TRNSMT Festival review: Glasgow shindig just about finds lift-off

Glasgow Green, September 10-12: the line-up's a little wobbly after the drop-outs that have become part of this festie season, but there's fun to be had

The much-delayed latest instalment of TRNSMT at Glasgow Green – a verdant haven for residents of the city’s east end over lockdown – is billed as the first big weekend of the rest of your life. As many as 50,000 people – bucket hatted and Buckfast-ed – are asked to leave their pandemic worries at the gates and enter the largest scale non-sporting event Glasgow has hosted since COVID restrictions eased.

In the festival grounds, there is little evidence of lingering worries as attendees brush up against each other at a makeshift outside rave area crowned The Boogie Bar. Hailing from Kilmarnock, DJ and producer TAAHLIAH’s hyperactive set has pulses racing early doors. It takes approximately 150 minutes of day one for the first “Here we, here we, here we fucking go” chant, a staple of live music in Glasgow.

The festival proper is opened on the main stage with the twisty, shouty post-punk of Sports Team, frontman Alex Rice donning a kilt (oh yes – this festival is in Scotland). They’re on a little later than initially scheduled as local heroes The Snuts have dropped out due to positive COVID tests. That’s something everything festival must contend with in 2021, and the line-up initially announced for last year has been interfered with too: high-profile act Ian Brown dropped out after unhelpfully denouncing the virus – and ensuing restrictions – as “bullshit”.

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What’s left is a lineup of unquestionable popularity and talent in places, but one without much identity. As audience members butt up against each other, The Courteeners similarly rub shoulders with Radio 1 playlist fodder (Becky Hill, whose massive crowd led to the closure of the King Tut’s Stage) and YouTube stars (KSI), while rappers Jay1 and AJ Tracey sit alongside Liam Gallagher and Ash. The festival programmers have had unseen obstacles to contend with, but as a whole the experience feels confused.

However, there are delights here. Primal Scream are typically good value with their druggy dub and shout-a-long choruses, even if the crowd is a little flat. Liam Gallagher provides exactly what those at the bitter end of Saturday want: anthems we all know and love. Then comes Sam Fender‘s heartland rock via Tyneside, his sweeping guitars bringing to mind The Killers, The War On Drugs and Bruce Springsteen (he even covers ‘Dancing in the Dark’). His endearing reminiscences of “smoking skunk in the bin sheds” in his “second home” of Scotland are charming and get everyone onside.

Buzzy hardcore group Chubby and the Gang rouse a two-man mosh pit on the tiny River Stage, The Murder Capital bring a little danger with their loud, dark, razor sharp, post-punk on Saturday (and win the award for ‘most pints lobbed’), while there’s laser-beamed spectacle courtesy of The Chemical Brothers on the main stage. Anyone still raving at The Boogie Bar misses the biggest knees-up of them all.

Scotland’s new blood brings charisma and swagger, with local boy Joesef’s swanky R’n’B all chill and bounce; he is a born showman. Highlights of his laugh-out-loud non-sequiturs: “Youse are arseholes”; “It’s been a shite year but you’re still here, and still a bunch of absolute fucking stoaters”; “Ma nipples are already out man fuck sake.” One man hurriedly flits between audience members visibly moved, telling them he’s known Joesef since he was a baby and declaring how proud he is.

By the river, Walt Disco may look like they got dressed in the dark basement of a vintage store, but their combustible, campy synth rock is infectiously energetic. On Sunday, Edinburgh’s Swim School use their early afternoon set and loud catchy indie rock to dissipate any hungover energy amongst those seated on the grass with admirable success. Local bands are well-represented and attended, and it’s an exciting prospect for the future of the festival.

What that future is perhaps centres on one thing in particular. Since its inception, TRNSMT has been dogged by criticism of its lack of diversity, especially with regards to gender. It’s a characteristic that’s especially glaring when many of the best sets come from women: the quiet sad-pop of Holly Humberstone and the upbeat Griff offer two highlights, while South London rapper Ms Banks is too much fun and has too much raunch to be cowed by anything happening elsewhere on the Green.

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Chemical Brothers at TRNSMT Festival 2021. Credit: Getty

And then there’s Little Simz, fresh off the release of her new album ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ – a cool, commanding presence, performing at a level almost embarrassingly higher than anything else on show at TRNSMT.

The aura of quality beaming from the stage soon brings in more and more attendees to a respectful and enchanted crowd. On one track, the rapper wades in over the barriers, leading voices through songs old (‘Selfish’) and new (‘I Love You, I Hate You’) with equal enthusiasm. With Simz, TRNSMT peaks. Let’s hope its organisers are paying attention.

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