WHEN I saw the line-up I instantly knew I had to be there. It had been years since I’d seen Orbital but the thought of watching them again made the hairs stand up on my arms. And there the band were, on the bill for the first day of the Playground Festival in Glasgow.

And so it came to pass on Friday that I arrived at the main entrance of the festival at Rouken Glen Park. Playground was the last in a trilogy of big Glasgow gigs announced when the Covid restrictions were finally eased.

There was the Riverside Festival on the banks of the Clyde, outside the Museum of Transport. Three days of electronic dance music featuring a list of leading DJs of the day. House. Techno. Bliss.

Then there was TRNSMT, a successor to the much-loved T in the Park, but moved from the rural setting in Balado to the heart of the city at Glasgow Green. A mainly mainstream bill … The Courteeners, Liam Gallagher, dance masters The Chemical Brothers. Lots of bars. Targeting a pretty young demographic. Although not entirely, obvs.

And Playground … in a park, so a bit less urban. More dance music and soul. More esoteric, more eclectic. The Libertines, Culture Club, Roisin Murphy, Chic. And, of course, Orbital.

It had all seemed so ambitious when the three festivals were announced. We had barely seen our family and friends after lockdown. Hardly been in a bar again. Nightclubs remained a half-remembered dream. Was it ever real? It took all the energy you could summon to conjure up that feeling on the dancefloor when the beats dropped.

So it was a wild welcome back to those hands-in-the-air moments at Riverside which confirmed that yes, those 90s raves really had been that good. And – at TRNSMT – that Primal Scream’s Loaded really could make you feel that the earth had stopped and Liam Gallagher (below) singing the Oasis songbook could bring generations together in celebration of the wonder of the tune.

The National: Liam Gallagher

TRNSMT ended in mass euphoria as the Chemical Brothers built peak upon peak of big-beat brilliance. Orbital at Playground could pick up where they left off. The moment when the brothers Hartnoll dropped Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth into their set at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995 remains a musical highlight of my life. I wanted more.

The Playground site was brilliant. As we arrived darkness was falling and Morcheeba’s superchill, almost trip-hop rhythms spread good vibes throughout the park. Fairy lights twinkled everywhere you looked, the dance grooves deepening the deeper you went, and the DJs ramped up the intensity at the different stages. It was magical.

The Playground vibe is very different to TRNSMT. The line-up lacks the full-power 100-megawatt rock’n’roll superstardom of a Liam Gallagher but it’s more diverse. As a result the audience demographic is much wider and much more family-centric. Put together with the TRNSMT and Riverside festival, it’s amazing that one city can offer three such different festival experiences in the same month.

Going to a festival post-pandemic is more complex than in the simpler world before 2020. The audience is instructed to bring a recent negative result from a lateral flow test – Playground helpfully provided test areas for those unable to get themselves organised beforehand.

The festival had also opted to go cash and bank card free for the weekend. It worked like this: you had to open and deposit cash into an account which was then linked to a chip on your wristband. You could only buy food and drink onsite by scanning that chip.

Organisers say the system was safer, easier and more hygienic than cash and card payments, reducing close contact and queueing times.

Informal feedback suggested it wasn’t a universally popular innovation. A word to the wise: if you’re going to the festival’s final day today, top up your account before you go and be generous to yourself. Don’t be left trying to work out if you still have enough left to buy that last drink without trying to top up onsite.

And get a map of the site. Don’t be like certain people I could mention and be running around madly trying to find out when and where one of your favourite bands was playing. It certainly wasn’t on the main stage. That was where the biggest crowd of the day so far were enjoying James (below). And jeez, there were a lot of people on stage to enjoy. It was a great sound, and Tim Booth is a charismatic and compelling front man. Plus they have some huge tunes ... particularly the closing double slam-dunk of Sit Down and Laid.

The National:

Photo: Bazza Mills

There’s something particularly joyous about the live music experience after lockdown. The audience feels it and so do the bands. When James had finished their set they stayed on stage to soak up that relationship with the audience, applauding the reaction. It’s touching to feel that human connection after so long.

James were great … but they weren’t Orbital. The search continued. They weren’t at the Forest stage either, where Hot Chip were supposed to be delivering a mega-mix experience – and no, I’m not sure exactly what that means either – but had to pull out through illness. That’s a hazard of organising a festival these days. Illness also forced Kelis to cancel the following night.

Still, Glasgow Sub Club DJs made up for Hot Chip’s absence. So much so an increasingly desperate search for Orbital was delayed even further, and eventually abandoned altogether. I blame The Libertines. Well, actually I blame myself for not organising a plan but it’s easier to blame The Libertines.

They’re not my favourite band. I’ve always felt they somehow fell short of greatness, their songs not quite classics. Where The Clash, clearly heroes of theirs, drew inspiration from reggae, soul, funk and hip-hop, The Libertines seemed to stay within desperately rigid musical confines.

They had their moments … I have friends who use their hit Can’t Stand Me Now as a ringtone for their exes – but somehow not enough of them.

The National:

Photo: Bazza Mills


Nevertheless The Libertines (above) were magnificent at Playground. The songs somehow grew in stature as the night went on. The crowd loved them. There seemed to be genuine warmth between frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, whose turbulent relationship hit rock bottom when Doherty was arrested and sentenced to prison for breaking into Barat’s home and stealing his guitar.

At the end of the band’s triumphant Playground performance the two men were hugging like the best of friends. When it comes to bitter rock’n’roll feuds I prefer Fleetwood Mac’s story of drug-fuelled partner swapping – but The Libertines’ reconciliation was still poignant and touching stuff.

Their headline performance on Friday was enough to convert me and almost enough to make me push aside my disappointment. I was gushing in my praise when I met a friend at the exit gate on the way home.

“Sounds good mate,” he said. “But Orbital were massive.”

Playground: Day 2

By Saturday Playground had really settled into its stride. The organisation was better, the bar queues were quicker, the cashless, cardless paying system smoother.

The age range of the audience was even wider on the second day. The DJs attracted a younger crowd, the audience at the live music stages obviously older. When Boy George asked his audience who were around at Culture Club’s heyday and who were not even born then it seemed pretty evenly split.

Illness meant Kellis and Egyptian lover had to pull out at the last minute but there was still plenty of music to keep the audience happy.

marketing director Ashleigh Elliott said: “We’re delighted with the response from our Playground Family today – we have been overwhelmed with positive comments and messages about the second day of the festival.

“Things have run very smoothly, the atmosphere in the site is perfect, everyone is so relaxed and happy.

“Of course we were hugely disappointed that Kelis and Egyptian Lover were unable to travel but the response on site has been superb – people seem to have accepted this is the nature of the world right now.

The music was even better on Saturday than on Friday. Here’s some highlights:

The National:

Photo: Bazza Mills

Kathy Sledge

The youngest sister in Sister Sledge brought the disco to Rouken Glen. Glamour was switched up to maximum, with a note-perfect band, an array of backing singers and some ferocious dancers. The star of the show was full of praise for Glasgow audiences – ‘’the partiest of party towns’’  - and threw herself into all the hits .

He’s the Greatest Dancer was an early set highlight, elongated by solo spots for each of the dancers which were greeted with mounting enthusiasm by an audience determined to get in the disco mood.

Personally I could have done without the supper club smooth rendition of  Do I Do but I guess the band had to do something while their boss was changing dress.

The best moment came when a random audience member invited on stage did a perfect take on Rapper’s Delight, which I’m reliably informed by spies in the cam was not in any way staged.

Optimo DJs

The best part of the festival so far for me was a glorious sequence at the magical Forest Stage when Optimo DJs unleashed the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter merging brilliantly with California Dreaming and leading into a reggae sequence with Max Romeo and the Upsetters’ Chase the Devil, Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me and Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved.

The way Optimo DJs incorporate a widely eclectic mix of hits to spark mass singalongs without ever losing an intense momentum is sheer genius. It took an iron will to take us away from their set to watch the night’s headliners on the main stage. Which brings us to …

The National:

Culture Club

Boy George (above, photo from Bazza Mills) and co made a spectacular sight at the climax of Saturday’s Playground. Augmented by two drummers, extra guitarist, keyboard player, backing vocalists, brass section and god knows what else, this was a supertight, super glitzy band.

Boy George remains a great front man. His pioneering playfulness with gender fluidity makes him possibly even more relevant today that back in the 80s.  

But after a dramatic start Culture Club seemed to struggle to keep the audience attention in the early section of the set when hits were in short supply and  the crowd noticeably thinned about a third of the way in.

The singer took control of the situation and forced some deft changes to the set list, managing to get the night back on track with his solo hit Everything I Own and Culture Club’s number one Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?

More hits quickly followed ... It’s a Miracle, Victims,  Time (Clock of the Heart)

It won’t come as any surprise to learn that the best received song of the night was Karma Chameleon, introduced frankly by Boy George as ‘’making no sense’’. By the end of a closing, slowed down version of T Rex’s Get It On the crowd were shouting for more – in vain due to the show’s curfew- and the show’s shaky start had been completely forgotten.

The festival ends with a headline performance by Nil Rodgers and Chic on the main stage tonight.


By Gemma E McLaughlin

To arrive at Rouken Glen Park for the 2021 Playground Festival is to step into an entirely different world. The placement of the Playpark Stage almost immediately by the entrance began the experience on the perfect note, with music surrounding the new arrivals before they can even see where it’s coming from and building excitement for what is to come.

In the daytime there is a light, more family-oriented feel with plenty of places to chill and especially to eat, with the Food Truck Jam section where you can find something to suit whatever mood you’re in.

Each sunset, however, brought a change of mood, with growing crowds gathering by each stage united by a sense of anticipation encouraged by stunning visual elements. The beauty of this festival can be found at every corner of the site, most notably with the coloured lights surrounding the Forest Stage, bringing the trees around it to life.

The atmosphere suggests you’re about to see a truly phenomenal DJ and dance to the point of almost forgetting to make your way to the main stage to see the headline act of the night. Almost ... but not quite.

At the end of the show everyone happily files out together, largely in a joyful mood. Saturday’s communal Britney Spears singalong was particularly enjoyable, if not quite as perfect as the performances which had preceded it.

This was only my second festival, following the equally fantastic TRNSMT earlier this month. Both made me determined to repeat the experience as often as possible in the years to come.