CONNECT Festival is back for a second year in its new home at Ingliston’s Royal Highland Centre, and judging by the crowds, word has got around about this new kid on Edinburgh’s festival block. With top acts from all genres coming together with an eclectic selection of emerging talent, this year’s headliners are Primal Scream, Fred Again and Boygenius. 

But the real jewel in CONNECT’s crown is its teeny weeny Tiny Changes stage, set outside the idyllic Gardener’s Cottage. Tiny Changes is a charity set up in memory of Frightened Rabbit’s singer Scott Hutchison who played the first CONNECT Festival in Inveraray back in 2007, the charity aiming to support young people’s mental health through community projects across Scotland, and like last year when we saw The National give an emotionally-charged performance, more unplugged sets are lined up for this weekend. But CONNECT Festival’s not just about music, there’s a mix of comedy and chat, arts & crafts, and a chill-out zone with a focus on health and well-being. The festival site is green and airy, with plenty space to wander and take time out. 


Baltimore’s Future Islands get the evening underway on CONNECT’s main stage, the Grande Parade, with For Sure and Plastic Beach from their last album, As Long As You Are. Vocalist Samual T Herring’s unique dance moves accompany his heart-felt croons over Gerrit Welmers’ lustrous synth, an other-worldly projectile growl spewing from Herring’s mouth on 2021’s Peach. Telling us a bit about each song, he’s the perfect host, never taking his eyes off the audience, his hand gestures emphasising every lyric, surely the best Jackanory presenter that never was. Mind you, I find it hard to keep my eyes off him too, not only because he’s an intriguing if disconcerting watch, but also because he’s basically the human equivalent of one of those stretchy, sticky, wall-climbing party-bag toys and you just never know where he’s going to land next…or in what position. Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to smile at this exuberant performance, topped for me by 2014’s delicious Seasons (Waiting On You)

With a brief detour to soak up some great stand up over in the Speakeasy tent from Tadiwa Mahlunge and Joe Wells, who’ve both popped over from the Fringe, it’s back to the Grande Parade where the words Franz Ferdinand light up the stage, a nod to the Barrowland Ballroom’s illustrious neon sign as the Glasgow favourites put on a phenomenal performance. Led by the charismatic and ever-slick Alex Kapranos, who’s still got a scissor jump or two in him after all these years, they blast through their past with old belters including The Dark Of The Matinee, No You Girls, Take Me Out and an explosive crowd-led interlude on Do You Want To which drowns out the sound of any overhead planes heading to and from the nearby airport. Now a five-piece, drummer Audrey Tait moves centre stage while the rest of the band bash about at the back before they complete the set with Outsiders and This Fire. Indie rock, art rock, whatever way you look at it, watching Franz Ferdinand is like participating in a masterclass in rock ’n’ roll.

As darkness falls over Ingliston, there’s no setlist required for Friday’s headline act, Primal Scream, who perform iconic 1991 album Screamadelica in its full techno-coloured glory, where the golden rule is there are no rules as psychedelic-laced rock trips against the grooves of dub, house and gospel. Bobby G sends a stark message to any youngsters in the crowd, saying “kiddies, don’t take drugs…look at the state of us!” But they’ve polished up not bad, at a distance anyway, Gillespie decked out in a fabulous Screamadelica red suit embellished with the album’s famous artwork, which also adorns the stage between a kaleidoscope of mesmerising animations, whilst bassist Simone Marie Butler is simply pretty darned cool. 

Backed by a five-piece choir, the sprawling gospel intones on opening number Movin’ On Up send goose-bumps rising as Gillespie slinks around the stage like he did back in the day, giving his hands a wee clap or shoggling his maraca, and by third number, Don’t Fight It, Feel It I feel like I’m back under the haze of the early ‘90s…ah the power of music! It’s a bit of a blur after that and with a bagpipe-led Loaded saved until the encore, it’s Country Boy and closing number Rocks that shakes everyone out of their groove-induced stupors. Superb!


Glasgow flatmates Humour open Saturday’s line up on the Guitars & Other Machines stage as turbulent discord fights against Andreas Christodoulidis’ scathing musings on numbers from debut EP Pure Misery and latest single Wrangel, clearly a band not afraid to do their own thing and one to keep your eye on. Up next, Edinburgh’s experimental five-piece Redolent get off to a promising start as their alt-rock crashes against chaotic loops and synth before technical difficulties shut them up for a good couple of songs. Never mind, vocalist Robin Herbert assures us they’ll ditch the slow, boring numbers, and that they do, showcasing tracks from debut EP make big money fast online now. Another innovative Scottish band to watch out for.

While Jessica Smyth aka Biig Piig takes her electro-pop to the Grande Parade, soulful Glasgow singer-songwriter Cara Rose’s piano-led insights sooth in the perfect backdrop of the Gardener’s Cottage. Staying with the Tiny Changes stage, Glasgow DIY alt-rock duo Paws are back with their first new music since 2019, today giving us an acoustic take on new tracks from their self-titled forthcoming album, vocalist Phillip Jon Taylor admitting that they’ve barley practised some of them, which if anything makes the 20 minute set even more authentic. Opening with latest single Disenchanted, the new tracks, including Unfiltered and One Nation Under DOG, are in all honestly pretty enchanting, revealing a wise new take on the world, and although they’ve somewhat moved on from their ’90s inspired beginnings, a Pavement-esque slant is clear to the ear. 

PAWS live on Tiny Changes Stage.

Like last year there are many connections with Scott Hutchison’s band Frightened Rabbit and as well as Paws, who worked with the band’s Andy Monaghan on their last album, one of today’s secret acts on the Tiny Changes stage is an emotionally-wrought set from Haiver, with former FRabbit guitarist Billy Kennedy.

But taking a break from the music for a bit, it’s time to lounge about on a giant bean bag in the Speakeasy tent while sampling another wee slice of the Fringe’s stand up comedy with Jack Skipper and Jin Hai Lin, who introduces me to a new lunchtime staple, toast under beans. By late-afternoon it’s clear that there’s a huge appetite for CONNECT this year, though sadly for those feeling hungry, numbers have evidently overtaken expectations as the boutique food huts and vans struggle to keep up with demand, resulting in folk queuing for around 45 minutes for some smartly-dressed chips and gourmet pizzas. Maybe someone should consider setting up a toast under beans monster truck next year…

Back on the Grande Parade, Muna’s punchy indie-pop works up the crowd before it’s back over to the Gardner’s Cottage for Glasgow-based rapper Bemz, who has eyes for one little lady only, his young daughter, who’s witnessing her dad play live for the first time. The 2022 BBC Introducing Scottish Act of the Year winner is quite overcome by her presence, the inspiration behind his latest album Nova’s Dad, and it’s both moving and amusing to witness his delight and distraction as he admits he’s trying to keep a straight face through numbers including fan favourite 26. Acutely aware of his surroundings, and armed with only his keyboard player Sean for this stripped back set, rather than a full band or DJ, he confesses that he’s more nervous now than if he was playing to thousands. He takes a photo of the crowd so he can look back on the moment, though it’s crammed well beyond the cottage grounds and he only catches a fraction of the people present, with many of us stuck behind tall folk (story of my life) or left peering through the gaps between the branches of the apple trees. But it’s yet another truly special occasion courtesy of Tiny Changes, and one Bemz will surely never forget.

On the other hand, nerves aren’t something Róisín Murphy appears to be plagued with, certainly not tonight as she swans on to the stage of the Grande Parade to showcase tracks from her forthcoming release Hit Parade, and some old favourites. Draped in a black cloak, she broods beneath shades and a brimmed hat as she wraps the massive crowd around her little finger for the next fifty minutes. Luring more and more people into her domain under the deep hypnotic grooves and searing drills of Can’t Replicate, the scene before us is played out in black and white on the big screen where, for a second, Murphy looks more Fields of the Neph than disco diva. Although I’m sure that shady old goth isn’t her scene, she does, as always, flit through a closet of costumes though first has a wee claw at her shirt in slo-mo to tease out a flash of shoulder. On another of her new tracks, The Universe, she dons a black headdress which looks a bit like an Ikea lightshade…looks cosy, likes. She stuns throughout the set, which takes us right back to the end of the last century with Moloko’s Sing It Back, which is of course sung right back to her! 

The Young Fathers are back on their home turf tonight where they thrill the stacked Grande Parade crowd with a raw but electrifying performance during which not one of the seven performers can be singled out, each and every one of them doing their own thing and shining through every second. The violent drills of 2013’s Queen Is Dead reverberate around Ingliston, the band starting as they mean to go on, taking us to a place where hip-hop meets some alternative reality. Melodies collide with dissonant layers of synth, drums and guitar, firing up a caustic chaos which shouldn’t work but does. Sadly I can’t find the names of the two singers who join founding members Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings tonight, but their vocals and energy add even more depth to the wonderful layers of disarray which batter against our senses from every direction. They showcase favourites like 2014’s Get Up alongside numbers from their latest album Heavy Heavy, including I Saw, which is as abrasive as it is joyful, the band having an innate ability to find beauty in the bleak while creating addictive beats that keep everyone dancing until the bitter end. Bankole uses this song as an opportunity to unleash some local lingo, calling us a “bunch o’ radges” before getting down into the pit and lunging towards the delighted audience. Yeah, well it takes one to know one…Outstanding! 

Friendly Fires live on Guitars & Other Machines Stage

As Friendly Fires blaze through their infectious indie-pop with favourites like Jump In The Pool and Paris, under the charm of vocalist Ed Macfarlane, it’s time to head home. Although word has it Fred Again takes the Grande Parade by storm as tonight’s headliner, I really must wash my hair. 


It’s a fair bit quieter at CONNECT today, but nevertheless the young begin to gather early in anticipation of tonight’s headline act, Boygenius, who’ve swapped time slots with Loyle Carner due to travel issues. But arriving sharpish does have its benefits, with one third of Boygenius, Phoebe Bridgers, making a surprise appearance on stage with Grande Parade opener, Christian Lee Hutson. Meanwhile, over on the Guitars & Other Machines stage, London rapper Louis Culture proves to be be a great host, bigging up today’s acts such as Boygenius and Kamal, while Billie Marten gets into a bit of bother when she gets her sunglasses stuck in her hair whilst enthralling the Grande Parade crowd with her dreamy indie-folk.

Ian Brodie of the Lightning Seeds

There’s a trip down memory lane for older festival goers when the Lightning Seeds dip back into the ‘90s with a fine selection of indie anthems, though in all honesty, I had no idea that they’d had so many hits. But nevertheless, memories of Change, Sugar Coated Iceberg, Lucky You, Life Of Riley, Pure and more come flooding back like long lost friends. On the other hand, the song I do remember about that old lost ball doesn’t make an appearance…and it’s not missed!

There’s a buzz around the Gardner’s Cottage as the masses squeeze into its idyllic surroundings to catch a glimpse of the upcoming secret set, with bets hedged on both Boygenius and Arab Strap. When Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton take to the stage, there are a few disappointed faces but most people, myself included, relish the chance to hear the no frills duo take things down another notch in this acoustic set up, which opens with the melancholic yearnings of Meanwhile, at the Bar, a Drunkard Muses. It’s fair to say that this wee session’s quite emotional, Moffat’s brutal ponderings coming over more muted than normal in a place which clearly holds a special meaning to the pair, who go on to dedicate their closing number to “who else?”, their beloved friend Scott Hutchison. 

Arab Strap Secret Set on the Tiny Changes Stage

With another slot lined up for Arab Strap later in the day headlining the Guitars & Other Machines stage, Moffat assures us it will be “more fun”. When it does come round, the full-bodied set draws plenty grins and goose bumps as they shed a grimy light on numbers from latest album As Days Get Dark, Moffat stewing in his monotone misery on their electrifying opening incantation The Turning Of Our Bones, as well as older numbers like 1997’s observational delight Girls Of Summer. While most of us shove life’s more excruciating moments under the carpet, these guys actively rummage through the most devastating and manky crevices of the mind to set them free. What a tonic!

On the Grande Parade, London-based Public Service Broadcasting intrigue and entertain in matching white suits as samples from archived news reels and public information films intercept their innovative instrumentals. J. Willgoose, Esq introduces Berlin artist EERA to the mix, who provides an uplifting rush of vocals on Progress from 2017’s Every Valley. EERA worked with the band on last album Bright Magic, an electronic trip through the very essence of her home city, and today we get a blast of its evocative lead single People, Let’s Dance, which  celebrates Berlin’s sprawling nightlife, stirring up the CONNECT audience nicely before they dip back into earlier albums for favourites Gagarin and Everest.

Riotous punks Panic Shack shake things up on the Guitars & Other Machines stage, punching through a set brimming with wit and some superbly choreographed dance moves that you’ll never see repeated by Beyonce’s entourage. The four-piece emerged from Cardiff’s DIY scene in 2018 and are making waves across the country, sticking a finger up to misogyny as they unleash their wrath on numbers like Jiu Jits You (“I’ve seen you looking at my thighs / Definitely weren’t looking in my eyes / Gonna give you quite a surprise / ‘Cos I do jiu jitsu”) and The Ick (“You shushed me in the cinema / You do not shush me in the cinema”). Love it! Afterwards, singer/songwriter Beth Orton‘s reflective electro-laced folk creates the perfect ambiance, opening with title track from her latest album Weather Alive, and although we basked in the late August sunshine yesterday, the closest thing we get to that today are the rays from her fabulous yellow jumpsuit.

There’s no denying the hype around Boygenius, and I’m a little sceptical as a result, not to mention a fair bit older than their typical fan. But this ‘supergroup’, comprising a trio of singer/songwriters in their own right, namely Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, deliver a stunning headline set which stirs up the sort of adoration we’re more used to witnessing in the presence of boy bands. Named Boygenius as a poke at the deep-seated assumption that all male artists are naturally gifted, with the path to glory laid at their feet, they clearly feel a responsibility towards their fans, who are literally clinging on to every nuance of their performance. Nevertheless, they look like they’re having a blast when they finally run on to the stage after performing a soulful acappella rendition of first number Without You Without Them on screen, the devotees at the barrier about to lose their heids as the trio stalk the stage, belting out $20.

Changing spot and stance for each number, they’re dressed in smart grey suits with slicked back hair, and you’ve got to be a bit grateful they didn’t go down the hair metal route which was so fondly adopted by the rock ‘gods’ of the ‘80s. As the set progresses, they take it in turn to lead the vocals, exploring this year’s release The Record and self titled 2018 EP, taking care to ensure that each of them gets their moment to shine without dominating proceedings. There’s no real anchor to their sound, but that doesn’t mean it doest work, as they flit from indie to folk to rock and pop, a few of the numbers reminiscent of ye olde bloke bands such as the early-noughties pop-punk riff of Satanist and lingering essence of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer on Cool About It. As Not Strong Enough‘s lush harmonies are sung right back to them, the joyful atmosphere only really moves down a key when Bridgers asks the audience to put away their phones for Letter To An Old Poet, telling us the song is so intense that “it’s nice to look at faces when singing about horrible things”. CONNECT’s the perfect laid back setting for the vibe that Boygenius cast, and let’s hope they’re back in town soon. 

It’s now up to London rapper Loyle Carner to close the weekend’s proceedings and although I have to leave before he hits the stage, my Carner-crazy friend assures me he was “bloomin’ awesome”…’nuff said!

It looks likely that CONNECT will be back next year stronger than ever after a successful year two in its new home. And in other great news, Tiny Changes well-exceeded their target of £5000. You can donate here:

Words: Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie
Pictures: Calum Mackintosh@ayecandyphotpgraphy