Review - Hinterland Festival

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Imagine the scene. It’s 6pm on a springlike Saturday in Glasgow. You’ve already seen a man so drunk he couldn’t get his house door key in the lock. And now you’re blindly descending a completely pitch-black stairway into a low, wide space where, unexpectedly, you find an earnest indie folk band playing away to really quite a lot of people (and possibly even more photographers).

The Kays Lavelle made a pretty sound, opening up the festivities that were Hinterland 2010 in the Sub Club, but there was nothing here to really captivate - although there was a strong sense that this rich, slow-building music wasn’t best experienced having come to it completely cold.

After a trip around the wrong block (we’re from Edinburgh, OK, and everything’s really tall and Glaswegian and scary…) we pop into Ivory Black’s to check out Little Yellow Ukuleles, a positively embryonic group of punk poppers performing here to a fairly receptive hometown crowd. It’s competent, bouncy stuff, but let down by the lead singer’s voice, which struggles to hold a tune in a live context.

This year’s Hinterland is a considerably reduced affair, a mere seven venues as opposed to last year’s fifteen, and while some may take this as a sign of some kind of failure or cutting-back, it certainly seems to work better than last year’s sprawling affair – such is the proliferation of venues around Glasgow’s Central Station that you really can run between them and catch as many of the bands as possible.

And so it’s back around the corner for Midnight Lion at the Sub Club. It seems earnest is the theme here tonight as the singer of this drums/keyboards/vocals two-piece has got that speccy, frustrated and jittery thing going on. The sound is often very poppy, mixing slick electro beats with the aforementioned melodramatic vocals (which occasionally grate a little) and the odd 80s keyboard flourish.

Then it’s down into the belly of the Central Station beast to watch British Sea Power in the North Arch. A massive crowd has gathered and rightly so, for British Sea Power are still apparently on top of their game even after ten years of producing much-loved tuneful weirdness on the fringes of indie music. Given that they all sound a little bit drunk when they speak, this is a really tight set, and they know how to please a non-committal festival crowd: we get a pleasing mix of classics from the first couple of albums (‘Carrion’, ‘Remember Me’) and the stompy, catchy ones from more recent efforts. It’s also good to see that they haven’t neglected the old tradition of having someone dress up in an 8-foot bear suit and come on stage at the end for a bit of general waving and rocking out, plus that of Yan climbing whatever bits of stage he can find during the final coda.

Around the corner in a smaller Arch lies the unexpected highlight of the night, in the five-headed shape of Glasgow band French Wives. Combining melodious indie stylings with beautiful violin parts and interesting lyrics, they’re totally engaging, even to our (shockingly) uninitiated ears. A quick scan of the gushing press coverage of their career to date throws up numerous references to Arcade Fire – but it’s a credit to them that this comparison by no means shoves itself in your face. More than anything, the impression is just that this is a good band in and of itself, with thoughtfully constructed songs, gorgeous harmonies, and a way of making a sound that’s definitely been done before come across as fresh and very much their own.

Having been turned away from the Hot Club de Paris gig because wee MacSorley’s was jammed to the rafters (looks like it was a good one, mind) there was nothing else to do but wait for the arrival of Jeffrey Lewis back in the main room of The Arches. Sadly, Lewis has to be marked down for uttering the immortal and very, very foolish words ‘here in England’ during the course of his set, but apart from that, it was a witty, if slightly out-of-place show. Lewis’ status in the indie world dictated that he be one of the headline acts of this affair, but really, his solo show of whimsical ditties about everything from Native American Indian battles to hipster adventures in love and loss belonged in an earlier time slot and a smaller venue, with a crowd that was more sober and interested enough to put in the necessary effort to following his rambling anti-folk sagas in order to reap the returns. The sheer weirdness of a rap about becoming a ‘mosquito mass murderer’ during a country stay in Maine is enough to grab everyone’s attention, but too often, this wasn’t the case.

And here Fresh Air’s Hinterland 2010 ends, with a sprint through the inebriated crowds back to Queen Street and the last train back to Edinburgh.  Sort it out, Scotrail.

For those who fancy a trip to the West, our pick of the festival, French Wives, are launching new single ‘Me Vs Me’ on the 14th of May at Glasgow School of Art.

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