Crime writer Ian Rankin has been instrumental in putting the town of Aberfeldy on the musical map as curator of an annual festival. Stuart Lewis reports on the event he curated as it returned for a third year...
So it turns out Aberfeldy is our new favourite gig spot. The Perthshire town’s autumn colours now trump East Neuk’s seaside setting and tempting smell of chips – and oh look, the Fence Collective are in town too.
We’ll get to Fife’s finest soon enough, but first there was Friday’s entertainment, kicked off by our dapper, genial hosts Star Wheel Press. The town’s laconic troubadours have a clutch of new songs that sound every bit the equal of those on The Life Cycle of a Falling Bird and unsurprisingly the local crowd lap it up.
Withered Hand got caught up in the traffic jam that snarled up the Forth Road Bridge and weren’t able to soundcheck. Sadly, it shows, and for all the effort Dan Willson and his band put in, everything is just too quiet. A rousing Religious Songs perks things up a bit before Meursault, back from touring Something for the Weakened in Europe, take the stage. ‘Weakened highlights Hole and Settling are powered out by the slimmed down Edinburghers with a few new songs – yes, already – thrown in. It’s a performance with all the usual power and emotion, but Neil Pennycook is visibly frustrated by the chatter round the room.
It’s unlikely to be any knowing disrespect for the bands but things reach a critical mass during Bill Wells and Aiden Moffat’s set when an expletive-laden plea for quiet from one audience member finally brings down a hush. Just as well, as their award-winning Everything’s Getting Older album can only truly be appreciated without distraction.
Rick Redbeard of The Phantom Band is clearly enjoying himself, despite being resigned to driving back to Glasgow, and the six-piece thump out highlights from both Checkmate Savage and The Wants despite new material apparently being imminent. The quaint little venue shudders under attack from thumping bass sounds and there’s plenty of dancing down the front.
It’s a fitting end to a great evening of music and it’s fair to say there are a few sore heads in Aberfeldy the next day. Despite that, the festival market does a fair trade and the live sessions in a chilly square reel in visitors and locals alike. Among last night’s bands – including an excellent Withered Hand, this time unhindered by sound difficulties – Kid Canaveral also pop up for an acoustic session, with some rather fine sounding new songs to play.
Gummi Bako’s eccentric rockabilly kicks things off before the set of the weekend from The Pictish Trail. With Eigg’s only metal band The Massacre Cave adding swirling hair, solos and chunky riffs to the occasion, ‘Of Course You Exist’ and ‘Michael Rocket’ sound positively thunderous. Johnny Lynch’s new record will drop in January and on the basis of tonight’s performance, it could be one of the year’s most exciting albums.
There’s time to squeeze in a pounding Brow Beaten before Bristol’s Rozi Plain, turns last month’s Fence release Joined Sometimes Unjoined into a fine set of kooky pop assisted by Lynch on guitar.
FOUND are probably coming to the end of Factorycraft’s touring cycle, and sure enough only a handful of songs from one of last year’s best albums are played. Instead, King Creosote adds second guitar and vocals, there’s a live drummer, and disappointingly much of Kevin Sim’s synths are buried in the mix. FOUND are good enough to play without KC in tow; if this pair-up is to work we still need a little convincing.
Although no convincing is needed for KC’s own set. With no fewer than ten additional musicians on stage, it’s a coherent, and unlike some Creosote shows we’ve seen, familiar run through of some of the better known songs from a vast discography. The man is seen as Scottish music royalty, and as the last bars of a euphoric Happy Song ring out, the little town of Aberfeldy are left in no doubt why.
A fitting end to a fantastic festival, imminent castle afterparty aside. The Aberfeldy Festival is now well and truly on Scotland’s music map.
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