Thursday, July 05, 2007

SWSL Glastonbury 2007 Diary

Sunday 24th June

(With photos courtesy of Sarah, Swiss Toni, Jenni and Dan.)

For fuck's sake. Awakened by rain again, this time pretty heavy. Spirits dip for the first time.

It's stopped, so we emerge to survey the scene. The mud has worsened to the point that hardly any grass is visible, pools of water have gathered on all our chairs and one of our two gazebos has buckled and collapsed on a couple of tents. Rob confesses that upon waking up "a small part of me didn't want to do this anymore".

We reflect on the previous evening's carnage. Jenni suggests that "having a can of beer probably actually reduced the volume of alcohol in Martin's bloodstream". Owen adds that Martin's transformation "was like evolution backwards" - and certainly his drunkenly graceful slide off his stool was a very literal return to the primordial slime. Chris, meanwhile, is in no position to comment, having passed out while walking...

Kirsten and Laura's faces beam out at us from the pages of the Glastonbury Daily on account of the fact that they spent all of Friday dressed as Smurfettes.

Jenni buys a copy of the Observer purely for the rain mac, while my bacon sandwich gets soggier and my coffee more diluted. Off to the John Peel Stage...

... where we bump into Swiss Toni, Lord Bargain, Sarah and Hen and an impromptu bloggers' convention ensues. Lord B enthuses about Tiny Dancers, whom they've just seen for the second time in two days, while Swiss Toni, photoblogging the event for the BBC, can't resist a quick snap of the bloke reclining in a yellow dinghy afloat the mud lake outside the tent, apparently without a care in the world.

By rights, THE NOISETTES should be performing on the other side of the site - after all, Shingai Shoniwa once used to perform burlesque as part of the Lost Vagueness crew together with a woman dressed as a swan whose routine culminated in her laying an egg out of - well, you know, there. Apparently they're fresh from touring the US with Bloc Party and The Maccabees (as well as a late night slot in the Leftfield Tent the previous evening), and judging by Shoniwa's get-up they took a detour via Bootsy Collins' wardrobe. As a heavy garage blues band fronted by a black woman, The Noisettes are forever destined to be compared to The Bellrays. What they lack in truly memorable songs - scorching single 'Scratch My Name' and bizarre punk rock sea shanty 'Pub Life' aside - they more than make up for in impact, and in Jamie Morrison (not to be confused with sub-Blunt wet blanket James) they boast a Proper Drummer ie one with massive hair, a beard and a black AC/DC T-shirt who sets about his kit like it's done him a particularly heinous wrong.

Alas! My pen has stopped working! Potential disaster is averted, however, by Graham, who is on hand with a replacement.

Here to give The Long Blondes a run for their money in the conceptual perfection stakes, and putting Southend on the musical map in the process, are THE HORRORS (John Peel Stage) - five tight-trousered, painfully stick-thin and pallid waifs, each one a figment of Tim Burton's imagination made flesh, playing Cramps-influenced organ-heavy garage rock. Vocalist Faris Badwan, whose already-ripped T-shirt deconstructs itself further during the course of the set, obviously styles himself on Joey Ramone (the Ramones references aren't just visual - see 'Sheena Is A Parasite' and its Chris Cunningham directed video for proof), while black-eyed organist Rhys 'Spider' Webb, looking every inch like Clint Boon's evil alter ego, struts the stage and pretends to hang himself from the mic stand by his neckerchief. Disappointingly, though, even allowing for the poor sound, I'm inclined to agree with the naysayers that they're style over substance. Not even their cover of Screaming Lord Sutch's 'Jack The Ripper', the opening track on debut album Strange House, or their obstinate refusal to leave the stage when ordered off by the gnome-like compere, who subsequently looks very angry, can succeed in really winning me round. Less rocket from the crypt and more sparkler in the back yard - a shame, because it's all so promising.

Just time for another short jaunt up the hill to the bar before the next act...

THE RUMBLE STRIPS (John Peel Stage) were always destined to suffer the fate of all white bands whose songs feature liberal amounts of brass but who give ska punk a judiciously wide berth - namely, that of being compared (usually unfavourably) to Dexys Midnight Runners. Charlie Waller's vocals do little to discourage the comparisons, either. But at least they have the good grace to aspire to being the young soul rebels of 'Geno' rather than the cod-gypsy oiks of Too-Rye-Aye, and with the sun out and songs like 'Girls And Boys' (no, not that one) and 'Motorcycle' (take a look at its brilliantly simple video) in their repertoire, they really ought to be entertaining a far bigger crowd than this on the Pyramid Stage. I'm certainly not the first blogger to whistle that particular tune, though, Pete Ashton having done so when he saw them during the Going Deaf For A Fortnight gigging marathon way back in November 2005.

At this point we decide to drag ourselves away from the John Peel Stage, shortly before The Rumble Strips' erstwhile tourmates The Young Knives appear, and try the Jazz World Stage for something completely different. In some respects it's a decision I regret. TINARIWEN may be "Tuareg rebels who used to go into battle with guitars on their back", as the Guardian Guide reports, but their measured desert blues, while well-crafted, seems a bit muted and colourless after a while. The setting doesn't help - unlike the other stages, the "grassy area" in front of Jazz World Stage has no natural contours, and is instead completely flat (or would be if it wasn't for the muddy potholes everywhere). To think, I'm missing the likes of 'The Decision' and 'Loughborough Suicide'... Nevertheless, we console ourselves with pints of the driest scrumpy known to man bought on the way past the Burrow Hill cider bus (last day special offer of £5 for two pints? It'd be rude not to...) and then, on Dan's recommendation, a pie from Pie Minister (see what they done there?). My Chicken of Aragon is absolutely delicious, and at just £4 represents better value than anything I've eaten all weekend - but I can't help wishing I'd noticed the Mr Porky which Jen tucks into, together with a liberal lump of mash. And we weren't the only ones blown away by how good they were...

My very first visit to the Pyramid Stage since the music began in earnest two days ago. To be honest, I'm here watching the MANIC STREET PREACHERS more because I've never seen them before than because I actually expect them to be much cop, and our late departure from the Jazz World Stage and brief refuelling stop at the cider bus mean we miss both 'You Love Us' and 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. But they're belting out 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart' as we arrive, and it's quickly followed by perhaps their spikiest single 'Faster' - all together now: "I am an architect, they call me a butcher / I am a pioneer, they call me primitive / I am purity, they say I'm perverted...". Sadly, that's as much as we get of The Holy Bible. Mercifully there are only four songs from the last three albums and nothing at all from Lifeblood - 'Imperial Bodybags', Send Away The Tigers' barbed commentary on the Iraq war, is a return to form while the album's first single 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough', a duet between James Dean Bradfield and The Cardigans' Nina Persson, is passable, meaning I only have to grin and bear 'Ocean Spray' (a real clunker) back-to-back with dreadful new single 'Autumnsong'. Otherwise, it's a well-chosen greatest hits set: 'Everything Must Go', 'From Despair To Where', 'If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next' - only the Manics could have written a song about the Spanish Civil War, burdened it with a name like that and taken it to #1... Bradfield, audibly out of breath between songs, claims he's pissed off his one trademark move - the hop-on-one-leg-while-spinning-around - has been stolen by someone on 'Stars In Your Eyes', but there's barely a peep from Nicky Wire, and certainly no repeat of his infamous declaration of '94 that "Somebody ought to build a bypass over this shithole". Bradfield dredges up memories of that performance, though, dedicating 'Motown Junk' to Richey James, who "was hammered before the gig, during the gig and after the gig", before the whole field joins in for the final flourish of 'A Design For Life'.

Such are the crowds and conditions that The Go! Team on the Other Stage are definitely out. We're joined by a couple of Smurfettes, but the escalating mudfight behind us and (more significantly) the imminent arrival on stage of Kaiser Chiefs - who have the gall to interrupt The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'April Skies' with their intro music - has me scrambling to get as far away as possible.

Oh look, there's the cider bus!

Ricky Wilson, these are the lengths you're capable of driving me to - I'm in the sodding Circus Tent. The first act we see is actually very good - a seriously talented acrobat balancing on chairs who encourages some audience participation (not quite the stage invasion of the Stooges set, but never mind). But then there's a very average duo looking every bit like a husband-and-wife combo in garb borrowed from Torville and Dean, and then a godawful Australian woman called Shirlee Sunflower - I refuse to honour her with the title of "comedian". I can't take any more and make a quick exit. At least it was a juggler-free zone for the duration of my brief visit.

The pen I borrowed from Graham has stopped working and I'm having to carry around three hours of festival observations around in my increasingly fuzzy head, so I stagger past a bizarre mechanical dinosaur being restrained by a man at Trash City in search of somewhere that might sell me a pen. To my great surprise, they turn out to have some at the nearest convenience shop, and to my even greater surprise I find myself stood behind Bill Bailey in the queue. Naturally, unlike most of those around I can't tell from his appearance whether he's been here all weekend. As I walk off he is trying to pacify a small child - his own, I hope, because if it's someone else's then they may be permanently traumatised by that vision looming up at them through the dusk and drizzle. Incidentally, the pen still doesn't work, and I belatedly arrive at the conclusion that it's the paper that's wet.

Answering a call of nature near the Leftfield Tent, I hear the announcement on stage of another Glastonbury stalwart, BILLY BRAGG, performing his second set of the day. Bragg is as quintessential a part of the festival as Michael Eavis, mud and men wandering around the Stone Circle trying to sell you magic mushroom honey, so naturally I wander over. Sure enough, 'Sexuality' and 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards' are welcomed like old friends, while a new song tackles the paradox of restricting freedoms in the face of the terrorist threat while preaching the virtue of democracy. As ever with Bragg, though, it's far from po-faced, as he complains about the mug of tea he's been made and expresses his disinterest in the recently-concluded race for the Labour deputy leadership. I don't stick around long enough to find out whether he performs 'Unisex Chip Shop', but I know a man who probably will later on.

There's no chance I'm going to make it across to the John Peel Stage to catch part of The Gossip's headlining set, so I might as well stand here on the road, way out left but with a slightly elevated view of the Pyramid Stage, and enjoy THE WHO with another pint of appley goodness. The Q produced programme has led us to expect "guaranteed whirling dervish on guitar, anthems, explosions, snarling expressions, general jumping about and all manner of attitude". What we actually get is old men playing a song called 'My Generation' with about as much vim, passion and gusto as their grandparents can currently muster. It just sounds so wrong. Pete Townsend goes as far as some crowd-pleasing windmill arm, but he might as well be waving a white handkerchief in his hand while doing it - it's as flat as my cider. Only 'Who Are You' and 'Pinball Wizard' leave a genuinely lasting impression, and the fact that the set-closer is an acoustic track performed by just Townsend and Roger Daltry called 'Tea And Theatre' says it all - and throws into further relief just how good The Stooges were last night.

In an attempt to wring out the last drops from this year's festival experience, I stop on the way back to the tents to take in the conclusion of CORINNE BAILEY RAE's set on the Jazz World Stage. For someone whose debut album reached #1, her crowd is pitifully small, and, much as I try, I struggle to find anything of interest in her insipid coffee-table soul other than the strength of her voice and the mystery of what happened to the girl who once used to front L7-inspired fempunks Helen.

The rain continues to fall, and I opt not to head over to The Park to catch Gruff Rhys' second solo set of the weekend, mainly because he's due to be at the Green Man Festival later in the summer. 'Skylon' certainly sounds good from where we're sat attempting to start a fire, though.

It's too miserable to wander up to Stone Circle, and there's the prospect of an early morning start to come, so it's one last can of lager before bed.

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: The Young Knives, The Go! Team, The Gossip, Beirut, Gruff Rhys, Mica P Hinson, Euros Childs, Tunng, Cold War Kids, The Marley Brothers, Bill Bailey, Jeff Green

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You would have loved The Gossip, oh well, too many bands, too little time, J x