Review of T In The Park festival, Kinross, Scotland July 10th - 12th 2009
Scotland's biggest festival has become more famous for its hardcore party atmosphere and the volume of Tennents and Buckfast consumed over the weekend, than for the music itself. But this year the organisers worked hard to bring the festival in line with other UK big hitters like V, Reading and Leeds. And with arguably the best line up to date, boasting four headliners over three days, they were almost successful.
The thing is, no matter how much they try to distance themselves from the drinking culture reputation of old - this year saw the advent of 'Healthy T', where you could buy reasonably priced and very good organic Scottish food - T In The Park remains a booze fuelled, slightly rough around the edges three-day party.
And it was not only the festival goers that didn't let you forget where you were. Band after band shamelessly tried to court the fiercely patriotic crowd. From Pete Doherty opening his set in the King Tut's Wah Wah Tent with 'Flower Of Scotland' to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs bringing on East Kilbride Pipe Band during their performance of Skeletons on the NME stage; the crowd seemed to love every minute of it.
One downside of the weekend was the organisation. Scanning tickets on entry and exit to the campsite and the arena meant you had to be clutching your precious bit of paper 24/7, so the purpose of our wristbands was a mystery. With the amount of alcohol consumed, more than a few people lost their phones, wallets, even their friends; so to expect people to keep hold of their ticket all weekend was a bit optimistic! It just caused hold ups and added to the irritation of the crowd, there must be a better way. There were also last-minute cancellations and it's not surprising given the amount of festivals this summer- TITP lost The Horrors, The Game and Ladyhawke. But really, should fans have to find out by word of mouth originating from Twitter?! TITP organisers need to take a leaf out of the Eavis book - a bit of communication wouldn't go a miss! Despite the cancellations, the seven stages meant the musical talent on show was vast; here are a just a few of the highlights.
Friday 10th July
The Maccabees were tasked with kicking off the proceedings in King Tut's Wah Wah Tent and they more than stepped up to the mark. The crowd gave them the warmest reception I've seen as they played a short set of new and old material, with Love You Better and Can You Give It being clear favourites.
New Yorkers trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed a typically energetic set of synth heavy rock with Karen O taking to the stage in multi-coloured Indian headdress, a black leather dress and feathered shoes. 'I don't know if it's as pretty looking this way as it is that way?' she said, pointing to the sunset. With a nod to their hosts, they were joined by the aforementioned bagpipe band during Skeletons much to the crowds delight. The huge inflatable eyes seen at Glastonbury were hurled from the stage during Zero as has become customary, one of them going AWOL and sending a small section of the audience off chasing it round the field! And it was Zero and Heads Will Roll from their current album It's Blitz! that were the real crowd pleasers with Karen O's delivery keeping the entire crowd hooked.
Headlining the main stage on opening night were the Kings Of Leon. True to their roots they played a few of their older favourites; Taper Jean Girl, The Bucket and the epic Molly's Chambers all got an airing. But now they are fully fledged stadium rockers, it was their recent big hits that the crowd really wanted to hear, with Sex On Fire and Use Somebody stealing the limelight and rounding off the evening perfectly.
Saturday 11th July
Although The Saturdays (yes, The Saturdays!) apparently played King Tut's Tent on the final day, it seems it was the middle day of the festival that was pop day. Whilst the NME stage saw Katy Perry dressed in a skimpy tartan dress, the main stage crowd were treated to a typically energetic performance by the eccentric Lady Gaga. She played her familiar electro pop tunes interspersed with a number of just as eccentric costume changes. Her chart hits Paparazzi and Poker Face predictably drew the biggest reaction and despite being an unusual choice for main stage mid-afternoon, she was a definite winner with the crowd.
From one extreme to the other, the main stage was bathed in sunshine as we waited for Ska legends The Specials. They played a classic hit filled set and the fans weren't disappointed. Terry Hall was unusually chatty, telling the crowd they were beautiful and clearly enjoying the performance as well as the response. Too Much Too Young, Rat Race and A Message To You Rudi (which they dedicated to all the 'rude boys' in the audience) all drew jubilant responses, but their finale Ghost Town saw the whole crowd erupt into the kind of dancing you only ever see at a Specials gig!
Whilst The Manic Street Preachers headlined King Tut's Tent, The Killers graduated to the main stage this year. Singer Brandon Flowers-dressed in his usual feather lapelled jacket- paid tribute to the Scottish crowd's support, thanking them for being on the journey to success with the band. The set saw them perform the now customary cover of Shadowplay by Joy Division as well as hits from each of their three albums including Smile Like You Mean It, Spaceman and Mr Brightside. Whether he was front of stage or sitting behind the piano, Flowers commanded the crowd effortlessly and when the band launched into All The Things That I've Done, a mass sing along ensued before they left the stage. Returning for their encore to deafening cheers, they played Bones and Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine before closing the second day of the festival with the popular When You Were Young.
Sunday 12th July
Rain over night meant the wellies were out in force but the sun soon returned and the spirits weren't dampened. The King Tut's Tent played host to American songstress Regina Spektor. Behind her grand piano she humbly wowed an enthusiastic crowd with favourites such as Fidelity and Samson as well as material from her new album. The tent then rapidly filled to capacity as fans anticipated the arrival of Pete Doherty. Following his rendition of Flower Of Scotland, Doherty was joined on stage by two ballerinas as he performed his solo material. Patiently dodging (or catching) flying beer cans and glow sticks, he sang The Last Of The English Roses and For Lovers to an enthusiastic crowd, but it was the classic Libertines tracks of Music When The Lights Go Out and his closer, Time For Heroes that really whipped the fans into a frenzy.
Outside, Lily Allen drew a huge crowd for her performance on the NME stage. Her set included all the fan favourites; LDN, Smile and The Fear as well as her covers of Oh My God by the Kaiser Chiefs and Britney's Womanizer. Despite her festival marathon this summer, she gave a brilliantly engaging performance with spot on vocals, even throwing in some sex tips for the girls before launching into Not Fair!
Over on the main stage Elbow's Guy Garvey announced 'I'm gonna burn for you' as he stepped into the afternoon sunshine before kicking off with Starlings. Mid set, the band congregated around the keyboard to raise their glasses to each other and the crowd before playing Weather To Fly. Garvey also got the crowd to do a 'reverse Mexican wave' with pretty spectacular consequences! Ending the perfect sunny afternoon set, Elbow aptly played One Day Like This whilst the confetti showered over the crowd.
As the festival drew to a close, disaster almost struck with the announcement that Graham Coxon was unwell and Blur's headline slot was in doubt. The prospect of Snow Patrol performing a double set to close the entire festival would have been an anti-climax to say the least. Despite the uncertainty, the mood remained buoyant and the TITP veterans took to the stage. Gary Lightbody's band performed a crowd pleasing set filled with hits like Run, Crack The Shutters and Chasing Cars, another song that evoked a mass sing along from an emotional crowd. But then came the news that the we had been waiting for- Graham Coxon was on his way, albeit late.and with a police escort, but Blur would be playing.
An hour and a half later than planned, the band took to the stage with Albarn saying 'We nearly didn't make it.Graham literally walked out of the hospital to be here'. And although their stage time was reduced, it just meant that they honed their set, playing all their best loved hits. Tender saw yet another deafening sing along as did Country House. There was no Phil Daniels for Parklife but Albarn pulled off an up-tempo version of the vocals to the crowd's delight. The slow build intro of Song 2 followed, but was almost drowned out by the chants of 'here we, here we, here we f*cking go' that had resounded around the site all weekend. When the vocals kicked in, the whole crowd threw themselves into a pogoing frenzy that lead to Albarn declaring 'That was the best ever'. Dropping the pace for This Is A Low gave the energetic crowd a break but when Albarn said this was Blur's 'last gig', it seemed everyone hoped he didn't mean for good. Returning for a short encore, the band finally closed with an emotional rendition of The Universal and as the flares were lit the atmosphere in the crowd could not have been better. It was an epic performance to end the most successful come back in years, and a fitting finale to the Scottish bash.
Despite the comparisons drawn, a Scottish Glasto it isn't - but to be honest it doesn't try to be. The focus is on having a good time, the campsite entertainment goes on into the small hours and the partying doesn't stop. But with a line up to rival any other, the smaller bands seemed to suffer. Unlike Glastonbury, bands who played early on the smaller stages often failed to even draw the same size crowd as the bars. And that just about sums TITP up - it is sponsored by Tennents after all!