Hydro Connect 2008

Inverary Castle, Western Scotland. 29-31 August

Hydro Connect 2008

Photographer: David Anderson02 September 2008

With the spectacularly lit castle ever looming and a massive cloud-wrapped hill the backdrop to a host of great bands, it seems unfair to other UK events that there's also a view-enhancing slope leading down to the stage. It's as though Hendrix himself has reached out of the sky and sculpted the site with his own hands.

Guillemots prove an early highlight of Friday, lightening the mood of thousands who have just pitched tents in ever-softening mud. Fyfe Dangerfield's indie rock champions lead the Scottish crowd through a rousing performance packed with the pick of their Top 40 singles and old favourite 'Go Away'.

Tartan dress and all, Amy Macdonald then delights home fans with 'This Is The Life' material, Saltires flapping in the breeze as women dance the evening away in their wellies. The 21 year old Bishopbriggs girl seems overawed by the occasion, thousands cheering her every beautiful note.

For an older festie crowd like Connect's, what better band than Manic Street Preachers to truly kick off the Friday night in style? Once a soundtrack for the 90's music fan, anthems like 'Motorcycle Emptiness', 'La Tristessa Durera (Scream To A Sigh)' and 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' are raced through expertly by bassist Nicky Wire – not without trademark feather boa and eyeshadow – and electric frontman James Dean Bradfield. Nirvana's 'Pennyroyal Tea' is thrown in for good measure, and 'A Design For Life' is the highlight of a powerful performance.

Kasabian close the first day's proceedings with a set that mixes new material with fan-favourites. Tracks from their unreleased third album are received warmly as fans order pints at the bar marquee, but it's efforts such as 'L.S.F', 'Processed Beats' and 'Empire' that have us wildly cutting shapes and drunkenly hollering back choruses in a rousing end.

On everyone's lips come Saturday is the matter of Glasvegas on the Guitars & Other Machines stage, the country's hottest-tipped band with an unreleased debut album that has already been controversially described as the greatest Scottish record of all time. The hauntingly tragic 'Flowers & Football Tops' is an opening masterpiece of loss and grief, and their set doesn't get any easier from there – massive anthems like 'Geraldine' and closer 'Daddy's Gone' are awash with beautiful misery, the wave of guitars and James Allen's soaring vocals sending fans into rapture.

Paolo Nutini bests even Glasvegas' reception, Paisley's cheeky chappy strolling coolly through his set as though in rehearsal – musical genius comes so naturally to this boy that he doesn't even have to try. That's not to say that he doesn't, and he's certainly appreciative of the tartan army crushing against the barrier for just a look at their hero – he throws them single after single along with new tracks and a cover of not only Nancy Sinatra's 'Bang Bang', but also a humourous reworking of the theme tune to 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'.

Bloc Party set out to match the colossal standard. The kilt-wearing Kele Okereke and his band instantly hit us with new single 'Mercury', then snake throughout the best moments of their three-album career by weaving in surprises and favourites like 'Helicopter' to a mesmerising headline show.

Of equal interest is The Gossip's set on the second stage, a huge crowd cheering on crazed frontwoman Beth Ditto who writhes around in a dress that may previously have been a small pair of curtains. 'Standing In The Way Of Control' is a furious display of punky pop, girls wildly dancing and screaming in delight.

Surely no festival has ever seen such great camaraderie as that of Sunday's Connect. By the third day a swamp lies in ruins, seas of mud ruining tents and making a potential misery of proceedings. Fans though are only too happy to help each other wade through sticky patches and later, team together to push car after car out of the sinking mud.
The spirit, even by Scottish festival standards, is amazing.

Santogold puts on a fun-filled show, the defining moment of which is a field full of dirty Scots meowing like a cat to the beat of hit single 'Creator'.

Elbow make lush sounds with acoustic guitars, wrapping things up with the fantastic 'One Day Like This' – a song that makes you wonder how any human being is capable of writing such a stunning and heavenly ballad. However, the irony of the "It's looking like a beautiful day" refrain is not lost on any one of the soaking fans!

Goldfrapp then wows punters with 'Train' and 'Ooh La La', the crowd's mood soaring above any attempts the weather can make to stop us in our tracks.

No words could do Sigur Ros' performance justice – the gorgeous music is unbelievably beautiful, defying all expectations in how it's so stunningly arranged and played, and there really could be no better place in the world to take this in than in the grounds of Inverary Castle, rain temporarily off and sun setting behind a hill overlooking the stage. The best reception is saved for their best-known song 'Hoppipola', but this is not a set of singalongs or huge whooping cheers greeting hit singles – this is just a truly unforgettable soundtrack to the end of your summer, so chilling as to almost act as a bedtime lullaby.

If Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand are nervous about daring to play after this headline-worthy masterpiece, then they certainly don't show it – amazing the crowd with five new songs and a host of anthems, dedicating 'Take Me Out' to a "total nutter" dancing in a bright yellow jacket. The band round things off with traditional closer 'This Fire', the day wrapped up as a success and a triumph over adversity – a joyous evening of great music as a true twos-up to crap British weather!

by Graeme Johnstone

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