This review of the Friday line-up at Drumlanrig Castle’s Electric Fields Festival is predicated on the immutable fact that Teenage Fanclub are the best band in the world. Now, this might seem like a bold statement, but it’s simply a scientific fact and I can prove it on a pocket calculator. I had been really excited when the Glasgow band announced dates for a UK tour promoting the recent re-release of their creation era albums. However, I became increasingly dismayed when I realised that I wouldn’t be able to attend to any of the shows due to work commitments and holidays. Luckily salvation came in the form of the Electric Fields festivals Friday line-up. The Fannies would be enjoying a stellar bill that also featured Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and The Coral.
My girlfriend had hit the road to the festival frustratingly late due to a procession of mildly bizarre events. These included the petrol cap of my Volkswagon Golf point blank refusing to open leaving us unable to refuel and prompting an emergency visit to the garage. The good news was that we did manage to make it to the Borders just in time to catch The Coral’s set.
The Coral are a band that have fallen off of a lot of people’s radar, including, I’m ashamed to say, mine. This is a great shame because they remain an exhilarating live proposition. All the elements that first attracted me to the band remain steadfastly in place. In frontman James Skelly they have an amazing songwriter and a world-class singer and they still have an enviable knack of straddling genres like ska, psychedelia and indie-rock without it seeming like they are being faddy. They played all the tracks that I loved from back in the day, including a version of Dreaming of You that absolutely nailed it but they also played great stuff that I’d never heard like a 1000 Years from their fifth album Butterfly House. It was a cracking set that had me aching to bring myself bang up to date with their back-catalogue.
There was enough time between Teenage Fanclub and The Coral’s sets to really scope out the festival site and see what was all about it. We were both impressed with the family-friendly feel and also the breadth and quality of food and refreshments on offer. Drinks prices were pretty par for the course, perhaps a little cheaper, but instead of the usual choice of Tennants or terrible cider, there is an abundance of craft IPA’s and lagers to choose from. Another thing that really impressed me was that you were allowed to bring in unopened bottles of coke or water. You could buy a soft drink for £1.50 which is substantially less than any other festival I’ve attended. Very refreshing.
I insisted on getting back to the main stage a little ahead of time. Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerard Love had recently announced that he wouldn’t be joining the rest of the band on worldwide dates, meaning he is effectively parting company with the band. It meant that this could possibly be the last chance I got to see the Fannies with all three songwriters intact and, I have to be honest, I wanted to see how they seemed to be getting on.
The rest of the guys were already in place when Gerard arrived onstage just ahead of showtime and headed straight over to chat with singer and rhythm guitarist Norman Blake. They seemed on pretty good terms and before long they launched into Start Again from, arguably, their best album, Songs From Northern Britain. They would end up playing the first four tracks from the album including Gerry’s Ain’t That Enough which for me was a real highlight. For most of the sets running time, it did seem like Gerry had all best tunes including an epic Starsign and a powerful Sparkies Dream with so much low end that it made my teeth rattle.
It did seem that the band seemed a little bit less connected than usual and Norman, in particular, seemed a bit distracted. No one would ever accuse them of being the band with the most stage presence, they’ve always been all about the music and have never seemed to enjoy the limelight. Gerry seems a little bit uncomfortable with repeated cries of “don’t go Gerry!,” which I suspect he’s been hearing a lot of on recent dates. In the last quarter of the set Norman really lights the touch paper with performances of The Concept and Everything Flows which would have any sane person wondering why they weren’t the biggest band in the world at one time.
Speaking of the biggest band in the world, Noel Gallagher, ex of Oasis, of course, was up next with his High-Flying Birds. They hit the ground running with the huge sounding but monosyllabic Fort Knox, which almost seems to owe more to Primal Scream than to Oasis. That’s probably the greatest strength of Noel’s new outfit, the songs aren’t in the same mould as Oasis and it really feels that he is trying to do something different. He really pulls it off too, the band are tighter, bigger and better than Oasis ever were and they sound incendiary on High Flying Birds originals like Shout It Out. The brass section also adds an extra dimension, particularly to (for my money) Oasis greatest single, Whatever, where they take the place of the original string section. Other Oasis highlights include a touching performance of everyone’s favourite B-Side Half a World Away and the band bring proceedings to a rousing conclusion with Noel’s version of All You Need Is Love that’s fast becoming a staple of his festival performances.