after a two-hour wait, we eventually got in. Hurray! Hardly a great start to the day, our spirits remaining intact despite the obvious setback.
What was most frustrating was the lack of security present and how groups of young lads were able to easily skip the line without being challenged (not without the threat of a sore face anyway, I assume!). Had it not been for the beautiful sunshine, the large queues could've easily put a dampener on the whole experience and resulted in less patient attitudes amongst those waiting. Having said that, I did hear cases of people simply giving up and going to the pub instead!
Now in its fifth year, you'd like to think TRNSMT would've been prepared for such an eventuality, previous years hadn't seen anything as bad as this year. Lets hope that they can learn lessons from Saturday and Sunday's debacle. I've been to a few festivals in my time and this was the longest wait yet. VIP, and the queue skip that comes with it, is definitely the way forward if I am to attend again. Rant over!
The acts saved the day
And there ends my moaning. The reason I chose to attend TRNSMT this year was because of the artists on offer and honestly, they didn't disappoint. For the flaws of the on-the-day organisation, TRNSMT was saved by their excellent bookings (on Saturday anyway). With a host of big current and nostalgic indie and alternative artists announced, I was completely in my element, eagerly racing between the Main Stage and the King Tuts stage to take in as many performers as I could.
As we arrived just after 4pm, Wet Leg, who had been promoted to the main stage following the cancellation of Years & Years, ended their set with an enthusiastic crowd singalong to viral hit 'Chaise Longue'. Next up was Fontaines D.C., a band I've raved about since I initially saw them at TRNSMT 2019. We marched down to the front circle and were amazed at how easy it was to get (relatively) close to the stage. We then watched the Irish post-punk band excellently perform a selection of tracks from their new album Skinty Fia and first two records. Frontman Grian Chatten paced the stage in a black tank top, appearing just as excited to be there as the fans in the front section. Dogrel (2020) favourite 'Boys in the Better Land' sounded fantastic with the sun beating down, as did the dreamy 'Roman Holiday' from their latest album.
After a trip to a food van to buy an extortionately priced salt and chilli chicken and chips meal (£12, eek!), we watched The Snuts perform a polished set to justify their early evening main stage slot. 'Don't Forget It (Punk)' provided plenty of much-welcomed energy and aggro as I began to feel the sleepy effects of my now consumed dinner, whilst tracks like 'Always' and 'All Your Friends' were as smooth and ominous as ever. A trip to the King Tuts stage to see Maximo Park soon followed, though the sound towards the back (where we were stood) appeared a little too muffled to fully enjoy.
For me, Foals are the ultimate festival band. I've seen them around 10 times now and they've yet to let me down. It's something they don't do today thankfully. Tracks from their newly released record Life Is Yours sound even more perfect when combined with the unexpected Scottish heatwave, the crowd moving from side to side in tune with the Oxford band's new found funk-dance direction. They finish with the heavier 'Inhaler' and 'What Went Down', though just as the crowd is just about getting in their stride, Yannis reveals the end of the set has come. We don't get to hear their usual finisher 'Two Steps, Twice' much to your reviewer's disappointment. To place a positive spin on this, they say to leave your audience wanting more and that they do.
After re-living my '00s emo youth with a brilliant set from Jimmy Eat World, it's onto the main event itself, The Strokes. We're packed in like sardines near the front, but any anxiety is tempered upon the Big Apple band's (albeit late) arrival, launching into iconic debut album opener 'Is This It'. The following set has them effortlessly flow through tracks from their excellent twenty-year discography, those from 2020's The New Abnormal surprisingly standing up well alongside their earlier classics. Frontman Julian Casablancas's quirky banter perhaps falls a little flat at times with the crowd (I felt like the only one to get his awkward comedic style...) as he fills in for a broken amp being fixed with a silly effects-driven solo song, pokes fun at the "Glasgow children's choir" and reminisces on his chaotic past with the city.
It's hard to pick a favourite moment due to the smooth hits and unrivalled album tracks, though it's early classic tracks 'Someday', 'New York City Cops', 'Reptilla', 'Hard to Explain' and 'You Only Live Once' that gets the crowd bouncing more than any other. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. appears the epitome of cool in his zipped-up black leather jacket and customary afro haircut, and each close-up on the big screen reveals a collection of chilled dudes not as far removed from their youth as you might expect. 'Ode to the Mets' is a surprising inclusion to the encore, though it serves its purpose in building the tension to the expected finale. They close their set with a perfect rendition of the song that folk associate with them the most, 'Last Nite'. Absolute rock 'n' roll bliss is achieved.
As we slowly walk across the 'Green towards the exit, our legs and backs aching from all the jumping around and 10 hours on our feet, I feel content that the day is over. We near the exit and a few members of the Glasgow young team (or "children's choir" as Julian puts it...) suddenly burst into their own version 'Last Nite' and I feel a sudden sense of pride for them for giving The Strokes a chance. My previous judgements would've assumed their attendance was saved for raves at the Boogey Bar. Perhaps there might be hope in the Buckfast generation yet.
Despite my earlier reservations, the crowd was more mixed than I had anticipated and far more comfortable to be in than the 2019 version. Yes, there were youngsters aplenty, but when you got to the front circle or King Tuts stage you became aware of the changing crowd dynamic and being surrounded by your more typical music fans in their 20s and 30s. Yannis Phillipapis (Foals) and Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) hinted at a less enthusiastic Glaswegian crowd than usual, but where I was near the front for both, everyone was having a great time.
The banning of Old Firm football tops did create a less tribalistic atmosphere, even if you could also argue this was simply replaced by the number of Irish tricolours and Union Jacks on display. Still, I saw no trouble and only positive vibes around the place. I also got three compliments on my Abbey Road Beatles t-shirt, so can't deny I was easily won over!
The alcohol and food prices were extortionate, the queues were a joke, and the organisers still need to do some work to weed out the T in the Park mentality (which was the reason for its creation in the first place). Would I go through all that again to see The Strokes? Despite the above, I definitely would. The weather was excellent, the lineup was fantastic and once you learned which stages to visit and where to stand, you'll be amongst trouble-free music fans. Not without hiccups, it was still a very fun day out and miles better than the last time I attended.
Overall, it's an 8/10. The music saved the day.