As the original British music festival turns 40, founder Michael Eavis and daughter Emily promised something exceptional. Arriving on Wednesday morning to sweltering sunshine, maybe it wasn’t just the music they were talking about.
Before the offical bands started on Friday, a slew of attractions on Thursday helped keep spirits high, including from the return of Northern madman / genius Mik Artistik – performing numerous shows across the festival weekend, the debut of Stephen Fretwell’s latest outfit Howls for a packed Queen’s Head set, and Beans On Toast providing an entertaining outing on the Globe stage.
A switch around with stage times meant my Friday began watching Joshua Radin on the Other stage, whilst I awaited The Stranglers. Not a complete disaster, the former offering a surprisingly more gritty than you’d expect outing, the latter delivering classics ‘Peaches’ and ‘Golden Brown’ albeit it a little bit ropey (pun intended). Over to the Queen’s Head, and temperatures soared ahead of Frank Turner’s mid afternoon slot. The humidity in the large tent / pub was just tolerable for Frank’s passionate solo acoustic outing, which drew from new and old material alike, including the freshly penned ‘I Still Believe’ and ‘Rock and Roll Romance’.On the way back to the Other stage, a quick nip in the Leftfield tent provided a glimpse of Billy Bragg, performing with rehabilitated inmates as part of the ‘Jail Guitar Doors’ scheme he supports. However the day’s first real highlight came from Phoenix – who produced a rousing 40 minutes of their upbeat French pop, including the likes of recent efforts ‘Liztomania’, ‘Fences’ and ‘1901’. Slightly gutted to have missed the start of Snoop Dogg, I arrived at the Pyramid for ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and a well-placed cover of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. Tinie Tempah came out to duo on ‘Pass Out’ – which despite meaning absolutely nothing to me sent the rammed Pyramid crowd into frenzy. A short walk up to the John Peel tent offered a brief respite before Mumford & Sons played to their biggest crowd to date – receiving a hero’s homecoming after album ‘Sigh No More’ has gone from obscure indie treat to mainstream staple. Despite coming across a little daunted by the size of the crowd, tracks such as ‘Roll Away Your Stone’, ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘Winter Winds’ show exactly why this band have gained so much momentum so fast. Only after I discovered I’ve missed that Thom Yorke / Johnny Greenwood guest appearance – can’t win them all I guess.
As the day drew to a close the Other stage provided my headliners of choice. There was just enough time to catch Hot Chip bring their usual mix of floor fillers, before The Flaming Lips immediately shattered any lingering disappointment over U2’s cancellation or doubts over my decision to skip Gorillaz for them. The show started with a female silhouette dancing on screen. Normal enough yes. That is until her vagina began flashing and pulsating, eventually becoming large enough to form a door from which the band emerged. From then on the Lips’ hour and half can only be described as a exhilarating and eccentric performance; from frontman Wayne Coyne’s now standard journey into the crowd in a plastic bubble, to dancing orang-utans and frogs (not real ones sadly) and confetti cannons. They also found the time to play some music; most notably ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (Part 1)’, ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ and closer, the psychedelic classic ‘Do You Realise?’
Waking to the prospect of an even hotter day than before, I started Saturday as effortlessly as possibly, comfortably watching Coheed and Cambria from the back of the Other stage. How they ended up on the line up still baffles; with half of the crowd stunned by sheer volume of noise four people can make, the other half presumably too pre-occupied with the sheer amount of hair frontman Claudio Sanchez has. Regardless, a career spanning set, which featured ‘Time Consumer’, ‘A Favour House Atlantic’ and closer ‘Welcome Home’, did enough to satisfy. Despite my best attempt to watch Imogen Heap the heat became overwhelming at which point a swift return to the tent was in order. Thankfully a few hours out of the sun and I was rejuvinated for The National. Having already delivered one of 2010’s best albums in ‘High Violet’, it came as no surprise a set drawing heavily from that, and also including the much adored ‘Abel’, ‘Fake Empire’ and ‘Mr November’ provided Saturday’s biggest highlight, with frontman Matt Berninger in typical scathing form . Equally as impressive, Foals gave an intense performance in the John Peel tent, mixing material from debut ‘Antidotes’ and most recent offering ‘Total Life Forever’; with tracks such as ‘Cassius’, ‘Blue Blood’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’ all being standouts. Back over at the Other stage Editors delivered a suitably melancholic set as the heat finally died down and a cool breeze emerged. ‘The Racing Rats’ and ‘Smoker’s Outside The Hospital’ were much welcomed slower brooding anthems after a long and relentless day in the sun.
Saturday’s headliner choices paled in comparison to the last; with Muse and Jamie T being the only real options. Rumours of a guest appearance from U2’s The Edge won it for Muse; even though Jamie T would have undoubtfully been more fun. Regardless, from the moment Matt Bellamy and co took to the Pyramid, there’s no denying Muse are the best stadium act the UK has; their show, as has been for many years, a slick and confident beast, crammed with hits from their wealthy back catalogue. As a fan of the band’s earlier work, tracks such as ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘New Born’ were nice inclusions, with new material such as ‘Uprising’ and ‘The United States of Eurasia’ continuing to wash of over me with little effect: although the latter must surely have Freddie Mercury spinning in his grave. However, from a set full of nods to rock’s past – Bellamy including riffs from the likes of Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, and The Animals’ ‘House of the Rising Sun’ between songs, it’s no surprise the show stealer came from another borrowed number. As rumoured, The Edge casually strolled out for the band’s classic ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. Genuinely spine tingling – adding that ‘Glastonbury moment’ to an otherwise standard Muse outing. The only downside? You couldn’t help but think if only U2 hadn’t had to pull out. Job done Muse, even if I am a bit past their once so hip, but now a little too predictable slice of space age rock.
Of course, a trip to Glastonbury wouldn’t be the same without at least one secret set. Sadly, rumours of a Hot Chip show late night at the Avalon Café ended in disappointment when the rather conspicuously named About, turn out to be nothing more than a Hot Chip side project playing improvised noise. Nothing ventured…
Mercifully on Sunday there was a forgiving breeze in comparison with Saturday’s unforgiving heat. It certainly made my afternoon viewing that little bit more enjoyable; with The Hold Steady bringing their upbeat set to the Other stage. Showcasing latest release ‘Heaven Is Whenever’, Craig Finn looked like the happiest person at the festival; his typically over-exaggerated onstage mannerisms coming across like childlike enthusiasm. Not that this is a bad thing, and with tunes like ‘The Weekenders’, ‘Stay Positive’, Hurricane J’ and ‘Sequested in Memphis’ Sunday was off to a fine start. Ditching the football proved to be a good choice in hindsight, with a trip to the Pyramid for Slash rewarded with a string of Guns N’ Roses classics including ‘Civil War’, ‘Nightrain’, ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, as well as ‘Slither’ from his most recent band Velvet Revolver. Up next, Grizzly Bear failed to impress, their famed vocal harmonies coming up somewhat flat on the Other stage. The benefits of experience showed for Ray Davies back on the Pyramid – the former Kinks man bringing out the hits in what was an emotional set given the recent loss of original Kinks bassist Pete Quaife. With numerous songs dedicated to Quaife, it was obvious Davies was still devastated from the recent loss, and it’s to his credit he found the strength to fulfil this commitment, and bring classics ‘Lola’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon’ to Glastonbury.You can always count on Jack Johnson for a laid back, afternoon slot. With only Johnson, his keyboard player and a drummer, simplicity was the key – the trio worked through material from the Hawaiian born singer’s new release ‘To The Sea’ and breakthrough ‘In Between Dreams’. A ukulele version of ‘Breakdown’ fittingly characterised the perfect final day afternoon chill out. Across on the Other stage there was time to a catch a glimpse of MGMT’s much anticipated performance. Their latest album ‘Congratulations’ may have divided opinion, but unlike their recent Coachella performance, they didn’t shy away from their hits including ‘Time To Pretend’ – introduced as “A song from when we were popular”, and ‘Kids’. For those after more than a quick fix, the likes of ‘Brian Eno’ and closer ‘Congratulations’ equally impressed – even if their more proggy nature has proven too much for some on record.
Facing a tough call between Glasto veterans Faithless, and the soon to retire LCD Soundsystem, LCD won my vote, and it was a decision soon justified – tracks such as recent offering ‘Drunk Girls’, shone alongside classics ‘Daft Punk are playing at my house’ and ‘Tribulations’. Frontman James Murphy was a delight as the ever-unlikely frontman; his unwillingness to conform to songwriting and performance conventions has made LCD a true original. With only a few hours left, all that was left was for Motown and soul legend Stevie Wonder to grace the Pyramid stage. Upon taking to the stage he announced “This is going to be a celebration of life and a celebration of Michael Jackson”. He wasn’t joking – bringing the hits from ‘Master Blaster’ and ‘Higher Ground’, to the always classic ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ and ‘Superstition’ – his hour and half slot flew by – with plenty of humour and entertainment from arguably one of the world’s best performers. As Michael Eavis was brought out for the encore of ‘Happy Birthday’ the night, and the festival was once again brought to another glorious end.
Happy 40th Glastonbury, long may you continue for another 40. No signs of a mid-life crisis just yet.