There were some strange signs and portents ahead of the inaugural TRNSMT festival in Glasgow. Just days before the three-day event launched, a Green Day gig at Bellahouston Park also in the city – a similarly large-scale outdoor enterprise, albeit from a different promoter – was cancelled at the very last minute. Then there was the absurd (and swiftly discredited) rumour that the Arctic Monkeys would play a “secret” set after Friday-night headliners Radiohead. In picturesque Glasgow Green in the heart of the city, however, TRNSMT unravelled on schedule and as planned. Even the weather stayed, for the most part, high and dry.
In its first year, this vowel-free upstart found itself under particular scrutiny because it had co-opted what would traditionally be T in the Park’s big July weekend in the Scottish festival calendar. During its imperial phase at the Balado airfield in Perthshire, T in the Park could sell tens of thousands of tickets before the lineup was even announced. In recent years, however, the festival’s reputation as cultural flag-bearer and teen rite-of-passage took a series of knocks. The move to a smaller, hillier site in Strathallan in 2015 was marred by grim weather and logistical failures that left buses ferrying punters off site stranded for hours. In 2016, the Strathallan capacity was reduced by 15,000 to 70,000 to try and improve things. But crime reports from the site made for alarming reading, including tales of brawls and a stolen cash machine; there were also three drug-related deaths.Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro performs at TRNSMT. Photograph: Cameron James Brisbane
For promoter DF Concerts, that meant a pivot in 2017. T in the Park was put on indefinite hiatus. The urban, non-camping TRNSMT is not a like-for-like replacement, but it does offer headliners of a similar heft – alongside Radiohead, there were rollicking sets from Kasabian and local heroes Biffy Clyro – in a notably more slimline package. The considerably smaller second stage was programmed with genuine up-and-coming talent, from Scottish artists such as Gerry Cinnamon to Brighton-based buzz-rockers Yonaka. A vodka-branded dance bus blasted out tunes in a pleasant leafy dell. The usual, rather nondescript burger vans were matched by local producers serving up more wholesome grub.
Four-time T in the Park ticketholder Emma Allan, 22, posing for a commemorative snap in front of a Biffy Clyro poster, gave TRNSMT the thumbs-up. “It feels a bit more laid-back,” she said. “It’s a smaller thing so you bump into people you know more and you don’t lose your pals for two hours.” She still believed there was a market for a T-style camping festival in Scotland, “but it would have to be cheap to compete”.
Father-and-son festivalgoers Nigel and Elliott Hill had travelled up from Liverpool for all three days of the festival, attracted by the quality of the lineup. Hill Jr, 17, was still buzzing from Kasabian’s Saturday headlining slot. “They’re a great live band and they were awesome last night,” he said. Hill Sr, 56, compared TRNSMT favourably to their experience at the V festival in Staffordshire last year. “V is in the middle of nowhere so getting out is a nightmare,” he said. “Here, we are staying in a hotel in the city centre so it’s been brilliant.” Was there anything he would put in the TRNSMT suggestion box? “The main stage is clearly the real focal point at the end of the night so it needs to really deliver,” he said. “Perhaps they could have some extra screens? And it could have been even louder, I think.”
Glaswegian Ewan Chalmers, 34, had ensured he got onsite early on Sunday to catch Dundee rockers the View. “I think T in the Park lost its way when it left Balado,” he said. “Here there’s a better vibe, an older crowd, it’s a condensed arena so it’s easier to get round and you can go home and have a shower. I can see it being here for a long time.”
Having annexed Glasgow Green’s Winter Gardens, the TRNSMT green room was in an actual greenhouse. Amid the lush foliage, long-standing DF Concerts head Geoff Ellis told me that in the end, putting T in the Park on hold was not a tough decision, “because of the huge costs associated with the planning consent there.” After announcing TRNSMT in January, Ellis spent much of the next six months fielding questions about it would compare to his most famous festival. “Hopefully people now see TRNSMT for what it is,” he said. “I was walking around the site on Saturday night and you could feel the energy off the crowd, but in a really friendly way; there was a really good spirit among the audience and the bands.”Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and bassist Colin Greenwood. Photograph: Cameron James Brisbane
While Saturday’s blazing sunshine undoubtedly helped, TRNSMT does seem to have chimed with the Airbnb-literate generation looking to combine glitter-bearded festival thrills with the amenities of a city break. “We’ve not really had a full-on weekend event here like this in Glasgow,” said Ellis. “I think the city wants it and needs it.”
But he did not rule out DF Concerts staging another camping festival in future: “We do shows in stadiums, we do gigs in concert halls, pubs, arenas and greenfield sites. That’s what we do. So we’re not saying we’re not going to do a camping festival again. But for the avoidance of doubt we will continue TRNSMT and we’ll do it again next year.”
With a reported attendance of 120,000 over the three days of this festival – and 10 reported arrests, a comparable number to when the Stone Roses played Glasgow’s Hampden Stadium in June – the reaction to the first TRNSMT has been positive, ensuring its second year ought to be scrutiny-free.