Electric Fields 2016: Friday 26 August
The music festival may take place in one of the grandest country estates in Scotland, but Electric Fields has a surprisingly egalitarian feel
The stages are set in the shadow of Drumlanrig Castle, a vast pink sandstone pile owned by the Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland's largest private landowner no less, but no one has travelled to Dumfriesshire to pay tribute to aristocratic privilege. There's a broad mix of ages among those attending and a refreshing willingness to give new music a try; every artist pulls in a reasonable crowd, no matter what time they're on stage. While there's a definite family-friendly atmosphere there's still some serious partying going on, as the piles of empties at the entrance attest. This esprit de corps is partly down to the good weather, the quality of the line-up and box-fresh feel of the event – this is the first time the festival has been held over two days.
Named after the frontman of tonight's headliners, the Tim Peaks cafe offers decent coffee and welcoming couches to sooth tired legs. It also makes an unlikely live venue with a full line-up of bands on throughout the day. The highlight of Friday's bill is undoubtedly Sweaty Palms – the Glasgow garage rock outfit known for their unique dress sense and eerie intensity. They arrive on stage in polyester wizard capes and rattle through a half hour's worth of nuggets that have the diners either nodding in approval or looking slightly fearful. "Fuck the monarchy" offers frontman Robbie Houston, shortly before launching into set hightlight Pretty Poor for a Posh Boy. Things are off to a solid start.
Some of the weekend's best acts can be found at the Stewart Cruickshank stage. Named in memory of the BBC Scotland radio producer who did so much to help artists north of the border, the quality of its line-up is a testament to the man. But there's a tinge of sadness mixed in with the celebrations, as this was the venue where East Kilbride popsters The Lapelles were due to play before the untimely death of frontman Gary Watson earlier this month. His name lives on, however, and is chanted regularly throughout the day by both fans and fellow musicians. Among those paying tribute are Baby Strange. Watson was a big fan of the Glasgow trio and it's easy to see why – their polished brand of punk rock is a definite crowd pleaser. California Sun is a stand out, while a cover of 2006 indie classic Young Folks offers a lighter side to their set. With their debut album due out next week, this could prove a turning point for the band.
One of the bands who benefited from Cruickshank's guidance more than any other were The Delgados. While they split in 2004 and remain much missed, singer Emma Pollock has gone to carve out a notable solo career in her own right. Her most recent album, In Search of Harperfield, is surely her best yet, and there's a new-found confidence to her live shows. "I grew up in Castle Douglas so it's lovely to be back here," she grins. Bonafide radio hit Parks and Recreation gets the biggest reaction from the crowd, but there's also much love for Paper Glue, from her 2007 album Watch the Fireworks. Backed by a nimble band, this is a set so accomplished it deserved to be higher on the bill.
Hip-hop pioneers The Sugarhill Gang were due on the main stage in early evening but their eagerly anticipated set is cancelled, with traffic problems south of the border blamed. But that gap means there's more time to explore smaller stages such as the Sneaky Pete's tent, where DJ and local hero Jamie Roy is spinning a selection of house floor-fillers and techno favourites. Fresh from another summer manning the decks in Ibiza, he brings a welcome dash of Balearic beats to this corner of southern Scotland.
Back at the main stage a light show that wouldn't look out of place in legendary nightclub Space is drawing in the punters. "We're the alternative rock group Wild Beasts from Kendall, Cumbria," explains singer Hayden Thorpe in precise fashion. The quartet are here to plug their new album, the impressive Boy King, and soon have pulses racing with domineering single Celestial Creatures. It's proof how far this band have evolved over the course of five albums, which have seen them refine their craft each time. If this isn't a set of a band reaching its peak, they must have something very special left in the tank. A rapturously received rendition of Big Cat further cements their status as main stage saviours.
Closing the opening day's proceedings are The Charlatans, a band who find themselves in growing demand for occasions such as these. While their recording output from roughly 1990 through to 1997 was the equal of any of their UK contemporaries, few could have predicted it would be Tim Burgess and company that would enter the second decade of the 21st century with such purpose. Why have they grown over time, while so many other groups from that era have withered?
Perhaps it's strength in adversity – this is a group that has lost two of its members in tragic circumstances, after all. Another factor is Burgess himself. Thanks in part to his relentless enthusiasm for music, a critically acclaimed memoir, and a singular social media presence, his personal popularity has never been higher. Tonight he leads his band through a 90-minute selection of their best works with typical relish. He might be pushing 50, but Burgess' commitment is total; his sheer energy seemingly limitless.
"This song was released 20 years ago today," he announces from the stage, "so wish it happy birthday". The band begin the pulsating One to Another, which remains their highest charting single. It sums up their appeal in a nutshell – a rolling piano riff, an infectious drum loop (originally provided by Tom Rowlands of the Chemical Brothers), Motown guitar chops and Burgess delivering one of his best lyrics: "I hear our day is comin / Grows sweeter every year / Tomorrow could be too easy / And today's goin' to be too near." It's a line that could have been written about his group's own trajectory. The Charlatans were appreciated in 1996. Twenty years on, they are adored.