Worthy Farm, 26th / 27th / 28th June 2009
Back with a more traditional line up after last year’s controversial offering, the daddy of all festivals promised legendary performances for 2009. Could it live up to such great expectations?
Fifteen hours. Fifteen gruelling hours. After possibly the longest coach ride in history, we arrived on site at 11pm Wednesday. Once the joy of pitching tents in the dark was over, a quick wander up to the Stone Circle where seemingly all of the festival had gathered in spiritual union was all we could do to salvage an otherwise frustrating and tiring day.
With Thursday came more promise. The sunny day brought the perfect opportunity to explore the festival in all its glory. Whilst the Dirty Boots tent proved to be a great find; with sets from newcomers The Sunbirds, Alessi’s Ark and We Are The People, adventuring around the enormous site also brought performances from Mick Artistic and The Henry Brothers, the former with his self styled comedy / music act, the latter with, as they described, a nostalgic mix of “Murder Ballads and Death Songs”. But of course, the most memorable moment of the day goes to the untimely death of Michael Jackson. Initially dismissing the news a just a festival rumour it wasn’t long before the word had spread like wildfire. Like him or not, he was a pop icon, and in death he will no doubt be remembered as the legend he once was, not the troubled star he later became.
Awaking to the patter of heavy rainfall Friday morning was not a good feeling. Armed with wellies and bright yellow ponchos we persevered to catch Other Stage openers Mr Hudson who served up an entertaining, but remarkably average performance. Rumours of a Kanye West guest appearance had been greatly exaggerated. Onto the Guardian and Dirty Boots tents where Slow Club did their very best to get a laid-back crowd moving and Lisa Mitchell impressed with a cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo & Juliet’. After a quick stop by the Other Stage for a taste of The Maccabees’ indie pop brilliance, N*E*R*D* made a wonderfully rowdy appearance on the Pyramid stage, before Fleet Foxes put in a rather disappointing outing. Not through any fault of their own mind, breakthrough single ‘White Winter Hymnal’, and album track ‘Oliver James’ were both well received, but you couldn’t help feel that with only one album perhaps they weren’t ready for such a big crowd so soon in their promising career. In contrast, Lily Allen lapped up the attention, sporting a purple wig and rather revealing dress as she pleased the masses. However it was The Specials who provided the festival’s first highlight, the recently reformed ska pioneers delighting just about everyone with non-stop hits from the more obvious likes of ‘A Message To You Rudy’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’, to the more darker feel of ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Little Bitch’. Whilst legend Neil Young geared up to headline the Pyramid, across on the Jazz World stage The Streets delivered an upbeat set, showcasing material from all four albums to date, as well as an unexpected tribute to Jackson in the form of ‘Billie Jean’. A quick treck to the park stage saw Animal Collective bringing the most spectacular lights show of the weekend, to accompany easily the most bizarre set of the weekend – clearly a band that require more than a few listens to be truly appreciated. It was then back to the Other Stage just in time to catch Bloc Party impress with material from 2008’s Intimacy, as well new song ‘One More Chance’ and slew of festival favourites including ‘So Here We Are’ and ‘Banquet’. Frontman Kele ended by saying the band, “Have never enjoyed playing at Glastonbury until tonight” and you could tell he really meant it. Surely future festival headline slots are in the not so distant future.
With the weather back on our side Saturday got off to a great start up at the Park stage with First Aid Kit and The Low Anthem both easing the day in with their mix of folk, country and Americana. After seeing the masses pack the Jazz World Stage for Rolf Harris, ‘Two Little Boys’ and a didgeridoo; why he wasn’t booked for the Pyramid remains a mystery, a walk over to the festival’s premier stage brought The Eagles Of Death Metal’s deliberately clichéd rock, in turn perfectly setting up iconic parody act Spinal Tap. With old favourites ‘Hell Hole’, ‘Sex Farm’ and superb cameos from Jamie Cullum; on the aptly titled ‘Short and Sweet’, and Jarvis Cocker; on ‘Big Bottomed’, 25 years on, we’re all still laughing with them. Across in the John Peel tent, New Brunswick New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem not only delivered one of the sets of the weekend, but also provided my Glastonbury moment, with a surprise appearance from their hometown hero Bruce Springsteen for ‘The ’59 Sound’. A memory that I, and no doubt The Gaslight Anthem, will not be forgetting in a long time. Equally as rousing, Passion Pit wowed with an energetic set of their indie friendly dance, tracks such as ‘Little Secrets’, ‘Sleepyhead’ and ‘The Reeling’ prompting the biggest responses. Back to the Pyramid, and there was just enough time for Kasabian to swagger on and deliver a typically confident performance of new material including single ‘Fire’ alongside old hits ‘Empire’, ‘Club Foot’ and ‘L.S.F.’ before Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band delivered what can only be described as a phenomenal two hour and a half hour set. Mixing new tracks and covers, alongside with his vast back catalogue of hits saw The Boss effortlessly own the Pyramid. ‘No Surrender’ saw a guest appearance from The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon, whilst old favourites ‘Thunder Road’, ‘The River’, ‘Born To Run’, ‘Glory Days’ and closer ‘Dancing In The Dark’ all enjoyed spirited airings. Unquestionably THE greatest rock n’ roll band on the planet.
With a night of partying up at either the Trash City or the Shangri La fields taking its toll on most campers, The Easy Star All-Stars provided the perfect cure to any Sunday morning hangovers. Performing dub reggae covers of The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, tracks such as ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ got the final day to a great start. Sadly, next on the Pyramid Status Quo couldn’t quite channel the same magic, playing a set favouring fans rather than a festival crowd. Art Brut impressed on the Other Stage, followed by the always superb Brand New, complete with a special acoustic cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘Oh Comely’ thrown in by frontman Jesse Lacey after the regular set. Sadly, despite their best efforts Enter Shikari didn’t go down quite as well, but then again, Glastonbury was never going to be an easy gig for the St Albarns quartet. In the battle of the quirky frontwomen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O was triumphant over Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan: O’s eccentricity and seemingly limitless energy winning over Khan’s more brooding presence. Two highly enjoyable sets in their own right regardless. Next up, Bon Iver delivered an utterly breathtaking outing. Whilst the likes of ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘Flume’, were performed as delicately as on record, tracks such as ‘Creature Fear’ and closer ‘The Wolves (Act I and Act II)’ were reinforced by a backing band, adding a new dimension and intensity to the songs. All that was left was for Blur’s reunion on the Pyramid. With hits from every era of the bands evolution, a guest appearance from Phil Daniels on ‘Parklife’ and most importantly a genuine sense of joy to be back together coming across from Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave alike; which saw Damon burst into tears at one point, whilst they might not have not conquered the Pyramid quite as effortlessly as Springsteen, there’s no denying they brought the festival to a glorious finale.
Equally exhilarating and exhausting, Glastonbury is the ultimate festival experience, taking both the good and bad elements to their extremes. Whilst it might not be one you want to put yourself through every year; there were certainly far too many people there for my liking, rest assured when you do, the extra effort is rewarded with memories that will no doubt last a lifetime. With the next year’s festival billed as a 40th birthday celebration, expect just about anything.