The tap on the shoulder as I sit at work is slightly unexpected. “I got you a VIP Weekend ticket for T in the Park” is even more unexpected, but the good kind of unexpected – free access to loads of live music. Superb. Unfortunately I still have Friday to work before I get to head up to the site. Friday comes and the inevitable delay at work means I arrive at T in the Park around 8pm. First job is to get the lie of the land and meet up with Gary and Kirsty from Carnival Chaos, the wonderful people that bestowed my free ticket upon me. That done, I saunter off in the direction of the Red Bull Bedroom Jam Transmissions tent, dodging all manner of impressively drunk festival folk. Friday is fancy dress competition day with VIP passes for 2012 up for grabs to the winner. I feel like I’m the one that’s been drinking as I pass Iron Man, Dick Dastardly, Wolverine, soldiers, a SWAT team guy with gas mask and all manner of crazy costumes. I make it to the tent, feeling foolish for wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt instead of dressing AS Green Lantern. No matter. I’m here for the music anyway.
First up for this year are British Sea Power. These guys have always been on my radar, having bought their debut album a few years back, but until now I’ve never got round to seeing them. They’re not helped tonight by a decidedly ropey sound set-up but there’s no questioning their commitment. It’s a good lively set from them, touched with an element of the surreal as the band are joined by a crazy looking robot thing on the stage. I’m glad I’m not boozing tonight or I’d be very confused right now. First band are done and now it’s time to see my second and final band of the Friday down at the Main Stage, Arctic Monkeys.
As I make my way down to the main stage I’m struck by two thoughts. Tonight alone, I’ve seen half a dozen females crying and almost everyone is absolutely smashed! I’m feeling like the soberest, most mentally stable person here now! I pick a spot to the right of the stage and settle in. All the while people are arriving at the Main Stage from elsewhere on site and the crowd is huge. While the roadies are setting up Oasis has come on over the PA and the crowd is going wild. It’s lucky for me none of the crowd are mind readers. Just as the song ends my despair is lifted as ‘Town Called Malice’ comes on. Then the guy three feet from me asks his friend “What’s the name of the band that does this?”. Seriously? I’m astounded. How can anyone stand at a festival and not know who The Jam are? Before I get the chance to remonstrate with the guy Alex Turner and company are out on stage to a thunderous welcome. I didn’t think they’d get a better reception than that but on their second song they hit us with ‘Brianstorm’. Mayhem ensues and while I’m taking it all in the young man to my left clearly has some kind of stomach complaint as he’s only gone and emptied it on the ground. Must be a bug going round.
Nobody seems to care though as the Arctic Monkeys set about securing the title as the best British guitar band. On this evidence, I can’t see who else can take the crown. It’s a storming set, littered with hits and a few tracks from the latest album. The crowd goes particularly crazy for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, with every lyric belted out by the huge crowd. There are a couple of flares being lit, making me feel like I’m in the San Siro and not a field 20 miles from my hometown. At no point are the crowd not eating from Alex Turner’s palm. The boy is a genius. As the set closes I’m fairly satisfied with my first night. Time to head to the staff car park to get the car and head home. See you for a full day of bands tomorrow Kinross-shire field!
I’m off and running early today with a spring in my step as I walk through the backstage areas towards the VIP Hospitality. I know how smug that sounds but there’s nothing in there that isn’t out in the main site. It’s just got more space, nicer toilets and a DJ. It’s going to act as my base of operations for the festival, which is great because the closest stages are the BBC Introducing stage and the T Break stage. It’s here that the unsigned and under the radar bands will try and make a lasting impression and the first to get the chance are Three Blind Wolves. The Glasgow four piece appear on stage after an introduction from Radio 1 DJ Ally McCrae to a generous reception from a decent sized crowd. I’m not sure what to expect here as the band kick off their set but I’m quickly enjoying it. Talk of comparisons to Frightened Rabbit aren’t too wide of the mark but the band have a good, distinctive sound and lead singer Ross Clarke’s vocals come over really well. There’s a lot to like here from a great bass to the quiet/quiet/loud formula used by many bands. Three Blind Wolves use them all very effectively and their set is filled with energy. It’s just a pity that their slot is so short. A great start to the day and now I need a £4 beer from the bar.
As I find a seat for me and my beer a Chinese Dragon wanders past me. Slightly surreal but when it moves away I can see members of Kid Canaveral sitting a few feet from me. The band will play the BBC Introducing stage at 4pm today and I will definitely be there. They’re top of my list that says “Must See Bands”. Being a shy and retiring type I leave them in peace (for now) and head on over to the T Break stage where Woodenbox are due to perform. I don’t know too much about these guys but as I position myself in front of the sound desk (I like standing next to the sound desk for some reason) I’m heartened by the size of the audience. The band are coming out and there are a few beards, checked shirts, trucker caps and a brass section. This is very promising. They put on a lively set, with occasional hints of spaghetti western in their folk tinged sound. The set is high on energy and the band look like they’re having a great time, which is always good to see. The singer even exclaims that this is “the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to”. As they prepare for their final song, the Hornblower Brass Band are introduced and it’s a great end to the set. So far today is going great. Now is the time for my top “must see” band.
I head back out and make my way up the slope towards the BBC Introducing stage. As I arrive The Mars Patrol are introducing their last song. As the song ends I’m wishing I’d seen their whole set. It was excellent but I can’t let this affect my mindset. Kid Canaveral are due up in 15 minutes. I use the intervening period to make my way to the front of the stage, something I don’t usually do, but the BBC have their sound desk at the side of the stage behind the barriers so I’m stuck for a place to stand. Talk about a long 15 minutes. I’m brought out of my daze by Ally McCrae coming on stage to introduce the band. By now there’s a reasonable crowd, but if I’m honest I expected more people. Oh well, it’s their loss and what a loss. The band are superb. There’s some good banter flying around, especially when a guy in the audience yells “taps aff” at the band, which illicits much laughter on stage. To any readers south of Berwick, this is a polite request for the band to remove their upper garments. Naturally the request is equally politely rebuffed. The four-piece play a very spirited set, engaging the crowd throughout. Everything sounds absolutely spot on and I’m already wondering which band will top this performance over the weekend. I doubt anyone can. I narrowly avoid inserting a photographers camera where it will be difficult to remove after he pushes me from behind to get a shot of the band. I decide to let him off since I’m in a great mood after a fantastic start to the day. It’s especially nice as all the bands I’ve seen today have been Scottish. I’ll drink to that. Trouble is I don’t have a beer so it’s back to the bar we go!
Around 15 minutes later I’m heading back to the BBC Introducing stage for another Scottish band. This time it’s Aberdeen’s The Xcerts. These young men create an almighty racket. A three-piece, they belt out power pop songs that have the big audience going absolutely mental. I remain a safe distance from the stage as I can see madness happening before my eyes. The sound these guys are putting out is incredible. I can see male and female crowd surfers and the security down the front are having their work cut out. Just when I think it can’t get any more mental the singer dives into the crowd with his guitar and keeps playing as he’s passed over their heads. Crazy and brilliant. While I’m really enjoying it, I’m also thinking I’m way too old for all this energy. A sobering thought.
Next port of call is the Red Bull Bedroom Jam Transmission Massive Long Pointless Name Stage to see Australian outfit Tame Impala. Hailing from the namesake of my own hometown, Perth, I’m pretty excited to see these guys as I find a perfect spot in front of the sound desk. As I get myself set, a guy walks past with a mask on that has a penis instead of a nose. Lots of mental people here today. There’s a good crowd in for the Aussie psych rockers’ set, which is a nice surprise, but explained away when I take a look outside and see it’s absolutely tipping it down. No matter. I’m sure they’ll win a few people over. I need a water so I pop out to get a bottle from a nearby van and walk into my mate Glenn. To cut a long story short I’m pretentious for not wanting to see Beyonce and Coldplay. In that case I’ll embrace my pretentiousness. I tell them to sod off and head back in just in time to see Tame Impala come on stage. The set is something of a contradiction. The guitars are sounding great, getting that psychedelic sound across well in the tent, but the vocals are really poor. The sound is a little muffled and tinny and this is a feeling I had at British Sea Power last night. It’s probably a minor quibble though as it doesn’t really get in the way too much. I notice the tent is emptying and a quick look outside confirms the rain is off. It’s a shame as Tame Impala are great, vocal issues aside. The set is punctuated with long, spacey instrumentals that lull you in before the band explode into noise. I’m thinking My Morning Jacket meets Secret Machines would be a good reference point for anyone unfamiliar with them. It’s a really good set and I leave the oddly named tent and head back towards the BBC Introducing stage.
This is my kind of festival. Just wander where I fancy with a very loose schedule in mind. There are definitely bands I want to see, but there are enough gaps that I can take a chance on unknown bands and perhaps get a surprise. With this daring spirit in mind, I arrive back at my favourite stage as Navajo Youth are doing their thing. A little bit Wolf Gang/MGMT going on here but I confess I’m not struck by the need to stay and watch so I’m on the move again. After a brief visit to the VIP area, I’m off with a spring in my step. Destination Radio 1/NME Stage to see New York’s finest, The Strokes. There’s a good sized crowd gathering and the weather is holding. I’m quite excited here. Last time I saw The Strokes they were a last minute addition to the T in the Park bill, back in the months prior to Is This It? being released. They were pretty good then and here’s hoping they’re as good this time round. A huge cheer greets the band as they wander on stage and strap on their respective instruments. Second spot on the setlist is ‘New York City Cops’ and the crowd go wild. After last night’s flares, today it’s smoke bombs with the smoke partially obscuring the stage for a few minutes. Like Arctic Monkeys it’s a pretty good set, sprinkled with the best of their four albums, but it’s the songs from the debut that get the biggest reception. Julian Casablancas comes across as a bit of an idiot at times though. His vocals are occasionally lazy and in places sound like Vic Reeves pub singer. It doesn’t quite put a damper on the set but it is a bit disappointing. Thankfully the band are in top form and when Casablancas remembers to do his job they fire on all cylinders.
My feet are beginning to hurt by now but for you our loyal readers I’ll soldier on. With a sense of déjà vu I brave the scary drunk people and set off towards the Red Bull tent again. As I walk into the tent I’m assaulted by the stench of the place. It literally reeks of damp grass, soil and body odour. Not pleasant. Villagers are manfully battling a thumping bass from the dance tent that I can feel in my chest. No mean feat for a tent that’s probably 400 yards away from this stage. I only catch a couple of songs from Villagers but the small crowd seem appreciative and quickly drift off into the night. I park myself in a quiet corner of the tent and wait patiently for Bright Eyes, tonight’s headliners. In the time between Villagers finishing and Bright Eyes arriving, I’ve seen a guy with the handle of his umbrella held up – but with no umbrella. I also see a girl walk into the tent with two guys, one of whom proceeds to urinate while they all stand around talking. Only at a festival! As Bright Eyes take to the stage I return to my spot in front of the sound desk, getting a nod from a like minded soul and prepare myself. I make a mental note to grab a setlist from Mr Sound Guy as Conor and the gang take to the stage to a loud welcome. I can’t help but notice two things. Conor Oberst is wearing a big jacket and it’s getting cold. He’s a smart and talented man this Oberst. Opener ‘Wrecking Ball’ sounds great. Seems the sound is a lot better for Bright Eyes than for any other band I’ve seen on this stage. There is the never ending battle with the bass from the dance tent, but Oberst laughs it off by suggesting the next track is a mash up with the DJ. It’s a great set from the band, who make it look very easy. Conor Oberst leaps around like a wild man, belting out the songs and it’s a fantastic end to what has been a good day.
I’m up and at ‘em today. Must get there early as The Phantom Band are on the Radio 1/NME Stage at 12pm. Ridiculously early for a band of their stature if you ask me, but then I don’t organise massive music festivals so what do I know? I race to the stage after running a few minutes late to catch the band wrapping up their first song. Disappointed not to make the start but I’m here now and that’s all that matters. There’s a decent turnout for the early slot, which is great and the Glasgow band put on a strong set, managing to fill the arena with their distinctive big sound. I’ve seen a lot of bands fail to make an impression on the big open air stages but no such worries for these guys. ‘Folk Song Oblivion’ sounds especially epic with Rick Anthony’s vocals carrying easily. They sound fantastic and although I’m still frustrated at their early time slot, I’m pretty sure I’ll see more of them between now and next year’s festival. I mean 12 o’clock. Gives them 20 minutes or so. Not nearly long enough for a band this good. Nothing I can do about it now though. I do notice Ally McCrae again though. I’m pretty sure he’s stalking me. During the set I can see a guy waving a sign around that officials hold up during golf tournaments that says “Quiet” on one side. That’s quite amusing. I head away pretty pleased, having checked off band number two from my must see list. Only one to go. As I pass the main stage I can see Cast on the big screens. Since it’s not 1995 and I have an okay taste in music I keep on walking.
My route takes me past the T Break Stage so I decide to stop off for a look. The screen tells me United Fruit are up next and I decide to stick around. There’s a good crowd building and lo and behold if it’s not my stalker Ally McCrae. Not to be outdone, Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway is here as well. This looks more promising by the second. The band appear on stage and literally launch into their opening song. This is great. It’s brash, it’s loud, it’s fast and it’s excellent. There are shades of At The Drive-In here from the Glasgow based foursome. Again, the band appear to be having an absolute blast playing and this comes across to the crowd who respond well to the energetic set. I don’t catch the names of the songs but the last one is a stormer. Really pleased I’ve stopped by here for this gig. Brilliant stuff and I’ll be making sure I catch these guys again.
With a spring in my step (not really, my feet are almost literally falling off, they’re so painful) I decide the next band to fall under my gaze will be New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous. It also marks my first trip to King Tuts tent. For those not familiar with the name, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is a renowned venue in Glasgow. The difference between the real venue and the tent is that the tent is around a thousand times bigger than its Glasgow namesake. The tent seems about half full as the band come onto stage and open with ‘All of This’. They get a good reception and the sound is good but I’m not blown away by it so far. Second song ‘Punching’ is more of the same and is good, but I don’t feel a stirring so I decide to head to the bar for a £4 beer. Such luxury. I make the bar just as the DJ is playing Happy Mondays. Perfect timing. It also starts pouring with rain, meaning the main festival area will be a mud bath very soon. Wouldn’t be T in the Park without some mud.
I head back out when the rain stops and make my way to the BBC Introducing stage once again. I’m not even sure who’s playing but the low-fi chalkboard tells me it’s Madhat McGore. Thankfully Ally McCrae introduces the band as one of many great acts in a burgeoning Scottish hip-hop scene. They appear on stage with the obligatory baseball caps at just the right angle, trailing their DJ behind them. But wait. One of them has a military helmet on. I get it – he’s Madhat! I must confess right now that I’m staying here for the comedy value this presents. I get the feeling a few others are doing this as well, but any thoughts of cheap laughs are soon dispelled. The DJ lays down some good beats and the three MC’s deliver tight, flowing rhymes which sound surprisingly good with a Scottish accent. I’m totally won over here and feel slightly guilty for my knee-jerk reaction. Especially as I think of myself as a fan of hip-hop. The band even get the whole crowd involved on their final song, having the crowd yell “Healthy” at the end of every chorus. It’s great fun and I go away pretty happy.
I decide I need to freshen up and head into the Media Area (best toilets I have access to). There’s only two in the queue so I wander up and wait. The guy in front seems a sociable type as he turns and asks who I’ve seen today. “I came early to see The Phantom Band” I say, “but have seen a few other bands too”. “I’m in The Phantom Band!” he says. I’m slightly taken aback and a little embarrassed I must say. Anyway, Duncan, is indeed a very sociable guy and we wander around for a while chatting while he seeks out his band mates. We later find Rick in the VIP area and the guys are kind enough to put up with my inane banter for a spell. They head off and my attention turns to a legendary band.
My weekend is drawing to a close but there is one more thing to do. Pulp are due up on the main stage. I meet up with Gary and Kirsty, the good people that gifted me my ticket and we troop off down through the mud to the Main Stage. There’s a massive crowd building and we manage to wangle our way into the area at the front of the stage. VIP has to be good for something. Now, I said before it wasn’t 1995, but that was Cast. A little album called Different Class was released that same year. Everyone here, me included, wants to taste a little bit of that record again and Jarvis and co. don’t disappoint. They’re flawless. It’s not rocket science to figure that a set from Pulp will be a greatest hits run through and that is exactly what we get. Being a normally reserved gig attendee that likes to bother the sound guys, I find myself jumping around in the mud singing ‘Common People’ at the top of my lungs. Nobody cares though, me included, as everyone is doing that. The poor weather can’t dampen the moment at all. We’re even treated to Jarvis wiping his rear with a copy of News of the World, which raises a mighty cheer from thousands of people who probably actually bought the paper, but today we’re all in Jarvis’ palm. He even cunningly praises the SNP’s landslide victory in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections. He’s a clever guy is our Jarvis. He charms the crowd and delivers what they want. A big sing-along to Pulp’s greatest hits. I just hope they stick around for a bit, because a world with Jarvis and Pulp is a better place.
As I head away from the main stage, absolutely blown away by Pulp, I’m planning my next move. Noah and the Whale followed by Eels at the Red Bull stage is the preferred move, but Foo Fighters on the Main Stage is also a possibility. In the end my feet decide. By the time I reach the base camp (ie VIP bar) I am absolutely shattered. In a moment of sense and clarity I decide to call it quits and head for home. I’m caked in mud and really tired but I’ve had a great time. It’s a long walk back to the pickup point where my wife is getting me. As I’m leaving I pass a huge crowd watching Foo Fighters and just before I leave the site I bump into the singer from Three Blind Wolves. I tell him how much I enjoyed his set and stumble off into the night happy. Hopefully see you next year. If I can walk by then.