A few years ago now, about a decade, I remember seeing Riley Briggs arriving back on London Road, Edinburgh, guitar slung over his shoulders, fresh from playing South by South West festival in Austin, Texas. His band, Aberfeldy, were sugar coating country music with Celtic crystals & the final result was something both swaggeringly listenable & imminently sellable. Then the band fell by the wayside at the end of the noughties until suddenly they turned up on the bill of Haddstock 2017, a one-day music festival spread throughout ten venues in the capital market town of East Lothian, Haddington. The brainchild of Rebecca Brady, she’d leapt off the deep end into a pool of confident musical frolickry, & pulled the whole thing off with aplomb. A resident of Haddington myself, I was rather surprised to witness Haylee G’s ‘Devils in Skirts’ (read interview here) in procession through town to their gig at Jo’s Kitchen, wearing animal masks & playing the Proclaimer’s ‘500 Miles.’ The faces on the folk at the bus stop were class. A couple of hours later, while nipping out for a Chinese, I saw Aberfeldy’s Riley & his bass-player stalking through town on what was probably some very important rock n roll business, & I’m like, this is real, this is actually happening, I’d best tell the wife to get changed, we’re going out.
By evening me & the wife were ready to rave, & arriving at the Town House, the festival’s main event was well under way. It was all taking place in the Georgian assembly rooms, built for music & dancing, where in the balcony above the polished floorboards a chamber orchestra would once play. These days the band has dropped to eye-level, & the sounds are amplified through amps & speakers, & thus the high-octane energy of ‘The Banjo Lounge 4’ was ripping into our ears & tearing a drag-strip down our spines to our feet, which were moving in perfect synchronicity to the band’s ridiculously bouncy versions of songs we moderns love to love. I Feel Love, Song 2, Viva Las Vegas, I’m Sexy & I know it… you get the picture, all of which were given an interpretive banjo twang which got us all hopping about on invisible pogo-sticks.
Me & the wife then thought, we are at a festival, supposedly, so lets check it out, & took a little amble through Haddington centre to the Railway, whose upstairs function suite was playing host to a pumpin’ band, straight from the eighties halycon rock era of Heart, Stevie Nicks & Fleetwood Mac; whose two female vocalists tossed up a harmonious layer of snowy vocals onto the mountainous rock-craft of their band. Yes, we were happy we went along to see Thistle Hurt.
Returning to the Town House, Aberfeldy’s rolling-through-the-countryside-on-a-sunny-day, melodically ambient pop was lighting up the stage, with Riley being joined up front by Chris Bradley to deliver a classic stream of their hits. One-by-one we noticed that people were singing along to them with furious passion & lip-synch accuracy, & it slowly dawned on the wife that Riley was some kind of Biblical patriarch with all his tribe out to listen to him preach. His mother, brother, father, daughter, grandma & great-aunt were at least some of the family in the room, who mixed with the local contingent into a highly appreciative & – once the disco encores kicked into place – groovetastic audience.
‘The response from the acts & the public & the venues for this inaugural Haddstock has been amazing,’ said Rebecca, who knew her headliners personally & had instigated the coup to get them reformed for the night. Hopefully Aberfeldy have a taste for it again, & with a decade of life experience in the bank, maybe a few new cracking numbers waiting to be crafted into life.
Reviewer : Damo Beeson Bullen