Another year and new legends are born. Which moment will be remember for the longest from this year’s Glastonbury Festival is as impossible to guess as the weather was through this unpredictable June weekend. Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen showed the world that rock stars approaching, or even well into, their sixties can still blow their younger counterparts off the stage, Blur drew tears from everyone as Damon Albarn broke down on stage during the tear jerking classic ‘To The End’ and secret guest appearances from Jack White’s Dead Weather, The Klaxons and even The Boss himself ensured that this would be a year to remember.
The biggest problem that Glastonbury Festival has to deal with is that it really is so different from any other festival in the world that when festival goers go on about it so much it sickens the rest of the population to such a degree that a huge amount of resentment is built up towards any of the so called ‘magic’, ‘atmosphere’ and especially that ‘legendary’ tag. But the trouble is that all of this needs to be said. The festival is blessed with its size, being able to accommodate a whopping 170,000 punters over ___ stages and much, much more. As a result there is so much to see and do, and so much care is put into every part of the festival, that it really is a wonder to behold.
The Thursday at Pilton Farm is an unusual introduction into what is about to be unleashed. With a large percentage of the campers arriving throughout the day on the Wednesday, the Thursday has needed more and more entertainment to keep the people happy. But with only two stages in full operation (small stages at that), the Dance Lounge and the new and improved Queens Head, most music lovers hoping to get the festival started early are left feeling short changed. Maximo Park officially open the festival on the Queens Head but the crowd is so large that you’re lucky to get close enough to be able to work out what song is playing, let alone catch a glimpse of Paul Smith’s bobbing trilby. The huge crowds then drift over to the Dance Lounge where 90’s boy wonders East 17 are playing to an audience far larger than one they could have possibly expected to attract if they were playing on any of the following days.
There are some highlights from the Thursday, most notably Metronomy who suit the dazzling light show that has now become part of the Queens Head, but the day feels like a bit of a damp squib, especially with the news filtering through the site that the King of Pop has died.
Finally the Friday arrives and the party starts. Dan Black delights on the John Peel Stage with his cheeky banter and disco heavy pop party, while soon after on the Other Stage The Rakes and The Maccabees deliver powerful, tight, beautifully structured indie treats. With energy levels at a peak a dash over to the Pyramid Stage bears the fruits of a rather nervous looking Fleet Foxes beckoning in the sunshine to a field of delighted admirers. Though they seem quite uncomfortable in front of such a large audience and don’t deliver as well as they would in a closed environment, the Foxes are an ideal Glastonbury band with their summery harmonies and brothers-in-arms camaraderie.
Another dart across the site to the Park Stage sees one the many Special Guest slots of the weekend. This particular slot belongs to Jack Whites latest project, The Dead Weather, featuring Alison Mosshart of The Kills, and members of The Raconteurs and Queens of the Stone Age. White puts himself on drums for most of the set, which isn’t such a bad thing because he is more than capable in this role and Mosshart on vocals is truly scintillating. All four members dress in black and deliver some of the most raucous hair-raisingly captivating garage-rock that you could possibly hope for. If they can capture any of this energy and electricity on record then it is sure to be a corker.
Back over to the Pyramid for the rest of the day sees seminal sets from The Specials and Neil Young. Though neither seems particularly bothered about where they are playing or how many people are watching, such is the strength of the set lists that no one could be left disappointed. The Specials are as relevant now as they were 20 years ago with their songs of a let down Britain giving up on a broken government and having to go it alone. The tunes are sung back to them by a crowd of whom many of them are, for the first time, realizing just what drove this band to write a song like ‘Ghost Town’.
Before Neil Young takes to the stage rumors are circulating about the possibility of a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion. While hardcore Neil Young fans know that this is very unlikely, there is still a lingering sense of hope that this might come true. But the fact is from the moment the haggard old legend shuffles onto the stage none of this really matters. From the opening jarring riffs of ‘My My, Hey Hey’ to closing feedback rumble of the Beatles ‘A Day In the Life’, Young is absolutely mesmeric. His staggering ability on guitar and infectious confidence in the audience’s attention during the epic guitar solos and extended outros make Young so unique and exciting to watch that the two hour set flies by. Highlights from a set full to the brim with jewels include ‘Needle and the Damage Done’, ‘Down By the River’ and the never ending ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’. He’s a headliner that is going to be hard to beat over the rest of the weekend.
Saturday starts with a trip to the Park Stage to check out rising stars Bombay Bicycle Club. They deliver an Editors-esque platform built up with epic twists of roaring noise and feedback that sounds very new and refreshing.
Back over to the Pyramid Stage to catch the light-hearted thrills that Spinal Tap offer, but unfortunately the comedy doesn’t quite translate into the 21st Century and just feels flat and awkward, so it’s time for another sprint across the site to catch a glimpse of Easy Star All-Stars who are performing a hat-trick of shows over the weekend covering legendary albums in a dub style. Today it’s the turn of Radiodread, and a re-working of OK Computer. With the sun shining and a gloriously relaxed atmosphere, this feels like a lovely treat. While the adaptations of the songs don’t really live up to the Radiohead originals, they suit the vibe of the day perfectly.
Next up are Mr Young’s old buddies Crosby, Stills & Nash. After the disappointment of not seeing them make a cameo last night there are a super-optimistic few who think that Young will be joining them on stage this afternoon, however the headline slot over in Hyde Park tonight makes that seem unlikely. Once again though, none of this seems to matter as they deliver another delightful sun-licked set. Particular highlights include ‘Almost Cut my Hair’ and the forever relevant ‘For What It’s Worth’. Once again a group well into their sixties delivering with the vigor of a group of twenty-something’s.
Which leads neatly to the second headliner of the weekend, Bruce Springsteen, who turns sixty next year. If there is an award for the largest distance travelled during a gig, the award most certainly goes to The Boss. The way this man works a crowd is truly infectious and it’s impossible not to feel the joy and rapture that the man is clearly feeling when performing his songs.
He opens with a Joe Strummer song, (who was the main reason for Bruce playing the festival, both good friends and with a mutual appreciation of each others music, Strummers love for the festival was well documented and when approaching Springsteen to play Glastonbury Emily Eavis made up a portfolio of all the good work the festival did which included photos of Strummer working for, and enjoying himself on site) and from then on tears through a classic set.
There is some feeling that Bruce has missed the point with his choice of set list, refusing to play a greatest hits set. But for the hardened Springsteen fan it’s clear that the choice of set is probably one of strongest he could have picked. From the raucous bellowing power of ‘Badlands’ and ‘No Surrender’ to the softer side and the working mans fight to survive (‘The River’ and ‘Johnny 99’) the set delivers gem after gem. The crowd finally get their treats at the end with thunderous renditions of ‘Born to Run’, ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’, but as the E-Street Band leave the stage after a heart thumping two and a half hour set, the crowd burst into ‘Born in the USA’ a sad omission from an otherwise perfect set.
The Sunday always starts as a thunderous hangover, and people stumble around like zombies for the majority of the day, three days of partying and major sleep deprivation finally catching up with them. So an early afternoon slot on the Other Stage for Art Brut seems like the most inspired move ever. Reviled by many for being too out-spoken, today lead singer Eddie Argos is simply hilarious. Each song is an anecdote perfectly delivered with startling wit and a wary eye. ‘Modern Art’ is new and improved after his recent travels to see Van Gogh’s art museum in Amsterdam as is ‘Emily Kane’ after his recent reuniting with the subject of the song.
Unfortunately Brand New don’t quite follow in the same vain but their dark and brooding heavy rock is still refreshing around the usual indie barrage. They also finish on a fine cover of a Neutral Milk Hotel song.
Later in the day the Yeah Yeah Yeahs rip through a superb set drawing a huge crowd to their twisted day-glow and black party. Karen O strikes a dominant figure in the centre of the stage while guitarist Nick Zinner thrashes his guitar like a mad scientist bringing mammoth riffs to life. New songs offer an exciting new edge to the band, particularly with ‘Zero’ and ‘Heads Will Roll’ while the highlight of the set still belongs to the first album in the shape of ‘Date With the Night’.
Madness deliver novelty delights back over on the Pyramid, but really nothing more than that. Their hit catalogue is astounding and they do manage to get everybody dancing, but it’s still quickly forgotten afterwards. Not like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds who demand your attention. Their position on the bill may be generous considering the amount of ‘hits’ they have but their experience and ability to make a crowds collective jaw drop is something few other bands can do. Rather cruelly they open with ‘Tupelo’, a song about a huge storm washing the small village of Elvis Presley’s birth away. Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself again in Pilton. They then go on the attack with vicious classics like ‘Mercy Seat’ and ‘Stagger Lee’, Cave preaching to an audience of whom most probably have never heard a single Nick Cave track and therefore had no idea what to expect. You get the feeling the Bad Seeds were prepared for this and were going for the ‘shock and awe’ approach.
The weekend closes with the youngest band on the main stage that day, the 40-something year olds of Blur.
There have been many reunion gigs in the last couple of years from the genuinely interesting and exciting (Magazine) to the downright ludicrous (Shed 7), so it was a bit of a worry as to what category Blur would fall into. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is a band worthy of genuine credit for writing some of the most original and intelligent music to come out of the Britpop era. ‘She’s So High’ and ‘There’s No Other Way’ have been locked away just long enough to seem wonderfully refreshing again, while ‘Trimm Trabb’ and ‘Song 2’ sound dirtier and more aggressive with age. Graham Coxon launches himself around the stage with far more vigour and excitement than he ever showed while going solo and Damon Albarn has truly ditched the ‘elder-statesman’ persona he seemed to have adopted for himself during The Good, The Bad and the Queen days. He jumps and skips around like an excitable child, heading invisible footballs in flight and pumping his fist with delight. There’s a particularly lovely moment when Albarn is returning to the stage after one of his many visits to the clamoring hands of the crowd and he takes a moment to stop and watch the band playing out the closing moments of ‘Trimm Trabb’. Coxon is writhing about on the floor spewing forth a tortured guitar solo, Alex James is striking his usual ‘to-cool-for-school’ pose and Dave Rowntree is bashing his drums to pieces. A huge grin spreads across Albarn’s face which says this is exactly where he wants to be, this isn’t about the money, it’s about a great band and great music and the crowd couldn’t agree more.
And with that Glastonbury Festival has come to an end. This is one story of millions that could be taken from the weekend. Many incredible bands were missed due to unfortunate clashes and aching heads (Animal Collective, Bon Iver, Doves, Ray Davies the list is endless) but an amazing time was had by all nonetheless. Bring on the anniversary next year, but if it could top this year that would be something truly miraculous.
Words: Adam Wilkinson