SA Roots and Blues, curious about the UK music scene has prompted subscriber Shane to send through some reports. His first blog is about Glastonbury! Whether you are of the Woodstock vintage, a Womadelaidian, a Byron Bayer or a Big Day Outer we have all hear of Glastonbury. What's it like? A mixture of music genres, multiple stages and difficult choices ...Shane reports.
UK Music Scene
The last time I went to Glastonbury, back in 2007; I was wet from the moment I stepped off the coach until getting back on the coach 4 days later. Glastonbury 2010 could not have been more different!
Like many thousand others, my 4 friends and I arrived just after the gates opened at 9am on Wednesday, this was to prove a tactical blunder. The first mile of our journey from the car to the festival was done at snail’s pace, which was not aided by our wheelbarrow and trolley both breaking down, losing us time and valuable line position, as running repairs were carried out.
The sun was approaching its warmest by the time we were finally within site of the front gate, and an hour later we were through. By now we were sweaty, sunburned, tired and tempers were just starting to fray a little. Thankfully we only took a further hour to find a spot big enough to fit our gazebo and 7 tents. Lee and I got to setting everything up as Richard headed back with the wheelbarrow to collect Maurice and James after we were forced to leave them behind when their trolley finally gave up.
It was 3:45 by the time we had finished and were able to treat ourselves to a slightly cool beer as a reward. As the only Englishman in our group, Lee, was quite desperate to go to the Pyramid stage to watch the coverage of England’s world cup game against Slovenia. The rest of us ate, drank and got in the festival frame of mind. Andy, Jodie, Sarah and Rae joined us later on that evening and the crew was complete, now it was just a matter of waiting until the music started properly on Friday!
The plan was to get there for Rolf Harris who was officially opening the festival; the plan failed! We not only missed Rolf but also Femi Kuti, though we would get another chance to see him over the weekend if we could squeeze it in. We did however arrive in time to see Corrine Bailey Rae and she was an unexpected delight. I will confess to being completely unfamiliar with her work, in fact as she started I couldn’t help wondering if I’d have been better off catching those Lesbian twins from Canada, Tegan and Sara at the John Peel stage. But after a couple of songs she had won me over, with her sensual and striking voice regularly filling with emotion. It was a nice and slow build up for the day to come.
Next up was one of a number of bands or artists that I was hugely looking forward to seeing, despite the fact I would never give a moment’s thought to buying tickets to one of his concerts. Willie Nelson was greeted with a huge cheer and the 77 year old quickly got to work on an amazing set that crammed 30 of his back catalogue into just 60 minutes. All the classics were present and accounted for, Whiskey River, On the Road Again, Crazy, Georgia on My Mind and Crying. His little sister came out to join him on piano as Willie gave ‘Trigger’, his battle weary guitar, a solid work out! The highlight of the set was when it seemed to get too much for him during an emotional performance of ‘Always on my mind’ where he appeared to briefly well up when the crowd joined in on the chorus – a truly great Glastonbury moment. The only downside were that the rumours of a Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson duet proved to be false and we were denied the chance of seeing the two pot loving performers on stage together.
They did play back to back though with Snoop taking the stage in front of the biggest crowd of the day so far. Rap stars were starting to make a habit of attracting huge crowds to their Glastonbury sets and Snoop followed Jay Z’s lead from 2008 brilliantly with people struggling to find space 30 minutes before he was due to start! Snoop worked his magic; playing with the crowd, chatting to the ladies and the 5 minutes he took out to get the crowd chanting ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole’ was brilliantly timed. The highlight was a tossup between his classic hit ‘Gin and Juice’ and his version of Tinie Tempah’s number 1 hit ‘Pass Out’ which Tinie joined him on stage for. It was a tight and well worked set; one which you suspect is as familiar to Snoop as getting up every morning and rolling himself a blunt!
Vampire Weekend had the unenviable task of following the most upbeat and engaging set of the day so far. Unfortunately too few of the crowd stuck around, though it meant those of us that did suddenly had a lot more space in which to dance and bop along. Possibly due to the complexity of Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, there were a lot less people singing along than I would have expected. With the exception of their breakthrough hit ‘A-Punk’ and latest single ‘Holiday’ the crowd was strangely muted. Their loss because anybody who is a fan of the first two albums (a group I very firmly belong to) would have found their set an absolute delight, ‘Horchata’ and ‘Californian English’ being the standouts from the new album and ‘Oxford Comma’ being the standout track over all. Cheers to the random stranger who came and danced with us for a couple of songs after saying he was impressed with our energy and that everyone else just nodding their heads to the music didn’t know what they were doing, he was clearly baked but also quite right!
The last half an hour of Vampire Weekend and the following couple of hours presented me with the hardest decision of the festival. Do I see all of Vampire Weekend, get something to eat and then watch Dizzee Rascal and Gorillaz or do I leave Vampire Weekend and see all of Florence and the Machine followed by Hot Chip and then eat?! Vampire Weekend decided it for me as they were too good to leave, plus we had a great spot on the hill just to the left of the stage. So unfortunately I missed Florence’s set including a 9 minute version of ‘Dog Days Are Over’. Not quite halfway through Dizzee Rascal’s set and I was wondering if I had made the right choice, surely the last 20 minutes of Florence would have been better than this? But then he ripped through ‘Jus a Rascal’, ‘Holiday’ and a mash up of ‘Stand up Tall’ and Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and he had me back on side again. 30,000 or so Florence and the Machine fans made their way over from The Other Stage to join in for the final few songs and were given a real treat. The glorious Ms Welch herself joined Dizzee on stage for their mash up ‘You got the Dirtee Love’ which easily drew the biggest cheer of the night, Florence’s voice complimenting Dizzee’s rapping perfectly! He closed with a bang ripping through his huge hit ‘Bonkers’ to truly end things in style.
Due to the injury to Bono Friday night had gone from being something I was a little unsure about (U2) to what I expected to be one of the highlights (Gorillaz) and I will confess to being more than a little excited as their starting time drew near! I had missed out on tickets to see them at The Roundhouse in Camden and also at the O2 Arena. Given these were their first lot of live performances since 2005 I was desperate to ensure I caught them. It meant sacrificing Hot Chip, but given the regularity they play London (I am seeing them in November) I did not think this a tough decision to make. The moment Snoop’s voice hit my ears; to introduce ‘Plastic Beach’, I was pretty sure I had made the right decision. Several introspective, slow and laborious songs from their latest album later and I were less sure of myself! In fact people seemed to be leaving in their hundreds. I was considering joining them when Lou Reed took to the stage with half of The Clash and performed ‘Some Kind of Nature’; it was truly a monumental moment of music and made up for the slow start. They possibly don’t quite possess quite enough known hits to sustain a set for over an hour and a half, new smash ‘Stylo’ being the only one to truly get the crowd excited, however they saved two of their biggest tunes, ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Feel Good Inc.’ for their encore, performed with Snoop Dogg and Shaun Ryder respectively. The sing-a-long Damon Albarn seemed to want earlier during ‘Pirate Jet’ finally came about during ‘Clint Eastwood’ with thousands of people chanting ‘I’m useless, but not for long!’ to finish the evening . Friday, the first day proper day of music, was over and as good as it had been; the best was very much yet to come!
There are few worse ways to start a day than overheating in a tent whilst nursing a sizeable hangover. There are few better ways to combat a hangover than lying on the grass out the front of The Park listening to Baltimore duo Beach House whilst sipping on a hair of the dog. It was a laidback way to start the day and Beach House were the perfect laid back band for the occasion. The audience was strangely muted, or perhaps they were, like some in my group; fighting off sleep. The tracks from their latest album ‘Teen Dream’ got the most applause, or perhaps it was just the most recognition. ‘Zebra’ and ‘Walk in the Park’ were two standouts but paled in comparison to the gorgeous ‘Ten Mile Stereo’ which was easily the highlight of their 45 minute set. We were sitting just behind Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys who sat up and paid rapt attention to the whole set, unlike others around us who you could almost hear snoring over the poor amplification. Very much looking forward to catching these guys later on in the year at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London.
It was time to crank things up a bit and Andy reckoned he had just the thing to do, Brooklyn based band The National. I knew very little about them and went based solely on Andy and Lee’s recommendation, and boy am I glad I did! These guys rock! They started off a little slowly, though they certainly looked the part, decked out all in black with the mandatory sunglasses that are required on The Other Stage at that part of the afternoon! By the time they unleashed ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ a few tracks in, the place was rocking! Matt Berninger is a class act up front, with his low voice and frequent forays into the crowd, whipping up a frenzy! ‘Fake Empire’ is an anthem in waiting and The National are a few more shows like that, and possibly one more album, away from being a huge band! As Matt said to finish off, "This is how it looked like in our heads. But it was a little darker. And there were more girls."
I am not at all proud of the two of the things I have to say next. After The National we went to see Shakira. She was actually quite good! Even now that leaves a bad taste in my mouth; music like Shakira’s is up there with modern day R ’n’ B as one of the things that is wrong with the music industry today. However we were a mixed group and, after putting up with The National, the girls deserved their chance to choose, and sadly there was not much else on early Saturday evening. So we went to see the sexy Colombian shake her booty, and boy were all the lads glad we did! The highlight for me was her cover of The Xx’s ‘Islands’ which was beautifully sung! For the rest of the crowd it appeared as if the highlights were ‘Whenever, wherever’, ‘Hip’s don’t lie’, ‘The Waka, Waka song’ (which was the only time all festivals that multiple vuvazelas could be heard, it was great they did not blight Glastonbury as they did the World Cup!) and ‘She Wolf’ which was the favourite amongst the girls in our group who were squealing ‘Shakira, Shakira’ for ages after she finished.
After Shakira we had time for a quick bite to eat before catching the first half of The XX over on the John Peel Stage. It was only ever going to be for a few of songs as the only unanimous decision we had as a group that weekend was to be back with plenty of time to find a spot before Muse finished the night. It took a while for the compare (I’m not sure why the John Peel stage is the only one to be compared) to get everything right for the BBC’s viewing audience – a massive cheer greeted a gentleman at the front holding a huge sign which read ‘Bono is Gay’ in reference to U2 pulling out of the previous night’s headline slot. The XX were darkly subdued, wearing more black than even The National had managed and racing through their opening few tracks. ‘Crystallized’ and ‘Islands’ were the standout tracks and ‘VCR’ was the final track I caught, sticking around for a bit longer before making the mad dash back to The Pyramid Stage to find the rest of the group. It was such a pity they overlapped with Muse as I was really enjoying their set, and by all later reports the best was the finale when Florence joined them on stage to do yet another version of ‘You’ve got the Love’ I’ve since seen it on youtube.com and it left the previous night’s version with Dizzee for dead!
Which brings us to Saturday night and what I was pretty sure would be the rock music high point of the whole festival. The stage was set for one of the world’s best live bands to show us exactly why they deserve top billing and have one every live music award there is. Muse strode out with nothing more than a casual ‘Hey’ to the audience before launching into ‘Uprising’ to kick off the show with awesome energy! Much to my surprise they followed this up with ‘Supermassive black holes’ throwing away arguably their biggest pop hit inside the first ten minutes. Nobody in the crowd seemed to mind and when Matt Bellamy followed this up with his political conspiracy theory track ‘The Resistance’ the place was electric! The Queen-like epic ‘United States of Eurasia’ was the highlight of the next half hour with the crowd singing along, though sadly it seems to have replaced ‘Butterflies & Hurricanes’ in their set list when both could easily have been played. ‘Undisclosed Desires’ is a personal favourite of mine from their latest album so I was a little disappointed at the understated way they played it, making it almost sound lightweight. But the best was yet to come and I challenge anyone to find a half hour of live music better than the finale of their set which threw together Starlight, Time Is Running Out and Plug in Baby. That would have been enough for almost anyone, but the guys still had a couple of aces up their sleeve. After a very short break we were greeted by the unmistakable sound and sight of The Edge strumming his way through the opening chords of ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ They did a blistering good version before fare-welling their U2 counterpart and launching into a 2 minute build up for ‘Knights of Cydonia’ before tearing it up totally with the best version of that song I’ve heard them play. Foolishly some of my friends had departed early to catch French DJs Birdy Nam Nam – they missed possibly the best song of the festival so far!
The final day of the festival rolled around and we were starting to look and feel a bit worse for wear! However we knew that some of the musical highlights were taking place that day, so after yet another breakfast of bacon sandwiches we were off, sensibly heading away from where the football was being shown. We were stuck with a bit of a quandary in which of three very viable alternatives we should choose to listen. Slash, Ray Davies or Grizzly Bear – I am pleased to say that common sense won out and we headed for The Other Stage to enjoy Grizzly Bear’s first ever Glastonbury performance. It was not until the band did final sound checks that the background drone of football commentary was drowned out. The match meant there were a lot less people watching than the band deserved. Ed Droste sounded positively emotional when he said ‘It’s such an honour to be playing this stage’ it was just an equal pity so many people were interested in a different stage, one thousands of miles away in South Africa. ‘Southern Point’ and ‘Cheerleader’ kicked things off before we were treated to a rare drum solo due to technical sound difficulties. They then lost some of the crowd by holding up a radio to the microphone so everyone could hear how England were being done 4-1 by Ze Germans! Those of us who couldn’t care less laughed long and loud at this before being treated to the Doo Woppy introduction of ‘Two Weeks’ a simply beautiful song that is easily the equal of Fleet Foxes ‘White Winter Hymnal’ despite getting less recognition! By the end of their set the crowd had grown somewhat, but like so many at Beach House the day before, they seemed more interested in sun bathing or sleeping than enjoying the musical gift to which we were treated. Their songs were a balm to sun-struck revellers approaching the end of their Glastonbury weekend, another great way to start the day!
It was a combination of complete laziness and being quite comfortable that led to us seeing the next band. Instead of switching stages to see half of Dr John’s set (admittedly I was the only one in our group who was keen on this as an option) or even catching the last half of Ray Davies busting out some classic Kinks tracks, we decided to stay put and watch ‘We Are Scientists’. I am rather glad we did. Similarly to The National, I knew very little about them, being only familiar with their hits ‘After Hours’ and ‘Chick Lit’ both of which I am happy to report they played, along with new hit ‘Rules Don’t Stop’ The band have a quirky stage presence with lots of fun being had with, and at the expense of, the audience. They were a great follow on from Grizzly Bear and just about the perfect introduction to MGMT, one of the bands I was most looking forward to catching!
I have not quite understood why so many people don’t like MGMT’s latest album ‘Congratulations’ as I for one absolutely love it. Okay so it took a couple of listens for me to truly appreciate the prog-rock masterpiece that it is – but once I did I realised it far outweighs their debut as an album. Okay their first album had more hits, but it also had the worse songs, and the second album is a play from start to finish dream! They kicked off their set with ‘It’s Working’ one of my personal favourites and the first track from ‘Congratulations’. They played safe by following this up with ‘Electric Feel’ from their debut album and really got the crowd onside. Very new in ‘Flash Delirium’ was followed by the very old and ‘Destrokk’ from the ‘Time to Pretend’ EP. The highlight for me was the 4 song package at the start of the end, beginning with ‘Weekend Wars’ and covering ‘Brian Eno’ and ‘The Youth’ before introducing ‘Time to Pretend’ by saying "This used to be a popular song, back when we were a popular band," MGMT were great – they closed their set with ‘Kids’ and the title track of their new album. Based on this I cannot wait to see them in London in September for what should be another memorable show!
The only downside of seeing all of MGMT was the mad dash I now faced to get to the Pyramid Stage for Maxi Jazz, Rollo and Sister Bliss, better known as Faithless! Having only seen them the once before I was desperate to enjoy them again in what promised to be the most foot stomping and fist pumping set of the whole festival! I will admit that by this stage of the weekend my memory of the order of tracks is all over the shop! They played a nice mix of tracks off their new album The Dance including ‘Not Going Home’ and ‘Tweak your Nipple’ which were clearly the standouts from the newer tracks. The build up to ‘We Come 1’ involved loads of crowd participation and the place was bouncing when the distinctive chorus beats dropped halfway through. As expected ‘God is a DJ’ and the extended version of ‘Insomnia’ drew the biggest reactions from the crowd. They were tight as always with Maxi’s distinctive voice a joy to behold. My only criticism would be that they could easily have played for longer than the 75 minutes they were allocated and I think everyone in the crowd agreed with me.
The final few hours of music at Glastonbury were drawing near, the decision had already been made by the group to finish off with Stevie Wonder, but after getting worked up by Faithless I was giving very strong consideration to heading to The Other Stage to catch Orbital. In the end sheer weight of numbers between me and The Other Stage made me decide against it. So Orbital joined Ash, Empire of the Sun, Jackson Browne and Gomez as bands I would have liked to see, but apparently not as much as I wanted to see Stevie Wonder. I found this strange as I only knew a couple of his songs, and similar to Willie Nelson would never have paid to see just him in concert. It took all of 2 minutes of Stevie being on stage for me to realise I had made the right decision! Similar to Faithless my exact memory of songs played and their order, is very vague. However without a doubt the highlights were ‘Superstitious’, his cover of The Beatles’ ‘We Can Work it Out’, his Michael Jackson tribute ‘Human Nature’, ‘I just called to say I love you’ and my personal favourite ‘Uptight’ which was simply brilliant. He did a helium inspired version of his first hit ‘Fingertips’ possibly to signify how his voice sounded at 13 when the song came out. At one point he bizarrely said to the crowd ‘If you’re a hater then drink hater-aid and die!’ He then rounded off Glastonbury’s 40th birthday by dragging Michael Eavis on stage to sing along to his version of ‘Happy Birthday’ – a great end to a sensational festival, possibly the best I have ever attended!