Gig review: Aberfeldy Festival, various venues

Meursault put on an emotive set. Picture (file): Complimentary

Meursault put on an emotive set. Picture (file): Complimentary

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Returning bigger and bolder for its fourth year, with the schedule extended to three days, Aberfeldy’s autumnal, boutique music festival suffered a washout for its acoustic sets on Saturday afternoon.

But one advantage of sponsorship by local distillers Dewar’s is that you were never far from a warming nip of one of their ridiculous whisky cocktails in a room stuffed with bodies, ensuring that the rain didn’t dampen too many spirits.

An unusual collaboration of multinational sponsor and tiny, market town setting, the distillery supplied the backdrop for a couple of intimate events, with festival co-curator Ian Rankin sharing extracts from his forthcoming novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, recalling his late friend and singer-songwriter Jackie Leven affectionately and speaking entertainingly of picking up plot ideas from police retirement parties.

Meanwhile, in the warehouse, Aidan Moffat indulged himself with some tediously self-satisfied poetry but rescued the performance with his bleakly witty songs, dusting off the wonderfully caustic and cold-eyed Glasgow Jubilee amidst the musty circle of barrels.

Most of the music was staged by night at the Town Hall, with Friday evening headlined by festival founder Ryan Hannigan’s band Star Wheel Press.

Opening their set with a burst of gramophone music and taking time out mid-way through to crank out some on-stage hand printing, the alt-country outfit delivered a banjo-led slice of slow-burning Americana, ranging from the gossamer Being Michael Jackson’s Son to the compellingly quirky Subutteo (Maudlin Days), Hannigan’s vocal a rich, Ulster burr.

Still, they were almost overshadowed by the perky Randolph’s Leap, the youthful Glaswegian eight-piece really getting the crowd animated with their Belle & Sebastian-like blend of witty, observational lyrics, prominent horns and unapologetic twee. I Can’t Dance To This Music Anymore was a typically infectious, bittersweet rendition, while Real Anymore filled the hall with its big, playful chorus.

Variety had been provided earlier by electro duo Conquering Animal Sound, Anneke Kampman’s voice difficult to disassociate from Bjork’s but still projecting plaintive human emotion across the cool, synthetic sheen of tracks like Puskas.

Leith folksters Last Battle foregrounded polished dual vocals during a brief Lou Reed tribute, while the Book Group delivered a commendably rocking set given they faced an initially sparse attendance as the opening act.

Saturday night brought the tantalising prospect of King Creosote teaming up once again with FOUND frontman Ziggy Campbell in his experimental, electronic guise of Lomond Campbell.

Despite opening with the lyrically desolate For The Last Time: Hello, their performance was defined by the joyously rousing No One Had It Better, Kenny Anderson spelling out the names of his bandmates, before rescuing Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet from its overbearing world-weariness.

In the run-up to that, I could take or leave the emotive alt-rock of Meursalt. But Rick Redbeard’s folk set was gently affecting and Withered Hand’s new material impressed, especially Fall Apart, couching gloomy angst in attractive melodies.

Rating: * * * *

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