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The Great Western Festival returns to Glasgow

The Great Western Festival, in collaboration with the 432 promotion company, started in 2019 and is set in Glasgow. Instead of being concentrated in one outdoor area with multiple stages, like a traditional festival would, TGW consists of multiple venues scattered around Great Western Road. What is interesting about these venues is that they are all non-traditional: some shows take place in a church, a community center or even in the upstairs part of a pipe shop. One attendee of the festival compared it to a scavenger hunt, as the venues are not always obvious: for instance, once you are in the community center, you have to follow the arrows until you access one of the two stages. This reinforces the grassroot feel (a thing Glasgow is famous for) of the festival, as it truly honors up-and-coming artists as well using buildings that would have usually been overlooked when organizing a more traditional festival. However, using buildings not meant for concerts can also generate some issues: for instance, Glasgow-based “comical punk” band ‘Bin Juice’ complained about the “swimming-pool” echo-y sound of one the stages at the Maryhill Community Halls. This is the only issue I have heard when interviewing both attendees and artists.

The people who attend TGW do not necessarily go there for a specific artist but for a specific type of music. Most of the bands performing were punk, post-punk or indie, with punk dominating the scene. All of the artists were fairly underground and thus accessible, so the public would often talk to them after their show. A lot of them were performing at TGW for the first time and were as excited about the festival as the public was.

The strongest feature of TGW, I would say, is that it is a wonderful opportunity to discover artists, all very different from each other. LA-based indie singer and guitarist A.O. Gerber, whose trademark is her great vocals, entertained an almost one-on-one conversation with the public, as it was just her and her guitar on stage. Her music, inspired by her father who was a saxophonist as well as LA’s diverse music scene, touch on subject such as gaslighting and abandonment. She decided to focus on these subjects as she grew up in a “challenging spiritual community, and from a young age gaslighting was something that was experienced”. (I managed to talk to her for a minute after the show.)

“Snappy and energetic, we built a world of our own with the sound. It has a boundary but not a tight sort of boundary.” Said Rob Maric to me after his show. The guitarist of London-based post-punk band DEADLETTER, he told me decided to focus on introducing political issues such as the mistreatment of the working-class into their songs.

On the other hand, Michigan’s BC Camplight touches on the subjects of madness and pressure to conformity through his Midwest punk tracks. 

This diversity between artists, as well as the extremely packed program (due to the festival’s 5 venues and 6 stages), confronts us as a viewer to different world-views, performances and sounds all the while feeling as if we belonged to the same community of music appreciators as we all attend the same festival.

When I asked attendees if they thought it was worth it to pay the price (that goes between 16 to around 35 pounds), they all agreed that it was, agreeing that they were getting their money’s worth due to the amount of shows and their quality, as well as the opportunity to interact with the artists. Many also appreciated the intimate and personal feel of the venues as well.

The artists who had time to give me a few minutes all agreed that the reception was good and the organization was on-par, agreeing that they would play again next year.

Finally, it is important to mention that in collaboration with TGW, there is also an organization called Help Musicians. It is a charity in Glasgow that was founded over 100 years ago but imploded in the 5y or so due to COVID. Its goal is to help musicians in times of crises and give them opportunities, such as funding albums of independent artists with grants that go up to 5000 pounds. They also procure physiotherapy to help injured musicians who cannot partice anymore as well as mental health support. To Imogen, Help Musician’s rep at TGW, “the experience tailored to individuals.”

In short, TGW is not only an indie festival for up-and-coming artists in alternative venues but it is also a community of artists and festival-goers that has a very promising future ahead of it.

Images courtesy of Ben Reilly.