Thursday, July 10, 2008

SWSL Glastonbury 2008 Diary

Saturday 28th June

(Thanks to Dan, Mel and Del for the photos.)

"Woke up this morning / Feeling fine / Good night's sleep / Hot sunshine..." God, I'd make a rubbish bluesman.

Where else but Glastonbury would the main stage be headlined by arguably the world's biggest rap star and opened by SHAKIN' STEVENS (Pyramid Stage)? The Pop Star Otherwise Known As Michael Barratt has warned us in the festival programme to "expect the unexpected" and, true enough, no one expected him to leave out 'Green Door', but couldn't he and his backing band (including, it seems, former Newcastle striker Antoine Sibierski, back in gainful employment following his release by Wigan) have not followed Brian Wilson's lead three years ago and played his own Christmas song 'Merry Christmas Everyone' in the summer sunshine? As it is, we get the entirely predictable declaration "We're going to play some songs from the new album" (greeted with an entirely predictable groan) and the sight of a jowly, nervous and patently drunk (you can take the boy out of Ely...) Shaky dad-dancing his way through his cover of Pink's 'Trouble'. It's as unedifying a spectacle as they come.

Working our way through the thinning post-Shaky crowd in front of the mixing desk we come across a man more disappointed than most by the absence of 'Green Door' from the set: a man with a full-size green wooden door. On the other side it's painted white, but with a message for the headliner daubed in green: "Oi! Jay-Z! This is England. We don't want to know about your 99 problems, we want to know what's behind the green door!"

No pissed-up and forgetful bar staff today, so I actually get to see EMMY THE GREAT (John Peel Tent). "Nice knees" reckons my companion, while I reckon she's got a good set of pipes but is ultimately a bit fluffy and, with her tweely emotional and record-referencing lyrics, The KT Tunstall It's OK For The Indie Kids To Like. Not sure what the group of Where's Wallies in front of us think, though.

To Fresh Baguette (bugger those official meeting points!) to find Lord Bargain and Hen. (Of the other members of the Nottingham blogging cohort, photographer extraordinaire Sarah is elsewhere, while Swiss Toni's enjoying Martha Wainwright.) We quickly set about discussing who we've seen and who we're looking forward to, and LB explains to Hen that in the Venn diagram of our music tastes there would probably be the tiniest overlap, encompassing no one but the band we're about to see. (As it turns out, against the odds he felt much the same way about Shaky as me.) Before that, though, the Welsh oggie stall is calling - rude not to, on a day that Cardiff's taking over...

Watching LOS CAMPESINOS! (Other Stage), Spillers T-shirt on and oggie in hand, I imagine this is how parents must feel when they see little Johnny all grown up and playing Hamlet for the RSC when they remember him forgetting his lines as the donkey in the primary school nativity play: proud and just a little teary-eyed. The cover stars of the latest issue of Plan B have graduated from last year's slot on the Park Stage and celebrate by sharing with us the majority of their alternately sweet, clever, sharp, self-deprecating and explosive debut Hold On Now, Youngster, as well as non-album track 'The International Tweexcore Underground'. Gareth may not look like he's having that much fun, and commits the faux-pas of introducing 'Knee Deep At ATP' as being about "the best music festival in Britain", but he still launches himself into the thick of the crowd for 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' before instructing us to go and see Jay-Z, "the best thing to happen to Glastonbury for years". One thing's for sure: with 'This Is How You Spell "Ha Ha Ha, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics"' they lay claim to the longest song title of the weekend.

Spotted: "How shit is this flag? Text me on ..."

OK, so I may not make a good bluesman, but here's someone who does. In fact, sat down and drawling to the crowd in his dungarees and green John Deere cap, SEASICK STEVE (Pyramid Stage) makes such a good bluesman that you'd be tempted to ask if he's for real. But he is, and this is the second of his three performances over the weekend, sandwiched between yesterday's headlining slot on the Acoustic Stage and tomorrow's short warm-up for Tony Benn in the Leftfield Tent. Thrilled to have been embraced so warmly by Britain, he suddenly found himself to be (in his words) "the cat's miaow" after playing the brilliant 'Dog House Boogie' (today's footstomping, guitar-shredding set-closer, in parts curiously like a redneck version of Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus') on his three-string guitar live on TV on New Year's Eve 2006. There's one reason for the existence of Jools Holland, at least.

HOLY FUCK (John Peel Tent)? Holy fuck indeed, for the Torontoians (I just made that up, but am sure Ian will set me straight) are really rather good. Though cut from a similar cloth to Foals, in the sense that they're a bit nerdy and a lot dancey, the foursome approach things from a different angle, retaining the bass and drums but doing away with all the guitars in favour of modified keyboards and DIY electronic equipment. Performing in a huddle in the middle of the stage, they whip themselves and the crowd into a frenzy with buzzing, twitching songs from second album LP, 'Lovely Allen' in particular going down a storm. Anyway, guys, if you're reading, I think you should club together with Fuck Buttons, Fucked Up, The Fucking Champs and Fuck and organise your very own summer shindig. You could call it Fuckfest. How's about it?

If Gruff Rhys likes Glastonbury (I think he played four times last year, once with Super Furry Animals and three times solo), then the feeling's mutual. Not many people could get away with lounging in a chair on stage, idly leafing through the programme, and every now and again singing on songs from an 80s influenced concept pop album about John DeLorean (Stainless Style), one of which concerns "working conditions in 1920s Detroit" - but he can, in his guise as one half of NEON NEON (Other Stage). He and his partner in crime, electro artist and producer Boom Bip, are aided and abetted by Har Mar Superstar, who performs half of one song in an extremely uncomfortable looking headstand, and Cate Le Bon (Rhys seems to have made it his personal mission to corrupt the erstwhile butter-wouldn't-melt folkie). While I'm not sure I'd enjoy the album now, beneath the bluest skies of the weekend and amidst a crowd of fervent Welsh types, the set's a definite highlight.

Accidentally snorting cava = not recommended.

Is there much more to say about THE RACONTEURS (Pyramid Stage) than that they're evidence of Jack White's desire to be in a band with someone who can play drums? Their big rock bluster huffs and puffs but never comes close to blowing me down, and I have to conclude that this collaboration between White and Brendan Benson is very definitely not the best of both worlds but, rather, significantly less than the sum of its parts.

My mission to see as many bands with "black" in their name as possible may already be dead in the water after I plumped for Holy Fuck over Black Kids (partly because of the former's allure but partly also because I suspect, 'I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You' aside, they may be a very pale imitation of Los Campesinos!), but here I am watching THE BLACK LIPS anyway. Last year it was The Horrors who upset the wizard-like old hippie who comperes this stage, by long outstaying their welcome, and this time around it seems to be the Atlantans. The reason isn't quite clear - it could be the guitarist spitting in the air; it could be the firecrackers let off from the other guitarist's mouth during set-closer 'Juvenile'; it could be the decorative array of real pigs' heads on sticks at the front of the stage, one of which is knocked off by an overenthusiastic Har Mar Superstar when he bounds on for 'Bad Kids'. Shame their shambolic garage take on Beatlesy power pop is nothing to write home about, though Del - whose blinding shirt and red hair would have made him easy to spot even if the tent hadn't been more than half empty - might say different.

Sadly, BAND OF HORSES (John Peel Tent) aren't a band of horses. (Actually, thinking about it, it'd be hard to play guitar with hooves.) There is however a band of horses in the crowd - well, fans with horses' heads, at least, here to nibble on the sugar cube of the beardos' check-shirted Americana, which reminds me of My Morning Jacket before they discovered Prince. Sure they push all the big buttons well, but every chord is telegraphed and I can't help seeing them as being genetically engineered to appeal to readers of Uncut. Anyway, the big question: did those fans alight on the idea of horses' heads because, with Foals having played yesterday, they knew they could get twice the use out of them? Makes you feel all the more sorry for the chap with the green door...

If there's one consolation for missing the hilarious car crash that is Wino staggering around and punching a punter, it's that the toilets by the Cinema Field are pristine and the Tolpuddle Bar deserted. Result!

This must be a strange and potentially disspiriting experience for THE FUTUREHEADS (John Peel Tent). After thrusting themselves into my consciousness on this very stage in 2003, they had transformed themselves into "stadium rock showmen" for a triumphant Other Stage set in the sun two years later, and now they're back where they started, and with a not dissimilarly sized crowd. But if it IS disspiriting, then they're certainly not showing it. In fact, 'Decent Days And Nights' and 'The Beginning Of The Twist' suggest a renewed fire in their collective belly and set a pattern for the ferocity with which they attack material from both their self-titled debut and third self-released album This Is Not The World. By contrast, songs from second album News & Tributes - disappointing for a reason that no one, myself included, could quite put a finger on - are conspicuous by their absence, the single 'Skip To The End' aside (which for some reason suddenly strikes me as sounding like AC/DC). The set climaxes with 'Hounds Of Love', multi-vocalled gem 'Carnival Kids' and a particularly fast and furious 'Man Ray'. As a reminder of how good they really are, it's near faultless.

En route for the Park, I bump into an off-duty and very well oiled member of security who's got himself lost trying to meet his friends at the Silent Disco. Glastonbury being Glastonbury, there are two and unfortunately he picked the wrong one...

Are BATTLES (Park Stage) forever destined to be upstaged? At last year's Green Man it was by a temporarily reformed Fridge, and this time around it's by Alex "Arctic Monkeys" Turner's Last Shadow Puppets, who ambled into one of the Special Guest slots and royally buggered up the running order and timings. The band diplomatically refer to "scheduling issues", but given they only get to play three songs (even if they do take up half an hour) you'd have to imagine they're not best pleased. 'Atlas' is brilliant, of course, but there's just something, well, masturbatory about the whole thing - yes, it's like a math rock circle jerk, with John Stanier sat in the centre of it all. Not an image you wanted, I appreciate, but there you go.

Text from a friend at home: "Are you watching Jay-Z?" No I'm not - I had planned to dip into his set, but I'm half an hour's walk away and thanks to the Last fucking Shadow fucking Puppets I won't really be able to. "We're following on TV. He's putting on a pretty good show!" Grrrr...

For me, only one single outshone 'Atlas' last year, and that was 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above' by CSS (Park Stage). The reason I was so reluctant to leave my post and head over to the Pyramid Stage was because I fell in love with the Brazilian electro-funk-punk-poppers last year and was desperate to see them do it all again. But when they finally come on, well after midnight what with the delays to the schedule and the amount of time it's taken to get the stage set up, it's evident I've made a big mistake. Not that they're bad, you understand - just not a patch on last time (or at least the rose-tinted memory of it) and, though 'Let's Make Love...', 'Off The Hook' and 'Alcohol' momentarily liven us up, there's no 'Pretend We're Alala' (the mash-up of their own 'Alala' with the L7 classic), the new songs from forthcoming second album Donkey fall a bit flat and the party never really gets started.

This time last year I was smug in the knowledge that I'd just witnessed the set for which the festival would be remembered. And now I've got to sit and listen to friends talking about this year's equivalent...

We're herded one way right down to the end of the railway track before we can get into Shangri-La (the rebranded Lost Vagueness), but it being Saturday, the place is absolutely rammed full of jibbered punters indulging in extracurricular activities of all kinds. Making it back through to the other side is a significant challenge, particularly when the less with-it members of our group keep wandering off on tangents, but eventually we manage it, and head up to the relative sanity and sobriety of the Stone Circle (yes, really), where we lie back and drink amidst the flickering of fires, constant music and the whoosh and wooooh of miniature candle-powered hot air balloons disappearing off into the night sky.

Daylight means it's time for 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: Jay-Zed (dammit), Winohouse, Black Kids, The Handsome Family, Fanfarlo, Jonquil, Fight Like Apes, Elbow, Hot Chip, Team Waterpolo, British Sea Power, Metronomy, Simon Munnery, Jeremy Hardy, Phil Nichol.

* * * * *

Next time: a human timebomb, hating Newton Faulkner even more than before and the most mindblowing 15 minutes of the weekend.


Ian said...

You're close, but we tend to use "Torontonians."

LB said...

If you're going to agree with me about Shaky, I'll agree with you about the Raconteurs. I have seen them live before and it was one of the most boring couple of hours I have ever spent. Benson and White are amazingly self-indulgent, and it's not even as if their songs are particularly brilliant.

I saw a bit of their set this year on the "highlights" (ha, ha) show and it completely reinforced my opinion.


ian said...

Set question: How come I also loved Los Campesinos? Are they the perfect band, or is the world about to end?

People from Toronto are called Torontulas, btw.