26 Bands, 25 Hours without sleep – my Glastonbury in a nutshell
Before I forget in the excitement of everything after the EU Referendum, some thoughts on this year’s Glastonbury Festival, which I’d hoped would be a nice distraction after a seemingly interminable and often depressing campaign. Unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out and instead, the Referendum hung over the festival like a miasma. First thing on Friday morning all you could hear were groups of dazed people sitting outside their tents debating what exactly had happened and I’ve never been to a more political Glastonbury. And I didn’t even get a chance to heckle Jeremy Corbyn as he somehow decided that even he couldn’t justify talking to a few hundred people in a tent in the middle of nowhere the day after the result. Anyway…
Michael Eavis (pictured doing a regal inspection of the site) has said that this year’s festival was the muddiest ever. I haven’t been to all of them, but the mud was much more of an issue than any other year I’ve been. This is probably because unlike other “wet” Glastonburys there had been a lot of rain over the preceding couple of weeks so that the whole site was already pretty saturated even before the car parks were opened. Thankfully the group I drove down didn’t get particularly delayed going in, but another of our party took 17 hours to arrive from Manchester.
Thursday at Glastonbury is mainly for wandering around to get your bearings as they always seem to move things around a little bit and to spend the evening drinking beer at the Avalon Inn. Because more and more people each year aim to turn up as soon as the gates open, there are a few bands on, including “secret” unannounced sets in the Williams Green tent. Unfortunately, this year’s secret acts were not inspiring (why would anyone want to see the comeback of Travis?) and nobody really believed that they’d include the rumoured Radiohead set (why would they bother playing a secret gig when headlining the Pyramid is only ever a phonecall away?). So the only act I saw was…
The Smyths- a nearly note-perfect Smiths tribute. Except the singer was trying too hard to sing the songs as Morrissey and wasn’t very good at sounding like Morrissey. Which is a shame because, as Johnny Marr demonstrates in his solo gigs, the songs are good enough to be enjoyed without the distraction of Morrissey’s idiosyncracies.
Friday morning had the air of a wake, with these obituary posters for Britain in the EU all around.
So, it was high time to lift the mood by letting the festival begin properly. In the rain.
James- were first on the Other Stage (I’ve just about got used to not calling it the NME Stage, helped by the fact that the NME is now completely dire, rather than just patchily so). Their start was delayed by 50 minutes as the area in front of the stage was waterlogged and needed to be covered in wood chippings. Which was bad enough as it meant that the usual meticulous planning of which bands to see through the day was also disrupted, but was made worse by being forced to listen to the entire Athlete album over the PA. We were also treated to our first artist comment on the Referendum, concluding with “fuck em” followed by a spirited rendition of the optimistic Tomorrow.
Blossoms- weren’t really on my list of bands to see but followed James on the Other Stage and my companions, who mainly live in Stockport wanted to stay to watch this local band. Also, there wasn’t really much else on that would have inspired, even if a day and a half on site made me reluctant to trudge quite as far as I have in previous years (a steady 9 miles or so each day rather than the 20 I’ve done on days with better line ups). Blossoms are a sunny synth rock group and very young. So young that it took a little while to realise that their prettily androgynous singer was just too young to shave (and other band members had only rudimentary facial hair, mainly, I think, to show that they were able to grow some at all). And the sun came out
Gringo Ska- ska ozric tentacles. It’s the flute. Probably wouldn’t have got the “tick” (3 songs or 20 minutes) had it not been such a trudge through the Glade on the way to the Cabaret Tent in anticipation of rain (which came in bucket loads once we were safely sat down inside).
DJ Ivan Brackenbury (comedy) – hospital radio act, literally. Jokes with apt songs- 5 organ transplant from crashed netball coach= mambo no 5. An unrepeatable play on the words Country Tracks. Puerile but cumulatively funny just by the sheer weight and pace of weak jokes.
Jeremy Hardy – I’m not a big fan of Jeremy Hardy. I think the News Quiz is substantially funnier when he’s not on it. However, in the context of heavy rain and the likely fertile comedy potential for a professional curmudgeon of the Referendum he was worth seeing. And, although my northern chums did find his implicit “blame thick northerners” approach unfunny, I thought he was pretty good because he was actually angry rather than just a bit tired of it all. I liked his suggestion of going to the Green Fields and telling the hippies they’ve got their work cut out dispelling negative energy. And his full Trump as Cartman worked a lot better than the hint at it he’d done a couple of weeks previously on the News Quiz.
Shappi Khorsandi- OK, fluffed a few gags. Had an unusual explanation for why there are so few women comedians – that it is because women are used to people being supportive if things don’t turn out how they want whereas men are brought up to expect no sympathy, get mocked for it and to try again in front of the people who mocked them.
Lumineers- sun and sunshine. First proper good band of the day.
ZZ Top- beards and hits. “Let’s stay here all night long and make some barbecue “. They looked like they were having fun. Enough to be able to discern a smile through the trademark beards (apart from the drummer whose surname is Beard but doesn’t wear one).
Explosions in the Sky- introduced themselves by saying they’ve been going 16 years and had been told they should play Glasto and here they are. 4 guitars. Feedback. Mogwai from Texas. Liked them from 15 seconds in. Very tight. I’ve just listened to their latest album and it’s a bit more like Storm in Heaven era Verve (without the fag packet lyrics) but quite heavy live. They were on at the John Peel tent which had been relocated about 100 yards up a slope from its previous position and the tent is now much better (last year much of the floor was awash with water) as well as having a decent area to sit outside and a convenient bar.
Savages- a bit like Siouxsie and the Banshees but not as good. Better on record as less waily and more intelligible. Didn’t make the £5 deposit for the much touted steel pint glasses from the Bimble Inn (which initially seemed to have bargain prices with pints a pound cheaper than elsewhere on site) any more bearable. Particularly as there was only only Water Aid kiosk which would give refunds for the “deposit” and that was located back up the top of the Park Stage which I couldn’t be bothered to slog up.
Underworld- meh. Some dance acts (notably Orbital or Hot Chip who were surprisingly good in the same slot at West Holts last year) are excellent live. Others are single-paced and dreary unless you’re in the middle of the main crowd doing what passes for dancing when your wellies are glued into the mud and perhaps chemically enhanced. Underworld are the latter.
Blackberry Smoke- country rock as an unobjectionable backdrop to a pint at the Avalon Inn. One of this year’s welcome innovations is that the tented Avalon, John Peel and Acoustic stages have had most of their sides left open so that you can hear the music and see the performers from outside the tents.
Squeeze- meh. Coincidentally got the “tick” while crossing Pyramid field.
Hardwicke Circus- 60s straight rock. Again, not intentionally watched but happened to be on in the Acoustic tent while we sampled the Real Ale bar and its particularly welcome seating (the toilets in this field are also usually the least unpleasant in the whole festival).
Ozric tentacles- did what they do much as they’ve done it for 30 years. Psychedelic space synth rock. Never trust anyone who can identify individual tracks by their titles. Although you’d probably work that out by the way their pupils are hazy and pointing in different directions and the smell of patchouli.
Jagwa Ma- the Australian regular fries but more upbeat because they’re Aussies. Then went a bit orbital which makes them great. First time all festival that the crowd really got going. Although that is perhaps more a function of my choice of acts!
Madness- couldn’t hear well from edge of Pyramid field but they played the hits. Cover of Bowie’s Kooks after band’s children and grandchildren had come on stage. It was a nice cover of a good song from a great album, but I’m not sure many in the crowd knew it so it only got polite applause.
Ralph mctell- got the tick but have no recollection as was wolfing down Mac and Cheese at the time. I don’t think he played “Streets of London”.
Paul Carrack- like a really good wedding band. Fronted by George Galloway.
Tame Impala- meh
Adele- brilliant, potty mouthed, made a little girl’s day by having her up on stage, hits hits hits (so many that she’d done all the ones I knew 45 minutes in and so didn’t feel bad about heading off on the long walk up to hear Philip Glass’s Heroes Symphony at the Park in tribute to David Bowie (I didn’t have my steel pint glasses with me for a refund)).
New Order- walked past on the way to The Park. Bernard Sumner doesn’t have the best voice in the world but seemed this time to be singing in a Vic Reeves club style.
Glass Heroes Symphony- This was excellent. I don’t think many in the audience had heard Philip Glass’s piece which was inspired by Bowie’s Heroes album (I have it on CD having bought it when seeing the premiere of his Low Symphony some years back) and if you hadn’t you’d need to be very familiar with the more obscure instrumental tracks on that album to appreciate the link. Unfortunately we were stood next to the biggest twat in the world who spent the first three movements loudly complaining that it was shit, that the musicians shouldn’t have sheet music because they should “know the words” and that being a conductor was a complete waste of time because the musicians could just play. I’m not normally one for a confrontation but had to quietly tell him that he didn’t have to stay if he didn’t like it, or could at least keep his opinions down a little. Unfortunately, that rather escalated to “Fuck off or shut the fuck up”. I left it at the point I could see him and his guffawing acolytes slowly formulating the idea of whether to kick my head in. Thankfully they didn’t and instead got bored and left after discussing whether they should set fire to my hat for entertainment (but luckily decided it was too much bother).
– I’m pretty sure Flock of Seagulls weren’t meant to be in the line up
Caravan Palace- French electro swing. Doop. Impressive to get people on a muddy field at noon doing a dancercise class.
Bear’s Den- they’re quite hairy but ok over lunch
Mitch Benn- “after 20 years of not quite being funny enough for the Comedy Stage now I’m not quite good enough a musician for the Avalon. Hope you like my new direction”. Was both funny and musical. Highlight was probably his description of how the Beatles recorded Tomorrow Never Knows using improvised technology (like tearing apart a Hammond organ to feed the vocal mic through its revolving speaker) and then proceeded to recreate it by recording the whole thing on his iPhone and playing it live.
ELO- really needed blue skies but got rain. It didn’t make any difference, still sounded as fresh as it did 40 years ago. And Jeff Lynne looks still just like I remember him on Top of the Pops back in the 70s!
Anoushka Shankar- a welcome sitar chill out then she rocked out. The continuing rain and forecast that it wouldn’t let up until the early hours meant we decided to go and pack up so we could leave after the headliners rather than wait until morning. Particularly as one of our friends had just texted to say that it had taken 8 hours to get out of the car park that morning.
PJ Harvey – was wearing a funereal midnight blue dress. Mainly played songs from the current album and the Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake. These are serious and weighty songs about serious issues, played with serious expressions. Yet somehow in this live setting they were uplifting and even danceable. Also played a couple of oldies in Bring you my love and 50ft Queenie. PJ read out Donne’s “no man an island” as the most eloquent comment on the Referendum from the stage all weekend. And even exited the stage barely able to suppress a smile. One of the highlights of the festival for me, followed up by another.
LCD Soundsystem – brilliant, even if the set was shortened by 15 minutes (I think in order to ensure that the Other Stage had cleared by the time Coldplay finished on the Pyramid Stage) and didn’t play North American Scum (which wouldn’t have fitted the tone of the set anyway). James Murphy had the look and intensity of a Baptist Preacher. A great end to what was not, in all honesty, a vintage Glastonbury.
All that remained was to leave for the long walk back to the car, an hour or so waiting for the traffic to move and then 250 miles on the road back to Leeds and the welcome of a hot shower and a clean bed.