The 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. Its 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. Thats right, its taking a break next year while the London Olympics take center stage and the Glastonbury pastures recover from this years 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. Its 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.
Photo by Laura Page
The truth is somewhat different. True its 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 Mothers 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 havent 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 theres always someone around to help you.
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 youre here for the music, or more for the experience. OK, wed 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 Glastonburys 500-acre site. These were some of them
Senior Staff Writer
Feature image by Laura Page.
Friday, June, 24th
The Vaccines Other Stage 2:50 p.m.
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.
This 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 weekends 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.
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.
Photo by Adam Gasson
Wading through thick mud in wellies is hardly conducive to covering distances in a short time so its helpful that these two stages werent 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 summers 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.
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. Its at times like these that you regret being bound by the laws of physics (and mud).
Mumford & Sons Other Stage 8:45 p.m.
Photo by Jason Bryant
Compensation was at hand at the Other Stage with the imminent arrival of the UKs 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, Lovers 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 Ive never seen before. Simply brilliant.
U2 Pyramid Stage 10:00 p.m.
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, wasnt 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.
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 Havent 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 theyd 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.
In 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 years 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 Its About Time is a case in point. Its 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 thats 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: Were 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.
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 singers 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, youd 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 singers 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 wasnt too bad either.
Charlie Dore & The Hula Valley Orchestra Spirit of 71 3:40 p.m.
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.
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 singers kitchen in two years ago and there are hints of Marling in the fragility of songs like Eye to Eye and I Cant. 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. Its 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 cant 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 Festivals 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 hadnt been to the Pyramid all day and didnt reach it in time to catch anything other than the end of the bands 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.
The great affinity Elbow enjoys with Glastonbury is closely matched by Coldplays 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 worlds 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 Martins 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