Thursday, July 01, 2004

Sunday 27th June

There’s just no avoiding it. I blame Friday's enchilada, and last night's bombay potatoes. For the first time since my arrival I’m going to have to join one of the lines of people queuing for the portaloos, who stand in silence with heads bowed and shuffle forwards uneasily as if awaiting execution. In the event, death by firing squad might well have been more fun, but details of the experience are best kept quiet, for my sake as well as yours.

I’m feeling shamefully underdressed, the only one in a group of seven who hasn’t gone to see the ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA (Pyramid Stage) perform Wagner’s ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ in suit and tie. We try to follow the storyline via the subtitles on the giant screens, but are soon distracted by the Goldie Lookin Chain interview in the Glastonbury Daily, only to look up and see, to our bemusement, the father undressing and then killing his daughter. The whole performance could have been improved if, as the ENO themselves suggested, it was accompanied by helicopters flying overhead a la ‘Apocalypse Now’ (Michael Eavis refused to sanction this due to it being “not in the Glastonbury spirit”), and, as someone weaving their way through the crowd comments, “Just doing covers is a bit naff”.

The gaping hole in the schedules inspires another wander into the “real Glastonbury”, which on this occasion means visits to numerous worthy cause stalls but also subjection to some very bad poetry.

We stumble across the Speaker’s Forum tent by accident, and discover that Eavis himself is making an appearance, doing a Q&A session. A sudden downpour sends more people scuttling for cover in the tent, and there’s a note of real despair in his voice when he says, “But it wasn’t supposed to rain today” – every drop will mean the land takes longer to recover. Over the course of nearly an hour, we learn that a recent and very thorough environmental survey has given the farm a glowing bill of health even after so many years of festivals, that he hasn’t made his peace with The Darkness, that an ecstatic McCartney kissed him when he came off stage last night, that Thom Yorke rang him to apologise for not being able to make it this year, that he’s already got Saturday’s headliner for next year booked (a revelation that inevitably leads to repeated cries of “Who is it?”) and that the She-Pee female urinals have been a disaster. But Eavis evidently isn’t the most comfortable public speaker, and all this talking about this year’s festival in the past tense reminds us that it’s actually still going on outside, and by the end we’re hankering for more action.

Like Scissor Sisters before him, JAMES BROWN (Pyramid Stage) certainly knows how to put on a show, though it takes him about fifteen minutes to arrive on stage, having left his band of redcoats and singers to warm up the crowd. He’s more the conductor of a funk orchestra than a frontman, not singing on all the songs even when he does appear and content to share the limelight with others while retaining overall control. Perhaps that’s because he’s incapable of monopolizing it himself – though he can't be faulted for trying, you can almost hear the Godfather / Granddad of Soul’s joints creak when he “gets down” with his two dancers, who incidentally look like their day jobs involve regular appearances sans clothing in the Sun. ‘Soul Man’ and ‘I Feel Good’ are both splendid, but ‘Sex Machine’ seems to drag on and on, not the equivalent of the desired good hard seeing-to but of drawn-out tantric sex with Sting, and I wander off mentally and then bodily.

From one legend to another. Due to a change in the running order which appears in the programme but not the round-the-neck guide, New Yorkers TELEVISION (New Tent) play to a pitifully small audience comprised (one imagines) primarily of record shop staff, and one which I only join towards the end of their set. It’s not hard to see where Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo got some of their ideas from, and after a while the trademark Sonic Youth sound starts to seem less and less original. Sadly, Television then veer off into horrible art wank territory before disappearing abruptly to only muted applause. The awkward bastards.

We’ve already had Wagner on the Pyramid Stage; now it’s time for Wagner – Sune Rose Wagner, to be precise – in a more intimate setting. As one half of THE RAVEONETTES (New Tent), he is clearly overjoyed to be playing, after circumstances last year conspired to prevent their scheduled Other Stage appearance. The other half, Sharin Foo – still looking gorgeous even though she’s decided to wear a peculiarly frumpy red dress (were there to be a three-way wrestle in the Glastonbury mud between her, Polly Harvey and Leila Moss, there could only be one winner – me) – seems more concerned to find out how their native Denmark are doing in their Euro 2004 quarter-final against the Czech Republic. Despite numerous technical glitches and another heavy downpour that results in water dripping onto the stage and threatening the band with electrocution, the set is a pure triumph from the start (‘Attack Of The Ghost Riders’) right through to the finish. Most of the material is culled from last year’s wonderful Chain Gang Of Love LP – ‘Noisy Summer’, ‘Heartbreak Stroll’ and ‘Let’s Rave On’, all Jesus & Mary Chain scree overlaid with bubblegum harmonies, get the pulse racing, but it’s the brilliantly simple and strident single ‘That Great Love Sound’ that steals the show, along with the more reflective and queasy ‘Love Can Destroy Everything’, dedicated as usual to Johnny Cash. There’s also room for new material, including a duet that doesn’t quite match up to the sexual frisson between VV and Hotel of The Kills but which nevertheless shows considerable promise for their next record. Bring it on.

The intro tape consists of a Scouse woman reading out a list of hateful figures, concepts and institutions, ranging from Adolf Hitler, racism and the monarchy to Jimmy Tarbuck. Who says MORRISSEY (Pyramid Stage) is mellowing in his old age? In truth, he seems to be more motivated and inspired by bitterness and spite than ever. I’d be surprised if he didn’t go along to The Crown pub tent on Thursday night and try to attack Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, who were DJing alongside Mani and Clint Boon. Hate has its place, though, and it’s just a shame that after such an attention-grabbing introduction the music is so insipid and bland. The voice and the barbed lyrics might be right, but the faces in the band are wrong, the songs are wrong and no-one wants to see Morrissey’s name in lights – as it is literally. It’s The Smiths we want. Of course, it doesn’t help that he begins by announcing, “Please don’t OD till we’ve finished all our songs”. Self-importance and a sneering contempt for your audience won’t win you too many friends here. I get as far as ‘Let Me Kiss You’ (from this year’s You Are The Quarry record) and then bail out.

Self-proclaimed money-grabbing bastards from Newport, GOLDIE LOOKIN CHAIN (Dance Tent) are this year’s The Darkness, though the buzz around them is already sufficient to ensure that this cavernous tent is packed to the rafters. Unlike Morrissey, and despite their between-song proclamations of being “serious”, they seem to be familiar with the concept of fun. Musically their boisterousness and playful beats owe an obvious debt to early pre-politically-conscious Beastie Boys material, while they’ve got their own lyrical catchphrases (“Safe as fuck”, “You knows it, clart”) and like Mike Skinner their concern is with the comically mundane realities of the wannabe bling-bling playa – getting stoned, burning holes in your tracksuit and fantasizing about being a robot. Even the obligatory slow jam “for the ladies” towards the end is more Arab Strap than P Diddy, with its references to the pill and the DHSS. Perhaps their greatest achievement is to introduce the crowd to the expression “Your mum’s got a penis”, an insult and ideal campsite shout rolled into one.

MUSE (Pyramid Stage) may not have the stature of the weekend’s other headliners Oasis and Macca, and neither do they have the audience (Orbital’s last ever performance, over on the Other Stage, has proved a massive draw), but even as a three-piece they certainly have the presence and volume to close the festival in rousing style. Recent single ‘Hysteria’ and ‘New Born’ get things off to an electric start and, although ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘Apocalypse Please’ are spectacular, the set begins to flag somewhat in the middle, as the songs drift gradually away into the empty bombast and prog-opera for which they attract so much critical scorn. Thankfully, though, the three singles ‘Bliss’, ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Plug In Baby’ with which they end restore the natural balance between pomp and substance, and in the encore they attack an explosive ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ with staggering ferocity. Let them eat rock, Matt Bellamy seems to have said – and we do, with relish. (The news that drummer Dominic Howard’s father died soon afterwards is a terrible footnote to what was a brilliant show.)

The fireworks on Pennard Hill mark the official end of the festival for another year. Not a vintage year as regards the line-up, but then that’s only ever half the story here.

Bands or artists I would have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / excessively packed tents / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Kevin Eldon, The Zutons, The Ordinary Boys, Buck 65, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Orbital, Six By Seven, Naomi Klein, Billy Bragg, Stellastarr*.

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