The heavens may have opened on Thursday to create what has become ‘typical Glastonbury weather’, but thankfully that looks like it for the rain. The weather, a major preoccupation among those attending Glastonbury, looks perfect for the rest of the weekend and Friday was no exception, writes Neonfiller.com's Joe lepper.
After cycling in on the Friday morning I decided to take a wander over to the Other Stage, the festival’s second major stage and wonder why the devil it was so packed at 11am. Within minutes, bandy legged and sun glassed on stepped Liam Gallagher and I realised I was in for a surprise Beady Eye gig. Now at this point it is usual music journalist practice to be all prissy and declare anything Liam or his brother Noel do as boring and tired old rock. To my surprise though I didn’t completely hate their set, with its horns and synths fleshing out the clear lack of any quality songwriting. Liam, for all his faults has undeniable attitude and their cover of Oasis’ Rock n Roll star was pretty good.
Over to the BBC Introducing stage next for something that’s more our cup of tea, Brighton band Milk and Biscuits. This septet, with flute and trumpet, play joyous, simple indie pop that Magnetic Fields fans will love. An album is due out this year and we’ll definitely try and get a copy to review. Really promising new band.
Kodaline, at the John Peel stage, provided one of the unintentional highlights of the night. The Irish epic indie rock act, think Keane in skinny jeans, had volume problems with the vocals. Cue the biggest heckle I’ve ever seen at Glastonbury as thousands of people point to the sky and shout up a “up, up.” Like a footballer who scores only to realises moments later that he was off side and its been disallowed the band slowly realised that the fingers waving in the air where instructional to the sound man not a show of praise. They left in a huff and returned minutes later apologetic. Sadly though the volume didn’t help. Still sounded like Keane, so I left.
Over at the BBC Introducing there was another comedy moment. The surprise guest at 3pm turned out to be hip-hop-lite duo Rizzle Kicks, introducing by Nick ‘grim’ Grimshaw. Those under 17 were enraptured, those over left. Their backing band were pretty nifty though.
As the afternoon passed into evening, more wondering took place taking in a heart-warming set from Billy Bragg, together with Martyn Joseph and other artists taking part in one of his round up sessions at The Leftfield Tent. The Spirit of 71 for a reggae DJ set by Don Letts and enjoyed by UK comedian Harry Enfield and some tall pantomime dames on stilts was another strange place I ended up.
The acoustic tent was next for a breathtaking set from Martha Wainwright, full of light hearted tales of family angst and a voice and guitar playing like an orchestra that filled this friendly venue with tracks such as Factory and Four Black Sheep.
The evening over at the Park was sensational for this aged indie kid. Dinosaur Jr put on a stellar festival set, playing all their hits as Freak Scene, Just Like Heaven and The Wagon. Django Django also know how to wow a festival crowd, leaping on stage in matching white and black zig zag shirts their hour set formed mainly of tracks such as Storm and Wor from their self tilted debut album were sensational. Geeks, who know how to blend dance music and guitar pop well, come round rarely and should be cherished.
Final act of the night for me was Portishead at the Other Stage. All those tracks from Dummy eased out of this band as if the last 20 years or so had never happened with Beth Gibbons remarkable voice captivating the crowd. It has been a great, eclectic festival so far. Looking forward to the next two days.
Quick weather check. Yep, still sunny for the rest of the weekend. With the midday sun shining brightly down it was time I tried something I haven’t done so far at Glastonbury; it was time to finally see an act at the Pyramid stage. The honour of my very first Pyramid stage experience went to Billy Bragg, one of my favourites and an ever-reliable festival performer.
Buoyed by the success of his most recent album Tooth and Nail, Bragg was in fine mood mixing tracks from that album such as the lovely Handyman Blues with firm favourites from the past. Sexuality, New England and Ideology all delivered with a huge dollop of political banter. For me though the high point of his set were the Woody Guthrie numbers, including All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose and the simply wonderful California Stars, created through a collaboration with Wilco in the Mermaid Avenue albums.
Next up was another first, a trip to the Croissant Neuf tent, tucked away by the Green Fields and herbal tea drinking part of the site. It’s a superb venue, like a pirate circus tent and made even better by a quite simply spell binding set from Stealing Sheep. Last time I saw them they supported Field Music in Bristol and I declared them the best support band I’d ever seen. A year or so on from that and they are even better, even slicker and punchier as they pounded out their completely unique brand of surf/folk/pop. Certainly the best act I’ve seen so far at Glastonbury.
The Park was the next port of call to be surprised by the awesome ballsyness of Haim, the all female American indie pop band that are a firm favourite of BBC Radio 1. The venue was packed as they proved there was far more to them than their promising singles Forever and Falling. They even managed a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well and did a pretty fine version of it too.
Devendra Banhart next on the same stage was another revelation. Laid back in places, rock in others. He sounded and looked nothing like I imagined live; more like a skinny as a rake Lou Reed. Despite some sound problems with the bass his set made me want to check out his recent albums, which I’ve managed to avoid somehow. Another surprise was what a sex symbol he appears to be from the screaming women at the front.
To end my day I opted for a trio of old fogey acts. Firstly it was over to the Leftfield tent to see former MC5 man Wayne Kramer play a solo set blending songs from his old group mixed with modern, bittersweet tales of rock. Secondly it was a little trip over to one of my favourite venues, the giant circus tent sized Acoustic Stage, to see Steve Winwood. The man is a legend, arguably England’s greatest ever male soul singer and ridiculously talented. This precocious talent was bossing the vocals with the Spencer Davis Group as a teenager and then went on to form Traffic and Blind Faith, the latter with Eric Clapton. Tonight his voice was as sensational as I expected it to be as his stellar soul funk band astounded us with their musicianship on Winwood hits such as Keep on Running.
Finally it was the day’s big draw, The Rolling Stones and back over to the Pyramid Stage to find a very different venue. At a rough estimate I’d say a good 100,000 of the festival’s 175,000 or so ticket holders were there. As a spectacle from my vantage point it was incredible, looking on at the sheer size of the crowd. However, as a gig it was complete pants, watching these tiny old stick men in the distance, almost entirely blocked out by giant, silly flags. I only knew it was them because of the giant screens on either side of the stage. So yes, that’s right, I was basically watching tele with 100,000 people. I’m not saying that the experience wasn’t good though. They may have been going through the motions as a band but this was undeniably one of the major music events of the year and it felt good to be part of it.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds not only own the Pyramid stage after tonight’s performance, they may very well now own the accolade of this year’s best set at the whole event. Resplendent in silk black suit and paisley shirt Cave provided a master class in how to perform at a festival. Each soft moment perfectly placed among the dangerous, violent lyrics and tales of murder that Cave has excelled at throughout his career. A newish song, the brooding epic Jubilee Street, is already a live favourite, as were older classics such as Mercy Seat and a spellbinding encore of Red Right Hand.
The real highpoint though was Stagger Lee, as Cave embarked on one of two attempts to crowd surf/schmooze. As he screamed at those he made contact with about all the things he was going to do to poor Billy Dilly in the song suddenly this pre-Raphaelite looking women appeared. She kept resolute eye contact with Cave throughout as he ended up singing directly to her. This kind of thing is cheesy when someone like Bono does it, but not when Cave gives it a go. As far as I’m aware the U2 singer has never looked into an audience member’s eyes, held her hands and screamed “I’m going to f*ck Billy Dilly up his motherf*cking ass.”
It was an incredible set, but earlier that day there’d been a few acts that came pretty close. First Aid Kit, first up on the Pyramid stage, were sublime. The two sisters from Sweden are emerging as a renowned global festival act and deserved their main stage slot. While the sing along to Emmy Lou got few takers by the end the crowd were visibly impressed by the more upbeat King of the World and their stellar version of Simon and Garfunkel’s America.
The nature of Glastonbury, with its vastness and more than 100 stages, is to find yourself both spoilt for choice and in need of a nice sit down occasionally. I opted to spend the afternoon near to the John Peel, BBC Introducing and Gully stages, all within close proximity of each other and offering ample sit down space. First act I caught was one of my highlights of the day – Bristol singer George Ezra. Young, with just a guitar, his voice is something to behold, deep and quite frankly stunning. He’s got an edge too, that puts him little bit more in the Tallest Man on Earth camp than say Ed Sheeran.
Next on the BBC Introducing was a special surprise guest. Last time I was wooed with such a promise I was cruelly let down when the Rizzle Kicks took the stage. This time it was a far more impressive guest, none other than The Other Stage headliners The XX. Their set was brief but I almost by the end got why there’s so much hype about them. Well, almost.
Psychedelic folksters Villagers, the project of singer songwriter Conor J. O’Brien, over at the John Peel stage, are one of those bands that have passed me by in recent years. On this evidence I’ll be looking at them more closely. Great set, with O’Brien proving a captivating and precise singer.
West Papua’s struggle against human rights abuses is one of the world’s ills that I only found out about today thanks to Melbourne reggae/funk act Blue King Brown, whose members are from this Indonesian province and at one point were joined on stage by West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda. Sitting in the sun, beer in hand, listening to this superb band and being educated was just about as perfect as a perfect Glastonbury moment can be.
Before Nick Cave I popped over to William’s Green, a smallish tent venue, to see one of the most fun acts I’ve seen – Public Service Broadcasting, aka J. Willgoose, Esq on keyboards, banjo and guitar and Wrigglesworth on drums. Flanked by a giant old TV they essentially mash up public service broadcasts with awesome prog rock and electronica. It’s a devilishly simple combination made better live by Willgoose using public service broadcast samples for stage banter with excellent effect.
Unlike all those acts I saw today, Mumford and Sons had to follow Nick Cave. I didn’t wait around to find out how their brand of bland folk rock fared.