Festival review: Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Glasgow

FESTIVAL season came early to Glasgow Green yesterday with the first day proper of Radio 1’s Big Weekend, the BBC’s travelling pop extravaganza of some of the biggest names in music right now, following the huge evening of dance music which had preceded it in George Square on Friday.

Pharrell Williams at Radio 1 Big Weekend in Glasgow. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Pharrell Williams at Radio 1 Big Weekend in Glasgow. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Boasting Coldplay, Lily Allen, Pharrell Williams and Scottish DJ and producer Calvin Harris on the Saturday bill, the annual weekender has been brought to Glasgow as a means of throwing the spotlight on the city before a packed summer of Commonwealth Games coverage.

With an open-air main arena and two smaller stages showcasing newer artists, only the city skyline beyond the trees distracted from the fact that this was essentially a mini version of T in the Park, with the same funfair and caterers.

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The familiar BBC Introducing stage was also here, one of the tents showcasing lower-profile bands including female duo Honeyblood from Glasgow. Yet the day started with one of the biggest groups on the planet, as boy band One Direction kicked off the main stage’s line-up with a toned-down version of their arena set: half an hour of sleek bubblegum pop.

Further early highlights included the icy synth-pop of young London group Bastille on the main stage, following One Direction with the altogether more winsome and grown-up sound of songs such as Things We Lost In The Fire, which are keenly pitched to play to a sense of melancholy while making full use of strong pop hooks and singer Dan Smith’s pin-up good looks.

In the In New Music We Trust tent, meanwhile, not necessarily so new indie outfits such as the Kooks and Bombay Bicycle Club bookended a decidedly memorable performance by 17-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde.

Talking to the audience she seemed remarkably possessed of herself and possibly just a bit self-consciously serious, casually introducing Ribs as a song she wrote when she was 15, “which made me realise how fast you can grow up, it can happen in a second – but if being an adult means I can stand here doing this for you…” Whether you consider such Kate Bush-style dreaminess forced or not, her show at least lived up to it with a series of glacial, powerful electro ballads.

The main concessions to Radio 1’s guiding presence here came with the self-consciously censored language of the acts as they exchanged platitudes with the crowd, fearful of breaching some live broadcasting code or other, and of the sheer eagerness of those competition winners dragged onstage by Fearne Cotton et al to introduce each act. Kudos, then, to the young woman who introduced Pharrell Williams, who had at least worked out a rhyme for one of the most ubiquitous and celebrated artists in the world right now.

So well deployed have been Williams’ songwriting, production and singing skills lately that his set was a tour through the musical zeitgeist of 2014, from Daft Punk’s Lose Yourself To Dance and the megahit Get Lucky to the dirty funk of his (originally Miley Cyrus-featuring) Come Get It Bae and the lascivious but musically hard to resist Robin Thicke collaboration Blurred Lines.

Dressed in a Nirvana T-shirt and leather fedora, Williams specialises in his own branded genre of bad vocal chat-up lines set to great soulful music, and in his dedication of Marilyn Monroe to “all the different girls” and the all-female, bathrobe-wearing synchronised dancing to Hunter, he was laying both on with a trowel.