Under canvas, under wraps

Watching the rain batter off my bedroom window on Saturday night, I spared a thought for friends at Brew at the Bog in Inverness. Yes, music festival season is upon us, though weather-wise a weekend in the Highlands in May seems optimistic, even given the crowded calendar.

Of course, the blitz spirit will have got them through – think of those Glastonbury veterans who’ve braved Somme-like mud in the past. But for me, the days of trenchfoot and flu are for conscripted unfortunates 100 years ago, not the makings of a fun-filled weekend. Nowadays, we are free to choose musical events more suitable to our psyche / footwear. And slowly, music fans are getting used to the concept of the city festival.

The benefits are manifold. Dry and solid underfoot, shelter and succour readily available. Transport links. Normal shops and facilities nearby. Budget hotels and hostels. Civilisation, in other words – no need to forage for berries or worms if there’s a Wagawama round the corner.

Probably the first, and certainly the best-known city festival is SXSW, held annually in Austin for almost 30 years and now one which takes over the entire city – cafes, shops, anything with a bit of floorspace and a power socket can becomes King Tut’s for the day. There are even campsites nearby for any festival veterans confused by the whole experience. Though you can count me out – I ventured under canvas for the first (and last) time last July; the ‘breathable’ (read: porous) tent combined with the 3am revellers and vomiters merely confirming my allergy to canvas.

So swapping city streets for mud is the main appeal, whether close to home or the other end of the country. In the UK, Brighton’s Great Escapes offer 400 bands in 35 venues while All Tomorrow’s Parties sees, bizarrely, a Pontins holiday camp go all hi-de-hi-fi for the weekend. Portmeirion, home to 60s cult TV show The Prisoner, now stages Festival Number 6 (but you can check out any time you like.)

The future of grass-based events in the cities seems less promising – Glasgow Green has turned brown thanks to the local climate, and Indian Summer was eventually scuppered by a big-money ‘boutique’ festival muscling in. That also appears to be a flawed concept, as no matter now ‘glam’ the camping, you’re still in an area reserved for livestock (or bears) 11 months of the year.

So, Live In Glasgow was an easy alternative to risking pneumonia on the banks of Loch Ness. One day, 60 bands, 10 venues, all around Sauchiehall Street. Previously the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran have appeared, but the big names this time were Django Django and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

The guys I meet up with are veterans of camping, but these days they take in Primavera – based in Barcelona – and Airwaves, in Reykjavik. In November. As we queue in the Scottish drizzle a shiver runs down my spine. Still, at least they’ll have a hostel to go back to.

But as Nigel Blackwell (from notoriously anti-touring act Half Man Half Biscuit) once said: “Own bog, own bed”. I’m 40 minutes from home, where I can listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, and spare a thought for those intrepid souls who haven’t yet discovered the advantages of concrete over mud.

They Might Be Giants
There are many insults that can be hurled at a band. “Novelty act”. “Oddball pop”. The Massachusetts duo have heard it all, but probably aren’t too bothered. As two-time Grammy-winners, the two Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell, have long since ploughed their own furrow following their 1990 UK top 10 single ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’. Their 17th long-player reprises their Dial-A-Song service, where they’d post tunes to an answering machine. Moving with the times, the 15 tunes gathered here originally appeared, one per week, on the web.
Glean is perhaps more relaxed than 2013’s Nanobots, but there’s still top songwriting craft on display, from the Balkan fiddle-fest of ‘Music Jail’ to the sinister electropop of ‘Unpronounceable’. Could be it’s time for these one-hit wonders to trouble the charts once again? HHHHH

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