Live review: Aberfeldy Festival

This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on November 6, 2012.

So that was the first big weekend of the autumn. It started Friday night in Aberfeldy, with free whisky cocktails and Americana heartbreakers Star Wheel Press. Their baritone-seducing frontman Ryan Hannigan helmed the terrific third Aberfeldy Festival in cahoots with Dewar’s and pop selector / author Ian Rankin.

Friday’s town hall sonic brouhaha saw Withered Hand bring the glorious noise with an orchestral, Violent Femmes-esque set that allied old favourites like New Dawn and an ardent arrangement of Religious Songs with excellent new offerings, particularly classic-in-waiting, Jubilee (think Harvest-era Neil Young via punk and the Birks O’ Aberfeldy), while Meursault’s vein-popping rendition of Dearly Distracted was as intense as it was gorgeous.

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat were outstanding, and the value of Robert Henderson’s trumpet to the duo’s profound psalms and elegiac wig-outs cannot be overstated. Despite their canon’s intimacy, they overpowered a talkative crowd with sheer jazz-force, and then The Copper Top totally floored them. “Aye, the happy songs always go down quite well,” deadpanned Moffat, before launching into Glasgow Jubilee’s thrilling, libidinous funk-orgy. Moffat, who’d been brushing cymbals and brandishing pompoms throughout, sat behind the drum-kit for (If You) Keep Me In Your Heart, which goes to attest that he is our makar and cult-pop saviour, and he is also our Phil Collins.

The night was crowned by an ecstatic and foreboding set from The Phantom Band, with frontman Rick Redbeard casting lyrical brimstone and admonishing gestures like a twisted, snake-hipped preacher (Left Hand Wave, Folk Song Oblivion), while synth mega-lord Andy Wake(man) summoned a beatific clamour that drew from the stars and the bowels of the earth.

Saturday night was equally joyous, from FOUND’s fantastic wired-pop anthems (Anti-Climb Paint, You’re No Vincent Gallo) to Rozi Plain’s balmy, unhurried chorales – not to mention King Creosote’s euphoric 11-strong knees-up (Doubles Underneath, Nooks, The Happy Song) – but the evening’s blind-sider arose from a gold-lame clad Pictish Trail. He was backed by Eigg thrash-metallers The Massacre Cave, and ramping up the rawk dynamic of his lovely songs worked wonders: Words Fail Me Now invoked Rocket From The Crypt, Guns N Roses and Prince; forthcoming single The Handstand Crowd conjured Teenage Fanclub and glam-era Bowie, and the rest of the set was similarly pogo-inducing and surprising.

Some of the festival’s loveliest moments came in the town square on Saturday afternoon, as we huddled round braziers, wandered round craft stalls and marvelled at acoustic sets. Kid Canaveral’s wonderful forthcoming single, Low Winter Sun, was especially resonant as we watched our breaths and stamped our feet and the birds migrated above us. “How quickly September turns to November,” sang David MacGregor under an amber skyline, and we shivered, but not from the cold.

Star Wheel Press (and the SWP young team), were equally memorable. They sang a beautiful new song, Michael Jackson’s Son, as dusk fell and kids danced and illuminated buses sidled past. “This music takes me somewhere else,” Hannigan crooned. I wish that it could take me back there now.

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