The Great Western Festival- review

Last month, 432 presents returned with another year of The Great Western Festival. Seven different venues dotted around the West End played hosts to the day’s events, including campus venues like the QMU and the GUU Debate Chamber. We sent some of our writers along to catch some of the day’s proceedings.

GUU Debate Chamber

Ruby Gaines

By Charlotte Bouchard, she/her

It’s never easy starting off a stage, especially a comparatively larger venue like Debates, which I always find hard to not picture full of freshers’ helpers slapping the sides of the gallery.  Despite Ruby’s clear nerves between songs, she managed to perform with conviction, filling the hall with a resonating sound. This set has the notable accolade of not only being my first set of The Great Western Festival, but also my first gig post-covid (unless you count watching Weiss play ‘Feel My Needs’ during Freshers’ Week – I don’t).

Ruby Gaines sits in a nice blend of soul and R&B (with maybe some indietronica country thrown in, but don’t hold me to this) and is well supported on the drums and guitar. Songs like ‘Cardamon’ are more upbeat, when contrasted with other songs like ‘Without a Gun’ which are heavier and more evocative. Whilst Ruby acknowledges some of her songs are a bit emo, they’re moving and reach a good pitch.  The rhythm carried between songs was consistently catchy and there’s a good balance and duality between the backing instruments and vocalist. This set was one that improved over time, as connections between artist and audience continued to grow. It’s never easy going first, but Ruby Gaines is an exciting artist, and I’ll be excited to see her grow into a more confident performer.

The Hug & Pint

Chizu Nnamdi

by Loup Havenith, he/him

Chizu Nnamdi is the musical project of multimedia artists Chizu Anucha and Iain Stott, involving Chizu’s song-writing as a vehicle for expansive, eerie music. Guitar-led, heavy in effects yet soulful and progressive, the music of Chizu Anucha resists reduction. Words leave the lasting feeling of being underwater, overwhelmed with wonder. Hazy chord progressions flow seemingly free, reverberating across the room. This is an opportunity for Iain Stott, who plays a louder kind of drumming in his other band Death Bed, to contribute a drum style that weaves in and out of the melody, subtly accentuating offbeats, always really tight and to the point.

Chizu Anucha is a talented, multifaceted artist who finds it comfortable to hop across moods, genres, and mediums, yet this short festival set feels completely about the music, for the melodies that emerge from the noise are full of hooks, unabashedly beautiful. A sense of awe permeates the venue as the band leaves the stage, the room full of anticipation for something truly good to come. The first thought is to ask whether they have anything out, and they do: the single ‘Forklift’ which can be found online. Amidst all the excitement, Chizu Nnamdi just seems happy to be here, creating an inviting atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable dropping in.

Speedboat

by Charlotte Bouchard, she/her

Speedboat’s set was by far the standout surprise of the night for me. The duo from Brighton were charming, eclectic, high energy, and the audience was loving it. Performing in a pub basement is arguably a staple of the touring scene, and the intimate atmosphere of the set helped focus attention onto the band, who revelled in trademark intense moments of eye contact, accompanied by groovy little dance moves that helped get the crowd swaying in time. The duo managed to bring a sense of excitement back into their act, and clearly weren’t afraid of the audience, comfortably engaging with them between numbers and wandering amongst the crowd.

The act definitely revives the new wave, 80s spirit with style, reminding me of great nights in Manchester’s Deaf Institute. The sound carried and mixed well, managing to fill the space, with the audience proving clearly receptive to their upbeat hits. I was a big fan of the variation between faster songs like ‘Dog Toy’, and the more chilled out numbers in their repertoire such as ‘I Only Saw Her From Behind’. The synth and electric sounds were masterfully controlled, and I appreciated the balance of vocals that were shared between the duo. To top it all off, there was just the right amount of humorous irony and quirk that helps a night like this flow smoothly. 

Speedboat brought back the joy of wandering into a small venue and falling in love with an act you had never heard of before. So, there’s really no better way to end this review than saying I would definitely recommend giving Speedboat a listen and trying to catch them next time they’re in Glasgow – I might see you there myself!

Mackintosh Church

Scarlett Randle

by Charlotte Bouchard, she/her

First of all, props to Scarlett for coming on stage in a church dressed in a wedding dress, an example of the witticism she maintained throughout her set. Despite the gig being seated (the audience being scattered amongst the church pews), she was able to engage with the crowd to draw us in with charming sass. 

Her older classics like ‘Falling’ were recognisable and well received, with plenty of moving moments in other songs like ‘Breathe’, that truly felt capable of making you cry (but maybe that was just having to pay £5 for a can of Heverlee). The gig managed to create an intimate sense of connection and poignancy, despite the grandiose setting of the cavernous church. At some point, I started tuning in more to the backing guitar, which was honestly just as strong as Scarlett herself, who manages to blend more experimental sounds into her songs, especially the later ones.  Towards the end, she also dropped in a cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Fifteen’, which did manage to shake things up and elicit a few laughs from the onlookers. The set also ended with characteristic humour, with Scarlett throwing her bouquet into the eager audience who had received her well throughout. It was these light-hearted moments, juxtaposed against the more introspective melancholy of her music that made her set so incredible.

The Glue Factory

Murkage Dave

by Charlotte Bouchard, she/her

Murkage Dave was by far the act I was most excited for. Though it was clear the audience turnout was lower than expected, and while this might have put a lesser man off, Murkage Dave proved he was not that artist. There was an eager sincerity, humour, and honestly just a niceness, to Murkage Dave’s set that was maintained throughout, with ironic jokes about being labelled a sexy R&B artist, fake encores and calls to get your lighters out for ‘Same Old Spot’.

Murkage Dave proved a master at harnessing the energy of the crowd, transitioning from slower numbers like ‘Murkage Dave Changed My Life’ that had the crowd singing along to the more upbeat anthems like ‘Put You On My Shoulders’. Slight tweaks and mixes on crowd favourites like ‘See Man Smile’ managed to keep the set fresh and exciting, as did the performance of recently released tracks like ‘Please Don’t Move To London It’s A Trap’. 

A lot of Murkage Dave’s music is genuinely sincere, reflecting on the pressures to conform to stereotypes and the fluidity of identity. His songs also open up more on mental health on songs like ‘You Always Ring Me When I’m Busy’ which, despite being topical, is still refreshing and touching. Murkage Dave is striving for creative freedom, and this set proves he is well on his way to carving out his own niche between R&B and Indie. When the last song faded out, I was impressed. It is hard to carry a set in a venue as large as Glue Factory when it’s not full, but somehow Murkage Dave pulled it off, and by the end, had the crowd jumping and singing along, proving why he, and the Glasgow audience, is always so special. 

Maryhill Community Central Hall

Gwennifer Raymond

by Fin Logie, he/him

With a line-up curated by Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, the Maryhill stages were filled in equal measure with critically revered artists and under-the-radar newcomers. The great appeal of this year’s festival was its thoroughly eclectic bill: buying a ticket felt like picking a mystery box of unfamiliar outsiders (with a few notable exceptions), unsure if the gamble would pay off. Undoubtedly, it did. I went in blind to a number of sets and emerged as a converted fan of many of the artists. The music of Gwennifer Raymond in particular has stuck with me since. Kicking off the evening through in room 2 of the Community Central Hall, the Welsh guitarist took to the stage reservedly. Initially, the crowd was sparse, but the gradual exodus of next door’s Yummy Fur crowd began to fill the room. The mysterious impression I had of her music was only furthered by her stage presence, sitting stoically in the centre of the stage. Raymond’s atmospheric music spoke for itself, reminiscent of John Fahey and the American Primitive guitar style. The crowd drew in attentively as she captivated the room with her hypnotic fingerpicking. Spellbound, we stood and watched her weave evocative tapestries of sound with her guitar, blending Appalachian roots music with a noticeable modern Celtic folk influence. In the midst of an evening of punchy post-punk and indie rock, Gwennifer Raymond’s set managed to simultaneously offer a calm respite and an intensely engaging experience.

Arab Strap

by Fin Logie, he/him

Cult Glasgow band Arab Strap were the main attraction for many at this year’s Great Western Festival. A late addition to the line-up, the two-piece were billed to play a stripped-back set. Their cult following was evident in Maryhill Community Central Hall, as ticketholders flooded in from other venues across the West End to watch them take the stage. The absence of a full band didn’t seem to halt the expectant energy of the crowd, whose cheers were deafening as the two-piece emerged from backstage. As their set began, Aidan Moffat’s sardonic ramblings led the way, with Malcolm Middleton’s folkish guitar stylings and a soft fiddle accompaniment following suit. Immediately, the band seemed at home in the Maryhill venue, perhaps reminiscent of their 1990s beginnings on the Scottish indie circuit (a sentiment which must have been felt doubly with their indie contemporaries The Yummy Fur warming up the crowd for them in the earlier part of the evening). Admittedly, the band’s energy seemed to waver throughout their set as Moffat and Middleton slogged through some oldies, seeming jaded. In spite of this, the crowd’s energy prevailed, with devoted punters belting out the lines to every song. They closed out their set with fan favourite “The First Big Weekend”, prompting a rapturous reaction from the crowd which seemed to encourage the band to give the performance their all. As they departed the stage, they left behind an awestruck crowd, eager for an encore that never came. 

Papa M

by Loup Havenith, he/him

Papa M is David Pajo’s most recent stage name in what has been a fascinating career. Taking to the stage alone, fingerpicking wildly intricate, wonderful melodies which at times flirt with dissonance, David Pajo finds new avenues for his intuitive guitar playing, punctuated by lyrics sung hoarsely in his unique, confessional tone. ‘Arundel (II)’ hits like a freight train with its hypnotic minimal grandeur. More recent cuts from ‘A Broken Moon Rises’ achieve to cement the fact that David Pajo’s music is completely in tune with the present moment, continuing to show a way forward for independent music. Consecrated in the alternative musical landscape through his work with Slint, David Pajo has not stopped innovating and refining his distinctive guitar work, weaving majestic melodies that echo and oscillate carelessly between genres, album after album. Papa M initially faces a disjointed crowd at the Maryhill Community Central halls, the chatter coming from the back clashing with the quietly moving performance unfolding on the stage, although David Pajo never seems to stop looking cool and easy-going about it all. Near the end of the set, the room goes quiet, as Pajo’s playing becomes more ominous, darker. Offering a rendition of David Berman’s ‘The Wild Kindness’, he reflects a strange bright light, completely absorbed by the song.

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