Review: T in the Park Friday

Fat Boy Slim at T in the Park. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Fat Boy Slim at T in the Park. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE SCOTSMAN’S critic Fiona Shepherd rounds up the first day of music at T in the Park 2015

T In The Park Friday

Prides opens the Main Stage at T in the Park. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Prides opens the Main Stage at T in the Park. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Strathallan Castle

Star rating: ***

T in the Park’s new woodland wonderland site was not shown off to its best advantage under the slate grey sky which frowned over Friday’s bill but anticipation was high as festivalgoers staged mass selfies in the huddle to get through the gates and sample Strathallan’s wares for the first time.

Ever hopeful of exploiting the magical potential of their new castle home, organisers had announced an “Ultimate Fairytale” theme for Fancy Dress Friday. Snow White was spotted schlepping past the Healthy T food stalls but T in the Park is really no place for princesses, requiring its subjects to get their hands dirty for the full experience.

The new site has its fair share of nooks and crannies and little mini-kingdoms such as the Sunset Strip over by the Slam Tent. A bit of orientation was required but all the familiar T tropes were back, from stages to funfair rides to weary punters sleeping on pizza boxes by mid-afternoon.

Glasgow synth pop trio Prides had the honour of opening the Main Stage in bouncy fashion. Meanwhile over at the T Break Stage, newcomers Apache Darling stepped on the first rung of the T ladder, with a marginally moodier brand of electro pop, lusty female vocals and a hint of back-to-the-80s Scotpop, and in the King Tut’s Tent confirmed Scots indie favourites The Twilight Sad matched the glowering sky with their brooding anthemic sound.

However, bolshy geezer guitar/drums duo Slaves appeared to have read the mood music more effectively, attracting a good crowd to the Radio 1 Stage at the furthest extreme of the site to bounce along to the rudimentary, obstreperous punky likes of Cheer Up London and utter the day’s first “here we f***ing go” chant. There was no napping in the face of their primal rockabilly. Not to be outdone by the feisty crowd, the duo closed their set by crowdsurfing alongside a blow-up doll.

British-Ghanaian rapper Fuse ODG kept energy levels bouyant with a less aggressive approach. Right on cue, the sun came out to salute his excellent band’s summery blend of reggae, Afrobeat and soul funk. Hip-hop was not generously represented on a bill which favoured pop, dance and indie acts but this likeable, affirmative set brought the tribes together to twerk.

Radio 1’s Annie Mac was the first of the weekend’s big name DJ “performers”. She’s an avid supporter of new music but her main stage set required more of a safe formula. She managed to bottle the summer fun atmosphere in the arena without resorting to a cavalcade of mindless rave tracks but, without the cheesy cheerleading patter of her superstar counterparts, she seemed a little lost in the middle of her dayglo stage set. Perhaps a club or studio is her more natural environment.

Jessie Ware is, likewise, not obvious festival fodder, being more suited to an intimate club gig but there was no denying her classy, self-assured smooth soul turn set against a glacial backdrop of modern R’n’B production.

Dishevelled Irish troubadour Hozier looked like he had been shaping up for his performance with a couple of nights on the T campsite but his Van Morrison-lite sound made for pleasant early evening listening and has a more authentic rootsy soul base than the manicured efforts of George Ezra, due to fill the same slot a day later. And in Take Me to Church, he has what many of his pop peers lack - a well crafted anthem with staying power.

There were gems to be found in the tents away from the main arena. Alexis Taylor’s tremulous tenor is one of the most plaintively soulful sounds to be heard on site all weekend. Even better, it was allied to some of the most compelling club tracks (including an electro cover of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark) courtesy of his bandmates in Hot Chip. They are unlikely party people, being a motley bunch of middle-aged blokes but their seductive melodies and rhythms hit the spot from the moment they took the stage and didn’t dip for the next hour. Hot Chip made you forget it was still daylight outside.

Family group Kitty, Daisy and Lewis may have looked young enough to be T Break Tent novices but they were among the more experienced acts on the bill, having grown up playing an eclectic mix of ska, skiffle, rockabilly and rhythm’n’blues with their parents. Their defiantly retro music was at odds with the rest of the T bill, and all the better for it. Bonus points awarded for using Hot Butter’s Popcorn as intro music.

The War on Drugs were another wildcard alternative to the slick, inoffensive wine bar soul pop of Sam Smith, but so wildcard that more folks opted to queue up to gain admittance to Fatboy Slim’s party rather than take in this band’s accomplished, heartfelt Dylanesque roots rock.

This was the last opportunity of the evening to take in something rawer and more ruminative before Strathallan geared up for a brace of big name DJ sets and the blokey swagger of main stage headliners Kasabian for those who prefer guitars to turntables - or, in David Guetta’s case, USB sticks.

Kasabian make pent-up indie rock to riot to and there was a fine line between ballsiness and belligerence in their performance.

Fatboy Slim’s set, by comparison, was all hands-in-the-air euphoria and good vibes, not to mention some pretty dynamic mixing. Guetta is similarly cheery and enthusiastic but strictly functional in his choice of banging tunes.

Mark Ronson is man of the moment and, it seemed, connoisseur’s choice, failing to capture a big audience but turning in an old school hip-hop block party with a couple of guest MCs.