Friday, October 08, 2010

SWSL Glastonbury 2010 Diary

(First three instalments here, here and here.)

Saturday 26th June

Ah, that increasingly familiar waking sensation of realising you're sweating with every pore of your body.

The half-hour queue for coffee is just about worth it, but a black mark against "our" cafe for being vegetarian only and therefore unable to furnish me with the vital accompaniment, a bacon sarnie.

It's precisely this time of day that I should be out and about, making the most of the musical down-time to explore the site - but it's just too darned hot. Better to sit under the gazebo in a semblance of shade and conserve energy for the long day ahead.

Luke Temple tells us he dreamt he'd overslept - not likely in this heat, I'd have thought. His band, HERE WE GO MAGIC (Park Stage), are a bit like a typical David Blaine stunt: briefly impressive but generally inspiring indifference, and definitely not magic. The slightly psychedelic indie of 'Casual' bears a passing resemblance to The Shins and former tourmates Grizzly Bear but is too polite and unremarkable to ruffle any feathers, particularly at this time of day.

No mud, but there's dust everywhere - billowing up off the tracks, clinging to clothes, lying thick on tents. It's like Glastonbury Tor has erupted, showering the surrounding countryside with volcanic ash.

Much less subtle than Here We Go Magic, CYMBALS EAT GUITARS (John Peel Stage) are meat-and-potatoes (or should that be burger-and-fries?) American indie rock squarely in the tradition of Built To Spill and Modest Mouse - both bands I'm yet to find much time for. Guitars and keyboards are attacked remorselessly and the vein-popping vocals are delivered with gusto, but again nothing really sticks and I drift off, wondering whether the name refers to a rock version of Paper, Scissors, Stone.

There's a new compere on the John Peel Stage - whither the usual little gnome? Perhaps he's gone fishing. Anyway, please come back - all is forgiven, as this guy's even worse: "I was wondering: what if the hokey-cokey really is what it's all about?"

Time for us Brits to show the Yanks how it's done. FIELD MUSIC (John Peel Stage) are back after a three-year hiatus, during which the brothers Brewis pursued their solo projects and keyboard player Andrew Moore left, with an ambitious double album called (says David wryly) "Field Music open brackets Measure close brackets". Much like its predecessors, 2005's self-titled debut and 2007's Tones Of Town, it touches lightly on new wave, post-punk and psychedelia but for the most part ploughs a wistful pop furrow that is artful but neither abrasive nor difficult, masterful in its poise. There are favourites aplenty including 'A House Is Not A Home' and 'If Only The Moon Were Up' (though curiously three of Tones Of Town's best moments - 'In Context', 'She Can Do What She Wants' and the title track - are all absent), while the new record is well represented, most notably by sublime set-closer 'Share The Words'. Judging by their cheery demeanour, even when faced with temperamental monitors, the break has done them good and they've returned rejuvenated. The very least the nation could do, you feel, would be to recognise them - belatedly - for the national treasures they most definitely are.

Ah the joy (not to mention the surprise) of a spotless toilet at this stage of the festival. All credit to the staff - it's a dirty job...

The first pint of the day. Commendable self-restraint, I feel - nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that up until now I've been trying to shake off a hangover from last night's excesses...

A rhetorical question to which you could supply an answer if you like: when exactly did WILD BEASTS (John Peel Stage) get so popular? They're the latest of Domino's UK signings to score points with the mainstream, following in the footsteps of Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, but are more eccentric than either - both vocally, with Hayden Thorpe's Marmite falsetto histrionics, and percussively, courtesy of inventive drummer Chris Talbot. Perhaps those eccentricities are the result of their gestation in the near-splendid isolation of Cumbria? Thorpe's rolled-up jacket sleeves aren't the only hint of a band harking back to the 80s - but, refreshingly, they prefer to allude to the Smiths rather than to glum it up with Editors, White Lies et al. The set-opener and single 'All The King's Men' are enough to convince me I've been overlooking something rather good.

Still, can't stop - a swift tramp across the site to the Park Stage and, now blinded by suncream melting into my contact lenses, I pick my way between prostrate bodies, trusting more to fate than judgement that I'm not about to leave a footprint on someone's face. In the circumstances BEACH HOUSE are perfect, their sensuously woozy dreampop - My Bloody Valentine taken down a path less travelled - exacerbating my current out-of-body experience. They're not totally with it, either - when Alex Scally apologies for a fuck-up as a "technical error", heavy-lidded partner Victoria Legrande corrects him with a grin: "Too much MDMA". At some point during 'Silver Soul' (the chorus of "This is happening again...", probably) I realise I'm totally theirs and want to apologise for spending the last few months saying to fans of Teen Dream "Yeah, but the Lightning Dust album is way better..."

Now able to see after a quick trip back to the tent to swap contacts for glasses, it's back to the Park Stage for STORNOWAY. As local Oxford heroes, it feels a bit like watching Los Campesinos!, except that I don't like them so much and haven't been with them from the start of the journey. And what a journey - four or five sets here last year (I think they lost count), an appearance on Later... as an unsigned act, a deal with 4AD and a debut album, Beachcomber's Windowsill. Frontman Brian Briggs, introducing the gently anthemic 'Fuel Up', recounts his rather more hellish journey to the festival - a 33-hour slog from Oxford which included the van breaking down and having to sleep on an industrial estate. Today they seem more lightweight than usual, and less satisfying for it, though 'We Are The Battery Human' does at least resonate with Glastonbury's "fuck the day job" ethos.

Enough of this perfect synchronicity between place, weather and band - I'm in the mood for storm clouds, gloom and a lugubrious gent intoning sinister confessions like "I was afraid I'd eat your brains / 'Cos I'm evil" ('Conversation 16'). In short, I'm in the mood for THE NATIONAL - and looking at the size of the Other Stage crowd, I'm not alone. "This is what we dreamed of ten years ago, only darker and with more girls at the front", smiles Matt Berninger, apologising for disregarding Michael Stipe's advice never to disrespect your audience by wearing shades because "my corneas are burning". Aversion to sunlight, taste for human flesh - hmm. 'Mr November' is angry, 'Fake Empire' is glowering and majestic and the graduation from the John Peel Stage is passed with flying colours.

Aha, the (in)famous Growler! Might have to come back for one later.

Whether Steven Ansell is swigging from a bottle of wine or a bottle of whisky (I can't tell at this distance), he's certainly rocket-powered - and while Laura-Mary Carter is wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, there's no stoned bluesy noodling going on here. No sir - BLOOD RED SHOES (Queens Head Stage) are reliably themselves, which roughly translated means Babes In Toyland sinking their claws into Nevermind. Of the moshpit-manufacturing blitzkrieg of singles from debut album Box Of Secrets and this year's follow-up Fire Like This, 'You Bring Me Down' and 'Don't Ask' stand out in particular. In 2008 the set was dedicated to his late dad by a frog-in-the-throated Steve; this time around it's to Danny, a security guard distinguished from his brethren by virtue of being "helpful and friendly"...

"I bet these guys are going to be, like, totally bad-ass with a swear word in their name", says the grinning idiot in front of me in the Queen's Head, sarcastically rolling his eyeballs. You just wait, I think - but for once the initial reaction (to the first two tracks on new album Latin, '1MD' and 'Red Light') is less "HOLY FUCK!" and more "Mmm, yeah, that's pretty good". Perhaps the problem is that the Glasto regulars are essentially warming up for tomorrow's set in their usual arena, the John Peel Stage, which they try to deceive football fans into watching: "There's nothing happening at 3pm tomorrow afternoon, nothing at all..." 'Lovely Allen' - anthemified by its usage on TV programmes and trailers - and the breakneck hurtle of 'Safari' ensure things are fully heated by the end, but for the first time I come away from one of the Torontonians' shows with a smidgen of disappointment.

Another rapid cross-site trek, during which I reflect on the fact that the conditions (the weather, thousands of dawdling punters ambling along enjoying an aimless wander) are hardly conducive to my catch-as-many-acts-as-I-can tactics. Nearing the John Peel Stage, I bump into Paul and Chloe by chance (Paul having noted my Fuck Buttons T-shirt in passing) and decide to join them in eschewing Foals (whom I saw barely a month earlier) in favour of someone else.

That someone else turns out to be PULLED APART BY HORSES (Radio 1 Introducing Stage). Clearly it's Equestrian Hour. The foursome - inexplicably allowed to leave Leeds to wreak havoc across the nation - comfortably lay claim to the title of the loudest and most aggressive band of the weekend. They kick off with a winning ditty called 'E=MC Hammer', and it's not long before mushroom-haired guitarist James Brown makes his familiar ascent of the speaker stack. A lesson in savage post-hardcore later and Tom Hudson - "I'm a Glastonbury virgin, so thanks for breaking the seal" - thanks stage compere and band champion Huw Stephens and launches into 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat' with eyes which say he probably has. Someone who looks suspiciously like Dangermouse surfs the crowd, and as the feedback rings out, Hudson and Brown join in.

Well, what a surprise. Kelis is being a diva, running late and leaving us waiting in the company of a DJ busy reliving the 90s. I slink off during the theme tune to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, before the (likely) shout-out of "Does anyone remember Global Hypercolour T-shirts?".

I fear for THE XX (John Peel Stage). The crowd is huge, eyes and TV cameras all focused at the stage. They're like a fragile bird let out of a box - slight, delicate, anxious, the weight of expectation and adoration threatening to crush them. And yet there's a subtle power and strength within the dark spacious heart of songs like 'Shelter' and 'Infinity'. The minimalism that made their self-titled debut so striking may be compromised by the out-of-time handclaps of drunks seemingly intent on cutting the atmosphere with a chainsaw, but it's a quietly masterful performance...

... until, that is, Florence Fucking Welch turns up, barging onstage with her massive ego fresh from packing out the Other Stage earlier this afternoon, and my eardrums weep blood from the screams of those around me. Candi Staton has just finished playing on the Park Stage - why would anyone want to hear 'You Got The Love' here? Florence's progress to global domination duly accelerated and my enjoyment of the set soured, she embraces The XX's yin and yang, bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley Croft, and while Oliver's smiling, Romy is straight-faced and awkward. The beginnings of trouble?

From thoughts of "What have I done to deserve this?" to 'What Have I Done To Deserve This?' You won't find PET SHOP BOYS (Other Stage) bound up in some arena-touring 80s nostalgia package - they always had a bit too much nous, were too savvy to be sucked in with the champagne-swilling Duran Duran set, instead preferring to be a little cool, ironic, distant and detached, chronicling the decade from towards the periphery. Their singles collection PopArt is perfectly titled - yes, they've got the interpretive dancers (a couple acting out the lyrics to 'Jealousy', women with boxes on their heads) and a clearly well-thought-out set, but they also have the pop in spades. I arrive in what I suppose must be the mid-set lull - if you can call it that, with 'Always On My Mind', 'Left To My Own Devices' and 'Suburbia' all making an appearance. That I have to step around pushchair after pushchair to get out of the crowd does rather put them in their place, though.

Last year Spinal Tap graced the Pyramid Stage, and this year it's being headlined by a band with a reputation for excess who recently got themselves into a farcical rock feud of Tap-esque proportions when their giant UFO prop interrupted live transmission of Slayer's set at Rock AM Ring. Who else but MUSE? I sneak in late towards the back as Matt Bellamy - whose showmanship and musicianship are clearly both alive and well - teases the crowd with snippets of 'House Of The Rising Sun' and AC/DC's 'Back In Black' before pushing towards the finish with 'Time Is Running Out', 'Black Holes And Revelations' and 'Citizen Erased' (the latter a bit of a personal treat). When the Edge's binman-hatted bonce appears for an encore of 'Where The Streets Have No Name', suddenly the pocket of mild disinterest around me becomes fervent excitement - but by carrying on Muse walk the tightrope of anti-climax, 'Plug In Baby' steadying their balance but preposterous Maiden-does-'Bohemian-Rhapsody' rock opera 'Knights Of Cydonia' causing them to lose their footing fatally.

Overheard: "And that's what you get by learning from grotty porn!"

Nursing a JD and Coke outside a packed Stonebridge Bar, but still able to enjoy - and dance to - the peaks of Fourtet's DJ set, 'Atlas' by Battles and 'Once In A Lifetime' by Talking Heads. There aren't many troughs.

Please be upstanding for SILVER COLUMNS - or not, as the case may be. The duo may feature Kieran Hebden's old mucker in Fridge, Adem (he's the one who looks like Moby, jumping around and wreathing himself in fairy lights) alongside Fence Collective member the Pictish Trail, but their pop-techno - Hot Chip fronted by Jimmy Somerville, basically - meets with little in the way of approval.

Still in the Stonebridge Bar, the DJs playing bashment and dancehall, I marvel at how all of the other distinctly white party animals seem to know instinctively how to dance. I'm a long way outside my comfort zone but find myself caught up in the deep bass and fast pace - and thoroughly enjoying it. In a comically arhythmic fashion, of course.

I won't last until the 5am close, though - and neither, I suspect, will the middle-aged fire marshall, staggering around in a high-vis vest worse for wear than most of the revellers he's supposed to be safeguarding.

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: Foals, Seasick Steve, Let's Buy Happiness, Editors, Midlake, The Dead Weather, Os Mutantes, Band Of Skulls, The Pre New, John Hegley, Jeremy Hardy, Kevin Eldon, Arthur Smith, Ed Byrne


skif said...

"I arrive in what I suppose must be the mid-set lull - if you can call it that, with 'Always On My Mind', 'Left To My Own Devices' and 'Suburbia' all making an appearance"

Just to confirm, you are not allowed to call it that. 'LTMOD' is my particular favourite. Think I've still got the original 12" of that somewhere.

On the b-side of that 12" was 'The Sound Of The Atom Splitting' which is a track that would certainly confirm your thoughts on their relationship to the 80's pop world.

Ben said...

OK, I'm suitably chastened. What I meant, I suppose, is that I missed both 'Go West' and 'West End Girls', and I'm guessing they played 'Rent' too. Still, 'Suburbia' and 'Always On My Mind' were great.

The only albums I had were Behaviour and Discography. Ought to get another copy of the latter.

(Oh, and in case you're wondering, the 1-2-3-4 write-up will follow hot on the heels of the final Glasto piece...)