Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

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2010 07july 01 glastonbury2011reg Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011The only way to understand Glastonbury properly is to take part in it. For three days, CoS Senior Staff Writer Tony Hardy breathed the Somerset air, battled rain, mud, and sun and managed to see the bands you can read about below. It’s really a snapshot but one that we hope gives you a flavor of the richness of the place and might encourage you to make the trip when the festival returns in 2013. That’s right, it’s taking a break next year while the London Olympics take center stage and the Glastonbury pastures recover from this year’s human invasion.

The first thing that greets you as you arrive at Glastonbury is the sheer scale of the place. Access to the site is smoothly efficient, depending on how many people are trying to get in at once of course, and then the view from the hill greets you. It’s a vast panorama of sprawling humanity; a sea of colorful tents, stages, big tops, insect-sized people, and once grassy fields turned to expanses of mud. As dark clouds gathered overhead around Friday lunchtime to dispel the morning sun, it looked daunting. Even a fest too far?

The festival is in its 41st year. Back in 1970, it cost £1 to get in and that included free milk from the dairy farm that plays host to the festival. The two-day event pulled around 1,500 people to see acts that included Marc Bolan, Al Stewart, and Quintessence (two points if you can whistle “Dive Deep”). In 2011, a ticket will set you back £195 (more than $300) and over 170,000 of them sold out in hours. The growing commercialism of the festival has given rise to cries that Glastonbury has sold out and now exists to take the corporate dollar from growing numbers of celebrities sporting designer wellies, posing for the paps and pitching up in their helicopters and Winnebagos.

glastonburyculture Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Laura Page

The truth is somewhat different. True it’s increasingly a white, middle class audience; people who can afford to get in and purchase a range of festival-goer paraphernalia from fold-up chairs to tipis. And copious quantities of beer and cider to wash down ethnic and not so ethnic fast food. Yet the age demographic is much broader. While young people are predominant, you get families with babies and young children through to the odd octogenarian. Mums in their forties or early fifties enjoying a Mother’s Day treat with their college-age daughters are much in evidence and baby boomer parents are everywhere.

There are still vestiges of the Spirit of ‘71 when Glastonbury was a free festival, David Bowie was among the progressive rock, and folk acts that formed the core line-up and the very first Pyramid stage came into being. Dread-locked travelers, troubadours, green activists, performance artists, and all manner of eccentric exhibitionists are here in numbers. Some are involved in helping to build or set up the festival, or are performing on the fringes. You have to admire the organization of the festival, especially given the scale of it. For all the signs that may point in ever so slightly the wrong direction and lead you to dead ends, and the High School kids working on site who haven’t quite studied their own map well enough to tell you where the John Peel stage lies, the logistics are a thing of wonder. Bands appear on time, the sound systems are awesome, the security guys chat to you and ply the audience with fresh water, and there’s always someone around to help you.

ag glasto scenes 08 Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Adam Gasson

You will find all things at Glastonbury and the weekend is very much what you want it to be. How you spend your time is dictated by whether you’re here for the music, or more for the experience. OK, we’d want both but the geography of the site allied to the effects of rain on earth puts breaks on those choices somewhat. There were over 2,000 acts performing on something like 60 stages across Glastonbury’s 500-acre site. These were some of them…

-Tony Hardy
Senior Staff Writer

Feature image by Laura Page.

Friday, June, 24th

The Vaccines – Other Stage – 2:50 p.m.

ag glasto vaccines 02 Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Adam Gasson

With a plethora of new talent to supplement the established and older guard at Glastonbury, post-punksters The Vaccines seemed a reasonable first stop on Friday. Getting on site through the ankle-deep mud had prevented earlier hoped for incursions into the further reaches of the festival site. Formed just a year ago, the band hit big over here with their debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?. The four-piece breezed through some accessible tunes with “If You Wanna” getting a wintry looking large crowd on its feet. (Not that they were exactly sitting down in the mud earlier.) Come to think of it, singer-guitarist Justin Young calls to mind Editors’ Tom Smith. Nonetheless, The Vaccines may be something of a one-trick trip, but it was a fun set and no rocket science was used in the making.

Andrew Morris – Mandala Stage – 3:30 p.m.

andrew morris Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011This year, the sound traveled a long way from the Other Stage, which was second only to the Pyramid in size and billing. Looking at the schedule it was going to be hard to find time to visit the hippy paradise that is the Green Futures. So I decided to listen to the last couple of Vaccines numbers while traversing towards the Mandala Stage (no misspelling as it has nothing to do with Nelson) to catch what I could of Andrew Morris’ set. Green Futures is like a large version of an English village fayre, has less people (and mud), and you can get a coffee for £1. The acts on the three stages dotted across the Futures can be hit and miss but are invariably endearing. Andrew Morris brought a touch of class to the proceedings with an assured set of songs, delivered with strident solo guitar and customary vocal passion and verve. A regular at Glastonbury, this guy needs to move up to a bigger stage right now.

Little Dragon – West Holts – 4:45 p.m.

Leaving the relative serenity of the green fields behind after a brief food stop, the walk towards the Pyramid Stage took you past some niche stages and into a fairly big open expanse, leading up to West Holts. This stage featured global music with the accent on the more chilled dimensions of dance music. It was also due to host some of the weekend’s biggest names across the spectrum, from Cee-Lo Green to Kool and the Gang. On stage at the time were Swedish ambient soul outfit, Little Dragon. The band created some sweet music on-stage with vocalist Yukimi Nagano showing off some odd, snake-hipped moves, and at one point she danced with a tablecloth over her head. At times, the bass synth threatened to advance the onset of tinnitus but overall the band came across as having more of a light touch than that with crisp percussion and soft grooves to the fore. An extended “Feather” and the end piece “Swimming” were stand-outs and the band fully deserved its warm reception by the end of the set.

Biffy Clyro – Pyramid Stage – 6:15 p.m.

biffy clyro Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Scots trio Biffy Clyro took the stage topless in a show of north of the border machismo, or they might just have been hot. Curiously a guest guitarist was also on stage looking out of place in a white suit. Hot or not, the crowd was slowly getting damper though in good spirits, showing that this band works off a strong grassroots base. Much of the set was drawn from their last album, Only Revolutions. “The Captain” was a particularly storming opener and got the crowd singing the choruses. Tattooed main man Simon Neil sings in a kind of mid-Atlantic drawl but his diction is clear and the rhythm section adds some strong harmonies. At Glasto, Biffy Clyro came across as rock archetypes yet dealt some anthemic tunes, played with passion, and worked hard to hold the audience. I snuck off though to catch the opening of Fleet Foxes thinking I had heard enough for the night.

Fleet Foxes – Other Stage – 7:15 p.m.

ag glasto fleetfoxes 02 Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Adam Gasson

Wading through thick mud in wellies is hardly conducive to covering distances in a short time so it’s helpful that these two stages weren’t that far apart; not as good news for some of the more outlying stages, however. Fleet Foxes would have been ideally suited to a balmy summer’s evening but they did their best to disperse the drizzle with the chiming instrumental “The Cacades”, followed by a sublime “Grown Ocean”, and worked their way through a proficient set drawn from their two albums. There was a cry from the audience to turn the vocals up to which Robin Pecknold playfully twisted an imaginary switch on his chest. Whatever he did, it worked wonders. “Mykonos” inspired some chorus singing and the ever-growing audience really came alive during “White Winter Hymnal” with its contrastingly summery Beach Boy soundbites. The set died off a little bit from then on in terms of dynamics but it was still rich, accomplished stuff, savoured by the crowd and capped by the excellent “Helplessness Blues” to finish.

Radiohead – The Park – 8:00 p.m.

radiohead Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Around the time Fleet Foxes were starting to draw their set to an end, “mystery guests” Radiohead were kicking off theirs on the most southerly stage on the site, The Park, curated by Emily Eavis herself. We know how CoS readers love their Radiohead so you will find the full story and videos here.

Just to add to a feeling that someone had just spilt the entire cookie jar, Morrissey was also ready for action on the Pyramid Stage. It’s at times like these that you regret being bound by the laws of physics (and mud).

Mumford & Sons – Other Stage – 8:45 p.m.

g532a mumford Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Compensation was at hand at the Other Stage with the imminent arrival of the UK’s current favourite sons, Mumford & Sons. The crowd had been big for Fleet Foxes but was looking enormous for Mumfords. It was a reminder that with 177k people on site you get more than one massive crowd forming at any one time. Mumford’s set proved to be a triumphant homecoming. The sheer energy these guys expend and the passion they play with is an absolute joy. How often they must have performed most of these songs, drawn from Sign No More and with four newbies thrown in, and yet they sounded fresh and as vigorous as ever.

There’s an enduring humility about Mumford & Sons, as evidenced through their brief opening display of nerves: the way Marcus Mumford addressed the audience and how the whole band radiated the privilege and pride of playing live. Highlights? I counted 14 but “Sign No More”, “Little Lion Man”, “White Blank Page”, “Roll Away Your Stone”, and “Awake My Soul” particularly roused the passion of the throng that the band just fed from. Of the new songs, “Lover’s Eyes” came across as an immediate crowd pleaser with a majestic hymnal quality to it, a great build, and one hell of a sustain. Eventually, “The Cave” brought the house down at the end, inspiring such communal pride, singing, dancing, and crowd hugging as I’ve never seen before. Simply brilliant.

U2 – Pyramid Stage – 10:00 p.m.

u2glastonbury Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Adam Gasson

Follow that. Well you could do worse than have U2 next on the agenda. Getting to the Pyramid stage from Mumfords’ gig and sacrificing Primal Scream in the process, wasn’t quite a breeze. I arrived late and missed an abortive attempt by direct action group, UK Uncut, to raise an inflated banner asking Bono and crew to pay their taxes! U2 had been criticised for moving its commercial operations to the Netherlands, where royalties on music incur virtually no tax. The band were running through songs from Achtung Baby, with some urgency maybe trading off nerves with adrenalin. The music was greeted with enthusiasm from large pockets of the vast crowd but compared to Mumfords, no one nearby seemed to be having quite the time of their life.

u2glastonburygasson Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Adam Gasson

Maybe this is a generational thing, or maybe it was the rain, but things hardly improved when Bono treated everyone to an accompanied rendition of “Jerusalem”. For humility, read sanctimony. Actually that might not be fair to the man but for me the set pieces in this show were not coming off. Referencing leylines alongside jetlag and engaging help from a space station astronaut to recite lyrics from “Beautiful Day” make it seem like the blarney has taken over. The Edge was on form, however, and “Where the Streets Have No Name” really hit the spot along with similar out-and-out classics like “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Beautiful Day”, and “With Or Without You”. Committed U2 fans seemed to relish songs like  “Elevation”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, and “Vertigo”, but U2 might have scored bigger with the less fervent members of the crowd if they’d kept a couple of the surefires back for the encore. The last three were a bit more “without” than “with you”.

SixNationState – Greenpeace Stage – 12:45 a.m.

Reprising tracks from their self-titled debut album and some new pipeline material, the entertaining London four-piece known as SixNationState delighted a small but enthusiastic crowd down at the Greenpeace stage. The brave souls who sloshed their way in pelting rain down to the small stage were rewarded by permission to sing and dance themselves silly. Opener “Keep Dancing” set the tone while frontman Gerry del-Guercio entertained with his energetic style and fine baritone voice. SixNationState has that rare ability to make an immediate impression even with unfamiliar songs.  The band trades in foot-tapping strong and simple melodies and deserves a proper crack at the big time.

Saturday, June 25th

Alice Gold – Other Stage – 11:00 a.m.

alice gold 2 Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011In her own words, Alice Gold trades in soulful, psychedelic pop and her first-up Saturday morning set alongside a sharp four-piece band blew away the cobwebs. Gold cuts a striking figure on stage in her black leather shorts, long boots, bodice bedecked with gold chains and a net material overcoat that could have come out of Stevie Nicks’ locker. Big blonde tresses flowing and slickly switching from strapping on a guitar to stage strutting, the singer breezed through songs from her debut album Seven Rainbows. Alice Gold operates at the rocky edge of pop and on first hearing her songs were intriguing enough to lead you to want more.

Photo by Shakeypix Images

Treetop Flyers – Other Stage – 12:20 p.m.

A spot on the Other Stage was the reward for Treetop Flyers, winners of this year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. The proficient five-piece ticks a number of current in-vogue boxes, not least for beards and close harmonies, but their songs are less contemporary, more of a throwback to classic Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Band. The brisk “It’s About Time” is a case in point. It’s all very pleasant listenable stuff and there is some nice flowing lead guitar drifting in and out at times, but some songs are in need of a cutting edge to strike home. Still, a promising set and one that’s well received by a gathering audience.

Yuck – John Peel Stage – 1:05 p.m.

The lunchtime weather was cloudy but dry and, with sun expected later on, the act of traversing the site was beginning to get easier. With so much mud around, though, the next band seemed an apt choice. En route to the John Peel Stage I was struck by how many young girls were into Yuck but maybe they were referring to glutinous brown stuff stuck to their flowery wellies. Yuck is an archetypical guitar band of the kind propagated by Glastonbury over the years. The band members appeared laid back on stage in that lo-fi slacker kind of way, yet the three boy-two girl line-up was visually interesting, and the band appeared suitably modest: “We’re not used to this many people.” This didn’t stop Yuck from delivering a storming, crowd-pleasing, riff-filled set, interspersed with some mellower moments, especially when they deployed the slide guitar. A packed tent leapt around to strong tracks like “Georgia” and “Milkshake” and more people assembled in the bog outside as the set progressed. The band ended with an extended version of “Rubber” and exited to a deserved ovation.

Jessie J – Other Stage – 3:00 p.m.

jessie j Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Rising UK R&B star Jessie J entered the stage on crutches after a recent fall and sat astride a huge gold and red throne to deliver her set. Wearing a surgical boot and one glossy welly, the singer’s show-must-go-on attitude was admirable even if her seat was a bit OTT. The strange black and white jumpsuit also made her look like an extra from Tron and if it had been a night gig, you’d have expected the outfit to light up. The sun came out as Jessie J pulled an enormous crowd who stuck around to hear hits from the singer’s debut record, Who You Are. Identity seems to play quite a role in her songs but the audience were more interested in the grooves. Crowd-pleasing moments came thick and fast from smearing mud over her face to show solidarity to inviting a little girl on stage to sing along to her ultra catchy single “Price Tag”. Actually she did really well and the main event wasn’t too bad either.

Charlie Dore & The Hula Valley Orchestra – Spirit of ‘71 – 3:40 p.m.

charlie dore Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

The Spirit Of ’71 Stage brought together several performers from Nick Lowe to Melanie who had appeared 40 years ago, in the days when everything came free. There were several acts I wanted to catch there – notably The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Robyn Hitchcock & The Imaginary Band – but they all clashed with the must sees on the schedule, so it was good to at least to stop by en route to the Acoustic Stage. The break was made even better by running into Charlie Dore and her marvellous bluegrass band. Dore has a gorgeous country-sweet lilt to her voice and the swinging “Pilot Of The Airwaves” followed by a heartfelt “Lone Ranger” were sheer afternoon delights.

Emily & The Woods – Acoustic Stage – 4:00 p.m.

emily the woods from amelia rose king Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Amelia Rose King

Emily & The Woods is 22-year old singer-songwriter, Emily Wood, with a capable quartet that includes her brother on guitar. Her first demo tracks were recorded with Laura Marling in the singer’s kitchen in two years ago and there are hints of Marling in the fragility of songs like “Eye to Eye” and “I Can’t”.  Vocally though Wood comes across as a less stylised Regina Spektor with a sweet girlish tone yet deceptive with an inner strength and a hint of rasp to it. Her songs are as strong as they are sensitive on an opening inspection, and with her dark eyes and pre-raphaelite curls, Wood can work an audience with the best of them. She showed a girlish pleasure in the warm response her set invoked and exhibited a sincere charm that will likely take her far. Great band too.

DeVotchKa – Avalon Stage – 5:10 p.m.

Next up was a first trip to the Avalon Stage, unfortunately quite a trek from the Acoustic. The sun was doing little to improve conditions underfoot, which a Racing man would still describe as heavy. The Avalon hosts a really eclectic collection of performers from across the globe and Barenaked Ladies no less had graced the stage the previous night. (Another one sadly missed.) Still, it was worth waiting to see an act as eccentric and compelling as DeVotchKa. The name may be familiar because the combo supplied the Grammy nominated soundtrack to that oddball comedy, Little Miss Sunshine.

The Denver-based group has played all over the world, opened for Muse in front of 90,000 in Paris, and remain veterans of Glastonbury. Guitarist-vocalist Nick Urata is an engaging, off the wall front man while the whole band mixes a wonderful cocktail of gypsy, polka, mariachi music, rock, and something close to punk rock. It’s not often you see a lady swopping the sousaphone for a bowed double bass between songs either. Or hear a guitar effect pedal create the sound of a manically manoeuvred electric saw. The music felt highly charged and had an enthusiastic crowd dancing wildly in the mud; indeed with a tad too much abandon for the girl to my right who had chosen the wrong day to wear white. Mere words can’t do this set justice so check out how it ended above.

Pulp – The Park – 7:45 p.m.

Around seven, it was about time for a break to enjoy a delicious light meal al fresco with friends camped in the dairy ground. This was an area of the site that still had grass between the tents and was conveniently close to The Park where Pulp was about to don the mantle as the Festival’s second surprise band. The hillside above the Park Stage was already filling up before I joined the throng. Lower down there were so many people trying to flood through the arches that provide the main route into The Park, that security had to turn punters away. Even supermodel Kate Moss was unable to charm her way backstage.

But to the main event. Pulp did not disappoint, engendering communal singing and adulation of a kind only to be matched by Coldplay later in the evening. You could hear the audience for miles, let alone the band, during a resounding “Disco 2000” and the inevitably fantastic closer, “Common People”. Several more were included from the Different Class ’95 vintage but it was equally rewarding to hear “Sunrise” from We Love Life with its meandering, deliberate build and brilliant soar away conclusion. Jarvis Cocker was urbanity incarnate in his between song patter and the whole band played with a confidence and verve that comes from having been there, done it and grown in the process. A triumphant set.

Back at the Pyramid Stage, Elbow was cooking up an anthemic storm as the sun went down. I realized I hadn’t been to the Pyramid all day and didn’t reach it in time to catch anything other than the end of the band’s set. Spies tell me it was one of the best ever so it is well worth checking out online footage.

Coldplay – Pyramid Stage – 10:15 p.m.

coldplay Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011The great affinity Elbow enjoys with Glastonbury is closely matched by Coldplay’s own relationship with the place. Back to grace the Pyramid as headliners for a third time, the Brits stirred the expectancy in the crowd with a Star Wars style orchestral build. Then it was straight into a new song (“Hurts Like Heaven”), accompanied by fireworks and great roars from the crowd. Lack of familiarity means nothing, as the sound came off as urgent and classic Coldplay. In any case, impassioned communal singing was sparked immediately by “Yellow”, still a crowd-pleaser par excellence.

Like most things successful and British, Coldplay suffers its fair share of detractors. Those who accuse the band of plagarism, blandness, or causing the world’s economic crisis, failing to solve the Middle East question, or whatever, should have been simply standing in this field in Somerset. Rather like Mumfords’ the previous night, this was a performance that could be savored with pride. Mixing in new songs with the very best of the old, impetus was rarely lost. Even a stumble and start again moment during one of the newbies “Us Against The World” was taken in stride as though the band had been on stage in a small club. Throughout the set Chris Martin’s between song chat was sincere and self-effacing.

Mass crowd singing hit a peak with “Viva La Vida” which was followed by a really strong new song, “Charlie Brown”. For encores, “Clocks” and “Fix You” were quite magical and the recent underrated “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” worked just fine live and proved to be a fitting and popular closer. Snatches of “Viva La Vida” could be heard for the next hour as the enormous crowd dispersed on a collective high through mud that seemed to have unexpectedly got thicker. Though I doubt if many noticed.

Photo by Jason Bryant

Sunday, June 26th

Claire Maguire – Other Stage – 12:00 a.m.

Farm machinery, no doubt under cover of loud dance music, had clearly been deployed overnight to compact the mud on the main walkways and buoyed by a beaming sun in a cloudless sky, the brave few were even discarding their boots by Sunday morning. Not Birmingham, UK siren Claire Maguire though. She strutted on to the Other Stage at noon wearing studded thigh highs. The uber femme fatale look was completed by an ultra short black dress, a white jacket, and a vintage hat with net covering a goth toned face, framed with dramatic black locks and lit up by ruby lips. It was a big entrance for the time of day but Maguire has a big soulful voice, which she used to high kick into “Ain’t Nobody” off her debut album, Light After Dark. No doubt her voice is impressive but there was a bit of competition going on as the backing band came off rather loud, especially the synthesizers. All in all, it was a set that likely would have worked after dark rather than with the sun beginning to beat down.

The Low Anthem – Pyramid Stage – 12:10 p.m.

low anthem 2 Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Shakeypix Images

I’d intended to catch some of the The Low Anthem on the Avalon Stage, feeling they might have worked better in more intimate surroundings. However, seeing them on the Pyramid stage, especially at this hour, was intriguing enough. Arriving just as they were pummeling through one of their more rockier tunes, “Hey All You Hippies”, I found them to be in fine fettle with Jocie Adams, adding a surprisingly potent second vocal to Ben Knox Miller’s assured lead. The Low Anthem comprises itself of four gifted musicians who swap and share instruments like candy, but Adams stands out as truly exceptional. Her clarinet in “Ohio” melts hearts, trumpet triplets really lift the anthemic “Boeing 707”, and her voice wraps itself sympathetically around anything she sings. All four are strong singers and harmonise superbly, as was the case on their cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire”.

Sea of Bees – The Park – 1:30 p.m.

sea of bees Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Tony Hardy

Sea of Bees is the curiously incongruous moniker of Sacramento, CA singer-songwriter Julie Ann Baenziger, who is accompanied by Amber Padgett. Visually the girls promise quirkiness with the androgynous look of Baenziger contrasted with Padgett’s conventional blonde honey. Baenziger takes the lead vocally and strums an acoustic forcefully, so tending to drown out her stage partner’s sparser electric guitar. Her voice is a bit reminiscent of Joanna Newsom, or at times Kate Bush, and has a deceptive childlike quality about it. Sometimes the styling is at the expense of diction. You sense that Sea of Bees has interesting tales to tell but you equally are drawn to the lead voice almost as an instrument. Amber Padgett added some sweet harmonies right up to the final song, which Baenziger took upon herself to see solo. Fascinating and could have stayed longer.

The Joy Formidable – John Peel Stage – 2:00 p.m.

The legendary Glastonbury scheduling came adrift for once as I’d hoped to detour to the John Peel en route back to the Pyramid for 3:00 p.m.. The plan was to catch some of The Joy Formidable – a band name that I always thought was one that Mr. Peel himself would have approved of. However blisters and leaden feet, combined with the Welsh shoegazing trio starting later than scheduled, meant that I only heard them briefly and from afar. My “spies” told me the Joy were indeed formidable, delivering a full-on energetic set. There is little instructive to be gained right now by watching this brief video clip but hopefully in time there may be something better in the right hand menu. You may even see TJF guitarist and front lady Ritzy Bryan end the show by flinging her instrument at a gong.

Laura Marling – Pyramid Stage – 3:00 p.m.

laura marling Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Rather like The Low Anthem earlier in the day, I had wondered how Laura Marling would work on the big stage. I shouldn’t have. Just like her songwriting the girl herself has really blossomed and, opening with “Devil’s Spoke” fronting a fulsome band, she owned the stage from the very start in her quietly modest way. Dressed simply in a plain white top, jeans, and flat pumps, with her straw coloured hair simply pinned back, she’s the English rose you would take home for tea with your mum. If they weren’t fans already, the immense crowd sweltering in the baking afternoon sun that now bathed the Pyramid arena took her straight to their hearts.

Marling’s 14 song set included a smattering of new ones from her forthcoming album A Creature I Don’t Know, and selected gems from her first two recordings. The newer material did not pale in comparison with her established songs but there were clearly some favourites like “Rambling Man”, “Alpha Shadows” and “Ghosts” that fully resonated. Closing with “I Speak Because I Can” you sensed that Laura Marling had signalled a coming of age that will elevate her to future greatness. She is already one of the very best of her generation and this was as good as it gets, and more.

Paul Simon – Pyramid Stage – 4:30 p.m.

Laura Marling followed by Paul Simon seemed like a troubadour double bill made in heaven. Simon took the stage with an extensive band line-up and got off to a great start with “Boy In The Bubble” despite murmuring about not being at the top of his game after a throat infection. It was a big production lit up by a blistering guitar solo plus some dazzling bass from Simon’s longstanding band member, Bakithi Kumalo. “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” followed but Simon played with the delivery and lost the dynamic of the song. The next couple seemed to exist in some lazy swamp-rock back alley and even “Hearts And Bones”, one of my favourite Paul Simon songs, was so laid back it just became lost in translation.

paul simon Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Maybe it was the intense heat lulling the audience or Simon’s own colic but the set slipped some, sliding away until it was woken up by a glittering version of “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, played close to the original and all the better for it. The crowd came to life and Simon continued in the same vein with “Gumboots”. He butchered “Kodachrome”, linking it with “Gone At Last” for his first encore, but pulled it back for the absolute crowd favourite, “You Can Call Me Al”, which again brings Kumalo’s miracle slap bass back into the limelight. Paul Simon is still a legend and everyone needs a long drink.

Show of Hands – Avalon Stage – 6:15 p.m.

show of hands from babs firth Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Babs Firth

Sustenance supplied, a leisurely stroll back down to the Field of Avalon ensued. It was still roasting with only small pockets of mud left to remind you the entire site was awash on Friday. It was too late to catch Ron Sexsmith who was unfortunately billed soon after Paul Simon appeared but pleasure awaited in the shape of Show of Hands. The English folk duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, augmented by the double bass and vocal harmonies of Miranda Sykes, has built a fabled following. Quality vocals, strong harmonies, and multi-instrumental virtuosity make Show of Hands major players on the UK folk circuit. There was a strong political thread running through their song choices, both traditional and self-penned, as evidenced by songs as disparate as “Arrogance, Ignorance & Greed”, “Galway Farmer” and “Cousin Jack”. The band delivered a dozen songs that allowed plenty of audience participation and they left to tumultuous applause, with an encore duly demanded.

Kaiser Chiefs – Other Stage – 8:30 p.m.

kaiser chiefs Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

Kaiser Chiefs, the Leeds, UK five-piece had landed a near-perfect slot for themselves. The sun hadn’t set yet, there was a big crowd out there, and no one needed to head off quite yet to see Beyoncé. Not to mention, there was always Queens of the Stone Age to look forward to for people who wanted to stick by the Other Stage. Kaiser Chiefs are the sort of band that feed off the audience and having taken a two-year break from touring, there was a sense they’re bursting to get back out there. It came across right from the opener, an old favourite “Everyday I Love You Less And Less”.

Mixing in some old hits with new material from their innovative ‘pick your own’ release, The Future Is Medieval, the band kept the tempo hot and the crowd sizzling. Naturally, familiar songs like “Ruby” and the storming “I Predict A Riot” received the best reaction but the new stuff was accepted with near fervour. Kaiser played out with an interminable version of “Oh My God”. Just enough for the evening.

Beyoncé – Pyramid Stage – 9:45 p.m.

beyonce 2 Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011

Photo by Jason Bryant

And so to the final act. Queens of the Stone Age v. The Streets v. Kool and the Gang v. pop royalty. At Glastonbury, there is at least enough audience to go round. So, Beyoncé, how was it for you? The lady was certainly not holding back at the start. Opening with her biggest hit, “Crazy In Love”, and rising up from the stage accompanied by fireworks, with her white clad female band joining in the lavish choreography, made you think that Barack Obama would appear any minute alongside Michael Eavis to announce world peace had been secured. Sadly not, but Beyoncé did follow with “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” in a rigorous workout between two other ladies with unreasonably big hair. Obama did make it on screen later though as images of civil rights protests were played over her cover of Etta James’ “At Last”.

beyonce Festival Review: CoS at Glastonbury 2011There was no let up in what was an incredibly slick show other than perhaps a weird short guest appearance by ex-Massive Attacker Tricky, who seemed to be working off a different script. A similar bizzare moment was provided when Beyoncé went walkabout near the end of the show while still singing and being held awkwardly by a minder as she was serially pawed by the mainly female audience members lining up along the front of the barrier. The lady also pandered to rock fans with a not half-bad blast of “Sex on Fire”. In truth, she put on a great show, went down a storm with the audience, and dutifully shook booty in an almost frightening display of physical prowess. She seemed to enjoy the experience as much as the audience and came across as a real person, not some distant diva. So whatever the misgivings, Beyoncé rocks for sure!

Photo by Jason Bryant

The Culture of Glastonbury

Photos by: Adam Gasson, Amelia Rose King, Laura Page, and Shakeypix Images

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