Wednesday, August 05, 2009

SWSL Glastonbury 2009 Diary

(First two installments here and here.)

Friday 26th June

(Photos courtesy of Tim, Del, Stuart and Sarah.)

It's been pissing it down all night so we awake to a familiar sight: mud, and lots of it. Still, spirits are soon raised by a solitary small coffee which contains amazing life-giving properties that more than justify the £2.50 it costs.

Damn, that guy's REALLY good - parents, national newspapers and Sky News have also been taken in by the Michael Jackson celebrity death rumour. Or perhaps he was telling the truth? The "I was at Glastonbury when Michael Jackson died" T-shirts are already on sale, and it's decided that for the rest of the weekend wine must only be referred to as "Jesus juice" by way of a tribute.

"Shall we have a sweepstake on the body count in Nick Cave's set?" Sounds like a plan.

I can't help thinking I've heard these songs somewhere before... Despite the drizzle, BJORN AGAIN seize the opportunity to open the Pyramid Stage in style - astoundingly short dresses, a rap segment dropped into 'Take A Chance On Me', the boys blasting through 'Rockin' All Over The World' while the girls are offstage for a costume change. No chocolate coins lobbed out during 'Money, Money, Money', sadly, as there were when I last saw them (or rather an incarnation of them) back in Wollaton Park in Nottingham in 1998, but, for someone who's of the firm belief that ABBA are the best pure pop band bar none, they could hardly have disappointed. I text my friend Steve, who's in an ABBA tribute band himself, telling him he needs to up his game.

Who wakes up one morning and thinks: "What I really need for Glastonbury is a flag with a snail saying 'I heart bagels' on it"?

Here we go with the Jackson tributes, GABRIELLA CILMI (Pyramid Stage) slipping into 'Billie Jean' in the middle of slinky chart-conquering globe-straddling single 'Sweet About Me'. The supremely stage-confident Aussie teenager's next move is a cover of Timberlake's 'Cry Me A River'. Lessons To Be Learned? You'd be better off sticking to your own strident, funky, Winehouse-before-the-car-crash, Xenomania-massaged pop.

Back in 2007, I was mildly smitten with THE RUMBLE STRIPS (John Peel Stage). Two years on, and they're back on the same stage and in an earlier slot. No doubt they're hoping that hopping into bed with Mark Ronson and Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett for second album Welcome To The Walk Alone will more than just arrest the slide, but, while (as their website is keen to impress on you) Zane Lowe has declared himself "completely blown away" by a record he described as "an evolution", I'm less than convinced. For every hint of Futureheads edge, there's an unhealthy dose of Coral-on-autopilot or, worse still, of The Ordinary Boys. "Funny how they're middle of the road, isn't it?", quips my companion. Still, 'Motorcycle' remains a cheeky, heartening anthem for young soul rebels on Raleigh Choppers everywhere.

"Never has a band been more aptly named", announces the John Peel Stage's regular gnome-on-acid compere with glee, once he's delivered the latest in a string of Michael Jackson jokes. The band in question? FUCKED UP. While the band keep things ticking over musically (if fast 'n' furious anarcho-punk can ever be legitimately described as "ticking over", that is), all focus is drawn to vocalist Pink Eyes. If the sight of someone who looks like an out-of-shape WWF wrestler scaling the rig is arresting, then his subsequent charge through the crowd - resulting in a moshpit that sweeps like a tornado through the tent gathering grinning 31-year-olds who know they should know better but just don't care - is genuinely electrifying. Those who took up a vantage point on the disabled viewing platform presumably didn't plan on having a close-range view of a very hairy arsecrack, while the bloke forced into crowdsurfing to unwind the mic cable and ensure it doesn't garrote anyone has to be the hardest working roadie in rock. 'Police' and 'Crusades' bring the set to a particularly violent conclusion, the band relishing the fact that they're "the third heaviest band on the bill, after Spinal Tap and Status Quo", and Pink Eyes generously praising the leniency of the security staff and urging "Forget MJ, remember JP". I can only hope Butlins Minehead is already bracing itself for their ATP show in December.

Trying to catch my breath, I wander over to the T-shirt stall and in the process of doing so remember my friend Stu works for the John Peel Stage's "sponsor" Shelter - and lo and behold there he is selling limited edition T-shirts of the great man. It doesn't take much to encourage him to sneak off for a quick constitutional pint.

From one dangerous-to-Google band to another. THE VIRGINS (John Peel Stage) have pretty much got it all - the name, a privileged birth and toddlerdom in middle-class New York, fashion gigs with Sonic Youth, providing a soundtrack for Gossip Girl. Their clean-cut garagey guitar pop, regularly infused with a funk groove and a reggae lope, has and will continue to draw comparisons with The Strokes, and they're probably one big single away from next year's Pyramid Stage, but don't be sucked in - accent aside, they're also one big single away from being the next fucking Razorlight.

Enough of the slow jams already - and N.E.R.D. (Pyramid Stage) know it too, admitting they've just been pandering to their record company's demands: "Now do you want to hear the songs you paid your $200 for?" Everyone looks puzzlingly at each other and wonders who's shelled out $200 when a festival ticket was £160 and, perhaps more to the point, who's shelled out that amount just to see N.E.R.D. In the event, while larger-than-life rap-rock anthems 'Rock Star' and 'Lapdance' do then get an airing, we don't even get to hear all of latest single 'Everybody Nose' because their initial lateness on stage results in them overrunning, the plug being pulled, and diva-ish behaviour bookending their set.

FLEET FOXES (Pyramid Stage) would thrive in either of two different Glastonbury contexts: last thing at night in the confines of the John Peel Tent, or beneath blue skies in the late afternoon sun on the Pyramid Stage. Or so I thought. Despite being handed the latter on a plate by the schedulers and the elements, last year's critics' darlings limp through their set awkwardly and nervously, seeming to hide behind their prodigious beards. Several of their debut album's best moments, not least 'He Doesn't Know Why', are AWOL and the myriad subtleties of the multi-part harmonies - spellbinding on record - are lost on the breeze. A disappointment, then - though nothing that another pint of cider can't fix.

Well, that and the sight of a long-haired boy of no more than 13 stood on a wooden trailer playing Slayer's 'South Of Heaven' on an electric guitar for the benefit of passers-by.

Right, that's it - from this moment forth, I'm a card-carrying conspiracy theorist. It's got nothing to do with JFK, Roswell or whether man really has set foot on the moon - no, it concerns the fact that every single time I rush across the site to see an act in the Cabaret Tent, things are running late and I'm forced to watch a fucking juggler. At least compere Arthur Smith raises spirits with a selection of celebrity death rumours and a rewritten version of Rudyard Kipling's 'If' about white van men.

"When I told my manager I wanted to be up against Lily Allen, this isn't what I had in mind..." ED BYRNE may have finally laid the legendary Alanis Morissette routine to rest, but there are still plenty of chuckles to be had from his musings on obsessing about what he should have said in arguments, the fundamental flaw in Back To The Future ("Surely one day Marty's going to come downstairs and his mum's going to say 'Hang on, you're that bloke I used to fancy in school'") and the fact that there's no need to be scared of a group of emos as they're more likely to harm themselves than you. And he's got a message, too: "I used to be up and coming - so watch out McIntyre!"

Back across to the Pyramid Stage and the largest crowd of the day just in time to witness 'Not Fair' and marvel at the extraordinary adhesive properties of LILY ALLEN's tit tape.

Familiar faces ahoy! It's Tim, Sarah and friends. Cue another spillage-defying long-haul trip back from the cider bus with multiple pints and much excitably drunken chinwagging.

Cometh the hour, cometh the first bona fide legends of the festival, THE SPECIALS (Pyramid Stage). Not that you'd guess Terry Hall is pleased to be here - suited and unsmiling, he looks like a middle manager who's just heard 'Rat Race' and is about to throw himself off a bridge. But then I suppose it's hardly cause for celebration that he introduces 'A Message To You Rudy' with "It's taken us 28 years to get here but things are still the same. Then it was the National Front, now it's the BNP. This next song's called 'Fuck The BNP'". Ska is right up there on my list of genres to give a wide berth (the reason why I'll be nowhere in the vicinity of the Pyramid Stage on Sunday early evening, to avoid Madness), but 'Too Much Too Young' has always been an exception, somehow, while set closer 'Ghost Town' - #9 in my list of Top UK #1s back in 2005, don'tchaknow - still sounds as spooky, atmospheric and downright relevant as it did on its release.

I suddenly realise that I haven't eaten for the best part of twelve hours, but mercifully sustenance is close at hand courtesy of Sarah. These, I'm convinced, are the best chips in the world.

My acquaintance with the music of NEIL YOUNG (Pyramid Stage) can be best described as shamefully limited. The only album in my collection is the fantastically bleak end-of-the-hippie-dream On The Beach, while After The Gold Rush was staple stereo fodder when we used to work through the night in our underground lair putting together the university magazine. 'Hey Hey My My' is first, and it takes all of two minutes for me to realise exactly where Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis has been coming from all these years and exactly why lots of in-the-know friends are so evangelical about someone I had previously had down as being little more than meat for the corpsefuckers at Mojo. But, after a blazing 'Cinnamon Girl' and despite Ian's pre-festival warnings, I'm lured away to the other side of the site.

You see, I simply HAD to catch ANIMAL COLLECTIVE (Park Stage), whose latest album Merriweather Post Pavilion (their eighth - I'm something of a late convert, shall we say) is full of the sort of mind-melting, otherworldly psychedelia that has had me fascinatedly wondering exactly how they might reproduce it live. As it turns out, it's most definitely not fascinating to find out - something not even a vivid and dynamic light show can offset. In 'My Girls', which opens the set, and particularly 'Summertime Clothes' they have two of 2009's very best pop songs, but both fail to live up to anything even remotely approaching expectations or potential. I stick around until the end hoping it might improve, but it doesn't, and I walk away muttering apologies to Ian for doubting his judgement and grateful that I haven't bought a Greenman ticket on the strength of their headline slot.

Apparently Neil Young wrapped up with 'Rockin' In The Free World' complete with no fewer than five reprises and then an encore of the Beatles' 'A Day In The Life'. And I wasn't there. Arses arses arses.

What is it about being huddled around a communal campfire that makes people want to play Chinese whispers?

Friday night (well, Saturday morning technically speaking) and the lights are low, looking out for a place to go... A disco somewhere in Trash City? That'll do. Though no matter how many cans of San Miguel I sink, the live band doesn't seem to be getting any better.

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: Doves, Regina Spektor, Steel Pulse, The Horrors, Ray Davies, British Sea Power, The Blockheads, The Low Anthem, Attila The Stockbroker, Simon Munnery


Ian said...

I guess I'm a little pleased my Neil Young/Animal Collective predictions proved to be on the money - but I mostly feel bad you missed the former! Sounds like he's playing basically the same set I saw (or at least the same beginning and end), and it's a stormer.

Ben said...

That's very good of you Ian - you realise that times like these are what the phrase "I told you so" was invented for?

A couple of non-Glasto-going friends saw him in Hyde Park in London the following night, when he was actually joined by Paul McCartney for 'A Day In The Life'. Pretty special, apparently.

Ian said...

And on t'other hand, my friend Julia saw AC again briefly at Lollapalooza and said they sucked even more live than the last time we saw them.

I deliberately avoided using that phrase, but I admit to being tempted. You'll know better next time!