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TRNSMT 2023: Friday to Sunday live Report

TRNSMT returns for its fifth edition with headline slots for Pulp, Sam Fender and The 1975: downpours, young teams and indie nostalgia.

The second weekend in July now means one thing in Glasgow: for three days the TRNSMT Festival circus rolls back into town. This year feels bigger than ever with Pulp, Sam Fender and The 1975 all headlining Scotland’s premier music festival.

Going into the weekend’s festivities at Glasgow Green, reflections on last year’s festival were enough to whet the appetite for another feast of musical offerings. Not that 2022 was without its hiccups. The three-hour Saturday entrance queues and the dominance of Buckfast drinking young teams were difficult to ignore. But this was offset by the sun blared down on the city in a very unGlasgow-like manner. Again the headliners were right on point: The Strokes, Paulo Nutini and Lewis Capaldi providing performances enough to win over any cynic.

Arriving into Glasgow Central Station on the Friday and its those not attending who stick out like a sore thumb, such is the vast numbers who’ve gathered en-masse for this year’s festival. Again the overwhelming number of teenage boys with sport branded man bags as well as girls in colourful and, ahem, scantily dressed outfits is noticeable. TRNSMT was originally marketed towards a more mature music fan than predecessor T in the Park (1994-2016). Today the band heavy line ups caters for an older generation. Not that the the kids have taken notice. They just want to be part of something and the atmosphere is largely positive on the walk up to Glasgow Green.

Friday night sees many of these youngsters leave following Niall Horan’s performance and the close of the Boogie Bar (which we’ll come back to later…). As second to last act, it can be easy to lambast George Ezra as middle of the road pop music, but songs like ‘Budapest’, ‘Dance All Over Me’ and ‘Shotgun’ are delivered with flawless enthusiasm. Similarly on the King Tuts Stage, Cat Burns delivers a soulful set with the smooth ‘ghosting’ a particular highpoint. However, Friday is all about headliner Pulp and the excitement levels around the Green are palpable (helped by the vast number of people walking around with t shirts bearing the band's name).

Bangers and theatrics is the best way to summarise Pulp’s Friday headline set. The Sheffield legends begin on the mysterious ‘I Spy’ before delving into crowd pleaser ‘Disco 2000’ - it immediately feels like a privilege to have a band of their calibre in front of us. The performance is heavy in cuts from 1995’s era-defining Different Class album: the pretend on stage rave during ‘Sorted For E’s & Wizz’, the drama of ’F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E’ and perky ‘Mis-Shapes’ all providing highlight moments. Jarvis Cocker is in his element too, bringing a theatrical element to his dance moves which contrast to his dry banter between songs. His N Hers (1994) favourites ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ and ‘Babies’ are later sung back with as much gusto as the adoring audience can muster. The final act of ‘Common People’ has the entire crowd bouncing, a lovely final moment of unity and celebration of Britpop’s best band (there I said it…).

Approaching the festival on the Saturday afternoon groups of young teenagers roam around the festival gates, all looking for a gap in security to jump the fence. One of the big attractions for them, you can assume, is Manchester rapper Aitch whose early evening main stage performances of hits ‘Baby’, ‘PSYCHO’ and ‘Rain’ show exactly why he’s rightly regarded as the future flag bearer of British hip hop.

On The River Stage, Afflecks Palace keep the positive vibes going with a jangly set of indie tunes, allowing for a mosh pit and fun mass singalong on set closer ‘Big Fish, Small Pond’. Saturday is packed to the rafters though - the journey from stage to stage is a challenge in itself. Which makes the decision to put The Wombats on the smaller King Tuts Stage and not the Main Stage baffling. For the first time in the five TRNSMT’s I’ve attended, security close access to their performance due to the overwhelming numbers in attendance. And its difficult not to watch on from afar with envy as the Liverpool band brilliantly belt through early hit ‘Kill The Director’: the loud crowd chant refrain of “this is no Bridget Jones, Kill The Director!” echoing through the air.

An unfortunate clash in schedules results in a sea of people then leaving The Wombats in the direction of the Main Stage and Kasabian. Since frontman Tom Meighan was thrown out of the band in 2020, many fans questioned how the band would survive. In Sergio Pizzorno they, of course, had a natural succession plan. He looks an absolute natural this evening, the epitome of cool in his mod hair cut, skinny black jeans and pink bomber jacket.

Except Serge isn’t just there to look cool, he darts about the stage like a child on a sugar high and encourages the crowd to bounce at any given opportunity. From the moment the riff kicks in on Kasabian (2004) opener ‘Club Foot’ the audience are only willing to oblige. Kasabian are so fantastic an hour set of classic hits like ‘Underdog’, ‘Shoot The Runner’ and ‘L.S.F’ just doesn’t feel long enough. They even throw in a cover of Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’ for good measure. The best is saved for last, ’Fire’ receives a crowd response which won’t be bettered over the weekend.

Meanwhile, there are so many Newcastle United shirts floating about the centre of Glasgow on Saturday you’d think you were on your way to St James Park. They’re all here to support their hero Sam Fender who kicks off his headline set with big anthems ‘Will We Talk?’ and ‘Getting Started’. Then the most Scottish thing happens: the rain starts bucketing down during ‘Dead Boys’. As the Geordie singer opts for another slow number with ‘Mantra’, the raving sounds of Scottish DJs LF System on the King Tuts Stage in the background are difficult to ignore.

So difficult the temptation to raise the energy levels is succumbed to and they provide the Saturday night vibes that had been missing from Sam Fender’s set (at least, midway through). Smash hit ‘Afraid To Feel’ allows us to momentarily forget the downpour which has soaked through many a skin by this point. In fairness to Sam, he ends his set wonderfully: a cover of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Modern Leper’ is followed by a run of tracks which more than justify his selection as Saturday night headliner: ‘Saturday’, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.

On Sunday, the rain comes and goes, but unlike Saturday isn’t heavy enough to affect the general mood. Skylights on the River Stage deliver an excellent set full of soaring anthems from their debut album What You Are and it’s enough to get the chest pumped out in the initial challenge against the elements. A touching mid-point set moment has the band take a backseat to allow a Scottish fan on stage to propose to his girlfriend (she said yes, of course!). On the Main Stage, Becky Hill has gathered one of the biggest crowds of the day and her dance-banger set doesn’t disappoint, major nostalgia being hit by a performance of ‘Afterglow’ and a reminder of the song’s tenth birthday (I know, I can’t believe its been that long either!).

The Enemy’s 2007 debut album We Live And Die In These Towns is arguably one of the best British indie guitar records of that era and Tom Clarke and co waste no time in diving straight into it. The frontman is powered up, excitedly coming on stage to approach the mic and give it a “lets f*cking ‘ave it Glasgow!”. He’s delighted to be back and the feeling is reciprocated by the King Tuts Stage crowd - the band are met by a sea of raised arms, “here we f*cking go” chants and girls on shoulders, breathlessly singing along to anthems like ‘Away From Here’, ‘You’re Not Alone’ and an extended hype-building ‘This Song Is About You’. It's telling how the band don’t perform any material from their lesser known other two records and this is to their credit, they give the people what they want: familiar arm in arm inducing, swaggering anthems.

Perhaps put off by the recent strop the band had towards the Radio 1 Big Weekend crowd in Dundee, the atmosphere for Royal Blood is more subdued than you’d expect for a heavy rock band of their standing. Their performance on the Main Stage is solid without singer Mike Kerr making much effort to get the crowd on side (I suppose you can’t cause a scandal by saying the bare minimum…). Though to their credit ‘Figure It Out’ sounds as majestic as ever to finish their set on.

It wouldn’t be a complete TRNSMT experience without a sampling of the Boogie Bar. And the first impressions are how the age of the average concert has dropped so significantly from the eastern King Tuts corner of Glasgow Green to the western corner of its location. Groups of teens have gathered for a rave, many of whom are draped in Union Jack, Irish Tricolour and Scottish Saltire flags and bucket hats, marking the different political and cultural identities of the West Coast of Scotland. It almost feels like we’re gathered for a youth Old Firm football match. Meanwhile, you have to feel a little sorry for Nothing But Thieves who are headlining the King Tuts Stage. ‘Welcome to the DCC’ is a strong opener and singer Conor Mason seems genuinely thankful to those who’ve opted to watch them instead of headliners The 1975.

To be honest, as a fan of indie rock, it can be easy to be sniffy about Matty Healy and co’s band and the fan culture which has gathered around them. But being part of an adoring Sunday evening audience makes a big difference. Ever the enigma, Healy rolls onto stage in a wheelie bin and has the audience in the palm of his hand all evening. Screams reign out for the opening ‘Love Me’ riff, while the smooth ‘Oh Caroline’ and ‘I’m In Love With You’ gets the hips swaying. With a stream of people leaving their set early to get buses and trains (side rant: Glasgow hosts TRSNMT to 50,000 people a day every year yet annoyingly the city still keeps the same Sunday service bus and train schedule…), it’s a shame they weren't afforded a Saturday night evening headline slot instead.

As the revellers stream out of Glasgow Green following an epic performance of Notes On A Conditional Form’s ‘People’ by The 1975, it's hard not to immediately feel excited for what the following year has to offer. The young age of the attendees may still be off-putting to many older music fans but six years into TRNSMT, the festival has still come out the weekend as triumphant as ever. A thoroughly enjoyable weekend from start to finish. And one thing has been made clear from the performers too: the Scottish crowds just do it better than anyone else.


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