Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Glasgow Popfest 2011 - Paradise Reclaimed

I recall, back in the late eighties, going to a Cud gig with a friend who'd spent the previous six months immersing himself in folk and world music to the exclusion of almost everything else. After a fantastic performance that caught the band just at their peak, he said he'd rediscovered himself, and realised he was 'an indie kid at heart'. Although I can't claim the circumstances are exactly parallel, I left Glasgow Popfest with a similar feeling.

What the event - held between the 8th and 11th December in Heavenly on Glasgow's Hope Street - did was reaffirm just how exhilarating, unpretentious and downright entertaining this all too easily dismissed form can still be. Within seconds of entering the venue on Friday evening, I was swept up in the considerable frenzy generated by Spook School's opening set, so much so that when they gave out free homemade CDs at the end and announced they had only one left, it wasn't just the whisky I'd spent much of the afternoon imbibing that led to me forgetting my inhibitions and shouting for one with the desperation of a spinster reaching out for a tossed bouquet. You'll be able to hear a result of my successful lunge when I play a track from it in my Dandelion Radio show in January.

The moment was, if you'll allow, something of a microcosm of the event as a whole, because at its best indie pop is inhibition-loosening music. Manda Rin & The Rinettes more than captured Manda's early Bis form, her unmistakeable tenor squeal accompanied by tossed out ironic gestures that only come from a performer of her considerable pedigree and verve. Ditto Amelia Fletcher, headling Saturday night with Tender Trap and dishing out an object lesson in close harmonies atop gorgeously redolent guitars. The session they'd done for my colleague Rocker's show was my favourite Dandelion session of 2011, and this was even better, the new songs rubbing up against the old, melodic delight faultlessly piled upon melodic delight courtesy of one of the true greats of British indie.

And it wasn't just the veterans at the top of their game. The remarkable Standard Fare served strong notice that their upcoming January album is likely to be an early contender for one of the best releases of the year. Bubblegum Lemonade delivered wistful and sumptuous melodies of a rarely bewitching ilk, while Barcelona's Cola Jet Set's girl group harmonies and sprightly keyboard-driven head-rushes meant that even the considerable hand-clapping that accompanied their set worked perfectly, a further example of indie pop's ability to take apparently tired and outre elements and imbue them with freshness. My cynicism draining at every step, I was then dragged into the sprightly world of Madrid's Zipper, offering a sugar rush of C86 goodies spiked with a pinch of punk.

Such was the conveyor belt of wonders on display, it's hard to pick a band that stood head and shoulders above the rest, but I might be prepared to plump for the extraordinary performance of Edinburgh School For The Deaf, whose MBV/JAMC guitar pyrotechnics unleash something entirely other on the Heavenly hordes. With vocals mixed way further down than in their recorded work, the performance offered new perspectives on the band's sonic architecture, a characteristic of only the very best live bands, and gave the event as a whole just enough of a serrated edge.

Unfortunately, circumstances dictated that I couldn't stay for the Sunday and thus had to miss veteran headliners BMX Bandits and personal favourites The Electric Pop Group among others. Small indoor festivals like this are a treasure much needed in the UK music scene, and Glasgow Popfest 2011 shone brighter than most.

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