Gerry Cinnamon may be one of the few Scots that can still stomach Neil Diamond‘s ’Sweet Caroline’ after it was co-opted by England fans during their Euro 2020’s run this summer. He drops it just before stage time at Reading 2021, instigating a mass singalong which soon segues into KC and The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’ – but with a twist: “Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na-na-na / Gerry Cinnamon, Cinnamon, Gerrrrry Cinnamon”, they roar. Cinnamon can see through all the tribalist guff and see the value of a good tune that connects with his people – it’s what he’s always been about.
It’s why his Sunday evening set at Main Stage East pulls one of the weekend’s biggest – and rowdiest – crowds. He bills himself as the no-nonsense, man-of-the-people alternative to manufactured and “overhyped” artists; the Glaswegian is reclusive and unwilling to give interviews to press, or drop tidbits about his life to fans. You either like the music or you don’t, and if not, piss off and let us have our fun.
Curious, then, that this slot before headliner Liam Gallagher feels like a gear change for the summer’s biggest festivals. He brings pyrotechnics, confetti, giant balloons, as well as a bassist and drummer for a handful of tunes – it’s miles away from the bare-bones 2018 TRNSMT performance that turned heads outside of his native Scotland. This is another arena-worthy set from a man who craves adoration and fuss like he needs a hole in the head. Lily, 22 from High Wycombe, tells NME that she and her two pals don’t mind the shift in focus or the mystery, as long as the tunes are good: “He’s doing it on his own terms. Everyone wants the life that he has; success and fun without the bullshit”.
The songs he plays from his two albums – 2017’s ‘Erratic Cinematic’ and 2020 follow-up ‘The Bonny’ – are rowdy folk ballads with candour and wit; the world-weary and sceptical observations are Dylan-esque. When he’s not stomping on his loop-pedals, he’s running around and giggling like a kid who’s just got more time to play out with his mates. During ‘Belter’, when the fan vocals are so loud he doesn’t even need to bother guiding them, he wears the face of a man who can’t believe his luck. Beneath the grin, he must know deep down he’s earned this.
And it’s the turn of phrase that cuts through to a crowd made up of both festival first-timers and the seasoned ‘parka monkeys’ waiting for Liam: “This is the beginning of the rest of your life” he sings in ‘Canter’. After 18 months of madness it’s what this crowd of eager kids, ready to get going with whatever comes their way, needs. Gerry Cinnamon’s charm is impossible to resist.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021.