Friday, July 01, 2005

glastonbury aftermath

Oof, I'm in a right flap this week, but have just about squeezed the schedule to do a quick posting. Having legged it from the remoteness of Atlantic-fringed western Scotish isles to Glastonbury with only a day in between, I've only had a few days to sort out my life before I'm off for another week to the G8 shenanigans.

I've not told you about the delights of Islay and its whisky and all that, but it'll have to wait cos I really want to get a quick Glastonbury review done.

The first two days were sunny enough to give me a tan like Andrew Ridgeley, but the rain and flooding is the story the outside world got.

And really, it was absolutely fucking it down. Eight hours of thunder and lightning right over the site, pouring onto hard ground. One camping field was half a lake with currents visibly running in it, which was sealed off after the water upended some portaloos and made the whole place a biohazard.

As with the tree-protest camps, the media image of joyous mud soaked people is baffling to those watching from the comfort of their sofas. Yet every festival has that picture of someone brown all over except for the wild eyes and pink mouth, having a whale of a time.

I consciously thought that as I watched people boisterously grooving outside a food stall to You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, how it looked like hell and even describing it would sound awful. Yet it was utterly magnificent.

The positive energy, the phenomenal determination to be really fuckin having it was everywhere. I spoke to people who'd lost everything they'd brought except for what they stood in, yet were unfazed. They'd got new sleeping bags, were crashing in marquees and carrying on.

Suffering simultaneous sunburn and trenchfoot is unlikely, but this year it was undoubtedly some people's fate.

After that one deluge there was no more rain and the festival just got on with itself.

I seemed to have a lot of bump-in magic with me this year. I randomly saw lots of friends I'd not seen in ages, as well as coming across artists whose sets at Glastonbury have impressed the underwear off me in times past, like the greatest protest singer of our age David Rovics, bluegrass metal masters Hayseed Dixie (more of them later), and it was great to personally thank Mitch Benn for single-handedly saving the festival and our sanity in the muddy years of 97 and 98 by standing in for the multitude of performers who didn't turn up at the Cabaret marquee.

Also, on Sunday I saw a white Land Rover coming down one of the main paths generating this strange shouty pool radiating from it as it passed people. I watched and as it neared I recognised the passenger as being Michael Eavis and instinctively gave him a cheer and raised my paper cup of hot spiced cider in a toast to him. Eavis was grinning broadly and waving.

Once he'd passed I realised that my response was the same automatic reaction everyone else had and it explained that weird noise that had followed it down the site.

So, although it's really not what most of the festival is about - merely what most people have in common so what gets talked about the most - what of the music?

I saw Justin Sullivan of New Model Army play the acoustic stage. After you've written a couple of hundred songs and been going 20 years then come out with an acoustic set, it's OK to be a bit reflective, to do it sat down. But not for Justin. Like TV Smith, he still keeps on the same path he set out on with the same momentum, always the real deal. The fire, the righteous anger and the fury are as strong in him as ever, the soaring voice as full of focus and purpose as ever, his legs bouncing, as if the songs prowl in him like caged big cats waiting for a chance to leap out and attack you.

It was a sprint from there to the Pyramid Stage for The White Stripes. This year for the first time I'm a mobile phone owner so I could be guided air traffic control stylee to meet people there, although the last bit needed the tall people near my friend to look round and shout 'Oi! Man in a tiara! Over here!', which is exactly the sort of line that's commonplace at Glastonbury and utterly weird elsewhere.

The White Stripes kicked a trouserful of ass. The noise that comes out of them is astonishing, Jack playing a Kay guitar - a piece of shit that you get for 30 quid from a catalogue - and using the abominable shreddy scratchy tone that makes it so dreadful to great positive edgy effect.

Jack twitches and lyrics burst out of him in a way that gives you the clear impression that he's got some high-pressure lunacy inside that he's barely holding in. He doesn't stop moving around the stage, changing instruments, constantly rolling and fizzing.

Their music is deceptive; it sounds simple with the blues riffs and Meg's 2/4-time drums, yet simple does not mean predictable, and there are little subtle twists throughout that keep it fascinating. Likewise, Jack's use of language makes it all sound like 19th century American folk songs, even though it's all very 21st century. A great band at the peak of their powers, exactly what you want to be seeing headlining Glastonbury.

Saturday night I was on the receiving end of numerous donations of recreational pharmacology and, as last year, spent the night grooving to fabulous Northern Soul in the Diner in the Lost Vagueness field. The best part of a thousand people, all exuberant enough as it is, dancing like bastards to the most uplifting soulful dance music. There is nowhere on earth I'd rather have my dancing legs on.

Northern Soul DJs can sometimes be a bit funny - it has its elitist enthusiasts who refuse to play classics thinking them too obvious. But at The Diner they do what I do when I DJ this stuff and mix it all up realising that the ones that everyone can sing along with do a job no other record can, plus they pull in peripheral genres like primal rock n roll, doo-wop and 60s pop. And frankly I can't enthuse enough about a DJ who, when I asked if they'd got Cool Jerk by The Capitols, played it next.

On the way down from the chemical orbit we repaired to Lunched Out Lizards cafe in the Green Futures field, open 24 hours and serving all manner of soothing and restorative herbal teas with mellow music. About 8am and in ambles Keith Allen. He's always given the impression of a man who's carrying a party with him wherever he goes and he loves Glastonbury so it's really no surprise to see him here, up all night, in a bolero bullfighter outfit, with a half-empty well-nursed bottle of Strongbow that's clearly been on as much of an odyssey as him tonight.

His performance in The Bullshitters, The Comic Strip's pisstake of The Professionals, was wonderful and I rewatched it so much that I can still recite much of the script. However, when he's been up all night on who knows what and is nuzzling in to his companion on the rugs of a chillout cafe he really doesn't need some random munter telling him he's a comic master, so I just carried on watching the world go by until 9am when it was time for my shift on the stall that was the whole reason I managed to get into the festival in the first place.

Seize The Day were as brilliant as ever. They still do many of the songs I saw them singing ten years ago and have heard several times during festival season every year since. Yet they always play with the same passion, the same drive, every word still meaning all it ever did; uncompromising, compassionate, militant, humane political bards for the essential co-operative politics of the 21st century.

On Sunday my dream ticket kicked in; the sun baked all day so the mud dried and I lay in the summer sunshine listening to Van Morrison. You really don't need to watch him, just lie back and let the sun warm your face as the music rolls over you soothing you to the core. Then he was followed by Brian Wilson.

I've seen him several times and am still amazed by his band. You stand there watching and cannot understand how this music is coming out. The music is so blended, all as one piece as music was before you got all clever and could figure out the separate instrumental parts, like a cloud rather than a Meccano construct. But the greater amazement is for the singing. How do a small group of humans open their mouths and make that noise?

Brian is still very much the musical director and he can still sing like Brian Wilson too.

His SMiLE gig last year was literally jaw-dropping for me. I just gaped as my mind was blown. I've always found the surf songs a bit daft and one dimensional, as if George Harrison in 1971 was doing Cry For A Shadow. But out here in the Pyramid Field on a sunny afternoon they were ideal, everyone singing along as loud as they could, so warm, so inclusive, so up.

Top marks went to the two separate groups of people who'd brought surf boards. They carried them like pall bearers through the crowd with a mate stood on top. The wilfulness, the half a second of idea versus a shitload of organisation, it really made me laugh. Even smarter than the banner I did for Simple Minds in the mid 90s; remind me to explain by posting a picture of that soonly.

A wind down then Tori Amos in the Acoustic Tent. Such incredible presence, every song swirling around the keyboard and filling the tent, prickling your heart. Except for the inspired and incongruous cover of 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy). In fact, it was something of a weekend of odd covers with The White Stripes' Jolene, Justin Sullivan's Masters of War and Elvis Costello's You Really Got A Hold On Me.

But biscuit takers on that front were Hayseed Dixie. American bluegrass band, as good as you've ever seen bluegrass played. I saw them with a mandolin player friend - proper one, got an album out, makes a living from it and everything - who said she'd never seen mandolin played that well. Yet Hayseed Dixie are, as they phonetically imply, a metal covers band. Highway To Hell, Ace of Spades, War Pigs, Fat Bottomed Girls. Storming stuff.

Couldn't get over to see 2ManyDJs as the missing out of Saturday night's sleep hit me like a frying pan round the head.

As I said, the music's not really what it's about. But the great humour and little weirdnesses that combine to make the bulk of the experience are difficult to convey as individually they don't sound like much. Except for that guy doing the peep show; in the middle of a field with a mike and amp he calls out to you to come see the show. There's a box about a metre cubed on legs, and you look into the eyeglasses and click! it opens and there's, well... imagine if Jim Henson had made a puppet of Thora Hird in a Moulin Rouge outfit impersonating a sheela-na-gig.

Sticks with you, that one.

Another week-long break now as I pootle to the G8. I'm really not sure about joining the march thingy. With Geldof and Bono heaping praise on the G7 deal that will make things far worse for Africa's poor, I'm not actually sure what the march stands for any more.

Still, there's lots else going to be going on that I'm damn sure I will be proud to be a part of.

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