Wednesday, July 14, 2010

glastonbury 2010

Glastonbury was fabulously hot all week, which was regarded as unusual by those who've only been to recent ones, but for us old timers felt like a return to form. Feeling your brain melt like margarine and your consciousness ooze and slow to the languid pace and level that the elements demand, it was beautiful.

The heat lends itself well to that finest of Glastonbury activities, aimless bimbling. It's in the hours of wandering that you soak up the vibe of the crowd and see the bits of random incidental stuff that makes it so wonderful. The person playing a piano bike. A piano but with pedals underneath to propel the wheels, steered by turning in the seat. Why was it built? Where else could it possibly be utilised? Brilliantly baffling. It's that stuff that really makes the festival.

Because Glastonbury is done on such a colossal scale, they can really afford to fill it with a squillion little bits of fascinating stuff. This means that, more than any other festival, you could go and not see any of the acts whose names are listed in the poster and programme yet still have an amazing time.

That stuff is difficult to pin down in words, whereas describing the stuff you see on stages is a lot easier, so here we go.

Rolf Harris

When I was in a band back in neolithic times, we eschewed the idea of saving our best songs till last. Always open with a big crowd pleaser, it gets the audience right up straight away, and the vibe can readily be made to stay there. Last year's billing for Bjorn Again - and indeed 1993's for Rolf himself - is the same principle. It's a masterstroke to put a popular and silly act on to open the Pyramid stage on Friday morning.

Tens of thousands of people singing Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport to the tune of Land of Hope And Glory. Perfect.

Let's just ignore the, ahem, mounting evidence that Harris is somewhat fixated with autoerotic behaviour.

Femi Kuti

Not many people watched Rolf followed by Kuti, which isn't surprising. Can't really see them touring together or anything. The field pretty much emptied, and we were left with sunshine, space to dance and bright, hard, contagious, funky, bouncy afrobeat belting out. I genuinely thought I'd not see anything better all weekend.

Nouvelle Vague

And yet this airy, soft jazzy approach to new wave classics also sounded like it was made for this weather. The silliness of the covers fit so well into the festival mindset, but the music was genuinely sweet and balmy. And there was a funny frisson in thinking that I'd seen The Specials do Friday Night Saturday Morning at Glastonbury last year and then Nouvelle Vague do it this year.

Some of my team left as there was a rumour that the special guest on at The Park was

Thom Yorke

Imagine if Thom Yorke was playing in a field five minutes walk from where you're sat now, and that you could just nip over and catch it. What would you do? Yet it's a measure of the festival mindset that we stopped for food on the way.

The topography of the Park field meant you could only see if you were on shoulders, but that didn't really detract from the sense of A Special Moment when he played Karma Police and Fade Out.

The aching majestic sweep of the songs is now augmented by the fact that they've been in our bloodstreams for so very long. Truly special guests, Radiohead's music makes the vast majority of other music, even the good stuff, seem trite and stupid.

Broken Bells

These folks were on after Thom Yorke and I'd not even heard of them before but some of the gang said they'd be good, and indeed they were great, sort of like Air but with a strong sense of melody, rich and varied yet catchy and unpretentious. And, continuing the theme established by Nouvelle Vague and The Specials, Broken Bells did a cover of You Really Got A Hold On Me, which I saw Elvis Costello do at Glastonbury five years ago.

Devendra Banhart

Vivacious eccentric lifting pop, with a hilarious distressingly authentic cover of Tell It To My Heart inexplicably dropped into the set like an anvil on your head. That was mopped up by following it with Lover, one of my favourite songs of recent years, so cheeky and sexy, so effervescent and catchy.

But then it was time to miss the end and gallop if we were gonna be over at the Other Stage to see

The National

Introduced to this band by the impeccable taste of Zoe Goldfish, we followed their 2005 tour when the magnificent Alligator came out.

At Glastonbury it was mostly stuff from the last two albums that I'm much less familiar with, but that didn't matter. On record they have such a brooding, hunched over, mysterious quality, but live it's the power that comes forth. It's astonishing how a band can be so intelligent and literary feeling and yet rock so fucking hard, how they can swap brands of intensity so well.

Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra

Now this was something truly remarkable from the mastermind behind the Specials and 2 Tone. I'd heard good things about his recent stuff, and found it interesting that he refused to join the Specials reunion as he wanted to do something that moved music forwards.

An 18 piece orchestra, half of them brass section, the other half having upright bass, tympani, guitars and of course Jerry amidst an encircling tower of old school keyboards.

There is a very potent influence from Sun Ra here, as they came on in ancient Egyptian garb and a sizeable chunk of the set was Sun Ra covers. However, it didn't have the sprawl of much of Sun Ra's work, there was a tight, sharp reggae basis to it, fused with a snaring funky jazz edge.

There was a fabulous mash up of Sun Ra's Nuclear War and The Specials' Man At C&A, and a sweeping rework of Ghost Town (which, continuing the 'heard this here before' theme, I saw The Specials do last year). On came legendary Jamaican trombone player Rico, whose career has straddled the gap with him playing on the earliest reggae records as well as on 2 Tone classics (he even played on both versions of A Message To You Rudy).

A fabulous reggae reworking of Arthur Brown's Fire followed, with Brown himself coming on to sing the breakdown.

They closed with Sun Ra's Space Is The Place, leaving the stage one at a time, some bringing drums, then out into the audience leading a snaking column around the field all chanting 'space is the place, space is the place, space is the place'. An extraordinarily exhilarating visionary performance.

Quick nip over to Chapati Man for refuelling, which was opposite the Leftfield tent, popped in to catch the last four songs from

Billy Bragg

I Keep Faith is a song close to my heart, a tender affirming song of consolation.

As always, his between song talks were almost as good as the music. He talked of how faith is a loaded word with the heightened religious presence in society, but it's not that kind of faith he's talking about in I Keep Faith. It's the kind of faith you have in the people around you, the faith that makes you believe in their ability and resilience even when they doubt themselves, the kind of faith that lets you know that, if it came to it, the people behind you here in the dark who you've never met would be on your side.

He'd been curating the whole Leftfield thing, and talks about it and its place in Glastonbury here. His prime point has been that the word socialism may be being treated as anachronistic but when he says it he means a socialism that's just organised compassion. We need a compassionate society, that means free health care, free education, decent pensions, affordable housing. Call it socialism, call it what you like, it's the compassionate society as opposed to the exploitative rule of the rich.

Then in an abrupt headstate change it was time to zoom out of that and back to West Holts for

George Clinton

Clinton once said 'a good show starts in the dressing room and work its way to the stage', and it's easy to believe he still works that way. A rolling, rollicking deeply funky party flooded the stage and the field, tunes morphing and seguing into one another. Shit! Goddamn! Get off your ass and jam!

They ran right up to curfew, then after a couple of minutes came back out and played more even though the sound system wasn't on for them and after ten minutes the plugs were pulled on stage. It wouldn't surprise me if they were still funking in the dressing room to this day.

Climate Camp's Tripod Stage

The Tripod Stage field is tucked away near the edge of the site, and that was all to its benefit I think. It meant that Climate Campers could take the time to talk to people who came in, and several times I saw people who've only been media spectators of climate activism make the change and decide to get involved.

They were dishing out copies of the sharp, smart Never Mind The Bankers freesheet that I had a small hand in writing, and also putting on some fine performances from musicians and ranters including Robin Ince, Attila The Stockbroker and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly.

On Sunday afternoon I did another set there with a poetry team including Claire Fauset and Danny Chivers, so missed out on seeing the glorious Staff Benda Bilili whose music was just made for hot happy afternoons like that.

Still, did get to see


Pretty, quirky, like a wheel of intelligent folk with a flat tyre so just as you get the feel of where it's going it goes ker-chunk and bumps you somewhere totally different. Challenging, absorbing, incredibly internal music, dreams made into sound. Which makes them unlikely candidates for joyous singalongs in the sunshine, but it was beautiful and it worked. I clapped so hard I spilt my toffee-apple flavour cider.

Stevie Wonder

The reviews of the recent tour said he kept getting distracted into noodly instrumentals that burst any bubble that the cool stuff developed. So I went along thinking, well, we'll see. It might still be good. And it was off the top end of the scale.

A tight funkily soulful band, plenty of groove and a hefty punch, Stevie being really funny and warm but with a strong righteous political edge, and all the hits I could have hoped for and beyond.

We were bound to get Superstition, Living For The City, Master Blaster, For Once In My Life, Sir Duke and Signed Sealed Delivered, but I hadn't really expected some personal favourites like We Can Work It Out, If You Really Loved Me or Fingertips. He was buoyant on the music, vibrant and witty and it just lifted the whole field high.

(Incidentally, heard McCartney do We Can Work It Out on the same stage in 2004, that's one more for the repeated songs list, sheesh.)

We'll rapidly gloss over the fact that he did I Just Call To Say I Love You and focus on the set closer, Happy Birthday reworked to reference Glastonbury's 40th year, sung arm in arm with Michael Eavis, Stevie delivering like one of the great soul singers of all time and Eavis singing like a septuagenarian dairy farmer.

Sunday is always great at Glastonbury, the outside world has stopped seeming real. You can remember life outside the way you can remember childhood holidays, yes it was your life but it's a very different world now and that old stuff's not really real any more.

Away from the bands, Arcadia was a bit nuts to get into with the post-big stages crush, but the grand mechanical spooky spider thing with a massive sound system would be graced every night by a full-on fireshow in addition to a huge load of sensory candy for the folks that want it banging out.

Shangri-La is, as I said last year, as baffling, uneasy, and tip-your-scales as you could wish for (or wish not for, depending on your pharmacological intake).

And, as ever, few things in life can beat sitting up till dawn in the stone circle, the joyous swirl of this epic expanse of revelry all around you. Glastonbury is pretty much my idea of utopia.


John B said...

What's your definition of "old"? 96 was freezing mud, and 97 was a long way from warm.

Sounds like an awesome one though, sad to miss it.

(captcha: "tings". An' Babylon).

merrick said...


I'm remembering the early-mid 90s ones as scorchers all (unless my brain's doing a version of that thing where you remember summer holidays in childhood as being constantly sunny).

Beg to differ a little from your memory. 96 there wasn't one, 97 was a total mudbath, and 98 was the muddiest of all. Whilst the muddy ones certainly aren't sunny, they're not actually cold either.

(captcha: 'prana' - a crnivorous fsh.)

Paul said...

I went in '98, and it was pretty much as you said. Something to see around every corner. From floaty illuminated acrobat dancers to geeky bloke with complicated remote control pretending to make the little fire engines go to awesome chillout space with hot tub. Especially welcome since it pissed down pretty much incessantly for the first day or so. Musically, I don't actually remember too much about it. Saw Julian Cope, Babybird, Kristin Hirsch... And Robbie Williams, who put on one of the best shows I've ever seen. He RAWKED. Utterly. I went prepared to be sceptical and he blew me away.

Spot on review. I really want to find the time to go next time.

My capcha, by the way, is "tatedge" which, remarkably, seems to have no connection with Glastonbury or fish at all.

John B said...

Yes, I realised I meant 97 and 98 shortly after posting. They were my first, was a bit too young in the early 90s (boo). I remember 98 as colder than 97 (and 97 as muddier), but that may have been because I spent 97 seeing big name bands in seething main stage crowds and 98, erm, not.

Capcha: nesses. I went to T in the Park in 98 as well, now that was *properly* cold.

Anonymous said...

Greetings Mezzer,

You'd love The Burning Man festival.


merrick said...

Hai Karamba, hi Karambos!

I have no doubt that you are right. But more to the point, how the bediddling jesus is your splendid self? Tis wonderful to hear from you. Be back in touch, mofo!