Hogmanay, Princes Street, Edinburgh
Caledonian troubadour brings it all back home
Monday 05 January 2009
Attending the Hogmanay celebrations held every new year in Edinburgh can be the Russian roulette of gig-going. Despite usually commendable line-ups and one of the most beautiful wintertime city settings imaginable, inhospitable weather conditions can often leave the event cancelled and a wave of disappointment flooding the city. This was, however, one of the good years.
That wasn't just thanks to the crisp but bracing weather and a muscular firework display that filled the sky above the Castle after the Bells. Whoever was in charge of programming this edition musically had clearly given thought to everyone, because there was a reassuring mix of old favourites, crowd-pleasers and creditably up-and-coming artists involved.
The only problem was actually moving between the two live music stages on Waverley Bridge and in Princes Street Gardens (not to mention a further DJ-only stage, which was being headlined by members of Hot Chip), although the strategic placing of a couple of massive video screens helped negate the need to go barging repeatedly through the throngs had there been a timing clash.
Both stages started off with a suitably Caledonian feel, possibly to help the thousands of visitors who had descended on the city for the party ease into the appropriate spirit. Local bunch Broken Records, whose recognition by NME for their Arcade Fire-mimicking style probably makes the fiddle-pop mini-orchestra the most fashionable Edinburgh-based band in the country at the moment, opened the Waverley Bridge stage, while the all-new and rootsy Paolo Nutini began the entertainment on the main stage in Princes Street Gardens.
So high does Nutini sit in the estimation of most Scots gig-goers that he would without doubt have been value for a place near the top of the bill. His services (and the Dylan impersonation he appears to be trying out ahead of his imminent second album) were required elsewhere, though; namely at Glasgow's Hogmanay celebration, where he performed an hour or two after stepping off stage here.
This holy trinity of honest Scots troubadours was completed by Glasgow's Attic Lights, second on the Waverley stage and doing a pretty good impression of Teenage Fanclub circa 1994 themselves.
Second on the main stage were St Albans' Friendly Fires, and it was an inspired piece of casting by this year's bookers. Whether they should have been on this larger stage at the expense of the other platform's de facto headliners is a moot point – they and their music might have been largely unrecognised by the majority of the crowd, but this was the kind of show that sticks in people's minds afterwards.
Singer Ed MacFarlane gave a customarily frantic, itchy-footed performance, and the sublime disco pop of their best tracks "Paris", "Ex-Lover" and "On Board" will have ensured a few hungover downloads today.
Perhaps, here of all places, Friendly Fires shouldn't have been on a larger stage than Glasvegas, a band they'll come to support on the NME Awards tour at the end of this month. Still, at least the latter had the privilege of taking the crowd right up to the edge of the Bells, and there could have been few groups more qualified to do so.
They didn't smile, but singer James Allan did dedicate the track "Ice Cream Van" to his mum. They have one song, "Go Square Go", which inspired a strangely touching mass singalong, although in the big moment right before the Bells Allan left the crowd to sing the entire chorus of "Daddy's Gone" – a song about dismissing a disliked absentee father – to a funereal drumbeat.
When special guest Carl Barât was presented to the crowd shortly beforehand, it was to sing a bleary duet of "We'll Meet Again" with Allan, presaging the bleary, hateful hangover that was waiting for everyone the next day.
Elsewhere, in the Gardens, Groove Armada had returned to the stage for some big budget dance music, including their live favourites "I See You Baby" and "Superstylin". They were having a party over there, but anyone who had watched Glasvegas knew that this night was all theirs.
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