Friday, August 28, 2009

SWSL Glastonbury 2009 Diary

(First four installments here, here, here and here.)

Sunday 28th June

(Photos courtesy of Tim, Rea and Del.)

Vacant doesn't even come close to describing how I feel.

Sunday at Glastonbury, and that can only mean one thing: fancy dress! One of our party has gone for the Hunter S Thompson of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas look (Hawaiian shirt, shorts, white socks, hat, shades, cigarette holder). Not having had much in the dressing-up box at home, my effort is poor by contrast - the outfit I wore to a 1930s party in January recycled for the second time.

It seems others have embraced the concept of fancy dress rather more enthusiastically (i.e. with less regard for their dignity)...

Now here's a band that'd have you rubbing the sleep from your eyes even if it was 9 at night. There can't be many 21-year-olds who've hung around with grime MCs in Dizzee's old manor, written a song for the London Philharmonic and even heard of composer Harry Partch and his homemade instruments, let alone been inspired by him to make their own. So step forward (shyly) Mica Levi. The music she makes together with bandmates Raisa Khan and Marc Pell as MICACHU & THE SHAPES (Park Stage) has been praised by broadsheets and Everett True alike (the latter in one of the final issues of Plan B before it folded), and their debut album Jewellery is the latest offering from those rarely-wrong tastemakers at Rough Trade. There's no disputing that tracks like 'Lips' and 'Guts', played with the aid of modified guitar and ingenious percussion on empty vodka and gin bottles, are a lot to get your head around at this time in the day, but in a head-to-head battle with Animal Collective for the festival's inventive, otherworldly pop crown it's no contest.

OK, time for something a little less challenging, methinks. And the beauty of Glastonbury is that a yang to Micachu & The Shapes' yin is always near at hand - in this case in the form of STATUS QUO (Pyramid Stage). You can't get much less challenging than the same three chords, after all. Once, a few years back when I was living in Nottingham, I switched on the local news to discover the sports reporter interviewing Quo's Rick Parfitt - he was visiting Leicester City's ground for a spot of treatment from the club physio for repetitive strain injury... There's no sign of that getting in the way today, though, and he and fellow stalwart Francis Rossi - the Chas 'N' Dave of rock 'n' roll - grin and guitar-duel their way through the best of their 40 year back catalogue: 'In The Army Now', 'Whatever You Want', 'Down Down' and of course the Glastonbury 2009 festival anthem, 'Rockin' All Over The World'. How playing the Pyramid Stage compares to playing Les Battersby's wedding in Coronation Street I can only speculate, but the schedulers are due another doff of the hat.

And who else should have been enjoying Quo a little distance behind us but Lord Bargain and Hen, both of whom are far too polite to comment on my waistcoat and flat cap...

Right, I'm retracting that last doff of the hat. Some monkeying around with the schedule over on the Other Stage means we arrive just in time to see ART BRUT play the very last note of what has clearly been a very well received set. 'Alcoholics Unanimous' could have been written for the occasion. Damn it.

At some point in proceedings there's usually a lull, and this is it. Ordinarily I'd be rushing about like a blue-arsed fly in search of unexpected musical titbits, but my natural instinct has been overpowered by laziness, good company and the ready availability of cold beer - the consequence being that the aural backdrop to our conversation is provided by the emotey, plodding, hook-free, crushingly tedious BRAND NEW (Other Stage).

They could be worse, though - they could be ENTER SHIKARI (Other Stage), for instance. Pathetic rap-metal posturing, Klaxons synths, a bit of brass - honestly, it's as jaw-droppingly horrendous as it sounds. Oh look, there's Del - presumably on hand to lend his support fellow members of the Hertfordshire massive? Nope, he's here for a good chuckle. When they were awarded the NME John Peel Award for Musical Innovation in 2007, the old guy no doubt span around so fast in his grave that he became a blur. If this is what The Kidz are into these days, then we're well and truly fucked.

Nachos grande - a huge mound of tortilla chips topped with chilli, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, jalapenos and salsa. Why at festivals do I always gravitate towards food that will turn my arse into a ticking time bomb?

Looks like someone else has been rooting around in the dressing-up box today. It's hard to believe given the sheer size of Karen O's multi-coloured headdress, but YEAH YEAH YEAHS (Other Stage) actually get off to a muted start, 'Runaway' not quite striking the right note. Not that 'Art Star' from debut EP Master raises the game either, the blast from the past that I welcome with a joyous shout is in fact shown up as one-dimensional and rather uncouth in the context of their more recent material. A case in point: SWSL Single-Of-The-Year-So-Far 'Zero', proof that the fact that Nick Zinner - impeccably cool, all in black with shades and Jesus & Mary Chain bouffant hair - lost the battle with Karen O over the direction the band took for It's Blitz! is hardly reason for complaint. By the time the huge inflatable eye makes its way from the stage across our heads, they're bang on the money: 'Skeletons' rips epic a new arsehole, 'Cheated Hearts' reproaches me for how criminally I initially undervalued Show Your Bones, "Yeah Yeah Yeahs love song" 'Maps' is pure enchantment, and closing double salvo 'Heads Will Roll' and 'Date With The Night' pour cheap vodka down our throats and chauffeur us to the disco. Like Fucked Up before them this weekend, they can rest secure in the knowledge they did their moniker justice.

OK, so you're Natasha Khan aka BAT FOR LASHES (Other Stage) and you're used to stunning audiences with extravagant garb of your own but have just discovered that your own choice of outfit - some kind of sparkling silvery coloured leotard - has been decisively trumped by THAT headdress. What's a girl to do? Simple, really: just set about showing why your second album to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize - your second album full stop - deserves to win. In the period between Fur And Gold and Two Suns, Khan has undergone something of a transformation. The kookiness, oddity and sense of being haunted by the maverick spirit of a folk Kate Bush that garnered her Radiohead's admiration and patronage are all still present and correct, but songs like the percussively extraordinary album opener 'Glass' and particularly 'Daniel' are indicative of her metamorphosis into a bona fide radiant pop princess - albeit one whose latest record features contributions from Scott Walker and members of Yeasayer, and whose live band now includes former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley. Like the bunch of nerds stood next to me (Passion Pit, who played the John Peel Stage yesterday), I'm totally wowed and can feel the prick of moisture in the corners of my eyes during 'Tahiti' and 'Siren Song'. A good thing she avoids 'Sad Eyes', then, for the sake of my dignity.

Spotted: a T-shirt that reads "I'm in a promising local band".

While others are content to pass the time waiting for BON IVER by playing a pretty-much-anything-goes game of football that mutates into a pretty-much-anything-goes game of volleyball, my patience eventually wears thin and I wander off. Does he not realise I've got a pressing appointment elsewhere?

That pressing appointment, I should add, isn't watching leathery lothario TONY CHRISTIE asking for directions to you-know-where while cavorting about in the confines of the Guardian Tent with a feather boa around his neck and his arm around a middle-aged woman - but, y'know, I was passing by and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

From one crooner to another - though I'm having trouble imagining Tony Christie singing about "myxomatoid kids" and "a book of Holocaust poetry" or dedicating a song about murder ('Henry Lee') to his pre-teen son. People are supposed to mellow with age, but in the eleven years since I saw NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS right here on the Pyramid, he seems to have gone the opposite way. Contorted with fury and spitting liberally on the stage, when he sings "I AIN'T DOWN HERE FOR YOUR MONEY / I AIN'T DOWN HERE FOR YOUR LOVE / I AIN'T DOWN HERE FOR LOVE OR MONEY / I'M DOWN HERE FOR YOUR SOUL" during 'Deanna', you damn well believe him. What we get is tantamount to a greatest hits set, as heard through the prism of latest offering Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, which found Cave and his bunch of sleazy lounge lizard accomplices on particularly acerbic, blackly amusing and grubbily lustful form. Only 'The Mercy Seat' disappoints in that it's not quite as feverishly intense as I'd hoped - 'We Call Upon The Author To Explain' (and its electro breakdown) is arguably their most gloriously unhinged moment to date, 'There She Goes My Beautiful World' is stunning and a desperate and impassioned 'Stagger Lee' brings the set to a violent, bloody climax.

Still trying to catch my breath, I reflect on the fact that even though 'Stagger Lee' sent the body count soaring, my guess is likely to have been too high to win the sweepstake. And do the references to Lazarus count as -1, as he came back from the dead? I think we might need some independent adjudication.

A man in monk's robes walks past singing 'Parklife' - if only he'd taken a vow of silence. And there's Del making his way into the crowd - I hope for his sake the band he's come to see are good. But at the moment I've got bigger concerns - concerns like where am I going to get one of those Glasto branded cloth bags from? If I go back home without one, Jen'll kill me...

Let's do the time warp! It's suddenly 1996 - The Prodigy will be headlining on the Other Stage shortly, but closing the festival on the Pyramid Stage it's BLUR. I'm guessing that my reaction to the news that prize tit Damon Albarn had found a window in his busy schedule, Alex James had left someone else in charge of the cheese-making, Dave Rowntree had stopped doing what ever he'd been doing (sitting around in his pants watching The Jeremy Kyle Show?) and they'd reformed was rather different to that of most people here - I wanted to grab Graham Coxon by the shoulders, shake him violently and shout into his face "BUT WHY?!!" I stick it out for three songs - 'She's So High', 'Girls And Boys' and the monumentally shite 'Tracey Jacks' - before having to beat a retreat.

Another jaunt down memory lane - ah, grazed knees, jumpers for goalposts, beans on toast for tea, 'Smack My Bitch Up' on the wireless... Time was when THE PRODIGY (Other Stage) were perceived as genuinely dangerous, socially deviant outsiders hell-bent on flouting the laws of the land and corrupting the minds of the nation's youth - but not any more. Where once they were progressive, now the new songs sound like old songs, and the old songs are performed with little of the venom and vigour of yore. Remarkably, they actually seem more dated than Crosby, Stills & Nash. Worse still, while Maxim may keep chuntering on about "Glastonbury warriors", it takes all of five minutes for it to become evident that this isn't exactly your typical Glasto crowd, cans of beer raining down on heads and a punch-up breaking out just in front of me. I'm not a big fan of lentil burgers, but rather that than a knuckle sandwich.

At the Stonebridge Bar in the Park - a stone's throw from our tents, easy access to toilets, good music and bountiful supplies of beer. Pints in hand and the never-ending procession of flaming lanterns continuing to pass overhead from the Stone Circle, we wonder why on earth we didn't think of doing this the previous nights, instead of scrumming down with the throng in Trash City and Shangri-La.

A sudden torrential downpour catches us out, and being coatless with just my flat cap to deflect the rain, I take evasive action and search for somewhere to hole myself up. I think it's a fair bet that twenty minutes is the longest anyone has voluntarily spent in a long-drop cubicle at this festival.

Having just about survived to tell the tale and rushed back to the tents as it eased off, I stand huddled with the others under the gazebo. "We're like a group of emperor penguins", declares Owen.

The sun's coming up - probably a cue to put the fire out and hit the sack, then.

Bands or performers I would have liked to have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / the elements / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: Bon Iver, Amadou Et Mariam, Good Books, Noisettes, The Soft Pack, Stornoway, Peaches, Fight Like Apes, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Magic Numbers, Robin Ince, Josie Long, Glenn Wool

Monday 29th June

Someone nearby is playing Bill Withers' 'Lovely Day' - and indeed it is, an absolutely gorgeous morning. More's the pity that we've got to go home, then. The fire's still smouldering symbolically, though - we can't face bringing the curtain down on the festival just yet, and in any case no one's in a fit state to drive...

"KETAMINE! SOMEONE GIVE ME SOME FUCKING KETAMINE NOW!" Yes, please do, to shut this twat up.

After four days of heroically kamikaze drinking, now is of course the time to address the serious issues of the day. Y'know - who'd play you in a film of your life? What's the best way of cooking eggs? Why don't fridges have glass doors so you can see what's inside without having to open them?

One awful bacon and egg roll later and my stout defence of the fried egg in the earlier debate looks rather less robust - certainly less robust than the fried egg in question, which seemed like something you might have bought in a joke shop.

Sufficiently roasted in the sun and now psyching ourselves up for the big push homewards, we stock up on water and Coke in the Park. All the streamers have been stripped from the tower, and the site generally is like the festival equivalent of that scene in 28 Days Later.

The ominous silence, punctuated only by the weary thump of welly on metal track, spells out the end of another Glastonbury. 'Twas a good one - but then you knew I'd say that.

1 comment:

Ian said...

The best way, of course, is scrambled.