Another year, another 200,000 or so people make their way back to the four corners of the globe from a few square miles of Somerset countryside, tired, hungover, curiously fragrant, aching and for the vast majority more culturally enriched in one form or another. For it is almost an achievement in and of itself to come back from Glastonbury Festival without seeing something that moves, inspires or empowers you. It really is the greatest coming together of all forms of art in one place on annual basis that the world has ever seen. No where else in the world will you find the volume and diversity of music, dance, contemporary art, political activism, cabaret, carnival and gastronomy available in such a small space for 5 days.
For me the worst thing about Glastonbury, other than the volume of people tripping balls who feel the need to touch my face, is that for every band or piece of performance art on at any given time there are 3 or 4 other things I also want to see. It is the ultimate in having to make difficult scheduling decisions to ensure you see some of what you want rather than trying to see a little bit of everything and seeing nothing at all. So here are some awards I made up for the bands and DJs lucky enough to have me watch them….(ahem):
Award for Most Rock Star Behaviour goes to………. Jack White
Jack White played an hour and 15 minutes of what can best be described as a frenetic, alcohol fuelled jazz/rock/blues jam session punctuated with a few well known hits from his extensive solo and White Stripes back catalogue. It was a brave and intoxicating set to play in front of 50000 people on the Pyramid Stage at 1930 on a Saturday, as his merry band often seemed to freestyle their way through an eclectic mix of rock, metal, blues, folk, jazz, electro, garage and rock. At first glance it seems like his band are having to work 5 times harder than White to keep pace with his staccato form of electro blues. On reflection though I would suggest that despite it’s freeform appearance White’s set is fairly well rehearsed, albeit with a habit of going off on tangents, no doubt laced with a little ego and a lot of booze.
Why though on a bill featuring Metallica does White get most rock star points? The bottle of champagne he came on stage swigging and then drank down in between songs, hand on hip, back to the audience, head down trying to recompose himself before launching into a series of complicated riffs and tempos certainly helped. It was mainly though that at the end of his set in the process of smashing his guitar he fell over and wiped out his drummer and the drum kit before getting up looking dazed, confused, very drunk and unable to focus. Now THAT is rock star behaviour.
Award for Most Dolly Parton Behaviour goes to………..Dolly Parton
The Queen of Country (I don’t listen to country, and I imagine there are people who would dispute that, but I don’t care) lit up Glastonbury with a cabaret-lite performance, as she steered the record breaking crowd of around 150000 tired and muddied revelers through some old classics (Jolene and 9 to 5 standing out as the big singalong numbers) and a few new songs for the true fans.
For a performer who has been plying her trade for huge crowds for pushing 50 years the most enduring thing about Parton is how she always treats her audience like they are sat in her living room, adding context to her songs with back stories and injecting a sense of joy that is remarkable for someone so far into a career that grinds down even the most upbeat of individuals. For a weekend that was heavy on the wet and muddy Parton provided a much needed kitsch lift to the crowd and inspired some truly horrific tribute costumes.
Award for Least Dolly Parton Behaviour goes to………Lana Del Rey
If long time superstar Parton was the light and sunshine of the festival then newly superstarred Del Rey was her antithesis. This, however, is not a criticism. Del Rey is divisive because of her image, gender politics and to some degree her success. Recent confessions about her state of mind in the media have only heightened the tension between fans who want to make sure she is ok every time she walks out on stage, and those that cynically, rightly or wrongly, believe it is her adding fuel to her well managed and disingenuous image. Her authenticity can be argued. The power, depth and beauty of her voice is objectively haunting.
There was a genuine sense of her being overwhelmed by the size of the crowd as she entered the stage like a lost child, barefeet and bright dress contrasting the dark undertones of her upcoming set. As she moved and swayed through her setlist consisting mostly of tracks from Born To Die the confidence on her voice was apparent and pitch perfect. In the moment it could be seen as almost diva like behaviour as she interacted minimally with the huge crowd and left without much of a goodbye. But for those of us close enough to see her exit stage left it was clear to see that she was moved to tears by the experience and needed a comforting arm around her shoulder as she departed. She won’t have won over many of those who dislike her image but she undoubtedly removed their ability to argue to authenticity of her talent.
Award for Weirdest Mouth When Singing goes to…….Paolo Nutini
I couldn’t find a picture anywhere that accurately describes what I mean so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. But dude has a super weird mouth when he sings. And I love it! Not his mouth so much, but that the weird gurn he makes is a product of his letting go completely and pouring everything he has into his voice. What a voice it is that he conjures up. Opening with a number of tracks from his new heavily soul influenced album Caustic Love, if you closed you eyes for a second Nutini’s gravely voice ringing out through the night conjured memories of the great Motown legends.
Nutini has set himself out as a special talent with his most recent album with a mature and confident sound that does not fit his tender age of 27. Three more years and he’ll be headlining the festival.
Award for Best Prepared Rapper goes to……..Del The Funky Homosapien of Deltron 3030
Well done Del The Funky Homosapien for forgoing ego in favour of practicality by rocking a blue lightweight kagool and wellington boots as he took the stage with his fellow Deltron band mates Dan The Automator (less practical but equally awesome in a long tail tuxedo and white Adidas) and Kid Koala (t-shirt and jeans? I don’t know, this isn’t fucking Cosmo). Somehow the 41 year old Oakland native hip hop star made the blandest of wet weather gear seem effortlessly cool, even more so when he refused to lower his hood as the sun came out and he looked like he was cooking like boil in the bag rice.
As a long time fan of the breakbeat hip hop all star group getting to see them live in such an awesome venue was a particular treat. They didn’t disappoint either with the patriarchal Dan The Automator taking conductor duties to direct the live orchestra through a back catalogue of their hits and a couple of surprise ones. Not least the presence of Jamie Cullum to provide vocals on their final two tracks.
Award for Band Who Converted Me To A Fan While I Caught Their Set Sheltering From The Rain At 11 O’Clock On A Saturday Morning Award goes to……..Reignwolf
As the rain poured down around me for the 100th time on Saturday morning, I lurched instinctively into the John Peel Tent at the bottom of the hill. Bleary eyed, in the need of coffee more than anything in the world, soaked through to my core and down to my last cigarette I was not in the mood for anything jolly. Fortuitously at that moment the deep, aggressive downtuned, scuzzy, blues sounds of Reignwolf perforated my eardrums and I was no longer concerned about any of the former.
Primarily the musical output of Canadian native Jordan Cook, Reignwolf is a sweaty balls blues-rock-grunge mash up that sounds like someone took ZZ Top, Soundgarden and the Black Keys down to the Bayou and some time later Reignwolf came crawling out of the swamp. Currently touring the US, UK and Europe off the back of a handful of singles Reignwolf will undoubtedly find a hardcore and growing audience when their full album drops. I expect to the see them much higher up the bill when it does. In the meantime I recommend everyone go to iTunes or Spotify or wherever you consume your music and listen to their three singles on heavy rotation.
Award for Best Argentinian Folk Dance Electro Rap Group goes to……Bajafondo
Admittedly this is somewhat of a niche category, yet I am confident that if they were one of ten Argentinian Folk Dance Electro Rap bands on the bill that they would still come out top. Consisting of a gravely voiced, grey haired front man who struts around stage with his fretless guitar like a cross between James Hetfield and a London market fruit seller, a bearded fiddler straight out of stereotypical Parisian street scene, and a mix of young electro musicians, Bajofondo energized a flagging crowd in the deathly 11 o’clock slot on Sunday morning to open the Other Stage.
By the end of it the small crowd, many of whom I would suggest were discovering their unique high tempo electro tango for the first time, were chanting for more. For a band who mentioned in embarrassingly perfect English that it was their dream come true to play Glasto, and with a conviction that left you in no doubt of their sincerity, it was one of the most heartwarming sights of the festival to see them take a prolonged bow to satisfy the uplifted crowd.
Award for Band Most Likely To Be The Soundtrack To My Trip Across The United States When I Eventually Book It goes to…….The War On Drugs
The buzzword in this years Glastonbury program seemed to be Americana. Everything that was remotely atmospheric and melodic was Americana. Probably due in part to the presence of Midway, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The War On Drugs on the bill amongst others. It was The War On Drugs though, second on the Pyramid Stage on Friday who set the tone for the day with their brand of soaring guitar melodies. To be fair I was kind of already set to like them when they came on and set up their own gear and soundchecked, walked off to the side, were announced and walked back on. It was refreshing to see at a time when so many bands seem to have increasing numbers of people running around doing stuff for them in between sets.
Of all the bands on the line up with the Americana label attached to them, War on Drugs probably most deserve it, their sound equal parts James Taylor, Crosby Stills & Nash, Pavement, Midway and Neil Young. If anything it was a shame to see them so early on such a big stage as they are the kind of act you want to see with the sun going down behind them.
Award for Most Anthems Crammed Into One Set goes to…..Kasabian
Our final main award goes to our highlight of the weekend; Sunday headliners Kasabian, who tore the house down with their very British beats. It was a remarkable way to mark 10 years since they opened the Other Stage to a crowd of nobody, as they strutted, swore and cocked around the main stage with the confidence of a band at the pinnacle of their powers. As usual front man duties were shared between singer Tom Meighan, who was the coolest man at Glastonbury as he wandered out to 65000 people at dusk in a white dinner jacket, bow tie and shades and guitarist Serg Pizzorno who was every bit the Keith Richards to Meighan’s swaggering Jagger.
Opening their set with the ear blistering riffs of Bumblee that had the beaten, battered and bruised crowd at the tail end of their long long week jumping like they had only just arrived. They moved at a frenetic and relentless pace through their back catalogue of foot stomping, fist pumping terrace anthems leaving me in awe of just how talented they are as a group at writing songs that are on one level ingenius in their originality and diversity, yet almost all are united by having a hook that a deaf mute monkey could pick up and replicate after one listen. By the time they came to their encore of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You, an apt and heartfelt thank you from the band to the crowd for supporting them over the last 10 years, and Noel Fielding’s surprise appearance as Vlad The Impaler you knew you had witnessed something special. And as the band left the stage to the looped sounds of the crowd repeating yet another catchy hook from L.S.F. (Lost Souls Forever) Tom Meighan couldn’t help but stand alone to survey what he had achieved, croaking out one last line for the crowd to sing back at him. And as we did, it was all he had left in the tank to hold back the tears as he touched his heart in a last silent thank you before bringing down the curtains on another fine year in Somerset.
To round things off here are a few smaller awards in recognition of some of the other things we spotted around Glasto this year
Award for Most Awesome Special Guest
There weren’t as many collaborations as previous years but Richie Sambora playing with Dolly Parton was pretty special
Award for Least Awesome Special Guest
The lightning that shut the festival down during Rudimental’s set and the ensuing downpour that got my tasty pie (actual, not euphemistic) very wet.
Award for Worst Tattoos
Ed Sheeran’s random jumble tattoos on his arms don’t quite fit his image, face or sound. Plus they are kind of all over the place, including a random teddy bear on his left arm. I blame Taylor Swift.
Award for Best Tattoos
Everyone not named Ed Sheeran who had a tattoo somewhere on their person
Award for Biggest Douche
There were a lot of them, but special mention goes to the person who rifled through our friends tent in the middle of the day. Go fuck yourself who ever you are.
Award for Tastiest Food
Goes to all the food. I ate all the food. I regret nothing.
If you were at Glastonbury and feel something else special deserves a mention let me know