Glastonbury 2014

More than a fortnight late I know but here’s a collection of miscellaneous thoughts from the Glastonbury Festival, mainly to remind me of the 34 bands/acts I saw over 4 days based on the sketchy notes I managed to jot on my phone with my thumb while in a muddy field.

This was the first time I’d been to Glasto since 2007 and the highlight was getting to hang out with my two best mates from Uni, Rob & Martin, who I hadn’t seen together since then.

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- Camp struck in blazing sunshine lunchtime on the Wednesday.

We arrived much earlier than I’d ever got to Glasto in the past which meant that we had a good chance to choose our camping area with care and the ability to save space for later arrivals in the group. Even then, there were a lot of people already in by the time we pitched early on Wednesday afternoon. Listening to the radio at 5.30am that morning (I had to drive from Leeds to Manchester to rendezvous with Rob and the rest of the “Heaton Massive” I was travelling with) I was concerned to hear of people phoning in saying they were in the queue already. I draw the line at arriving the night before the gates open and sleeping in the car park.

Annoyingly I had to do an online psychometric test for a job I was applying for while in my tent (which I then didn’t get, although not, I am assured because of the psychometric test’s results) but then the rest of Wednesday was all about getting our bearings. And drinking rather too much…

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- Like walking through muddy soup

Thankfully it wasn’t nearly as wet as 2007 when it rained pretty consistently through the whole festival or 2005 when a month’s worth of rain fell on the Thursday night, causing the toilets to overflow and many hapless campers’ tents to be carried away on a tide of raw sewage. Instead, there were periodic short downpours Thursday-Saturday punctuated by bright sunshine. One shower was heavy enough to overcome the water resistance of my coat (just before the rather good Parquet Courts) but otherwise having a folding stool, wellies and waterproof overtrousers avoided the potential for misery.

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- Polythene Death Trousers

Food has improved a lot at festivals in the 20 years I’ve been going. Benicassim in Spain surprisingly has the least variety of food available, but at least there is the option of walking into the town and going to a nice restaurant. As a non-pescatarian I didn’t sample it myself by the rest of my group swore by the Goan Fish Curry stall. The pro-veggie propaganda lorry didn’t win me over though.

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-Banksy “Don’t eat us” Lorry

And so, onto the music! The rules to determine whether I could count having seen an act were:

1. I actually could see the band – excluding just overhearing an act while coincidentally being nearby

2. Listening for either 3 songs or 45 minutes (the latter to cover acts that only played a couple of long songs – eg Jonny Greenwood and the London Sinfonietta who played 2 pieces in over an hour on stage)

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- Flags flying at The Other Stage

Thursday

The main stages aren’t open on the Thursday but since the move to opening the gates on Wednesday the smaller stages have a pretty full schedule on Thursday.

India Electric Company- folk duo doing Springsteen covers
New York Brass- brass band covers of modern hits, like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. They’re from Yorkshire not New York. A bit of fun in the first big downpour, particularly when they got hijacked by another roving brass band.

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- JJ Rosa

JJ Rosa- Stockport’s Amy Winehouse but looking much more like she was a happy person. Last Night a DJ Saved my Life, Ready or Not, Kiss/Billie Jean/Get Lucky
1975- first of two “surprise acts” in the Williams Green tent stage. More mid 80s U2 (in a good way) than 1975 but a lot better than they sound on their album.
Metronomy- ace! Songs from nights out and Love Letters make more sense live. Too many people singing along to the keyboard riffs though. Although I’ve never heard that happen before.

Friday

Jonny Greenwood & London Sinfonietta- back at the tents we thought this was probably going to be some of Greenwood’s post/ex-Radiohead film soundtrack work but were pleased to discover that instead they were going to play a couple of Steve Reich pieces. Many years back, Martin and I had been to see Reich being performed at the Proms and to hear the man himself interviewed beforehand. I remember him being rather dismissive of acts like The Orb who had sampled extensively from his classical pieces on the basis that most of them couldn’t even read music. Greenwood played “Electric Counterpoint”  (Sampled in The Orb’s first album), and LS played music for 18. A nice start to the day.
Hobo Jones- shit skiffle played irritatingly close to the Avalon Inn and its enticing beers.
The Stepkids- pedestrian funky west coast pop with falsetto oohs, bass solo and noodling, drum solo! Cheesy Shadows steps. Get Lucky cover for third time so far. Much more their musical territory!
Deltron 3030- Gorillaz without being albarn’s art project. Deltron is our hero if he can’t do it nobody can? But the problem is that there’s not much point in copying conceptual art. Unsurprisingly their best song was their version of Gorillaz’s Clint Eastwood
Haim- were Haim. Despite having listened to their album about a million times as Mrs B likes them, I still can’t quite work out the words to their songs. The Bangles’ greatest hits played by Vic Reeves in a club style?

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-Herd of onesies by the tripod in Arcadia

DJ Scruff- quite fun. My only stop at Arcadia, lengthened due to need to shelter at the bar during a downpour.

Parquet Courts- rockabilly/Fall/Wire neat, less bearded than expected. Surprisingly ended up with long feedback Sonic Youth jam. Which was nice.
Bowjangles- string quartet playing while Russian dancing. Not easy for a cellist!
Timariwen- Mali world music, sounds a bit like slow bass driven acoustic Ian Brown. Or so my note at the time says. I think they left their weaponry at home.

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- Arcade Fireworks

Arcade Fire- massive. Look like Starship. Dancey! There’s millions of them it’s not 2007 again for sure (when they were dreadful on the Other Stage, plagued by technical problems and with a church organ on stage, nevertheless being the Guardian’s pick of the festival, but they’re always wrong). But the old stuff is now done shouty rather than as harmonic, whimsical and delicate melancholy. Which spoils it a bit I think.
Skrillex – has a very squeaky voice, Danny DeVito-ish. I went on the way to seeing Metronomy again from Arcade Fire and hadn’t intended to stay, but he was pretty good. Realistically I’m never going to listen to anything else of his or go to see him live so it was worth staying for the experience. Set looked and sounded like he was playing a lurid video game. One of those fiendishly difficult late 2D scrolling shootemups or piloting a mecha. And he’s taunting your noob ass over the headset. 21st century Tommy.

Saturday
The Black Tambourines- driving indie guitar rock, I’d have really liked them 20 years ago. When they were toddlers.
Coves- Martin says, a flange pedal away from driving indie guitar rock. Girl singer and ethereal but driving…
Warpaint- more ethereal stuff- Enya x 3 rocking. Cocteau twins. Although I think they think they rock.
Lana del Rey- like an orphanage that has just been told Santa doesn’t exist? Sun was out so who cares?
BBC Radiophonic workshop- West Country daleks! Mainly new stuff from the now elderly sound boffins who invented most of the weirdy telly music that we grew up with in the pre-internet era and inspired much of British electronic music of the early 90s either in sound (Orbital) or in the ethos of “if it doesn’t exist we’ll make our own instruments to do it” (Aphex Twin). A bit of Hitchhikers Guide and an extended deconstructed version of the iconic Dr Who theme tune which came off well without clashing with memories of Orbital using it as a staple of its live sets in Glastonburys past.
ESG- percussion, bass, shouting
Manic Street Preachers- shit. And it does count even though I couldn’t see them because it’s all I could hear walking back to tent due to an acoustic quirk. Bastards. Actually they were still going as I walked back from tent, up to the park and after 3 songs from Anna Calvi back to the other stage. Ultimate ignominy was some bloke trying to hug me and make me sing along with him for their set closer.
Anna Calvi- waily, woooo-oooh. Meh
Pixies- did most of the hits. Didn’t do monkey gone to heaven. Had an extended wig out before where is my mind, which is uncharacteristic. Singalong. Probably don’t need to see them again
Mogwai- more electronica than I remember. Fantastic mogwai fear satan penultimate song, the quiet noodly bit before loud bit caught most of the younger crowd out. Feedback going on after they’d walked off seemed to be at resonant frequency of my polythene death trousers. Which was nice.

Sunday
Thunderbirds are go- indeed they are. Sunny sitting down with beer and nostalgia
Juana Molina- probably should have stuck to the stand up comedy career. Low rent stereo lab. Martin might have liked if he weren’t being contrary somewhere else. Actually I’m being unfair she became pretty neat when she warmed up. But, it didn’t really matter as we were still sitting and drinking in The Park.

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Drinking in The Park

Public Service Broadcasting – kraftwerk in tweed with humour. Matt Smith (Dr Who) on banjo, my friend Jeremy on drums (not really). PSB films of the unimaginable recent past- air raids, night mail. “Glastonbury festival is the perfect setting for a song about ice skating in Dutch”. My highlight of the festival and as a bonus, on at the same time as Dolly Parton, who I had no desire to see. If you went round to a barbecue at someone’s house and they put Dolly’s greatest hits album on at full volume would you be impressed? You might have a little postmodern chuckle at 9 to 5 or Jolene but then wonder if your friend had lost their mind for the remaining 45 minutes before it ended.
The Horrors- now Duran Duran now Gary numan now early simple minds. Meh.
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band- anti fracking primal scream therapy then Rawk! Backing band members of yo la tengo
The Brian Jonestown Massacre- if Jarvis cocker lived under a bridge for a year and formed a band playing driving indie guitar rock with 4 guitarists a bass and a mutton chopped tambourinist… Then dropped to funereal pace. Argh, then primal scream then monkees.
The Beat- 1983 headliners, with his son. Still got it.
Kasabian- have become genuine a stadium band
Suzanne Vega- mesmeric

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It’s all over now

Barracuda

After enjoying The Slap, I looked forward to reading Christos Tsiolkas’ next novel, Barracuda. Barracuda is the story of Danny Kelly, a young Australian competitive swimmer and his journey through the trials of training and competing as a teenager through to failing to make the grade and how he copes, or rather doesn’t cope, with that failure.

Danny’s ambition is to win gold and glory in the Sydney Olympics and his talents gain him a scholarship to an elite Melbourne private school. Unlike The Slap, where the major dramatic event occurs in the first chapter, Barracuda builds over the years but with the knowledge that Danny does not succeed always being there for the reader as the chapters alternate between Danny’s arrogant youth and his broken future. The nastiness he faces in competing and which he dishes out in particular to his father is always seen through the lens of the failure to come even as he builds a shell of complete confidence.

Just as The Slap was a commentary on class and race in modern Australia, so too Barracuda. Tsiolkas again excels in observation and characterisation, this time with a more extended forensic focus on a single character. He makes Danny both likeable and unlikeable, just as he does with Australia itself. Ultimately it becomes an examination of resilience. How the competitive Danny didn’t have it, so couldn’t succeed or cope with failure, and how he acquired it through having no choice but to embrace his failure and the disgraceful act he committed when all around were caught up in the jingoistic fervour of the Sydney Olympics which he had longed for and was not part of.

However, where The Slap both felt a little unfinished in failing to flesh out some of the characters and closed off a little too neatly in the final sections about the young characters finishing their exams, Barracuda is more satisfying and less trite. With the World Cup coming up it gives the reader an opportunity to look at the sacrifices which are made for the pursuit of success and the pressure that comes from it. At least it might give you pause for thought and some empathy if England crash out in another penalty shoot out.

Local Election Troll(eybus)ing

Today marks the first set of major national and local elections in what is already seeming to be an interminable and bitter campaign for the 2015 General Election. Some of you may already have gone out to vote and if you haven’t, I urge you to go and do so for whoever you think best. However, a couple of things have happened during the week which cast an interesting light on the process for me on a local level.

I’ve already written about the strange case of the Leeds Trolleybus – a hugely expensive, £250m white elephant which I’ve yet to meet anyone who supports, regardless of party affiliation, unless they are actually earning a living from the work involved in grinding its way through the planning process. Finding myself temporarily (hopefully) underemployed I went to watch part of the Public Inquiry into whether the Transport Works Act Order to enable it to proceed should be granted and to help out the local campaigners against it. Looking at the list of registered objectors who are participating in the attempt to put the case against the proposers of the scheme, it is notable in that it only includes one councillor (Barry Anderson, Conservative councillor for Adel & Wharfedale ward). Yet, as I previously noted, the official position of our local LibDem MP and councillors, as well as the Labour PPC and candidate for the ward I live in is also to oppose. So, what is actually going on?

The election material from both the LibDem sitting councillor seeking re-election today and the Tory candidate place opposition to the trolleybus right at the top. Perhaps belatedly, Greg Mulholland has sought constituents’ views on the issue and come out clearly against the proposals. There is agreement that it would be best if the money earmarked for the project could be used for another, better scheme.

However, below, you can see the election materials for the local Labour council candidate.

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Now, it is fine for them to decide that they don’t want to prioritise opposition to the trolleybus, or indeed, that they would like to remain consistent with their party’s line in using the Labour majority on Leeds City Council to vote the trolleybus through (and to continue to commit council resources to it rather than use them for any number of other things – the cost of engaging the QC representing the council and Metro to argue for the Order could perhaps have been used to reduce the impacts of any cuts elsewhere in council services, three months of QC time plus preparation would pay for a lot of dinner ladies and cleaners). Many of the things in those leaflets are interesting and popular, even if many of them are also outside the competence of a city councillor.

However, a funny thing happened. When I tweeted the Labour candidate and PPC, they replied saying that they opposed the trolleybus and that their materials set this out (which they clearly don’t). When I asked whether they would use their positions on the council to get the council to withdraw the application for the Order (which would enable them to kill it off were they to choose to do so), they said they would, but only if the money earmarked for the project was kept available.

Now, the North West Leeds Transport Forum, which is the principal group of local objectors, has made it clear that its preference would be for the money to be retained and used for a better solution to Leeds transport issues. At the local residents meeting I blogged about previously, that was also the line taken by Greg Mulholland. But what was striking to me was that at least the Labour position is that it would only object to this incredibly expensive and misguided proposal (which they agree is the wrong solution to local transport needs) if this happened. They also made the point that this was in the gift of LibDem Minister Baroness Kramer. So, they’d be happy enough for the Order to be granted and the trolleybus to be built even though they and everyone else agrees it is unnecessary and harmful.

With this attitude, no wonder Labour has a problem with being seen as responsible with the economy and public spending. They’d rather spend money on something, anything, however bad and unwanted it is, than save the money, if not for Leeds, but for the country. If the Department for Transport funding fell away with the failure of the trolleybus, it would mean that there would be £250m less pressure for cuts elsewhere in the economy to be made. Few in Leeds would weep for the loss of the trolleybus and unless and until the council come up with something better to improve public transport in Leeds, what would really be lost if the funding was withdrawn?

Just as we’re all used to little things suddenly being rushed into effect just before a local election (like the 20mph zone and speed cushions plus speed limit signs on single track dead end roads round my way) here’s a case of a massive piece of spending being ploughed on with regardless of merit, just to spend the budget in case it is threatened. If that isn’t profligacy, it’s hard to know what might be. And in a year’s time, they want to form the next government. Be worried.