Mumford & Sons' festival roadshow hits the Scottish Highlands, with The Maccabess and Primal Scream in tow
When staging their Gentlemen Of The Road Stopover festivals, Mumford & Sons have always sought out towns and cities off the beaten track. Sometimes, of course, those places are off the beaten track for a reason, and being one of the wettest areas of Europe is a pretty good one: the Scottish Highlands might not be short on natural beauty, but anyone holding an outdoor music festival there should probably prepare for inclement weather.
Pity poor Honeyblood, then, whose lunchtime set takes place during the worst of it, though Stina Tweeddale remains determinedly buoyant throughout, gamely reminding the crowd that, “there’s loads of dance moves you can do with umbrellas.” Even as you’re being drenched, however, it’s hard not to be impressed by the dramatic setting – deep in the Cairngorms National Park, with clouds of mist rising off verdant hillsides – just as you have to admire what Mumford & Sons have achieved with these stopovers (which began in 2012) and the fact that, in a marketplace as saturated as the festival industry, they’ve managed to make them work.
A big part of that, of course, is the other acts on the bill: by any metric, The Maccabees are one of the best bands around at the moment, and in their own unassuming way, they’ve become quietly irreplaceable. New album ‘Marks To Prove It’ only came out the day before, so Orlando Weeks appears almost apologetic about playing songs from it, even after generating all sorts of goodwill with early single ‘Latchmere’ and ‘Precious Time’. Nevertheless, the crowd seem to swoon for them, and as if to underscore the sense of inter-band bonhomie that characterises these stopovers, Marcus Mumford pops up to play guitar on ‘Pelican’, while Weeks dedicates set-closer ‘Grew Up At Midnight’ to their hosts and the “valiant thing” they’ve done by putting on these gigs. It’s all very ‘aw, shucks’.
Needless to say, no-one foresees that level of chumminess from Primal Scream; indeed, as one of the last bands you’d expect to find warming up a Mumford & Sons crowd, you wonder if a repeat of Glastonbury 2005 – when Bobby Gillespie sneered that, “we’re a punk rock band and you’re a bunch of fucking hippies,” before security pulled the plug – might be on the cards today. It’s not, but any suggestion that Gillespie has mellowed with age is dismissed the moment he struts into view wearing a gold-flecked dinner jacket and a black chiffon shirt to squawk and thrust his way through ‘2013’. The frontman might be 53 years old, but he’s still got rock’n’roll’s dark matter in his marrow, and you suspect he rather enjoys the sense of dissonance that comes from playing ‘Swastika Eyes’ to an audience who came to hear ‘Little Lion Man’.
Speaking of which, you could argue that by staging their own festival – and filling it with their own fans – Mumford & Sons are cheating slightly; certainly, they won’t expect to have this easy a time of it at Reading & Leeds. Yet while they’ll always be a polarising band, there’s no doubting the connection they have with their crowd – there’s genuine warmth and affection there, and it’s easy to get swept up in the mass euphoria that accompanies ‘I Will Wait’ or ‘Awake My Soul’, even if it goes against the better angels of your nature. In the moment and on their game, Mumford & Sons can make believers out of anyone.
Despite worries that their new, electrified direction would “freak out” their fans, the opposite seems to have happened: they play pretty much all of ‘Wilder Mind’ tonight, and while songs like ‘Believe’ and ‘Snake Eyes’ are merely amplified variations on an already-familiar theme, they’ve rung very real changes to the band’s live show, making them an altogether more forceful proposition. Whether they’ll be ‘rock’ enough for Reading remains to be seen, but their willingness to put themselves into that potentially hostile situation is admirable, particularly when their comfort zone is as roomy and welcoming as this.