It had been a few years since I had done something a bit different on my birthday. So, when I saw that the TRNSMT festival took place on the same weekend, I thought it might fit the bill.
Looking at the line-up there were actually several artists playing on Saturday that I was keen to see. Plus you never know who might float your boat on the day, so I snapped up a pair of tickets and hoped for good weather.
It’s been a patchy summer in Scotland. There’s been no clear run of good weather beyond a handful of days here and there – definitely nothing like the good stretches we enjoyed last year. That made the prospect of an outdoor music festival less slightly less attractive. However, luck was on our side and despite heavy rain in the week leading up to TRNSMT, the sun would shine for the entire weekend.
One of the first acts to play on the Saturday afternoon was Arkells – a favourite band of mine that we’d seen live at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut back in November. On the night we had to miss the encore because they played so late we had to leave for the train. Given a second bite of the cherry, I was determined to enjoy their full set even if it would be a short one.
Although we headed up as early as we could when we got to Glasgow Green and joined the zig-zagging line to the security checkpoints we looked in peril of missing the start. There were so many people being funnelled towards the security staff in three or four fenced-in lines that I just didn’t see us getting through in time.
Released from the holding pen, we slightly cheated and cut to a different bag check line than we were destined for. The shorter queue there was offset by a ridiculously particular security woman, though. She must have checked every single tiny compartment of Carol’s bag before she let us go by.
Once we were through I was relieved to see we were in the clear with a good 15 minutes until the band was due on. Time enough to grab a couple of beers and make our way to the King Tut’s stage at the far end of the Glasgow Green.
Setting a high bar
We headed off to a very long bar at the south side of Glasgow Green and got served immediately. The price of Carlsberg was somewhat eye-watering – £5.50 a pint, making it £11 per round. The birthday money my mother had given me wouldn’t go particularly far with those prices so we made the decision early on to pace ourselves.
When we arrived at the stage they were still doing sound checks and the area was pretty empty. We opted to put our blanket down by the fence in front of the mixing desks. It gave us something to rest our backs against and even as the crowd became thicker it didn’t obstruct our view of the stage too much.
The Arkells were great right from the get-go and the relatively thin crowd responded well. I couldn’t help but think they deserved a much later slot although I don’t imagine their frontman would have been able to lead a conga through the crowd if it had been much busier!
Any concerns about the weather turning on us slipped away with the clouds and the sun blazed down upon us. I put on plenty of sun lotion before the second act got going as, at around 2 pm, there was a long way to go and the heat was already brutal.
People watching is a big part of things like this and it was hard not to raise an eyebrow at some of the outfits people had on. Carol noted that if either Eilidh or Elisha tried to go to anything dressed in transparent dayglow kit, they wouldn’t be leaving the house!
While Glasgow band, The Dunts, played their set on the King Tut’s stage we had to look away as a girl in front of us turned to face us. She was essentially naked under a long-sleeved, sheer top that might as well have been nothing.
One minute you’re backwards nodding to the music, the next you’re having to avert your eyes from the pierced nipples on display before you! I suppose it was kind of funny, but as it had got pretty crowded around our blanket by then we decided to pack up and move on.
Catching shade by the queens
We found a pleasant spot in the shade near the Queen Tut’s stage and set our blanket down again to continue people watching while various bands wailed away in the background. It was nice to chill, but I think we might have spent a bit long there – missing a couple of good acts on the main stage and back on the King Tut’s stage too.
We really did lose track of time there until we suddenly realised we were getting quite hungry. Packing up, we went off to stand in line at a noodle bar we’d spotted earlier. The food was expensive for what we got but at least it was tasty.
It was only whilst eating under some trees that I realised I’d miss-timed things completely. We’d not only left the Queen Tut’s stage area just before a band I actually wanted to see came on, but we’d already missed most of Sigrid’s set on the main stage.
Missing both of those acts was a shame as there wasn’t anyone else I was fussed about until Jade Bird came on at around 5 pm. So we took a leisurely lap of the festival to soak up the atmosphere, topping up our water bottles, catching the tail end of Fontaines DC, and visiting the porta-loos.
To catch a performing Bird
Returning to the King Tut’s stage, it was far busier than it had been for Arkells, even for the soundcheck. We had arrived in good time for the set but were all the way at the back to the side of the mixing booth. With the high sun catching us from the right. I could feel myself smouldering away as we waited for Jade to come on.
Having enjoyed Delilah Paz singing live a month before, I was really looking forward to hearing Jade Bird do the same. She has a unique, smokey voice and a breathless style of delivery that I just knew would translate well from the studio to the stage.
When she came on, dressed in white, she was smaller than I expected and very English as she introduced herself, but very charming with it.
For me, there’s always a moment of concern when an English or American artist speaks to a Scottish crowd. I remember seeing Lower Than Atlantis at The Garage, in Glasgow, where they got jeered (in a pantomime style, to be fair) when they announced that their next song would be English Kids in America. The band seemed genuinely bewildered as to why the crowd had temporarily turned on them! It’s an age-old rivalry between nations that can trip an unsuspecting artiste.
Jade was very well received though and the dense crowd responded enthusiastically to all of her songs. I thought it was especially disarming when she prefaced the ballad, My Motto, by saying she was “going to do a slow one but after that, we can go a bit rah!” It got a good laugh and bought her the window of patience from the audience before an energetic clutch of songs to finish.
I thought she was superb and definitely want to hear her sing live again down the line. Carol wasn’t quite as enthused, but I’ll be watching out in the hope Jade returns to Glasgow.
After that, there wasn’t anyone I was dead set on seeing until Catfish & The Bottlemen came on after 9 pm. So we wandered back towards the main stage area where Richard Ashcroft had already begun his set.
The drugs must have worked
I quite liked The Verve back in the day and I have to hand it to him, the man knows how to play the main stage at a festival. The sun was lower now and the golden hour light bathed the crowd and the stage in a surreal shimmer that added to the charged atmosphere.
Ashcroft left the classic ‘Verve numbers ’til the end and absolutely nailed the build-up and delivery. As Bitter Sweet Symphony reached a crescendo the crowd swayed as one and sang as, well, many people who were under the influence. Still, in the moment it was a good effort.
It really was goosebump-inducing to experience that kind of live performance, even from the back of the crowd.
Bog standard behaviour
We’d held on for so long to get through back to back sets that toilet breaks were now essential. The line for those near the left of the main stage had been pretty long when I went there, but we knew that the row down by the Queen Tut’s Stage was quieter than the others we had seen. Navigating through the swarming crowd of a steadily-increasing number of young drunks was something of a challenge but when we got there the lines weren’t too long.
Unfortunately, this was where the only bit of real trouble in the day unfolded. A group of girls to my left were too busy looking at their phones and yapping to notice the cubicle in front of them was vacant. I held my left palm upturned to indicate that they should be paying attention, but the chat and phone tapping continued. Carol said “Just go,” so I stepped forward and entered the cubicle.
Before I’d even locked the door, one of the girls had a total meltdown over me “skipping the queue” and hammered on the door, punctuating each fist thump with obscenities. I didn’t think she’d continue and I knew I wouldn’t take more than a minute to have a pee so I carried on, but she persisted in thumping and kicking the door for the duration.
Thinking about it, I probably should have said something to draw their attention to the fact the cubicle was empty. But this was weighted by my take that they should have been paying attention to the line they were standing in and not keeping everyone waiting.
As the pounding continued I took my time using the hand sanitiser before firmly unlocking the door and kicking it open. As it swung on its hinges the girls jumped back, their faces transitioning from menace to surprise before settling somewhere in between.
“You don’t f*cking skip the f*cking queue!” Their ginger ringleader sneered at me.
“I do if you’re not paying attention!” I hissed back, leaning towards her as I did so. Her cohorts did that lean back thing and the girl offered nothing more, except to mutter on her way into the cubicle.
Nobody else around seemed fussed by the situation and, as Carol hadn’t emerged from her cubicle yet, I wandered to the back of the area to wait for her. As I stood I hoped that flare-up wasn’t a sign of things to come as there was still a good couple of hours left before I planned to head home.
Scanning the area, it looked like most people were still having a good time but there were those who were drunk, tired, sunburnt and tetchy sprinkled amongst the crowd. And also folk who were just bombed and asleep on their arms on the ground, but I guess that’s music festivals for you!
As the sun sets
It was still a good hour until Catfish and the Bottlemen were due on so we spent some time up at the King Tut’s stage to see if we could catch a bonus act beforehand. There were just too many people staggering around to be comfortable sitting on our blanket to the right of the stage so we gave up on it and made our way back to the main area.
After grabbing a sweet treat and our final beers of the night, we made one final visit to the portaloos to kill time before the main act. Despite the cost, we even attempted to get some more noodles but the stall we went to wouldn’t accept card payment and our cash had long since run out.
With the temperature steadily falling and tiredness setting in, the waiting was becoming a chore. As the sun dipped below the Glasgow skyline, hundreds of seagulls swooped to pick the scraps from the litter-strewn area by the main gates. Around us, there were plenty of tired faces amongst those who were still up for it. It was hard to escape the feeling that things were drawing to a close.
Carol indicated that she couldn’t last much longer and wanted to get an earlier train so we could get home in time to grab some takeaway. I was reluctant to leave before seeing the band I’d waited all day for. However, that was tempered by the fact I’d been on a later train the night before and it had been standing room only for most of the way back.
Catching some Catfish
We took up a position to the left of the crowd, probably 150 metres or more from the stage. It was hard to tell the distance due to the sea of people. A couple arrived beside us who were clearly in the middle of an argument. He stood behind us whilst she stood off to the side, smouldering at whatever words had been exchanged beforehand.
Carol and I returned knowing glances at the somewhat awkward situation. I felt a bit sorry that they had fallen out on such a nice day, quietly amused that the small scale cold war was happening right beside us, and also smug that it wasn’t us having the fight!
The tension was broken by the Welshmen taking to the stage, tearing into their big numbers without much introduction. They sounded fantastic but a glance at my watch told me we’d have to leave after just a couple of songs.
I enjoyed what I could before we had to make tracks back to High Street station. On the walk there we saw scattered groups of people who had already left the festival. The side streets were lined by police and cones for traffic management and when we got to the station the staff were already set up for the surge to come when it was all over on Glasgow Green.
Leaving early somewhat paid off as the train was pretty empty and it was a relief to get a seat all the way back to Helensburgh. Sun-kissed and exhausted, I’d had a brilliant birthday at TRNSMT and if the line-up looks good I’d go again in future.