WHEN I saw the line-up, I immediately knew I had to be there. It had been years since I had seen Orbital, but the thought of seeing them again made the hairs on my arms stand on end. And the band was there, playing the first day of the Playground Festival in Glasgow.
So on Friday I arrived at the main entrance to the festival at Rouken Glen Park. Playground was the latest in a trilogy of big Glasgow concerts announced when Covid restrictions were finally relaxed.
There was the Riverside Festival on the banks of the Clyde, outside the Transport Museum. Three days of electronic dance music with a list of the best DJs of the day. Housing. Techno. Happiness.
Then there was TRNSMT, successor to the much-loved T in the Park, but which moved from the rural setting of Balado to the heart of the city of Glasgow Green. A mostly mainstream billâ¦ The Courteeners, Liam Gallagher, dance masters The Chemical Brothers. Lots of bars. Target a fairly young population. Although not entirely, obv.
And Playgroundâ¦ in a park, so a little less urban. More dance and soul music. More esoteric, more eclectic. Les Libertins, Culture Club, Roisin Murphy, Chic. And, of course, Orbital.
It all seemed so ambitious when the three festivals were announced. We had barely seen our family and friends after confinement. Barely been to a bar again. Nightclubs have remained a half-forgotten dream. Was it ever real? It took all the energy you could muster to bring that feeling to the dance floor when the beats were dropping.
So it was a crazy welcome back to those hands-up times in Riverside that confirmed that yes, those ’90s raves had really been that good. And – at TRNSMT – that Primal Scream’s Loaded could really make you feel the earth had stood still and that Liam Gallagher (below) singing the Oasis songbook could bring generations together to celebrate the wonder of the song.
TRNSMT ended in mass euphoria as the Chemical Brothers built peak after peak of brilliance on the big beats. Orbital at Playground could pick up where they left off. The moment the Hartnoll brothers dropped Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth in their set at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995 remains a highlight in my life. I wanted more.
The Playground site was awesome. When we arrived, darkness fell and Morcheeba’s ultra-chilling, almost trip-hop rhythms spread good vibes throughout the park. Fairy lights twinkled everywhere you looked, dance grooves deepening as you went deeper, and DJs cranked up the intensity on the different stages. It was magical.
The Playground vibe is very different from TRNSMT. The lineup doesn’t have the 100-megawatt full-powered rock’n’roll superstar of a Liam Gallagher, but it is more diverse. As a result, the audience demographics are much broader and much more family-centered. With the TRNSMT and the Riverside Festival, it’s amazing that a city can offer three such different festival experiences in the same month.
Going to a post-pandemic festival is more complex than in the simpler world before 2020. The public is asked to bring a recent negative result of a lateral flow test – Playground has helpfully provided test areas for those who could not. not organize in advance.
The festival had also opted for free cash and credit card for the weekend. It worked like this: you had to open and deposit money into an account which was then linked to a chip on your bracelet. You could only buy food and drink on site by scanning this chip.
Organizers say the system was safer, easier and more hygienic than cash and card payments, reducing close contacts and waiting times.
Informal comments suggested that this was not a universally popular innovation. A watchword: if you are going to the last day of the festival today, top up your account before leaving and be generous with yourself. Don’t be left out trying to determine if you still have enough left to buy that last drink without trying to refuel on the spot.
And get a site map. Don’t be like some people I might mention and run around madly trying to figure out when and where one of your favorite bands was playing. It certainly wasn’t on the main stage. This was where the biggest crowd of the day enjoyed James. And damn it, there were a lot of people on stage to take advantage of it. It was great sound, and Tim Booth is a charismatic and compelling leader. Plus, they have huge tunes … especially the closing double slam-dunk of Sit Down and Laid.
There is something especially joyful about the experience of live music after lockdown. The public feels it and the bands too. When James finished his set, they stayed on stage to soak up that relationship with the audience, applauding the reaction. It’s touching to feel this human connection after so long.
James was greatâ¦ but they weren’t Orbital. The search continued. They weren’t at Forest Stadium either, where Hot Chip was supposed to deliver a mega-mix experience – and no, I’m not sure exactly what that means either – but had to get by because of sickness. It is a risk to organize a festival these days. Illness also forced Kelis to cancel the following night.
Still, the Glasgow Sub Club DJs made up for Hot Chip’s absence. So much so that an increasingly desperate search for Orbital was further delayed, and ultimately abandoned altogether. I blame the Libertines. Well, actually I blame myself for not having organized a plan but it’s easier to blame the Libertines.
They are not my favorite group. I always felt that they lacked grandeur, that their songs weren’t quite classics. Where The Clash, clearly their heroes, drew inspiration from reggae, soul, funk and hip-hop, The Libertines seemed to stay within hopelessly rigid musical boundaries.
They had their momentsâ¦ I have friends who use their hit song Can’t Stand Me Now as ringtone for their exes – but not enough.
Nonetheless, they looked wonderful at Playground. The songs kind of grew in stature as the night wore on. The crowd loved them. There seemed to be a real heat between singers Pete Doherty (above) and Carl Barat, whose turbulent relationship hit rock bottom when Doherty was arrested and sentenced to jail for breaking into the house of Barat and stealing his guitar.
At the end of the group’s triumphant performance at the Playground, the two were kissing like best friends. When it comes to bitter rock ‘n’ roll feuds, I prefer the Fleetwood Mac story about the drug-fueled partner swap – but the Libertines’ reconciliation was always poignant and touching.
Their performance on Friday was enough to convert me and almost enough to dismiss my disappointment. I was congratulating myself when I met a friend at the exit door on the way home.
“Sounds good mate,” he said. “But Orbital was huge.”