Glastonbury Festival 2014 - A Review of the Smaller Stages

Everyone has their own Glastonbury experience. It’s so vast, with 200,000 people and thousands of acts scattered across two large Somerset farms, that this giant muddy city is able to offer something for everyone. There are those that like the big name acts of the Pyramid and Other stages, some who can dance all night at Shangri-La and Arcadia and then there’s some, like me, who enjoy finding new bands and watching music in the many smaller, more intimate venues, writes Neonfiller.com's Joe Lepper.

(right) Storm clouds over the Pyramid Stage

I was attending this year as a judge for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition so was especially keen to catch up with some of the finalists. During this review, I’ll cover each of my days' treks around the storm-hit, mud-strewn site’s smaller venues to bring some new acts to your attention.

Friday

I started at what turned out to be this year’s best stage, William’s Green, where new bands rub shoulders with more established acts looking to play a second, more intimate gig. Ralfe Band were first on and provided the perfect start with Oly Ralfe’s accomplished Baroque pop on keyboards and acoustic guitar, putting in great versions of tracks such as "Crow and Ox".

(left) Ralfe Band

As I made my way over to the BBC Introducing stage, I stopped off to watch a little of Blondie. I knew it would be a soul-destroying experience for this fan and was proved right. Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and one of the world’s best drummers Clem Burke remain from the original line-up, but they were supplemented with some rent-a-rock session musicians and were now very clearly a spent force. Harry shouted rather than sang her way through the classics like "Hanging on the Telephone" and their bland "new ones" were met with groans and sighs from the crowd. Is it time to call it a day? In Blondie’s case, definitely.

(right) Wood Burning Savages

Over at the BBC Introducing stage, Dan Hyde proved a welcome antidote, backed by cello and giving a new take on the skinny-jeaned young singer-songwriter genre. Derry’s Wood Burning Savages were next and immediately looked like a band destined for bigger things. Every track in their 20-minute set of fast-paced indie rock sounded like a single, especially "Lather, Rinse, Repeat". In singer Paul Connolly they also have a great frontman -- part Bono, part Danny Kendall from UK children's TV show Grange Hill.

Carnabells from Leeds were next at BBC Introducing and were brought on stage by fan Steve Lamacq. All giant hair, paisley shirts, and velvet jackets they play rock and roll with a huge dollop of indie rock and did Steve proud.

The beauty of the BBC Introducing stage is that it is next to the Gully Outer National stage for world music, as well as John Peel for the more established BBC 6 Music style acts. Birmingham’s Eternal Taal – Bhangra Entertainment Team were hard to ignore with their energetic crowd participation act at Gully as were Temples over at John Peel with their carefully crafted late 1960s psychedelic rock. It’s a little Tame Impala light, but they still do this genre justice.

(left) Carnabells

Following a brief burst of sunshine, some menacing clouds began to appear. I sought shelter back at William’s Green to see We Were Evergreen. Anyone who has heard Canada’s Rural Alberta Advantage will be impressed by this smart, Parisian electro pop act.

The next event was the weather, with a truly frightening electrical storm bringing the festival’s music to a brief close, due to health and safety fears. Everyone at the festival will have their tale to tell of where they were when this intense rain came down. For me it was in the Leftfield where Neonfiller.com favourites The Tuts were just getting going in their punk-pop set when the generators were shut down. Billy Bragg, who is curating proceedings at the Leftfield, apologised but the audience didn’t care as they launched into a Cliff Richard at Wimbledon-style sing-along to Bohemian Rhapsody. The guitar solo bit was particularly funny.

(right) Young Knives

Back at William’s Green, with the electricity back on, Young Knives played a storming set, filled with tracks from Neonfiller.com Top 20 album of 2013 Sick Octave and an incredible performance from lead singer Henry Dartnell, as he snarled, barked, and jerked around the stage.

Billy Bragg’s Friday night Leftfield show is a tradition of the festival. Tonight it was just him with a telecaster and acoustic guitar, belting out his hits and reminding us of the late Tony Benn, who was a regular at the festival. It’s a political venue so the politics is ramped up through tracks such as "Between the Wars" and "There Is Power in a Union". But he’s also a preacher with heart, and "Handyman Blues," about his father, was among many tearjerkers. Bragg always puts on a good show, but there’s something special about his Friday night Leftfield slot.

(left) Billy Bragg

My evening ended with two Somerset-based bands -- Flipron and Nick Parker and the False Alarms -- who share members and played a great joint set at Avalon Café. Both Parker and Flipron frontman Jesse Budd were playing a number of times at the festival but you’d never know they were probably wrecked from exhaustion as they belted through their most festival-friendly tracks. There was even dancing amid the tea drinking.

(right) Nick Parker

Saturday

John Peel Stage openers Black Tambourines were one of the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition finalists this year and left me impressed during their short set at the Pilton finals in April. It was great to see a full set from this Falmouth act, which owes a lot to the 1960s garage punk and mod sounds of the Unrelated Segments and other obscurities from that era.

(left) The Black Tambourines

At BBC Introducing, by coincidence, another Falmouth act, Polly Money, is proving that the Cornish music scene is in fine voice. Her intricate acoustic guitar work and looping vocals show she is another accomplished, emerging talent. After a surprise gig at BBC introducing from Little Dragon I headed back over to William’s Green for the billed psychedelic rock segment of the weekend, which started with the Nirvana-esque grunge-sters the Wytches, Brisbane’s Blank Realm, Smoke Fairies and Dinosaur Jr’s favourites Bevis Frond.

(right) The Wytches

All these William’s Green acts were great in their own separate ways from Smoke Fairies’ style of dressing in designer white outfits, Bevis Frond’s love of life, Blank Realm’s insane vocals and The Wytches massive hair.

(left) Nick Lowe

The evening was spent in the company of two great songwriters. Watching Nick Lowe sing What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding with his perfect pitch and intonation is one of those "things to see in music before you die" moments. He was especially suited to the beautiful Acoustic tent with its hanging red drapes and giant disco ball.

(below) John Grant

John Grant at the Park was as amiable and fun as he appears to be on disc, with his clever lyrics and liberal swearing. As joints were being passed around at the front, Grant dazzled us with tracks such as Mars and GMF, perhaps his greatest song. On the way back home that night (I live near the site and was popping in each day) I managed to catch the Arcadia landing show, an outstanding spectacle of fire-breathing, giant space spider pyrotechnics. 

(left) Arcadia

Sunday

The Black Tambourines and Wood Burning Savages prove the festival has emerging talent that has seemingly arrived fully formed. But some of today’s BBC Introducing stage acts showed that some have a little way to go in terms of stage presence. Glastonbury Emerging Talent finalists FURS have the right look and sound but fell into the trap of not looking like they wanted to be there. Kagoule have their chops around a distortion pedal but, while excellent musically, they looked nervous and were smile-shy.

(right) Kagoule

We are told by the BBC DJ who introduced singer songwriter Lapsley that she will be one of those acts that will be making a swift move from the BBC Introducing to a main stage swiftly. It does happen, with Ed Sheeran playing the stage in 2011 and bagging a Pyramid slot this year. Lapsley could do well with her  haunting electronica. She has some nice touches to her act as well, especially through voice manipulation gadgets. But she’ll have to do a lot of work on her stage presence to follow Sheeren’s lead. She looked  like she was on work experience at an office, desperately trying to pluck up the courage to ask a manager where the coffee machine is, rather than at a music festival.

(left) Gallery Circus

Gallery Circus, though, showed these acts how it should be done. This Newcastle duo of twins Graeme and Daniel Ross play sibling blues rock in the White Stripes vein and are  sensational live; Graeme’s frantic drumming especially. After seeing the energy they put into playing live, I want them to get wider attention and a main stage slot that so many on the BBC Introducing are touted for but today only Gallery Circus deserve.

After the storms of Friday and Saturday, the mud was thick and getting about the site was tough work. I decided to stick to one area for the duration, even if that meant missing the Festival’s buzz act Dolly Parton. The Park was my venue and provided the best segment of the festival as well as the best live act I’ve seen since Nick Cave’s astonishing Pyramid Stage set in 2013.

(right) M+A

Phosphorescent brought the songwriting talents of Matthew Houck and key tracks, such as "Song For Zula" and "Ride On/Right On" from his Neonfiller.com Top 20 album of 2012 Muchacho, to the Park. He had a little wobble early on, having a hissy fit with a mic, slamming down the stand in disgust. Perhaps realising that this made him look like an utter knob, he backtracked, thanked the sound engineers for their hard work, and the gig resumed.

Ahead of next act Yoko Ono with Yo La Tengo I popped up to the Rabbit Hole, the crazy bar near the Park’s ribbon tower to catch a second festival gig from Glastonbury Emerging Talent winners M+A. Their blend of European pop and electronic trickery was superb in this tiny venue and they proved worthy winners of this competition.

(left) Yoko Ono and Yo La Tengo

I was not expecting Yoko Ono to be good. I was mostly there for the novelty of seeing such a well-known figure of modern culture and had always been of the opinion that her and Lennon’s preaching was more pretentious than heartfelt. There was pretension, but she is such an engaging personality I can see why so many listened to her and husband back in the day. Before she came to the stage, people with flowers in the hair went around the crowd handing out labels to write down wishes and hand back in a bucket. Then Ono arrived, tiny, focused and full of smiles backed this time by Yo La Tengo as the Plastic Ono Band.

Packed full of tales from her own life, including the tragic loss of her daughter due to a marriage break up and artists visiting her and Lennon, the audience immediately warmed to her. Musically it was pretty fine too. Backed by Yo La Tengo’s indie rock, Ono throat warbled her way through tracks such as "We’re All Water" and "Mind Train," as the audience beamed back at her.

(right) St Vincent

St Vincent provided one of the most astounding shows of the weekend. Looking sensational in gold-trimmed black dress and stiletto boots, she moved around the stage like an android doll that is smirking as it discovers rebellion and music for the first time. Coordinated dances with the band, a move onto a giant white pedestal, a coordinated roll back down it, and two of the most insane crowd surfing moments I’ve witnessed then followed.

(left) St Vincent being helped into the crowd

The crowd surfing was particularly impressive, still playing guitar she struggled through the mud in her heels, had to be helped up by security staff, fell over a number of times, jumped on people, managed to borrow a flat cap, and then popped back on stage still in android doll character as if nothing had happened. How she managed to still look cool after that I’ll never know. "Your Lips Are Red" and a tender version of "Prince Johnny" were among many highlights of an incredible masterclass in performance and music for some of the emerging acts here to take note of.

Words and Pictures by Joe Lepper. All pictures are copyrighted to News and Features Ltd, if you would like to use any please email joelepper@newsandfeatures.co.uk

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Tags: Billy, Bragg, Glastonbury, Lowe, Nick

Comment by Joe Lepper on July 2, 2014 at 9:05am

Crazy editing job you've done with the pictures. Any chance of altering or putting it back to how it was so that it doesn't look so odd? Cheers.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.