This year was our 5th annual pilgrimage to the iconic UK Festival, and it was without doubt our most arduous to date. Before even a single chord had been strummed or hangover suffered, us like many others had to endure the most exasperating of journey’s into the picturesque Avalon valley. Due to biblical rain in the run up to event and tough mudder type conditions on site a journey that was meant to be 5 hours slowly and painfully became 9 hours, and at 4 miles out everything came to a complete standstill, at which point patience broke and our team of merry men [+ girl] hatched a plan – ditch the coach and walk. My younger more sprightly brother was sent ahead with tents whilst the rest of us lugged 4 heavily laden rucksacks 4 miles to the edge of the festival and a further 2 miles to our tent. 12 hours later we were sitting in a muddy bog, hot, tired, blistered and less than enthused by what lay ahead… It had not been a good start and despite our best efforts to keep positive 12 hours of travel had dampened our expectations more emphatically than the ominous black clouds gathering above us. With spirits low and backs aching we crawled into our cramped clammy tents and dreamed of hot showers, European glory and a fresh pair of socks…
Thursday arrived with 180,000 sous-vide campers being forcibly awoken by the baking sun beaming through our canvas prisons, a false dawn that was to be short lived, and never repeated. This was to be a year of rain, mud and rain, a fact the BBC Weather app only too accurately predicted. A decision had to be made, pathetically grumble about the conditions or pull our socks up both metaphorically and literally and embrace the conditions ahead…We opted embrace once a bacon butty and a couple of tea’s had raised our thoroughly British and presently European spirits. To kick things off officially we aptly opted to see last years emerging talent winner ‘She Drew The Gun’ who was playing every 30 pluses favourite area ‘The Park’.
‘She Drew The Gun‘ treated us to some classically 90’s shoe gazey type guitar and Im going to change the world type lyrics. It was a decent performance full of vim, confidence and humble appreciation to be even playing. However like all new bands it lacked the engaging diversity of an artist with a wider back catalogue. Regardless of this we were up and running and to further obliterate the fading memories of Wednesday’s toil we decided to get glammed up for a night out on the town, or in Glastonbury’s case ‘Shangri-La‘. And when we say glammed up we essentially mean clean socks and a warm hoodie…
The origins of the word Shangri-La refer to a fictional earthly paradise, however considering the generic deep-house and sardine packed Genosys stage we walked into paradise was perhaps overstating things slightly. Lack of Palm Tree’s aside we were there to see ‘Bicep’ and although my less than enthused compatriots had resorted to singing pop songs over the uninspiring sequence of deephouse records that greeted us, the buzz was gradually building. Finally Bicep emerged and the arena burst into life as they proceeded to temporarily erase all memory of 6 mile walks, mud and questionable deephouse, sending the expectantly soggy crowd into raptures with their heavily 90’s referencing set, complete with pogoing delirium when ‘Higher Level’ looped into view. The rest of that evening was a hazy blur of venue hopping, terrible dance moves and random conversations with people you’ll never see again but in the moment seem like the best friend you never had! We were in full flow now and ready for Glastonbury to start proper…
FRIDAY started with our traditional breakfast in the big red double decker bus – a haven from mud, crowds and rain. Once fed and watered we elected to catch another of ‘Damon Albarns’ random musical diversions, this time opening the Pyramid stage with a Syrian Orchestra. As expected Damon was the first of many big names lamenting the recent referendum result, a theme that would have made a good word association drinking game alongside the equally frequent Prince & Bowie tributes and artists referencing the weather. Alcohol related punishment aside it was a bit of an anti-climatic opener with the exception of Damon playing the blur song ‘Out Of Time’. We swiftly moved on and explored the much improved John Peel area and the newly introduced woodland walk, lovely, before catching the ‘Blossoms’ (meh) and ‘Christine & The Queens’ (incredible) at the Other Stage.
Blossoms were one of a few bands that didnt quite make the final cut of our 2016 Glasto watch list, which on reflection was a good decision. It was one of those performances were you’re waiting for the album deal track to finally arrive so things liven up a bit. Christine & The Queens on the other hand totally blew us away, and were easily the surprise highlight of the whole week. Her set was inventive, unique and full of energy as it expertly blended rousing choruses with French house beats and groove. Not only that Christine is a naturally engaging performer who throughout delivered humorous quips and personable introductions with a swagger and freedom that belied her relative obscurity in the UK. Whilst obviously Tilted was a highlight she wooed the crowd still further with well blended covers of ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ and ‘Pump Up the Jam’. It was such an accomplished and talented performance that perhaps we saw a future headliner in the making?
With our spirits high we celebrated our new musical discovery with a calf sapping trudge across the heaving 900 acre ocean of mud toward our now regular Burrito stand. Powered up we were ready for the home straight starting with Texan rock four piece White Denim, followed by the English equivalent Foals, before closing with 90’s dance legends Underworld at the West Holts.
‘White Denim’ were good and a band worth seeing again, whilst ‘Foals’, our must see for 2016, were a suprising let down with a performance that sounded like their ma had told them to turn it down. It was so bad that 20 rows back at the Pyramid stage it felt as though the band could hear your every word. Not only that the sound completely cut out during their penultimate song. Further exacerbating proceedings is a problem that has been escalating ever since the introduction of a crush barrier at the front of the Pyramid Stage some years back. Traditionally an area or habitat reserved for the slightly obsessive pogoing super fan the barrier like a bypass through a woodland has resulted in the natural wildlife being steadily encroached upon by unwelcome seat sitting, flag waving equivalents. The area was littered with chairs, children and glares should you even hint at bumping into them during a raucous moment. Whilst safety is important its killing the energy and therefore a compromise would be to ban chairs and flags so that true fans can sing and dance without fear of reproach or crushing a small child – ridiculous. Despite these gripes we threw caution to the wind, recruited a band of nearby sequin clad revellers and proceeded to mosh vigorously throughout – good times, despite the lack of volume and abundance of garden furniture. Next up ‘Underworld’ at what turned out to be a thunderously loud and euphoric West Holts.
With a set list crammed with all the essential anthems; Rez, Cowgirl, Dark Train, Sribble and some other TUNE, which escapes me right now, Underworld had the place booounciiiiing within minutes of the opener. The atmosphere was palpably thick with expectancy and flare smoke as Underworld weaved a head down, hands in the air electronic master class, and just as pulses were slowing, and a collective breath drawn, Underworld reappeared one final time to announce they had written a new song back stage earlier that day, followed by the statement – “hope you like it”. Bewildered looks were soon replaced with rapturous delight as Born Slippy was unleashed on the expectant masses…for this writer it was all a bit much – magical. The evening was rounded off with another trip to Shangri-La, although this time via The Avalon Stage were randomly ‘The Feeling’ were closing with an impressive festival inspired triple cover of Day Tripper, You Really Got Me and Park Life – good times.
SATURDAY began with a 3 hour rain storm imprisoning virtually the whole festival in their tents, apart from a few hardy souls that couldn’t hold it any longer. Finally the rain abated and like a bear coming out of hibernation we were able to tentatively poke out our heads and see if it was safe to emerge. It was, and so began the daily routine of preparing for a day in a field watching bands: 1) Mad dash for toilet as been holding it for far too long – not looking down whilst on toilet, 2) Queue for water – whilst watching people wash their hair and wondering why they bother, 3) Brush teeth – essential, 4) put on same shorts and t-shirt you wore the day before – casual sniff to check odour not too offensive and 5) have a little moan about the weather and eat a bacon butty as if you’ve been starved of food for days. Once completed next find a band you’ve never heard of and subsequently feel obliged to appreciate every song they play as if its the best thing you’ve ever heard.
First up was ‘Car Seat Headrest’, another of our top tips for 2016, overall pretty good, but felt a bit like they’d have more fun thrashing about in their parents garage. Definitely some potential though. Next was ‘Shura’ on the Other Stage with her overtly 80’s Madonna influenced pop. Overall it was well executed performance that translated well on a big stage with her album deal track ‘Indecision’ hinting at a potential career, if she can continue to develop her sound. Having said that it was no Christine & The Queens. ‘Wolf Alice’ followed on the Pyramid Stage, a band who’s debut album we’ve really enjoyed in the past year, yet despite it’s regular rotation there has always been this nagging feeling that something was missing, a lack that became very apparent when seeing them live. Despite all their reverb, stage stomping and 90’s guitar thrashing it all felt a bit contrived and rigid, almost as though they wanted you to believe they were rule breakers but in reality they prefer Sunday drives in the country. ‘Madness’ followed in typical stomping, singalong brass-ness, not quite Lionel Richie of 2015, but good none the less and fun to singalong to the classics with cider held aloft. Post Madness the last three days finally caught up with us resulting a brief siesta before Tame Impala and Adele to round off the day.
Now we should just clarify that we dont own a single Adele record, however neither do we own an M83 or James Blake LP, who were headlining West Holts & John Peel respectively and the Other Stage headliners New Order were a little lackluster last time we saw them in 2012. So whilst not a fan of ‘Adele’ we felt compelled to see what all the fuss was about, plus Tame Impala were playing directly before her. So what is all the fuss about? Well, love or loathe her from what we saw she’s a bonafide headlining megastar and fully justified her position topping the Pyramid on Saturday. Her songs, although mostly depressing, have more hooks than Chris Martin on a fishing trip, she has such a rapport with the crowd that even 100,000 people back you feel like you know her, not to mention her hauntingly beautiful voice. Now some will argue that there are better voices out there, more engaging front men or women and bands with catchier songs, but few bring all these elements together, and this is what makes a truly great and memorable Pyramid Stage headliner. Bravo Adele, although surely the next LP could be a bit more upbeat, you’ve just headlined Glastonbury and signed the biggest record deal in the history of music! Anyway with the echo’s of failed relationships being trampled beneath the mud the stampede to get into Shangri-La had begun and we were leading the charge…
SUNDAY morning was the moment when all those around me started to hit the wall whilst I, true to typical form, was just getting started. By the time I’d negotiated the daily routine, charged my phone and collected wristbands for the Pyramid Stage finale the rest of my crew were just waking to the realisation that they were still living in a field.
First up was the humorously entertaining ‘Newton Faulkner’ with his midi rigged guitar, kick drum and melodic strumming pop. Hyping things up with an expertly executed cover of Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ Faulkner ensnared his audience and managed to hold them throughout the entire set. A set that culminated in a rookie error of unwitting suggestion that led him to performing his crowd pleasing closer, Queen’s – Bohemian Rhapsody, in just his Calvin Klein’s – “dont judge me, its cold up here” he remarked before leading an expectant audience with a raucous “Is this the real life” – fine work. Next was the pleasant if not a little tame ‘C Duncan’, followed by ‘Kamasi Washington’ at the West Holts with his engaging and energetic Jazz, NICE, complete with a Whiplash style drumming face off. By now the evening was beginning to approach and with Kamasi’s Sax ringing in our ears it was time to Burrito up and select our destination for the grand finale.
In an ideal world it would have been Beck ‘Pyramid Stage’ followed by LCD Soundsystem ‘Other Stage’, however this would have meant considerable effort and no guarantee of catching both, and being bigger Beck than LCD fans the final decision was Beck followed by Coldplay. YES Coldplay, get over it.
‘Beck’ pulled out all the stops with Loser, Dreams, New Pollution, Sex Laws, E-Pro, Girl and Hell Yes all getting an airing, however despite us loving every minute of it, it mostly seemed to fall on deaf ears, even a rendition of Prince’s 1999 couldn’t revive the flat lined audience. Unfortunately billing Beck between Ellie Goulding and her backing track and Coldplay was perhaps not a good move as all the mums and 16 year old girls looked utterly perplexed throughout. Real shame as Beck could have been paired with LCD Soundsystem on The Other Stage giving him a far more knowledgeable and appreciative audience. Felt like a management, agent fail, demanding Pyramid when Other Stage would have been a far better choice. Oh well, time to warm up the vocal chords for a merry singalong – Chris Martin style.
True to form ‘Coldplay’ delivered all the big show tricks, lasers, confetti birds, bouncing balls and fireworks. For some this may seem cliched but standing in the midst of it all whilst a 100,000 plus people are singing every word to every song is quite an intoxicating experience, particularly when Coldplay chose to ditch the cliched Bowie tribute in favour of giving the prematurely deceased ‘Voila Beach’ their debut on the Pyramid Stage. With an emotionally charged rendition of their single ‘Boys That Sing’ Chris Martin once again demonstrated, despite the naysayers, that he is willing to make good use of his privileged position. It was an emotional and poignant moment of utmost class. With emotions running high Amazing Grace burst from the mountainous Pyramid Stage PA to surprising welcome, before perhaps the highlight of the whole festival wandering on stage to deliver a spine tingling rendition of ‘Stayin Alive’ – ‘Bee Gee’s’ legendary front man Barry Gibb. Wow, never thought I’d see that.
Coldplay closed 2016 with typical aplomb, and whilst many consider them beige and not cool it was a commanding performance from a band that presently have no piers at this level of popularity. Yes mass appeal is not everything and with out doubt there are many great bands, DJs and performers in the lower reaches that can be equally if not more thrilling within their particular sphere of influence – we saw many of them this weekend. However to dismiss out of hand such gargantuan acts as Adele and Coldplay is both naive and churlish. Festivals like Glastonbury thrive on headliners such as Coldplay, without whom many of the acts you consider superior, cooler and more relevant would not get the unique opportunity and exposure that only Glastonbury can offer.
And there we have it another enthralling Glastonbury is over and like the many that have gone before it I will no doubt return home with the fleeting determination of a New Years resolution to learn an instrument – I give it two weeks…