Why was Glastonbury 2017 like General Election 2017? Because it started out with uncomfortably hot weather which you thought couldn’t possibly last, was hit by unforecast persistent drizzle that made you long for the 32C you had when it started, followed by Jeremy Corbyn, before finishing with more representative mild sunshine.
OK, that doesn’t really work that well. This year’s Glastonbury was however, probably the most political one I’ve been to. There’s always been a political undercurrent to the festival, both in the small Leftfield Tent and in the nature of the charitable causes supported to great effect by the festival. But it has until recently been avoidable. It isn’t the main draw or reason why we put together complex plans involving organising in groups of four to log on at 9am on a Sunday morning in October to maximise our chances of getting all our friends tickets before they sell out after half an hour of pressing refresh on our web browsers. Back in 2015 I was first aware of people discussing politics while just out and about at the festival – surprising numbers discussing how Cameron was the better choice of PM than Miliband. Last year, with the festival coinciding with the EU Referendum vote, the atmosphere the morning of the result was funereal and many of the bands referred to the Referendum (invariably against the result). And of course, this year was Corbyn’s year after he cancelled his scheduled appearance in 2016 to call for A50 to be triggered the morning after.
I didn’t go and see him introduce Run the Jewels on the Pyramid Stage at 4pm (geddit, JC 4PM?!) so won’t comment on the speech he actually gave. Like with many of the bands at Glastonbury, if you’ve seen them once, you don’t always need to go and see them again. I did however hear the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant to the tune of Seven Nation Army a few times and spotted nearly ten people over the course of the festival wearing Corbyn T-shirts (a missed opportunity there – I’m surprised they didn’t get a T-shirt cannon to distribute them to the Pyramid Stage crowd). I’m sure that many of those who joined in did so to express their deep love for JC, but did hear a few people chant along lustily then remark to their friends that they’d voted for May. It’s a catchy chant for those whose names scan appropriately and it’s no surprise the tune has become a regular at many football matches – at Brentford it certainly helped to cement the cult popularity of Alan McCormack despite him being a peripheral part of the team for much of the last three seasons. Like any good football chant, even for a supporter it is easy enough to feel the need to join in as part of experiencing and contributing to the atmosphere of the event without committing yourself to the literal truth of the words and their implications – despite having lived in Leeds longer than I lived in London I’m as prone as the next fan to a lusty rendition of “You dirty Northern Bastard” when a player for any team in the Midlands or beyond fouls a Bee, even if the victim is himself from the North and the perpetrator lived all his life on the South Coast before being transferred.
Glastonbury is not real life and people don’t go there to experience reality but rather to escape it for a few days. It’s not cheap and the prospect of spending £238 on a ticket and £50 to park while foregoing showers for tactical cleansing with wet wipes and planning movements around the site to give access to the least unpleasant toilets for 5 days isn’t most people’s idea of fun. For those who can’t afford the luxury of paying to experience such spartan conditions there is the option of volunteering to work at the festival in return for a ticket, but that tends not to work out at anything like the £10ph minimum wage JC promised everyone from the age of 16 and I shudder to think what the ticket price would be if it came in. And almost unbelievably, it has been reported that after bloviating on a world without borders and the evils of inherently exploitative zero hours contracts, the festival itself sent home 600 of the 700 workers recruited for two weeks of clean up work at minimum wage after the festival without work after two days.
Ironically while the festival in popular imagining retains some of its original hippy connotations, in reality, since the fences went up to restrict entry to paying guests only, it is both a much safer and more resolutely middle class thing. So there’s not much chance of having your tent nicked while some scally tries to sell you shots from a 3 litre bottle of spirits with an optic which may or may not have been liberated from a pub. It is still a lot of fun even if it is more John Galt’s mountain home for the creative elite in Atlas Shrugged than anything else.
For the first time this year, thanks to Rob’s mate Showbiz Sean, I had a glimpse into how the other half lived with a backstage pass at the Park Stage. Unfortunately I am terrible at recognising people so have no stars to report having seen.
So, on to the acts themselves. Unusually, perhaps because the weather was fine and the rain fell on ground which had been dry for weeks and so drained away rather than turning it to slurry, I didn’t go to see any of the comedy. Usual Simon rules applied, even though Simon didn’t come this year – 3 songs or 15 minutes minimum to count as having seen someone (actually, we weren’t sure if the rule might not have been initially 25 minutes but amended to avoid excessive exposure to tedium from bands which did bad veeery long songs).
The Orb – The Orb’s three sets on Thursday were something I’d been looking forward to as part of the festival’s annual creep towards making Thursday a more official part of the programme. However, to be honest, I can’t say I got a lot out of them as The Glade where they were playing is quite badly affected by noise pollution from neighbouring bar sound systems (this happens on several stages – I’m not sure why the festival organisers don’t require bars to turn off their music during sets on nearby stages). We were also pre-occupied with looking out for Martin who’d arrived that evening and was due to find us there. We discovered that the festival seemed to have been invaded by many False Martins in a live action game of Where’s Wally, each False Martin sharing some, but not all the external characteristics of the real one.
New York Brass – Glastonbury hasn’t properly started until you’ve seen New York Brass playing their lively arrangements of pop classics. That’s the law.
Hacienda Classical– the first of the proper acts. Started with a minute’s silence in remembrance of the recent tragedies in Manchester and London. Bez came on to be Bez for a bit (without maracas, disappointingly). Peter Hook played Blue Monday. All good stuff. Then a march up from the Pyramid to The Park for…
Bo Ningen– Japanese v hairy v heavy space rock. V good & loud. Also very polite in the usual Japanese way – I could see them being like my trainee when I worked at a Japanese company who, despite sitting at the next desk to me would stand up and walk to a respectful distance behind me and wait until I noticed them before they would ask a question. I saw the bassist a couple of days later in the backstage bar at The Park still wearing the quasi-medieval Japanese robes they had on stage. According to Showbiz Sean that’s how they dressed all the time and they had turned up to set up their camp like that. Discovery of the festival.
Las Kellies– from Argentina, girl trio, spiky guitar pop, “Mind your own business” the highlight.
Pictish Trail– Guillemots/Stornawayish sound with some wibbly noises added in for good measure.
Fujiya & Miyagi– not actually Japanese. Motorik pop, good.
Mark Lanegan– the Screaming Trees frontman started off with a bit of a racket but then settled down to more gentle stuff that were a pleasant backdrop to a gentle mid-afternoon snooze for me and Martin and the cue for Rob to take advantage of the clean toilets backstage at The Park. The set led to the coining of “Lanegan Lie Down” for any act which turned out to offer an opportunity for a nap.
Ride– 10/10! A few off the new album, along with older hits, ignoring the badness of their last pre-split album. Great rendition of “Leave them all behind” (probably their last really good song in their first incarnation, good enough to make Going Blank Again disappointing when it came out because nothing else compared) , ended with the lovely Vapourtrail. A close run thing between this and The Killers for set of the festival, shaded by Ride because it could more easily have gone badly wrong.
Future Islands– I still don’t really get them.
Kuenta I Tambu– Gambian dance, they’re fun.
Radiohead– started very flat & plodding but perked up with Pyramid Song followed by Everything in its Right Place mixed with the emergency broadcast jingle. Only stayed for the first 45 minutes but it was clear that they’d designed the set carefully to build up over the full 2 hours to culminate in the big early album hits (apparently they’d done this at Coachella recently). If there hadn’t been the lure of other acts it might have been worth persisting with but in the event there was the chance to see…
Flaming Lips– who were flaming bonkers good. The photo above is from the (surprisingly straight) cover version of Bowie’s Space Oddity which saw Wayne Coyne walk out over the crowd in an inflatable ball. Other on stage craziness included charging around on an inflatable unicorn. Well worth the trek from Pyramid to Park.
Bootleg Beatles- they did Day in the life well and otherwise sounded suitably Beatlesish. Got the requisite 3 songs in during the walk from one side of the Pyramid to the other on the way to…
Speak and Spell– Depeche Mode covers band. They have the live act to a tee including Dave Gahan’s “Thangyew”. They really know their material- Just can’t get enough was played with the ending from the 12″ version, which sounded a bit unfamiliar but luckily Martin, who is otherwise often wilfully obscure in his musical tastes has a guilty pleasure in having collected Depeche Mode 12″ and remixes since his teens.
Vieux Farka Toure– Malian music. He gamely tried getting a lunchtime crowd standing in drizzle to sing along.
Inheaven– guitar pop, heavyish, tuneful, anthemic. Boy girl singer combo. Decent enough. Although in retrospect, having heard rave reviews, I probably should have persuaded Martin to come to see British Sea Power instead.
Jools Holland– parp!
Stay Hungry– (bandstand) man with ukulele. “Too sad to wank” and a folk song reminiscing about Britpop. Only at Glastonbury.
Wild Beasts– pleasantly forgettable, although Alpha Female is a neat song. Had a short Lanegan Lie Down as the sun came out again.
Badbadnotgood– Jazz Jazz Not Good
Thurston Moore– a fanboy yay from me as a Sonic Youth fan who always preferred Thurston songs to Kim sings, even if he does like Corbyn.
Katy Perry– apart from pronouncing Aphrodite as Afro-dite pretty good pop of the sort I’d never have any other reason to go and see, not having a teenage daughter.
DJ Shadow– a great example of what a good show a pure DJ can put on. He mixed up tracks from all his albums. Bass at resonant frequency of my trousers. The only disappointments were that he didn’t play a 15 minute version of Bergschrund off the last album (I’ve no idea whether he ever does but it’s one which really could do with being lengthened) and Run the Jewels, who were on site, didn’t come over to guest on Nobody Speak (although I did hear them perform it in their own set from a distance).
Joe Goddard– routine dance music without any of the invention or playfulness of Hot Chip. We were only really listening to kill time before Showbiz Sean gave us a lift in the back of the pick up he’d been transporting artists round the back stage area to get us down to the Other Stage for Alt-J. It is obviously highly superficial of me but it was great fun speeding down the access roads and being waved through busy crossings in the main festival site as people craned to see whether there was anyone famous in the truck. It was also nice being able to have a comfy sit down in the crew bar behind the Pyramid Stage to watch part of the Foo Fighters set (although we did hear more than 3 songs and watching the same screen footage and sound feed that we’d have got had we been the other side of the stage I’m not giving myself a tick for this, anyway, I saw them play in a little tent at Reading 20 odd years ago so no need).
– Not the usual view of the Pyramid Stage!
Alt-J – they played with their usual meticulous and unique sound. I think I’ve probably exhausted the need to see them again. Their meticulousness means that they add very little to their live performances – the records have clearly been crafted to be the definitive works so why fiddle with them?
Slaves– all good fun as before and Isaac could probably do a very entertaining hour of spoken word, but no Cheer up London- possibly because it might have struck the wrong note in light of the recent tragedies at London Bridge and Grenfell Tower.
Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes– grungy swears. Got bottled with piss which made him angry. Song about not coming home after a gig and how terrorists are cowards. Song for lady crowd surfers. A heavy Billy Bragg but basically very happily milking the unique opportunity of a packed John Peel Stage waiting for The Killers who were coming on next.
The Killers– Peel Stage rammed 2 acts early for secret gig. Triumphant- better than when I last saw them on Pyramid and just unashamedly playing to the audience with a greatest hits package.
The Cinematic Orchestra– a bit jazz a bit cinematic. More palatable to me than Badbadnotgood but too much jazz for Rob.
Ward Thomas– folk rocky summery girl harmonies. Only visit to the Acoustic Stage which didn’t have a particularly appealing line up this year. Only got the tick because the Acoustic Stage still has a nice real ale tent and we fancied a sit down and a pint which took us through 3 songs.
Jagwar Ma– played as a continuous dance mix. Sounded like the music playing in a sophisticated but shady night club in Miami Vice where Crockett & Tubbs were going to suss out a suave and untouchable drug baron. Better than their normal stuff. Also a very beautiful sorceress shoved past us accompanied by a rather rough flunky. She turned out to be Kate Moss.
London Grammar– modern Enya. Quite nice for a band we caught accidentally as they were running late.
Metronomy– somewhat like Radiohead they played a set that took a bit of time to get going. Interestingly jumped between songs from different albums which dealt with different aspects of a similar theme (as the albums do). Another band, like Alt-J who don’t add a lot live, even though they were much more inclined to depart from the way the songs played on record.
– Ancient and Modern, The Pyramid and Glastonbury Tor in the background, waiting for Ed Sheeran, the end of the festival and 7 hours driving home.
Farewell to Glastonbury until 2019!