Touted as Scotland’s premier family festival, now in its 5th year, the event offered something for everyone with a diverse and balanced musical line-up over the two days, as well as rides and entertainment for all ages. Saturday saw the best of the weather, staying dry for the duration, while Sunday threatened drizzle after some heavy showers in the morning but never lived up to the worst expectations. Fans were not deterred either as an estimated 15,000 attended over the weekend.
The compact site hosted 3 stages with music kicking off just after lunchtime. The cosy Purple & Orange Acoustic Stage was located within a marquee furnished with hay bales and stalls offering assorted delicious traybakes and hot drinks. Acts here ranged from straight-up pop and folk singer-songwriters to country, blues and hip-hop bands, and all sets were well attended by relaxed, attentive audiences.
Located nearby, the Breakthrough Stage showcased some of the finest unsigned talents from across the region. The fact that sets were able to turn around so quickly after just a 20-25 minute performance really speaks for the professionalism of the artists and crew running this stage, and band after band provided exciting, fresh and original music with no filler.
Early sets on Saturday from Calum Frame and Splendid Suns got the crowd warmed up; the former with a cool Americana vibe (closer Shake Off Your Demons exemplifying the best of his sound) and the latter featuring some beautifully stirring guitars. By the time reggae and ska ensemble, Aye n Aye came on people were really loosening up on the grassy dance floor.
Rock duo Pyro showed promise with Cameron McLean’s heavy guitar providing a substantial platform for drummer Connor McCarthy’s raw vocals. With fiery passion and more than a touch of angst, Stephanie Cheape moulded incredibly intimate lyrics and powerful melodies into visceral, hard-working pop songs. If was a particular standout. Wild Front played eloquent indie rock, made to soundtrack the final days of summer holidays, while Alloa outfit Vida headlined the stage with an inspired set of 90s-styled guitar rock. As if the full force of Richard Ashcroft was within them, the band’s energy was only matched by their fans enthusiasm and vigour, singing loudly and melodically and bouncing around like every song was their favourite.
The Main Stage line-up was equally varied and included a DJ set by former Spice Girl Melanie C. Cynics would think it a bit of a cop-out having such a talented performer just spinning records from a big stage but the audience absolutely loved it. Not only was her tune choice – mainly 90s pop and dance music – on point but her mixing was precise, and the joy she clearly derived from being there rubbed off on the crowd, most of all when she threw in a bit of Who Do You Think You Are? complete with original Spice Girls choreography. It was a perfect party interlude after Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 had worked the crowd into such a state of exalted madness. Their uninhibited performance reached all corners of the park, bringing out everyone’s inner dancer while preaching good-natured social engagement, activism and tolerance. Peace Love & Mustard. Bouncy Ball leads into Dance Off which morphed into the friendliest mosh pit ever. The set was a positively jubilant and unifying experience.
Cast provided a no less buoyant set of hits in the early evening, engaging almost subconsciously with many early Britpop fans in the audience who found themselves singing along to Walk Away absent-mindedly while queuing for face painting and chips. Their set included a nostalgic mix of new and old songs that made you long for a time when rock bands all had acoustic guitars instead of drum synthesizers.
With guest DJ Gok Wan lining up among her fandom, singer Gabrielle debuted songs from her forthcoming album Under My Skin as well as playing her best-loved songs like Give Me A Little More Time and Out Of Reach. On the new songs, the London singer insisted fans could sing along even if they didn’t know the words by simply making them up; “that’s what I do all the time” she declared. Closing with her huge hit Dreams required no ad-libbing and the audience was well in tune and in position by this point.
There was only one final set of the night and it, along with the assembled audience, belonged to James. The Manchester band have often spoken about their affinity with Scottish audiences and the feeling of homecoming when they play shows north of the border and Saturday showed how vibrant and abounding the Scottish audience’s love for the band remains. Never being the sort of action to just roll out their hit parade at a festival, James’ set drew on recent albums Living In Extraordinary Times and 2016’s Girl At The End Of The World, throwing in a few fan favourites and deep cuts for variety. To getting You set off an immense singalong right at the beginning and was followed by some pretty adventurous crowd expeditions by singer Tim Booth. “Health and safety is important, make sure everyone is upstanding” he added after being consumed by the crowd during Say Something. Midway through the set a couple of so-called competition winners, Scott and Kelly, were brought onto the stage and given a microphone.
Excitement turned to pure joy as Scott got down and proposed, and Kelly accepted. The band wished them well before launching into a rather euphoric Nothing But Love. There was talk of the set having nearly been cancelled due to Tim losing his voice 24 hours earlier but he recovered enough a compromise was reached; a stunningly stripped-down rendition of Coming Home (Pt. 2) that seemed exceptionally moving as the darkness of the cloudy night fully set in. Winding towards curfew they threw in more popular choices in Laid and Sometimes (Lester Piggott) before skipping the encore rigmarole and playing out the night with Top Of The World and Come Home. Their ability to deliver an engaging, gratifying and enjoyable performance without conforming to expectations is what has made James an enduring live band for almost 3 decades and on this occasion, they achieved such a performance, received by thousands of devoted fans in a field by a loch, overlooking a castle. It’s every bit a fairytale ending, at least on this particular Saturday night.
CHECK OUT HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FIRST DAY AT PARTY AT THE PALACE 2018 AT IN-PICTURES: HERE: